In the midst of the coronavirus crisis and following terrorist attacks and occasionally-violent street demonstrations, many people are wondering whether Paris is still safe to visit. A quick look at Google’s search statistics confirms that the anxious question is one on many thousands of travelers’ minds. And it’s an understandable one.
Even though travel is again possible for many and France is now allowing tourists from numerous countries to visit following a strict spring “lockdown”, many will continue to feel anxious about how to stay safe and healthy when traveling there.
And while France started opening its borders to international tourists again in June, it has barred some, including from the US, from visiting for “non-essential” reasons until further noice. This has made it next to impossible to plan an overseas trip to Europe for nationals from those countries (read more below).
Read on for the latest information on travel advisories and precautions to take when visiting France, and for my full safety tips for anyone planning a trip to the capital.
I start by covering some of the topics most likely to be on travelers’ minds, followed by more long-term safety issues and concerns.
THE LATEST: Coronavirus Cases in France & Current Travel Safety Advice
Following the outbreak of a novel coronavirus in mainland China, a global pandemic has impacted most everyone on the planet. In France, according to updated data from the French government, there have been an estimated 910,277 confirmed cases since January 24th.
France is currenly experiencing a severe “second wave” of coronavirus infections after cases slowed significantly over the summer. Cases are present throughout France, with large concentrations in urban areas including Paris, Marseille, and Bordeaux.
Infections began rising sharply again starting in September. By late October, cases had shot above 50,000 (recorded) new infections for the first time since the government began tracking them in spring.
October Evening Curfew Announced in Paris, Eight French Cities
Responding to the second wave, the French government declared a state of emergency in October, first placing Paris and the large cities of Marseille, Lyon, Lille, Saint-Etienne, Rouen, Toulouse, Grenoble and Montpellier under evening curfews.
By late October, the 9:00 pm curfew was extended to huge swathes of the country, affecting some 46 million people and reaching into more rural regions. Enforced from Friday October 23, it is expected to remain in place for a minimum of six weeks.
French President Macron announced a series of strict new measures for huge sections of France on October 13th, saying they were designed to drive down infection levels and save hospitals and intensive care wards from the catastrophic scenarios they faced last spring.
Group meetings will now be restricted to only six people (down from 10 in recent months) and anyone traveling outside of their home (or hotel accommodations) during the evening curfew (9pm to 6:00 am) may be fined up to 135 Euros.
Travel is also being strongly discouraged in France, but “essential travel” is permitted.
Bars are currently closed in Paris. Restaurants will be able to stay open as long as they take further safety and hygiene precautions, but will close in the capital at 9:00 pm until further notice.
Most shops, markets, and businesses will remain open, with strict mask-wearing rules enforced throughout France (see more below).
Current COVID-19 Cases in France: The Latest Data
As of October 20th, 34,761 people have died from COVID-19 in France. The vast majority of patients were elderly and/or had pre-existing conditions.
France passed the grim milestone of one million infections in late October. However, the spike in infections has not led to a spike in COVID-19 related deaths at the levels observed in the spring, possibly because the greatest number of new cases have been among younger patients.
However, according to Reuters, hospital admissions (including in intensive care) are on the rise and the government expects them to sharply increase in the next two weeks. Some fear that the death rate might again follow suit.
Meanwhile, over 110,600 patients have recovered and been released home from hospitals around the country.
Travel Restrictions & Warnings for France
After having closed its borders to travelers in March (with the exception of citizens, family members and “essential” workers), France re-opened to European travelers and those arriving from the Schengen Zone from June 15th.
This coincides with many other European countries also opening their borders to inter-EU and Schengen zone travel.
Meanwhile, France and the rest of the EU opened its borders to international travelers from select countries outside the bloc on July 1st.
As a result of that ban– which will be kept under review every two weeks– many American citizens with travel plans for the summer and fall are in a position of deep uncertainty over whether they will be permitted to go to Europe in the near future.
