Don’t drive in Paris. Just don’t.
Traffic is dense, parking is expensive and almost impossible to find in the center (hotels rarely have private parking), and it’s not a very nice way to see the city. And then there’s that vary peculiar way that Parisians drive.
I got my French driver’s license six years ago in the south of France, and on the few occasions when I drive around Paris I’m still bewildered. Double parking, going backwards down one-way streets, running red lights and dangerous speeding are quite common.
But a car is ideal for day trips and longer excursions to the villages, towns, national parks and countryside of Ile-de-France and other French regions.
Drivers must be at least 18 (most car rental companies require drivers to be 25). European Union and Canadian nationals can use their drivers’ license alone. All other drivers should apply for the International Driver’s License (IDL). There are many misconceptions about the IDL. There’s no test to take because it’s basically an official translation of your current valid driver’s license, and the two must always be carried together. You can get an IDL for about $20 through any American Automobile Association (AAA). Only AAA and the American Automobile Touring Alliance are licensed to distribute the IDL in the US, so beware of fraudulent websites selling expensive fakes. Residents from other countries should apply for the IDL through their national Automobile Association.
The main ring road or beltway around Paris is called the périphérique (the périphérique interieur runs clockwise around the city, the périphérique exterieur runs counterclockwise). There are five major motorways in Ile-de-France (les autoroutes): the A1 (north network), the A4 (east), A10 (west and southwest), A6 (southeast) and the A13 (to Normandy).
Tolls (péages) can be paid with coins or credit cards (there are no tolls on motorways immediately surrounding Paris). Major roads are designated as Routes Nationales (RN), and tend to be much slower since they go through town centers, while the smallest roads are the Routes Départmental (RD).
Basic Driving Rules
The French drive on the right, safety belts are required for all passengers, children under ten must ride in the back seat, and honking your horn in the city (unless it’s to prevent an accident) can result in fines. Do not use the bus lanes, even in heavy traffic. Priority is given to cars coming from the right (even from smaller roads onto larger ones). In roundabouts, cars already inside have the priority but this is often ignored so watch out. No right turn is allowed at red lights unless there’s a blinking yellow arrow. Paris is well-signed, but you should get some literature from your rental agency about the meaning of the various signs and road markings. Find more info here.
Speed limits are rarely posted except as a reminder (or “rappel” in French). These are the guidelines:
In towns and urban areas: 50km/h (30mph)
On main roads: 90km/h (56mph) or 80 km/h in rain or fog
On motorways: 130km/h (80mph) or 110km/h in rain or fog
Do not double-park or park in no-stopping zones or areas reserved for deliveries (livraisons) or the disabled. Street parking in Paris is limited to 2 hours. The coin-operated parking meters have been replaced by cards — cartes de stationnements — which you can purchase at tabacs. You can also use your credit card or a smartphone app P Mobile. Parking is free on Sundays, public holidays, and between 8pm and 9am. Note that it’s no longer free in August anywhere in Paris. Parking garages (parc or parking) can be found throughout the city, and cost from €2.40-€4/hour. Read more about Parking in Paris here.
Getting Towed: Look carefully for tow-zone signs, usually placed at the ends of the street (with a little pictogram of a tow truck). Other cars may be parked there, but don’t let them fool you; Parisians usually know exactly how long they can get away with it. If you get towed, your car will impounded at La Fourrière, Tel: 01 53 71 53 53. You’ll need to show proof that it’s your car (keep the paperwork on you, not in the car) and pay a fine to get it back. Read about Heather’s adventures rescuing her old car Swampy from the municipal tow lot.
If you’ve driven in France before but it’s been awhile, you’re in for a surprise. Up until October 2018, the four types of gasoline/petrol (essence or carburant) in France were known as super (leaded), sans plomb 98 (unleaded 98), sans plomb 95 (unleaded 95) and gazole (diesel). In October 2018 all EU countries, in a bid to standardize labels and be more clear with all of the new fuels coming on the market, now are changed to the following three categories:
– E5, E10 and E85 for gasoline (in a circle)
– B7, B10 and XTL for diesel fuel (in square)
– H2 (hydrogen), CNG (compressed natural gas), LPG (liquefied petroleum gas) and LNG(liquefied natural gas) (in a diamond)
Some things, haven’t changed, though. Gasoline is much more expensive in Europe than North America, around €1.65/liter in Paris stations. Diesel is slightly cheaper, but it may be hard to find a diesel rental car. Gas stations are all self-service; pump your gas and pay inside. Large supermarket gas stations have credit card operated pumps. Gas is cheaper outside Paris (about €1.50/litre), so wait until you’re out of the city to fill up (in the small towns, not at motorway gas stations). Here is a handy link to a site that tracks gasoline prices throughout the city.
Car Rental Agencies
Most rental agencies in Ile-de-France have locations at both airports, train stations, throughout Paris and larger towns in the suburbs. It’s supposedly cheaer to renta car if you reserve it from your homecountry before leaving. Prices range from €50-€95/day or €080-€375/week to rent a compact car, and €175-€255/day or €600-€700/week for a minivan. Be sure to ask in advance if you require an automatic transmission (most European cars have manual transmission).
- easyCar This no-frills budget agency only accepts reservations through their website; you need to be able to print out the confirmation page and bring it with you.
Insurance : The Parisian method of parking usually involves a bit of bumper car action, and big trucks going down narrow streets often result in nicks, scratches, and crushed side-view mirrors. Keep this in mind when you’re discussing what you’re insured for on your rental car.
Scooter & Motorcycle Rentals
Unlike their counterparts in the United States, French scooters and motorcycles weave between cars in traffic and always move to the front of the line at red lights. They’re also involved in over 50% of the country’s traffic accidents. Proceed with caution and remember that helmets are required by law at all times.
144 Boulevard Voltaire, 11th
M° Voltaire, Tel 01 44 93 04 03.
Rentals by the day or week of bicycles, 50cc scooters (can be rented without a DL), and 125cc maxi-scooters (valid DL necessary). All accessories included.
190 Rue de Bercy, 12th
M° Gare de Lyon (in the Gare de Lyon’s car rental section, at the corner of Rue Van Gogh)
Tel 08 92 35 00 25
Scooter, motorcycle and bike rental with helmet, gloves, and locks included. You’ll need a credit card and ID, and a drivers’ license for the motorcycles. There is also a guarded parking lot.
Parking Foch: across from 1bis Avenue Foch, 16th
M° Charles de Gaulle-Etoile, Tel: 01 45 00 06 66 This agency rents out a large selection of scooters and motorcycles, including Harley Davidson’s, Honda Goldwing’s and BMW’s. Rates from €50-€240 per day. Drivers must be at least 21 years old and have had their Driver’s license for 2 years. Open daily 9am-7pm.
More Useful Vocabulary
Voiture de location rental car
Stationnement Interdit No Parking
Vous n’avez pas la priorité You do not have priority
Sens unique one way
Permis de conduire driver’s license/permit
Carte Grise vehicle registration
SOS Dépannage Breakdown Assistance