Guide to Driving in Europe

Planning a holiday abroad is exciting! If you have organised a holiday to Europe, and are planning on driving whilst there, renting a car can save you money and hassle. It really is vital to get around and see some of the amazing sites on offer.

Driving in European countries can be an amazing experience or a source of sheer frustration depending on when and where you drive and on how prepared you are. August is vacation time in Europe and the traffic jams at this time of year are long and frequent. At any time of the year driving in a major city that you are unfamiliar with can test the patience of most holiday makers.

We have put together some tips on driving in Europe to make everything easier!

eiffel-tower

When to Plan your Holiday

Spring and autumn are the best times to plan your holiday for Northern and Central Europe. If you are travelling in the South of Europe, winter is lovely - avoid the Christmas period though. If you are working your holiday around school vacation time, try to visit in June before the summer tourist season is at its peak. It can get pretty hectic then!

Is Driving in Europe Easy?

Traffic is busy in Europe. If you are used to driving slowly in the suburbs and using cruise control it can be a bit of a shock dealing with erratic drivers and heavy traffic. Keep your wits about you!

Driving in a foreign city can be nerve racking and it can be difficult to enjoy the sites whilst you are trying to find scarce parking and cope with unfamiliar conditions. It can be a good idea to leave driving for excursions and for longer legs of your journey. Enjoy a week or so in cities such as Paris and London and then pick up your rental car.  It makes for a much more relaxing journey.

Make Sure your Drivers Licence is Recognised

Ensure that your driver’s licence has not expired, first of all. This may seem obvious, but it can be easy to miss when you are busy with work and home commitments and are also planning a big trip! You need to have a full open licence – learner’s licenses and provisional licences will not be accepted.

What You Need When Driving in Europe

Be prepared!
  • Bring the correct documents with you
  • Organise car insurance
  • Check that you are covered for breakdowns
  • Be aware that tolls incur a fee
  • Keep change in your car to pay tolls
driving-in-london

International Drivers Permit

It is worth obtaining an international driving permit? This looks a lot like a passport and is a translation of your home driver’s licence. In some countries it is mandatory and in some countries it is optional. It is worth getting one before you leave home to avoid any problems if you are renting a car rather than taking your own, or if you are pulled up by the police.

Drive on the Left!

This is the number one rule! The driver’s side of the car in Europe is on the right and we drive on the left. Just remember – whatever country you are driving in, the driver should be in the middle of the road. You primarily give way to the right with caution to the left.

Hiring a Car?

If you are hiring a car in the UK, you will need a personal code from the Driving and Vehicle Licensing Agency (DLVA). You can get this up to 21 days ahead of your tip. Car hire companies can check for points on your licence with this. Some car hire companies do not ask for this, but it is always best to be prepared. It is requested by traffic authorities in some countries too.

Book your hire car well ahead of schedule to get the best rates, and always read the fine print.

How Will Brexit Affect Driving in Europe?

At present driving licence holders can drive in all areas of EU and European economic areas without a permit using their normal licence. Any changes that may come into play this year regarding the Brexit deal will quite likely take a long time to come into effect.

Car Rental Insurance

Car rental insurance is necessary when driving overseas for peace of mind. Opting to go without can cost you dearly in the event of a collision. Shop around and organise your insurance before you head off on your trip to make sure you get the best deal! Read more about car rental insurance mistakes before you take you purchase it. 

Collision Damage Waiver (CDW)

This cover is one of the best and most effective forms of car insurance when renting a car and will save you from a serious headache if you do get into an accident whilst driving overseas.

Excess Cover

Excess is the amount that you pay in the event of a claim. Our guide on Excess Cover explains what it covers and RentalCover.com compares to insurance offered at the rental desk. 

To Rent or Lease

There are some advantages to renting a car short term rather than leasing. Renting or hiring a car is usually cheaper short term. If you are staying in a major city and just want a car for a short trip, a rental is probably the way to go. If you are staying longer, particularly if you are on an extended trip, a lease may work out to be cheaper.

What Do You Need When Driving in Europe?

You need all your relevant documents when driving in Europe. This includes:
  • Your driver’s licence
  • An international driving permit in some countries
  • Your insurance policy
  • Breakdown insurance is advisable
  • Knowledge of the speed limits for each country
  • Specific items for cold weather in some countries. This can include snow chains, etc.
driving-in-norway

What is the Driving Age in Europe?

The minimum driving age for driving without supervision in Europe is 18. The driving age with no supervision is 16.

Get Breakdown Insurance

You will need to ensure that you get breakdown insurance as well as your car insurance before you drive anywhere. This type of insurance gives you peace of mind - if you do break down help will quickly be at hand. Check with your car hire company – some of them cover this as part of their policy.

No Turning on a Red light

It is illegal to turn at a red light unless a signal or sign authorizes you to do so (most common in Germany).

Automatic Cars are More Expensive

Hiring a manual car will save you on car hire costs. Just remember that the gear shift will be on your left!

Extra Equipment

In some countries you will need extra equipment in your car -  for example, a reflective jacket. Depending on the season and the weather in the country that you are holidaying in, you may also need snow chains or winter tyres. You often need to carry a warning triangle. Switzerland is icy and these conditions are most likely to be enforced in this country.

When driving in Europe in winter you may feel that it is not necessary to carry the correct equipment, however, you can face a large fine if you are pulled over and don’t have it on board. Belgium penalties are up to £1500.

Most car hire companies will provide you with everything you need – but check the book before you go just to be sure. If you are taking your own car into Europe you may need to buy or hire the equipment.

extra-equipment

Satellite Navigation

This looks a lot like a passport and is a translation of your home driver’s licence. In some countries it is mandatory and in some countries it is optional. It is worth getting one before you leave home to avoid any problems if you are renting a car rather than taking your own, or if you are pulled up by the police. You will probably want to use a navigator whilst traveling in Europe. If you use your phone or iPad  instead of the car hire company’s, you can save yourself over £10 per day.

Emissions Sticker

In many countries in Europe you now need an emissions sticker to avoid a fine.

Child Car Seat

Car hire companies often charge £8 a day for a child seat. If you bring your own you can check this in for free on most airlines, leaving you more money to spend on your holiday.

What are the speed limits in Europe?

In most countries across Europe there are automatic speed cameras in place. Those caught speeding are sent their tickets by mail. Know and follow the speed restrictions for your area to avoid an expensive fine!

Speed Limits in Europe

Country Motorway Outside built-up areas Built-up areas

Belgium

120 Kms/hr

70 - 90 Kms/hr

50 Kms/hr

France

130 Kms/hr

80 Kms/hr

50 Kms/hr

Germany

130 Kms/hr

100 Kms/hr

50 Kms/hr

Ireland

120 Kms/hr

80 Kms/hr

50 Kms/hr

Italy

130 Kms/hr

90 Kms/hr

50 Kms/hr

Netherlands

130 Kms/hr

80 Kms/hr

50 Kms/hr

Portugal

120 Kms/hr

80 Kms/hr

50 Kms/hr

Spain

120 Kms/hr

90 Kms/hr

50 Kms/hr

Switzerland

120 Kms/hr

90 Kms/hr

50 Kms/hr


Driving in Europe can be a much more aggressive experience than driving in other countries such as the United States, NZ, and Australia. Some drivers like to make up their own rules! Once you are behind the wheel of your car you may curse the road conditions, traffic congestion and general attitudes on the road – it is all part of the experience. It is part of what makes your holiday a memorable one.

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