Any citizens arriving in France from the US, Turkey, South Africa, Brazil, Israel and several other high-risk countries, moreover, are now required to present a certificate attesting to a negative COVID-19 test result before being allowed to enter the country.
When Can I Visit Paris Again? Can Americans and Other Overseas Travelers Go?
Overseas travelers from 10 countries outside the EU, including Canada, Australia and New Zealand, South Korea, and Japan, are currently permitted to visit France with few or no restrictions.
However, as noted in the section above, the European Union has banned nationals from countries including the US from traveling to Europe until further notice, citing high infection rates and inadequate virus control measures in the countries in question.
Moreover, France recently put into place a COVID-19 testing requirement for anyone traveling from 16 countries on the “essential travel only” list. See more details on the measure here.
All of these measures, while justifiable given the global health crisis, create significant difficulty and uncertainty for overseas travelers.
This is especially true for those with pre-booked trips scheduled for the coming months– especially since the ban may be lifted if conditions change. What’s more, many overseas countries continue to warn its citizens against travel abroad for the foreseeable future, including to France.
The US State Department recently issued a Level 3 travel advisory for France, recommending that American citizens and residents “reconsider travel” there. This represents an easing from earlier in the year, when it issued a Level 4 advisory against global travel.
If you are a US citizen and have comprehensive travel insurance in place for a planned trip, contact your policy provider for information on making a potential claim for reimbursing cancellations or postponements.
Canada and the UK are among other countries to have issued global travel warnings, urging them to avoid all “non-essential” travel. Australia, meanwhile, has issued a strict ban on travel abroad for its citizens, until further notice.
Some countries around the world are requiring travelers returning from France to self-isolate/undergo a 14-day period of quarantine. This includes the UK, which from mid-August put France on its list of “quarantine after travel” countries, to the surprise and consternation of some.
In the case of the US, which has banned travelers from most of Europe until further notice, an exception is made for US citizens, permanent residents and certain family members of US citizens returning from France, but they may be subject to screening measures at airports and other entry points.
Make sure to check current measures in your home country or next destination before traveling to France. You can find the latest information on country-by-country travel advisories for France at this page.
What is France Doing to Curb the Disease?
As detailed above, the French government has called a state of emergency to attempt to battle the current “second wave” of coronavirus infections, imposing 9:00 pm curfews and threatening fines for those who do not comply. See more about those measures, which concern huge swathes of the country (including rural areas), above.
As of late August, the city of Paris made it obligatory to wear a mask outside the home in all public places, excepting when you are eating or drinking in restaurants, cafes or bars.
It also started distributing free masks to all Parisian residents beginning in May, and has made tests freely available to anyone with symptoms or those who suspect that may have come into contact with someone who has the virus.
Paris was placed under strict “lockdown” on March 16th, with restrictions on movement and commerce gradually lifting starting on May 11th.
Different geographic regions around France saw restrictions lifted at a different pace, however, depending on virus case loads and associated health risks.
Read related: A Short History of Quarantines in Europe & France
But with a sharp resurgence of coronavirus cases from August, the French government moved to impose strict safety restrictions.
Most of the country is now considered a “red zone”, meaning circulation of the coronavirus within the community is active (more than 50 cases per 100,000 people).
This is a fast-moving situation and this page will be updated regularly to report on further restrictions for Paris and other major French cities.
What’s Now Open in Paris and the Rest of France? Is “Lockdown” Over?
After nearly two months of strict closures, shops and services in Paris started re-opening from May 11th, including most boutiques, hair salons, bookshops, and markets.
From June 15th, all shops, restaurants, bars, cafes and many other public spaces were allowed to re-open, as long as they could apply strict safety protocols such as social distancing measures, ventilation, and other precautions to protect guests from health risks.
People may once again travel outside their homes for exercise, leisure, shopping or other activities without printing authorizations, and may now travel anywhere in the country.
Social distancing measures remain largely in place, but gatherings of up to 6 people are urrently permitted.
