No trip to Paris is complete without a visit to one of the thousands of cafés dotted around the sidewalks of one of the world’s most romantic cities.
Frequented by writers, artists, influential thinkers, and key historical figures dating back to the 17th century, cafés have played a central role in developing Paris’ identity.
Join the millions of tourists who stop off for an espresso or two in one of the 5 famous cafés highlighted below, and the chances are you will be following in the footsteps of an eminent historical figure.
1. Le Procope
Founded by Sicilian chef Procopio Cutò in 1686, Procope was France’s first establishment to call itself a café, serving coffee and Italian gelatos to the public. Cutò installed features now standard in European cafés such as chandeliers, mirrors, and marble tables.
Oval portraits and plaques commemorating famous former patrons now adorn the walls, with each room named after historical figures who once graced the café, including Chopin and Voltaire. Buy a coffee and then walk around the impressive building, literally following in the footsteps of the great and the good of Parisian society throughout the centuries.
2. Café Les Deux Magots
Café Les Deux Magots’ history dates back to 1812, to a novelty and fabric shop – named after contemporary play Les Deux Magots de la Chine. In 1873, the owners moved to the current Saint-Germain-des-Prés premises, and in 1884, transformed the business into a café, retaining the name and two titular Mandarin figurines – or magots – prominently perched on the café’s central pillar. Les Deux Magots gained popularity due to its influential literary and artistic clientele. Symbolist poets Paul Verlaine and Arthur Rimbaud were among the first notable visitors, but the post-World War One period was the café’s heyday.
Staying true to its 1930s golden age, the café retains its Art Deco interior with red seating, mahogany tables, wall-length mirrors, and chandeliers. Portraits of eminent former clients now hang on the walls with the two Mandarin figurines still taking pride of place.
3. Café De Flore
Named after a sculpture of Flora, the Roman goddess of flowers, which stands on the Boulevard Saint-Germain, Café De Flore opened in 1885, two years after the equally iconic Café Les Deux Magots. For over 130 years, the two cafés have existed as rivals just 44 metres apart with their eminent clientele overlapping. As crowds gathered at Café Les Deux Magots to glimpse celebrities, in turn the celebrities – including Raymond Aron, Maurice Merleau-Ponty, Truman Capote, Albert Camus, and Ernest Hemingway – retired to the comparatively quieter Café De Flore.
Flore has barely changed since the 1930s with red banquettes, mahogany furniture, and brass railings still on display. Drinks are still served in signature white and green china that matches the distinctive signage out front.
4. Café de la Paix
Originally intended to serve the Grand-Hôtel de la Paix – later renamed Le Grand-Hôtel – in 1862, Café de la Paix was constructed as part of Georges-Eugène Haussmann’s renovation of Paris (1853-1870). It first garnered attention as the host of the 1867 International Exposition, the second world’s fair. Its prominent location beside the Palais Garnier opera made Café de la Paix one of Paris’ most popular, sought-after spots, attracting many famous artists and politicians including Victor Hugo, Émile Zola, Guy de Maupassant, Pyotr Tchaikovsky, Oscar Wilde, and even Edward VI.
The café has undergone several renovations, most recently in 2003 by state-run architectural firm, Bâtiments de France, following the government declaring the café a monument historique in recognition of its sociohistorical significance.
5. Café de la Rotonde
Café de la Rotonde has been a staple of Paris’ café and restaurant scene for just over a century. Founded in 1911 by Victor Libion, it was one of the city’s most popular cafés during the interwar period, particularly for artists. As a central spot for the Lost Generation crowd of European intellectuals and American expatriates, La Rotonde was the epicentre of new ideas such as a Dadaism, surrealism, and cubism.
The red and gold interior, which matches the iconic sign out front, still imbues La Rotonde with unique charm, transporting you to another world, to another century, when radical ideas were first introduced over the very same tables.