Nothing epitomizes the French lifestyle quite like café culture. Here in France, cafés are so much more than somewhere to go for a coffee, beer, or glass of wine; they’re a sort of second home. French cafés aren’t only places to eat and drink, but also to slowly wake up, read the paper, write a novel, do a little work, catch up with friends, gather with neighbors, and — back in the day — keep warm when it cost too much to heat your apartment.
Nowhere is the importance and love of the classic French café more visible than in France’s capital city. With some 1600 cafés in Paris, there’s a perfect place for everyone, from the most famous cafés on the Left Bank like the Café de Flore or Les Deux Magots to non-touristy, no-frills neighborhood hangouts like Aux Folies or Dada where regulars meet each morning for an espresso at the zinc counter and enjoy an apéro on the terrace late into the night.
Part home, part bar, part office, these establishments are an iconic piece of Parisian life and culture, both of Paris today and of Paris past.
Made famous beyond France’s borders thanks to the many American expatriate authors who called the City of Light home, like James Baldwin, Gertrude Stein, and of course, Ernest Hemingway, Parisian cafés are an attraction in and of themselves. If you’re looking to live like a local in Paris, make sure to spend some time en terrasse.
To help you have the best possible Parisian experience, here’s everything you need to know about Paris café culture to live your best café life.
There are more than 1400 cafés in Paris, according to the Paris Chamber of Commerce. Pas mal, n’est-ce pas?
The average price of a cup of coffee in Paris is 3.20€, or approximately $3.70. Prices vary drastically though, with many cafés offering an espresso for under 2€ while a coffee at a more famous café in Paris can cost upwards of 6€.
For an espresso, ask for un café, s’il vous plaît and for an English or American-style coffee, order un américain, un americano, or un filtré. For more options, see our full guide on how to order coffee in Paris.
Generally you can seat yourself if there’s an empty table on the terrace, but do try to make eye contact with the server before sitting down if possible. Choose a table with the appropriate number of seats — if you’re alone or a couple, stick to a two-top — and know that you probably won’t be allowed to only order a drink during the lunchtime rush.
No, tips are not expected at cafés or restaurants in France. If your server was extra friendly, feel free to leave a little something (0.50–2€) — it won’t be considered rude, on the contrary, it will be appreciated.
Les Deux Magots is probably the Paris café most closely associated with writers, the usuals including Jean-Paul Sartre, Simone de Beauvoir, Ernest Hemingway, F. Scott Fitzgerald, Albert Camus, James Joyce, James Baldwin, and Julia Child. Authors also frequented La Closerie des Lilas, Le Café de Flore, and Le Café de la Paix.
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