France is open to Americans; Here's what it's like now and when to go
France reopened to international tourists, including vaccinated Americans, on Jun. 9, 2021. I covered the entry process last week and have been in France ever since, staying mostly in Paris.
I’ve gotten countless emails since publishing the entry article, most with one common theme: Is it worth visiting Paris right now? And the question makes sense since France has many coronavirus restrictions in place through the end of the month.
While I wish I could say that your Paris trip will look the same as in years past, that simply isn’t the case. In fact, Paris isn’t as open as many American cities like New York or Chicago. But, plenty of the city’s charm is still there, and many of its strict lockdown measures have been eased.
Here, I’ll discuss what you can do in Paris during the current phase of coronavirus restrictions.
Let’s take a look!
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Current COVID-19 restrictions in Paris
Let’s start with the bad news: There are still some strict COVID-19 restrictions in effect in Paris (and France as a whole). Here's a closer look at what these restrictions are and how they can affect your Paris vacation.
There’s an 11 p.m. curfew throughout France
One of the biggest drawbacks to visiting Paris (or France) right now is the 11 p.m. curfew. Everyone — including tourists — are required to be in their home or hotel room between 11 p.m. and 6 a.m. every day. There is a 135 euro fine for evading this curfew that's strictly enforced throughout Paris.
That said, don’t fret if you have an early flight or train to catch. There are plenty of exceptions to the curfew and you can get an electronic exemption slip online.
Many restaurants in Paris are operating past 11 p.m. but without seating. You can order delivery from popular apps like Uber Eats and Deliveroo. Likewise, many hotels continue room service past the curfew, so you won’t go hungry if you need dinner or want a midnight snack.
This curfew is expected to be lifted on June 20 if case counts continue to trend downward. So with that in mind, you might want to postpone your trip until next month if you’re a night-owl.
Related: The 11 hotel breakfasts we’d order for every meal if we could
Most things operate at a reduced capacity
Now for the good news: Pretty much everything is open in Paris. That said, everything is open at a limited capacity, so you’ll want to make reservations for restaurants and museums. Most museums have online reservations while restaurants usually require you to call in for a reservation, but I've had no issue walking into most cafes and bistros.
Related: 15 things to see and do on your first trip to Paris
You’ll need a health pass for large events
The French government notes that a digital Health Pass is required for all large events in France. Generally, this is for events with more than 1,000 people. This includes open-air venues, theaters and stadiums, so you'll likely need this for concerts and sporting events when they restart.
You can download the TousAntiCOVID app from the App Store or Google Play to set up your pass. This pass shows vaccination status or a recent negative COVID test, but I haven't had any luck adding my CDC-issued vaccine card to the app yet. Thankfully I haven't needed a Health Pass thus far on the trip. If you need it for an event, you may need to get a negative COVID-19 test in France.
Related: Your guide to vaccine passports
Yes, masks are still required
Masks are still required in France. You must wear a mask at all indoor venues, including shops, cafes and restaurants. That said, you can take your mask off when eating or drinking. In practice, most locals aren't wearing masks once seated at any type of dining establishment.
Related: Masks still required during air travel as CDC loosens indoor mask guidelines for fully vaccinated people
Getting around Paris (and France)
Transportation in and around Paris (and France as a whole) is largely operating as normal. Here's my experience getting around the city.
The Paris Metro is running as normal
I've used the Paris Metro for the majority of my trips around town. It's operating as normal and on time. You'll find that many Metro cars are packed during peak times, so avoid rush hour if you're not into crowds. You can still purchase Metro tickets at all stations and take the RER train from Paris (CDG) to the city center.
Related: 10 things no one tells you about… Paris
National trains are still available
Headed to Nice, Bordeaux or another part of France after Paris? Don't fret — the SNCF is running trains all over the country. I took the train from Paris to Nice earlier this week and it was on time with zero issues. Just note that there are no blocked middle seats or other precautions taken, so you may want to rent a car or purchase a first-class ticket to avoid crowds.
Related: Tips for train travel and transportation in France
There’s an Uber shortage, so download Bolt too
Like in many U.S. cities, there's an Uber shortage in Paris. Prices are high and it often takes 10+ minutes to find a ride if you're in the city center. I highly recommend downloading a European rideshare app like FreeNow or Bolt to use if you can't find an Uber. I've had good luck with Bolt and used it a couple of times during my trip.
