Please sign in to post.

Train verses Car

We will be visiting our son and DIL in Kandern, Germany mid-June to mid-July. While there the 4 of us would like to explore France and a bit of Belgium (no Paris this time, we've all been there and plan to go again when we have more time). What we'd like to see is:

Colmar
Riquewihr
Strasbourg
Normandy
Mont St. Michel
Carcassonne
Annecy

Would you travel by train or car? Why? Benefits and drawbacks?
We've done train travel through Europe, but not car, and trying to weigh the options. How hard is it to get a license, rent a car, etc?

Posted by Frank
Tresana, Highlands Ranch, CO, USA
17865 posts

Get a license for what?? Driver's license. You go to AAA and get an International Drivers Permit that is a translation of your local driver's license. Carry both and you are OK to drive. Cars are fine and necessary if you are visiting areas not serviced by train or other public transit. And does give more flexibility. For example, a car for Normandy beach, etc. is almost a necessity but not for Strasbourg and other cities. A car in the city is a pain in the butt with parking, driving, etc. I would use the train most of the time and a car on a daily basis as needed.

Posted by acraven
Washington DC
8971 posts

I hope you have other plans in southern France in addition to Carcassonne. That's a terribly long way to go by car (probably at least 10 hours without any stops) or train to just see one town. There are picturesque towns much closer to your other targets. They won't be as striking as Carcassonne, but the latter would fit a lot better into a trip focusing on southern France (with or without Barcelona, etc.).

You won't need a car to see the Normandy beaches if you take a van tour or hire a private guide for the four of you. I highly recommend one of those options since you'll see much more and learn much more in the company of a professional. Last summer I paid 100 euros for a full-day van tour by Overlord Tours. A car will be helpful for seeing other parts of Normandy, though.

I don't know how you're getting to France (train from Germany?), but if your only Alsatian targets are Colmar, Strasbourg and Riquewihr, that's manageable without a car.

Posted by morvegil
Houston, TX
137 posts

I'd take a car if you want to hit all that. Trying to arrange transport and tours would far more costly and time consuming. Also there is some Parking Apps that show you places where to park in towns. I used that an always would "Drop" my car in the town and explore/stay there. It was never much. Just remember that old historical town centers some times have laws against cars if they arent registered. Better to stay on the edge of town and use public transport.

Posted by Laura
Rick Steves' Europe
14772 posts

I may have told you this earlier, as well as my co-worker who did something similar last year: You can fly nonstop from Caen to Toulouse and from Toulouse to Geneva, which will be faster and cheaper than other options if you really want to get to Carcassonne. See www.skyscanner.com and book early for best fares.

You can rent the car from Colmar train station, visit MSM before the Normandy beaches, and drop it at Caen airport; Avis works for both locations. Local trains run frequently between Strasbourg and Colmar.

Posted by halfdozmom OP
Vancouver, WA
165 posts

Sorry! A litttle more info form me......yes, a driver's license! We are cutting out Corcassonne and staying mostly north. Definitely Normandy, Mont St Michel and maybe a bit of Belgium on the border (been to Bruges, Antwerp and Brussels). We are flying into And out of Basel

Posted by Nigel
Northamptonshire, England
18875 posts

Sorry! A litttle more info form me......yes, a driver's license!

Are you saying that you want to drive all over France but you don't yet have a driver's license? Have you taken any lessons on how to drive a car? How much time have you got to learn before you get to France?

Posted by halfdozmom OP
Vancouver, WA
165 posts

Ha! I'll try again.......
I have a driver's license in the US, been driving for over 30 years. I guess I should have asked "Do I need anything DIFFERENT to drive in Europe, or is my US license fine? If I do need something else, what is it, and where do I get it?

Posted by acraven
Washington DC
8971 posts

You'll need to pick up and drop off any car in the same country to avoid a probably-high international drop charge. Based on reports here, dropping in a different city of the same country is usually not very costly.

Do not assume that a car will be faster between major cities than a train. Often it is the opposite. You can check approximate driving times on ViaMichelin.com (though folks have complained recently about inaccurate routings), but pad them a bit and understand that they do not allow for stops, traffic, time spent looking for parking, etc. Also be sure absolutely nothing is left visible inside the car when you make a stop on the way to your next hotel, and put everything in the trunk before you get to that parking place.

For train times and schedules you can use the Deutsche Bahn website, though you'll need to go to the appropriate rail company website to find fares (SNCF for France).

Posted by Jim
Sisters, OR
40 posts

We have driven around France three times by car and loved it. We start with using Frommer's 25 Great drives in France as a guide. They are 4-5 day trips, usually on low traffic roads, showing things to see, mileages etc. I assume they have them for other countries. We travel at a time of year where you don't need reservations so we just travel freely each day.

We get an international drivers license at AAA. It is more expensive by quite a bit to rent in one country and return in another. One time we flew into Lyon, France from Austria, rented there in Lyon and returned the car in Rennes. From there we trained to Paris. The point being, there are many places to get and return cars in France with easy access to larger cities for flights home. I would never drive in Paris (did that once).

Posted by dean
5 posts

I have driven across France. Fantastic roads, though the best/fastest have tolls. Driving in the cities is of course a pain. You can get an International driver's license at AAA. You won't need one if you have a proper US license. Your credit card may cover a lot of the potential car damage, so check that and you can save a bit on the comprehensive.

The French drive fast, but not as crazy as Greeks and Italians.