By Kate van den Boogert
October 22, 2014
Credit: Henk Meijer / Alamy

The café is more than just a casual spot for a latté or a croissant. For many Parisians, the café is a way of life. As most Parisians live in relatively small apartments, the café has become an extension of every living room. Open from early in the morning to the dusky hours of late evening, it’s a relaxed, anonymous place to have breakfast, to read the paper, or to worry away at your latest novel. If you’re at your local haunt, it’s quite likely you’ll bump into friends or neighbors there. For many, the leather banquettes and gleaming glass pastry cabinets are a place to congregate around: meetings over petit quiches and pots of fresh-brewed coffee. A familiar waiter or barista may ask if you’d like l’habitude—the usualor write you the daily Wi-Fi password on the corner of a paper napkin. The best offer all of the above, as well as expansive terraces, with vistas of the city’s most iconic landmarks.

Le Parisien

This fairly new café, on the Rue de Saint Martin, has a playful, contemporary-diner interior (lacquered wood walls; bold bias-stripe tiles) and a menu of stalwart, old-school items. Standout drinks, like Brooklyn Lager IPA on tap and the Italian soda San Bitter, give the café a hip edge. Visit on your way to the digital art museum, La Gaîté Lyrique, for its always-stimulating program.

Le Progrès

This is the Northern Marais’ collective drop-in centre. The expansive terrace is constantly buzzing with trendy locals. Inside, the décor is unflinching and traditionally French, featuring everything from a tobacconist counter to boiled eggs and the daily newspapers on the bar. The classic bistro menu has a handful of new dishes each day, and features fresh oysters in winter.

Le Bonaparte

In the heart of St Germain des Prés, this café’s generous outdoor patio opens on to the courtyard’s ancient church, and is just opposite the famous Left Bank literary bookshop, La Hune. Thankfully, it’s not a tourist destination like its high-profile neighbors, but it shares their timeless Parisian style. Beneath its blue, white, and red awning, diners enjoy French-style omelets (purposefully runny, with ham or melted cheese) and tartars.

Café Etienne Marcel

With avant-garde interiors by the French graphic designers M/M and contemporary artist Philippe Parreno, this café attempts to channel the spirit of the neighborhood. Located in the heart of the Etienne-Marcel fashion district, the café has a huge corner terrace, perfect for checking out the trendy locals. Free wireless internet is another key attraction.

Chez Jeannette

The slightly grungy, longstanding locale has kept its original, nicotine-stained décor. The long central counter is the best spot in the café to pull up a seat. Drop in any time of the day for a meal, a simple cup of coffee, or—when necessary—something stronger. Try the Bohemian Bourgeois: gin, cucumber, rosemary, and bitter lemon.