A few years ago, Tracy wrote a blog post about our experience in Paris that was, at the time, met with a lot of backlash. The fact that we had the gall to doubt whether or not Paris was anything other than the idyllic dreamscape most movies make it out to be really angered a lot of American travelers as well as some in Europe. Oddly enough, doubting the safety of Paris really didn't bother many Parisians - who actually saw the article as a fair representation of what the city has become.
So, now in the midst of the globally recognized gilet jaune movement that started in Paris and has since spread throughout Europe, we actually find ourselves being asked by people, "Listen, I know Paris isn't what it used to be, but it's still Paris, right? Is Paris safe? Should I go there?"
The question of whether or not Paris is safe to visit, in other words, is no longer taboo.
This article differs from the first because we want to focus more on an objective answer to the question - is Paris safe? While the first was a chronicle of our experience (as well as the experiences of many we know), this is more an attempt to answer whether or not Paris is safe for the average tourist.
What is "Safe"?
Defining whether or not we find Paris a safe place to visit really is a matter of answering another question. Is Paris, or any city for that matter, safe enough to be comfortable visiting?
The truth is, many people think of safety as simply answering, "if I go there, will I come back in one piece without being robbed?" If that's the question you want to really know the answer to, we would likely both tell you that, yes, you will probably visit Paris and come back with your belongings and alive.
Notice the word probably.
Truth is, while I'm comfortable saying Paris is probably less dangerous than the Middle East, it's not a city that we, nor most of the people we know, felt comfortable in. In fact, more people than not among the several dozen we know that have been have experienced one of the following:
- Theft of personal items or belongings (or attempt of theft)
- Physical confrontation
- Actual physical harm
- The feeling of being intimidated
- The feeling of disgust
Truth be told, we experienced all five in our first eight hours in the city. We even recently returned to Paris in November, hoping to see something that gave us a feeling that we might have been mistaken previously, but instead felt confirmed in our belief that Paris is certainly not a comfortable place for us to visit.
Now, here's where the caveats begin - many will say that to really have a great time in Paris, you have to spend your time in the smaller quarters, the areas away from the attractions, but is this really 100% of what you want when you travel to a city with so much to see?
We didn't have to avoid the Piazza Navona in Rome . Nor did we have to avoid Westminster in London or the Charles Bridge in Prague. So, why do so many people advise avoiding the things in Paris most people want to see?
Because truthfully, Paris does at least give off the impression of being more dangerous than those cities. The seedy activity only begins in those areas of highest tourist activity, then spreads like bony fingers across the city. If safety means a level of comfort and fear of intimidation while you travel, there's a very good chance you will not feel safe in Paris.
If asking whether or not Paris is safe, to you, means asking if you'll actually be mugged, that's a difficult question to answer, and one best left in the realm of statistics instead of opinion.
There has been an increasing amount of information written about the safety concerns in Paris over far more than just the last few years, or in the wake of the events at the Bataclan. In fact, according to many, Paris has been quietly becoming one the most dangerous major cities in Europe for quite some time.
Theodore Dalrymple wrote in 2002 about Paris' growing problems of poverty, the eradication of the middle class, and the quietly growing problem that has been sleeping for decades in Paris. He wrote of Paris' crime epidemic, once confined to back-alleys, that was now evident in broad daylight. Publications throughout Europe, including the UK, have declared Paris a tourism "no-go" since 2017.
Other state-issued or reputable travel safety websites that monitor and rank current safety have consistently had Paris listed as a "high" risk city - much to do with the increase in gang-related crime in the city (which represents about 85% of gang-related activity in the entire country). Most of the concern centers less around violent crime (considered by most at a low to medium risk), and more around various scams and pick-pocketing - which consistently rank among some of the highest among European capitals.
Understanding this, it's also worthwhile to note that many crimes in Paris go unreported for multiple reasons. First, the age of criminal responsibility is 13, compared to 6 in the United States. This is part of the reason why many organized scams and pickpocketing operations are carried out by children between the ages of 8 and 12. Quite simply put, these children might be detained for a moment, but aren't "stopped" by means of arrest, and are quickly released (within minutes or a few hours) to return to their activities.
Violent crime is most often relegated to certain arrondissements within Paris. We would advise to completely avoid (if possible) Les Halles, Chatelet, Gare du Nord, Stalingrad and Jaures at night - and frankly limit your exposure to those areas to absolute necessity. These are dingier, seedieer areas within the city, and areas of considerable violence. The same can be said about most areas in Northern Paris.
It's equally important, no matter where you are in Paris, to keep a low profile and refrain anything that "stands out". Anything religious or political should absolutely be avoided, as well as any type of visible jewelry.
