A Parisian’s Guide to Driving in Paris
The quintessential beauty and charm of the French capital are actually the same factors can make driving in Paris a bit of a challenge for the uninitiated. Narrow cobblestone streets, pedestrian areas, ancient architecture and monuments poking out at every turn; it’s oh so charming, but for drivers, it takes some getting used to.
So if you’re planning to do some driving in Paris and haven’t read my first article in this series yet, check it out! Really, it explains everything you need to do before you arrive, from insurance to emissions tests. In this article, I’ll be sharing more tips and guidelines for once you’ve actually arrived in Paris.
What’s the Biggest Challenge when driving in Paris?
Paris is a busy, international city with its very own idiosyncrasies and quirks. A rich history dotted with various wars, the renaissance and punctuated by severly different architectural styles has rendered Paris a city full of tiny, winding one-way streets connecting huge bustling boulevards.
In Paris, you have to pay attention. This is essential to your survival if you’re driving in Paris. Pedestrians, bicylces, scooters and cars weave in and out of traffic, honking and swerving and speeding to make the next light. It sounds a bit scary, and it should. But if you read this guide and follow the rules of the road, your drive in Paris will be safe and stress-free.
Rules of the Road
Now, let’s get on to the most important part: the rules. Reading the rules of the road, or the Code de la Route as it’s known in French, is indispensable. Especially if you’re going to be driving in Paris! I’ve highlighted some of the most important rules and differences below, but the more you know, the better!
Who has the right of way?
The right of way in France, and in Paris is pretty similar to the laws in other Western European countries: you must always yield to vehicles on your right. This is known as priorité à droite in French.
This means if you’re on a main boulevard, and another vehicle wants to enter your lane of traffic from a street on your right, you must yield to let them in. Easy enough in practice, this rule just takes a little getting used to. Luckily, there aren’t any four-way stops in Paris, and most intersections are controlled.
The Speed Limit
The speed limit in France is expressed in kilometers per hour, and while the speed limit changes depending on the type of road and location, we’ll stick to Paris for the purpose this article.
In Paris, the speed limit on large avenues and most boulevards is 50km per hour (around 30mph) but there are reduced speed areas throughout the city. On smaller streets, the speed is often reduced to 30km per hour, especially in busy pedestrian areas and school zones. The speed limit is usually painted on the ground, as well as displayed on a sign if it’s a reduced speed area.
No Free Right on Red
Unlike in places like the U.S. there is no such thing as “free right on red” in France. In Paris, you must stop at every red light, and you cannot turn either direction until the light turns green. Then you must yield to oncoming and through traffic.
But look carefully, traffic lights are usually mounted on a pole on the side of the road, rather than overhead. In some streets like the Boulevard Saint-Germain for example, the lights can be almost impossible to see until you’re at the intersection, but it helps to know where to look!
Roundabouts: what they are and how to navigate them
Roundabout is the English word for those huge places which connect multiple large Boulevards and smaller streets. There’s usually a monument or large statue in the middle. You’ll find them all over Paris, but the most famous are Place de l’Etoile (around the Arc de Triomphe) Place de la Concorde, and Place de la Madeleine.
Now roundabouts can seem chaotic and scary, and they’re certainly dangerous if you don’t know what you’re doing. But just remember a few rules and tips, and you’ll be a pro in no time.
- You must yield to vehicles entering the roundabout.
- Be aware. Check your mirrors and blind spots CONSTANTLY – the traffic in Paris moves at lightning speed, and scooters are famous for darting through even the narrowest gaps here.
- Stay calm but confident. Drivers use their horns like extra punctuation in Paris, and you will hear them. Don’t let it throw you off.
- You may even need to be a little pushy in order to exit the roundabout. This takes practice, and you can always go around again if you don’t make it the first time.
Although driving in Paris can be super convenient at times, I firmly believe that Paris is best explored on foot. And the city does its best to cater to the Parisian art of flâner; basically happy wandering with no specific destination. Many lively areas of the city like the Rue Mouffetard, Rue Montorgeuil, and Rue Cler are always pedestrian-only. And on Sundays, many other parts of the city close to motor vehicles. Neighborhoods in Montmartre, near the Canal Saint-Martin and le Marais to name a few, are pedestrian friendly on Sundays.
Check out some of our guided walking tours here!
