As part of the European Union, France is generally considered a safe place to visit. But on the Global Peace Index it ranks lower than other European countries, coming 67th on the list. Here, we look at some things to consider when planning how to travel safely in France.
The French are well known for their nationalism, and riots can often erupt in major cities surrounding protests over pay, prices, and government policies. France has also seen an increase in terrorist attacks in recent years, but the likelihood of being involved in an attack remains low.
While violent crime poses an insignificant threat to tourists, petty theft is quite common in the major cities and tourist destinations. Rural areas are much safer, with hardly any issues when it comes to petty theft and scams.
As one of the most visited cities on the planet, it's not surprising that Paris is a hub for pickpocketing, phone/bag snatching, and opportunistic theft around major sights and train stations.
Thieves posing as joggers sometimes operate at parks, pretending to knock into tourists and steal their bags or belongings. Nice and Marseille have the highest crime rates statistically, so it’s best to stay alert even when you have left the capital.
A long-running scam in Paris is a person finding a gold ring near you and asking if it’s yours. When you say no, they offer the ring to you to keep, then ask for a cut or share to buy lunch or something - the ring is worthless, so you are just paying for their lunch.
Any sort of street magic trick or show involving an animal should be widely avoided. It’s also common for people to pose as charity collectors or beggars and ask for “donations”.
Strikes and protests are common in France. Paris in particular, sees whole streets like the Champs Elysees closed off in a tear-gas-heavy swarm of armed police and residents.
The yellow-vested ‘gilets jaunes’ protestors often clash with police, while other movements focus on creating an inconvenience like bringing traffic to a standstill.
It can be frustrating to be in Paris when something like this happens, but the best advice is to read the local news and completely avoid the areas where there are problems - ask at your Paris accommodation if in doubt.
The same sort of chaos can be witnessed during major holidays like Bastille Day, or during major sporting events.
While there isn’t really any way to avoid terrorism anywhere in the world, know that France takes a zero-tolerance approach.
Cities like Nice have seen complete redevelopment, involving giant pedestrian barriers along the promenade, in an effort to avoid any repetition of unfortunate past events.
Paris is on constant high alert, and major sights have a lot of restrictions in place to ensure safety for everyone. Always carry ID, and it’s also important to know that covering your face in public places is illegal.
Don’t be surprised or alarmed to see armed police and military units patrolling the streets, as well as the subway, train stations, and airports.
While hiring a car and driving in France can be a fantastic way to see the country, driving in the cities can be stressful and dangerous to the uninitiated. Taxi drivers can be erratic, and locals often struggle to hide their road rage with confused foreign drivers.
It’s best to avoid driving in cities where possible, unless you are a confident driver with a comprehensive insurance policy. Paris, in particular, is well-known for errant mopeds, complicated road rules, and bumps and scrapes being part of the norm.
In some areas, vehicles are also a target for theft, even when you are stopped at traffic lights, so it’s best to keep doors locked.
The tap water in France is safe to drink, the quality of food is usually good, and hygiene standards are high. Free emergency healthcare is provided in France for EU citizens carrying an EU Health Card.
Of course, it’s best to always have comprehensive travel insurance before starting your trip; healthcare costs can add up for foreign visitors.
There’s a low risk of natural disasters in France, with the exception of avalanches in the ski season. Some regions can see wildfires during hot spells and flash floods during wet weather, but the authorities are quick to act with the safety of the people always taking priority.
The European migrant crisis has also affected France. It might come as a surprise to visitors to see tent and cardboard shanty-towns in places like Paris and Calais.
Try to donate to an accredited organisation or charity if you want to help rather than supporting begging - the money doesn’t always end up where it’s needed.
It’s also wise to avoid the parks surrounding Paris at night; prostitution is rife and drug and alcohol abuse can cause violence.
Last Updated 28 November 2023