Driving from the UK to France – the ultimate guide

Driving from the UK to France – the ultimate guide
With summer fast approaching, we have created a complete travel tips guide for UK drivers looking at taking a journey south to France.

Although many will head to the nearest airport to make the journey – there are many benefits of driving the family car – and many adventures to have along the way.

This guide will give you helpful information to make your drive from the UK to France an unforgettable experience.

Do I need European breakdown cover?

If you’re planning on driving to France in the near future — or anywhere in Europe outside the UK — the first thing you should do is make sure you have European breakdown cover for your entire journey.

The RAC has some great value European breakdown cover options that offer comprehensive cover if you break down, including roadside assistance and a 24/7 English-speaking helpline. 

It's also worth looking at our dedicated advice on what to do if you are planning on driving in France.

READ MORE: Driving abroad? Be prepared, take out European breakdown cover

A common misconception for British tourists looking at having a holiday in France is that driving to the country is difficult, and other methods are more appealing.

However, driving to France can be both simple, enjoyable, and provide a better experience for you and your family.

Advantages of driving to France

Once you are packed and ready to go on your next holiday to France, you can set off towards the south coast.

By choosing to drive, you can start and finish your journey without be stuck in an airport and stick to rigid timings – which are often delayed anyway!

Unlike being at an airport, you can have your own choice of entertainment, food, and passengers.

You are also not restricted to the sights out of a window. There are many amazing places to visit in France, where you can embrace the culture and all that the country has to offer.

From a practical perspective, if you have chosen to drive south, you will be able to take more items with you – and bring more back!

Drivers can also take advantage of towing a caravan and installing a bike rack to see more of the country.

Often holidays can become expensive, especially if you wish to hire a car. These can come with added extras and a lengthy process. Taking your own car eliminates any these challenges.

Know that you know the advantages of driving to France – you need to choose your route to the country.

Driving from England to France – Channel Tunnel

The Channel Tunnel is by far the quickest way to cross the English Channel with your car. But is it the right option for you?

At 23.5 miles long, it is the longest underwater section of any tunnel in the world. The journey starts in Folkestone in Kent and arrives in Calais in northern France.

However, it is not possible to drive any vehicle through the Channel Tunnel. Instead, motorists must drive onto the Eurotunnel Le Shuttle train, which boards at the respective terminals at either end of the track.

The journey lasts around 35 minutes, and prices start from around £50 per vehicle.

If you are unsure on whether to use the tunnel or a ferry – here are some advantages and disadvantages.

Speed of travel is the obvious advantage of using the Channel Tunnel – and there are also up to four departures per hour, while motorway to motorway access makes it quick and easy to continue your journey upon arrival. One ticket covers up to nine passengers and there are no baggage restrictions.

It’s also worth noting that the Folkestone terminal removes 11 miles from the journey to Dover and the service is unlikely to be disrupted by adverse weather conditions. Seasickness won’t be a problem in the Channel Tunnel.

However, there have been a number of high-profile delays and cancellations in recent years.

Strikes and congestion tend to affect services in Dover, Folkestone, and Calais more than any other ferry port along the coasts of the English Channel.

And while some of Eurotunnel’s advertised prices seem reasonable, tickets tend to be more expensive than a ferry from Dover, even if you book well in advance. Spend some time comparing your options, but do book ahead.

The RAC has a complete guide to help you get all the information about the Channel Tunnel.

Driving from England to France – ferries

Your other option to travel to France is to take a ferry. To help you decide which option is best for you, we’ve put together some helpful information you need to know about choosing between the two.

First, the journey via ferry will take longer – around 90 minutes – and you leave at Dover rather than Folkstone.

The ferry is often the cheaper option, and has a lot more to offer travellers. With onboard entertainment, food, and views across the English Channel, it is a more enjoyable experience for many. This is especially true for families with young children.

Also, if you are travelling in a large group, and have multiple cars, then this is the better option as you can all meet up and take a break together.

The RAC has a complete guide that expands on everything between the two options. Learn more here.

In a recent poll by the RAC, 53% said they prefer to take the Channel Tunnel over the ferry – which do you prefer?

What's your favourite way to cross the Channel?

Be prepared

Before you set off on your journey, make sure you take out European breakdown cover, but also have the necessary items packed.

The driving specifications across Europe are slightly different to those in the UK, meaning you need more items in your safety kit than usual.

At the RAC, we have developed this Premium European Driving kit to ensure that you have everything you need to comply with the different driving requirements. Simultaneously, it includes items that can ensure your safety in the case of an emergency and warn other motorists about it.

Pre-journey car checks

Now that you have decided the best route into France, you will want to get packed and ready to go.

An important first step is to do these 12 essential car maintenance checks to ensure the vehicle is in its best condition. This will ensure the safety of you, your passengers and other road users in both countries.

Once you have carried out these checks, you will need to prepare for your road trip.

