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! 😉

Sometimes, planning a family trip (especially a road trip!) can be overwhelming, and we might overlook smaller details like driving and parking. Don’t worry! That’s what this post is for! Let’s take all the stress out of driving in France so your family vacation can be FUN and exciting!

7 Tips For Driving In France As A Tourist LathropsGoneAWOL

Skip the parking garages and opt for street parking instead.

This first family vacation tip for driving in France 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 paid street parking instead.

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

Parking garages are easy to find on Google Maps. You can even see multiple parking garages within a few blocks in certain areas. BUT it’s not as simple to actually park there 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.

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

And there are often a lot of pedestrians walking across the openings. At the same time, cars are still coming behind you. All of this can add to the stress of the situation.

Car parked on street in France - Tips for driving in France
The white lines shown on the street here with the word ‘PAYANT’ means it is available for public parking.

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

Side street parking in Paris is WAY easier to find and utilize! 🤩

If you’re driving in Paris as a tourist, 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.

Look for areas on the side of the streets with white dashed lines and the word ‘PAYANT’. This signifies that it is a paid parking space open to the public.

There are often good parking spaces on the side streets near the river, especially in the Notre Dame area. You WILL have to drive a little while to find an open spot, however.

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 teeny side street tucked between the two sides of the river. There’s less traffic, which makes it easier to get to and park in an open spot.

You can also find a REALLY good guide here for parking in Paris. It 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 in South of France), it’s a bit easier to find parking. Many of the parking 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 there.

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.)

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 in France is that they’ve done an excellent job of making it easy to use their paid parking! 🤯

There’s often a credit card reader on the parking meters. There is also a QR code on the side of the machine to scan their online parking app.

Parking meter found when driving in Paris France - LathropsGoneAWOL Family Travel Tips

(It might help to download the parking app ahead of time here as well.)

You can pay for parking with your credit card online or at the meter, 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. Paris is a very BIG and BUSTLING city! 😅

(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.)

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

Believe it or not, parking isn’t the only time you’ll need money when traveling Europe with kids. This is ESPECIALLY true in France!

We’ve talked about the many payment options for parking when driving in 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.

We have discovered that France has a large selection of highways. 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!

We visited several countries during our European family vacation. But France had the MOST EXPENSIVE toll fees by far.

Prepare for toll fees on most highways in France.

Tolls can range 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. Sometimes, taking those roads can even add an extra hour or two to your drive time. 😵‍💫

We learned on our Southern France road trip that trying to avoid the toll roads could add SEVERAL HOURS onto our trip per day! It was the first leg of our family European road trip, so I’m glad we learned early. LOL!!

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

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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 simplification. 🥰

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

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.

Traffic and bicycles driving to France
Roads in Paris are very busy, all the time.

Driving in Paris as a tourist 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, the city streets can get very busy with pedestrians & people on bikes. 🚴‍♀️

Probably the most important aspect to mention in this whole list of 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 in France, 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 they 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 I dunno. 🤷‍♀️)

We also noticed on our driving holidays to France that motorcycles can drive in between the lanes. I’m not sure if that’s legal, but it happens A LOT, especially in the cities.

When driving to South of France, there’s not as many motorcycles. You DO have to watch for semi trucks instead, however.

There are also a lot of cars that frequently change back and forth into different lanes on the highways. They change to go around each other and around the many semi trucks in the right lane(s). People even change lanes in the tunnels! (Yikes!)

I’ve come to believe throughout my road trip en France that many drivers simply do not look behind them when changing lanes.

So it is important to also watch your sides any time you’re going to be driving holidays to France or other European countries- especially on the highways.

Traffic Tip For Driving in France as a Tourist:

You can NOT turn right on a red light in France! Unless there is a specific light (with a turning arrow) that is green -or- flashing yellow, you CAN NOT turn right if the light is red. (This is true in most of Europe as well.)

In general, it is important to pay very close attention to your driving. Watch is going on around you on the road AND inside the car. 👀

Don’t play loud music, make sure the kids are quiet, and don’t ever drive when tired. (I know I’m being such a mom here, sorry, but it’s important!)

I’m throwing a lot of information at you in this post. But Rick Steves also has this awesome guide for driving on European streets that can also be very handy to know!

Assertive driving is as important as alert driving in France.

By now, you might be feeling a little intimidated about driving during your family holidays in France. 🤪

Larry Lathrop jogging on narrow road for driving to France
Roads in the Southern French countryside are less busy, but more narrow!

So let me back up a quick second and say that none of these tips on driving in France are especially difficult or complicated.