However, as noted above, a sharp rise in cases in Paris, Marseille, Lyon and some 50 other regions of France from late July has lead to a new raft of safety measures and restrictions, as a genuine “second wave” of infections has swept across the country.
Bars closed again in Paris from October 6th, until further notice. Restaurants may remain open until 9pm (when an evening curfew begins) as long as they apply strict hygiene and safety measures, including socially distancing guests, ensuring good ventilation, and enforcing the wearing of masks when guests are not seated and eating.
Make sure to watch the situation carefully if you plan to travel to France in the coming weeks, including from within Europe.
Where Do I Have to Wear a Mask in France? (New Rules for Indoor & Outdoor Settings)
As of July 20th, 2020, masks or cloth face coverings are mandatory in all enclosed public spaces in France, including restaurants and cafes, cinemas, museums, and other indoor areas. You can be fined up to 135 Euros (around $154) for not wearing one.
Diners in restaurants and cafes may remove masks to eat, but must wear them when entering, leaving, or moving around inside (such as when going to the restrooom or approaching the bar).
And as of August 10th, France is requiring citizens, residents, and tourists alike to wear face coverings outdoors in many crowded outdoor settings and public spaces.
In Paris and the surrounding suburbs, you are now required to cover your mouth and nose in all public spaces outside the home. You may remove it to eat or drink at a table in a restaurant, bar or cafe, whether indoors or out.
Otherwise, always remember to have a mask or face covering with you and to wear it at all times.
June Marked a New Phase of Re-Openings
Large parks and green spaces such as the Bois de Vincennes, Bois de Boulogne, Seine-side quays and pedestrian paths, Champ de Mars and the Esplanade des Invalides (nearby the Eiffel Tower) have all re-opened, as have some schools in France. Other green spaces re-opened in June after months of closures.
Restaurants and bars have also started opened as of June 2nd in France, and some museums and galleries were allowed to begin re-opening from early June, but only if they were able to implement strict safety measures such as socially distanced table seating.
However, not all museums and monuments have opened their doors yet, and some are still showing notices on their official websites stating that they are “closed until further notice”.
The Musée du Louvre re-opened its doors with enhanced safety and security measures on July 6th, while numerous other museums and galleries in the capital resumed public operations in June.
The Eiffel Tower re-opened on June 25th to tourists. All visitors are required to wear masks/cloth face coverings. Disneyland Paris, the Musée d’Orsay, and the Chateau de Versailles are among the popular attractions to have re-opened in recent weeks.
Public transportation services in Paris and elsewhere are returning to normal, and as of May 25th the RATP (Paris public transport authority) said metro, bus, and tram service on the network was at almost 100% capacity.
Please do note there are some new safety rules for passengers that all are required to follow (including visiitors):
As of May 11th, all travelers over the age of 11 using public transportation (Paris metro, RER trains, buses and tramways) are required to wear a mask; you can be fined up to 135 Euros for non-compliance.
During peak times/rush hour (mornings and late afternoons), travelers on the metro will be required to present a statement from their employer to justify using public transportation. Visitors should avoid using public transportation where possible due to these restrictions and regulations/rules that remain vague for non-workers.
Travelers on Eurostar trains are also now required to wear masks, until further notice.
Please note that visitors and tourists receive no special dispensation and you will be subject to the same rules as locals, including the aforementioned fines.
Should I Cancel or Postpone My Planned Trip to France/Paris?
Unless you’ve planned to visit several months from now or live in a neighboring European country where case loads have been brought down to very low levels, it’s probably best to cancel or postpone your trip.
International travel is currently strongly discouraged by many major health authorities, and could place your health and those of others at risk.
This is particularly true if you reside in a country outside the European Union or Schengen zone and not included on the list of 10 countries currently allowed to enter, since it’s unclear when the ban for nationals from other countries will be lifted.
Elderly people, those who are immunocompromised or have other health complications appear to be much more at risk of serious or critical illness than young and/or healthy individuals. Meanwhile, healthy individuals may feel legitimate concern about contracting the virus and spreading it to others, including the most vulnerable.
