There is nothing more French, or more specifically-- Parisian-- than taking a few moments out of your day to sit with an espresso in one of the city's thousands of cafes. Indoors on a cozy banquette or out on a sunny terrace, drinking and people-watching is one of the most cherished past-times in France. While there are charming and unique spots all over Paris, this list includes some of the classics-- famed artists, writers and musicians frequented many of these traditional Paris cafes, and most have done their best to retain that old-Paris glamour.
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Declared a historic site by the French government in 1975, this iconic café is the setting for many a painting and poem. The ornate frescoed interior and proximity to the Paris Opera Garnier make this classic look more like a museum than simple watering hole. Once loved by French writers such as Guy de Maupassant and Emile Zola, the café is so well-known that legend claims that you will surely run into a friend there.
Address: 12 Boulevard des Capucines, 9th arrondissement
Phone: +33 (0)1 40 07 36 36
2. Le Select
One of the great classic Parisian cafés, this one gets bragging rights for its long list of past clients. Henry Miller, Hemingway, Picasso and F. Scott Fitzgerald all took their coffee breaks here as the sun draped over them on the terrace. Mosaic tiles line the floor and prop up the wicker chairs found in most traditional Parisian cafés. The one noticeable difference between the cafe's former and current guise is the lack of smoke trails swirling through the air – smoking is now banned indoors in France.
Address: 99 Boulevard du Montparnasse, 6th arrondissement
Phone: +33 (0)1 45 48 38 24
When Jean-Paul Sartre and Simone de Beauvoir weren’t debating across the street at Cafe de Flore, they were lounging here, at this now- upscale hangout for tourists and the Paris elite. Grab a newspaper and a café crème, and plant yourself on the sunny terrace while you imagine the days when Ernest Hemingway, Albert Camus and Pablo Picasso rubbed elbows in this very spot.
Address: 6 place St Germain des Pres, 6th arrondissement
Phone: +33 (0)1 45 48 55 25
Across the street from rival Les Deux Magots, Le Cafe de Flore has changed little since World War II: red booths, wide mirrors and an enviable clientele. While it has become a hotspot for tourists and upwardly mobile types, and no longer attracts as many students and artists, it still merits a visit for the ambiance. The café once hosted Sartre and de Beauvoir’s passionate discussions, among others.
Address: 172 Boulevard Saint-Germain, 6th arrondissement
Phone: +33 (0)1 45 48 55 26
Located within the Ritz Hotel, the Hemingway is an old haunt of Sartre and James Joyce, and pays special tribute to the eponymous author with a wall display of 25 of his original photos from A Moveable Feast. Enjoy beers from around the world here, or Hemingway's old favorite, the single malt whiskey. The wood-paneling and cushy leather stools will make you feel like you've just stepped onto the set of An American in Paris.
Address: 15 Place Vendome, 1st arrondissement
Phone: +33 (0)1 43 16 33 65
Back when Victor Libio opened this corner café in 1911, starving artists like Picasso and Amedeo Modigliani could spend hours nursing a ten-centime cup of joe, paying only with a drawing if they didn’t have the cash. These days, drinks at La Rotonde cost a bit more than your latest work of art, but the café is still worth visiting for its Art Deco elegance and Old Paris feel.
Address: 105 Boulevard du Montparnasse, 6th arrondissement
Phone: +33 (0)1 43 26 48 26
If not for the glass-roofed area and brass rails, stop by this revered Montparnasse haunt for its tables, which are name plated after the café's former regulars: Oscar Wilde, Paul Cézanne, Emile Zola and Paul Verlaine, to name a few. Enjoy an afternoon café, or stop in for a drink at the piano bar followed by a candlelit dinner in one of the comfortable banquettes.
Address: 171 Boulevard du Montparnasse, 6th arrondissement
Phone: + 33(0)1 40 51 34 50
8. Le Procope
The oldest café in Paris, founded in 1686, Le Procope was once frequented by such emblematic 18th century figures as Voltaire and Benjamin Franklin. With its chandelier-clad high ceilings and walls lined with antique paintings, to visit this café is to step back in time. Come in for a café and stay on for their scrumptious coq au vin.
Address: 13 Rue de l'Ancienne Comédie, 6th arrondissement
Phone: +33 (0)1 40 46 79 00
Two steps from the Luxembourg Gardens, this swanky spot is filled with the city’s journalists, politicians and celebrities. The Saint-Germain neighborhood’s jazz scene got its start here, where Duke Ellington used to play with his band. Known for its selection of regional wines and market-fresh cuisine, Le Café Tournon is great for a mid-afternoon cappuccino or an evening meal.
Address: 18 Rue de Tournon, 6th arrondissement
Phone: +33 (0)1 43 26 16 16
Founded in 1899, this café, restaurant and accompanying hotel is the quintessential spot for Parisian hobnobbing. French President Nicolas Sarkozy himself celebrated his electoral victory here in 2007, and Fouquet's is also a top venue for Cesar Film Awards after-parties. After having your photo taken atop the gold-plated stars on the sidewalk entrance, slide into one of the plush leather chairs for a drink overlooking the Champs-Elysées.
Address: 99 Avenue des Champs-Elysées, 8th arrondissement
Phone: + 33 (0)1 40 69 60 50