Want to drive through Europe? Try this route from Amsterdam to Paris.

by Сашка

Renting a car in the Netherlands can take you off the beaten path to stops such as Gouda and Dijon.

One of the first words you should learn in France or Belgium is “grève,” the French word for “strike,” because you’ll often hear it in the local news.

During the past few years, strikes have consistently interrupted European airlines and rail services. Instead of being vulnerable to tricky cross-country connections, travelers should consider renting a car. That’s even more appropriate if you’re in a small group of people who enjoy going off the beaten path.

As Americans head to Europe over the summer, many will try to fit several countries into an itinerary. A road trip allows you more flexibility and access to places that are harder to connect by rail or plane. Even for locals, traveling by car can be a fun alternative.

“I’m all about driving, flexibility, and accessibility,” says Jane Bertch, the founder of the Paris-based cooking school La Cuisine Paris and author of “The French Ingredient.” “Stay off the highways and stop by small villages for lunch and shopping. I love buying food and wine as souvenirs, and not having to deal with baggage on a train or plane is a plus.”

If you’re looking for a trip that covers three countries in 10-12 days, I’ve designed an itinerary for you to use below (This Google map has all the driving instructions you’ll need).

Renting a car in Europe

If you’re used to driving in the United States, driving in Europe may seem more relaxed. Road rules are mostly the same in continental Europe — except the United Kingdom and Ireland, where you drive on the left side.

Keep in mind that the speed limits are in kilometers per hour, not miles. Even after almost 10 years of living in Europe, I still have to do the math in my head. The easiest way to figure it out is to multiply the number by .60; it’s .62, to be exact, but you should go with the easier math to avoid speeding tickets (they will find you!). The Netherlands and Belgium have speed cameras that capture the average speed of a trip rather than one moment on the road, so set your cruise control and don’t worry about the people zipping by you.

Renting a car is straightforward in Western Europe. Most of the big brands in the United States — Hertz, Budget, Avis, Enterprise — are available at most large airports. I stick to those brands because I can earn my airline miles and address any issues at the corporate level back home.

As for driving licenses, I’ve rented cars from Austria to Greece and have never been asked for an International Driving Permit. If you’re pulled over, however, having one could save you a ticket. They’re only $20 with an easy application process via AAA.

Roads and parking spots are often much smaller in most of Europe than in the United States, so be careful about how large of a car you rent. You can get a small SUV, but I wouldn’t recommend anything larger than a Volkswagen Tiguan or a BMW X3. Also, if you can’t drive a manual, specify an automatic car in your booking, as manual vehicles are still pretty standard across Europe.

Electric vehicles are more common in Western Europe than in the United States, and there are plenty of charging stations along the highways, parking garages and most urban neighborhoods. If you choose to rent an electric car, plan your stops around your charging time. That’s also an excellent way to explore a small town. Grab lunch and go for a little stroll while your car charges. Use apps like PlugShare to find charging stations, which display availability and the type of chargers supported.

Google Maps works just as well in Europe as in the United States, so it’s an excellent tool for road trips. Another tip is to pay for parking in advance when visiting the big cities. For example, when I drive to the Netherlands, I use a website called Parkbee. Amsterdam is notorious for its high parking fees, but I still find parking spaces for 20 euros a day. In France, Onepark offers a similar service.

Start from Amsterdam

After a few days strolling along the city’s quaint canals and admiring the Dutch masters at the Rijksmuseum, pick up your rental car at Schiphol Airport and head south to Brussels, which should take less than three hours.

Stop in Gouda, Netherlands

Gouda is known for its cheese but also for its history; the city is more than 750 years old. The charming city center, warm stroopwafels, and enticing cheese present a more laid-back side to Holland without the mass tourism of Amsterdam’s city center.

Read also:
The unofficial rules for talking on planes

Look up the many kaasboerderij (cheese farms) on the outskirts of Gouda. One of my favorites is Kaasboerderij De Twee Hoeven.

