The Tour de France guide - the route, dates and how to plan your road trip

What better way to spend your summer than by following the world’s greatest cycling competition, the Tour de France, as it winds its way through lush French countryside?

As well as taking in some of France’s most stunning scenery, the race is also surprisingly easy to get to from the UK, meaning you could be soaking up the atmosphere sooner than you might think.

To help get your inspiration rolling, here’s our guide to everything you need to know about driving to the Tour de France.

Jump to:

What is the Tour de France?
When is the 2019 Tour de France?
Where is the 2019 Tour de France?
Can I drive to the Tour de France?
Where’s the best place to watch the Tour de France?
Can I follow every stage of the Tour de France?
What can I expect when driving to see the Tour de France?
Where should I stay when seeing the Tour de France?
Anything else I need to know about driving to the Tour de France?
What do I need to remember before driving in France?
What do I need to remember before I start my road trip?
Do I need European breakdown cover to drive in France?
What happens if I break down in France?
Useful links for your road trip

 


What is the Tour de France?

Put simply, the Tour de France – or Le Tour, as the locals call it – is the world’s greatest cycling competition, held every summer across a series of stages that criss-cross the stunning French countryside.

First held in 1903 as a promotional event for sports newspaper L’Auto, these days the Tour is one of Europe’s most iconic sporting occasions, with 21 day-long stages taking place over the course of 23 days every July.

Cyclists from across the world take part in the Tour, with around 175 riders competing in teams of eight for the coveted winner’s yellow jersey, in stages taking place across a series of physically-challenging terrains.

In recent years, UK riders have been among the Tour’s most successful. In fact six of the seven events held since 2012 have been won by UK riders: Sir Bradley Wiggins, Chris Froome (four times) and 2018’s winner, Geraint Thomas.

When is the 2019 Tour de France?

The 2019 edition of the Tour de France starts on Saturday 6th July, with 21 stages taking place over the following 23 days until the final stage sweeps into Paris and the Champs Elysees on Sunday 28th July.

Where is the 2019 Tour de France?

This year’s Tour will kick off in the Belgian capital of Brussels. It’s become popular for the opening stage(s) of the Tour to take place outside of France, with the UK hosting twice: London and Kent in 2007 and Yorkshire in 2014

After heading south across the border into France, the route travels from Alsace in the east down to the Pyrenees in the far south, before the popular mountain stages in the Alps and electric final stage in Paris:

Can I drive to the Tour de France?

Yes, you can. There are plenty of stages of the Tour de France that are within a day’s drive of Calais, meaning it’s surprisingly easy for UK cycling fans to get a taste of the famous competition from the comfort of their own car.  

In fact, because the Tour passes through France so quickly and often in rural areas with no public transport links, many fans prefer to drive to the race so they can catch more of the action.

However, whichever stage (or stages) you decide to watch, the first thing you’ll need to do is cross the English Channel — either by taking a ferry from Dover or Portsmouth, or the Channel Tunnel from Folkestone.

RAC members and insurance customers get exclusive P&O Ferries discounts:

Find out more

Once you’re in France, your onward journey will largely depend on which stage you’re wanting to see, with the majority of this year’s stages taking place on the Eastern side of the country.

Wherever you go in France (or indeed, Belgium), make sure you’re prepared by researching all the local legal requirements for motorists (link to country guides) before you leave home and taking out European Breakdown Cover that meets your needs.

European Cover from just £6 per day^

​The RAC provide you with up to £1,250 worth of roadside assistance in Europe, starting from just £6^ per day.

Where’s the best place to watch the Tour de France?

Whether you’re watching on the top of a mountain, in a medieval French village or among the finish-line crowds on the Champs Elysees, there’s nothing quite like soaking up the atmosphere of the Tour de France in person.

The mountain stages in the Alps and the Pyrenees are among the most popular with fans wanting to see riders battle gravity in steep inclines along winding mountain roads, with the dramatic scenery creating an unforgettable spectacle.

The 2019 edition of the Tour has plenty of chances for mountain-top spectating, with 12 separate stages taking the riders close to or above 1,000 metres in altitude across the Alps, Pyrenees, Vosges mountains and the Massif Central.

However, wherever you view the race you’ll be treated to an unforgettable experience as thousands of locals and visitors line the route across the country, cheering on the riders and creating that unmistakable Tour atmosphere.

Can I follow every stage of the Tour de France?

That’s unlikely. The tour moves through France so quickly that it would be almost as impressive to follow every stage of the Tour with your car as it would to cycle it yourself.

Many fans will instead base themselves in just one area, as the logistics of moving between stages is often too much for even the most dedicated fan, particularly around the harder-to-reach mountain stages.

That said, if you do your research beforehand and choose the right area to base yourself, you’ll be able to watch a few stages quite easily while giving yourself time to check out some of the other surrounding sights and attractions.  

What can I expect when driving to see the Tour de France?

As anyone who’s visited the Tour by car will tell you, there are two main things you can expect when taking your car to the race itself: plenty of road closures and plenty of traffic.

Once you’ve decided on your destination, check local websites (or the local tourist office when you arrive) and find out when the peloton is expected to pass by and when local roads will be closed so you’re not caught out on the day.

To stay ahead of the traffic caused, in part, by these closures, many fans will park up near the route early in the morning and then walk or cycle to their viewing point and wait for the riders to come past.

