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Honestly, how difficult is it to drive in Paris and France?

My husband and I are going to Paris for our 5th wedding anniversary in June. We are very interested in seeing the D-Day beaches on June 6th. I've been to Paris before, but always use public transportation in Europe - I've never driven there. Honestly, how difficult is it to drive to the beaches? We're short on time and navigating the rail/bus schedule seems to burn more time than I'd like.
Because this is our anniversary, I'm not looking for an 'adventure' - I want the easiest, least stressful journey I can find.... so possibly a rental?

Posted by
33107 posts

A worthy journey, and congratulations on your anniversary.

While 2011 is not a major anniversary of D-Day, you can bet that for that week everybody and his brother's cousins will be there. If you need hotels book now.

If you don't want an adventure, you may find you have one.

The easiest way is probably train to Bayeux then guided tour which I'm sure one of my learned friends will share recommendations for.

You could drive, and getting there from Paris won't be too bad, but getting around along the coast can be tricky.

I drive all over Europe but have a fixed rule to never, ever, go inside the Perepherique in Paris. Ever.

Driving in the countryside around Paris is trivial, except around the Roissy area where Charles de Gaulle airport is. Be prepared for traffic jams. They will make driving into Austin at rush hour seem like a walk in the park.

But go and enjoy your trip. We always celebrate our anniversaries, we have a few more than 5.

Posted by
2876 posts

In these days of GPS-aided navigation, Paris to Normandy isn't difficult at all. Once you're out of Paris, the roads are excellent and the driving is easy.

On the way to Normandy & the D-Day beaches, you could stop if you wanted at Giverny & see Monet's home & gardens. You'll be driving right by it. You also might want to visit the very cool town of Honfleur, which isn't far out of your way at all. And finally, don't miss the Bayeux tapestry.

Posted by
842 posts

Amy, we had no problem drving in France. I am in my mid sixties, and alwsy do the driving in the EU.

We had picked up our rental car in the south and drove all over the DDay area. It was a piece of cake; especially when using our own GPS, and a Michelin map.

When we were done we just drove right back to the Paris airport and caught our flight. We drove back in the early morning, and avoided all of the traffic.

Posted by
9429 posts

I have no problem driving in Paris, and getting out of Paris is not difficult. Getting into Paris is difficult.

But driving anywhere other than cities, is incredibly easy, imo. And even enjoyable. We loved driving all over Normandy. We preferred two-lane roads, rather than the highway, because it's so much more enjoyable. The countryside is wonderful.

We've driven from the car rental pick up in Paris (Invalides) and we've picked cars up in Bayeux and Caen. We've done this many times and both ways worked great for us.

We've never used a GPS and never had a problem, never got lost ever. You need a good map though, even if you do have a GPS.

Posted by
15 posts

Amy. We are in Paris now and going South next week. I got the impression it was necessary to have a GPS and we had to spend $300 for one with European maps. I'm frustrated by it though as it didn't work correctly in Chicago before we left, telling me to turn left at places I knew well were on the right. It's frustrating here too and I'm sorry we bought it at all. I hope we can return it as it's useless and my kids should be learning to read maps anyway and we couldn't afford it to begin with.


Posted by
313 posts

Paris is extremely congested and you would have to pay to park (not cheap). I haven't tried to drive in the city, as it's so much faster and easier not to be burdened with a car.

But, outside Paris is a breeze to drive, and particularly in Normandy and the D-Day beach areas.

We took the RER out to the town of Versailles to pick up our car and took off from there, dropping it in Nice when we were done. Even after driving through much of France, I wouldn't bother having a car in Paris. You'd be paying for something that wouldn't be worth using, in my own opinion.

Posted by
10344 posts

"How difficult is it to drive in Paris."It's difficult. And unnecessary to drive in Paris; very few do that.

I think what you meant to ask is: How difficult is it to drive from Paris to the D-Day beaches? A lot of folks do that, and they often select pick up/drop off location(s) that avoid or at least minimize driving in Paris itself.

Posted by
9429 posts

Kent is right. I have never had a car in Paris to use to get around in Paris. That would not be a good idea imo. I've only driven in Paris to get from Invalides, in the heart of Paris, to the Peripherique (the ring road) to get out of Paris. And vice versa.

Posted by
10344 posts

"D-Day beaches on June 6 + I want the easiest, least stressful journey I can find." You may not be able to have all of those. While being at Omaha Beach on June 6 would be special, consider the trade-off involved, esp. when you mention you want the easiest journey. I was there once on June 5 and June 6; on June 5 it was good, on June 6 the area was sealed off due to dignitaries speaking. At least you might want to try and determine, before you crystallize your schedule, whether major heads of state are invited. One year I was in the area when Pres. Bush was speaking at the American Cemetery on June 6 and regular folks weren't allowed within 5 miles.

Posted by
2 posts

Great tips everyone - thanks!

I like the idea of taking the RER to Versaille and then driving from there. I don't want to have to drive in Paris - even just to pick up a car and get out of town.
Also, thanks for the head's up on dignitaries being at D-Day... that's something to think about.

