Unwritten Rules Tourists Need To Know Before Driving In Paris

"The secret is that you don't stop."

Image Credit: Getty Images

Paris. The city of baguette nibbling. A metropolis of orange juice drinking. A place where you need to have a piece of crap car and drive real fast…

Paris may be home to some remarkable historical monuments, a giant metal protrusion, and crepes, but it’s also home to something even more incredible.

Enter: L’Etoile. One of the world’s most dangerous roundabouts. Or, as French podcasters @atfrenchies recently called it: “the most dangerous roundabout in the world.”

@atfrenchies’ claim recently led into a broader discussion about some of the unwritten rules tourists need to know before getting behind the wheel of a car in Paris.

Watch traffic careening around the Arc de Triomphe roundabout

First though: a little context. L’Etoile is a huge traffic circle around the Arc de Triomphe. It’s officially called the Place Charles de Gaulle, but is usually referred to as the Etoile (French for star), due to the configuration of the intersection, with the various avenues branching out from the Arc de Triomphe like the points of a star.

To explain how the Arc de Triomphe works, allow us to turn to a Parisian cab driver, quoted by blogger Rick Steves: “If there is an accident here, each driver is considered equally at fault. This is the only place in Paris where the accidents are not judged. No matter what the circumstances, insurance companies split the costs fifty-fifty.”

“In Paris, a good driver gets only scratches, not dents.”

At the Arc de Triomphe roundabout, cars entering the circle, counter-intuitively (to those not used to it), have the right-of-way.

“Those in the circle must yield,” Rick Steves explains. “Parisian drivers navigate the circle like a comet circling the sun — making a parabola. It’s a game of fender-bender chicken. Tippy little Citroën 2CVs, their rooftops cranked open like sardine lids, bring lumbering buses to a sudden, cussing halt.”

Next to @atfrenchies’ video, people expressed various opinions on the Arc de Triomphe roundabout, as well as advice for driving in Paris.

One Instagram user wrote: “Just have a crap old car and drive fast!! Worked for me 30 years ago.” Others asked them if it was a Supra.

Another said: “When I was Learning how to drive, (living in Paris farthest suburbs) I have had 2 lessons there 😂. The first one with an old traditional teacher : had to go on the outer (inexistant) line, and stop at each street as the car coming from your right have priority.”

“The second teacher was much younger and said ‘just go in the middle and then straight to the street you want more or less without caring for other cars’. broke no car so far.”

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“It’s the first place you go with your dad when you have your licence,” another Instagram user commented. “Just to be sure that you can drive in Paris. The secret is that you don’t stop :).”

There you have it: that’s why insurance companies (reportedly) make you pay extra for a package that covers driving around the Arc de Triomphe roundabout… Plus some bonus tips on driving in Paris to go with it.

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