France is a great country to enjoy a road trip: good road, beautiful countryside and a variety of landscapes
Below is my complete guide about driving in France to help you prepare, including:
- Is driving difficult? safe?
- Driving rules,
- Road conditions and safety tips,
- Parking information,
- Car rental tips,
- Most beautiful regions to drive in,
In this article, no ads, no sponsored posts. Just some affiliate links.
If you purchase through them I get a commission at no extra cost to you (Disclosure).
Driving in France - Essentials to know
Essentials to know before driving in France
If you don't want to read the entire article, read at least this short summary of essentials to know:
- Driving is on the right side of the road
- Minimum driving age is 18, but some rental companies may ask for drivers to be older
- Seatbelts are mandatory for all
- Alcohol limit is 0.05%
- Speed limits are well indicate in red circle.
- Must-carry items - reflective warning triangle, reflective jacket
- In French towns, when coming to a crossing, if there are no signs (stop or priority), then the vehicle coming from the street to the right of you has priority. And you have priority the to streets on the left.
- Do not enter old town center or old villages, if you have a motorhome or large van.
- In case of accident - emergency number: 112
Where I rent my cars
I always compare prices right away on Discovercars.com.
This is one of the best customer-rated comparison sites on the market.
I have found really great deals and I think the platform super easy to use. I can filter based on my criteria.
Plus, they have a practical coverage option at great price that will cover you in case of damage to the outside of the car.
Need more help? Read my 36 tips for a worry-free experience.
France by car or not?
Do you need a car in France?
If are staying in Paris just for a few days (or in another large town such as Lyon or Bordeaux), then you don't need a car. Public transports in the main French cities are excellent.
However, as soon as you want to explore a bit more and discover the charm that France has to offer with villages, vineyards, mountains and stunning coastline, then a car is the best way to get around.
How difficult is driving in France ? Is it dangerous?
Overall, it is quite easy to drive in France.
The roads are in good conditions. There is a vast network.
However, be conscious of the following difficulties:
- Driving in Paris car feel like a nightmare, especially the roundabout around the Arc de Triomphe
- Driving around some of the main cities can be difficult too, because of traffic.
- Some streets in old town centers and old villages can be narrow
- Most foreigners will find that parking is the most difficult part of driving in France.
Remember, that on the Internet, the hundreds of thousands of people who had no issue at all don't take the time to write that it was ok.
Getting around France without a car
It is possible to get around France without a car, to see the major sights:
- Train - the train network in France is well-developed. You can head to many towns, especially from Paris - book tickets
- Bus - There is a network of public transportation
- Organized day trips - There are several companies running tours: historical, food, scenic...especially if staying in Paris - check out the options
The driving times in France - Map
To help you decide if you are going to rent a car or not, below is a map of the driving times you can expect around the country.
The driving times are when taking the motorways (with tolls).
#1 to 6 - France Driving Rules
Let's start with general rules and regulations you should be aware of:
#1 - License requirement / Age - Do I need an international driver's permit?
It is always better to have you International Driving Permit anywhere you travel out of the country.
This way you never wonder.
However, know that to be allowed to drive in France (for a short stay), you can use a standard International driver’s license. It means a license that has:
- a licence number,
- a photograph,
- a valid date,
- and is in Latin letters,
A valid US license works.
A valid Canadian License works.
A valid UK License works.
You must also always carry a proof of ID and proof of third party liability insurance
In terms of age, you can drive from 18 years old (however to rent a car, minimum age is 21).
#2 - Side of the road
Driving in France is on the right side of the road.
It means that upon entering a roundabout, you head right.
#3 - General behavior rules
- Seatbelts are mandatory for all
- No cell phone while driving
- Kids under 10 cannot seat in the front of the car
- If a crossroads has not sign or indication, you give way to the person coming from your right
- Traffic that is on the roundabout has priority
- The use of horn is authorized only in case of immediate danger (although French people tend to forget this rule)
#4 - Alcohol and driving
The legal limit for driving is 0.05% alcohol in the blood.
I always recommend not drinking at all if you are driving
#5 - Mandatory equipment to have in your car
In France, the following pieces of equipment must be available in the car:
- Warning safety triangle
- Reflective vest or jacket
In some areas of France, the new mountain law applies. Winter tires or chains are mandatory but during the Winter months.
#6 - Mandatory insurance
The mandatory insurance in France is: third-party liability insurance - it is automatically included in the price of all car rentals.
If you are visiting with your own car, don't forget to bring proof of insurance.
#7 to 15 - France Roads conditions and Road Signs - is driving difficult?
Ok. Now we are arriving at the big question everyone is wondering.
How difficult is it to drive in France?
#7 - French Motorways
France has a vast network of motorways.
They identified by the letter A before the number.
They have at least 2 lanes in each direction and progressive exits and entrance.
Tolls are applicable on almost all motorways in France.
Limit in 130km/h.
#8 - French Secondary roads
Secondary roads are called "Nationales" and "Departementales".
They are generally wide with one lane in each directions.
They connect towns.
Limit in 80km/h most of the time.
#9 - Smaller countryside roads
Once you explore the countryside, you can find much smaller roads without lines in the middle.
Be careful as locals tend to drive too fast on those roads.
Slow down at bends without visibility.
#10 - Mountain roads
In some regions, France has tall mountains: Alps, Pyrénées, Corsica...
Overall, even in the mountains the roads kept in good conditions with one lane in each direction.
Some sections can be quite steep.
#11 - Driving in smaller towns and Villages
Nothing specific to know about driving in towns and villages (except for the priority system - see tips #17).
Limit is 50km/h from the moment you see the sign indicating the beginning of a town (name in a rectangle with red border).
