FOR MEMBERS

Should I cancel my trip to Paris because of the French strikes?

Should I cancel my trip to Paris because of the French strikes?
Paris views - best seen at a leisurely stroll. Photo: AFP
As major strike action continues in France, we have received many questions from readers worried about whether to cancel planned trips to Paris. Here we look at some of the issues.

With its beautiful city centre, festive decorations, great shops and nearby attractions like Disneyland, Paris is a very popular destination for a New Year break.

But with unlimited strike action now entering its fourth week, and looking unlikely to finish before talks restart on January 6th, many tourists are now wondering whether to cancel altogether.

READ ALSO 'Unlimited' strikes in France in December – what you need to know


The strike is the longest unlimited action in France since the 1980s. Photo: AFP

So what do you need to think about if you have a trip planned?

Will I be safe?

First things first, you will not be in any danger if you come. Strikes in France are generally very disruptive but not violent affairs and unlike in other countries do not lead to mass social unrest and all-out riots, although union-lead protests that accompany strikes can sometimes end in trouble.

You may have seen some dramatic news footage of a small group of black-clad youths who had joined a big union protest smashing windows and setting things on fire on the first day of the strike of December 5th.

However these type of actions are committed by a tiny minority and are generally on pre-planned demonstrations, the routes of which are publicised in advance so they are easy to avoid.

Although the 'Black Bloc' rioters look pretty scary, their actions are usually targeted at shops, banks etc and they are not violent towards people. Skirmishes with the police frequently end in the police using tear gas and rubber bullets, neither of which are fun to be around so we would advise giving demonstrations a miss.

People have also asked if they will be safe walking around the city. Like all big cities Paris does have its share of crime, but pickpocketing is by far the most common crime and in general Paris is a safe city to walk around.

Will I be able to get there?

As the strikes continue the biggest impact has been on transport services.

The biggest disruption is on the railways, where thousands of trains have been cancelled. However services have improved as time goes on, and the French rail operator SNCF is now running about half of its usual timetable – up from just 10 percent on the first days of the strikes.

In the early days 20 percent of flights were cancelled, but disruption is now much less and on most days flights are running normally, although it would still be wise to check with your airline in advance.

If you are coming by Eurostar you will find services disrupted but a reduced service is still running and the same applies if you are travelling by train from another European country.

The Channel tunnel is running as normal, as are cross Channel ferries.

If you're flying, bear in mind that transport between the city and the airport on RER line B is very disrupted. The airport buses are private, so are running as normal, but are very busy so we would suggest booking in advance.

One thing to be wary of is rogue taxi drivers, some of whom are taking advance of the transport chaos to charge unwary tourists enormous fares – check out what you need to know about Paris taxis here.


Many Metro lines and stations will be closed altogether. Photo: AFP

Will I be able to get around Paris?

Public transport in Paris is very heavily disrupted, with many Metro lines closed altogether and severely limited services on buses and trams.

As with the trains, more services have reopened as the strike goes on, but there is still a lot of disruption so we wouldn't advise relying on the public transport network. Fortunately there are plenty of other options for getting around.

READ ALSO Six ways to get around Paris without public transport

For a capital city Paris is very compact – just 9km across – so most things are within walking distance. Walking is also much the best way to see the city as you can see the sights and drink in the atmosphere as you go.

If you're going a little further there are a lot of bike hire schemes, plus options to hie electric scooters or mopeds and of course there are taxis.

Basically if you're infirm or not able to walk long distances this might not be the best time for a visit, but if you're reasonably fit and active you should be able to get about without too much trouble.

Will everything be closed?

No, the strike largely affects the public sector so businesses should be open as usual. If there is a big demo planned shops, bars and restaurants along the immediate route may be closed, but everything else is open.

Indeed many Paris shopkeepers, worried about a dip in custom, are pleading with shoppers not to be put off.

READ ALSO Strikes leave Paris shopkeepers fearing another Christmas slump

Museums and tourist attractions are not directly affected, but of course their staff are trying to get to work without public transport. Some museums, such as the Louvre, have been opening later than normal or closing off some rooms, so we would suggest checking on the museum's website before you go.


A stroll by the Seine is to be advised even if the buses are running. Photo: AFP

What are they striking about?

The strike is about pension reforms. The French government wants to do away with the 42 different systems that France currently operates and create one single system for everybody. But many public sector workers have 'special regimes' that either give them more generous pensions or the right to retire early, so they stand to lose out if the pension system changes.

We asked four French unions to explain to us why they feel they have no option but to take action.

When will it end?

That's the million dollar question! We don't know. 

While some groups, including teachers, have taken several one-day actions, the majority of the transport unions are on an 'unlimited' strike.

On the last week before Christmas, the government and unions sat down and began to talk, but although there were some positive noises made after the second day of talks, it was not enough for the unions to call off their action.

Talks then broke for Christmas and will not restart until January 6th, so it seems unlikely that there will be a breakthrough before then.

When the strikes passed the three-week mark on December 26th they became the longest-running mass strikes that France has seen since the 1980s.

But although this might sound a bit grim, in many places life is continuing as normal and in Paris some people are quite enjoying their newfound walking or cycling habits.

And some tourists we spoke to said they're actually seeing more of the city since they've been forced to sightsee on foot.

For daily updates on the situation on French railways and Paris public transport, check our strike section.


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