There’s so much confusion over the laws about drinking alcohol in France, from the legal drinking age to where and when you can consume alcohol in public in Paris, that I thought it was time to lay it all out for you. Despite the Instagram photos and every misguided “Where to Picnic in Paris” article you’ve read, not only are you not allowed to drink alcohol in public under the age of 18 in France, the City of Paris keeps adding new restrictions to where alcohol can be consumed by anyone in public, including parks and along the Seine. Gone are the days of being able to crack open a bottle of wine anytime and anywhere — as long as you had a corkscrew!
Table of contents
- First, the legal drinking age for ALL alcoholic beverages in France is 18.
- Places in Paris Where You’re Not Allowed to Drink Alcohol in Public
- Picnic Time? It’s Illegal to Consume Alcohol in Parisian Parks
First, the legal drinking age for ALL alcoholic beverages in France is 18.
The French government’s official website, Service-Public.fr makes it clear on their page on “Drunkenness-Alcoholism” (translated from the French): “Minors cannot buy or consume alcohol in public places.”
Furthermore, this notice can be found posted in every establishment that sells or serves alcohol:
IT IS FORBIDDEN TO SELL ALCOHOL TO MINORS UNDER 18 YEARS OF AGE.
The person delivering the drink may require proof from the customer of his or her age, in particular by producing an identity document. It is illegal to offer alcohol free of charge to minors in drinking establishments, shops, or public places. It is illegal to receive minors under the age of 16 in alcoholic beverage establishments who are not accompanied by a parent or a responsible adult.
IT IS FORBIDDEN TO OFFER ALCOHOLIC DRINKS AT REDUCED PRICES FOR A LIMITED PERIOD OF TIME (“HAPPY HOURS”) WITHOUT ALSO OFFERING OVER THE SAME PERIOD OF TIME ALCOHOL-FREE DRINKS AT REDUCED PRICES.
IT IS FORBIDDEN FOR BAR OWNERS TO TO GIVE DRINKS TO PEOPLE OBVIOUSLY DRUNK OR TO RECEIVE THEM IN THEIR INSTITUTIONS.
IT IS FORBIDDEN TO BE IN A STATE OF INTOXICATION IN PUBLIC PLACES.
Not so complicated, right? Except that once upon a time it was legal for 16-year-olds to drink “fermented beverages” such as beer, wine and cider (but not hard liquor). That law changed in March 2009 once the French teenagers discovered the joys of binge drinking. When I was a student in the 90s, only the American and British students were drinking until vomiting, while the French looked at us like we were crazy. But in the past decade, French kids started turning up en masse each weekend in hospitals with alcohol poisoning, or completely trashing public spaces like the Champ de Mars after receiving their Bac, so the authorities have cracked down.
However, when I updated this information on my website’s “Smoking & Drinking” page, ten years later people are still emailing me insisting I’m wrong. Sorry folks. The party is over. If you’re interested in the exact legalese, you can read the detailed laws (and the dates they were changed) of the Public Health Code here: Article L.3342-1, L.3342-3.
Places in Paris Where You’re Not Allowed to Drink Alcohol in Public
The laws about where and when you can drink in public in Paris have evolved each year since 2018. The latest directive from the Prefecture de Police Arrêté n°2023-00562, published in April 2023, includes neighborhood-by-neighborhood zones where it’s not legal to drink in public (ie outside of licensed bars and cafés) between 4pm and 7am.
Open Container Laws on Parisian Streets
The 4pm-7am law includes most of central Paris including the Champs de Mars at the foot of the Eiffel Tower, a large part of the Marais, Les Halles, the Latin Quarter, the Champs Elysées, Place de la Bastille, the Belleville district, large sections of Montmartre, Place de la Nation, Invalides, and a bunch of smaller outlying neighborhoods rarely visited by tourists. You can see it more clearly on the handy map below. Note that supermarkets and convenience stores in these zones (but not dedicated wine and alcohol shops) are also banned from selling alcohol after 9pm.
Open Container Laws along the Parisian Quays
All alcohol consumption is banned May through October from 4pm-7am along the quays of the Canal St-Martin, Bassin de la Villette, and the Seine River including the Ile St-Louis, Ile de la Cité, the Left Bank from Pont Mirabeau to Pont de Tolbiac, and on the Right Bank from Pont de Bir Hakeim to Pont de Tolbiac. Basically, there’s nowhere on the water within the center of Paris where you can drink alcohol after 4pm. You can still drink in bars and péniches on the Seine as long as you remain on their designated terraces (and obviously drink their alcohol, not yours).
Map of Where You Can’t Drink in Public after 4pm
Here is a handy interactive map, where basically anything shaded is part of the ban from 4pm (municipal parks are included, but not parks run by other authorities such as Luxembourg and Tuileries, which have their own rules against all alcohol).
Picnic Time? It’s Illegal to Consume Alcohol in Parisian Parks
You’ve been dreaming of cracking open a bottle of wine in a Parisian park, but alcohol is banned at all times in all Paris municipal parks and squares, as well as the State-owned parks: Parc de la Villette, Palais-Royal, Tuileries, Jardin des Plantes, Jardin d’Acclimatation and Jardin du Luxembourg. This doesn’t apply to alcohol consumption in licensed bars and cafés found in these parks, but obviously that isn’t the same as meeting up with your friends for a picnic.
Breaking the Law: “But I see people drinking at night all of the time!”
Clearly no one got the memo. But that doesn’t mean the police patrolling the parks and quays won’t visit your picnic to ask that you dispose of your bottles. Because they aren’t the jerks everyone thinks they are, as long as you’re otherwise behaving yourselves and don’t seem drunk, they usually give you a warning on the first pass (try that in the USA), but if they come back an hour later and you’re still sipping your pastis, they will confiscate your alcohol and possibly give you a fine (up to €7500).
I don’t want to encourage anyone to break the law, so the easiest answer is to enjoy the gorgeous scenery with some sparkling water or non-alcoholic mixers. If you’re hell-bent on drinking alcohol anyway, and don’t want to risk the embarrassment of being caught by the police (and the fines), then at least make sure your alcohol isn’t in a glass bottle (wine in a box has improved over the years), and avoid drawing attention to yourselves by keeping it tucked away in a bag. And do I really need to remind you to clean up after yourselves? Judging by the state of the parks and quays in the morning (and the number of rats running around gorging themselves on the leftovers), clearly we can do better. Public trashcans full? You hauled your stuff all the way out there; you can haul it all back to your home to dispose of it properly if needed. Encourage your entourage and neighboring picnickers to do the same. 😉
No Glass Bottles at All
I thought I’d also remind you that all glass bottles, even non-alcoholic beverages in glass bottles, are banned in Parisian parks and along the Seine and Canal St Martin because the broken glass left behind has become a nuisance.