Driving in Europe
ABOVE: A vintage cabriolet on a corniche road in Luxembourg.
INSET BELOW: Minicars in Montmarte, Parisian parking.
travel in Europe can be a joy or a nightmare, depending on where and when you
drive. During August, when countless millions of Europeans pack up their family
cars and drive to the beaches or mountains, traffic jams can rob even the most
scenic European touring routes of their charm. And at any time of year, driving
a major city like London, Paris, or Rome can be nerve-wracking (or at
least unpleasant) to the foreign tourist.
When to come
Spring and fall are the best times for a motoring vacation in Northern and
Central Europe. In Southern Europe, winter can also be pleasant if you avoid the
Christmas break. If your vacation is tied to the school calendar, try visiting
in June, before the summer season reaches its peak.
Where to go
Many tourists, especially those from North America, make the mistake of
planning car itineraries built around Europe's largest cities. They end up
having to cope with nerve-wracking traffic, scarce parking, and unfamiliar
regulations--all while trying to catch a glimpse of the sights through a mass of
cars, motorscooters, bikes, and tour buses.
Other driving strategies are more practical:
- Take the train between major cities. Rent cars for local or regional
excursions, or for legs of your trip (e.g., Paris to the Riviera) where
you want to stop and enjoy sights along the way.
- Plan a motoring tour around smaller cities and towns. Enjoy your week in
London or Paris without a vehicle, then pick up your rental car and
start driving. Save other big cities for a future trip. (And don't be
tempted to stay in a suburban hotel and commute into the city center--you'll
miss out on the essence of the cities you're visiting.)
- Visit a country like Denmark, Norway, or Sweden where even the largest
cities are relatively car-friendly and you can leave town for driving excursions
with a minimum of hassle.
Renting and driving tips
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Need a car in Europe?
If you live outside the EU,
a tax-free Renault or Peugeot tourist car lease can be cheaper than renting
for visits of 21+ days. Minimum driver age is 18, there' s no upper age
limit, and rates include insurance.
For car rentals under 21 days:
Traveling by train?
Get free schedules, maps,
and guides for 50+ European railroads. (Residents of North and Central
America can buy tickets and rail passes online.)
From Durant and Cheryl Imboden:
About Europe for Visitors