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Driving to France from Ireland

March 21, 2011 3:43 pm
posted by Rebecca

Did you say France, from Ireland??  By car???!?  Mais oui!

Never ones to miss a trick the Irish have been quick to embrace the good value offered by Euro zone holidays. And what better way to start your vacances Françaises than a road trip?  The thrill of the open road, the wind in your hair… the smell of Murray Mints.

First things first, you might ask why anyone would want to drive to France from Ireland? (Is there a new tunnel between the Emerald Isle and the Continent that we haven’t heard about?!)

For one thing, you’ll minimise your carbon footprint opting for the open road rather than open skies.  Plus you’ll bypass all the airport hassle.  The check in.  The lost luggage.  The waiting.  The other people.  The waiting.  The security checks.  The waiting.  (You get the picture.)

Most importantly, you actually get to see more of France en route.  So rather than viewing the journey as something which has to be gotten out of the way quickly, why not embrace the experience as part of the holiday, plan a scenic route with some good stops and prepare to allez tout droit!

Here’s our quick guide on how to drive to France from Ireland:

1. Be prepared

Like any good Boy Scout, it pays to be prepared.   So whilst it may sound obvious, it’s a good idea to get your car checked thoroughly before any long drive!  And equip yourself with the correct travel insurance.

Next, stock up on the essentials: Invest in a good French road atlas along with a good local map to guide you into your final destination.  We recommend Michelin maps (Series Bleu), also great for walking and cycling excursions once you’re there. (Another plus point, you can take your bikes if you travel by car!)

A glove box full of good CDS, a quality playlist (or even an old fashioned mix tape) and plenty of drinks and healthy snacks to keep energy levels up, and you’re good to go.

2. Pick your route

There are a couple of options depending on where in France you’re heading.  The major online route planners will send you via the UK.  This is no doubt the quickest route, ideal if you’re happiest guzzling petrol rather than a life on the ocean wave (and fine if you fancy stopping off at the Millennium Stadium or Twickenham!).

Route planners estimate around 12h30 to drive door to door from Dublin to Paris via Holyhead, the M25 and Eurotunnel. However, both Brittany Ferries and Irish Ferries operate direct, but longer, services to France.

Brittany Ferries sails from Cork to Roscoff  – the fastest direct route at 14 hours.

Irish Ferries sails from Rosslare to Roscoff or Cherbourg.   The crossing takes around 17 hours.

Whilst onboard you can avail yourself of the facilities, from swimming pools to cinemas and wine bars, not forgetting lashings of fresh air up on deck (just don’t be tempted to play Kate and Leo a la Titanic).  With an overnight ferry you’ll find there’s not much time left to play Eye Spy and Are We There Yet.

France has over 8,000 kilometres of motorways, of which most are toll roads.  If you’re pinching pennies and not in a hurry, there’s an excellent network of trunk roads, the N-denoted Routes Nationals.

There are a number of useful sights for route planning, including:

3. Break the journey

If the thought of a Little Chef leaves you cold, fear not!  A carefully planned route will include a few good places to stop off and engage with the natives.

The first point to get your head around is that service stations in France are a world away from those found in the UK (another reason to avoid that particular route!).  They’re signed at regular intervals, are family friendly with freshly cooked food and welcoming picnic areas.

L’Arche group serves the best food.  If you’re on a budget, buy from the café bars in the shop where you pay for fuel, equally tasty and less expensive.

If you want to linger longer over your meal, finding a good local restaurant can be a rewarding experience, but make sure you’ve planned your stops in advance (rather than driving around aimlessly in a fretful state of starvation).

Or push the boat out (you’re on holiday, why not) and live it up.  If you come via the tunnel, four of the five Champagne Routes (covering 360 miles) start at Reims and Epernay, a two and a half hour drive south of Calais.  The Champagne houses of Moet et Chandon and Veuve Cliquot may be a welcome stop after the ravages of the M25!

Of course, you can always book accommodation with Pierre & Vacances to break the trip!

4. Know the rules of the road

Simple things like tolls, speed limits and driving on the other side of the road can trip you up if you’re unfamiliar with them.

Did you know for instance that:

  • Driving with dipped headlights is compulsory in poor visibility
  • You must carry your driving licence, car insurance and log book in the vehicle at all times
  • If you cross a solid white line (in order to overtake for example) and are seen by the authorities, they will pull you over and give you an on the spot fine
  • Fluorescent jackets are now a legal requirement and must be kept in the passenger part of the car and NOT the boot

Check out the following links for the inside track.

5. Keep the family entertained

Whether it’s a top playlist, or half a dozen games, it pays to have something up your sleeves to keep everyone entertained.

Audio books are a good idea.  Or you can engage your little ones with map reading duty.

Apparently time spent driving can be precious family together time!  Take inspiration from the following for some great ideas of games to play whilst travelling


If all else fails make sure you have some of the following tracks to sing along to:

6. Learn the lingo

Here are some useful phrases to get you on your way:

  • Aire de repos – Rest stops
  • Allumez vos lanterns (or feux) – Turn on your lights
  • Attention travaux – Beware roadworks
  • Autre directions – Other directions
  • Chaussèe dèformèe – Bumpy road ahead
  • Cèdez le passage – Give way (Give priority to the other road)
  • Centre ville – Town centre
  • Gendarmerie – Police station
  • Prochain èchangement gratui – No toll at next exit
  • Route barrèe – Road closed
  • Sens-unique – One-way
  • Serrez a droite – Keep to the right
  • Toutes directions – All directions
  • Tournez à gauche. L’autre gauche – Turn left. The other left.

Book now to take advantage of our ‘France Fantiastique’ offers, with great deals to Brittany, Picardy and Normandy easily accessed via ferry links.

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