Self-drive holiday tips and itineraries

Tips for driving in Europe

November 18, 2014 (Last Updated: June 2, 2022)
by Carolyn
Tips for driving in Europe

When planning their travels around Europe, many Australians and other non-Europeans, are keen to hire a car for at least some of their trip but are, understandably, apprehensive about driving in Europe for the first time.  

Already concerned about how to drive on the right in Europe, navigating through busy streets that are often very narrow and one-way, can quickly raise the blood pressure even higher. 

But don’t let those concerns put you off. Driving a car in Europe has many benefits including the freedom to go where you want, when you want. 

In this article, I’ve compiled a list of driving in Europe tips that I share with friends and family before they head off on a self-drive holiday in Europe.  I hope they are helpful for you, too. 

Driving in Europe guide

The number one question I’m asked by those planning to see Europe by car is about the legal requirements for driving in Europe as a tourist. Below are some guidelines. 

Licence requirements 

A full licence from your home country is one of the legal requirements for driving in Europe.  This must be presented on collection of your rental car and when requested by the police.  

Whilst not necessarily a requirement of the rental car companies, all non-EU licence holders are advised to carry an International Driving Permit (IDP) when driving in Europe.   

An IDP is mandatory in some European countries and, should you be stopped by police, you may be asked to present one. Failure to do so can result in a fine of hundreds of Euros. 

Driving age

In most European countries, the legal driving age (unsupervised) is 18, however most rental car companies do not rent vehicles to drivers aged under 21. Higher rates often apply for drivers aged between 21 and 25. 

Drivers aged between 18 and 21 years who are asking “how can I drive in Europe?” could consider the Peugeot Leasing scheme. This arrangement allows drivers from 18 years of age to lease a vehicle provided they hold a full licence in their home country. 

Do I need to advise the hire car company of additional drivers? 

In most cases the answer is yes. Many hire car companies will charge a fee for an additional driver so make sure this is done at the time of vehicle collection. All nominated drivers will have to show their valid driver’s license and IDP.

For those taking advantage of the Peugeot, Citroen and Renault tax-free leasing program in Europe*, generally speaking, additional drivers who are related to the main driver are included for no extra charge but you should check your contract to make sure this is the case.

Driving a car in Europe: common concerns and questions

Tips for driving in Europe

Which side of the road do they drive on? 

In continental Europe vehicles drive on the right-hand side of the road. In the United Kingdom and Ireland, vehicles drive on the left-hand side of the road. 

Is it easy to drive in Europe? 

There’s no easy answer to this question as every driver is different but once you adapt to sitting on the other side of the car, you’ll probably find that it’s not much different to driving at home. 

With a few days’ driving under your belt, you’ll probably find driving a right-hand drive vehicle in Europe is pretty straight forward. 

Should I attempt driving in European cities?

Personally, I’d always try to avoid driving in European cities if possible as not only can the amount of traffic make life difficult, parking spaces can be hard to find and expensive. 

Some cities, like Florence, have restrictions on vehicles in the town centre with fines imposed for those entering the ‘forbidden’ areas. Unexpectedly ending up in the wrong part of town could see you hit with an added holiday expense! 

Use the excellent public transport system whilst visiting London, Paris, Rome, etc. and save the car hire for travelling between destinations and rural driving.

European motorway with snow

How to choose the best car to drive around Europe

When it comes to choosing the best car to travel around Europe in, you’ll need to take in to consideration not only the number of passengers the car has to hold but also the number of suitcases and additional luggage. 

If there are only two people travelling, a compact car will probably suffice but if you are travelling as a family or two couples, a mid-size car might not have enough boot (trunk) space for all your luggage.

On one trip to Europe we rented a 9-seater vehicle for our six-person group mainly because we didn’t think six suitcases and our added paraphernalia would fit in the boot of a 7-seater car. Whilst the vehicle was less nimble and much more difficult getting into underground car parks (Tip: avoid this parking option if at all possible!!), it turned out to be a wise move. 

There was plenty of space in the rear for all the luggage and the passengers weren’t squashed in the back seats so in this instance the larger vehicle was the best car for touring Europe.

Driving around Europe costs

Once you’ve chosen the size of vehicle that is going to suit your tour around Europe by car the best, it’s time to work out your Europe road trip costs. 

The major expense for your self-drive Europe trip will be the cost of hiring or leasing the car so do shop around to get the best deal. Car hire consolidators access rates from numerous companies and offer you the  best available rental car rates. Compare the inclusions from each supplier to ensure you are getting the best value. 

Early bird deals are released each year and these can save you a substantial amount if you are prepared to book and pay in advance.

Should I pay extra to rent a GPS/Sat Nav?

A GPS, or satellite navigation system, is the traveller’s best friend and is well worth paying an additional cost for. 

Whilst many late-release vehicles have Sat Nav systems installed, they are not always activated by the car hire companies so you may need to pay extra to have your vehicle’s GPS turned on.  If the daily ‘hire’ rate makes the cost prohibitive, consider taking a GPS from home or purchasing one when you arrive in Europe or the UK.

Whilst not fool-proof, a GPS will make driving in Europe as a tourist a whole lot less stressful.

One-way drop-off fees

One way drop-off fees are the bug bear of those driving between countries in Europe. These fees generally apply if you pick up a vehicle in one country and drop it off in another country. 

The car rental companies claim the one-way fee is to recover the cost of relocating the vehicle back to the country of origin, but many a time you’ll be dropping off a car that is registered in the country you are returning it to, so you wonder if it is always a valid reason.

To avoid drop off fees, try returning your vehicle to the same country in which you collect it. Geneva, for example, whilst a Swiss city, borders France, so returning your car to another country may just involve driving a few extra kilometres.

Other driving in Europe costs

There are more expenses, such as insurance, fuel, tolls and vignettes which you’ll need to budget for in your road trip around Europe costs. 

Tips for driving in Europe

Planning a road trip through Europe 

Having decided that you’re ready to drive in Europe, the fun part starts. Planning how to tour Europe by motorhome or car is almost as much fun as the trip itself. Plotting the itinerary for your Europe road trip is exciting but it can also be time consuming. 

There are so many ‘must see’ places in Europe that it can be hard to decide which ones to visit. Distances between destinations can be deceiving – mountain passes, for instance, can make travel times much longer than they appear on the map. 

With a bit of time spent researching travel distances, you too can plan an ideal European road trip.

Safe travels!

Top image © gentelmenit / Adobe Stock Photo