Paris’s most famous symbols are its café terraces. Much like the pretty streets in the city, even the terraces are cobblestone-laid spots. Pop-up bars are also opened on these spots during the summer, but some are packed with crowds in all seasons. The idea is, terraces and cafes bring people together, nurture an artistic community, and support the “Joie de Vivre” notion (Joy of Living) which is so quintessentially French. Terraces are so romantic and iconic that Paris even requested the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization to recognize its terraces on the UNESCO World Heritage List.
Some History of Parisian Terraces
Coffee has been very much a part of French life from the 17th century mid onwards. People met on terraces and cafes to discuss philosophy, share artistic ideas, share gossip, and even catch up on some local news. As there were no phones or TV sets in the past, cafes served as hubs for socializing and spreading information; that people got food and drinks in these places were an additional perk.
Terrace Etiquettes to Follow
As you might expect, terraces in Paris are quite popular, so people come here in large numbers at certain times. There are certain implied rules which make visitors’ experience a whole lot better as they have their evening “apero”.
For instance, on certain spots, you might just see some tables with silverware setting, and some without it. If you intend to have a meal, then grab a table set with silverware. However, if you are just staying for a drink or two, grab one without any setting.
Next unspoken rule is concerning the noise levels. A terrace is meant for having a good time, but any person being excessively loud might just be told to leave the place. In addition, if you are with a large group, it is always courteous to ask servers for help before you take a seat. Trying to rearrange tables in order to accommodate a party is usually frowned on, but the staff at a café would be quite happy to help people do so.
Smoking is permitted on terraces. If you are to do it, then it is customary to ensure that you are not blowing smoke to the table near yours, even if people sitting there are also smoking. If you are bothered by the fumes, then it may be advisable to head into the café you are in, or try its terrace spot when it is less crowded.
The way you sit in Parisian terrace cafes also matters. You might have seen that several terraces have chairs facing the street; these are preferable than those where chairs face away from it, because people-watching is also a part of the experience. This means sitting side-by-side is customary, instead of sitting across your companion’s table like you might be used to. The cobblestoned street is where things happen, so ensure that you sit in a way that gives the best view to everyone.
Which are Paris’s Best Cafes with Terrace Spots?
Today, terraces are popular meeting places for coworkers, families and friends. That is in parts because houses and apartments are slightly smaller in size. Several locals do not have backyards or any other outdoor spots where they live, therefore a terrace presents an opportunity to get some fresh air and meet friends instead of gathering in someone’s tiny flat. Thankfully, every Parisian neighborhood has some bustling terraces. If you are looking to head to a terrace cafe anytime soon, these are some of your best options.
The City of Lights is home to so many of these spots that it would take one nearly 30 years to visit them all. If you have a home-base here and are looking to take on that challenge, then be prepared to spend every single day on terraces. However, even if you are on a private city tour Paris, these are some options for having food and refreshments in the open-air (Al Fresco) setting.
Les Deux Magots
This café is situated in the neighborhood of Saint-Germain-des-Prés. Literary greats such as Simone de Beauvoir, Jean-Paul Sartre, and Ernest Hemingway used to visit it frequently. The area is also home to a church named Église de Saint-Germain-des-Prés.
La Closerie des Lilas
The likes of Hemingway also used to frequent it, among other giants from the world of literature. In fact, it is fun to choose a table here, as it has named tables after some of its more famous guests, such as Paul Cézanne and Oscar Wilde. In addition to the outdoor setting, it also has a piano bar where you can listen to melodious music.
Café de la Paix
This café is situated adjacent to Opera Garnier. With its ornate and elegant look, the café just about seems like the opera building’s miniature version. This one was also frequented by great French writers, such as Emile Zola and Guy de Maupassant to name two.