It’s unlikely you’ll be able to get back to your car straight after the riders pass by, as the peloton is followed by around an hour’s worth of support vehicles and the police often don’t let fans cross the road during this time.

Where should I stay when seeing the Tour de France?

There are plenty of options when it comes to visiting the Tour but in order to get what you want it’s always a good idea to book well in advance to avoid disappointment.

Some fans choose to plan their trips around the Tour’s two rest days, allowing more time to soak up the atmosphere. This year’s rest days take place in Albi and Nimes in southern France, on July 16th and 22nd respectively.

For the time-pressured fan, Albi is probably the best place to base yourself for 2019’s tour, with three stages taking place nearby and the popular Toulouse and Carcassonne just a short drive away for an extra day or two of sightseeing.

Hotel rooms will often get booked up quickly when the tour locations for the next year are announced in autumn, however there are often cancellations in May and June as the teams themselves change their travel arrangements.

Fans traveling by car will often prefer to camp as this can offer more flexibility than a hotel booking and offers a great way to connect with the beautiful French countryside. Be aware that the more popular camping sites will get full.

Anything else I need to know about driving to the Tour de France?

The most important thing to remember when watching a stage of the Tour is to arrive early because you don’t want road closures and traffic jams putting all your efforts to drive down to the south of France to waste.

Before the riders appear, the ever-popular ‘publicity caravan’ passes through, where sponsorship vehicles give out free gifts to spectators (think chocolate, key rings and the occasional cap), so don’t miss out on grabbing the freebies!

Chances are you’ll be waiting a long time before the action starts, so make sure you’re prepared for a whole day on a roadside verge by taking along plenty of food, drink and sunscreen.  

What do I need to remember before driving in France?

Driving on the other side of the Channel is different from driving in the UK, so before grabbing your replica yellow jersey, prepare yourself and your car for France’s driving laws and requirements.

These range from carrying warning triangles and hi-vis vests to Crit’Air clean air stickers, while motorists should also remember that the French drive on the right and have different speed and drink-drive limits to the UK.

The RAC Driving in France kit will help you meet some of these laws, but you should always research the specific requirements for you and your car if driving in another country.

Driving in France Kit from £24.99

Did you know, you could be fined up to €530 for not carrying the right kit?

For more information on what you’ll need to drive to the Tour safely and legally, check out our top 10 tips for driving in France and make sure you don’t get caught out.

And don’t forget, if you want to take in the start of the Tour you’ll be heading to Belgium, so do your research before you leave home and make sure you’re equipped with everything you need for the Belgian roads.

What do I need to remember before I start my road trip?

Before heading off on any long journey, it’s always important to carry out some essential maintenance checks at home to ensure your car is tip-top condition and you’ll get to your destination – and back – safely.

The RAC encourages motorists to remember the acronym ‘FORCES’ when carrying out car checks: Fuel, Oil, Rubber, Coolant, Electrics, and Screenwash. Check our tips for avoiding a breakdown for more information on FORCES.  

You should also remember to take along a few road trip essentials for the journey, including a first aid kit, additional engine oil and water, a mobile phone charger and snacks and games, especially if you’re travelling with children.

Do I need European breakdown cover to drive in France?

Whether you choose to catch the Tour in Belgium or France, the first thing you need to make sure is that you have breakdown insurance that covers the entirety of your trip.

The RAC has some great value European breakdown cover options that offer comprehensive cover if you break down on your way to the Tour de France, offering roadside assistance and a 24/7 English-speaking helpline.

European Cover from just £6 per day^

​The RAC provide you with up to £1,250 worth of roadside assistance in Europe, starting from just £6^ per day.

What happens if I break down in France?

Depending on the level of your European breakdown cover, the RAC will pay towards any garage labour costs, onward travel expenses and accommodation fees — something to consider if you’ve got a Tour stage to catch.

To find out everything you need to know about breaking down on the continent, and to get the right quote that meets your needs, check out our complete guide to RAC European breakdown cover.

Useful links for your trip

 

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^Price for 1 day cover for up to 9 people travelling in a vehicle up to 1 year in zone 1.

*Comparison based on top standalone cover levels from other major providers. Visit www.rac.co.uk/eurocompare for full details.

RAC European Breakdown cover arranged and administered by RAC Financial Services Limited (Registered No 05171817) and provided by RAC Insurance Ltd (Registered No 2355834). Registered in England; Registered Offices: RAC House, Brockhurst Crescent, Walsall WS5 4AW. RAC Financial Services Limited is authorised and regulated by the Financial Conduct Authority in respect of insurance mediation activities. RAC Insurance Ltd is authorised by the Prudential Regulation Authority and regulated by the Financial Conduct Authority and the Prudential Regulation Authority.

^Price for 1 day cover for up to 9 people travelling in a vehicle up to 1 year in zone 1.

*Comparison based on top standalone cover levels from other major providers. Visit www.rac.co.uk/eurocompare for full details.

RAC European Breakdown cover arranged and administered by RAC Financial Services Limited (Registered No 05171817) and provided by RAC Insurance Ltd (Registered No 2355834). Registered in England; Registered Offices: RAC House, Brockhurst Crescent, Walsall WS5 4AW. RAC Financial Services Limited is authorised and regulated by the Financial Conduct Authority in respect of insurance mediation activities. RAC Insurance Ltd is authorised by the Prudential Regulation Authority and regulated by the Financial Conduct Authority and the Prudential Regulation Authority.