Related: An Uber driver talks how to get the VIP treatment and be a better traveler in 2021
What you can do in Paris right now
Despite the restrictions, there is plenty to do in Paris. Here's a look at what you can do, see and eat in the French capital.
Restaurants, cafes, bars and bistros are open
Pretty much all dining establishments are open across Paris. They're allowed to be open at full capacity outdoors and half capacity indoors. Currently, bar seating is prohibited and there is a maximum of six guests per table.
I've noticed that all of these rules are under very limited enforcement, so your experience may vary depending on where you eat and drink. You'll find particularly large crowds at outdoor cafes on Friday nights after work. Midday crowds are about what they were pre-pandemic on cafe patios.
Related: 11 of the most Instagrammable cafés in Paris
Most museums are open, but you’ll need a reservation
Museums are open, but with a capacity limit of one visitor per 4 square meters. You need to make a reservation for most museums on their website. I had no issue getting a ticket to the Louvre the weekend before my trip. That said, the Louvre had large crowds around premier exhibits like the Mona Lisa, but mask compliance was strictly enforced.
Unfortunately, some famous landmarks like Eiffel Tower remain closed until next month. You can still see them from the outside, but interior tours are still suspended. I'm hopeful that these will reopen on schedule so long as COVID-19 cases continue to trend downward in France.
Related: How to avoid soul-crushing crowds at the Louvre
Shops are operating as normal
Shops are operating as normal until the 11 p.m. curfew. This includes everything from designer clothes stores to the neighborhood grocery store. You'll have no problem getting your shopping fix in Paris.
Related: 8 hot shopping destinations in the world’s most fashionable cities
The hotel experience is largely unchanged
One thing that hasn’t changed is the hotel experience in Paris. I stayed at three different hotels during my time in the city and each had open dining facilities, housekeeping and everything you’d expect from a pre-pandemic hotel experience. Just make sure to wear a mask in common areas.
Unlike Iceland, French hotels aren’t requiring proof of vaccination at check-in. All you need to do is show your passport and credit card, as usual. This means check-in is quick and easy and you don't have to rustle through your bag to find other paperwork.
Don’t worry — you’ll hear more about my Paris hotel experiences in two upcoming reviews.
Related: 10 of the best points hotels in France
COVID-19 testing in Paris
Another thing readers have asked me is where they can get a COVID-19 test in Paris in order to return to the U.S. Truthfully, I’m writing this while still in France, so I haven’t been tested for my return yet. But I’ve done a bit of research and have a good understanding of how to get a test in Paris.
Either a PCR or rapid antigen test are acceptable types of tests for return to the U.S. In my experience, these tests are checked at flight check-in and not at the U.S. border. Your test must be less than 72 hours old to be considered valid.
Antigen tests are relatively easy to come by in Paris. I saw a testing booth set up outside of the Operá Metro stop last week, so you may want to check if you’re staying at a nearby hotel (like the Park Hyatt Paris-Vendôme).
You can also find antigen testing at most pharmacies around Paris and other French cities. Pricing varies, but shouldn’t be more than roughly 30 euros for foreigners not covered by French health insurance.
Further, there are testing centers at both Paris-Charles de Gaulle (CDG) and Paris-Orly (ORY) airports. These offer both PCR and antigen tests, with one- to two-hour turnarounds for antigen tests. You may consider getting to the airport early and getting a test before your flight if you can’t find a test in town. Check the Paris airport website for more info. An antigen test at the airport costs 20 euros.
Related: Traveling soon? Here’s where you can quickly get a COVID-19 PCR test for travel
Traveling to Paris right now gives you a unique opportunity to see the French capital with few tourists. At the same time, the curfew makes it limiting for night-owls. Personally, I’d wait a week and go once some of the remaining restrictions have been lifted.
At the same time, those who decide to make the trip now will have no shortage of things to do and see both in Paris and outside of the city. The Louvre and other famous museums are open and Paris’ famous cafes and bistros are waiting to serve you an espresso (or a glass of wine).
Regardless of current restrictions, it’s great to see life in the streets of Paris after months of lockdown. I thoroughly enjoyed my time in the city and am excited to return later this year as a part of a larger European itinerary.
Feature photo by Andrew Kunesh / The Points Guy