First, have the right attitude. Paris is a city that likes to be watched. Parisians dress well and promenade past the cafes where the rest of the city sits for hours just watching people go by. In Paris you are expected to linger over one cup of coffee for up to an hour or so, just looking, reading, writing in your notebook so don’t ever feel rushed. Next you’ll want to find the café that is right for you. Each neighborhood has a slightly different flavor.
Marais is a lovely old medieval district, the oldest part of Paris, and is just buzzing with cafes and chic shopping. This is a great place to take time out from the museums and must-see sights to experience life as the Parisians live it. Head for the Au Petit Fer a Cheval (Horse Shoe Bar) at 30 Rue Vieille du Temple , 75004 (the main street through the district) and see if you can bag one of the highly desirable outside tables. Opposite is La Belle Hortense – a bookshop which doubles as a bar.
Historically this was the left bank’s artists’ quarter, centered around the intellectual life of the Sorbonne and the creative life of the School of Fine Arts. Iconic cafes of the area are: Café Flore, 172 Boulevard Saint-Germain, 75006 Paris, once the favorite hang-out of Existentialists and still one of the best cafés in Paris, and Les Deux Magots, 6 Place Saint-Germain-des-Prés 75006 Paris, one of the oldest cafés in Paris and another favourite meeting place for the surrealists and existentialists. Order the hot chocolate “à l’ancienne”.
This is where so much of the art we flock to the galleries to see and books we read at school were dreamed up. Head to La Coupole , 102 Boulevard du Montparnasse, 75014 Paris, a historical monument and the largest Parisian brasserie. Hemingway, Picasso and Sartre were regulars and the art deco interior has pillars painted by students of Matisse and Leger. Also try Le Select, 99 boulevard du Montparnasse, 75006, or La Closerie des Lilas, 171 Bld Montparnasse 75006
Alongside the river on the Left Bank, the Latin Quartier is great for strolling the narrow streets of cafés and restaurants until you find one that takes your fancy, then sit, order a coffee and people-watch to your heart’s content.
Once a fortress, these days an increasingly trendy area full of pavement cafes. Try Pause Café, 41, Rue de Charonne, 75011 Paris.
This waterside area fell into a doze once the canal boats left, but now the café culture is bringing the streets back to life. Watch the water from Chez Prune 36, Rue Beaurepaire, 75010, though you’ll need to get there early for an outside table.
Traditionally known as the artists’ quarter of Paris and thus filled with bars and cafes, but these days the neighborhood of Montmartre is also filled with tourist traps which are better avoided – you won’t find real Parisian life here. Head to the nearby hidden quarter of Abbesses, especially Le Sancerre, 35 rue des Abbesses, 75018, Paris, with its great mixture of locals, tourists, artists, students, even a few drag queens.