Paris and cafés go together like hand-in-glove, like salt-n-pepper, like mother and child. This city is as much about its cafés and café culture as it is about the Notre Dame and the Eiffel Tower.
When you’ve only just arrived, often the first thing you want to do is go for a walk and stop in at a café, preferably one that has sidewalk seating, or cosy indoor alcoves, and order an espresso. Sitting in a café, leisurely, is one of the best ways to acclimate yourself to Paris.
The cafes you'll find on this list have been chosen mostly for their idyllic peace and quiet. While many Paris cafes are boisterous affairs, there are a number of them that offer a peaceful haven of relaxation, just what your inner, wiser traveler prescribed after a hectic morning or afternoon of sightseeing and/or shopping.
But it is also worth following in the footsteps of Sartre and Simone de Beauvoir, too, and indulging in one of the pricey café crèmes at St. Germain des Prés’ Les Deux Magots or Café de Flore. It’s one of those things you have to do at least once and the people watching there in the heart of this once-bohemian neighbourhood is like live street theatre where your coffee is included with the price of admission.
Once you’ve done that, though, then try out any of these cafés here on this list, curated for their idyllic locations and peaceful ambience. Also, ones you pass on your strolls through Paris are sure to give you a glimpse into local life. One of the newer cafés in town that didn't make this list is the Shakespeare & Co. café, serving Lomi coffee and snacks, too. If it strikes your fancy, why not stop, rest your weary feet, and order an Orangina or a "petit noir", an espresso and something tasty to go with that?
La Rose de France
This little square in the heart of Paris has long been a favourite of Parisians. And once you discover it for yourself, you instantly understand why. And once you discover it for yourself, you instantly understand why. All the many times you've walked across the Pont Neuf, or perhaps along the quai on either side, and never bothered to walk into the exquisite peacefulness that is Place Dauphine, or perhaps never knew it existed, can now be made up for. Next time you are shopping or sightseeing in and around St. Michel, Notre Dame or perhaps catching the river cruise ships, the Vedettes de Pont Neuf, here is where you can relax and recharge your inner batteries. Overlooking the most peaceful square in the heart of Paris, indulge in a house-made dessert, a pot of tea and/ or coffee. (01 43 54 10 12)
Café de la Paix
The venerable Cafe de la Paix began serving patrons in 1862. Its location within the Intercontinental Grand Hotel makes stopping in for a coffee and an afternoon sweet an experience worthy of the surroundings. Soaring columns, sumptuous draperies, luxurious red leather chairs and crisp white linen cloths cast a spell of undeniable elegance. The interior terrace provides a glassed-in view of the street and the Opéra, while the outdoor terrace, weather permitting, allows for a true sidewalk café experience, albeit in the rarefied air of this neighbourhood. Enjoy breakfast, a light snack or a formal meal, you'll feel that certain je ne sais quoi just sitting here. (01 40 07 36 36)
There are so many lovely, even ecstatically delicious, pastry shops in Paris but not so many that invite you to come in, sit down, and enjoy that fresh berry crumble with a hot chocolate or a pot of tea. Even fewer are hidden away in a pedestrian only passageway in the heart of the St. Germain-des-Pres. This colourful little cafe and tea shop offers the most delicious baked goods such as berry-bursting fresh berry crumbles. Pair any (or all!) of that with a good, stiff frothy coffee drink or a pot of tea and you have yourself a delicious respite from the frantic city. The location, once you've found it, is easy as pie to get to. It's tucked into a pedestrian only passageway. That is what adds to its magic and also makes you feel like you've sprinted away to some tea and cake fairyland cafe. (01 46 34 00 40)
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The kiosk cafe, while a staple in many modern cities, is still something of a rare bird here in Paris. Put an even bigger emphasis on the rare part when you further define that to the area of Paris in and around the Elysee, rue Fbg. St. Honore and the Champs-Elysees. This enterprising Franco-Australian couple has decided to remedy that. Here in this calm little open air courtyard on the Elysee side of rue du Fbg. St. Honore, they've set up their coffee cart. But don't underestimate it just because it has wheels. Their perfect cappuccinos and espressos hit the spot. Snacks include pastries, baked goods like cookies, and fresh fruit. With all the choices of food in Paris, there are curiously few takeaway places like this where you can float by, pick up your caffeinated recharge and continue your stroll happily grazing. (n/a)
