Ah, the City of Lights, the city of love, the home of the Louvre and the Eiffel Tower – there’s hardly a more romantic urban conglomeration in the world, eh? Not so fast. The French capital most certainly has a grittier, darker side to it than the mighty monuments and prestigious museums might let on. Those are what we’ll focus in on here in our guide to the five most dangerous places in Paris…
From the ramshackle streets around the Gare du Nord to the people-packed blocks of little Barbès, this guide hops from arrondissement to arrondissement on the hunt for the places that have soaring crime rates and bad reps in the city on the Siene. Some are surprising, sitting wedged right up to famous tourist areas. Others aren’t as well known, lurking on the more distant outskirts of the town.
The good news is that even the most dangerous places in Paris shouldn’t put you off planning a trip here. The fact remains that the vast majority of visitors to this metropolis of crispy baguettes and sloshing red wine come and go without any issue at all. That said, it’s probably better to steer clear of the spots listed below, particularly after dark!
Barbès-Rochechouart, 18th arrondissement
Tucked behind the train-line arteries of the Gare du Nord, Barbès-Rochechouart has been called “the last neighborhood to gentrify” in central Paris. Rents remain about 25% less than they are in other comparable quarters of the city, there’s hardly an Airbnb to be seen, and the coffee joints still haven’t been replaced by nifty new roastery bars. The question is why?
Well, Barbès-Rochechouart has a long-held reputation for being one of the original crime hoods of the French cap. It’s known for its drug sellers, its street crime, and high levels of petty crime. Ask any local and they’ll tell you: Heading here after dark is as good as asking to be mugged. There have even been stories of taxi drivers telling passengers to keep car doors shut because thieves have been known to fling them open and run off with bags!
We’re in no doubt that things will change in Barbès-Rochechouart. The area is wedged up to what’s unquestionably one of the most famous draws in the city. That’s the hill of Montmartre, which is topped by the elegant domes of the Sacré-Cœur Basilica and comes draped in one of the most atmospheric areas in France. Meanwhile, plenty of the neighboring parts of the 18th arrondissement have changed considerably in the last decades, going from risky working-class quarters to cool design hubs and art districts. This one’s sure to follow suit.
Gare du Nord, 10th arrondissement
Move just a few blocks south of Barbès-Rochechouart and things don’t change all that much. You’ll still be in the thick of the grittier side of the Parisian downtown, only now you have the added risk of more tourist-centric crimes that come with proximity to not just one, but two of the city’s biggest railway stations.
The district of Gare du Nord occupies a big cut out of the 10th arrondissement of the capital. It spreads from its namesake station all the way to the Gare de l’Est, about 10 minute’s walking to the south and east. But walking might not be the best idea here…
This district is a known hotspot for petty crime and armed robbery. Pickpocketing is extremely commonplace between the streets, as are drug-related crimes. In fact, activity in the Gare du Nord been a major focus of the Parisian police over the last two decades or so. Reports are that thefts and muggings are down some 20% but violent crime is up and still going up!
What’s sad is that the Gare du Nord is the main arrival point for cross-European and cross-Channel trains coming from the Low Countries and the UK. That means passengers alighting off the carriages looking for that instant hit of handsome, romantic Paris are sure to be disappointed. Keep your hands on your valuables and get out of dodge ASAP. That’s our advice.
Quartier Pigalle, 18th arrondissement
The Quartier Pigalle is one of ohs and ahs. Tourists come here despite it being known as one of the most dangerous places in Paris. The reason? The red lights, the Moulin Rouge, and those umpteen cabaret bars that have been going since the dark days of WWII. Basically, it’s the place to be if you want to watch the French Cancan being danced in all its glory.
But, as with Amsterdam’s iconic Red Light District before it, Quartier Pigalle has a darker side. Theft, muggings, armed robberies, and classic travel scams are all known to happen quite frequently in the streets that fan out from the central Boulevard de Clichy.
However, crime in the Quartier Pigalle really takes off once the sun goes down. The district is an out-and-out nightlife quarter that cut its teeth on speakeasies and bordellos. The paying tourists might flock to the Moulin Rouge for mainstream dance shows, but there are reams of not-so-nice sex shops, riskay cinemas, and the like on the side. Let’s just say that Pigalle ain’t family friendly any time after 8pm!
Adding to that is the well-known Pigalle strip club scam. Unsuspecting punters get pulled in with the promise of free dances and drinks only to get bills for 2,000 euros or more dropped onto their lap, a particularly beefy bouncer backing it up. That, or they wake up with no wallet to be seen and no memory of what happened.
Saint-Denis, Arrondissement de Saint-Denis
Saint-Denis actually lies far beyond the main tourist areas of Paris. It’s hardly even within eyeshot of the Eiffel Tower and Montmartre. In fact, it’s probably best known as the home of the colossal Stade de France rugby stadium, where the formidable Les Blues do battle with their Six Nations counterparts each year, drawing thousands of fans in tow. If you’re thinking of joining them, be warned…
Saint-Denis has one of the overall worst crime rates in the whole city. Back in 2010 it topped the bill for violent crime rates not just here, but in the WHOLE OF FRANCE! Yep, that year, it counted nearly 1,900 incidents of robbery, oodles of petty thefts, and a whopping 1,031 assaults. More recently, there’s been something in the region of 1.5 crimes recorded per inhabitant of the area, which puts Saint-Denis up there at about 200% of the French average.
As we’ve already mentioned, there’s not all that much reason to venture here between visits to the Arc de Triomphe and the Latin Quarter anyhow. There aren’t many headline sights and landmarks, save for the rather pretty Basilica of Saint-Denis from the 12th century and that aforementioned rugby stadium.
Châtelet Les Halles, 1st arrondissement
There aren’t all that many spots in the proud and monument-packed 1st arrondissement that could make it onto this list of the most dangerous places in Paris. This is the hub of the city’s tourist side, after all. Most of it is taken over by the vast and priceless exhibits of the Louvre Museum and the manicured Tuileries Garden in any case.
Still, there’s one spot within that we think sightseers should be wary of. Cue the Châtelet Les Halles. It’s hailed as the largest metro station in the world. Move over Central Station NYC, this one deals with nearly three quarters of a million passengers each day and knits together Paris’s main underground, overground, and light rail lines smack dab in the heart of the city.
Sadly, all that activity brings some negativity. The Châtelet Les Halles is a known hotspot for crimes such as bag theft and pickpocketing. Given that it’s near the Louvre and related top-draw sights, it’s also a hub for tourist scams. AKA: Try to avoid taking taxis here and don’t sit down at restaurants overlooking the river without checking prices on the menu beforehand!
The most dangerous places in Paris – our conclusion
On the whole, Paris is seen as a safe city for just about anyone. The vast majority of people who come here will come and go without a single problem, except for a never-dying love for the French capital and its gorgeous architecture, which wouldn’t be a problem if it didn’t interfere with all those future travel plans!
Of course, there are some areas and neighborhoods you’ll need to be wary of. Our guide to the most dangerous places in Paris runs through just five of them. Notice that most are up there on the northeastern side of the town center, clustered between the train stations of the 10th arrondissement and the hills of Montmartre.
There’s also one – the Châtelet Les Halles – that’s closer to the mainstay attractions of downtown Paris, and another – Saint-Denis – that sits on the northern outskirts of the city, nearer to the famous Stade de France rugby ground.