9 Valuable Tips for Driving In France With Your Family

August 18, 2022

France is a beautiful country to visit for a family vacation. And for families planning road trips through the country, there are many useful tips for driving in France that can help make your visit memorable and easy.

We spent a month visiting France in 2019, after traveling through Italy and before heading off to Indonesia, and loved our experience there. Driving through the countryside and along French roads, past rolling fields and picturesque castles, truly made our experience so unique and enjoyable. Road tripping through France was a wonderful trip to remember.

If you’re planning a visit to France with your kids, you should definitely consider driving in France at least once during your trip. With the right travel tips for driving in France, it can actually be an enjoyable and stress-free experience.

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The mountains around Chamonix (July 2019)

Why you want to drive in France

There are many reasons why you might want to drive a car during your family trip to France. Driving a car in France is a fun way to get around the country and see the sights. You really get a feel for what living like a local in France is like. 

Additionally, while you can certainly get from city to city using the train, and get around a city using public transportation, having a car can be a more economical option for a family. Depending on the number of kids in your family, the costs of tickets may end up being more expensive than the daily cost of car rental.

But even if renting a car ends up being more expensive, the convenience of being able to go somewhere on your own schedule is worth it. In a city like Paris, accessibility to public transportation makes having a car unnecessary. But in cities like Lyon and Chamonix, cars are perfect for getting around and exploring.

Planning French vacation? Take a look at our France posts.

Enjoying our time as a family in France (July 2019)

Top tips for driving in France

As you prepare for your trip to France, it’s helpful to get a head start on driving in France. If this is your first time with France driving (as it was for us), it’s good to do some research ahead of time to know what to expect when you get to France.

Here are my top tips for driving in France for the first time, to help ensure a fun and smooth trip for your family.

Passing by a French village (July 2019)

1. Familiarize yourself with the French language

French can be a tricky language to read and speak. Since some consonants at the end of words are silent, the way words on French road signs are pronounced are often different from how they are spelled.

Before moving onto the other tips on driving in France, familiarize yourself with these French driving phrases:

  • Auto = car
  • Tout droit = straight ahead
  • Le feu rouge = the stoplight
  • Droite = right
  • Gauche = left
  • La rue = the street
  • L’autoroute = highway
  • Peage = toll

Here are some helpful phrase books to use during your trip:

Easy French Phrase Book: Over 1500 Common Phrases (audiobook)

French Phrase Book - 1,001 Easy French Phrases (audiobook)

Rick Steves French Phrase Book & Dictionary

The Penguin French Phrasebook

You can use these phrase books with your kids as well. It’s a good example of worldschooling resources for families who want to incorporate learning into their travels.

Cars parked along a street in Lyon (July 2019)

2. Have a second person navigating

Even if you have Google Maps to help you get around, having a second person to navigate is one of the most helpful tips for driving in France to follow. 

Many French cities are filled with one way roads, so missing a turn-off might mean an extra twenty minutes to get back on your intended route. Having a second person navigating and anticipating the turns is one of the most helpful france driving tips you can follow.

Driving in small French cities really helped my husband and I hone our communication skills. This is actually an important skill to have when you’re traveling full time with your family, and one of the realities of full time travel

We managed to get around France with just Google Maps, but in hindsight, we wished we had one of these French road maps to help us get around the country:

Michelin France Map

France (National Geographic Adventure Map)

Michelin France Atlas Spiral

Walking along a road in Thiers (July 2019)

3. Obey the French driving laws

One of the most important tips for driving in France is to obey the French driving laws. There are pretty strict driving rules in France, and all French drivers have to pass a rigorous driving test in order to get a French license.

What this means for travelers is you’ll need to be aware of the driving rules before you come. One of the most basic rules is that French cars drive on the right side of the road. Other things to know when driving in France is that drivers must be 18 years old and have a valid driver’s license. Drivers must also follow the speed limits. 

Additionally, all cars must have insurance. So if you’re renting a car in France, you need to make sure you have unlimited third party insurance. Most of the time, the cost of car insurance is included in the rental car rate. If your insurance includes breakdown cover (assistance for when you breakdown on the side of the road), that’s an excellent bonus. 

Do some research ahead of time, and possibly write a list of some of the most important rules.

Traffic in Paris (July 2019)

4. Make sure you have an IDP, if you need one

Even if you are old enough to drive and have a license in your home country, that doesn’t necessarily mean you’ll be able to drive in France. While citizens of the United States, Canada, United Kingdom, and the European Union don’t need an international driving permit (IDP) for short term stays of 90 days or fewer, citizens of other countries do. 

Even if you are a citizen from a country that doesn’t require IDPs, it’s still a good idea to get one anyway. Before coming to France, make sure you have an international driving permit. This translates your local driver’s license to something that is readable in France.

If you’re an American citizen, you can get your IDP at an AAA office.