The RAC has a complete guide to help you and your family get ready for your next road trip. Among the most important tips include sharing the drive, taking regular breaks, packing essential items, how to pack your car, and other items you may have forgotten about.

Are you travelling with your family? These tips will be handy to make the journey as easy as possible.

There are also some important pre-journey items you will need to purchase or install before stating your holiday.

Modern car’s headlights are set up to point towards the nearside – or kerbside – of the vehicle. A right-hand drive car on the right-hand side of the carriage way means this could blind oncoming traffic at night.

Either adjust the angle of your headlights, or fit headlight beam adjusters to compensate and help improve safety by increasing visibility on the nearside. It is mandatory that UK cars driving in France now have headlamp beam converters to avoid dazzling other road users.

You will also need reflective jackets, a warning triangle, spare bulbs – as well as some suggested items such as a breathalyser, snow chains and, for motorcyclists, safety helmets for drivers and passengers.

Also, as of September 28th 2021, the GB sticker that would be attached to the rear of the vehicle has now been replaced with the UK sticker. Drivers do not need a UK sticker if their number plate includes the UK identifier on its own or with the Union Jack flag.

The RAC has a comprehensive list of tips for driving through France. Make sure to check these out as part of your pre-journey preparation.

What documents will I need to drive in France?

Visitors must be aged 18 or over and hold a full, valid UK driving licence to legally drive in France. Riders of mopeds or motorcycles up to 125cc must be aged 16 or over.

You will also need a second proof of ID (such as a passport), car insurance certificate, mot recent MOT certificate, and your V5 registration document. If you are bringing a pet with you – they will also need a passport.

Make sure you also have a copy of your travel insurance, car insurance and European breakdown cover.

Are you thinking of hiring a car for your journey to France? You may want to consider car hire excess insurance from the RAC.

Those of you driving through larger cities will need to buy a French clean air sticker as they are now mandatory in certain areas. If you do not have one you may receive a fine or not be able to enter certain cities at certain times.

These clean air stickers, known as Crit'Air stickers, denote the level of emissions your vehicle produces, and is based on your car's Euro emissions rating.

There's a chance if you drive a slightly older car, it might not be allowed in to certain cities at certain times based on air quality levels on that day.

Speed limits in France

For both new and experienced travellers to France – it is vital that you familiarise yourself with the latest speed limits and rules of the road.

This is especially important as there have been a series of changes over the last decade. All speed limits in France are in km/h rather than mph.

Here at the RAC, we have summarised all the relevant information you will need for your French road trip in this helpful guide about French speed limits.

With the changes now established and with many Brits looking at taking a French road trip in the months ahead – it is vital to familiarise yourself with the speed limits.

Road TypeSped Limit
Motorway130 kph / 80 mph
Dual carriageways110 kph / 70 mph
Main roads outside built up areas/A & B roads80 kph / 50 mph
Main roads within built-up areas50 kph / 30 mph

Tips for driving in France

Now that you have a greater understanding of what you will need for your journey, the rules of the road and some helpful guides for making your journey as perfect as possible, the RAC has a few more tips to help you before you set off.

These 16 pieces of advice will help prepare you for your trip to France.

The guide looks into items you will need, driving rules, legal advice, and some unexpected diving practices.

Planning your route

So – now that you have packed and prepared yourself for the journey to France – it is time to decide where you would like to visit!

The RAC Route Planner can help you find the shortest route and help you on your way.

Be wary that if you are using a sat nav on your journey that displays speed cameras, then you are breaking the law and could face a large fine.

Places to visit in France

France is filled with many incredible places to visit, including major cities, the Alps, the French Riviera and so much more. If you are using France as the start of a European road trip – then there is an almost endless list of places to go.

The country shares borders with 8 countries – Monaco, Spain, Germany, Italy, Belgium, Luxembourg, Switzerland, and Andorra.

When you are in France, you will want to visit the capital Paris – where you can see the Eiffel Tower, Louvre, Notre Dame, Arc de Triomphe, and Champs-Elysees.

Where else should you visit?

Places to visit: Disneyland Paris

Here at the RAC, we have a complete guide to driving to Disneyland Paris.

Do you want to experience the magic of Disney and travel there in the comfort of your own car?

Disneyland Paris is closer than you think, so you and the family could be meeting Mickey and the gang before you know it.

Places to visit: South of France

Although the journey from Calais to the South of France is around 600 miles – it is well worth the journey for all types of holidaymakers.

There’s nothing like a road trip to get a true sense that you’ve travelled. Hitting the open road while sat in the driving seat gives you the freedom to decide your own route and enjoy a unique holiday that’s perfect for you – and this is why the south of France is perfect for you.

We have a separate guide that helps drivers plan their route to the south of France – providing 3 different routes and what you can expect to see along the way.

Where else should you visit in France?

We want to hear from you! Where in France have you visited and what were the highlights? Leave a comment below.

European Breakdown Cover

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*Based on 1 day cover in Zone 1, max 9 people in a vehicle up to 1 year old.