How I Rekindled My Love Affair With Paris, COVID Health Pass in Hand — and What to Know Before You Go

After three lockdowns shuttered the city and restricted all movement, Paris is regaining its sense of momentum — here’s what it felt like to be there this summer, and what to know if you’re going this fall or winter.

It's been over a month since I left Paris, and I still wake up each day to a profound sense of jet lag. My body doesn't want to readjust to my life in New York; in the seven weeks I was away, I'd gotten used to the momentum of life in France.

Most mornings I'd wake up and jog along the Seine, trying to get my bearings in a city I used to know. Upon arrival in July, Paris seemed intimately familiar to me — the bustling café terraces, the pitch of the sirens, the way the light hit the limestone — but it'd been two years since my last visit, and the pandemic had reshaped us both. I began running a new route every day to reacquaint myself with as much of the city as possible.

I regained my own sense of momentum there, in my ville d'adoption (adopted city). In Brooklyn, where I live, I took up running early in the pandemic as a way to keep moving when the world stopped. Here, the point is the productivity of being in motion, the act of moving toward a destination; in Paris, it was a more aimless exploration, a scaled-up version of flânerie (wandering) where I could catalogue the pavement particulars of the city to see what had changed and what hadn't.

People visit the Louvre Museum among the Coronavirus pandemic in Paris, France
Emmanuele Contini/Getty Images

Above all else, I observed that Paris is still Paris. The city was hyperbolic in its self-performance, perhaps more than ever after over a year without an audience. In the weeks I spent running through its streets — slanted alleyways and busy boulevards studded with jazz bands and dog droppings and women smoking cigarettes on electric scooters — I found that on the whole, little had changed. The architecture remained, the restaurants had largely been kept afloat by the government throughout the pandemic, and everything still closed too early for someone used to New York City.

But moving around felt different; there were fewer tourists — though that is changing by the day — and there are new regulations in place to help minimize the spread of COVID-19.

Here are some things to keep in mind if you're planning a trip in the coming weeks.

For Americans, traveling to France is currently restricted to fully vaccinated travelers. As of Sept. 12, unvaccinated Americans need a "compelling reason" in addition to a negative PCR or antigen test (taken 72 or 48 hours before their flight, respectively) in order to enter the country, where they will then need to self-isolate for seven days before taking another PCR test in order to end their isolation period.

On the return end, all travelers (vaccinated and unvaccinated) age two and up are required to show proof of a negative PCR or antigen test — taken 72 or 48 hours before their flight, respectively — before heading back to the U.S. Walk-ins are available at most pharmacies across Paris, while others require appointments for testing. Proof from a licensed healthcare provider of having recovered from COVID-19 within the 90 days prior to departure is also accepted.

While the CDC vaccine card is accepted as proof to enter the country, all travelers need a digital health pass — the pass sanitaire — to move around within France. The pass is a QR code — although physical copies are also accepted with photo ID — that stores your proof of vaccination, recent recovery from COVID-19 (at least two weeks ago and no more than six months ago), or a negative PCR test taken in the past 72 hours. It's required for entry to effectively everything you'd like to see in France: museums, restaurants (including outdoor seating), music venues and nightclubs, cinemas, long-distance trains, and more.

Workers begin the process of wrapping up the Arc De Triomphe monument in silver-blue fabric on September 12, 2021, in Paris, France.
Workers begin the process of wrapping up the Arc De Triomphe monument in silver-blue fabric on September 12, 2021, in Paris, France. The monumental installation will wrap the landmark Parisian monument under a 25,000 square meters silver and blue fabric. "L' Arc de Triomphe, Wrapped" project by late artist Christo and Jeanne-Claude will be on view from September 18 to October 03, 2021. Bulgarian-born US artist Christo died in May 2020. Siegfried Modola/Getty Images

Now, you can apply for the pass online ahead of your trip, directly through the U.S. Embassy & Consulates in France. It should arrive via email within three business days — although the French bureaucratic system being what it is, you may not receive any updates or confirmation until the pass arrives in your inbox.

Ne vous inquiétez pas (don't worry)! If, like I did, you arrive before you can procure one online, most pharmacies should be able to issue you one — ah, la France — although several friends of mine had to try their luck at one or two locations first. A rapid antigen test (which should cost you about 29 euro) will also be a valid substitute for the pass for 72 hours, according to the embassy. As of Sept. 30, those age 12 and older need the pass.

Once I finally received mine — which took 10 minutes at the third pharmacy I tried, after showing my American vaccine card and passport — the city opened up to me. My days off were composed of morning espressos and tartines en terrasse, afternoons spent at newly reopened and soon-to-close museums (the Musée Carnavalet and the Centre Pompidou, respectively — and yes, masks are required indoors) and lazy evenings sipped away at natural wine bars across the city; there's no better routine for a trip to Paris.

Just as I began reacclimating to the pace of Parisian life, the streets stilled and everyone flocked south. In mid-August, void of tourists and locals alike, the city pantomimed a cinematic version of itself, all black-and-white streets and Édith Piaf.

Restaurant, terrace, café, on the Butte Montmartre, the streets seem very calm
Antoine Gyori/Getty Images

I hopped a train to the south as well, to spend a week bathed in sunscreen and salt along the Mediterranean. The train changed at the Gare de Marseille-Saint-Charles, where all of France seemed to have disappeared to. A face mask, train ticket, and the health pass are required for domestic travel.

Back in Paris, on my final run, I headed to the Eiffel Tower, because pourquoi pas (why not)? The streets were busier along the route, and upon arrival I found a once-familiar sight: a large concentration of tourists. Visitors and locals alike had come back for la rentrée, literally "the return" from August vacation to real life.

The city was in the midst of its own rentrée after a summer spent reveling in the freedom of movement that followed three lockdowns in France, the first two of which restricted people from leaving their houses for more than one hour and farther than one kilometer (just over half a mile) per day. The renewed momentum was palpable.

Despite my efforts to cover as much ground as possible during my stay, it was a challenge to keep pace with the reopenings and restrictions lifting. The city never seems to change, but the way we move through the world has, and travel is more fraught as a result. It can take a moment to find your footing amidst the flux of it all — but Paris is still the loveliest place to stumble around.

Sophie Dodd is a Brooklyn-based writer who has been plotting her move to Paris for a decade. Follow her adventures on Instagram @sickofsuburbia.

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