Paris: Outdoor cafés to get away from it all

by phyllisflick on April 26, 2010

Sidewalk cafés literally abound in Paris and can be found on just about every corner; since winters here can be grey and even a bit gloomy, it’s no surprise that at the first hint of Spring, Parisians come out en mass. Every terrace is overflowing, but too often these precious parcels of land are just steps from the street, with the whiz of scooters and haze of pollution as a backdrop, not exactly a refuge of calm by any means. However, if you know where to look, you can find little pockets of quietness, hidden away from the bustle of big city life.

The following are a few of my favorite outdoor spots on the right bank for some peace and quiet, a bit off the tourist track.

The first is the Place Saint Marthe, a peaceful square at the top of the rue Saint Marthe, a colourful street lined with an eclectic mix of artist’s ateliers, cheap and cheerful restaurants, associations and apartments—some of which are pretty run down but it makes for an interesting mix. The square itself is lovely, with hardly any traffic and two very nice cafés/bistros which are perfect for drinks or a casual dinner en plein air when the weather gets warmer.

Another secluded spot in the 10th is Café A, located just steps away from the Gare de l’Est. Leave the seedy surroundings of the station and step inside the grounds of what was once a convent—and is now the la Maison de l’Architecture—and you’ll find a beautiful courtyard café. It’s so calm that it’s hard to imagine that the Gare de l’Est is just outside its doorstep.

My next choice leads you to the Parc de Belleville, which is incidentally the highest park in Paris and offers a pretty amazing view. On a tranquil corner situated just in front of the park sits La Mer à Boire. The food here is nothing special and the inside in pretty non-descript but the terrace over looking the park is especially peaceful and the view of Paris below is worth the trip.

Rosa Bonheur, as I’ve written before, is another idyllic spot, so idyllic in fact that half of Paris now flocks to it on the weekends. Last weekend the slopping hill just in front was so crowded that it looked more like the beaches of Saint Tropez, than an urban park. Nevertheless, even with the crowds, the Buttes Chaumont is so lovely that it remains one of my favourite places to get a way from it all and if you go early, you’ll avoid the crowds.

The banks of the Canal Saint Martin are another great place for a lazy afternoon in the sun, although you’ll have to head more towards Place Stalingrad if you want some peace and quiet as the banks around rue de Lancry can be quite crowded. For picnic fare you can pick up a bottle of wine at the Verre Volé, order a pizza from Pink Flamingo (they’ll deliver it to the canal for you when it’s ready) or grab a sandwich from Chez Castro (which by the way has some of the best sandwiches in Paris).

There are also a few cafés along the canal which merit a detour. A few years ago, I would have included Point Ephémère, but it’s no longer a secret and the refugee camp that has blossomed a few feet away takes away from its charm unfortunately. Better to head to 25 Est on the Quai de la Loire or, better yet, to the Bar d’Ourq, where you can borrow a set of boules for a game of pétanque while you sit back with a glass of rosé.

So there you have it, a few of my picks to relax and soak up the sun on the next beautiful day in Paris.

Place Saint Marthe
Paris 10th

Café A
148-154, rue du Faubourg Saint Martin, Paris 10th

Mer à Boire
1 Rue des Envierges, Paris 20th

Rosa Bonheur
2, allée de la Cascade, Parc des Buttes Chaumont, Paris 19th

25 Est
Place de la Bataille de Stalingrad, Paris 19th

Bar d’Ourq
68, Quai de la Loire, Paris 19th