Photo Credit: Hassaan Aamir
Driving through any major city can often be a nightmare. So is the case with Paris. With the concentration of people in the administrative and financial capital of France, Paris streets are often crowded and congested. Since it also happens to welcome the maximum number of tourists to France, and is one of the world’s top tourist destinations, Paris has developed a reputation for being a difficult place to navigate.
As with any big and busy city, the traffic in Paris is concentrated around the city centre. Though efforts have been made in recent years to spread out the concentration of offices, the city centre is still the busiest part of the city. Add the fact that it also contains the world’s most famous shopping area, the Champs Elysee and a plethora of tourist attractions that people from all around the world come to see, driving around in the city centre is often a nightmare.
Anyone who can navigate Paris’ traffic can be said to have the heart of a true Parisian. Parisians like to drive their cars fast, and they have no use for stragglers who won’t hurry up. So taking all this into consideration, how to survive driving in Paris?
If you still decide to drive, do a car hire from a local car company. There are many such as Hertz, National Car and Europcar. Parisian drivers are often kinder to other Parisians because they are assumed to know the rules, so having a licence plate from the same city might help with confidence. However, you can still drive with your driver’s licence or an international driver’s licence, and need not have a French licence for driving around Paris.
One common sense solution would be to avoid peak hours completely. This should solve half the problems because the peak hours are the worst. But as a tourist, you might want to sample the delights of Paris’ beautiful monuments lighted up at night. The Eiffel Tower is especially lovely. Also, you might want to dine out in one of the lovely restaurants in Paris centre. If you cannot possibly avoid peak traffic hours for this or some other reason, then there are some things you can do.
Familiarise yourself with the route you intend to take. Between the large and spacious boulevards of the city centre, there are small, narrow roads you will have to navigate. It is very easy to get lost in these places, so investing in a good map is essential. Planning out the route beforehand also saves a lot of heartache. This way, you know where you are going and are not distracted by side roads leading you away from your destination. Priority is always given to to drivers coming from the right, so watch out for cars or motorcycles.
Learn some French so that you can read the road signs. It is important to know where to exit the road, where parking is allowed and so on. It is also a good idea to learn the signs that the French use for directing traffic. Parking is a major problem in the city centre; it is the one insurmountable problem that no amount of planning or plotting can overcome. You either get lucky, or you don’t. We hope you do get lucky!
Ultimately, what matters is that you are ready for new experiences, and learning new things. For more information, consult the Fodor’s Travel Intelligence site, which has some great tips. While it looks difficult and dangerous, once you manage to learn the art of driving in Paris, it can be quite fun.
John is a freelance travel writer based in the UK