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Driving in France

If I wanted to drive in Paris, what kind of license do I need? Also I am a little apprehensive about driving there. Are there reliable alternate means of transport from Paris to Normandy?
Do you think Normandy is worth 2 days of a 2 week trip?
Thanks a lot

Posted by
1398 posts

To drive in France I believe you really only need your US drivers license but we always get an International Drivers License as a precaution. You can get them at AAA. You would not want to drive in Paris but to drive from Paris to Normandy should not be a problem. We did it in March. We rented a car from Budget Rentacar via the internet & used the Les Sablons office as the metro stops right in front and it is in the outer ring of Paris with fairly easy highway access. We brought our GPS from home with all our destinations preprogramed. In our opinion Normandy is definitely worth 2 days or more, but others may think differently. We like to travel slowly to enjoy where we are. We drove from Paris to Honfleur and spent the night. From there we visited Juno Beach & Arromanches (DDay beaches) and then to Bayeux to see the Tapestry and the Cathedral and spent the night there. Then to Mont St.Michel which should not be missed if you are in that area of France. We were in France for 2.5 weeks and spent 9 days in Paris, 7 days driving through Normandy & Brittany, and spent the last night near the airport.

Posted by
1178 posts

I have not driven in Paris, but have in the southern area of the country, and in Nice. No problems encountered along the way once I figured out the roundabouts in the country!

I followed the suggestion of someone else and made digital photos all around the car when I picked it up in Nice, just in case there might be an issue when I returned it. Luckily I did not need them!

Posted by
12040 posts

Once you get comfortably beyond Le Perpherique outside Paris, traffic isn't bad, but within the ring, navigating by car and finding parking is a nightmare. Best to pick up the car on the way out of Paris, and not use it to get around within the city during your stay.

"Do you think Normandy is worth 2 days of a 2 week trip?" Normandy is a large region, so the answer to your question depends on what you want to see there and for the remainder of your trip.

Posted by
15 posts

Thanks for your replies. This is my first trip to France, My parents first to Europe. So I am trying to strike a balance between visiting the best of France and also getting a taste of the different parts. Given that, I am thinking of what to include in my iten.

Right now I have Paris(4d)- Normandy(hornfleur, Mont st Michael,DDay Beaches -2d) - back to Paris to continue to south france (3d or 5d depending on next leg)(candidates here are orange, Villefranche, eze village).

I am wondering if the 2 coasts (the dday beaches etc) and south france will be similar in flavor and if so, should I just pick one of them rather than rushing through both?

Posted by
11490 posts

Hi Preeti

The two coasts are completely different. I would pick on,, and frankly I would pick the west coast ( Normandy etc).

Driving in France is fine, driving in Paris is insane. My father was born and raised in Paris, learned to drive there, and even he won't drive there anymore, too stressful, parking is expensive and hard to find.

Take a train to a city like Bayeau and rent a car there to tour to MSM and St Malo etc,.

You don't sound like you have enough time to do both coasts and Paris, pick one coast and Paris and enjoy the trip. Making it too stressful with rushing about usaully does not add to enjoyment of a different culture etc.

I hope you and your parents have a wonderful time.. but give yourselves the time to relax .

Posted by
12040 posts

"Normandy(hornfleur, Mont st Michael,DDay Beaches -2d)" A third day would be ideal, but you can fit an abbreviated tour in two days.

Posted by
25 posts

Driving in France is much better than driving in Atlanta.

Posted by
30291 posts

"Right now I have Paris(4d)- Normandy(hornfleur, Mont st Michael,DDay Beaches -2d) - back to Paris to continue to south france (3d or 5d depending on next leg)(candidates here are orange, Villefranche, eze village)."


Are you aware of the distances involved. I've just plugged DD beaches (Arromanche) to Villefranche into a route calculator and it is exactly 1200 km. Even with the speed limit on Autoroutes that's about 12 hours one way. Also, your tolls will be in excess of €100 each way. I don't want to discourage you, and we absolutely love the Cote d'Azur, and have a special relationship with Normandy, just want you aware.

If driving in France, you need to learn about the yellow diamond with a black line across it.

Posted by
9110 posts

I think what I'd do is scrub the Med coast and extend the northern excursion to three nights in Normandy and a couple or three in Brittany and then circle back to Paris through Chartres (assuming the trip up was through Rouen. Don't drive in Paris; I quit a long time ago -- it takes too much time and parking is maddening. You can walk a lot faster.

Posted by
1398 posts

I'm with Ed. We did just what he described. See previous post. In addition to staying in Honfleur, Bayeux, & Mont St.Michel, we then drove by the coast via Cancale (for the fresh oysters), St.Malo, Dinard and then stayed in Dinan. Then visited Fougeres (great castle town) and stayed in Vitre, another interesting town. Then one night in Chartres before returning the car to Paris. Be aware that traffic entering Paris is heavy and we just made it back to the rental agency with minutes to spare before they charged us an additional day. In the end, you will decide to do what suites you & your family. But remember that slow travel where you can actually appreciate where you are and what you are experiencing is better thay rushing through several places with pictures but no real experiences.

Posted by
354 posts

A few other points to keep in mind:

*Make sure you know the French version of all street/town/city names, which is what you will see on the road signs.

*If you decide to drive IN Paris, prepare yourself for the many "confident" drivers, and in some areas, the numerous motorcycles buzzing through traffic.

*Know in advance that some highways require paying a toll.

