The best cafes for watching the world go by

Rome Travel Blog

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What do you like doing most on a city break?  Do you like being inspired and moved by great art in the world’s most famous galleries such as the Louvre and London’s National Gallery?  Is it gazing at the great buildings and monuments such as the Arc de Triomphe or the Vittorio Emanuele Monument that floats your boat?  Do you enjoy seeking out the best new restaurants in Rome or Barcelona?  Or do you enjoy drinking and dancing at the hippest clubs in London, New York and Moscow?
  Personally all these things go into the mix for my ideal city break (well, except for the clubbing thing �" I’m just dangerous on the dance floor!) but my favourite pastime on a city trip is simply sitting at a café and watching the world go by.
  Obviously, as a travel writer and the founder of website that allows you to download onto your mobile or iPod a walking tour of Barcelona, Berlin, Florence, Venice, Vienna, London, Madrid, York and Amsterdam amongst others) I end up travelling a lot.  
  But in between testing our city walking tours, finding the best restaurants and seeking out cool new shops, bars and clubs, I always find time to sit down at a café, order a coffee or a glass of wine and watch the passing parade.
  I can spend hours doing this �" in fact I once had a lunch at a café and ended up spending the whole afternoon until nearly 6pm just sitting and watching people walk by, lost in my thoughts.  This was a lovely French café and the owner, rather than wanting me to move on, was apparently flattered that I was felt so comfortable in his establishment and wanted to enjoy sitting there for such a long time.
  It’s not just for pleasure, I should add.  Visiting galleries and great monuments, trying the food and wandering around historic sites will certainly tell you much about a city but I think that the best way to understand what makes Paris, Barcelona, Rome and Amsterdam tick or to get under the skin of London, Madrid, York or Florence is to sit at a café and just watch its inhabitants walk past.
  Here is the mp3cityguides guide to some of the best cafés for people watching:

Amsterdam �" Café American - this Amsterdam institution with its striking Art Deco interior does coffee and alcoholic drinks as well as good value sandwiches and light lunches.  Open: Daily noon - 10.30pm.  97 Leidsekade.

Barcelona �" Café de l’Opera �" I’m not a fan of Barcelona’s Ramblas because it’s touristy and tacky but this is a classic café for your café con leche.  Open: Daily 8.30am - 2am.  74 La Rambla.  Two other good cafes are by the church of Santa Maria de Mar in the Born district.

Florence �" Caffe Gilli and Caffe Concerto Paszkowski in the Piazza della Repubblica might be expensive and full of tourists but both of them are wonderfully elegant, they’re great for posing with your shades �" and they both serve wonderful hot chocolate.  Open daily except Tuesday around 8am - midnight.

London �" Costa Coffee �" the Old Compton Street branch is probably the best of this authentic Italian café chain to watch the world go �" theatre luvvies, media types, muscular gay men and the occasional celeb.  Open: Daily 8am �" 11pm.  39 Old Compton Street, W1.

Paris �" Les Editeurs �" this smart café is just off the Boulevard St Germain and so it’s less touristy than the famous cafes to be found on the famous boulevard itself.  Open: Daily 8am �" 2am.  4 Carrefour de l'Odéon, Paris 6ieme.

Rome - Tre Scalini - given its location in the famous Piazza Navona, you’ll usually find yourself gazing at other visitors rather than locals but the coffee is good and the ice cream divine.  Their chocolate tartufo is a speciality - to eat in or take away.  Open: Daily 8am - 12midnght.  30 Piazza Navona.
  If you fancy something quieter where you will really be able to watch real Romans going about their business then try the much smaller, quieter Caffe Sant' Eustachio which has excellent coffee plus cakes and pastries.  Coffee and coffee flavoured chocolates are available to buy in signature yellow packaging.  Open: Daily 7.30am �" 12midnight.  82 Piazza Sant' Eustachio.

York �" Betty’s - the great Yorkshire institution has wonderful cakes and light meals plus immaculate service and attention to detail.  Ask the immaculate staff to seat you at the window.  Open: Daily 9am - 9pm.  6-8 St Helens Square.

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photo by: vulindlela