Wheels, wanderlust and some free time is probably all you need to enjoy a road trip in France and be able to appreciate the diverse landscapes of the country at your own pace. Whether you’re tempted to follow Napoleon’s route, explore the Provence or the French Riviera, you’ll drive through picturesque medieval villages, expansive vineyards and remarkable historic sites.
Driving in France is quite easy thanks to its extensive and well connected autoroute network and generally good local roads. Drivers from non-EU countries may require an International Driving Permit and they are also advised to get acquainted with local driving regulations before they hit the road. They also need to carry at least one reflective jacket within the passenger compartment of the vehicle and wear it in an emergency or break down situation.
Road tripping in France can be an adventure of a lifetime and it can be tempting to want to see as much as possible in a relatively short period of time. That said, bear in mind that France is large, distances can be long and that it can take you quite a bit to go from one place to the other so make sure you take this into consideration when planning your trip. If you’ll be renting a car, try to choose one that is comfortable but not too big as bigger vehicles can be harder to maneuver in the narrower streets in small towns; and for an extra safe journey, you can purchase a CDW from the rental insurance company or you can explore your options beforehand and buy a policy from an independent partner.
Explore Paris and the Ile de France
As most tourists coming from overseas, Paris will be the first French city you’ll visit. Cosmopolitan, charming and romantic, there aren’t enough words to accurately describe the French capital city. Home to world-known monuments such as the Arc de Triomphe, Les Invalides or the Eiffel Tower and with a fantastic food scene, you’ll definitely need at least a week to see the most important highlights it has to offer.
Take a walk along the Seine during the day and then join a cruise in the evening , observe the bohemian side of the city from Montmartre and enjoy the rich Parisian cultural life. Paris is famous for its splendid museums: the impressive Louvre Museum is an absolute must-see followed by the Musee d’Orsay, the Musee Picasso, the Musee du Cluny, the Maison de Victor Hugo, the Musée de l’Orangerie, the Carnavalet Museum, the Maison de Balzac or the Marmottan.
Based in Paris, it’s quite easy to explore the Ile de France, the area surrounding the French capital either in a 3-4 day trip or in isolated single-day trips. The Ile de France road road trip takes you to Fontainebleau, Chartres, Versailles and St. Denis as you drive through highways or picturesque country roads.
Fontainebleau will be your first stop. Fontainebleau is both a hunting lodge for kings and a royal family home. It’s the birthplace of King Louis XIII, where Louis XV got married and where Napoleon I began and ended his reign. With 1500 rooms, Fontainebleau is one of the biggest chateaux in France and the most furnished in Europe. Inside the lavish interiors you’ll find Renaissance masterpieces and refined private apartments. You’ll enjoy strolling through Diana the Hauntress gardens and the forest.
The road trip will then take you westwards towards Our Lady of Chartres Cathedral. Built in exquisite Gothic style, its towers and buttresses holding up the walls that frame the medieval stained glass windows depicting biblical stories are stunning.
Versailles will be your next stop. Since it’s a very popular tourist destination, you’re advised to make reservations beforehand as the queues can be long. There’s so much to see in Versailles that you’ll need plenty of time to explore it thoroughly. Opulence and beauty are the main characteristics of this wonderful palace. There are 2300 rooms at Versailles: over 100 of them showcase the lavish luxury of the former royal residence and there are 100 of them that display a remarkable collection of sculptures and paintings of the Museum of French History. Amongst the highlights you can’t miss are the King’s and Queen’s chambers, the 73-metre-long Hall of Mirrors with its over 350 mirrors and the Chapel. There are also smaller private residences where the kings and queens found some kind of solace from the courtly etiquette. Amongst them, the Grand Trianon and the Petit Trianon are definitely the favourites amongst tourists.
The chateau is surrounded by a famous extensive garden that is the largest museum of outdoor sculptures in the world. There are great figures from Greco-Roman mythology and it is crowned by the famous Dragon Pool with its 27-metre-high fountain.
A visit to St. Denis will be your last stop in this round trip around the Ile de France region. St. Denis is the final resting place of the French Kings with nearly every king from the X to the XVIII centuries being buried there.
Love Wine? Drive the Alsace Wine Route!
The Alsace Wine Route is one of the best road trips in France, especially if you are interested in learning more about the country’s wine history and culture. In this 6-day-long drive you’ll pass by pretty small towns and picturesque landscapes.
The charming town of Strasbourg will be the starting point of this road trip. Strasbourg is the capital of Alsace and it’s a great place to visit. It’s an excellent gateway to the Alsatian countryside and to the delicious Alsatian food. Take your time to explore the delightful districts of Petite France and Place Kleber and don’t miss the Vosges natural park that is nearby.
Your next stop will be Colmar, probably the most beautiful town in Alsace. You’ll love to walk through its multiple canals and join a wine tasting tour! This charming town will seduce you with its half-timbered houses. You can also visit Kaysersberg, Riquewihr or Eighisheim, small cities known for their local wine production.
A road trip along the Alsace Wine Region will give you one of the best opportunities to try the best white wine. But there’s much more to see as well! It’s the home of Joan of Arc and it was once under the German influence. It’s also a great area for biking, hiking and to explore beautiful medieval castles!
Loire Valley Road Trip
The Loire is the longest river in France and the countryside nearby is dotted with grand chateaux and impressive states and the whole area is now a UNESCO World Heritage Site. It’s also one of the most important wine regions in France and a great place to taste the local Sauvignon Blanc.
