What Travelers Need to Know About the Ongoing Paris Riots

On its anniversary, the Yellow Vest protests against a gas tax and French President Emmanuel Macron turned violent once again in 2019.

What Travelers Need to Know About the Ongoing Paris Riots

Protesters from the Yellow Vests Movement have gathered in Paris’s streets every Saturday since mid-November 2018.

Photo by Alexandros Michailidis / Shutterstock

>> See our most up-to-date coverage on the 2023 Paris protests, and how they’re impacting travel.

Violence returned to the streets of Paris on Saturday, November 16, as protesters marked the one-year anniversary of the anti-government Yellow Vests Movement. After demonstrators set trash cans and several cars on fire at the Place d’Italie, police fired tear gas and water cannons to disperse the crowd. Instead of wearing the gilets jaunes or yellow vests associated with the movement, these protesters were mainly youths wearing masks and dressed in black, Reuters reports.

At its peak in late 2018, an estimated 282,000 people took part in anti-government protests across the country. In recent months, the number of people taking part in the demonstrations dwindled to just a few thousand people. But on the movement’s first anniversary, its leaders called for people to turn out once again. While police have banned protests from taking place near the Eiffel Tower and other tourist attractions, several dozen Paris Metro and RER stations were closed on Saturday and into Sunday in light of the violence.

By Saturday night, the Paris police said they had arrested 147 people involved in the protests in France’s capital city.

Here’s what travelers need to know about visiting Paris and other parts of France right now.

What caused the Paris riots?

The Yellow Vests Movement—named after the fluorescent vests the protesters are wearing during their demonstrations—began in mid-November 2018 in reaction to French President Emmanuel Macron’s fuel tax hike, which was implemented to help reduce emissions and combat global warming.

Even though Macron cancelled the tax on December 5, 2018, the protests continued and have become a more generalized reaction against the government’s overall economic policies and the high cost of living. On December 10, 2018, Macron addressed the divided country promising to increase the minimum wage by €100 a month among other things.

On April 25, 2019, during Macron’s first press conference in two years as president, the politician promised hefty income tax cuts as well as pension raises for the country’s middle class. In response to the protests, he also vowed that no more schools or hospitals would be closed during his presidency.

Despite Macron’s efforts, the movement is still alive. On Wednesday, May 1, 2019, Yellow Vest protesters were on the streets in Paris for the annual May Day marches, which are traditionally led by local union organizers. According to the BBC, France’s interior ministry said that more than 150,000 demonstrators took to the streets around the country this year, but the more volatile protests took place in the capital, where a reported crowd of up to 40,000 united.

“It won’t be enough to erase what many perceive as 18 months of disdain from the president,” says Lindsey Tramuta, a freelance writer and frequent AFAR contributor based in Paris. “The ‘emergency’ measures to ease the population’s pain are seen as insufficient gestures.”

Which neighborhoods in Paris are affected?

The U.S. Embassy previously warned people to avoid the main routes and gathering points in Paris during the protests, as well as major landmarks, including the Place de la Concorde, Place de la Madeleine, Place de la Bastille, Place de la République, Assemblée National, and the Champs de Mars near the Eiffel Tower. In addition to the clashes between police and demonstrators at the Place d’Italie on Saturday, November 16, violence also broke out near the Porte de Champerret just north of the Arc de Triomphe as a protestors prepared to march to Gare d’Austerlitz, Reuters reports.

Currently, French police ban Yellow Vest demonstrations near major tourist attractions like the Eiffel Tower. Police have used rubber bullets, water cannons, and tear gas against protesters in some cases, while Paris police prefect Michel Delpuech says that several officers encountered protesters using hammers, gardening tools, and rocks in physical confrontations with the police.

The demonstrations may cause traffic and impact transportation in and around Paris, including significant delays in travel between downtown and the major airports, Charles de Gaulle Roissy and Orly. According to Tramuta, the areas that haven’t been affected during Saturday protests in Paris include most of Saint-Germain des Pres, the 14th, and 15th arrondissements, as well as the Belleville/Buttes Chaumont neighborhood.

Paris police and firefighters at the Yellow Vest protests on December 8, 2018

Paris police and firefighters at the Yellow Vest protests on December 8, 2018

Photo by William Lounsbury / Shutterstock

In late 2018, protesters also blocked traffic circles and highways in places like Marseille, Toulouse, and Bordeaux, as well as at the French borders of Belgium and Italy, causing traffic jams. While trying to leave Nice airport in early December 2018, AFAR cofounder Joe Diaz said that protesters were blocking traffic to the airport and his Uber driver was forced to go over a sidewalk and “some gardens” to reach the arrivals area.

If you plan to arrive in or depart from France on a Saturday, it could be best to take public transportation to the airports. The U.S. Embassy in Paris issues regular Demonstration Alerts to give people an idea of where the protests are taking place.

What are the December 5 strikes about?

Anyone with winter travel plans to France should also be aware that trade unions are calling for railway workers, civil servants, truck drivers, and Paris public transport staff to strike on December 5, 2019, against the government’s pension overhaul plan, Reuters reports.

For more information, read AFAR’s explainer on how the France transit strike will affect travelers in Paris in December 2019.

Is the U.S. State Department warning against travel to France?

As of April 1, 2019, the France Travel Advisory remains at a Level 2 (indicating that travelers should continue to exercise increased caution). The U.S. Embassy cites the reasons as terrorism and civil unrest.

Yellow Vest protesters confront anti-riot police in Paris on January 5, 2019.

Yellow Vest protesters confront anti-riot police in Paris on January 5, 2019.

Photo by Paulo Amorim / Shutterstock

What should you do if you’re traveling to France? The U.S. State Department recommends anyone traveling in or near the protests in Paris or other parts of France to use their common sense and “be aware of your surroundings,” “review travel plans if you will be in France on weekends,” and “avoid demonstrations,” which are typically announced the day before they happen.

If you happen to find yourself in the area of a protest turned violent, they recommend sheltering in place and closing the windows to avoid any smoke or tear gas. If you’re traveling by car, do not park your vehicle near the demonstration areas since protesters have set cars on fire during the riots. If possible, consider relocating to another area before the protests begin if a march is scheduled near where you are staying.

Lastly, monitor local news stations for updates. The following English-language websites cover local French news.

For additional assistance, contact the U.S. Embassy in Paris at +33 (1) 43 12 22 22 or CitizenInfo@state.gov. Those traveling in the south of France can contact the U.S. Consulate General in Marseille at +33 (1) 43 12 22 22 or CitizenInfoMarseille@state.gov.

The Associated Press contributed reporting. This article originally appeared online on December 10, 2018; it was updated on May 1, 2019, and again on November 17, 2019, to include current information.

Lyndsey Matthews is the senior commerce editor at Afar who covers travel gear, packing advice, and points and loyalty.
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