Which cities have people-watching street cafes?

D. asks me that question, citing Morocco, BA, and Paris.  Here are a few factors militating in favor of such cafes:

1. The weather should be reasonable.  This militates in favor of Mediterranean climates, with Paris eking through nonetheless.  It hurts much of Asia.

2. The broad highways and thoroughfares should be removed from where the cafes might go.  This factor harms Los Angeles, which otherwise has excellent weather, and helps La Jolla.  Note that BA and some of the larger Moroccan cities were designed and built up around the same time, based on broadly European models, and to fit early 20th century technologies.

3. Street crime must be acceptably low.  Bye bye Brazil.

4. Pollution should be fairly low, otherwise sitting outside is unpleasant.  This harm many Indian and Chinese cities.

5. Streets must not be too steep.  Sorry La Paz, and yes here at MR we adjust steepness coefficients by altitude.

6. Skyscrapers must not be too plentiful.  This harms Manhattan, because the sunlight is mostly blocked.

7. Explicit or implicit marginal tax rates on labor should be relatively high.  Another boost for the Mediterranean.  And is cafe culture therefore correlated with smoking culture?

7b. Explicit or implicit land rents should be “low enough.”  After all, they have to be willing to let you sit there all day.  Just try that in midtown Manhattan.

8. The cities should have mixed-use neighborhoods, well-connected to each other by foot, conducive to many diverse groups of people walking through.  This hurts many parts of the United States and also some parts of Latin America.  It is a big gain for Paris.

9. The city dwellers need some tradition of “being alone,” so that these individuals use the cafe to connect to the outside.  You will note that in many parts of Italy, the people-watching street cafe is outcompeted by the “stationary street conference, five guys who know each other really well yelling at each other about who knows what?”  They never get around to that cafe chair.  So the city needs some degree of anonymity, but not too much.  This harms some of the more traditional societies found around the Mediterranean.  On the other side of the distribution, too strong a tradition of television-watching hurts cafe life too.

10. Another competitor to the people-watching street cafe is the zócalo town square tradition of Mexico.  I myself prefer the centralization of the zócalo (though admittedly it does not scale well fractally).  So the city also has to fail in providing just the right kind of parks and park benches and focality in its very center.  Surprise, surprise, but dysfunctional local public goods are by no means unheard of around the Mediterranean, Paris too, BA, and cities such as Casablanca.

What else?


A number of tourists small enough that one does not feel overwhelmed by people jostling by as one sips coffee. The absence of aggressive street vendors. These argue against Rome and (somewhat) Paris.

Istanbul is my favorite cafe city, comparing favorably on pretty much all dimensions.

If you've been to enough large cities of that kind, Sarajevo might be your next visit. Think Istanbul divided by 10 (or 20?).
I'd have recommended it as coming out on top given the metrics above, but it's too small to meet some of the "different people & things" crieria.

I’ve never been to Sarajevo, but your comment got me to remember Dubrovnik, which is another great cafe city.

Dubrovnik definitely feels overwhelmed by tourists though

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I live in Istanbul and I don't consider it a particularly great cafe city as far as people-watching goes. Certainly not to the point where I'd consider it noteworthy. Parts of the city, perhaps but places like Kadikoy are too busy, Besiktas is too hilly and any further out than three or so metro stops you end up sitting somewhere either at the side of a busy road or in a place with very little passing foot traffic.

Sarajevo fails on the weather front for large chunks of the year but I think both of those suggestions are along the right lines.

I've a few more suggestions to add to Tyler's list:

1. Cities where alcohol intake is low. Beer is not conducive to people watching. (e.g. Alexandria)

2. Cities with high unemployment. (e.g. Bitola)

3. Cities where residents receive high amounts of remittances (e.g. Shkoder)

2&3 combined is a potent force, allowing people to spent all day in the cafes.

I think the perfect real-life example of 1, 2 & 3 is Mitrovica in Kosovo. On one side of the bridge you have plenty of busy street-side cafes where the very high youth population (1/3rd of the country go to school) and unemployed living off Swiss remittances drink plenty of tea. The cross the bridge and you'll find a much stronger culture of drinking alcohol where remittances are negligible so people are too busy making ends meet to sit down and have a drink. (Also, Tyler's #5 comes into play here as the geography of the Serb side of town also lets it down.)

