Paris Travel Tip: Cafes vs Bistros vs Brasseries


The more time I’ve spent in Paris, the more I’ve come to realize the importance of café life in French culture. Cafés are seats of sociability and discussion as well as windows on a constantly changing view. Cafés are the perfect spot for a morning coffee and croissant, a mid-afternoon sit-down, and a glass of wine, a salad or a sandwich, and people-watching all day long.

Bistros are a notch above cafés when it comes to food selection, and lunch and dinner are served at set times. Traditional bistros are small, unpretentious, and family run, offering good quality classic French fare, such as foie gras, steak frites, confit, cassoulet. Le Fontaine de Mars and Le Petit Troquet are two wonderful examples.

Neo-bistros are hot right now. They can be tiny (fewer than 20 seats) and are run by young, classically trained chefs pursuing their own vision of affordable, market-driven cuisine. Original food, reasonable prices, and limited seating means reservations are essential.

Brasseries are generally larger, more brightly lit and more animated than bistros. Food is served from early morning until late at night, not just at meal times. Ambiance sets brasseries apart—expect high ceilings, large windows, mirrored walls, and ornate, turn-of-the-century decor. Brasseries are great places for special occasions, group gatherings, and authentic, regional cuisine. Many are open daily. Brasserie Flo is one of my faves.

Attention: an entrée in France is a starter; the main course is referred to as the plat.

Do you have a favorite Paris cafe? bistro? brasserie? We’d love to hear about it!