For many people France is the ultimate destination: beautiful, welcoming and culturally rich. France has emerged not only as an attractive destination for individuals hoping to tour a single French city, it is also an excellent nation for travelers to explore by car on extended road trips. Behind the wheel you will serve as your own tour guide and, unlike other travelers who view the French countryside through the cloudy windows of a train or bus, you will experience France as it was intended to be seen: touring at your own pace and on your own terms.
Dive into Mediterranean culture with a beachside getaway in the sun-soaked French Riviera, beginning your adventure with a driving tour of Nice! Linger over a glass of red wine as part of a trip to the storied Bordeaux region or visit the Louvre, the Arc de Triomphe, the Eiffel Tower and more during a romantic trip to Paris. How you spend your time and choose the best time to visit France is up to you - the most challenging part of planning your trip may be choosing from the numerous attractive destinations.
This travel guide is designed to help you make the most of your self-guided driving tour of France. In it we will cover everything from must-see sights to practical rules of the road - including tips designed to help you squeeze every last drop of enjoyment out of your time in this amazing destination.
Driving in France or in any new place can seem intimidating at first, but Auto Europe will have you driving like a native Frenchman (or Frenchwoman) in no time! Just follow these tips and you'll enjoy stress-free time behind the wheel while touring France.
While this may seem like common sense (after all, it's a driving tip which applies everywhere), keeping your eyes on the road is especially important during a trip to France. You'll likely be less familiar with road signs and the driving style of locals when you hit the road in Europe, so making an effort to pay close attention to the city streets and nearby drivers is especially important. Be vigilant and you'll be able to steer clear of troublesome situations.
Keeping your eyes on the road is even more important if you're planning to drive through rural areas of France. In small towns it's not uncommon to find cars parked in the middle of the road. As with rural sections of the US, neighbors have close ties in rural France and many old friends pause by the roadside to visit or catch up on local news. Livestock, carts and small wagons in roadways are also things you may encounter while cruising the French countryside. In most cases a gentle honk of your horn and a polite wave will be sufficient to clear the path so you can continue on your way.
While tailgating isn't as common while driving in France as it is in other European locations, it's important to keep your cool and focus on the road ahead if you do feel that other drivers are riding too close to your car. Don't try to accelerate to put some distance between you and the other vehicle and do not slam on your brakes to try to "send a message." Most impatient drivers will look for an opportunity to pass - give them plenty of room and keep your focus where it should be: on enjoying your trip!
Depending upon where you're from you may be used to legislation which makes it illegal to use your phone while behind the wheel. Whatever you're used to back home, while driving in France it's illegal to use your mobile device. If you are caught using your phone while driving you'll be promptly served an on-the-spot fine of 130 Euros - enough to put a damper on any vacation. Play it safe and if it's an emergency we recommend that you pull over before you dial.
It comes as a surprise to most foreign drivers, but French motorway service areas serve wine with meals. Can you imagine ordering wine at an American rest stop? France is known for some of the best vintages in the world and you may plan to imbibe some fabulous wine during your trip. If you do, remember that the legal blood alcohol limit in France is 0.05% - quite a bit lower than it is in the UK or US - so while you shouldn't ever drink and drive it's especially important while driving in France. The driving laws here are strict and there is zero tolerance for driving under the influence of alcohol in France.
Drivers in France should be aware that there are over 2,000 stationary speed cameras monitoring France's roadways and motorways. While many of these are marked with warnings, some cameras are unmarked. Combine stationary speed cameras with mobile radars in unmarked gendarmerie patrol cars and you have all the reason you need to obey posted speed limits.
Generally police are reasonable and offer some slight flexibility on speed, but if you are caught driving 50km/hr or more over the speed limit you could suffer an instant ban and the impounding of your vehicle - enough to put a damper on any trip.
The most common place to find speed cameras in France is near the edge of villages - areas where drivers often forget to slow down. Many villages in France won't have a specific speed posted, but locals will tell you that the name board at the entrance to a village or town in France (typically dark blue letters on an off-white background) is an automatic indication that the village is designated a "built-up area" and that the limit is 50km/hr unless otherwise indicated.
The normal speed limits for driving in France are:
In certain parts of France the use of traffic signals can often feel like an afterthought. We recommend that you always use your signals when turning, but be alert when driving - brake lights may be the only signal you'll receive when the driver in front of you is planning to turn. This is especially true in rural parts of France where drivers may not be accustomed to seeing many cars on the road.
When driving in France, entering a busy roundabout can feel intimidating - especially if you aren't quite sure where you're headed. A good rule of thumb is to be cautious, use your turn signals and to stay in the middle lane until you have identified your exit. This way traffic won't be cutting in and out in front of you.
Pay close attention to signs when approaching an unfamiliar roundabout in France. Signs which read: "Vous n'avez pas la priorite" or "Cedez le passage" indicate that traffic currently circling the roundabout has the right of way. If these signs aren't present the opposite is true: vehicles entering the roundabout have the right of way. More information is available in our French Road Signs section.
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