“What do Parisians do to enjoy sunrise?” I ask my new friend, Mary. We’ve only just met, through the wonderful connective power of Instagram. I had put a call out that I was visiting Paris and was hoping to meet some locals, and voilà, here we are, sipping coffee and chatting like old friends in the city she calls home.
Mary looks at me somewhat incredulously and, in answer to my question, says simply, “We walk along the Seine.”
So, I walk along the Seine. It’s 7 o’clock in the morning and a little chilly out, but I wanted to get there early to find a good vantage point for sunrise. There’s something quite remarkable about a city before it fully wakes, and Paris is no exception. Walking through the Place du Louvre around the pyramids and casting a glance to the Tuileries to my right, I’m reminded that in just a few short hours this area will be heaving with tourists, cameras firmly secured around their necks, some with children in tow, all with the steely resolve of people determined to make the most of their time in the City of Light. I breathe in the crisp early morning air, revelling in my relative solitude.
Starting my day early on the banks of the river has left me full of energy and excitement about exploring the city today. One of the ways I get to know a city is by getting to know the coffee culture. Walking the city streets for days on end I know I’m going to need to stay caffeinated, and as a barista, Mary is the perfect guide. After my early rise, I need to fuel up before hitting the pavement and Mary told me just the place to go: Café Kitsuné.
A mere stone’s throw from the Louvre, nestled in an arcade alongside one of those quintessentially Parisian parks complete with perfect rows of trees and artfully placed benches, this place is a little wonder. I’m there early, before the lovely American barista has even had a chance to lay out the day’s pastries. I make her job a little easier by unburdening her of a pillowy chocolate chip cookie and order a strong Americano.
I’m caffeine charged and have at least one sweet treat in me to tide me over until my next stop, which is the charming and eccentric La Galcante. Go through the blue door at 52 rue de l’Abre Sec 52 and you will find this gem of a place. Tall-ceilinged and packed to the rafters full of old newspapers, periodicals and books, this place is a treasure trove and an ode to times gone by.
From there, I head toward Passage du Gran Cerf, a shopping arcade that reminds me of my childhood. Richly tiled and impossibly chic, the stores are the kind I am sure my grandmother would have passed through back when she made her pilgrimage to Europe many years ago. These days, they are filled with a decidedly more streetwise clientele, and I spy more than one store that makes me gasp at the delights inside. Luckily for my credit card, it’s too early for the shops to be open.
Taking a fifteen-minute walk through the 3rd arr. now, I pass through another cute little passage and find myself at Café Loustic. The streets of this neighborhood are some of the oldest in Paris and navigating them can be an adventure. With so much to pack into a short stay, I don’t want to waste any time asking for directions. I decided to use Bienvenue Telecom and take advantage of the citywide WiFi. It makes finding places like Café Loustic simple.
Bright and light and full of lovely little details, the real jewel of this place is its staff. I order an espresso assuming I’ll be on my way pretty quickly, but find myself immersed in conversation with the owner, Channa Galhenage. From England originally, we chat about the coffee scene in London, how it compares to Paris, and what the new cafes in the city are offering these days. The café echoes with English spoken in a myriad of different accents, but French just as easily rolls off their tongues and it’s great to be in such an inclusive place where both travellers and Parisians can sit, relax, and enjoy a good cup of coffee.
My next stop is Merci, which has become somewhat of an institution. Three charming floors offer goods ranging from clothing and accessories to kitchenware and furniture, making this bright space the place to go and daydream about your imaginary home and all the impossibly beautiful things you would put in it.
Flanked by two great cafes, one is a little spoilt for choice at Merci, so I suggest taking your time. Cinema Café and the Used Book Café have the same menu but completely different vibes. The latter is perfect for hunkering down in slightly chilly weather and perhaps grabbing one of the many tomes lining the walls for a little reading break. The former, by contrast, projects a film on the wall and is bustling and lively, a glass and mirror box to sit in, watch and be watched.
Café Coutume is one place that had come up time and time again in my Paris research. Fairly new and very trendy, it produces an excellent cup of coffee. After a busy morning wandering the streets, it is a welcome break and a chance to sit and enjoy watching the world go by outside the window. When finished, I have more than a little pang of wistfulness. I would have quite liked to while away an afternoon here, book in hand with an endless supply of coffee at my fingertips.
My final café visit is to La Recyclerie in the 18th arr. Hop on the Metro (a clutch of 10 tickets will cost you just 14 Euros) or grab a ride as I did through my PayPal-linked Uber account. Though slightly overwhelming in terms of its size and the amount of people packed in, it’s a great concept. Visitors grab a silver tray and there are a variety of different foods on offer, all served up by the staff cafeteria style. The café is built inside Gare Ornano, a retired train station where chickens are happily kept just outside.
At the end of a great day exploring the cafés and side streets of this incredible city, I have more than a little caffeine buzz. They say Paris is the city of lights, of romance. For me, it’s really an intricate cobweb of sights and sounds, happily punctuated by places with great coffee and comfortable seats to rest my weary traveller’s feet. You can really do no better than stopping and people watching in a brand new city. Sometimes it’s those in between moments, those brief respites, or those new shortcuts you walk, that let you really get to know the heart of a place.
Adrienne Pitts was invited on a coffee tour of Paris to uncover some of the under-the-radar spots in the city through a partnership between Passion Passport and PayPal. All opinions are her own.