- Paul McQueen
What’s the national sport of France? Easy: football. Nope, guess again. Rugby. Not even close. Cycling? Don’t be ridiculous, and it’s not show jumping or figure skating either. The one (not so) physical activity that unites the French is, of course, people-watching. Paris’ restaurants and museums are the game’s great stadiums and the capital’s broad boulevards make spotting a kooky hat from a café terrace seem like child’s play.
Jardin des Tuileries
Like all popular sports, observing the crowds is handsomely subsidized by the municipal government in Paris. Investment, for the most part, comes in the form of green, wrought iron chairs in the city’s parks. Wherever you see these thrones of public inspection – handily made in both reclined and coupled models, in addition to the standard, individual upright – you know you’ve entered prime judging territory. The Jardin des Tuileries, which connects the Louvre to the foot of the Champs-Élysées, offers a nice mix of passers-by: locals running, as well as tourists running on fumes after an afternoon in the world’s largest museum.
Jardin des Tuileries, 113 Rue de Rivoli, Paris, France
Fouquet’s, like all historic restaurants of its breed, is as much (if not more) about who you are going to see during your meal as it is about what you are going to eat. On any old day of the year, the crowd inside is colorful enough to keep you occupied for three courses, and amusement is guaranteed thanks to people streaming past on the capital’s busiest shopping street. However, on one night every February, the crowd at Fouquet’s is of particularly high quality, as it hosts the post-César Awards dinner, and along with it the A-list stars of French cinema.
Restaurant Le Fouquet’s Paris, 99 Avenue des Champs-Élysées, Paris, France, +01 40 69 60 50
It’s hard to believe that the Centre Pompidou wasn’t built with the express intention of offering Parisians a place to contemplate the nature of life. With its vast entrance plaza, external staircases and glass walls, it’s an ideal spot for staring at strangers outside the window, and at the contemporary art found on the walls (and sometimes floor). Turn your back on the windows and crowd contemplation takes on a thrilling auditory dimension. Is there anything more rewarding than eavesdropping in on a conversation during which some pompous buffoon delivers his deep and meaningful analysis of abstract art?
Centre Pompidou, Place Georges-Pompidou, Paris, France, +01 44 78 12 33
Place des Vosges
There are perhaps two neighborhoods in Paris that can compete for the title of the best place to go people-watching and the Marais is one of them. Certainly, if you’re a gay man, or someone who enjoys looking at gay men, then this is the place to be. One of the most beautiful and well-appointed public squares to practice the national sport is the Place des Vosges. As you can see from the image below, some participants find themselves on the brink of complete physical exhaustion.
Place des Vosges, Paris, France
One of the infamous paradoxes of the world’s culinary capital is that a good cup of coffee is incredibly hard to come by. The espresso tends to be on the bitter, grainy side and the kind of fancy hybrid beverages one finds in New York, London, or Sydney are just not on the menu (unless you go to Starbucks). That being said, a few newly opened coffee spots, like Fondation Café, have entered the coffee (and subsequently people-watching) market. If flavor however isn’t an issue, then any Parisian coffee shop should do – just be sure to brush up on the local coffee etiquette before you go.
Fondation Café, 16 Rue Dupetit-Thouars, Paris, France
Opened six years ago now, Ralph Lauren’s flagship store in Paris has done a lot more than expand the brand’s already weighty prestige among French buyers. It has given them a new and much-needed place to rest their feet and feast their eyes in between luxury shopping sessions along the glamorous Boulevard Saint-Germain. For many, the focal point of this 13,000-square-foot converted mansion is Ralph’s, the gourmet American restaurant in the building’s courtyard. The menu is simple – salads and burgers – but the people-watching is rich (literally and figuratively).
Ralph’s, 173 Boulevard Saint-Germain, Paris, France, +01 44 77 76 00
Café de Flore
Not so long ago, the Café de Flore was where the world’s cultural elite came to brush shoulders. Writers, philosophers, and artists like Pablo Picasso frequented the place on the regular, while Simone de Beauvoir even penned her WWII novel The Blood of Others at one of its tables (the heating in her apartment had been shut off due to the war). The café and its main rival, Les Deux Magots further down the boulevard, still attract a stylish bunch and Saint-Germain as an area is one of our top two picks.
Café de Flore, 172 Boulevard Saint-Germain, Paris, France, +01 45 48 55 26
One of the oldest roads in Paris, the Rue Lepic snakes its way up the hillside of Montmartre and, over the years, became home to no shortage of famous names, like Van Gogh and the writer Louis-Ferdinand Céline. Near the foot of the road is the Café des 2 Moulins, a key location in Amelie, the popular French film that cast more than its fair share of eccentric folk deserving of an arched eyebrow.
Rue Lepic, Paris, France
The streets along the length of the Canal Saint-Martin are a vibrant place to shop, eat, and drink. During the warmer months, almost every inch of the canal bank is taken up by people picnicking, while on especially hot and sunny days, don’t be surprised to find people with questionable judgment leaping off the bridges and into the murky water. Technically, it’s illegal to swim in the canal but plans are in the works to create an open-air swimming pool here in 2017.
Canal Saint-Martin, Paris, France
The final spot on our list is just a few minutes walk from the canal. This cultural center, a converted municipal mortician from the 19th century (fun, right?), is at the heart of a rapidly regenerating neighborhood. Here, the national pastime takes on a distinctly more creative form. Dancers, acrobats, jugglers, musicians, and performers of just about every kind use the open public spaces to rehearse their routines. All you have to do is sit back and take it all in.
CENTQUATRE, 5 Rue Curial, Paris, France, +01 53 35 50 00