• Mexico City: Zócalo
    Mexico City: Zócalo
  • Cairo: El Fishawy Coffeeshop
    Cairo: El Fishawy Coffeeshop
  • Rome: Spanish Steps
    Rome: Spanish Steps
  • New Delhi: Train
    New Delhi: Train
  • Paris: Streetside Café
    Paris: Streetside Café
  • Rio de Janeiro: Ipanema Beach
    Rio de Janeiro: Ipanema Beach
  • Jerusalem: Western Wall Plaza
    Jerusalem: Western Wall Plaza
  • Nairobi: Trattoria
    Nairobi: Trattoria
  • Bangkok: Patpong
    Bangkok: Patpong
  • Tokyo: Inokashira Park
    Tokyo: Inokashira Park
  • Sydney: Opera Bar
    Sydney: Opera Bar

Sure, you go to Paris to see the Eiffel Tower and Cairo to see the pyramids—but the best sights aren’t always architectural. One of the real pleasures of travel is encountering foreign culture in the folks who call these lands home. People watching is a perfect opportunity to bask in the local flavor and a worthwhile way to spend a few hours resting your tired travelin’ feet. We’ve collected a list of 11 of the world’s best vantage points, from New Delhi to Nairobi—so mark your map with these view cafes, town squares, and parks where you can find prime people watching.

Tokyo Inokashira Park

1. Tokyo: Inokashira Park

Leave the crowded crush at Tokyo’s famous Shihbuya scramble, and experience a more charming side of Japanese life in residential suburb Kichijoji’s leafy Inokashira Park. Picture-perfect families shared shaved ice on benches while couples splash around the lake in delightful swan-shaped boats. (And anime fans will enjoy being steps away from the Ghibli Museum, which is located in a corner of the park.)

Cairo El Fishawy Coffeeshop

2. Cairo: El Fishawy Coffeeshop

Just across the road from one of Old Cairo’s most hallowed mosques and situated smack in the center of the hubbub of Khan Al Khalili market, El Fishawy Coffeeshop is a two centuries-old step back in time. Order a thimbleful of super-sweet Arabic coffee and take in the old-world nostalgia of mustachioed men puffing on water pipes, frazzled tourists, and clever souvenir peddlers who populate this Cairo institution.

Rome Spanish Steps

3. Rome: Spanish Steps

Make like Audrey Hepburn in Roman Holiday: grab a scoop of gelato and perch yourself somewhere on one of the 135 famous Spanish Steps for some classic European people watching. Natives and vacationers alike flock to this almost 300 year-old stairway, and there’s no better place to absorb the atmosphere of the Eternal City.

Mexico City Zócalo

4. Mexico City: Zócalo

Central American city life centers around the zócalo (town square), where amorous teenage couples are serenaded by busking mariachis, old ladies treat their grandchildren to balloons and cotton candy, and men pause to get their shoes shined on the way to work. Mexico City’s Plaza de la Constitución beats them all with a buzzing daytime crowd that provides top-notch people watching.

New Delhi

5. New Delhi: Train

Temples, mosques, and marketplaces aside, the famed Indian railways are the best place to encounter the intersection of modern and traditional India because they’re loved both by the working class and the elite. Pick a mid-range seat on any route and enjoy the scenery both inside and outside the train as you chug along—and don’t be afraid to strike up a conversation with a fellow passenger.

Paris Streetside Café2

6. Paris: Streetside Café

The City of Light’s streetside cafes are the ultimate venue for Parisian people watching. Nurse a café au lait or aperitif at one of the time-honored haunts highlighted in this National Geographic essay on the pastime, and enjoy the spectacle of the passing dandies and dames.

Rio de Janeiro: Ipanema Beach

7. Rio de Janeiro: Ipanema Beach

The people watching at Ipanema beach is so legendary that it inspires bossanova hits—and you’ll be as impressed by the beach bodies as Astrud Gilberto was. Rent an umbrella, relax amid the sand, waves, and teeny tanlines and be sure to stay for sunset.


8. Sydney: Opera Bar

The Opera House is Sydney’s most iconic sight, and the place to enjoy the fascinating hustle and bustle it draws is the adjacent Opera Bar. People watchers arm-wrestle for the bayside tables with stellar views of the Harbour Bridge, but no matter where you sit you can enjoy the glamorous spot’s swish cocktails, live music, bistro menu, and especially the Sydney crowd.

Jerusalem Western Wall Plaza2

9. Jerusalem: Western Wall Plaza

Sight-seers of any denomination will be awed by the power of Jerusalem’s Western Wall Plaza. It’s impossible to not feel the history and be touched by the worshippers who are drawn to this contested holy spot, with sacred spaces of three of the world’s largest faiths all in view.

Trattoria Kenya

10. Nairobi: Trattoria

Though the fare definitely isn’t local, the vibe at Nairorbi’s long-established Italian restaurant, Trattoria, is. In the heart of the metropolis’ central business district you can sip wine among Kenyans in their finest and, if you get a table on the terrace, while soak in the vibrant commotion of the streets below from this well-loved oasis.

Bangkok Patpong2

11. Bangkok: Patpong

Grab an outdoor seat and a cocktail with an umbrella in it at one of Patpong’s plethora of watering holes to observe the colorful swarm of Bangkok’s biggest red light district. This thriving night market caters not only to the hordes of sunburned tourists who come to live out their fantasies in the area’s go-go bars, but the anything-goes atmosphere and stalls of glitzy designer knockoffs draw plenty of local nightlife too.

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