France at a Glance
Driving in France
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, however, be aware that the stereotype of cavalier French drivers may sometimes not be too far from the truth — at least in the daily traffic chaos of Paris, which could test anyone’s nerves. In such situations, being on the defensive while driving in France is probably the best way of coping.
As in any foreign country, be careful when driving and try to familiarize yourself with the rules and regulations before you hit the road.
Want to Explore? Go on Foot
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 transportation networks usually make driving in the big cities unnecessary.
Moreover, traffic in places like Paris is ridiculous and parking space virtually non-existent. Many motorists driving in France just park illegally wherever 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 highways 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 (route nationale). 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.
French Roads: What to Watch Out For
Toll booths on autoroutes are situated either near the entrance or exit of the highway. Driving in France, you can pay your toll in cash or with a credit card. Fees are rather expensive. Get informed on key rates concerning French highways and expressways online before you choose a route!
If you are not in a hurry to get to your destination, it is recommended that 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.
Outside of metropolitan areas, traffic conditions are far better than the cliché suggests. However, be wary of motorcyclists and moped drivers, as they often drive rather fast and tend to overtake dangerously. Large trucks and vans often seem to believe the road belongs to them, so beware of them, too, when driving in France.
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