The tourist attractions within Paris are the most frequent locations for aggressive pick-pocketing, theft, and robbery. It has become so bad around the Eiffel Tower, in fact, that workers at the famous monument have gone on strike on several occasions due to concern over unsafe working conditions created by the prevalence of crime in the area. As a result, the city has made initiatives to attempt to help tourists feel more safe, such as committing an additional 5,000 police force on the streets of Paris this past summer to quell the rampant spread of crime against tourists.
It's a necessary step for a city (and country) that have seem tourism drop sharply in recent years due to terrorism, economic difficulties, and rising expense. In fact, it's estimated that Paris is seeing roughly 1.5 million fewer tourists per year, each year since 2016 due to these factors.
How to Stay Safe in Paris
There are and continue to be, however, tourists arriving in Paris every day that have a great experience - enough so that our previous criticisms were met with some pretty strong disagreement. So, can we say there's no redeeming value in Paris? No, we can't say that. I know people that loved it when they visited, although most of those people visited at least seven or eight years ago. For us, we really don't have any desire to go back at this point.
Tourists and travelers are curious by nature, and the truth is that many of you will read this are going to think, "eh, I'll hedge my bets. I want to see the Louvre/Arc de Triomphe/Montmartre, etc... We heard it was dangerous before we went, and went anyhow, too. In fact, we'll probably go to a lot of other places we've heard are dangerous.
Travelers go where they want to go, and sometimes that includes places that are a little dangerous.
So, how can you stay safe in Paris?
For starters, do everything you can to stay away from the areas we mentioned above at night. There's little good that can come out of it, and there's much more to see around more populated areas that will keep you safe.
Stick to heavily populated and well-lit areas at night. This is good, too, because this fortunately includes a lot of places where you probably want to spend time anyhow. This is primarily going to include staying in the center of the city, and you should really consider avoiding the outer belt of Paris completely.
If you're going to walk around, don't look like a tourist. Do a few smart things to help yourself, like covering anything expensive like cameras, smartphones, or GoPros.
Here's the one thing you MUST do in Paris: WEAR A MONEY BELT!
So, what's a money belt? Simply put, it's a thin belt that's meant to go under your clothes and wraps around your body. Thieves can't see it, and they're big enough to fit your IDs, passport, money, and hotel room key - which should include pretty much everything you have with you.
The one we use is super tough, almost impossible to see under clothing, durable, and only cost 15 bucks on Amazon. We would recommend this not only traveling to Paris, but really traveling anywhere!
Here's another simple thing to help keep you secure - make a copy of your passport and leave it in your hotel room. If something happens you get pick-pocketed (which really shouldn't happen with a money belt), you'll have a copy of your passport information in the room which will expedite your ability to get on a plane and get back home.
Here's another one that's huge. Don't talk to anyone that comes up to you, for any reason. If they're asking you for directions, it's probably a scam and a way to get to your wallet. If it's someone asking you to sign a petition, or just stopping to ask a random question, it's the same. There are places where you can feel comfortable on the street being stopped and asked a question by a stranger, but unfortunately Paris isn't one of them.
Lastly, and this is really to protect your expectations, but don't expect a clean city. There's still a lot to enjoy in Paris, but it isn't like it is in the movies. Most of the streets are dirty. There's a bad homeless problem. A lot of areas look generally unkempt, which only adds to how unsafe they feel. If you expect that you're going to see stuff like this, you'll temper your expectations.
If you're able to do these things and travel intelligently, I really don't think you'll have an overall problem staying safe in Paris. There are a few other things like being smart about taking cabs and taking the metro that goes without saying, but overall, do most of your moving around during the day, and stay in a nice area with low crime at night. There are some.
With all this being said, who knows what Paris will look like in six months? Will the yellow vests protests make the city impossible to visit, as some consider it to be right now while this is all going on? Maybe. But, there's also the possibility that some good can come of it, and the general livability in Paris will improve as a result of every day Parisians wanting more for themselves and more for their city.
That's our hope. We would love to go to the idyllic Paris of everyone's dreams, and hope one day that's a reality, but right now there are just too many other places (even in France) that can be more easily enjoyed.
So, is Paris safe? We don't think so, but you might not agree if you take the right precaution and travel smartly. Ultimately, it's up for you to decide!
USEFUL TRAVEL RESOURCES FOR PARIS
Paris Map – Plan your trip around Paris with this handy map
RentalCars.com – Great site for comparing rental car prices
Skyscanner.net – Our favorite place to book cheap airline flights
Expedia.com – Book affordable accommodation or bundle flights and hotels in Paris.
Recommended Guidebook: Lonely Planet Paris
Suggested Reading: A Moveable Feast: The Restored Edition - Ernest Hemingway