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Driving in Europe


ABOVE: A vintage cabriolet on a corniche road in Luxembourg. INSET BELOW: Minicars in Montmarte, Parisian parking.

photoCar 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 in 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

photoMany 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.

Next page: Renting and driving tips

In this article:
Renting and driving tips
General driving links
Driving links by country
Route planners, where to get a car

Other articles about driving in Europe:
Car rentals: When to rent, when to lease
Rental-car isurance
Short-term car leasing
Car or train? (A quiz to help you decide)
International Driving Permit
Europe by van and motorhome