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"Is Paris open for travel?"

If you're considering a trip to Paris or France in the wake of COVID-19, read this before making plans.

Cathedral Basilica of St-Denis

ABOVE: To minimize your exposure to coronavirus, try visiting places that don't attract crowds--such as the Cathedral Basilica of St-Denis, the burial place of French kings and queens. It's an easy Métro ride from central Paris.

By Durant Imboden

In the wake of Europe's "first wave" coronavirus pandemic, France relaxed the lockdown that was imposed on March 16, 2020. In Paris, most shops and parks reopened, the Seine embankments could again be visited freely, and public transportation was being restored.

However, a recent spike in COVID-19 cases has led to a new round of restrictions. For example, museums--including the Louvre--were closed when this article was last updated, and a 7 p.m. curfew was in effect. To make matters worse, the EU's vaccination efforts have been slow and inadequate--especially in France, where many citizens are skeptical of vaccines and "herd immunity" may be a long way off.

Even before the latest closings and curfew, strict hygiene rules have governed most tourist attractions. Masks have been required in places like museums, Métro trains, and buses, and there's no reason to believe such measures will be relaxed in the foreseeable future.

Until further notice, tourists from outside the EU, the Schengen Zone, and the UK are forbidden to enter France. However, transit passengers from outside the EU are allowed to change planes at Paris CDG.

(Although the restrictions on travel from within the European area is ending, it could be months before tourists from outside Europe and the UK are allowed in without quarantines or other restrictions.  For country-by-country information, see the European Union's Re-open EU Web site.)

Our advice for planning a visit to Paris:

  • If you've been thinking of a Paris trip in the first half of 2021, we suggest changing your plans--not just to mitigate the risk of infection, but also to avoid restrictions that could spoil your visit. (Plus, you'll be frustrated if the places you'd like to visit are in lockdown.)

  • If you're in a high-risk group (e.g., over 60, especially with underlying health problems), use common sense in deciding whether, when, and where to travel. The coronavirus won't disappear overnight, and while France has one of the world's best health-care systems, a COVID-19 infection could be life-threatening.

  • When you book hotels, B&Bs, or apartments, make sure that your reservation can be canceled without penalty. (This year is a good time to avoid low prepaid, non-cancellable rates.) For maximum savings, keep an eye on rate changes and be prepared to cancel and rebook if you can get a better deal closer to your visit.

    Tip:
    Hotel rooms are usually easier to cancel without penalty than apartments are.

  • Be aware of cancellation policies or change fees when you book your airline, train, or cruise tickets. Airline fares and other transportation tickets vary in their cancellation and change policies. If you can't afford a fully-refundable ticket, budget some money for ticket changes just in case. (Good news: Many airlines offer waivers on change fees during periods of severe weather, epidemics, etc.)

  • Dont expect travel insurance to protect you if you need to cancel your trip because of coronavirus fears. Most insurers are treating the current outbreak as a "known event" and are turning down coronavirus-related claims unless travelers have bought high-priced "cancel for any reason" plans.

  • Avoid prepaid sightseeing tours unless they're fully cancellable. Instead, book excursions when you come or immediately before.

Bottom line:

  • As of this writing, we think that the fourth quarter of 2021 could be a good time to visit Paris if you want to enjoy the city with less crowding than usual. Our prediction assumes--perhaps too optimistically--that the coronavirus pandemic has faded and tourism has fully resumed. (The situation could change at any time, so build as much flexibility as possible into your travel plans, and stay home if you're in a high-risk group.)