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7 Tips For Driving In France As A Tourist (By an American Driving In France)

Driving in France as a tourist is a unique experience that, especially as an American driving in France, we felt deserved a post of its own! We quickly learned when driving in Paris AND Southern France that there were some big differences we wished we had known ahead of time!

So in our typical fashion of being as helpful as possible to our readers, I’ve compiled our best tips for driving in France as a tourist! 😉

Tips For Driving In France As A Tourist By an American Driving In France | Lathrops Gone AWOL Family Travel

Driving In France As A Tourist Tip #1:

Skip the parking garages and opt for street parking instead.

This first family vacation tip for driving is probably the most important one (in my opinion), especially if you get a little bit stressed out when driving in unfamiliar places or circumstances. 😬

Instead of trying to find a parking garage, you will save yourself a lot of headaches if you just use the paid street parking instead.

In fact, I suggest skipping the parking garages in Paris altogether, and just go straight for the street parking. (I know it's not the most revolutionary of family travel hacks, but hear me out...)

Parking garages are easy to find on Google Maps, and you can even see multiple garages within a few blocks in certain areas- BUT it’s not as simple as it first seems.

One of the things we discovered on our family vacation in Paris was that parking garages can be REALLY difficult to get into if you aren’t familiar with the streets already.

A black car parked in a public parking spot on a side street in Paris
The white lines shown on the street here with the word 'PAYANT' means it is available for public parking.

The entrances for public parking lots can be hard to find.

And there are often a lot of pedestrians walking across the openings and cars coming behind you (adding to the stress of the situation).

And driving in Paris is already a notoriously stressful situation, so why add to the chaos?

But side street parking is WAY easier to find and utilize! 🤩

If you’re driving in Paris, you’re ALSO going to want to leave an extra 20 to 30 earlier to find an open parking space along one of the smaller side streets.

You can find areas on the side of the streets with white dashed lines and the word 'PAYANT' to signify that it is a paid parking space open to the public.

You can often find good spaces on the side streets near the river (especially in the Notre Dame area), but you WILL have to drive a little while to find an open spot.

For example, when we drove to see all the historic spots on the East side of Paris, we parked on this side street here. It is a little side street tucked between the two sides of the river, with less traffic, which made it easier to get to and park in an open spot.

You can also find a REALLY good guide here for parking in Paris, which covers garages, parking meters, and even gives tips to make it easier to get around in Paris by car. (This would have been super helpful to find before I planned our family vacation in France!)

If you’re driving somewhere less busy (for example, driving south of France), it’s a bit easier to find parking, and many of the options might even be free!

Also, it's worth mentioning that both the Palace of Versailles and Monet's Gardens in Giverny have their own parking lots, so you don't have to worry about finding parking.

The Versailles parking does cost money, however, so don't come without your wallet. (Get more tips about visiting Versailles here if that's on your France family vacation itinerary.)

Tips For Driving In France #2:

Use the app (or your credit card) to pay for parking fees instead of keeping coins in your car.

If you’re worried about using the parking meters because you don’t have cash on you- that’s okay!

One of the beautiful things about driving to France is that they’ve done an excellent job of making it easy to use their paid parking! 🤯

A parking meter in Paris for those driving in France and parking in public spaces
One of the parking meters in Paris, France

There’s often a credit card reader on the parking meters, and there’s always a QR code on the side of the machine to scan their parking app.

(You can even download the parking app ahead of time here.)

You can use either way to pay with your credit card instead of carrying coins or cash around!

This is also safer, because you’re not leaving coins in the car.

Cars do have a tendency (in any big city) to get broken into and robbed of any cash or valuables left visible in the car- so eliminating that worry just makes your family holidays in France that much easier!

This is an especially important tip if you’re spending your family vacation in Paris, because Paris is a BIG and BUSTLING city! 😅

(And we've got more tips for visiting Paris here to help you be prepared and make the most of your visit to France with kids, so be sure to check those out.)

Tips For Driving In France As A Tourist #3:

Never drive anywhere in France without bringing your wallet with you.

Believe it or not, parking isn't the only time you'll need your wallet when traveling Europe with kids- and that is ESPECIALLY true in France!

We've talked about the many payment options for parking when driving to France, so now I’m going to jump right into our next driving tips in France- the dreaded highway tolls.

No matter where you are driving in France, there are almost certainly going to be toll roads.

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We’ve discovered that France has a large selection of highways- and many (maybe even most) of them are PAID TOLL highways.

This applies whether you’re planning your family vacation in Paris, taking a Provence road trip or anywhere in between!

Of all the countries we visited during our European family vacation, France had the MOST EXPENSIVE toll fees by far.

Prepare for toll fees on most highways, ranging from about 3 euros to over 20 euros depending on how long you’re on the highway and where you are headed.

There ARE some highways that are free, but they take much longer to use, making them quite inconvenient to use unless you have an extra hour or two to add to your drive time. 😵‍💫

We learned on our Southern France road trip (aka the first leg of our family European road trip) that trying to avoid the toll roads could add SEVERAL HOURS onto our trip per day!

The good news is that the toll highways DO take credit cards, so you don’t ever have to worry about carrying cash during your driving holidays to France.

It is easiest to use your credit card to pay the tolls, especially if you have an NFC chip in your credit card.

If you don’t have a credit card, the tolls DO take cash as well, so don’t worry.

One thing that France is great about is making things easy to use.

That was one of our biggest takeaways from our family holidays in France, the French are pros at simpification. 🥰

But I definitely wanted to mention this in case you're planning your family travel on a budget- because the expensive tolls can make quite the dent if you're not prepared.

Tips On Driving In France #4:

Always be alert while driving, and eliminate other distractions in the car.

I know, I know, this probably sounds like an obvious tip. 😅

But this tip actually has multiple pieces of important information below, so be sure to read it through.

Something we noticed as an American driving in France is that there are WAY MORE things you have to pay attention to when driving.

This is true of most places in Europe, but especially applies to big cities.

Cars, bikes, and people on the street in Paris while we were driving in France as a tourist.
Cars, and bikes, and people, oh my!

Driving in Paris is much more stressful than driving in South of France, for example.

But Southern France road trips DO come with their own challenges! (More on that below.)

When in busy city areas (even in the smaller cities) the city streets can get very busy with pedestrians & people on bikes. 🚴‍♀️

Probably the most important aspect to mention in this particular tips for driving in France is that there is a BIG difference in how the turn lanes and pedestrian crossings work in Europe. 🚶🚶‍♀️🚶‍♂️

When turning onto another street, be aware of the crosswalks as you turn.

The crosswalks will often be green on the street you’re turning ON TO, so you will have to turn and then almost immediately stop to let the pedestrians cross.

Once the pedestrians are all clear of your lane, you can go- you don’t have to wait for their crossing light to turn red.

You also don’t need to wait until their are on the other side, as long as they are very far clear of your lane.

(I often wait until they get to the middle of the road, as a general rule, but sometimes I get honked at, so 🤷‍♀️)