Living in Europe for nearly five years has taught me the art of nursing a minuscule espresso while watching the world pass by on a sunny day. No Starbucks, no iPhone, no book. Just you and a prime spot on the sidewalk. There are few activities as delectable as this. Here are my favorite places I’ve been:
You cannot write a list about people watching without including the capital of sitting in a cafe.
Where to go: Head to Paris Plage in the summer or the banks of Canal Saint-Martin with a bottle of wine for an inexpensive approach. For the old-school, 1920s-era experience, there is nothing better than a café in Saint-Germain-des-Prés. I recommend Le Bonaparte, Les Deux Magots and Café de Flore. Just make sure you abide by the unspoken café rules.
What to order: A café crème and almond croissant in the morning or a glass of Provençal rosé on a summer afternoon.
At the right cafe in Amsterdam you can see wooden canal boats, whole families seated on one bicycle and fashionably tall people go by your table.
Where to go: You can watch the Dutch float by at the canal-side Cafe ‘t Smalle near the Anne Frank House or take in the tall ships at the harbor-adjacent Hannakes Boom. You can also see Amsterdam’s only remaining windmill (within city limits) at the local, hipster brewery Brouwerij ‘t Ij.
What to order: A pale lager from Brouwerij de Prael is a good choice. If you prefer cocktails try jenever, which is a Dutch-style gin.
With Hungary having only recently emerged from the shadows of communism, Budapest has youthful, energized vibes with the backdrop of crumbling, Baroque architecture. This is Eastern European-style people watching.
Where to go: Spend a day at the Széchenyi Thermal Bath–in the winter you can float in the hot baths inside with the older, white-robed locals. In the summer enjoy the poolside show put on by the younger ones. Seek out Szimpla Kert in the “ruined neighborhood” of Budapest. On a hot day, the vine-covered pub is a cool respite.
What to order: The most popular local lager is Dreher, but I enjoyed Szepsy Tokaji Furmint (a full-bodied Hungarian white wine). Most restaurants served homemade lemonade and iced mint tea in the warmer months, as well.
With locals haggling over colorful spices and snake charmers hypnotizing vipers, Marrakech’s medina is one of the most exotic places not just for people watching, but for everything watching.
Where to go: Inside the medina, try Café des Épices for their rooftop views over the spice market. On the bustling main square, Jemaa el Fnaa, you will find a number of stand-up tea stalls where the locals hang out. Outside of the medina, Café de la Poste has old-school Casablanca vibes that cannot be beat.
What to order: Mint tea. Each server has his own, dramatic style of pouring this boiling hot drink, so get your camera ready. Inside the heavily Muslim medina alcohol is hard to come by, so save the cocktails for Café de la Poste.
Do you have a favorite spot for people watching? What’s your drink? I always wanted to walk into a bar and say “I’ll have my usual,” but alas I do not frequent one place enough nor do I have a go-to drink. Until next time!