Stop in Brussels

Brussels is known for its art nouveau architecture, gastronomy and, of course, chocolates.

A stop at the Grand-Place (where you can also find several parking garages) is a must. Afterward, walk to the Sablon, known for its art galleries, chocolate shops and weekend antique market.

With your car parked, explore the city by metro, tram or bus and head to Saint-Gilles and Ixelles. These local favorite neighborhoods are teeming with cozy cafes and a bustling restaurant scene where you can eat Belgian classics, a pot teeming with mussels with a side of frites at La Quinciallerie, or a crispy gray shrimp croquette at Fernand Obb. You can also explore global cuisines ranging from Vietnamese to Congolese cuisine, reflecting the city’s diverse population.

Stop in Dinant, Belgium

Make some time for the charming, well-preserved medieval city in Wallonia in southern Belgium. Take a boat ride along the Meuse River with a view of the rolling hills of the Ardennes, go for a tour of the Citadel of Dinant, and stock up on chocolates and artisanal local cheeses.

Stop in Reims, France

It takes less than three hours to drive from Brussels to the Champagne region. Make your base at Reims, where you can walk or take public transportation via bus or tram to many champagne producers.

Having a car will allow you to explore other picturesque Champagne-producing towns like Aÿ-Champagne, Bouzy and Avize, as many of these small towns either don’t have train stations or only have limited schedules. These towns have independent producers whose products are hard to find outside of France. Just make sure someone agrees to be a designated driver.

“If you are on a wine trip, be sure to spit as the legal limit is equivalent to .05 percent blood alcohol content (the standard in the USA is .08 percent). Depending on the size of the pour and your size, even one drink could put you above the limit,” says Caro Feely, co-founder and director of Chateau Feely, a winery and guesthouse in the south of France.

Stop in Lyon, France

Known as the gastronomic capital of France, Lyon, with its cozy taverns known as Bouchon Lyonnaise, serving local fare such as pates and sausage-stuffed brioche and Cote du Rhone wines, has an entirely different feel than Paris with a less touristy vibe and restaurants and bars catering to the home crowd. Just as in other cities, there are plenty of parking garages where you can secure a spot in advance.

Lovers of French cuisine should include a stop to the Les Halles de Lyon Paul Bocuse, a food fall with several restaurants, for oyster shuckers, decadent cheeses, charcuterie and wine.

For stunning city views, catch a funicular to the Basilique Notre-Dame de Fourvière, a UNESCO world heritage site.

Stop in Dijon, France

Known for its mustard, Burgundy’s capital has a picturesque city center worth a stop. With its cobblestone streets and gothic architecture, it’s a good place for a petit pause.

Stop in Paris

You could return your rental car to Lyon and take the TGV (fast train) to Paris, which will take two hours. But if you’re looking for more adventure, drive back to Paris and head to Auxerre, a small city in the Burgundy region, for a petit pause.

Also, take advantage of the car to go to landmarks on the outskirts of Paris, like Versailles or Parc du Bois, with a bit more ease. The latter is the home of Fondation Louis Vuitton, which not only houses magnificent artworks but also Frank Gehry-designed buildings and gardens that are just as impressive.

Jessica van Dop DeJesus is a travel and food writer, a digital content creator and the author of “The Dining Traveler Guide to Puerto Rico.” She divides her time between Brussels, D.C. and western New York. Follow her on Instagram @diningtraveler.

Where to go

Our favorite destinations: Take our destination quiz to choose your own adventure. Then read about 12 dream destinations at the top of our wish list — without the crowds.

Travel like a local: Residents share their favorite places in our top city guides: New Orleans, Rome, Tokyo and Mexico City.

National parks: Explore tips from locals for visiting Yosemite, Glacier and Everglades.

Tales from the road: Trace a route along the southern coast of Puerto Rico. See how jamón gets made in the heartland of Spanish pork.

Related Posts