Please sign in to post.

What would you do? Car rental for whole trip or car, trains and plane? France and Spain

We will be in France and Spain for 23 days. I have our schedule pretty set, however having trouble deciding between a car rental the whole time or a mixture of car rental, trains and a plane. If I do the latter it allows for more time in some spots and no really long days in the car. So a little background and info. We are a family of 2 adults and 2 children. Our children are used to long car rides. We currently have a rental car booked for $600 that is an automatic (I do not know how to drive stick) and allows for 2 drivers. It is booked for the entire trip. I estimated $500 for gas (I did the total trip miles/mpg x average price per gallon). I estimate that parking will be around $150 in the cities I need parking. So I come to a total of $1250 give or take. Hopefully I am close. The itinerary for driving is Paris-Bayeux-Amboise-Barcelona-Madrid-Granada-Tarifa-Seville-San Sebastian-Dordogne-Versailles-Paris. We are only stopping in San Sebastian to break up the trip back to France. It isn't high on our list.

Option #2 is rental car from Paris to Perpignon (picked this stop because its cheaper than dropping off in Spain and an easy train ride) $150. A 2 country rail pass for 4 is $700. Train from Perpignon-Barcelona. Train Barcelona to Madrid. Train Madrid to Seville. Rental in Seville for Tarifa and Granada. Return to Seville. Train to Madrid. Flight Madrid to Bordeaux $120 total. Train Bordeaux to Dordogne. Train back to Bordeaux, then to Versailles. (when I looked it up this was faster than train from Dordogne to Versailles. Then finally train back to Paris. Total around $1000.

The idea of trains is a little stressful but so isn't the idea of driving into cities for parking. What is your opinion? Am I way off or do I have a good grasp on it? What would you do? Please help! Thank you in advance.

Posted by
3342 posts

To me, it would depend on your ability to speak and read French and Spanish. That's a deal killer for me, since my French and Spanish skills are marginal. I would take the train, using point-to-point tickets instead of a pass; but this is your trip, and it sounds like a good one - whatever you decide.

Posted by
97 posts

Thanks. I never considered the language barrier. We were in Germany for 40 days and actually leased a car that trip. I do most of the driving and we did lots of Germany, Austria and Switzerland and with GPS I seemed to do fine. But I will keep it in mind. I just read point to point tickets might be the better way to go, I will have to price it out. The idea of getting city center to city center in 2.5 hours from Barcelona to Madrid vs the car ride is looking better by the minute.

Posted by
27432 posts

I think your visit to the Dordogne will be somewhat limited without a car (though Sarlat is very popular and does have rail service), but you're covering a huge amount of territory in 23 days, so I guess you're not planning much time in the Dordogne.

You didn't ask, but I think you're moving very fast unless you've previously visited Paris and are just using it as a gateway. I suspect Tarifa is for a day-trip to Morocco. Either way, I'd skip it and use the time elsewhere.

Posted by
4132 posts

Your itinerary is just not feasible, or perhaps not worth the effort, without a car. But it would be much better if you combined car and rail.

Given your priorities: Paris >Bayeux > Amboise > Dordogne > Peripignan. Ditch the car and proceed, but fly home from Madrid. Spend the days you save not schlepping back to Paris in the Dordogne.

Posted by
3210 posts

I hope you realize you'll be clocking 3,000 miles (not km) in 23 days. That is a heck of a lot of driving. The one necessity is either a smart phone so you can use Waze, Google Maps or other GPS programs or a GPS. Using the phone, you could always use a search function to find parking in the cities. I think your estimate for fuel is good but you neglected about $200 in tolls. I also think city parking, unless a number of your hotels provide it free, should be doubled if you're an optimist or tripled to $450 if you're not.

To me it would be more sensible to go from Madrid to San Sebastián and then back to France. This would save about 600 miles and allow you to have a more leisurely and meaningful trip rather than competing in the Mill Miglia or the Dakar Rallye. Also watch out for those nasty speed cameras in France.

Posted by
162 posts

I just spent 30 days in Paris and used only trains to take day trips to all parts of the country with the exception of the far southeast. The train system is easy, comprehensive and efficient, and for the longer rides, very fast. Train travel is relaxing since you can sit back and watch the landscape without having to concentrate on the road. Most routes take you into the heart of town. You certainly won't want a car in Paris; parking would be a nightmare. I found easiest to use, and advanced booking really cuts cost.
On the other hand, my husband and I rented a car in Spain since their train system to the areas we wanted to visit was virtually nonexistant. The roads are good but parking can be an issue in towns, especially in the historic quarters where the streets are often extremely narrow and open only to taxis. So you probably do need a combination.

It looks like you have a very aggressive itinerary, which I totally understand, but rather than arriving and departing from Paris, you might want to trim it a bit, make it a one-way journey and book your return flight from your farthest destination. That would give you more time to enjoy the cities and require less travel time. Enjoy!