Items 1-9 covered HERE:


Surely Barcelona must be a contender on those metrics, with an added bonus for its local architecture that cuts off the corners off buildings and makes most intersections a plaza. Whatever it lacks in diversity of neighborhoods (and that's debatable) it makes up for in diversity of visitors from Eastern & Northern Europe, North & West Africa, and the US.

What diversity we dont have that we badly need? Oh i get it. Don't worry, the diversity is coming on ONG boats as we speak.

It'd be nice if one could say the very useful word "diversity" without everyone immediately assuming you mean "you want more black and brown people here." There are other meanings.

Using Wikipedia, I'm guessing BA = "Beni Ansar"

Ahh. I just realized BA might not be in Morocco. Probably Buenos Aires.

"Note that BA and some of the larger Moroccan cities were designed and built up around the same time, based on broadly European models, and to fit early 20th century technologies."

The ideal flaneur locations? There are few issues which I am less qualified to discuss. I am not a flaneur and I mostly gave up traveling for fun before this year's med school graduating class was born, that being said:

I used to be good at predicting the future. So, here go a few predictions (Most people commenting here have more predictions)

Arlington Cemetery is currently a live cemetery, with interments every weekday, if you like to be somewhere where things are happening, and think you should spend some of that time at a cemetery, I predict that you only have about 20 years before Arlington Cemetery is a no-go area for people watching, it will be sad when it will be such a sacred place but with nobody being buried there on any given average day (this is 2018, 2038 is the year I am thinking about)

Back to the present: I have seen the look of joy on women and children as they see their husband and father return from a war zone (not to mention that time I saw a not guilty verdict where the accused was, like, actually not guilty), I haven't seen that lately, but I see similar looks in sad little beach towns (or even better, hot summertime boring towns far from the beach) as people realize they are about to walk through the door of a place that serves good cold milkshakes on a hot day, yeah, that will not change for a long time ....

and .... Union Station in DC. At Christmastime, the happy people milling around the huge Norwegian toy train display, the rest of the year, the happy people sitting at the iced tea bar near the concourse - not in the greatest years of the Roman Empire were there such sights of so many people, tired but proud, rejoicing at their presence in their nation's capital, you won't forget it if you have seen it once

Connecticut. New Haven. Groton. Boston, Rhode Island.

How about Winter Park, Florida?

Well, it’s one street about four blocks long and the cafes themselves aren’t much to get excited about but sure, decent spot for people watching.

Paris felt right at home being from Chicago. Someone tried to pick my pocket on the Paris Metro and my son got mugged late at night. Urbanization and the welfare state is a bane on all law abiding citizens and taxpayers.

"7. Explicit or implicit marginal tax rates on labor should be relatively high. Another boost for the Mediterranean."

I'm trying to figure out what Tyler is getting at here ... low labor supply so people idle away their hours sitting at cafes?

It would prevent full employment in the economy, meaning more people sat about in cafes.

But if they're not employed they don't have a lot of money to spend at cafes, so cafes have an incentive to kick the non spending idles out. Retirees, sure. Same with lower work hours generally. The unemployed, doesn't really make sense. Check the library.

Tel Aviv

Yes. And in another time, Beirut.

Coffee shops are just places. In the internet and social media age, coffee shops are dead, so to speak ….
Instead, as Milton said, “the Path of my departure [is] free; and there was none to lament my annihilation.

Milton or Shelly?

Canadian drink a ton of coffee per capita and we got tons of cafes (and patios) without having the weather. Cafes are growing in number.

The top 10 coffee consumption countries are all cold


Tripoli Libya (during Gadaffii)




Doha - although unconventional as it is all indoors in shopping malls, the cafe culture of sitting, talking and watching people is pretty strong

Algiers, Oran, Constantine

Moscow isn’t actually too bad for this (in the summer of course). The new Mayor promoted from Tyumen is doing his best to improve the downtown to make it more liveable.

Tel Aviv.

I actually like the sidewalk culture of Haifa better than Tel Aviv.

Various parts of Sydney (e.g. Crown Street in Surry Hills and Victoria Road in Darlinghurst) and Melbourne

No binge drinking culture? Cafes are replaced by pubs, and people watching becomes more tragic drunk watching.

Also, visual style diversity + high average appearance. Milan is full of beautiful people, but the fashion is too monoculture. London is much more diverse in terms of style (more pink hair and weird attire), but the people are much less attractive.

Not where gets that right.

Yes, Paris (and everywhere in France) but above all during soccer world cups. By the way, sidewalk seating areas are everywhere in France.

