What to Drink in Paris & When to Blend in with the Locals

From pinot noir to pastis, there’s no shortage of drinks you should try in Paris—you just need to know what the locals are actually ordering!

Francophile celebrity Dita Von Teese likes absinthe so much she even cooks her casserole with it. Yet before you have visions of Van Gogh hallucinating wildly and slicing off his own ear after one shot too many of the fée verte (green fairy), remember that today, Paris’ modern drinking scene has far more finesse. Here’s the low-down on what to drink in Paris and when, all through the day!

Not sure what to drink in Paris? This guide will help you out.

Daytime: Coffee 

Struggling to stay awake after a lively night, or simply in need of a caffeine fix? No matter—in France, coffee is an activity for any time of day, but one that is best enjoyed in the morning. 

The City of Lights has been about café culture for centuries, so simply stride into a classic venue such as Les Deux Magots and, like Simone de Beauvoir and Oscar Wilde before you, order “un café.” 

For a quintessentially French experience, pass on the café allongé variety. This type is more similar to a American-style espresso, and can taste diluted and watery in comparison. 

Not in the mood for coffee? Follow in the footsteps of Coco Chanel and order a hot chocolate in iconic Angelina. The branch on rue de Rivoli was her hangout of choice back in the day, when her apartment and store on rue Cambon—and the glamorous Ritz hotel, where she slept most nights—were all within a few minutes walking distance.

SEE ALSO: The 7 Best Places for Coffee in Paris + Essential Coffee Vocab

Not sure what to drink in Paris? Starting out with coffee is always a good idea.
Get your caffeine fix before setting out to explore Paris.

Apéritif Time: Pastis and the 75 

Let’s be honest: the legendary drinks one might associate with Paris, such as absinthe, are not for everyday use—they’re probably best suited to a big night out. On the other hand, for those seeking a gentle alcoholic drink before a meal, you can scarcely do better than a refreshing glass of pastis. 

It originated in Marseille as France’s answer to the absinthe ban. Like absinthe, it’s anise-based, but without the controversial wormwood ingredient or the ultra-high alcohol content. Generous helpings of sugar classify it as a liqueur whose standout flavor is licorice. To enjoy it the local way, ask for it without ice and appreciate the drink’s natural flavor.

Another perfect apéritif in Paris is the legendary Soixante-Quinze, or simply “the 75.” Another drink for indulgence in small doses, any skilled bartender will raise a knowing eyebrow of recognition if you mention this sugary blend of champagne, gin and lemon juice. It takes its name from the French 75mm gun, as the locals like to joke that it delivers such a high-intensity kick, it feels like getting shot by one.

Pastis is a popular choice for what to drink in Paris.
Few drinks are more quintessentially French than pastis. Photo credit: cyclonebill

Dinnertime: Wine

The stereotype that we wine-loving French indulge in smaller doses of alcohol than fellow drinkers elsewhere in Europe is probably inaccurate. It is true, though, that drinking habits here are a touch more sophistiqué.

For instance, the typical Parisian prefers not to glug a glass of wine without, at the very least, a baguette or light bite at the table too. If we have our pick, though, when we’re drinking wine, it’s as an accompaniment to a main meal. 

In France, we follow the obvious pairings of vin blanc with a seafood dish, or vin rouge with a red meat dish, so choose your bottle from one of these two categories accordingly. However, some wines, such as the fragrant and fruity pinot noir, are versatile and complement almost any dish, from duck confit or roast salmon to a mouth-watering beef bourguignon. Many happy hours of experimentation await—but if blending in with local etiquette is your aim, try to resist filling each glass right to the top!

Finally, as each delicious meal comes to an end, it is an almost-ritualistic obligation to accept un café, perhaps right after indulging in a cheese board. 

Out of all the Ile de la Cite restaurants, Le Caveau du Palais arguably has the best wine list.
Excellent French wine is a must come dinnertime.

After Dark: Absinthe

A mysterious, decadent drink in an unmistakable shade of deep green, anise-infused absinthe has been a favorite among Parisian party-goers for centuries. And admittedly, it hasn’t always had the best of reputations. 

Some say that absinthe may have led Vincent Van Gogh to chase fellow painter Paul Gauguin down a Paris street with a razor before turning it on himself to cut off his own ear. In the early days, it was even considered so toxic that 19th-century French soldiers used it as a malaria cure. Yet, after a decades-long ban, a completely safe version appeared in 2011. It has shaken off the negative stereotypes to become a top contender for what to drink in Paris.

Several noteworthy bars in Paris serve up absinthe, including at the Royal Fromentin hotel in Montmartre. Drinks arrive in a room filled with retro art posters from the L’Heure Verte era. The so-called “green hour” was the absinthe aficionado’s equivalent of happy hour during its heyday. 

Served the French way, a bartender holds a sugar cube in a slotted spoon over your glass, then drizzles iced water over the top. For a culinary accompaniment, try a succulent, spicy tuna steak garnished with red pepper or fennel. 

Although modern absinthe has no hallucinogenic qualities, it is typically still up to 74 percent alcohol by volume—so to avoid a pounding headache, drink like the locals and keep your doses small.

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