Even more prevalent than the Euro (though maybe less so than Kinder), tiny cafes seem to be found on every street corner in every city in Europe, and sometimes you’ll even find several in a row.

As I traveled across Europe, stopping in at least two of these cafes a day (touring requires a lot of caffeine), I found that each cafe is different, yet offers the same primary purpose: a space to hang out, think, observe, and discuss. There is no stigma in sitting alone — as long as you’re not too engrossed in your phone — and there is no amount of time too long to sit.


Photo by Brian Chan

To be clear, the cafe is NOT a Starbucks, so don’t bother asking for a soy chai extra foam to go. And it’s not your “Sunday brunch” eggs benedict. Typically, it is the bare bones coffee (read: espresso — if you want a cup of coffee, ask for an Americano), pastries, and maybe small sandwiches or fresh juice. Cafes often double as low key bars at night, so don’t be surprised by the bottles behind the counter.

When ordering, remember that each country and each city will have different cafe customs. For instance, the go-to breakfast in Spain is a cafe au lait (espresso and some milk) and a piece of toast with pureed tomato, while in nearby Portugal, standard breakfast fare is an espresso and a pasteis de nata (a delicious egg cream pastry — think creme brulee in a puff pastry). Both are obviously delicious, but ordering the local specialty is a way of respecting your location.

#SpoonTip: Check out what everyone else in the cafe is eating, and follow suit. If it seems like a certain pastry or dish is everywhere, there’s probably a reason (and that reason is probably that it’s delicious).


Photo by Maddy Shannon

Whatever you choose, make sure to at least order a little something. It’s never cool to sit around without buying anything. It’s okay to down a drink at the counter so you can use the bathroom before wandering around the city, but don’t expect kindness without patronizing. Cafes are a key part of European culture, so I recommend ordering a coffee and utilizing the ultimate hang spot.