"above all during soccer world cups"

Nope. That time's for sport watching, not people watching.

"Street crime must be acceptably low. Bye bye Brazil."

Good riddance!

"Street crime must be acceptably low. Bye bye Brazil."

Sad to se how anti-Brazilian propaganda has become mainstream in Trump's America. I have been to lots of Brazilian cafes. Nothing bad ever happened to me.

good point!
potlatch1 or dead in a ditch in doritoville
if the biology dept constructed a qualitative test of personality that
resulted in more of the asian biologists being diagnosed with a less
desirable personalities and more nonasaian biologists being diagnosedwith better personalities all the biologists regardless of their personality would ask if this is
what biologists call eugenics.
if you try to separate a group of harvard applicants by personality and
you end up separating them by phenotype you better have a pretty
good test or you will get sued.
vaya con juevos

1 ropeman

The armored car parked in front of your shack's outside "dining area" no doubt shields you from the bullets flying through your favela.

"Bye bye Brazil" - If you want to throw out the 5th largest country in the world because of violence in a half dozen cities you might as well throw out the USA. In my experience, the Savassi neighborhood in Belo Horizonte (capital of Minas Gerais) has some of the best people-watching cafes on the planet, and the pedestrian block only gets better after dark when the tables come up and the bands start to play. And safe. Police post on spot and crowded with people including gorgeous Mineiras. Highly recommended. Florianopolis is very, very nice too. That said, Montreal has more coffee joints for people watching but the places with terraces are probably better.

Brazil is a big and is a land of contrasts. A few well-publicized incidents, grabbed by the malicious and the rumour-mongering, should not be held against all Brazilians.

Yeah, the 60,000 murders per year are isolated iciddents that do not reflect average safety levels on Brazilian streets. When I lived in Rio the street cafes were up and working all day and the street bars during the night even on 3 am it was full of people. In Rio it's actually much more dangerous to walk in the streets in a sunday morning at like 10 am than in 3 am.

Exactly. As I said, I have been to Brazilian cafés many times and never bad happened to me.

The problem with Brazil is that the women's asses are so big they block out many of the people you'd like to watch.

Rio de Janeiro is perfectly fine for people-watching from sidewalk cafes. Go to Ipanema and Leblon. These are international areas and are well-patroled, and is where the pretty people are.


Where is the people-watching part of Sao Paulo? I saw some affluent areas in Jardins and near Ibirapuera Park but not a cafe scene.

Although in these areas tourists are advised not to carry their passport for fear of theft, not to use ATMs (even inside a bank) since so many are fake, not to worry that the military is patrolling the streets with machine guns, not to worry about the barbed wire separating the areas from military installations, nor the 6 foot deep potholes / road construction, nor the decaying buildings that look like a scene from The Walking Dead, not the 4 hour drive from the airport. And this is in what is apparently the richest area in South America, quite an eye opener to anyone who thinks the US or Europe has problems.

I must have been in a different country. It's a 30 minute drive from the airport to Ipanema. I don't carry a passport unless I'm going to cross an international border. No machine guns, no Walking Dead. (I did have problems with an ATM.)

Why not Asia? Most of Japan has nice weather, and so do parts of China - Shanghai, Quingdao and Yunnan from the top of my head. But China is very polluted nowadays, which would be a big minus. Northern Iran/Tehran? But the Mediterranean weather thing is spot on for all year cafe culture, which in turn seems important for cafe culture at all. Rainy northern Europe (anything north of the Rhine-Danube frontier) has more of a bar (indoor drinking) culture.

"Most of Japan has nice weather." If you like typhoons, earthquakes, animes and Satan.

Come on Thiago, you were just blasting someone for a generalising opinion on Brazil fueled by well-reported incidents (and you did rightly so) but you commit the exact same error when talking about Japan.

Thiago is a bot; the best of Brazilian artificial intelligence.

It is completely different. Hurricanes and earthquajes are basicslly unheard of in Brazil, yet typhoons and earthquakes claim dozens to thousands of lives in Japan every year. Satanism (Shintoism + Buddhism) is widely practiced in Japan and fueled its militarist policies in the 20 th Century. Braxil never fought a war of aggression. Yet, Japan is praised and Brazil mocked.

Satan, the fallen angel, is a character, derived from Greco-Roman mythology, that appears in Christian theology. "He" has nothing to do with any Japanese religion.