How Dangerous is the Disease?
The fatality rate is notoriously difficult to accurately determine due to wide discrepancies in testing and monitoring around the world. Some have estimated it at between 0.1% and 3% of all cases, but these estimates are subject to change with time.
There is also no consensus on the true fatality rate for COVID-19, because many people with mild illness have not been formally diagnosed and therefore not included in the data. This may mean that the actual fatality rate is much lower than the ones that have been registered.
The virus is much more likely to be life-threatening in elderly, immune-compromised and otherwise unwell individuals. For the vast majority of people, it results in only mild illness or flu-like symptoms that are quickly recovered from.
However, the illness is still poorly understood by health professionals and bodies. For the time being, exercising extreme caution and taking all possible measures to protect your own health and that of others is recommended.
The World Health Organization puts the risk in these terms: “If you are in an area where there is an outbreak of COVID-19 you need to take the risk of infection seriously. Follow the advice issued by national and local health authorities. Although for most people COVID-19 causes only mild illness, it can make some people very ill. More rarely, the disease can be fatal. Older people, and those with pre- existing medical conditions (such as high blood pressure, heart problems or diabetes) appear to be more vulnerable.”
Why to Buy Travel Insurance & Other Precautions to Take
Purchasing travel insurance for France is essential at this time, protecting you financially and medically even if you have booked a trip for much later in the year. When choosing a policy, it’s important to ensure it includes cancellation protection in the event that you need to postpone or cut short your trip.
Most good travel insurance providers will mention the ability to cancel or interrupt a trip should travel to your destination be deemed unsafe by global health authorities such as the World Health Organization (WHO).
However, do be aware that many travel insurance providers are now excluding cancellations due to coronavirus, arguing that it is a known event. This complicates matters for travelers and makes booking trips riskier from a financial standpoint.
Again, even if you live in a country that has not yet issued a travel advisory against visiting France, that may soon change.
How to Lower Your Risks While Traveling?
All travellers can take sensible precautions to lower their risk of acquiring the virus and spreading it to others. In addition to wearing a face covering when in public, wash hands frequently with soapy water for at least 20 seconds; if soap is unavailable use hand sanitizer with at least 60% alcohol solution.
Do your best to avoid touching your face, especially before thoroughly washing your hands.
When possible, avoid overly crowded places like the Paris Metro at “heures de pointe” (rush hour) between around 730-10 in the morning and 6-8pm.
Current recommendations from various national and international health authorities state that you should practice “social distancing” as much as possible and stay several feet away from others, when possible.
Keep a good distance from those who are coughing or otherwise appear ill, and avoid shaking hands or giving “bisous” (French-style kisses on the cheeks).
If you do visit France, have visited any places with active Coronavirus cases over the past 14 days and feel ill with fever, cough or shallow breathing, current public health guidelines require that you dial 15 to seek medical advice.
Do not go directly to an emergency room, doctor’s office or urgent care clinic. This could result in spreading the virus to others, including the most vulnerable.
“Gilet Jaune” (Yellow Vest) Protests & French Transport Strikes
Starting in late December 2018, smaller groups of “gilets jaunes” (yellow vest) protestors staged demonstrations in the capital, almost exclusively on Saturdays. Some saw demonstrators throw rocks, burn cars and break store windows. But starting in late May 2019, the protests simmered out, in part due to a much heavier police presence.
Then over the weekend of November 16th to 17th, 2019, a little under 5,000 protestors again convened in Paris to mark the first anniversary since the “Yellow Vest” demonstrations began. Even before the protest officially began, groups of young men wearing hoods arrived at Place d’Italie in southern Paris, setting fire to cars, throwing rocks at police and destroying barricades. Police responded by firing teargas at demonstrators and breaking up the gatherings.
