Driving guides

A guide to driving in Paris

Including parking tips, clean air rules and big changes to come in 2023

Travelling by car into Paris

Driving in the centre of Paris is possible – for now – but there are things you need to know. This article explains how to get into the capital by car, gives advice for driving around the centre as well as a few tips on how to park. 

All Eurotunnel passengers should be aware that in 2023, things are destined to change. Paris Mayor Anne Hidalgo, who’s been in office since 2014, has always had her eye on green issues and although the city’s Crit'Air anti-pollution system (more below) has seemed like it doesn’t go far enough, Hidalgo now plans to ban through-traffic in the first four arrondissements (Parisian neighbourhoods) next year; that’s 7% of the whole city and includes the main tourist zone, spanning both Left and Right Bank, and stretching from Place de la Bastille in the east to Place de la Concorde in the west.

Over 900 miles of bike lanes have been created over the past seven years and the city turned 40 miles of its roads into bike lanes – or corona-pistes - during the first lockdown, as well as making massive squares like Place de la Madeleine, Place de la Nation and Place de la Bastille more pedestrian-friendly recently. Hidalgo’s commitment extends to banning all diesel cars from the city by 2024, and all petrol cars by 2030.

La Périphérique

The first thing you have to navigate when you approach Paris in the car is the Périphérique ringroad or La Périph (pronounced ‘pey-reef’) to locals. It’s like the M25 but a lot smaller (21 miles around, in comparison to 117) and much more central.

Click here for information on journey times for driving to Paris from the UK and route advice.

Driver point-of-view look at the road signs hanging above a Paris motorway, signalling to Rouen, Orly airport and the Peripherqique Interieure.

You’ll get on the Périph via one of the Portes (aka junctions) dotted around the city’s circumference; there are generally four lanes and all exits are on the right. So far, so simple? Well, think again. 

The French have thrown in a curveball or two, the first of which is the direction of travel: the Périphérique is divided into an outer and an inner ring, one of which goes clockwise and the other anti-clockwise, so plan your route carefully. 

The second wrinkle is the lack of hard shoulder, which means that when accidents/breakdowns happen, the road gets snarled up quickly and lengthy tailbacks occur. 

The speed limit on the Périph is 70kph but it’s anyone’s guess how many people follow it stringently despite the regular sprinkle of fixed and mobile speed cameras. Keep your eyes peeled for cameras, and for scooters and motorbikes weaving in and out of your peripheral vision at hairy speeds. 

You’ll see plenty of petrol stations on the Périph so stock up on fuel before leaving the ringroad and venturing into the belly of the beast. Final word of advice: French drivers love a horn so don’t let the stereo crescendo of hoots and toots distract you from your driving.

Check traffic information on the Périph and advice on less congested routes here:

www.infotrafic.fr
www.bison-fute.equipement.gouv.fr
www.securiteroutiere.gouv.fr

Driving in the centre of Paris

Paris may have a backbone boulevards and spacious squares, but it also has a million veins of tiny narrow cobblestone streets connecting everything. It can be a sensory overload to drive there with cars honking, car shuddering, statues looming, motorbikes revving and policemen whistling all around you. 

Read our guide on Paris’ hidden gems here.

We’ve compiled some dos and don’ts to driving in Paris:

Clean air zone in Paris

Crit’Air is France’s national system for controlling pollution levels in cities; you have to display a sticker in your car to show how polluting your vehicle is. Central Paris is part of a permanent low-emissions zone (ZCR) that means all vehicles need to display a Crit’Air vignette to be allowed entry during certain times. The sticker is cheap (€3.11 plus postage) but you need to apply via official channels ahead of travel because you’ll be fined if you’re seen driving without one.

A view of the Luxor obelisk in Place de la Concorde in Paris alongside a large road busy with cars

Right of way

Always yield to vehicles on your right; you’ll see ‘priorité à droite’ signs reminding you to do so.

Speed limits in Paris

The speed limit on the bigger roads is 50km per hour (around 30mph) but this reduces to 30km per hour in small streets, busy pedestrian areas and school zones. The speed limit is painted on the ground or on road signs.

French traffic lights

You have to stop at every red light. Traffic lights are usually mounted on a pole on the side of the road and can sometimes be hard to spot. 

Pedestrian areas or zones piétonnes

Some areas of Paris are always pedestrian-only and some just close to vehicles on Sundays;  we’re thinking Montmartre, Canal Saint-Martin and le Marais to name but a few.

Parking in Paris

As you may expect in a big city, parking in Paris isn’t easy. If your hotel or holiday accommodation has a parking option, snap it up. Otherwise, it’s a choice between on-street payable parking or underground car parks. 

The latter are labelled with a big white P on a blue background and are mostly charged by the hour and open 24/7 with security thrown in. For street parking, you’ll use a pay-and-display machine once you find a space (good luck!) but these usually take a card you have to purchase from a nearby Tabac.

To avoid this faff, there are a few apps which could be invaluable for a road trip to Paris. Research and download OpnGO, Parclick and BePark to find, reserve and pay for parking in the city and also check Saemes which owns quite a few car parks in touristy areas like Notre Dame and the Eiffel Tower.

Parking costs between €4 and €6 per hour but is usually free after 8pm and on Sundays and public holidays. Don’t park in areas meant for deliveries (livraisons) and taxis – if you park illegally in Paris, you might get clamped or towed.

Checklist of things you need in your car:

  • Driving licence with registration or proof of ownership, or a rental agreement
  • Valid passport for driver and all passengers (don’t forget, you must be 18 years old to drive in France)
  • Proof of valid car insurance 
  • Safety equipment including a warning triangle and reflective vest (for every passenger) in your car 
  • A Crit'Air sticker
  • A UK sticker on the rear of your car 
  • Full set of replacement bulbs for head and taillights 
  • Spare pair of glasses 
  • Headlight converters 
  • Breathalyser test

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About the Author

I am a journalist and editor, covering a wide range of lifestyle and travel subjects but always returning to my first love, France. Born unfortunately to non-French parents, I have spent my life trying to make up for it by spending as much time as I can in France or writing about it, studying the language, tirelessly dragging my children round all six sides of l'Hexagone, and endlessly chuntering to my husband about moving there.

To read more from Rachel, click here.

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