This week sees the reopening of Paris’s café and restaurant terraces, after a hibernation of more than half a year. That means: Paris is slowly becoming Paris once more.
Of course, Paris is about the Eiffel Tower and the Louvre and Notre-Dame and the various other architectural wonders that take your breath away. But as anyone who loves Paris well knows, the city is about the little moments as much as the big monuments.
And one of the greatest small pleasures of Parisian life is whiling away an hour or three en terrasse.
It’s a tradition that has been going strong here since the early nineteenth century, when legendary cafés (Tortoni, Café de Paris …) spilled their rattan chairs and marble-topped tables out onto the footpaths of the Grands Boulevards.
When Baron Haussmann made Paris over into a whole city of boulevards several decades later, the craze only spread. It was a time when Paris was evolving into a city of leisure and pleasure, where the glamour and show weren’t just on the stages of the city’s many theatres, but also in everyday life. The streets of Paris, the capital of fashion, became the stage itself on which to be seen, and terraces were the front-row seats.
One of most popular terraces of the times was Les Deux Magots, which had originally been a fabric store on Rue de Buci; it moved to the new Boulevard Saint-Germain in 1873, and reinvented itself as a café in 1884, going where demand took it. It remains a classic terrace to this day.
There are, of course, countless wonderful terraces all over Paris, from the small and humble to the grand and fabled. Everyone has his or her own favourite, for a variety of reasons, from the location to the view, the menu to the history. If you’re still looking to find your own go-to, read on for ten other options, thoroughly tried-and-tested by yours truly (all in the name of research, of course!).
Bon Appétit & Santé!
Café de Flore
Sip coffee in the place that brewed Existentialism; in addition to Simone de Beauvoir and Jean-Paul Sartre, you’ll be sitting among numerous other A-list ghosts, as the Flore has attracted practically every writer and artist of note since opening in 1880. These days you still come across philosophically minded types talking about the meaning and the angst of life, but the Flore is also great for superficial people-watching, too. Like its neighbour Les Deux Magots, the Flore is a classic, no matter the time of day, be that mealtime, when it excels in Gallic comfort food, for an afternoon tea and treat, or for sunset apéro.
172 Boulevard Saint-Germain, 75006
Anywhere on Place Dauphine
This triangular square is an oasis of sweet tranquillity, a slice of French countryside in the very midst of the city. Watch locals play boules among the grove of horse chestnut trees, which bloom beautifully pink in May, as you sit by the cobbled road, sipping a rosé and writing postcards. Wish you were here …
Île de la Cité, 75001
Shakespeare and Company Café
Buy a novel next door at the fabled bookshop (where there’s also a great selection of books about Paris), and settle down with a cup of steaming chai and slice of lemon pie, occasionally looking up to check the progress of the Notre-Dame renovations. It’s the perfect, inspirational start to a day of touring the Latin Quarter.
37 Rue de la Bûcherie, 75005
If you’re not sure where your Paris day should take you, begin here. Over breakfast, ponder where to stroll from this impeccably situated café. North, perhaps, through the lovely gardens and arcades of Palais-Royal and the various covered passages, then up to Montmartre? Or maybe east, to the Marais via Les Halles? Or what about a shopping day along the Rue Saint-Honoré, of which Le Nemours is on the corner? Or a day devoted to the Louvre, which is just a croissant’s throw away? Or, of course, you might just want to linger here a while, watching the world go by on Place Colette, which is laid out for you like a stage showing endlessly fascinating vignettes of Parisian life.
Place Colette, 75001
Bar du Marché
There’s sadly not much left of the old Rue de Buci market, but this café remains fun and lively all the same, and is well situated for fuel stops amid a day of Saint-Germain shopping.
75 Rue de Seine, 75006
Looking out onto Place Saint-Germain-des-Prés, with a glorious view of the old church, Café Bonaparte is far less touristy (and pricey) than its famous neighbour, Les Deux Magots, but just as glamorous.
45 Rue Bonaparte, 75006
Café de l’Époque
One of the prettiest terraces in town, Café de l’Époque is located next to one of the loveliest shopping strips in town: Galérie Véro-Dodat, which houses the quintessentially Parisian accessory brands Christian Louboutin (shoes) and By Terry (beauty).
2 Rue du Bouloi, 75001
Café le Louis Philippe
Featuring another gorgeous, leafy terrace, le Louis-Philippe is beautifully placed between the Île Saint-Louis and the Marais, and just the spot in which to catch your breath during a day of walking, and revive yourself with a kir and a cheese plate.
66 Quai de l’Hôtel de Ville, 75004
Au Petit Fer à Cheval
You can dine in the cute bistrot tucked in the back, or sip at the fabulous horseshoes-shaped bar, but if there’s a table out front, grab it and take in the atmosphere of one of the Marais’ best streets, as well as that of this beloved eatery, which has been in business for over a century.
30 Rue Vieille du Temple, 75004
If you venture beyond the terrace, past the bar into the old billiard room, you’ll find yourself surrounded by eclectic artworks — and yes, paint palettes — a nod to the café’s history as a haven for artists, who would often pay in artwork. La Palette remains cherished to this day by students of the nearby École des Beaux-Arts and the district’s gallery owners, as well as anyone looking for a portal into old Paris.
43 Rue de Seine, 75006