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Is Paris a safe city to visit?

The Local France
The Local France - [email protected]
Is Paris a safe city to visit?
Few people deny that Paris is beautiful, but is it safe for visitors? Photo by JOEL SAGET / AFP

From the terror threat to crime and the risk of riots and strikes, we have a look at how safe the French capital is for visitors.

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Paris is undoubtedly one of the world's most beautiful cities - but it's also a large, modern capital with litter, graffiti, homelessness and crime, just as you would expect in any big city. 

It's home to 2.1 million residents and hosts around 10 million tourists a year, so here's what you need to know if you are planning a visit.

Terror threat

On the evening of Saturday, December 2nd a German tourist was killed and two others were injured in a an attack near the Eiffel Tower. This is a developing situation - find the latest here - but at this stage there is nothing to indicate that the attacker, a suspected radical Islamist, specifically targeted tourists.

France has been on the highest level of terror alert since October when teacher Dominique Bernard was stabbed to death in Arras, northern France, by a former pupil who was also on a terror watchlist because of his radical Islamist views.

The country has suffered several attacks by Islamist extremists, including the November 2015 suicide and gun attacks in Paris claimed by the Islamic State group in which 130 people were killed.

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There had been a relative lull in recent years, even as officials have warned that the threat remains.

More recent attacks have tended to be unsophisticated - a single attacker armed with a knife, often carried out by troubled young men who have been radicalised online.

At present, no countries have warned their nationals against visiting France because of the terror threat.

Hotels, tickets and scams: What to know if you're visiting Paris for the 2024 Olympics

Crime rates

When it comes to crime, Paris is a relatively safe city and there are no specific risks to tourists. That being said, it is France's largest city so as you would expect it has among the highest crime rates in the country.

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Overall, France has a murder rate of 1.20 per 100,000 people, a steep fall from when the rate peaked in the 1990s and much lower than the USA (5.01 per 100,000 people) but slightly higher than the UK (1.12 per 100k).

FACTCHECK: How bad are crime rates in France?

However, physical attacks on tourists are very rare and in fact the biggest risk to visitors are financial - becoming the victim of pickpockets or scammers, both of whom frequently do target lost-looking tourists.

Pickpockets

Pickpocketing is a particular problem around tourist sites and on certain parts of the public transport network, with Gare du Nord station a notorious trouble spot.

As with all cities, the best advice is to keep your valuables like a wallet and phone in a zipped pocket or bag that you can keep your eye on, and be aware of your surroundings. 

READ ALSO 14 ways to avoid pickpockets and petty thieves in Paris

Scams

Tourists are also frequently the targets of scammers, and a particular problem here is unlicensed taxis. Licensed Paris taxi drivers are forbidden to approach customers, so if someone comes up to you - especially at the airport or station - and offers a taxi ride, they will be unlicensed.

In recent months, several visitors have also reported a card payment scam in which taxi drivers quote them a price of - for example - €19 and then set the price on their card reader as €1,900 so always checked carefully the amount when making a card payment. 

You can find a guide to using Paris taxis and VTC companies like Uber, as well as what you can expect to pay, HERE.

Other popular scams that frequently target tourists can be found HERE.

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Beggars 

Separate to scammers and pickpockets are beggars, which tourists are often surprised to find exist in such a wealthy and elegant city as Paris.

It's not uncommon to be approached in the street or on the Metro by someone asking for "une pièce, un ticket resto" (a coin or a restaurant voucher) - these people are very rarely aggressive and whether you give to them or not is entirely a personal choice.

Strikes/demos/riots

One thing synonymous with France in general and Paris in particular is strikes, and tourists often wonder whether they should cancel a trip if there is a strike announced.

The first thing to be clear about is the difference between une grève - a strike, where people stop working - and une manifestation (sometimes shortened to une manif) - which is where people march or demonstrate.

These two often go together but not always, sometimes strikes happen without a demo while there are regular demos on topics from climate change to women's rights that don't involve strike action.

READ ALSO Should I cancel my trip to France if there is a strike?

Strikes themselves can be very inconvenient if services are cancelled but are hardly ever violent.

Demonstrations can flare into violence, especially at the end of the march, but these usually only involve a small minority of demonstrators (or more usually casseurs or hooligans) in a limited area. They often vandalise property such as shop windows, street furniture or bus shelters and sometimes attack police, but violence directed at passers-by is extremely rare.

Nonetheless, it's worth avoiding the area when a demonstration is ongoing, as the police's favourite crowd control tactic is to spray tear gas around, which is very unpleasant if you are caught in it. 

A much rarer event is une émeute (a riot) - France was rocked by rioting in July 2023 after the death of a teenager at the hands of police, the worst such disturbances since 2005.

Riots tend to take place in contained areas - often the banlieues (suburbs) of the big cities, so it's worth checking exactly where riots are taking place if such a thing occurs during or before a trip to France.

One thing we have observed is that media in both the UK and the USA tend to like to dramatise strikes, demos or riots in France and make it appear that the whole country is ablaze. It's worth checking French media (or finding the latest on The Local) to get a better idea of exactly what is happening, and where. 

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Drugs 

As in most capital cities, drugs are available to buy in Paris despite being illegal.

It is illegal to buy and to smoke cannabis, a fact which often surprises visitors since it's very widely available and it's not uncommon to see people smoking in public places. There are no legal cannabis shops in France, although there are CBD shops where cannabis oils that do not contain that active ingredient of the drug can be bought legally.

LGTBQ+

While unfortunately homophobic violence exists in all countries around the world it is no worse in Paris than any other big city and there is no cultural problem with holding hands, kissing or otherwise displaying affection in public.

If you would prefer to be in a gay-friendly space, head to the Marais district which as well as having a lively gay nightlife is also one of Paris' most beautiful and historic areas.  

Paris was accepted into the international Rainbow Cities network of gay-friendly cities in 2019.

Race 

Paris is far from being the worst European city for people of colour to visit, but nonetheless unfortunately some visitors do report problems, from being denied entry to bars and restaurants to being followed by security guards when shopping.

There is also an issue with the police. French police have the right to make random stops of pedestrians to check ID and of drivers to check driving licences and other documents. France does not collect race-related data on police stops due to its 'colour blind' laws, but it would be very hard to deny that 'random' stops disproportionately affect people of colour. 

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Women

Female visitors to Paris are not generally the target of violent attacks so there is not a major risk when walking the streets, but street harassment is a problem, especially for younger women.

There is a culture of street 'pick-ups' in Paris so it's not uncommon to be approached by a man who asks for your number, to go for a drink etc. In most cases this is non-threatening and you can simply politely say that you are not interested and keep walking, but there is also a problem with street harassment such as wolf-whistling, persistent attempts or even physical groping.

This is illegal in France under anti street harassment laws brought into effect in 2019, but unfortunately the laws are not always well enforced.  

Emergency in France: Who to call and what to say 

Suburbs

Prices for hotels and restaurants are high in Paris so many may choose to stay outside the city in the suburbs - you can find a guide to the inner and outer suburbs of the city here.

Because prices fall the further out of Paris you get, the suburbs are home to many of the capital's low-paid workers while some have higher than average levels of poverty and crime.

The suburbs to the north and east of the city - within the département of Seine-Saint-Denis - have gained a reputation as violent and crime-ridden places where riots frequently break out. In truth, however, this is far from being the case for all of the north-east suburbs, although there are some areas that visitors would be wise to avoid.

Within Seine-Saint-Denis the suburbs of Pantin, Bagnolet, Les Lilas and Montreuil are all pleasant places to visit and have easy Metro connections into the city centre.  

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