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Is Paris Safe? 4 myths that need debunking in 2024

Published 04 December 2023 by Leyla Alyanak — Parisian by birth, Lyonnaise by adoption, historian by passion

Paris is relatively safe, especially for the average tourist. I visit every few months (I live a few hours away in the French countryside) and violent attacks continue to be rare, especially when compared to other, non-violent crimes. Let me explain.

The tragic stabbing death on 2 December 2023 of a tourist near the Eiffel Tower set everyone on edge and had the Internet (and my Inbox) asking: Is Paris safe? Should I cancel my trip?

It would be easy to respond instantly with safety statistics but that would be dismissing the horror of the attack - of any attack - on families, survivors, or witnesses. 

However horrifying, these attacks remain the exception rather than the rule. A bit like an airline crash, a single event catapults public attention. Yet just as few aircraft ever have problems, Paris rarely experiences violent attacks

The swirl of presumptions that followed the stabbing (and that emerge in Paris on the rare occasions when violence erupts or when civil unrest turns violent) deserves a bit of a closer look.

In the spirit of understanding the reach of these violent acts and assessing any personal risk to visitors, let’s try to debunk some of the more persistent myths that surround safety in Paris.

Myth #1: Paris is one of the world’s most dangerous cities

Of course you’d think that, reading the news and travel advisories.

The thought of a crazed man on the rampage in a crowded neighborhood isn’t exactly a great way to make you feel safe.

So let’s look at the facts. Numbeo is a site that compiles statistics based on people’s reports, so it’s not scientific but I’ve found it to often reflect reality faster than official numbers can catch up. 

According to their mid-2023 statistics,

  • Of 334 cities in the world, Paris was ranked 82nd. Which puts it into the safest 25% of cities, on a par with Malmö, Sweden.
  • Globally, Paris ranks higher for safety than such cities as Washington DC and San Francisco in the United States, Australian cities like Cairns or Darwin, or most cities in Brazil or South Africa.
  • Several European cities have higher crime rates than Paris, like Liège in Belgium or Naples in Italy.
  • And there are more dangerous cities in France itself, like Marseille, Nantes, Montpellier, or even Grenoble.

So no, Paris is not a particularly dangerous city. Yes, there is crime, but rather less of it than in many other major cities.

If you live in a large city, your chances of being a victim of violent crime are probably the same as in Paris - and depending on where you’re from, the risk could even be higher.

If you’re a numbers person, The Swiftest travel data ranks France 35th out of 50 countries in terms of safety, sandwiched between Japan and the Czech Republic (the US at 20 is far more dangerous, with the #1 slot occupied by South Africa).

Myth #2: Paris is full of violent crime

Again, the statistics don’t bear this out.

What IS sadly true is that violent crime is on the rise.

According to the Ministry of the Interior, all crime is on the rise, but by far the biggest increase is theft of all kinds.

But violence isn’t as frequent as you might think.

The biggest type of crime you’ll probably have to worry about is petty theft and street crime. Paris is full of pickpockets (the case of most any European city) and taking a few precautions should help  keep your belongings safe.

Here’s how to avoid pickpockets in Paris.

Myth #3: All of Paris is unsafe

Again, no way.

Some arrondissements are less safe than others (Paris has 20 arrondissments, or districts) but even so, only part of those arrondissements are considered “dangerous”. Even the word danger can be seen as an overstatement, since much of the violence is drug-related and not linked to tourists in any way.

Also, there are plenty of popular places in Paris which are considered extremely safe but happen to be located within a so-called “unsafe” arrondissement. The borders between arrondissements aren’t hard and fast… so throwaway phrases like “xx arrondissement is not safe” are a little misleading.

Myth #4: It’s dangerous to walk around Paris alone

As someone who has walked alone around Paris at all hours for (many) decades, I beg to differ, as would many solo travelers.

Certainly, there are neighborhoods in which I would not wander alone at night, but there are just as many in which I happily do. Stick to the main tourist attractions, and you’ll mostly be fine - I say mostly because, as we saw in the knife attack, bad things can happen anywhere.

Use common sense, stay away from dark places by yourself, be aware of your surroundings, and there’s a 99% probability that nothing unpleasant will happen.

A few sober truths about safety concerns in Paris

Having put the security situation into some sort of perspective, there are disturbing trends that should be noted – but not stand in the way of a visit.

  • Crime of most types has been on the rise in Paris in recent years, as it is pretty much everywhere else.
  • When violent crimes do occur, it is usually in certain “hot” neighborhoods or suburbs or within families. 
  • As we near the Olympics, security will get tighter and with it, so will tempers.
  • The most common crime against tourists is theft and petty crimes, like bag snatching.

Does that mean you should worry? Not really.

The media can help blow up an event, and governments do their bit by raising the alarm and warning their citizens vocally.

Recently, for example, the US State Department called for increased caution in travel to France. Canada suggested a “high degree of caution” due to potential terrorist attacks. And the UK requested “maximum vigilance and protection in the event of an imminent threat of a terrorist act or in the immediate aftermath of an attack”.

Reading these warnings, I too might be tempted to stay home – if I didn’t know better.

So, as a Frenchie who lives in France, you might ask me...

Should I come to Paris?

That’s a bit like asking whether someone should visit the US because there are nearly daily mass shootings. There may be, and the idea is terrifying, but the chances of your being caught up in one are slim and as we've seen by the numbers, it is a relatively safe city.

France does face heightened terrorist threats, but again, the danger of being caught up in such an event is remote.

I for one feel better when I’m a bit more in control of my destiny. I may not be able to control outside events, but I can minimize the chances. The best way is by taking a few safety precautions:

  • Carrying my embassy’s hotline number and email address (along with other messaging platforms, if any) with me, always a good idea.
  • Keeping your distance if you see a French police presence. The wail of sirens and flashing blue lights should not mean “get closer”, as I’ve seen a lot of people do. On the contrary, they mean stay away. You don’t know what has happened. Police may have cordoned a place off because someone dangerous is on the loose. Don’t let your natural curiosity put you in danger.
  • Being particularly alert where there are large crowds, such as on public transportation, in train stations and metro stations, or in crowded tourist areas.
  • Avoiding dangerous neighborhoods most of the time, but especially at night.
  • Staying in well-lit areas and highly frequented public places after sunset.

These are precautions for Paris, but they would work anywhere.

Before you go…

Paris is a major city, one of the most visited cities in the world, on a par with London or Washington in many ways, and while it has all the advantages of a great cosmopolitan city, the "City of Love" also has its disadvantages. Crime is one of those.

As you do when you’re home, try to focus on the positive because you’ve waited a long time to see this great city, and you deserve to enjoy it. You can be cautious and aware but still have fun!

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