#12 - Driving in Paris
Paris is a completely different story: som many cars, bikes, motorbikes, scooters...
The most crazy place to drive in Paris is the roundabout around the Arc de Triomphe.
Paris deserve a completly different article.
I recommend you don't use a car while in Paris.
#13 - Speed limits and signs
- Speed limits are indicated on circular signs with red border and a number
- Speed limits are in kilometers per hour
- On Motorways, it is 130 km/h unless otherwise indicated
- Speed limits are - 30 to 50km/h in residential areas
#14 - Road signs in France
Road signs are quite clear and using the latin alphabet.
In some regions, you can have a second name in the local dialect
#15 - Tolls in France
There are many tolls in France.
If you want to take the Motorways and some bridges, you will have to pay.
However, you can avoid motorways and take smaller roads through the countryside. It will take longer but cost less.
At the moment, all toll stations still have cash and credit card toll booth. You may have to pay at each. Or ou may have to take a ticket upon entering and pay upon exiting.
Look at the icons at the top:
- if only a t - you can only pay with the tag
- if only a t and cards, you cannot pay cash
#16 to 18 - How to drive safely
#16 - Know the potential dangers
Generally, driving in France feels fine.
My 3 warnings to you are:
- Be careful in Summer, over the weekends, traffic jams can be extreme
- Be careful with the cyclists on the secondary and countryside roads
- Dans les petites routes de région, les locaux peuvent conduire un peu trop vite
#17 - The French "Priorité à droite"
Be careful of one rule that you will not be familiar with.
In the French towns, when coming to a crossing, if there are no signs at all indicating a stop or a priority, then, the vehicle coming from the street to the right of you has priority. And you have priority the to streets on the left.
#18 - What to do in case of accident
In case there are people hurt or there is a conflict, the emergency number in 112 is:
The best order of actions is:
- contact emergency services
- contact the police
- contact your rental provider
#19 to 20 - Parking in Corsica - rules
#19 - Parking in towns
In towns, you can find different kind of carparks:
- Outdoor carparks and street parking - often for a fee but can be free when away from shops
Look for machines to pay.
More and more towns also have application allowing to pay from your smartphone.
Keep a picture of your license place when going to the machine as it may ask for it on the more modern ones.
- Blue zones
If you are parked in an area where the spaces are identified with blue line, it is normally a blue zone ("zone bleue" en français) and you must use a disk that indicates you arrival time. Generally those zones allow you to stay for 15min or 30min.
- Underground carparks
Main towns also have underground carparks where you take a ticket upon entering and pay before leaving.
#20 - Parking at beaches and attractions
At beaches and attractions, parking rules will vary.
Many have free parking.
However the major ones such as Versailles or Mont Saint-Michel, will be costly.
Always look around for signs and machines.
#21 to 22 - Gas stations
#21 - Fuels and their names
- Petrol is called "Essence sans plomb"
- Diesel is called "Diesel" or "Gazole"
- Petrol station is "Station service"
- LGP is GPL
- See the concentration of electric car charging station, where you are going in France on this website
#22 - Management of gas stations
- Nothing much to stay about refueling in France.
- There are plenty of stations in the towns and along the motorways
- They accept credit cards
#23 - Most beautiful regions to drive through in France
France is stunning all around. You will rarely get bored when driving there.
My absolute favorite areas to drive through:
- Normandy with old and modern history - see the best landscapes in Normandy
- Brittany, with the most beautiful coastline in France
- Corsica island - see the most beautiful landscapes in Corsica
- Alsace-Lorraine with the stunning villages
- Provence with sun, flowers, beaches and charming villages
- Annecy and the surrounding mountains
- The Ardèche gorges
- The Loire Valley between wine and castles
#24 to 27 - France Car Rental Tips
Below is a snapshot with the main things to know.
You can find all my tips in this other complete guide about renting a car in France.
#24 - What vehicle to rent?
I know it depends on how many people are traveling and how much luggage you are traveling with.
But here are a few things to keep in mind when traveling in France:
- There are narrow roads in the countryside, villages and old town centers. Plus, parking spaces can feel narrow for travelers.
Therefore, I recommend choosing a car that is not too big, to reduce the stress of some situations
- If you are heading to the mountains (Pyrénées or Alps), there can be steep roads
Therefore, it is more comfortable to have enough power. I recommend not choosing the smallest engine
- Otherwise, no special recommendations
#25 - Where to rent your car in France
The largest car rental hubs in France are:
- Roissy Charles de Gaules airport - see car rental deals
- Orly airport - see car rental deals
- Paris Gare de Lyon train station - see car rental deals
- Nice airport - see car rental deals
- Lyon St Exupery airport - see car rental deals
- Marseille airport - see car rental deals
- Toulouse Blagnac airport - see car rental deals
Most major international brands are available in France.
#26 - Best car rental company in France
I don't have a specific recommandation for a rental company in France. There are no famous local ones with great records.
But you can find all the major brands at the airports and ferry ports.
- Compare car rental prices on my favorite platform: Discovercars.com - one of the best customer-rated comparison sites
- Each rental company has a mark on 10 points. This is an average of the marks given by actual customers.
- Book early to have a large choice of vehicles!
Don't forget that on Tripadvisor or Google for example, anyone can write a review even if they have not used the company.
Some of the best rated on Discovercars.com are:
#27 - General tips for worry-free experience
There is no particular thing to do when renting a car in France, no specific scam.
I recommend always doing those things wherever you are renting:
- Take pictures of the car as you take it
- Don't forget to check the state under the bumper of the car (look for scratch and take pictures)
- Don't forget to check the state of the roof (look for rock fall dent and take pictures)
- Take pictures of the car as you leave it
Planning your France road trip itinerary
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