Posted by
9363 posts

My 70-something parents drove in Paris and to the D-Day beaches with no trouble other than finding parking in Paris during the day - they weren't staying in Paris (I have no idea, really, why they drove in). They speak no French but had no trouble with signs or anything.

Posted by
1175 posts

WE like to take the train to Caen, about 2 hours, and pick up our rental from one of the four rental agencies right across the street from the Caen train station. We have a GPS and a Michelin map and always save into GPS favorites key addresses of our B&B or hotel, or restaurant, or museum along our travel route. Driving is a breeze and a joy, going where you want, when you want, and stopping where you want at interesting little places along the way. Driving along the beaches is also very easy but on June 6th it is a restricted area. Learn to use the GPS before you go and don't always take the exits it says. Sometimes the GPS will want to take you down a cow path but a map can keep you from that.
You'll have a great time driving in the French countryside.

Posted by
2193 posts

I’m going to have to disagree a little bit with some others regarding driving in and out of central Paris, because it’s certainly a lot different than driving in even the toughest and most congested of US cities, and I’ve driven in all of them. I’ve also rented from the old Air France terminal at Invalides but headed east toward Luxembourg and Germany. Aside from very heavy traffic, aggressive drivers, and not many people paying attention to lanes (if there are even markings), one significant difference is that it can be difficult to see street names when the signage isn’t what you’re used to. The street plaques are on buildings and not right on the intersections like you may be used to here. When you’re trying to drive, navigate, and look for street names to get out to the périphérique and beyond without GPS, it can be challenging. Once you’re outside of the city, it’s no different than any place else, but look out for radar. You’ll have tolls to pay, too.

I just don’t want someone who hasn’t driven in central Paris before to think it’s like LA or Manhattan, because it’s much more challenging IMHO. Still, it can be done…I did it after all.

Posted by
4410 posts

As Kent posted, June 6 might be a frustrating bust.

You know yourselves the best (and congrats, BTW!) - is driving in an unfamiliar place, reading foreign (in more ways than one) road signs, going to be fun for the 2 of you, or will the 5th anny be your last ;-)? You know what I mean...

Many tour operators don't offer tours during this time, or they're quite busy with VIPs, but taking a tour is an option - nothing to plan, no stress, no reading maps LOL! Reserve ASAP!

There are several daily, 2 hr, non-stop trains b/n Paris and Bayeux (for example), so you can either rent a car at that point if you want, or perhaps go on a day tour of the area.

Many people really enjoy driving the area. My family was planning to, but ended up on a fantastic tour (probably a good idea as far as family harmony goes LOL!). I'm not trying to dissuade you from driving per se - you said you're "not looking for an 'adventure'", but don't over-romanticize driving quiet country roads while holding hands, seeing quaint farmhouses, etc., if in your heart you know the 2 of you will argue about the route, how to read a map, asking for instructions, etc.! You said you're "short on time", so add the pressure of time to the mix. If the 2 of you think it's safe (!), and it's what you want to do, then do it! Buy a very good map. And expect to get lost. Maybe a few times.

Posted by
6 posts

We just got back on Sunday from France. We picked up a car at the airport and drove to Nomandy. Very easy but bring a GPS or make sure the car has one. You will need cash too as the freeways all have tolls. We did not drive in Paris but it looks about the same as any big city in America, we dropped the car off in Versailles and took a cab into Paris. Hertz rental right across the street from the train station.
I would highly recommend getting a tour in Normady. We used Dday battle tours out of Ste Mere Eglise. It was the highlight of our time in the Normandy area. It is about 40 minutes from Bayeux and well worth the time and money.
It will be busy there on June 6 be ready for traffic and lack of parking. Go a couple days later and have the place to yourselves.

Ste Mere Eglise would be the place to be on June 6. Several of the vets come back and hang out at a pub in the town square. You might be able to meet a paratrooper from the 82nd Airborne. Sounds like fun.

Posted by
689 posts

We used the Hertz counter at the train station in Lisieux for our Normandy/Brittany trip. Very easy to train to from Paris, and easy to drive in and out of.

Posted by
2388 posts

No need for car in Paris/metro system is very easy to use. I drove in Paris not only once but on two different trips/BIG mistake/the tour books I read said don't do it but I thought I knew better. Never again.

Posted by
4 posts

We were in Paris and Normandy this past June and decided to go one week AFTER D-Day--as a result the battlefields and sites were not at all crowded and we had many, many quite and inspirational moments on those hallowed grounds. As for the driving, just don't do it. I am a very good driver, have lived in urban U.S. locations all my life, and although I had no problem getting OUT of Orly and on the road to Versailles/Caen and eventually Carentan where we stayed, we got hopelessly lost on both the outer and inner peripherique trying to get back to the airport and missed our flight. Terrible ending to a wonderful trip. I concur with the poster who wrote about the signage not being what you are used to--we also were driving during a.m. rush hour. Driving in Normandy, however, is a breeze. Consider taking training to Caen, renting and returning car there, and training back to Paris for your flight home. Wish we had!