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RELIGION

Reader Question: Can I wear a hijab or headscarf while visiting France?

Foreign media often refer to France as having a 'hijab ban' - while this is not the case, there are some restrictions around wearing the Muslim headscarf in France. We look at what this means for visitors.

Reader Question: Can I wear a hijab or headscarf while visiting France?
Members of the pro-burkini association « Alliance Citoyenne » in 2022 (Photo by JEFF PACHOUD / AFP)

Question: We would love to come to France for a family holiday, but we are Muslim and several members of the family wear the hijab. Is it true that this is banned in France?

In August, the French government banned pupils or teachers from wearing abayas – a loose-fitting modest dress usually worn by Muslim women – in public schools,  

The government argued that the garment constitutes a symbol of religion, and therefore contradicts France’s strict principle of state secularism. The rule was an extension to existing rules around secularism (laïcité) which do not allow the wearing of hijabs in French schools.

While there are rules in place around the wearing of any types of religious garment – from a hijab to a kippah to a crucifix – most of them do not affect visitors to the country.

Ban

In 2010, France brought in a complete ban on clothing that includes full-face coverings such as the burkha or niqab – these cannot be worn in any public space and you risk a €150 fine for doing so. One source of confusion for foreigners is the French word voile (veil) which is sometimes used interchangeably to talk about both burkhas and hijabs. Technically, the correct term for a full-face covering in French would be a voile intégral.

There is also a ban on wearing the full-body swimsuit known as the burkini in municipal swimming pools – it is allowed on the beach (after France’s state council overturned bans imposed by some local authorities) and in private pools.

As for sport, France’s Constitutional Council said in a June ruling that French sporting federations can choose to impose dress requirements on players in competitions and sporting events “to guarantee the smooth running of matches without any clashes or confrontations”.

As such, it upheld a rule by the French Football Federation (FFF) against wearing “any sign or clothing clearly showing political, philosophical, religious or union affiliation” during play. This therefore bans players from wearing the hijab when taking part in a game on FFF-owned pitches, but it does not cover spectators. 

Federations for other sports, such as rugby, have opted against a ban. Female rugby players can wear a hijab during matches “provided it does not constitute a danger to the wearer or other players.” Handball and judo also permit the wearing of hijabs, and the French Tennis Federation simply requires that “clothing compatible with the practice of the sport” be worn.

Competitors at the Paris Olympics in 2024 will be allowed to wear a hijab to compete, as will spectators.

No ban

On the other hand, there is no general ban when it comes to hijabs, headscarves or abayas.

This means that a foreigner visiting France can be assured that they are permitted to wear their hijab (or their abaya) while walking down a street, touring a museum, taking public transportation or any other activity in the public space.

The rules around wearing religious clothing like large Christian crosses, the Sikh turban or kippas, really only apply to government buildings and public employees – so are unlikely to affect visitors.

For example, public schools are considered government buildings, and as such students and teachers cannot wear overt signs of religion. That’s also the reason why schools do not have religious assemblies, and at Christmas do not perform nativity plays or display a crib.

That being said, a person visiting a French school would be permitted to wear a hijab, since they are not a pupil or a teacher.

Likewise although public employees in buildings like the préfecture would not be allowed to wear a hijab while they are at work (although they are free to do so in their own time) visitors to these buildings are not affected. 

The hijab ban does not cover universities. 

Why?  

If all this sounds a little confusing, it might help to look at the philosophy behind the rules.

The background is the French principle of laïcité – or state secularism. It is the idea that everyone in France has the freedom to worship as they choose – but the state itself remains strictly neutral and does not take part in any religious practices.

READ MORE: EXPLAINED: What does laïcité (secularism) really mean in France?

Because the state must be neutral, public officials – as representatives of the state – cannot wear religious signs. This means that a police officer, préfecture or firefighter, for example, would not be allowed to wear a hijab while at work. What they wear in their own time is entirely their personal choice, as of course is their religion. 

Even though France’s government does not keep track of race or religion, private studies estimate that there were at least 5.7 million French Muslim people as of 2022, making up approximately eight percent of the country’s total population. 

Of that population, plenty of women choose to wear the hijab regularly. A recent study by Insee found that over a quarter (26 percent) of Muslim women aged 18 to 49 in France reported wearing a headscarf.

That being said, it is more common to see women wearing hijabs and headscarves in larger cities, such as Paris or Toulouse than in rural France or small towns.

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PARIS

Travel deals to take advantage of as prices drop ahead of Paris Olympics

After many warnings about expensive travel and booked-up hotels in France this summer during the Olympic Games, prices have begun to drop as the event nears, with some bargains to be had.

Travel deals to take advantage of as prices drop ahead of Paris Olympics

After some soaring prices earlier in the year, costs for both accommodation and travel are now back to roughly seasonal norms.

In certain cases, train and plane tickets have fallen well below their summer averages.

As for lodging, the French press has reported that occupancy rates at Paris hotels are “gradually falling” as the event approaches, with many hotels and Airbnbs available. 

What’s going on?

Around 15 million people are expected to visit Paris between late July and early September – considerably more than the 6.2 to 6.4 million visitors who came between July and August in 2023 or the roughly 10 million summer visitors Paris saw in pre-pandemic days.

As such, many predicted that prices would skyrocket ahead of the Olympic Games, but there are a few other factors to consider aside from large volumes of tourists.