I’m mainly just trying to give you a heads up on things that most tourists (especially Americans driving in France) might not know, so you’re not caught off guard. 🥰

That being said, I want to switch gears a little bit. (Get it? Gears?! 🤣 Okay, I might need more coffee….)

I want to talk about ASSERTIVENESS while driving.

Don’t be afraid to go around cars that are traveling too slowly. This happens often, especially when driving South of France. (But don’t forget to use your rearview mirror first!)

It’s also important to mention that the on-ramp and off-ramp for highways can sometimes be quite short.

As an American driving in France, this was a big difference for me while driving on highways. In fact, both Spain and France have alarmingly short highway on-ramps and off-ramps, compared to other countries we’ve driven in during our family travels. 🤯

You WILL have to be assertive when getting into the right lane to prepare for your exit from the highway. The exits don’t give you a lot of room to get into the lane ahead of time.

As soon as your GPS says you’ll be exiting soon (my Google maps directions usually let me know when my exit is about 3 kilometers away), start getting into the exit lane.

Yes, you’ll go quite slow for that last stretch up to the exit, but at least you’ll get off the highway in time and in the right spot. 😉

When driving in Paris, always use Google Maps’ longest travel time estimate.

One of the things we noticed while we were doing our road trip en France:

There was usually a pretty BIG window of time for the estimated travel time any time we were in or near one of the bigger cities.

Our Google Maps driving directions in Paris
We almost always saw large time estimates when driving on our family vacation in Paris

This wasn’t a problem when driving in South of France (during our Provence road trip), but we DID experience it every single day when driving in Paris.

We stayed at a cute little flat on the southern edge of Paris, so driving into the city often gave us a time estimate ranging between 30 minutes up to an hour and a half!! 😬

I quickly learned to give ourselves the full time estimate (plus a little extra time if we had timed tickets for somewhere just in case) so that we wouldn’t be rushed or stressed while sitting in the city traffic.

Sure enough, it ALWAYS took the full time estimate, usually because of accidents or issues that caused slow-downs on the highways.

If you will ONLY be driving on the side streets, this might not be such a big issue, but also you won’t get such a big time window in your Google Maps directions either, so just be sure to pay attention to the time it gives you and add a little bit of time for cushion.

As long as you give yourself plenty of time to get to each location, it shouldn’t be a problem, and your family vacation in France will be much more enjoyable.

Don’t be afraid to drive UNDER the speed limit and let cars pass you on the country roads & narrow neighborhood streets.

This tip is especially for families planning a holiday in some of the more rural areas of the French countryside or that requires driving to South of France.

Some of the roads can get quite narrow, but the speed limits are still relatively high (at least they seemed high to us) at 60-70 kph. 😅

I found myself getting a bit nervous about some of the curves on the roads during our Southern France road trip, especially going from our house in the French countryside to the Provence lavender fields.

There are also places where only one car can fit through, so you have to stop and let the oncoming car pass you (or they will stop for you).

Streets are narrow with low sidewalks when driving in France as a tourist
Streets are narrow with low sidewalks when driving in France as a tourist.

Some general rules for driving in the French countryside:

  • If a car is coming DOWN the hill, they get priority. Let them pass.
  • If there are cars that seem too close behind you, pull to the side and let them pass.
  • Never drive faster than you feel comfortable. People can wait, they won’t die by getting stuck behind Miss Daisy.

If you are driving in the cities of France, there is a similar problem with the neighborhood streets becoming quite narrow.

Most of the streets in the actual down-town parts of the city will usually be multiple lanes.

But in the streets surrounding the city center and beyond, however, you will often run into streets that have cars parked along one or both sides.

This can make the drivable part of the street quite thin. (Some are just narrow anyways, even without parked cars.)

My best advice for these streets is to go slow and be generous about letting the cars coming towards you go first.

I feel like that not only takes the pressure off me trying to get out of their way quickly, but it also gives me more time to absorb the GPS directions and see what types of street conditions are ahead of me.

Aside from the things I mentioned in the tips above, driving in France is a very exciting experience! 🤩

There is a LOT of beautiful scenery to be seen outside of the big cities, and even driving through the highways in Paris was cool because there were some unique buildings that caught our eye.

Hopefully, these tips help you to feel more confident while driving in France as a tourist. Especially if you’re an American driving in France, as the rules can be somewhat different!

And please comment below if you think of any questions or have other tips for driving during your France family holidays that we didn’t mention above! 🥰

P.S.- We have MANY more posts coming out from our European Summer Road Trip covering France, Switzerland, and the Netherlands- so sign up for our newsletter to be notified when our next posts come out!

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