France at a Glance
Driving in FranceiStockphoto
Driving in France's rural regions allows you to explore many an idyll - like here in the Pyrenees.
France is one of the favorite vacation spots for Europeans. France’s countryside in particular evokes romantic feelings in most visitors. Exploring the country can be a relaxing promenade along fragrant meadows and through quaint little towns. Due to the vast expanse of terrain, from the rocky Pyrenees in the southeast to lush vineyards and river valleys further north, driving in France can be quite the experience.
If you are planning on moving to a large city in France, such as Paris, Lyon, or Marseilles, driving in France is definitely not a necessity. However, if you wish to explore France’s provincial towns and villages, having your own car is a better alternative: Driving is then more convenient than taking the train or bus.
Before you bring along your car and start driving in France, though, be aware that the stereotype of aggressive French drivers may sometimes not be too far from the truth. As in any foreign country, be careful when driving and try to familiarize yourself with the rules and regulations before you hit the road.
France is crisscrossed by nearly one million kilometers of roadways, ranging from narrow winding streets to eight-lane highways. Most towns and villages were built before roads for cars were designed, and thus driving in France is not always recommended. It is often a wise decision to leave your car outside of a small town and explore the historic center on foot.
Large cities such as Paris and Marseilles are also better mastered on foot. The extensive public transport networks usually make driving in the major cities unnecessary.
Moreover, traffic is ridiculous and parking space virtually non-existent. Many motorists driving in France just park illegally where they see fit. This has caused city governments to crack down on parking violations by towing and clamping such vehicles.
There are three types of roads for driving in France, which are classified as follows:
- A means autoroute. These are freeways or motorways and usually require payment of tolls (à péage); you can plan your trip and find out the cost of tolls for driving in France on the national motorway website.
- N is a national road. National roads have a lower speed limit than the autoroutes, but do not require tolls.
- D is a route départementale, i.e. a minor road under departmental (provincial) administration.
A color system goes along with the above roads. If the sign with the number code for the road has a red background, it signifies a major road. A number highlighted in yellow means a road of intermediate significance, and white is for minor or country roads. In other words, a provincial road, for example, will probably be a minor one and have a white number sign.
Toll Roads and Traffic Conditions
Toll booths on autoroutes are situated either near the entrance or exit of the motorway. Driving in France, you can pay your toll in cash or with a credit card. Fees are rather expensive.
If you are not in a hurry to get to your destination, it is recommended you avoid the routes à péage and take smaller rural roads. This detour may then take you longer; however, these roads are often very scenic and do not have as much traffic.
Be wary of motorcyclists and moped drivers, as they often drive extremely fast and tend to overtake dangerously. As a general rule, you should always be on the defensive while driving in France, as French drivers may appear aggressive behind the wheel. This is not because they are trying to beat you; they are simply impatient and see other cars in the roads as obstacles to slow them down.
It is recommended to keep your cool and let other drivers pass if possible. Large trucks and vans often seem to believe the road belongs to them and consider other cars a nuisance, so beware of them, too, when driving in France.