Most hipsters know this brand mostly for their clothing shops. It's a brand especially popular in both Japan and Paris. But if there is another thing (in addition to fashion) that the Japanese seem to do just as well as the French, it's coffee. This little cafe is one you will seek out mostly for its location, though. Even though the coffee, matcha lattes and pastries are quite good, and the sorbet in the summer just right, the location here on the interior of the Palais Royal gardens affords that quiet conversation, or contemplation with a book, that are the hallmarks of cafe life in Paris. In winter you can hole up inside and get cosy with your cappuccino and pear tart. But in the warmer months is when this location becomes truly spectacular, for, like a caterpillar becoming a butterfly, the chairs come out and spread all the way into the garden, crossing the gallery Montpensier, to soak in some of the sun and fresh flowers and shade trees. Since the Palais Royal is also a great little shopping area, this is a good place to remember when you want to recharge. (01 40 15 62 31)
Since 1686, this historic cafe has welcomed a who's who of history, literature, art, and politics, including Balzac, Voltaire, Victor Hugo, Robespierre and even Benjamin Franklin. It remains a sophisticated place to dine, and patrons, while they wait, soak in the ambiance in rapt admiration of all that's gone on before. Shellfish and seafood are popular options, along with grilled beef, roast chicken or duck, and classics like coq au vin. Dessert delights range from chocolate sorbet to profiteroles. But the best time to come is in the afternoon well after lunch is over. That is when, during tea time, you can leisurely sightsee through the many different rooms of the three-storey establishment. There are plaques denoting the rooms where the historical figures once dined and even a framed letter from Louis XVI to Marie Antoinette, and vice-versa, bidding eachother adieu before they were dragged off to the guillotine. (01 40 46 79 00)
Ahh, walking around the utterly quaint Marais on a weekend afternoon, ducking into the many art galleries and museums, is one of those things that will forever be a part of The Bucket List. The Marais is also well known for its delightful cafes so starting a new one in the area could be considered a bit cheeky. Unless you have a taste for both coffee and art, combined in one setting. Keeping things fresh and updated is another Parisian M.O. and this cafe is just that. It combines a ground floor cosy little cafe offering an assortment of teas, specialty coffees and fresh squeezed juices while its upstairs mezzanine serves as an art gallery space. Regulars come for the workspace wi-fi and everyone else stops in for their ever-changing art exhibits and delightful refreshments. (n/a)
Talk about a view that is both inspired and inspiring. The Louvre's main courtyard and I. M. Pei's glass pyramid are visible from the terrace and windows of this favourite haunt of impossibly chic Parisians. The tall columns, high vaulted ceilings and deep reds and golds of the decor lend an air of formality, but also a welcome respite to those who have been tromping through the museum for hours. Do note that the regular café service shuts down while it serves breakfast, lunch and dinner. Which means, don't even try sitting down for a coffee or a simple beverage during meal times. You will be shooed away in no uncertain terms. But, other than that little detail, nowhere else can you sit in a luxurious café overlooking the glass pyramid of the Louvre. (01 49 26 06 60)
Cafe des Beaux Arts
This cafe not only has the honour of being the closest cafe to the Pont des Arts, Rive Gauche, it also can claim that it's been open for over a hundred years - since 1900 to be exact. Here you'll find housemade desserts and a lunch menu that offers items more substantial than just a snack such as a plat de jour of steak and fries. It's open every day until 2 a.m. and their day starts at 7 a.m. From the front sidewalk outdoor seating you gaze across the river at the Louvre and can sit for hours mesmerized watching the fashionistas, tourists, the bouquinistes and the cars pass by. The ambience indoors is warm, friendly enough, and they even serve drinks for when you have that taste for a good, stiff whiskey. (01 43 54 08 55)