From the ambient noise of beans grinding, the steaming of milk, friends chatting amongst themselves to each sip of a cafés signature cup, spending time in each of these world famous cafés will bring you a little closer to the city it inhabits. When you’re visiting a new place, there’s no better way to get a feel for local life than installing yourself in a bustling cafe for the better part of an afternoon.
In many European countries, the idea of whiling the day away at a café goes back centuries; it’s where great thinkers, artists and writers mingled with one another, inspiring each other to do their best work. And many of these places still exist today. Even if you’re not in the midst of crafting a literary masterpiece, these inspiring spaces summon you to cozy up with a cup of coffee, and get an authentic taste of the past and present.
Cafe de Flore, Paris
One of the most famous cafes in Paris, Cafe de Flore has occupied the corner of Boulevard St. Germain and Rue Saint Benôit for well over 100 years. The bustling artist scene in Paris in the early 20th century brought regulars like André Breton and Albert Camus. A buttery croissant paired with espresso is our favorite order here, and there’s better place to indulge than at a table right on the sidewalk (though locals prefer to sit upstairs) with a clear view of the statue of Greek goddess of flowers and spring, Flore, which the cafe is named after. Once you’ve had your fill of Cafe de Flore, wander across the street to Les Deux Magots — their longstanding rival — which was a favorite of philosopher couple Jean-Paul Sartre and Simone de Beauvoir.
Where to stay in Paris
Casa Marti el Quartre Gats, Barcelona
Casa Marti el Quatre Gats has a similarly prestigious guestbook, among them Pablo Picasso, who held his first exhibition here, and Salvador Dalí. The space has operated as a pub, restaurant, cabaret and even a hostel, and its unsteady history includes a brief closing due to debts, then a reopening as a hub for artists, and another lull resulting from the Spanish Civil War. When political upheaval settled, three businessmen revitalized the space in the late 70’s, retaining its beloved bohemian flair, which is still alive and well today. Step inside the quaint, incredibly charming space to find warm yellow walls dotted with paintings and photos of its many patrons strung above colorful tiles. “Quatre gate” is Catalan for “four brothers”, a phrase used to describe a small group of friends, so when you go, be sure to have your favorite cafe companions to share the experience with. Oh! And the bocadillo ibérico makes for a lovely breakfast.
Where to stay in Barcelona
Caffè Gilli, Florence
The oldest spot on this list by a longshot, Caffè Gilli in Florence is etched in every guide you come across about Florence, and for good reason. Though it has been nearly 300 years since Gilli first opened its doors, there isn’t a spec of dust: shiny espresso machines and pristine cases filled with chocolate goodies and pastries are tended to by fancily dressed servers, who seem to know as much about looking sharp as making a good strong cup of coffee. You can take your coffee to go, like many of the American celebrities who frequent the café do, but we recommend taking a seat — ordering a few different things — and soaking it all in. After all, that’s the way Marinetti did it!
Where to stay in Florence
Café a Brasileira, Lisbon
Translating to “The Brazilian Lady Café”, this pillar of the Lisbon city scene has been welcoming artists, free thinkers, students and tourists since 1905. There’s been a few tweaks to the interiors here and there, but the original owner’s main objective to sell an authentic cup of Brazilian coffee has been carried on throughout the years. Checkered marble black and white tiles sprawl across the floor, while antique chandeliers hang from the ornate ceilings. Order a cup of coffee, and take a seat outside with Fernando Pessoa — his bronze statue is there around the clock, ready and willing to sit quietly with Brasileira’s patrons as people pass by.
Where to stay in Lisbon