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.
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:
Translation: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.
Open Container Laws Have Changed in Paris (and glass bottles are a no no)
In fact, not only are you not allowed to be caught with alcohol under the age of 18, the City of Paris keeps adding more restrictions to where and when alcohol – and even non-alcoholic beverages in glass bottles (because the broken glass left behind has become a nuisance) — can be consumed in public. Gone are the days of being able to crack open a bottle of wine anytime and anywhere (as long as you had a corkscrew).
The latest directive from the Prefecture de Police Arrêté n°2019-00562, published on June 24th this year, prohibits the consumption or carrying of alcoholic beverages AND ALL BEVERAGES IN GLASS BOTTLES (even for non-alcoholic beverages) on the quays of the Seine between midnight and 7am, including the Ile St-Louis, Ile de la Cité, the Left Bank from Pont Mirabeau to Pont d’Iéna and Pont Royal to Pont de Tolbiac, and on the Right Bank from Pont de Bir Hakeim to Pont de Tolbiac. You can still drink after midnight in bars and péniches on the Seine as long as you remain on their designated terraces (and obviously drink their alcohol, not yours).
Unfortunately these laws are actually quite complicated and hard to follow because each arrondissement’s mayor can make their own neighborhood-specific rules, and these change often. Official government websites (Mairie de Paris, local mairies, the Prefecture de Police, and Service-Public.fr) are the only ones I trust to give updated information, so I will try and include the English translations on the Smoking & Drinking page of this site as I learn about them. This is what I’ve confirmed so far:
Alcohol is not allowed on the Champs de Mars and other green spaces surrounding the Eiffel Tower between 4pm and 7am, as well as on the Champs-Elysées, the Place de la Bastille, the Rue d’Oberkampf, almost the entire 18th arrondissement, and the Canal St-Martin (which is extended a bit from 9pm-7am).
“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).
Since it’s hard to be sure 100% of the time where and when adults 18 and over can drink in public, if you don’t want the police to break up your picnic then avoid glass bottles completely (wine in a box has improved over the years), and avoid drawing attention to yourselves by keeping your alcohol in unmarked containers or 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. It would be a shame if France finally decides to go the way of the US with their strict open container laws.