Elsewhere in the city, isolated protestors smashed store windows, vandalized a bank and a statue of a French WWII veteran. Some protestors also staged a non-violent protest outside the department store Galeries Lafayette, but the police closed the store and ousted the protestors.
In total, around 175 rioters were arrested, representing a small minority of the protestors– many of whom told reporters they were disappointed the demonstrations had become violent at the margins.
In early December 2019, a major transportation strike saw thousands of protestors take to the streets of Paris. Most were peaceful, but a small minority smashed windows and set fire to cars. Some 6,000 additional police were deployed in response.
These latest events have left some tourists and future visitors shaken anew, following a period of relative calm. But despite this, weekend demonstrations have been comparatively rare over the past few months, and when they have occurred they’ve tended to consist in much smaller groups of people.
No Incidents Involving Tourists
In spite of the recent violence which can feel quite concerning, you should know that tourists have not been injured or otherwise endangered by these protests.
While it’s important to stay informed about planned demonstrations over the coming weeks and months and stay clear of them, they arguably don’t warrant canceling or delaying your trip to Paris.
What’s more, the Paris city government has worked to keep visitors informed and well away from sites that may be targeted by a small number of violent protestors at the fringe of the so-called “yellow vest” movement (read more about who they are and what they want).
Current Safety Advisories & Paris Travel Warnings from Embassies & Consulates
If you’re visiting Paris now or are scheduled to soon, you can stay informed about important safety information from your embassy or consulate.
The U.S. Embassy published its latest travel advisory in early April 2019, advising tourists to remain informed and “exercise increased caution” but not advising against travel to France. They also offer a complete list of areas around the city to avoid on planned demonstration days. You can read the full advice here.
Similar notices have been issued by embassies and consulates including Canada, the UK and Australia. Find information from your own embassy or consulate here.
Finally, news outlets including The Guardian and The Local France have been providing valuable in-depth coverage of the gilets jaunes demonstrations and their aftermath, and offering advice to tourists. I recommend following their stories to stay updated on that front.
How Did This All Start, Anyway? A Bit of Context…
In late November and early December 2018, rioters protesting President Emmanuel Macron’s fuel taxes and other policies set fire to cars, houses and buildings, damaged parts of the Arc de Triomphe and prompted the evacuation of several areas and sites popular with tourists.
These included the Avenue des Champs-Elysées and the department stores around Boulevard Haussmann: districts where tourists traditionally flock at that time of year for holiday displays and shopping.
Responding to a fresh wave of protests in early December 2018, the government significantly stepped up the police presence in the city to some 8,000 officers, made over 1,000 arrests, and proactively closed down nearly 50 popular sights and attractions in the city, including the Louvre, the Arc de Triomphe and the Eiffel Tower. They have all since reopened.
The early December protests were followed by smaller ones on subsequent weekends in December through February. Then, in March 2019, a fringe of violent protestors vandalized and set fire to some 80 restaurants and shops in the capital, mostly on and around the Avenue des Champs-Elysées. Rioters smashed windows at upscale restaurant Fouquet’s, before setting fire to it.
They also vandalized and set fire to other shops on the Avenue, some throwing rocks at police, who responded by firing teargas into the crowd. In total, there were an estimated 10,000 Yellow Vest protestors in Paris over that weekend, up from around 4,000 in earlier weeks.
Over several months of demonstrations, there were scattered reports of protestors clashing with police, burning barricades, throwing bottles or engaging in other violent activities. The police have reportedly responded by firing teargas, water cannons and even rubber bullets at small groups of protestors, using what some are describing as excessive force.
Some protestors have been severely injured by rubber bullets, drawing into question some of the tactics used by local police against the “gilets jaunes”.
Putting Your Risks Into Perspective
With what seem to be frequent reports of violent incidents in the capital, it can indeed feel scary to be a visitor these days. But as I detail at length in my piece on why you shouldn’t fear coming to the city since the attacks, there have been exaggerated accounts in some media outlets about the dangers tourists face when visiting Paris.