A survey in March 2024 found that almost half of Parisians planned on leaving the city during the Games period. On top of that, over half (64 percent) of Olympics tickets were sold to French people, many of whom are planning to stay with friends and relatives in the capital and thus have not booked accommodation.

As of late May, almost half of the French ticket holders had not reserved any hotels or Airbnbs during the Olympic period.

Many property owners in the capital also listed their homes on Airbnb with the hopes of earning some extra money during the Games. However, this led to an over-saturation of the market. 

French daily Le Monde reported that there were more than 145,000 properties on offer on Airbnb during the period of the Olympic and Paralympic Games, compared with 65,000 in normal times.

When it comes to hotels, UK online newspaper The Independent reported that hotel occupancy rates are expected to be “between 60 and 70 percent during the Games.”

The deals to look out for

Eurostar

According to reporting by The Independent, Eurostar tickets during the Olympics have declined by 11 percent in the last two weeks alone. The UK online newspaper found that the average Eurostar ticket price had dropped by €30 (or £26).

At the time of writing, The Local found that the cheapest one-way tickets on the day of the Opening Ceremony (July 26th) were €126, dropped to €112 the following day. 

For a round trip ticket from July 26th to August 2nd, the lowest price was €169 – around average for the summer holiday period.

Flights

If you are flying from the UK, as of mid-June, Google Flights placed London-Paris flights in the ‘Typical’ price range. The cheapest round-trip tickets were with budget airline Vueling, at €139 for one week (July 26th to August 2nd).

However, flights from other cities in the UK were significantly cheaper, particularly if you are willing to change the dates slightly. 

For example, five-day (July 29th to August 2nd) round-trip tickets from Bristol from cost €99 with Easyjet, and one-week (July 27 to August 3) round-trip tickets with Ryanair from Belfast cost €59.

For those flying from the US, prices had dropped significantly for a 10-day trip (July 26th to August 5th) from NYC to Paris, when compared with December 2023.

At the time, tickets were in Google Flights’ seasonal norms with average prices around €821. However, as of mid-June the same round-trip tickets were available for as low as €523. 

The flight planning tool also ranked tickets during the Olympic period between LA and Paris as ‘low’ compared to seasonal norms.

Hotels and accommodation

As mentioned above, there were still many hotel options still available in and around Paris as of mid-June. 

At the time of writing, Airbnb offered over 1,000 options for the first week of the Games, with options around €150 for an entire apartment for two people in central Paris, and possibilities closer to €230 for a family of four. 

When it comes to hotels, many were still above seasonal norms, but prices were lower than initial estimates.

For example, in December the Paris deputy mayor in charge of tourism Frédéric Hocquard had estimated that the average price of one night in a hotel in Paris would be €699 during the Olympic Games, compared with €169 in July 2023, an increase of 314 percent. 

At the time of writing websites such as Booking.com and Kayak still had several rooms available for around €200 per night. 

Other costs

Those visiting during the Games will also pay a higher price for public transport.

Between July 20th and September 8th, the price of a single ticket – which can be used on the Metro, buses, RER trains or trams – will go up to €4, in contrast to the €2.10 it costs currently, and purchasing a 10 tickets at once (a carnet) will increase from €16.90 to €32 during the Games.

This does not affect residents with a travel pass or monthly card, or people who buy tickets in advance.

READ MORE: How to avoid public transport price hikes during Olympics

Are Olympics tickets still available?

Yes. While many have already secured tickets, there are still opportunities on the official resale platform – full details HERE. Games organisers are also releasing a limited number of new tickets every Thursday on the official ticket platform here.

Meanwhile there are ticket available for the Paralympics via the ticketing website here.

The Olympics/Paralympics website is the only official channel for ticket sales, so you should be extremely cautious about any tickets offered for sale on any other websites or forums. 

But should I visit Paris during the Olympics?

If you were hoping for a last-minute Olympics trip then this is very much still on the table.

But if you want to enjoy a more typical tourist visit, you should expect larger than normal crowds and you should be prepared to reserve early. You should also keep in mind that there will be security zones across the city, as many of the matches and events are taking place in central Paris.

READ MORE: Paris Olympics QR codes – your questions answered

Eiffel tower – Be aware that the Tower is close to a Games venue. It will remain open during the Olympics period apart from the day of the Opening Ceremony (July 26th). However between July 18th and July 25th the Tower is in a security zone so you will require a QR code to enter – more info here. From July 27th onwards no QR code will be required for visitors – the Tower will be in a red zone, which has restrictions on vehicles, but which pedestrians can enter freely.

Louvre – During the Olympic Games, the Louvre will remain open to visitors, except for July 25th and 26th. However, all visitors from July 1st to September 8th must book a ticket ahead of time. As for the Tuileries Garden, it will be closed on August 28th and throughout the Games it will be in a security zone, meaning vehicular traffic will be severely limited – although pedestrians can still access it.

You can find more info about Olympics related disruption/changes for the Louvre HERE.

Versailles – The château, as well as the gardens will remain open to the public throughout the Games, with normal visiting hours.

The rest of France

Just because you’re taking a train or a plane to Paris, it doesn’t mean that you have to stay there – the capital is connected to all of France’s major cities – Marseille, Bordeaux, Lyon and more – by high-speed TGV trains, as well as many smaller cities and towns. 

Of the millions of people who visit France each year, 80 percent of them visit sites within just 20 percent of the country; largely Paris, the Riviera and certain well-known Alpine towns.

However, there are many other options – here is our guide to off-the-beaten-track places.

READ MORE: 19 alternative places to visit in France to avoid the crowds

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