In Japan people don’t like being seen while eating so cafes of the European style are few. There are tons of coffee shops but you often have your own booth or are down some corridor inside a somewhat dark building. I always hit the feeling that in Asia you paid money to get away from people, not be closer to them. All you need to do for people watching in Japan is pass through Shinnuku station for good people watching.

This was one aspect of living in Japan that I didn’t particularly love.

Seville would get my vote for winter people watching. Great weather, safe environment, pretty streets, awesome cafes and most of the population out till v late.

Yes, Sevilla fantastic for this as are most Spanish cities. Spain might be the greatest cafe country in the world. France second perhaps?

The typical cafe in the U.S. (i.e., Starbucks) is rarely used for people-watching; instead, the solo visitor brings his laptop and watches the screen on the laptop not the people in or passing by the cafe. Given the absence of people-watching street cafes in most of the U.S., my choice for people-watching is the airport terminal. The airport terminal has many advantages, not least being the constant turnover of people to watch. But it's not for the faint-hearted: Americans are, for the most part, slobs, in the way they dress (no taste), in the way they look (fat), even in the way they walk (like a brick-layer). I don't expect everyone to dress like they just came from Brooks Brothers, but the colors, styles, and fit of the clothes they wear are better suited for clowns than the typical fat American. Do Americans not have mirrors? I will admit that even Brooks Brothers has adapted to the fat American male, with low rise trousers that align the waist below the protruding stomach above. As for women, designs that fit the typical model with an eating disorder don't work well for the typical fat American female. Platform shoes round out the clown look. Who are these people and where are they going? What I have learned people-watching at the airport terminal is that one can identify the socio-economic class of a person by the way he or she walks. Sometimes I will do an imitation for friends, who recognize exactly what I mean even if they had never noticed before. Americans are not particularly good at people-watching because, alas, they don't notice things. We need more cafes to develop better people-watching skills.

Block the Wifi.
Yes yes yes, that laptop open and in use almost everywhere in the US with the lone person.
Be present with noticing what is happening.
Pay attention.

Maastricht, and probably the Netherlands & Belgium more generally.
And 1. can be overcome by technology (heaters allow outside sitting people watching all year round)

All year round? Heaters may counter the cold, but not the rain and the wind.

Barcelona, Istanbul, Melbourne and New Orleans

Oaxaca has a beautiful and perfectly sized Zocalo in my view. Coffee and food served at the cafes are excellent. Street performers come and go throughout the day. Locals use the central square, but the place attracts many, many tourists. I'm not sure if that matters.

You didn’t list as a factor

The unlikelihood of

Food poisoning.

Top 10 countries where you are likely to get food poisoning:

Top 10 places for getting sick abroad

Spain: 30%
Turkey: 15%
Egypt: 13%
Greece: 12%
France: 12%
Italy: 8%
America: 7%
India: 7%
Morocco: 6%
Thailand: 6%

Here is the link: https://www.express.co.uk/travel/articles/578590/Spain-is-FOOD-POISONING-capital-of-the-world

So true. But UK is also a very bad place for food poisoning when you're visiting. Fish and chips are particularly dirty. I would place it around Turkey and France.

In Madagascar you can put it at 100%. Recommended vaccination for any visitor.

I live in one (Ann Arbor) though obviously it's on a smaller scale, and cold weather generally prevents outside dining from November-March (though there are still lots of pedestrians walking about during those months). Lots of new residential buildings have been going up, but nothing is allowed any more over about 15 stories, so no dark urban canyons. And I think #2 was really important. It was before my time, but I understand an expressway that cut through downtown was planned in the 60s but then never built. And there are no pedestrian-intimidating wide, high-speed thoroughfares either.


Zagreb's a decent shout. Most of the best places in Zagreb are hidden in courtyards away from the streets though.

Our food scene is still mediocre and we're overrun by tourists, but I will maintain that Amsterdam is the very best place for this.

East Baltimore has some spots like this, but that's pretty much the only part of the city where you can do this.

How about Krakow in southern Poland? The largest medieval/Renaissance town square in Europe, surrounded by the abundance of al fresco cafes, pubs and restaurants, often in the pure Austro-Hungarian Vienna style. On the weekend evenings the women from town and vicinities allow themselves to be to admired walking slowly on a ttraditional hypnotic corso. The adjacent streets are also full of their own social and intellectual cafe macrocosms, last strongholds of the East European intelligentsia. While walking towards Kazimierz, former Jewish district, have a look into courtyards where you can find another myriad of cafes and pubs. Kazimierz itself is another story...