The recent riots, for example, may put visitors on edge– but again, none have been hurt in skirmishes between police and the fringe protestors who resort to violence. Police are ensuring that tourists stay well out of the way of areas where the protests are occurring, which is why certain popular zones have been barricaded off and closed during planned protest days. These have so far been scheduled exclusively on Saturdays.
As long as you keep your distance and plan to stay away on the days when protests have been scheduled, your risks are very low. I recommend going on a day trip, if possible. There are plenty of places you can easily reach from Paris via a short train ride.
Should I Cancel my Trip to Paris?
That’s up to you, of course. But in a modern world where there are many complex risks to weigh and negotiate all the time, it’s important to put those risks into perspective. It’s not about discounting potential danger. It’s about recognizing that life must go on– and that living in fear shrinks your world and its possibilities.
So before you cancel your trip or decide on another destination out of fear that you may be the victim of a terrorist attack or some other form of violent crime, read through my advice below.
As I’ve said elsewhere, Paris greatly depends on tourism to thrive as a city. It would be catastrophic to its livelihood to see too many people stay away and renounce all the capital has to offer out of a disproportionate sense of fear.
The Reality: Statistically Speaking, Paris Remains Very Safe
While Paris has admittedly taken a significant knockdown in world city safety ratings due to recent terrorist attacks, violent crime is still generally uncommon in the capital. OSAC, the US Bureau of Diplomatic Security, notes that tourists are generally safe in the city, and that street crime such as pickpocketing remains the primary concern.
To break it down a bit: The violent crime rate in France is roughly on par with Canada’s, and is three times lower than rates in the US.
According to French government statistics, even when taking into account deaths from terrorist attacks, the homicide rate in Paris per 1,000 inhabitants between 2015 and 2017 was only 0.019 (0.014 if you exclude the attacks).
You get my drift. Violent crime, and especially the sort that threatens lives, is relatively rare in Paris. Gun violence there is astronomically lower than it is in comparably sized cities in the US.
And while the US State Department website advises that tourists remain aware of their surroundings and exercise caution due to potential terrorist threats, take note: they don’t recommend cancelling your trip or avoiding the city.
My conclusion? Yes, there are some risks that can’t be denied. Most large metropolitan cities, including London and New York, carry similar risks in our globalized world. Should you avoid setting foot in these places altogether?
Everyone has to make choices that they feel comfortable with, but from my perspective, you’d be greatly overestimating the dangers you face by doing so.
Pickpocketing is the Most Common Crime Affecting Tourists
I’ve talked about the unlikelihood of tourists becoming victims of violent crime in Paris. However, this doesn’t mean that you don’t risk being targeted for petty street crimes that can still make your trip a nightmare.
Pickpocketing is by far the biggest threat to visitors, so you should learn how thieves operate and take all the precautions necessary to avoid being targeted.
How to Avoid Pickpockets in Paris?
Pickpockets operate in predictable and often highly organized ways, targeting tourists in crowded and popular areas. Often, they get away with your wallet or purse so quickly that you barely feel a thing. To keep this from happening, take these steps:
- In any crowded place (busy lines, congested metro cars, open spaces full of tourists snapping photos), take extra care with your belongings. It’s best to carry a bag or purse that you can wear crisscrossed around your chest, with pockets and valuables hugged to your front and in plain view. If you wear a backpack, don’t leave wallets, cash, passports or other valuable items in the front compartments.
- Only bring as much cash as you’ll likely need for the day, and maybe even less. 100 Euros or so is a good limit to aim for. Traveler’s checks can easily be exchanged for Euros at the American Express office on Rue Scribe (Metro: Opera).
- If you must carry larger amounts of cash, consider wearing a money belt.
- It’s always preferable to leave passports, large amounts of cash and other valuables in a hotel safe, if possible.
- Never leave your bags or suitcases unguarded, even for a minute or two. Not only do you run the risk of them being swiped up by thieves between two blinks of an eye: they can also be legally confiscated and destroyed by security forces, under current safety regulations in public spaces.