Follow the Loire Valley road between its famous cities and feel at awe at the natural wonders, opulent architecture, stunning castles and picturesque towns. Get ready to discover Joan of Arc’s legacy in Orleans or ride on a giant machine elephant in Nantes! The Loire Valley road trip is for you if you are interested in visiting historic cities such as Orleans, Blois or Tours with its beautiful old town just to mention a few of them.
Chateau de Chambord is one of the best castles to visit in the area. It was a former hunting lodge built by King Francois I and it is the largest chateau in the region. Chateau de Nitray is another famous chateau in the region and it offers a plethora of splendid spots that are perfect for enjoying a tasty picnic in a wonderful setting. Chateau de Chenonceau is another great castle to visit. Known as “The Lady Castle”, it is very beautiful and offers wine samples for purchase. You can’t miss Château de Cheverny, with its expansive hunting grounds, unique dog kennels and authentic period rooms.
The Napoleon Route runs from Grenoble to Antibes and it takes drivers on a picturesque road trip along the south of France. As it starts from the Auvergne-Rhone-Alpes region, it follows the footsteps of the famous General on his return from exile in Elba as he headed north for Waterloo. It was inaugurated in 1932 and you can see statues of the Imperial French Eagle marking the way, along what is now mainly the N85. Drivers should be aware of the fact that, despite it’s an spectacular road, it is quite challenging as well with switchbacks, sweeping bends and mountainous stretches.
Peaking at almost 1250m at Col Bayard before passing into the towns of Sisteron, Grasse and Digne, you’ll drive past the stunning Gorge du Verdon and beautiful lavender fields. From Castellane to Grasse, the road offers fantastic coastal views, wth lush green slopes dotted with magnificent villas over the Mediterranean.
It’s quite a scenic road and it’s the perfect drive for a week-end if you want to explore wonderful cities and admire some of the most stunning views of the scenery.
Normandy Road Trip
Driving through the beautiful and historically rich Normandy region is one of the best road trips in France. Throughout this road trip you’ll drive past a world-famous garde, green meadows, Normand villages and the famous D-Day beaches.
From Paris, head directly to Monet’s historic home and famous garden in Giverny. Take your time to admire the breathtaking water lilies just in front of the little green bridge and you’ll immediately feel as if you’ve stepped into one of Monet’s impressionist paintings. From there, drive to Honfleur. Located on Normandy’s northern coast, this beautiful harbor is lined with charming medieval architecture and the picturesque wooden Eglise Ste. Catherine. On your way there, stop into Rouen and its gorgeous cathedral Notre Dame de Rouen painted by Monet and follow Joan of Arc’s steps here since she was burnt in this town.
But no visit to Normandy would be complete without visiting the sites related to WWII. Start the journey at Vierville-sur-Mer and Omaha Beach, which was secured by the American soldiers. There, you can’t miss the Normandy American Cemetery and Memorial Museum of Omaha Beach. The restaurants by the beach offer delicious seafood, an excellent stop before continuing with your road trip. As you drive northwards, visit the Merville Battery Museum and admire the Longues-sur-Mer Battery. At Benouville, just north of Caen, look for Pegasus Bridge and its museum, site of the courageous landing gliders of the British 6th Airborne Division! At Ouistreham you can visit Le Grand Bunker, part of the German Atlantic Wall defences and the German Battery to the north.
Gorges du Verdon Road Trip
Located in the south of France, this road trip around Verdon Natural Regional Park is one of the most beautiful and scenic drives in the country. The Gorge du Verdon is a stunning rocky landscape with towering cliffs where a turquoise-green river meanders at the bottom. It’s one of the deepest canyons in Europe and it has been a magnet for tourists, hikers and photographers for ages! It can only be reached by car, van or motorhome. The fastest way to get there is driving from Nice on the A8 towards Marseille. You’ll need to exit at Sainte-Maxime and Saint-Tropez after Frejus and drive north along the routes D1555, D54 and D955 to Comps-sur-Artuba.
The Gorges du Verdon is a great place for rock climbers, trekkers and those interested in admiring the most wonderful views! If you hike to see Notre Dame du Roc, you’ll admire breathtaking sights of the canyon!
Allocate around three days to enjoy this trip. Here are some of the major stops you can’t miss!: Valensole and its beautiful lavender fields, Lac Sainte-Croix-du-Verdon, Sillans la Cascade and its secret waterfall and Grasse, the iconic town for perfume.
Provence Road Trip
Driving through Provence is one of the most beautiful road trips you can do in France. Apart from driving past expansive lavender fields you can also visit some stunning French cities such as Dijon, with its car-free medieval centre and timber gabled houses and cobbled squares; fortified hilltop towns; Lyon; Cassis and the rocky Calanques by the sea and end your trip in the splashier Nice or Cannes.
If you start your trip in Marseille, your next stop can be the village of Aix-en-Provence. You can then spend your next day exploring charming Roussillon, where you can admire ochre quarries and red cliffs amongst a picturesque landscape. Lavender lovers can head to the Valensole region and end the trip in Saint Remy and follow the steps of Vincent Van Gogh there.
La Route des Grandes Alps
Driving across the Alps is not for the faint of heart but, if you love mountainous terrain, then the Route des Grandes Alpes is made for you as it puts the famous French Alps on full display. La Route des Grandes Alpes runs from Lac Léman (Lake Geneva) to Menton on the French Riviera. The road is only open from June to October and, if you drive it from start to finish you’ll be crossing 16 countries!
If you are an avid skier and not only a courageous driver, you can also take advantage of the famous resort towns of Chamonix or Morzine and take a quick race down the slopes. Some other highlights you can include are: visiting Lake Annecy, wandering the breathtaking Gorge du Fier, ascending Mount Blanc in a cable car and admiring breathtaking mountain views at every turn!