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What to expect on May 1st in France

Emma Pearson
Emma Pearson - [email protected]
What to expect on May 1st in France
Demonstrations take place across France on May 1st.Photo by Lou BENOIST / AFP

Demonstrations, flowers, closures, traffic and rain - here's what to expect if you're in France on May 1st 2024.

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May 1st is a significant day in the French calendar, with a lot of history and events around the country.

Here's what to expect this year;

Day off

May 1st is a public holiday and this year it falls on a Wednesday, meaning a day off for most workers.

It forms an opportunity to 'faire le viaduct', so don't be surprised if your colleagues have booked either the Monday and Tuesday or the Thursday and Friday off work to create an extended break.

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Closures

Most workplaces will be closed on Wednesday, including all public administration offices such as préfectures and mairies. Some smaller offices may also have revised opening hours for the rest of the week if their staff have booked extra holiday, so it would be worth checking in advance if you're planning a visit.

 

The Eiffel Tower will be open but both the Louvre and the Musée d'Orsay close on May 1st. If you're planning a visit to a smaller site it is worth checking in advance.

Smaller independent shops will mostly close for the day, some larger businesses and chains may be open but with reduced hours. Many supermarkets will close for the day.

Some restaurants, cafés and bars will stay open but many others will close so it's definitely worth booking or at least checking opening hours if you are planning dinner or drinks out.

Employees who work on May 1st are entitled to get paid double wages (rather than simply getting an extra day off as is the case for other public holidays) which is why many businesses prefer to close. Some of France's bigger tourist attractions close for only two public holidays - Christmas Day and May 1st.

Demonstrations 

May 1st has, since 1889, been International Workers' Day and around the world there are demonstrations and marches held on the day as a demonstration of international solidarity.

This is a tradition that France has embraced with enthusiasm and most towns and cities will have a manif (demo). These are mostly organised by trade unions and are in the main calm and peaceful - families take their kids and there is music and snacks at the departure points.

There are serious subjects to be addressed, however, and this year many of the marches are focused on the rising cost of living and the increasing number of people living in a precarious financial situation, although some marches will also focus on issues such as gender inequality and climate change, while others will prioritise local issues such as funding for schools.

Expect road closures along the demo route and a heavy police presence - as is common with demos, there may be some trouble or violence towards the end of the march in the bigger French cities.

In Paris the demo will set off from 2pm from the Place de la République and head to Nation. Between 15,000 and 30,000 people are expected in Paris and nationwide the turnout is estimated at 150,000 - a steep fall from last year when around 800,000 turned out to protest against pension reform. 

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Flowers

Before it was International Workers' Day, May 1st was a festival with pagan roots celebrating the arrival of spring, and some of the traditions hark back to that.

In northern France you may (possibly) still see the 'May tree' - a tree that a young man plants outside the home of the woman he wanted to marry.

Meanwhile all over the country you will see stalls selling bunches or pots of the pretty white lily-of-the-valley flowers (muguet).

These are a tradition going right back to the 1500s and are said to bring good luck. Florists and supermarkets sell them but you'll also see temporary stalls set up, many run by trade unions or leftist groups who are raising funds for their organisation.

Muguet: France's lucky May flower

Weather

Tradition might say that May 1st ushers in the return of les beaux jours, or the beautiful, sunny days of spring and summer, but this year the weather appears to have other ideas.

Unusually cold weather will persist through the week, with May 1st forecast to be rainy in many areas.

Traffic

If you're heading to a popular local leisure spot like a beach or make on May 1st traffic might be heavier than usual, but traffic watchdog Bison futé has no alerts listed for Wednesday. Instead, traffic is predicted to be heavier on Saturday as people return from their extended 'pont' weekend, while the school holidays also finish for Zone B (northern France plus Provence-Alpes-Côte d'Azur).

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