What About ATM Thefts and Other Scams?
In addition to pickpockets, tourists are often targeted by scammers and thieves in other ways. ATMs/cashpoints are particularly vulnerable spots. Never allow anyone to linger nearby when you take out cash, and guard against prying eyes.
Never let anyone “help” you with a transaction at an ATM, or otherwise interfere with it. Ask the intrusive person to back off, and if they refuse, find another place to take out cash.
Around popular tourist attractions including the Sacre Coeur, the Louvre and the Eiffel Tower, merchants operating illegally are known to aggressively “persuade” tourists to buy their wares.
This often involves putting an object or trinket in your hand or inviting you to “try on” a bracelet.
Once you give in, a demand for payment often follows. Avoid this by refusing all advances from such “vendors” and not allowing them to place any items in or on your hand.
Protecting Your Health While in Paris
No one intends to get sick or suffer from an accident while traveling, but preparing for such unfortunate events will give you peace of mind and save you from outlandish medical costs.
Buying trustworthy travel insurance is essential. Many international policies cover up to millions of dollars in medical costs and liabilities, and are reasonably priced (about the cost of a nice meal out for one, or even less, depending on your age and pre-existing conditions). You can compare and purchase trusted travel insurance policies here (via World Nomads).
Emergency Numbers to Keep With You
If you run into a medical or other emergency, call one of the toll-free numbers below from any phone, and contact your embassy. It’s wise to print out these numbers and keep them with you at all times:
- Medical Emergencies & Accidents: 15
- Fire brigade: 18
- Police: 17
- SOS Médecins (on-call doctors): 01 47 07 77 77
- SOS Dentaire (dentists): 01 43 37 51 00
- SOS burns: 01 58 41 41 41
Note that in most cases, calling “15” is the best thing to do in a medical emergency. If you have been the victim of a violent crime or other crime, it will be necessary to both inform the French police and to file a report with your embassy.
If you need a pharmacy in Paris, identify them by their green flashing crosses. Most neighborhoods in the city have at least one pharmacy within a few blocks’ radius. These pharmacies are open late or 24 hours a day, in case you need to seek advice from a pharmacist or purchase medical supplies late at night.
Safety for Pedestrians in Paris
While Paris is generally a very pedestrian-friendly city– the local government has been working to increase the number of car-free zones around the capital in recent years– drivers can be aggressive, posing a danger to walkers.
My advice? Take a defensive approach when crossing streets and busy intersections, checking for cars even when the light is green and/or when you have the right of way.
In areas that appear to be pedestrian-only, watch out for cars and aggressive motorcylists: some areas that are “car-“free” still allow motorcyclists, service vehicles and cyclists.
What About Driving?
I strongly advise against trying to drive in Paris. Parisian drivers can be aggressive and unpredictable (by many standards), and traffic conditions are often congested and unpleasant.
If you have to drive, your international driver’s license and insurance must be up to date. Also make sure you understand the local rules of the road.
And you should avoid, at all costs, driving around nightmarish traffic circles such as the one at the Place de l’Etoile on the Avenue des Champs-Elysées.
If you do opt to take a taxi, whether within the city or to the airport and back, make sure you only use reputable companies. Never accept a ride from a taxi that doesn’t have an official “Taxi Parisien” sign atop its roof and a visible meter inside. You may be overcharged or otherwise scammed, if you do…
Why to Register & Keep in Touch With Your Embassy
It’s always wise to register with your embassy ahead of your trip and to keep their contact details with you at all times.
In the event that your passport is lost or stolen, you experience a medical emergency or a crime, or are in the city at the time of a dangerous event, registering will ensure that you’ll be able to get in touch more quickly with your embassy and to receive help from them. This is a good list of world embassies and their contact details.
Once at your embassy’s site, read through any relevant travel advisories for Paris and France and find out how to register as a citizen traveling abroad before your trip.
Are There Dangerous Places in the Capital to Avoid?