Stare gorod in Warsaw in the summer I recall fondly.

The USA started putting food courts in malls, at least partly, for that purpose. It’s too bad that many malls are dying.

Which city? This got me thinking, do I have to travel outside of the United States to get a real taste of cultural food.

So, here are some United States based food cultural events where you don't have to go to far.

1. Any city in the US with a recently arrived (last 20-30 years) significant immigrant population which has an ethnic celebration (music and food) and which draws their ethnics from across the nation to attend for food and music.

2. An ethnic church (temple or mosque) basement supper served by the grandmas who use handed down family and regional recipes. This may mean you have to attend their services.

3. A really good State Fair.

Ljubljana along the river is nice.

Avenida da Liberdade in Lisbon is quite good, you do not notice the cars at all.

South Africa has quite nice people watching and in the safer areas not too much to worry about.

Palo Alto and Mountain View come to mind as satisfying many of these metrics.

Sydney and Melbourne have excellent cafe cultures like those described .

Bologna. Large covered arcades with good-sized and beautiful cafes. Excellent Illy coffee that's so strong it's served with a water chaser.

And Aperol spritzes as aperitivi in the evening are perfect to stimulate the appetite for the excellent cuisine of Emilia-Romagna.

Also Vienna is great

You're missing Algeria. Algiers is the world capital of cafés! They're everywhere. The best weather too.

"The broad highways and thoroughfares should be removed from where the cafes might go. This factor harms Los Angeles"

Right. With some exceptions like the short north-south street Rodeo Drive, Los Angeles's major shopping streets tend to be important east-west commuter streets like Wilshire, Sunset, etc.

Tire noise from cars driving by fast tends to be a problem for sidewalk cafes in Los Angeles: narrow sidewalks and fast driving on the major commercial streets like Ventura Blvd means it's loud sitting outside. LA doesn't have a lot of cars honking like Paris and New York do, but just the white noise from the tires of fancy cars, much less buses, driving by at 35+ mph makes it less attractive to sit outside.

But there are certainly more sidewalk cafes in LA than there were a generation ago when there were practically none. In the 1940s, LA pioneered modernist diners with huge plate glass windows (as seen in so many Tarantino movies), so everybody wanted to be inside looking out.

I'm not sure why huge plate glass windows only became a Thing in the 1940s, like in the famous Casa de Cadillac showroom in Sherman Oaks. Were there advances in glassmaking that made them affordable them? Or was it more that they were hard to transport with breaking before smooth roads and good shock absorbers on trucks, so Googie diners and stores were a symbol of urbanity?

Just a guess but maybe the giant plate glass windows are supposed to make you feel like you're outside when you're actually being protected from the traffic and what used to be the godawful air pollution.

I wonder if "street" can be more broadly interpreted. I have be in street side cafes in various parts of the Metro Manila area. They have some interesting aspect regarding observing the local culture and daily life. However, it also seemed quite true one can do the same in all the large mall -- and those are places that many go to escape the heat so might even offer a wider range of observation.

Santiago de Compostella, Ljubljana, Berlin, Lisbon.

Cafés are really a Southern European/ Mediterranean creation that others try to emulate.

And the key factor is climate, really. I would say it is the only factor.

Sometimes people underestimate how much of social habits are determined by physical factors.

I lived in the UK and tried to bring a book to real to a "café" with tables outside... and soon find out that in those places the only real good place to read a book is inside at your place. because the pub is the palce you go to be with your friends, watch football and get drunk.

In cafés you may drink but you don't get drunk (again it is a public place) . In fact another factor in favor of Med/ Southern Europe is the fact that disciplined drinking is highly valued. The habit of the northerners to drink till they fall unconscious is considered rude, a sure sign that you can't control yourself. Which is why in the South we look at Brits and Northerners in general as a rude, uncivilized lot. We keep their money but despise their manners and their culture.

This is highly beneficial to a café culture where you socialize in a public setting.


Jaffa Road in Jerusalem now that they closed it to cars and created a big pedestrian area


Parts of Phnom Penh

All wrong. Lima is unsurpassed. Francisco Pizarro knew what he was doing.

Re 6 and 7b...
Why would you want to people-watch in *Midtown* Manhattan? Vastly preferable would be the Village, the Lower East Side, Harlem and above, or parts of various outer boroughs.

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