Our Top 5 Best Literary Cafés in Paris

Where the Writers Went
French café terrace of Les Deux Magots French café terrace of Les Deux Magots
January 25, 2021
Since the 19th century, certain Parisian cafés have been a second home to many celebrated authors. Everyone from Émile Zola to Jean-Paul Sartre congregated on their terraces to smoke, drink, and, of course, write. These are the cafés that are a must for literature lovers in Paris.
Portrait of Urbansider Paris author Ulrike
by Ulrike

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Paris has always drawn artists to it, and whereas the painters all congregated around Montmartre, the writers loved the 6th Arrondissement, around the Jardin du Luxembourg. Here are some of the best cafés in Paris that were frequent haunts of famous authors.

Our 5 Best Literary Cafés in Paris

1. La Closerie des Lilas

171 Boulevard du Montparnasse, 75006 Paris

At the corner of Boulevard de Montparnasse and the Jardin du Luxembourg, this café-cum-restaurant has welcomed them all over the years: from Simone de Beauvoir, Jean-Paul Sartre, Man Ray, Oscar Wilde, Ernest Hemingway, and F. Scott Fitzgerald to Emile Zola, Anaïs Nin, and Gertrude Stein. They and many, many more sat on the terraces in the days when it was still cheaper to drink in cafés than to heat your apartment.

The tables are now adorned with little plaques saying who sat where, with Hemingway obviously propping up the bar. There is a fine-dining restaurant and a brasserie with a café and bar downstairs. The prices are steep, but the history is palpable.

Inside the literary café La Closerie des Lilas
Photo via Instagram @lacloseriedeslilas

2. Les Deux Magots

6 Place Saint-Germain-des-Prés, 75006 Paris

All the usual suspects like Sartre and Beauvoir, Hemingway and the Fitzgeralds, Albert Camus, James Baldwin, James Joyce and, slightly more recently, Julia Child, sat here and scribbled away. On the corner opposite one of France’s oldest Romanesque churches, Église de Saint-Germain-des-Prés, the terrace of Les Deux Magots is a perfect place for people-watching, with busy shoppers and tourists alike sauntering past.

The inside is just as popular as the patio, and the red banquettes under the watchful eye of the two Magots (the two statues of Mandarin gentlemen perched by one of the columns), are always dotted with locals who take all morning to read the paper.

French café terrace of Les Deux Magots

3. Café de Flore

172 Boulevard Saint-Germain, 75006 Paris

Practically next door to Les Deux Magots, the Café de Flore took over in popularity with the literary set in the 1930s, with Jean-Paul Sartre calling the café home. Today, the café is one of the firm favorites of fashionistas during Paris Fashion Week. The people-watching here is superb, with people parading past just to be seen, and the breakfast is lovely.

Choose an omelet or a croissant, a boiled egg or a tartine, and you can linger nearly endlessly. You might also be tempted to color in the paper tablecloth depicting the café, drawn over 40 years ago by famous French illustrator Sempé. It’s too cute!

People on Paris café terrace at Café de Flore

Want to bring a bit of Parisian café life to your home? This Café de Flore print is sure to do the trick!

4. Café de la Paix

5 Place de l’Opéra, 75009 Paris

Finally, a café on the Right Bank, I hear you cry. There is no doubting that the Saint Germain neighborhood of Paris was THE place to be for writers, but the Café de la Paix next to Opéra Garnier was a favorite with Oscar Wilde, Marcel Proust, Guy de Maupassant, and Emile Zola (and for once, not Hemingway!).

The café is great for, yes, coffee and tea, but it’s an even better spot for dinner after taking in a ballet or opera at the Palais Garnier. The well-dressed hop and skip across the road and indulge in after-theater menus that have inspired writers for years.

Dining room of famous Parisian café Café de la Paix
Photo courtesy Café de la Paix

5. Le Grand Café Capucines

4 Boulevard des Capucines, 75009 Paris

Hemingway never ventured much onto Rive Droite, except maybe to head to the bar at The Ritz, but Oscar Wilde frequented the odd café on that side of Paris. In 1891 he stayed in lodgings on the Boulevard des Capucines, and once again, a coffee or two proved to be cheaper and more conducive to sitting and writing than his cold room.

So, the showcase Art Nouveau Café des Capucines became his second home for the time. He wrote Salomé — in French — while residing at Boulevard des Capucines, and chances are that a fair few pages were penned while sitting in the sumptuous surroundings of the Café des Capucines.

Le Grand Café Capucines
Photo courtesy of Le Grand Café Capucines

Remember your time en terrasse and say ‘bonjour’ to loved ones far away by sending a beautiful illustrated Paris café postcard.

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