Drive or take the train?

We will be going to Normandy after landing at CDG airport at Paris. Is it better to take the train into Paris then on to Caen where we will rent a car for the week, or should we rent the car at the airport and just drive ourselves the whole way and back? There are 4 of us traveling together. At the end of the trip, we planned to spend an overnight in Paris before flying out the next morning. Does driving into Paris with a rental make this more complicated (in other words, should we seriously avoid driving into Paris)? We have 4 opinions on this matter. I worry about driving in a large metro with lots of traffic and no one who is fluent in French (esp reading signage). So - Drive it all or combine car and train?

Posted by Kent
Pacific Northwest
8645 posts

Your original post, " I worry about driving in a large metro with lots of traffic and no one who is fluent in French."
That'd an accurate description of the situation the driver will face driving a rental car into Paris.
IMHO the driver gets 51% of the vote on this and someone who has never seen the traffic in Paris and is not driving gets no vote.
There's a significant difference between driving in the rest of France and driving in Paris; m here have done the former but would avoid doing the latter, if there is a reasonable alternative.

Posted by Beth
Boulder, Colorado, USA
134 posts

Rent a car at CDG, especially with four people.
If you have never driven in a city, you may not like driving in the city center but to/from CDG is highway driving.

Most of the highway signs are pictures but a few words in French help :-) Aire and Petrol, and traveaux are enough.
Enjoy the trip!

Posted by Adam
Boston
2923 posts

Another consideration is how jet lag affects the driver.

I doesn't hit me as bad as it once did, but there was a time I would not have wanted to jump in the car and drive for 3 hours in a foreign country.

Posted by Tim
Knoxville, TN, USA
3475 posts

Oh my good grief! Definitely train to Caen before you rent a car. Just because they have signs and just because Caen is Caen and just because the numerals are the same is a laughable excuse to actually drive into or out of Paris. I've driven in Paris twice and it was a nightmare both times. Never again. The train to Caen is so absolutely simple and relaxing there's no reason to NOT train.

Posted by Jean
Mill Creek, WA, USA
466 posts

Take the RER into Paris & catch the train out to Caen where you can rent a car. By the way, we absolutely loved the Caen WWII Museum & the mini-van tour! You may want to rethink how many days you want to be at Caen vs. Paris. I would really recommend moving at least two of those days to Paris - so much to see! In Paris, definitely the metro is THE way to go; a car in Paris would be a hindrance.

Posted by Laura
Rick Steves' Europe
7025 posts

Now you have more than four opinions. Whether you pick up the car at CDG or Caen, I would not drive it into Paris. I have picked up a car immediately after a trans-Atlantic flight from Seattle, but it's not the safety-first choice, and has been known to cause disagreements between navigator and driver.

Posted by crd
5 posts

Thank you for the input. It is valuable. We have been to Paris twice and are heading to Normandy b/c our son is with the 82nd Airborne and is jumping at Sainte-Mere-Eglis the weekend of the 70th anniversary of D-Day. My husband is sure there will be no fatigue or driving problems driving from CDG airport to Bayeux where we have accommodations. He is a New Yorker and sees no problems driving there. The train would be more expensive, I will share your wisdom.

Posted by Lo
Tucson
1235 posts

Be sure to get a car big enough for the 4 of you AND your luggage. Have you used Google Maps -- Directions to see the route and how long it will take? It looks like 2-3 hours or so on autoroutes with tolls from CDG to Caen. If you follow the suggested route, you will go to the north side of Paris and not have to drive in the city at all at the beginning.

Caveat: it may be considerably more expensive to rent the car at CDG than somewhere else. For help with that, take a look at my old standby, Gemut.com, especially the extensive booklet on renting a car and driving in Europe: http://www.gemut.com/car-rentals/free-rental-car-booklet.html. After you learn as much as you can from it, contact Andy for more help and info. We have rented cars through him for 3 trips now, and he can always get us a better deal than if we did it online by ourselves.

As far as the signage, it's pretty standard and international, but if you are concerned, this Wikipedia article might help: http://wikitravel.org/en/DrivinginFrance. I don't know how many traffic circles you have to negotiate in NY, but expect tons of them in France with very few US style corners with traffic lights.

I'm the navigator and know quite a bit of French, but I also know I'm a wuss, and I would not try to navigate into Paris even though my "loves to drive anywhere" husband wouldn't have a problem with it. When you rent your car, check to see if you can drop it off somewhere near but outside the guts of the city, then train or metro in.

On our last trip to France, we spent 8 days in Paris, took the train to Reims, spent a couple of nights, then picked up our car there. We drove it for the next 3 weeks and dropped in in Aix-en-Provence before taking the TGV back to Paris. It was a piece of cake, but my husband did get 2 speeding tickets. Not to worry, the French will let you know promptly if you do get any, and you can pay with your Visa using an English website.

So -- my answer is to drive as much as your budget and nerves can handle.

We love getting lost on back roads anywhere, but we took a wrong turn out of Rozay-en-Brie and ended up on the circle route (E15/E50) around the south side of Paris. It was a parking lot for 4-wheeled vehicles and chock full of motorcycles making a lane between the car lanes. At least we weren't going very fast!

Update: I just found another good website on driving in France: http://about-france.com/travel.htm. My quick reading of it tells me that it is even easier to get a speeding ticket there than it was in 2012.

Posted by Bob
Gettysburg, PA
1436 posts

In general, I am a huge train fan, but your trip, as described, seems perfect for the direct rental @ Chuckie DG. The travel is all expressway style & bypasses the general Paris traffic. It will be busy traffic for the first hour, but will become less crowded after that.

Enjoy your son's Airborne arrival!

Posted by crd
5 posts

Thank you to all. I had not used this site before, but got great info. So happy. We rented the car at CDG, drove to Bayeux with only a little cerfuffel around Caen (went through vs around). Drove all over Normandy with no problems. Driving in Paris was amazing. We thought we were lost, stopped and asked a cabbie for directions, and we were in front of our hotel. Drive to airport in the morning was no problem. Signs in and out of airport were crazy, but we run into that in the US often as well. Thank you all.

Posted by crd
5 posts

Thank you to all. I had not used this site before, but got great info. So happy. We rented the car at CDG, drove to Bayeux with only a little cerfuffel around Caen (went through vs around). Drove all over Normandy with no problems. Driving in Paris was amazing. We thought we were lost, stopped and asked a cabbie for directions, and we were in front of our hotel. Drive to airport in the morning was no problem. Signs in and out of airport were crazy, but we run into that in the US often as well. Thank you all.