Posted by
1922 posts

We haven't been to Spain yet so I don't know how the driving is there, but I'd think outside of Paris you'd want a car for the whole itinerary you have planned for France. Those places outside of Paris I wouldn't really consider cities, so I think driving and parking would be fine. Maybe dump the car in France and train to Barcelona, Madrid, Seville which are busy cities and a car would not be helpful. If you want a few days with a car outside of Seville, then plan that. From there it seems to me it would make more since to fly out of Seville or if you have your air already to fly Seville to Paris.

I don't see how the language barrier would have any issue with driving in another country. Just learn the symbols for all the road signs. We love the freedom we have with a car rental. And, with children in tow it might be nice to be on your own schedule instead of a train. But, for the city to city touring in Spain I would think point to point train tickets makes more sense.

Posted by
73 posts

When you're looking at rail passes, don't forget to calculate the reservations required when using passes on Spanish trains. These are included in regular tickets but need to be purchased for rail passes and for 4 seats a trip could really add up.

This is not to say don't use Spanish trains. Regular tickets can be inexpensive, especially when purchased in advance. Plus Spanish trains, especially the Ave, are very comfortable with movies for the kids, dining cars, nice seats, almost always on time, etc. And, depending on the offer, passes might still be a good deal, but just don't be surprised when your rail pass cost isn't the end of your purchases for taking Spanish trains.

Posted by
200 posts

I assume you are already committed to a return flight to Paris. If not, flying home from Spain would make a lot of sense. However, in your scenario #2, is there any reason to double back through France on your way back to Paris? Why not Paris-Bayeux-Amboise-Dordogne-Toulouse, drop off the car in Toulouse, and take a fast train to Barcelona, then do your Spain legs by train, and either fly home from Spain, or return to Paris by plane. Flights are available to Paris from any of Barcelona, Madrid, Seville or Granada (but be aware of which Paris airport is involved- BVA in particular can be problematic).
As for option #1, that's an awful lot of driving for a 23 day trip, with time spent in places you wouldn't otherwise visit, just to break up the driving. I drove the France portion of this route (in reverse order) last summer, and it is certainly manageable, with Amboise-Dordogne (Sarlat) being the only really long leg. I would also recommend visiting Versailles as a day trip from Paris, rather than making it a driving stop. It's easily reached by RER train, which is integrated with the Paris Metro system.
All of your stops in Spain are well connected by trains and busses, so there's no need for a car there if you plan on staying in the cities.

Posted by
11368 posts

With children and extra luggage, I would keep the car. If you want to return it earlier, drop it off in Biarritz or Bordeaux. Fly to Paris. A drop off in Spain would incur large drop fees.

Posted by
32268 posts


I'd suggest using well planned rail journeys with perhaps occasional rental cars in areas not well served by public transit. Especially on those routes with high speed trains (which travel at up to 300 km/h), trains will be much more efficient and a better use of your holiday time. Driving in large cities is not the best idea, as parking is expensive and in some cases hard to find.

A few other points to keep in mind.....

  • For driving in France each driver on the rental form will need the compulsory International Driver's Permit, which is used in conjunction with your home D.L. or a certified copy of the terms of your D.L. in French. I believe that's also required in Spain, as I recall a post on the forum not too long ago from someone that was fined ~€500 for not being able to produce an IDP in Spain when asked.
  • While you've reserved an auto, that's not always guaranteed. If you can't drive a manual transmission, you could have a problem.
  • Don't forget to budget for tolls.
  • Be very careful with speed limits as there's little leeway for exceeding the limit. Photo radar is used so you may not know about tickets until after you get home, and those could increase your car rental costs substantially.
  • A GPS along with some good maps would be prudent.

Even with a time frame of 23 days, you're covering a lot of ground and there's no way I'd want to do that in a rental car.

Posted by
97 posts

Acraven-I was just re-reading RS France book about needing a car for Dordogne. Thank you for your info.

Philip- I realized the amount of miles, we will have a GPS and a phone. Thank you for the estimate on tolls. That was the one thing I hadn’t looked into yet, but knew would be there. And thanks for the warning of the speed cameras. I know I got one in Germany (ok maybe the same camera twice), but thankfully never got a ticket.

Brenda and Susan and Monte- We have booked our flights already and have to leave out of Paris. It was a great deal but had to leave out of same airport.

Ottawanderer- I am considering doing all of France first and then fly back to Paris from Spain. Unfortunately I already booked some Airbnb. But I am going to look to see if I can change some dates without penalty. I didn’t realize there is a fast train from Toulouse to Barcelona.

We are packing light. We each only get a small wheelie carryon. I know wheelies are not ideal, but we bought some backpacks and did a trial pack and the kids just couldn’t carry them yet. And they were some lightweight packs.

Ken- Thank you for the info. International Permit is on my list of things to get. We got them for our last Europe driving trip from AAA.