Having an international driving permit (October 2019)

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5. Get used to narrow streets

For an American driving in France, adjusting to driving on French roads can be somewhat challenging. Like most places in Europe, many cities in France were built before the invention of automobiles. That means you might find yourself driving along narrow cobblestone streets. And street signs may not be very large or easily visible.

One of my tips for driving in France is to get used to driving in narrow streets, and avoid renting a big car unless you need to. Also, pay attention to pedestrian-only roads or restricted parking zones. 

Parking signs or pedestrian-only streets might not be clearly marked or familiar to tourists. Be aware as you’re driving around France.

A bridge in Lyon, France (July 2019)

6. Know how to use traffic circle

Also like other countries in Europe, France uses traffic circles (rond-points) on their roads. If you’re not familiar with using a traffic circle, do some practicing before you visit France. 

In general, cars already in the traffic circle have the right of way. But in some cases, cars entering the traffic circle have the right of way. Pay attention to the lines on the road, as they will inform you of which car has the right of way. When merging into the traffic circle, go with the flow of traffic to prevent an accident.

An additional note regarding right of way: when entering an intersection, the car on the right always has the right of way. This is known as priorite a droite, and can apply to traffic circles, as mentioned above.

A traffic circle with a fountain in Lyon (July 2019)

7. Be comfortable with driving a manual transmission 

We didn’t rent a car in France, and instead borrowed one from a friend. But regardless of whether you rent a car or not, one of the handy tips for driving in France for us was to make sure we knew how to drive a manual transmission.

Most rental cars in France use a manual transmission. Rental cars with automatic transmission usually cost more to rent.

Along similar lines, know whether your car takes diesel fuel or petrol. Most gas stations have both, but occasionally they will only have one and not the other. Avoid the unlucky situation of pulling into a gas station and finding out they don’t have the type of gas you need. Check your car ahead of time.

So if you’re traveling on a budget, one of the tips for driving in France is to be comfortable with driving a manual transmission. If you’re a little rusty, practice before your trip so you’re not stalling on your way out of the car rental place.

A car parked on a cobblestone road in Perouges (July 2019)

8. Familiarize yourself with the metric system

The final set of tips for driving in France is to familiarize yourself with the metric system. Unlike the United States and England, France uses kilometers instead of miles to measure distance and speed. One kilometer is roughly .62 of a mile.

Get comfortable with understanding distances in meters. For example, for 100 meters, I like to visualize one football field length, or a straightaway on a running track.

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Buildings along the streets of Lyon (July 2019)

9. Key life-saving tips for driving in France: don’t drink and drive!

France is known for its delicious wine and champagne. And it would be a shame to visit France without sampling some of those beverages. 

However, one of the most life-saving tips for driving in France that you need to remember, especially if you’re visiting with kids, is to not drink and drive. France has strict fines for driving while intoxicated, and you don’t want your vacation to be ruined by a drunk driving accident.

Pedestrians on a street in Thiers (July 2019)

More helpful bonus tips for driving in France

Like other countries in Europe, some of the roads in France are toll roads. Some additional tips for driving in France is to have a few euro coins handy in the car to pay the tolls. If you don’t have any coins on hand, make sure you go into the toll lane that accepts all forms of payment, including credit cards.

Additional driving in France tips include making sure your car has the following items. These items are required by French law:

  • Warning triangle
  • Reflective safety jackets
  • Breathalyzer
  • Beam deflectors

Finally, one of the most important driving tips for France for families is to make sure you have a car seat if your child is under 10 years old. You can opt to rent one through the car rental company, if it’s available. Or you can bring one from home. 

Children under 10 kg must sit in a rear-facing car seat. If your child is between 10-18 kg, they can sit in a front-facing car seat (in the back seat) that has a harness. And children between 15-36 kg can use a booster seat in conjunction with an adult seatbelt.

For kids who can sit in a booster seat, we really liked using BubbleBum inflatable booster seats. They are crash test approved and meet EU safety standards.

See our ideas for keeping kids entertained during long road trips.

Using the BubbleBum for travel (May 2019)

Making your French vacation memorable with these tips for driving in France

Our family had a wonderful time driving through France, and we know you will too. Whether you’re driving through the Loire Valley, or driving around the French Riviera, these tips for driving in France will certainly help you be well prepared for your road trip adventure! 

Have you had a chance to travel in France? Share your advice for driving in France in the comments.

This driving in France guide is just a start to planning a memorable family trip to France. Take a look at our experiences in Paris and Lyon for ideas of things to do in France with kids:

An Easy Paris 3 Day Itinerary For Families

12 Family-Friendly Things To Do In Lyon

Is France just the start of a bigger family adventure? Use my ebook, Hey Kids, Let's Go Travel! as your guide to planning your family gap year!

9 Valuable Tips For Driving In France With Your Family | The Wandering Daughter | Pinterest image of a highway in France with French highway signs above it, and text overlay

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