I wish I could argue that Paris is entirely safe in corners, but sadly, there are a few places that you’d probably be best off avoiding at night, especially for women and solo travelers.
Gangs are known to operate in some of these areas, and hate crimes have been reported around them in the past.
Take special caution late at night around the following metro stops and surrounding areas (and perhaps avoid altogether when traveling alone after dark): Chatelet les Halles, Les Halles, Pigalle, Couronnes, Belleville, Place des Fetes, Porte de St Ouen, Porte de Clichy, Gare du Nord, Stalingrad, Jaures, Crimee. Please note that this is not a definitive list: you should probably be cautious in all areas of the city after nightfall, or when crowds disperse.
Also note that this is NOT a list of so-called “no-go” zones in Paris. From my perspective (and it’s one shared by most locals), these simply don’t exist within the city limits.
Women, especially when traveling alone or in small groups, should take extra care at night, especially when alone. Avoid places with poor lighting and few people roaming the streets. Safety is in numbers.
Also, be aware that French men sometimes read smiles or extended eye contact as permission to flirt or make sexual advances. With strangers, it’s best to assume a neutral stance that clearly says “I’m not interested”.
If a man makes unwelcome or aggressive advances in the street or in other public places, firmly say “non”, refrain from smiling, and walk away. Call the police if you are followed or the harassment continues, and retreat to a public cafe or other crowded place if necessary.
People of color generally have nothing to fear in Paris, a city with remarkable ethnic diversity. Nevertheless, hate crimes are not unheard of.
If you are a victim of an attack that you feel is racially motivated, report it to the police, your embassy, and if necessary to French watchdog SOS Racisme: + 33 (0)1 40 35 36 55
Gay, lesbian, bisexual, transgender and non-binary visitors are generally safe and welcomed in the capital, which harbors a large and vibrant LGBT community. That said, there has sadly been a spike in reports of homophobic attacks in Paris over the past couple of years, and in the areas I mention above as being potentially less safe after dark, it is advisable to be extra cautious.
Read my guide on homophobia in Paris over at TripSavvy for tips on staying safe, including for LGBT couples. If you are attacked, report it to the police and to your embassy, and state clearly if you believe the attack was a hate crime.
Advice for Jewish and Muslim Travelers
Jewish visitors may have read that Paris has become unsafe for them. It can’t be denied that antisemitic attacks have been on the rise in recent years, with targets including synagogues, places of business and Jewish individuals.
Sadly, from 2018 such attacks are reported to have risen sharply. Visitors should take extra precautions at this time.
These attacks have been met with increased police protection of Jewish schools, places of worship and other sites important to the Jewish community.
While safety concerns are warranted, I want to stress that Paris has one of the largest Jewish communities in the world: one with a deep history that’s very much part of the cultural fabric of the city.
The vibe is generally welcoming and you shouldn’t fear visiting the city. It’s also important to know that there have been no recent reports of attacks against tourists of Jewish faith. Nevertheless, take precautions, particularly in the areas I mention above.
While I regret advising it, it may be best, late at night and in quiet areas, to remove visibly religious symbols and clothing items. Always report it to the police and to your embassy if you are a victim of an antisemitic attack. SOS Racisme can also help.
Muslim visitors may also fear attacks from Islamophobic individuals. Since 2015, there has been, according to numerous organizations, a sharp rise in attacks on Muslim places of worship and individuals.
Tourists of Muslim faith should not fear visiting the capital, however. Again, there is a large community here and most people are welcoming.
As always, though, if you experience harassment or violence make sure to report it to the police, your embassy, and perhaps to SOS Racisme (+ 33 (0)1 40 35 36 55).
While attacks on tourists of Muslim faith are exceedingly rare, it is important for victims to be heard, have their experience accounted for, and to seek the help they need.
*Disclaimer: This post contains affiliate links. If you book products or services though this site, it comes at no cost to you, but will help fund more free, in-depth content here at Paris Unlocked. Thank you.