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Why Cafe Hopping is the Best Way to Explore a New City

How to explore your hometown or next travel destination in an authentic way? Hop between character-filled cafes.

London coffee shop with people inside
Credit: Alex Segre / Shutterstock

Bar hopping seems to have always been a thing. And why shouldn’t it be? It’s a fun way to explore all the hip spots of your city or travel destination in one outing. But how do you explore when it’s light out, you want to stay sober, and there’s work to do? The answer is cafe hopping, a term that’s only been in use for a few short years on the internet.

As it pops up as a buzzword in the hashtags of travel vloggers and hobby section of dating apps, you might wonder what the hype is for. Here’s the guide to give you an answer. For all the study abroad-ers, travel junkies, remote workers, and newbies to an area, welcome to cafe hopping.

People enjoy ambiance outside of cafe
People enjoy the winter outside a cafe in Cambridge, UK. Credit: Nick Beer / Shutterstock

A study abroad student’s gold mine

I studied abroad in Copenhagen, Denmark last fall semester and fell in love with the city. The language, the pastries, the people, and the overall hygge vibe just clicked with me. It was hard to reveal the Copenhagen charm and character I’d discovered to my visiting friends and family. At least, it was until someone asked me the obvious question: “Well, where do you like to go here?” And then I knew. The key was in the cafes.

Couch and decor
A comfy couch welcomes visitors to Café Mellemrummet in Copenhagen. Credit: Hope Cartwright

I set up an itinerary to bounce around to different cafes throughout Copenhagen. With that, I could show my visitors the up-and-coming hip neighborhoods, the cheap student-filled spots, the touristy areas, and the cramped and kitschy Instagram-able establishments. I called it cafe hopping. Later, I realized that this was a term gaining traction in different corners of the internet. The popularity is for good reason. Cafe hopping lets you explore a place’s hidden gems and intricate ins and outs, whether the destination is local or thousands of miles from home.

Who gets to cafe hop?

Whether you’re a study abroad student like I was or someone looking to get to know their new town, cafe hopping is a gift. When you’re drawing up an itinerary for a trip to a foreign city, don’t discount cafe hopping as an activity in between the hectic, must-see tourist sites. A city’s locally-owned cafes let you peer into the daily lives of those who actually live in the area. Thanks to that, you might get a better feel for an area’s true character through cafe hopping as opposed to weaving through crowds at famous landmarks.

Exterior of German cafe
Patrons frequent a German coffee shop in the historic center of Berlin. Credit: Alex Rebenchuk / Shutterstock

When you’re not on the go and feeling stuck in your own home with remote work, studying, or the classic I-don’t-know-where-else-to-go dilemma, cafe hopping can get you out of the monotony of daily life. Roll out of bed or the home office desk chair you’ve been glued to and make your way to a nearby cafe. Then, another. And maybe even another. Eventually, you’re bound to find a sunlit corner or glazed baked good that charms you. In just a few cafe hopping trips, you can become one of those locals obsessed with their city who knows all the good spots.

Cafe interior
Patisserie Coralie in Evanston, Illinois near Northwestern University empties out as closing time nears. Credit: Hope Cartwright

Where and how to do cafe hopping

Okay, so yes, the definition of cafe hopping does seem intuitive. If bar hopping is going to a bunch of bars in one outing, cafe hopping just means replacing the bars with cafes. Seems easy enough for anyone who has Google Maps on their phone. While that’s pretty accurate, more structure than just setting out with the intention of hitting up cafes doesn’t hurt.

The perfect cafe hopping agenda has variety — vintage to modern, eclectic to sleek, coffee aficionados to pastry geniuses. Try to find a mix of menu items, decor styles, and themes in the cafes you put on your list for a cafe hopping outing. If you’re blessed to live in a public transportation-savvy place, spread out your destinations between neighborhoods. You might discover that one neighborhood’s cafes host an array of random furniture and hipsters loudly regaling their backpacking adventures. Meanwhile, the next neighborhood over could be quaint and quiet, with cafes serving as a place for retirees to read the morning paper. After sampling the many flavors of cafes in your city, you’ll have a much better idea of which areas you want to return to.

The obvious barrier to cafe hopping for many is the budget. The costs add up ordering lattes and sweet treats at several cafes in one day. So, spread out your money for the cafe hopping trip. Buy a drink at one place and a bite to eat at another. Also, drip coffee and juice boxes are perfectly respectable orders (I say from experience). One great strategy is bringing a friend along and switching off who buys something at each cafe.

The cafe at the end of the rainbow

So, pack up your laptop and noise-canceling headphones. Or don’t, and soak in the convivial ambiance at your closest coffee hub. There’s a cafe for every personality and phase of life if you search for it. I always leave a cafe hopping trip with a post-worthy pic of my order and appreciation for the little joys.

Woman reads book
A woman reads a book under the sun at a cafe in Dubai, UAE. Credit: Pamela Lico / Shutterstock

You don’t have to have to be an influencer, nomad, or even a coffee drinker to benefit from this hobby. Once you find that perfect window seat in a cozy cafe playing your favorite music, you’ll get it.

Written By

Hi, I'm Hope! I'm from Michigan, and I'm a junior at Northwestern University Medill School of Journalism, studying Journalism and Religious Studies. I really love writing about culture and entertainment.

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