Posted by
1878 posts

I agree that combining Normandy and Provence/Riviera in such a short time may be too much ground to cover enjoyably. Google maps is a great resource for figuring driving times. Instead of heading south you could do a loop extending out to Brittany and visit the Loire on your way back to Paris. If you do really want to incorporate the southeast part of the country, the train might be a better way to go than all that driving. (But you do need a car for Normandy).

We did Normandy in two days with a car, but it was too rushed. Once you are all the way out at Mont St. Michel, you are pretty far from Paris and it will take half a day just to get back. It seemed easier driving in France this year than when we went in 2003. Maybe because people have slowed down due to cameras everywhere to catch speeders. Coming into a town around 5pm is not advised, even in small towns the traffic can be crazy. Among the regions of France, Normandy is one of the easier to drive in.

Since you will be heading to the west of Paris, consider both Giverny and Chartres, two highly rewarding stops. I recommend an overnight in Chartres, a city that tries harder to please the tourists and yet manages to retain its own character.

Especially since you have some apprehension about driving, I strongly recommend picking up the car outside of Paris. Picking up at the airport will cost you about $75 extra, but you could pick it up in Rouen for example. Dropping at the airport sounds easy, but we had a hard time finding Orly to drop our car and ended up driving into Paris by accident. Not recommended. If you plan on dropping anywhere near Paris, get a really good map -- we found that the signage is not adequate to find even the airport without one.

Posted by
77 posts

I think it sort of depends on what sort of traveler you are and what exactly you want to accomplish. For example, after 5 days in Paris DH and I picked up a car at Gare de Lyon on Friday mid-to-late morning, made it out to the Peripherique, drove to Honfleur (mostly on the autoroute), had a late lunch, drove along the coast, visited the glider museum near Benouville, drove to Bayeux and checked into our B&B. Saturday we had a one-day private tour of the D-Day beaches, and made it back to Bayeux to see the tapestry. Sunday we drove to Mont St. Michel, did a self-guided tour of the monastery then walked down the outer walls, drove to LeMans (stopping for a quick lunch on the way), visited the Automobile museum and the racetrack, then drove back to Paris to drop our car off at Orly and stay at an Ibis. The next morning we flew to Portugal for four nights before flying back to France and taking the TGV down to Avignon for five nights in Provence.

We loved it and were glad that we did a lot of different things in the time available to us. Now, we were definitely tired when we got to that hotel at Orly, and it was June so we had a lot of daylight to be driving around in. So it kind of depends on what you think your parents (and you!) can tolerate, but my opinion is that it's not an absolute that you don't have time for both Normandy and Provence. If you are willing to spend the travel time (I'm assuming you AREN'T planning on driving from Normandy but taking the TGV or flying) then you can have some different experiences.

Posted by
1168 posts

We always avoid Paris traffic by taking the train to Caen. Across the street from the Caen RR station are four rental car agencies, all open on Saturday too, at 8AM. Pick up your car there, be sure and reserve one in advance, tour Normandy at your leisure, then return your car and hop a train back to Paris. I think trains run every hour or two. We like to relax the last night in Bayeux, zip the 20km or so back to Caen and enjoy a stress free train ride back to Paris. Works for us. I don't think the car rental agency(s) in Bayeux are open extended hours nor on Saturday if I remember correctly.

Posted by
73 posts

We picked up a car from Europcar (by far the best rate) on our way out of Paris last summer, en route to Normandy. You should definitely do this!
Here are a few other tips: carry lots of euros in cash--the tolls are shockingly expensive and there are many of them. Be prepared to pay to use the toilets at rest areas. You'll also pay a lot for food at the rest stops, but it is surprisingly good, much better than a comparable place in the US.
If you are using a Michelin map to guide you (and you really should be!), fold it to the area you need before you get into the car. They are about the size of your car roof, and you can't fold them without obstructing the driver's vision once on the road (don't ask how I know this!) When you rent your car, don't even think about asking for an automatic. You'll pay three times as much for the rental and who knows how much more for fuel. We had an international license, but all they wanted from us was the US license. Learn what the French road symbols mean--they're very different from US symbols and a mistake could be costly.

And yes, go to Normandy.

Posted by
144 posts

One thing I learned about driving in Much of Europe is that you need to know all of the towns along the route and keep going from one town to the next one by one until you reach your destination. Knowing that, I found driving in France to be very pleasant experience. My wife had the list of towns and just kept telling me which town was next.

Posted by
9554 posts

"If you can handle I-5 and downtown one-way streets of Seattle, you can handle Paris."

I have to strongly disagree with that. While that may be true for someone who knows their way around Paris, to try to drive there for your first visit is not a good idea. And by that I mean - REALLY NOT A GOOD IDEA!!! You are right to be apprehensive about it. I have been driving in cities since I was 16 years old. That was a very long time ago. I have driven on I-5 and in downtown Seattle many times. The most stressful driving I have ever encountered was driving into Paris my first trip there. Even 4 years later my blood pressure goes up just thinking about it. You don't need a car in Paris. You don't want a car in Paris. You can pick up the car elsewhere.

Posted by
51 posts

I agree with most - if you can drive in any large city in the US, then France shouldn't be a problem (with the possible exception of Paris). I would also consider a train from Paris to Normandy, as you wouldn't want to spend your 14 days in between.

As stated previously, Normandy is well worth two days - maybe even more. If you started at Mont Saint-Michel and drove NE towards the beaches, memorials, etc. I would think two days might be tight.