In these zones, the traffic is restricted or gone all together, so you can walk, shop, and cycle in peace. However; if you’re driving in Paris, it’s important to make note of these zones piétonnes. On Sundays, as mentioned above, there are often entire neighborhoods closed off. Which may mean you need to find an alternate route, or park further away than what you’d planned.
In this case, I love to use the app Waze. If you don’t have Waze yet, I seriously recommend it. Not only has it saved me so much time, but also helped me discover quicker routes in the city and outside Paris. Basically Waze is a free GPS app updated in real time, by other drivers. It alerts you to road closures, construction, police deviations, and even accidents so you can avoid these hassles during your drive in Paris.
Parking in Paris
Parking in Paris can be tricky, especially if you don’t know all the different options and regulations. But don’t worry, that’s what this guide is for!
There are two different kinds of parking places you’ll come across in Paris: street parking, or private parking garages. Both cost money, though street parking is generally more affordable.
In the city limits, all street parking is payant Monday through Saturday from 9:00-20:00, and you pay per hour. Sundays and public holidays are free parking days. Generally, you can park for up to 6 hours at a time if you don’t have a resident pass, and up to a week at a time with a pass (you must be able to prove Paris residency to obtain a pass).
In the city center, parking was approximately €4,00 per hour at the time of publication. On the outskirts you can end up paying less, but it depends where.
Check out the map below to get a better idea of prices around the city.
Different Kinds of Street Parking
On any given street in Paris, there are delivery parking places marked in yellow livraison, as well as regular paid places marked in white payant . Be on the lookout because there are very arerly any signs designating where to park, it’s usually just marked on the ground next to the space.
During the week, your only option is to choose payant; however, on Saturday evenings you can park in the livraison places for free after 20:00 (Sundays are free).
You may also see transport des fonds or handicapé meaning armored vehicles and disbaled parking respectively. Avoid these places unless you want a hefty fine.
When you find a parking place, you’ll have to go to the nearest kiosk to pay. The kiosks are usually located on every block, and you need to enter your license plate nulber, so be sure to have that handy. You can also pay online if you download the P’Mobile app here.
Once you’ve paid and got your ticket, you’ll need to display it on the car. In Paris, you’re meant to leave the proof of parking on your dashboard. If you don’t pay, you risk a fine or amende of €35, and if you park in a delivery or unauthorized space, your car will be towed and impounded.
You can easily find a parking garage in almost every Parisian neighborhood. Indigo parking is the most common, but there are often several options around major sights and monuments, such as the Louvre. You can compare all the city’s parking garages and see available spots on this website.
Parking garages cater more to business clients commuting to the city for work, or those who plan to stay several hours at a time. You can plan on paying €50 and up for a day of parking in a city parking garage.
Tips for Driving in Paris
The most important piece of advice I can give you for driving in Paris is to be aware. With small densely-packed streets and huge commercial boulevards full of Parisian drivers, bicyclists, pedestriants, motorcycles and scooters darting in and out.. You really can’t be too careful. Pay a little more attention than usual to what’s going on around you, and you’ll be fine.
Where to Refuel in Paris?
And there is one last thing, where to refuel in Paris! There aren’t a lot of gas stations or station-service in the city, and the ones that do exist are pretty well spread out across Paris.
If you’re planning to drive into the Paris from another country or somewhere else in France, I reccomend that you fill up your tank before entering the city. That’s because gas and diesel are WAY more expensive in the city.
In France, you pay for your fuel or petrol by the liter, and it doesn’t come cheap. Within Paris, you can expect to pay €1.70 or more per liter! That comes out to over €6.80 a gallon for those of us using the imperial system. Staggering, no?
Well the good news is, there are a few places in Paris where you can find fuel cheaper than average, but it will still cost you more than outside the city. Generally, the larger the company, the cheaper the fuel. In Paris, I usually go to Total Access, which is a large company with several stations around Paris (the one in the 13th on Boulevard Vincent Auriol is the best in my opinion). I find that gas is generally a few centimes cheaper per liter here. But they also have perks like air machines, tire pressure checks and a bucket/brush to clean your windshield.
Well, now you have all the information you need for a safe and stress-free drive in Paris. I hope this guide has been helpful to you!
As always, please don’t hesitate to contact us if you have any questions or comments, we love hearing from our readers.
Hope to see you soon in Paris!