The hierarchy of roads in Europe is much the same as in the UK, with the obvious difference being that the names change between languages. Almost every country has an equivalent of motorways, A roads, B roads and so on (although some, like Montenegro, don’t yet have a motorway). Most countries in Europe use very similar signage, but there are some minor differences in design, so it’s best to familiarise yourself with these before getting behind the wheel in a foreign country.
These are most like the UK’s motorways, and can normally be recognised by white text on a blue background or white text on a green background, depending on the country. Speed limits are either 120km/h or 130km/h under normal conditions.
The equivalent of the UK’s A roads, these connect motorways with major towns and cities. The speed limit is typically between 80 - 90 km/h, and in most places the signs are white on green or white on blue.
Like Britain’s B roads, these are typically smaller connector roads, and are also found within towns and cities. They are signposted with black text on a white background, and there is a normally a speed limit of 50 km/h.
It’s worth being aware that some countries’ roads are better than others. It’s a bit of a generalisation, but roads in Southern and Eastern Europe tend to be bumpier than roads in Western and Northern Europe, so watch out for potholes.
The biggest difference for British drivers in Europe is that most countries drive on the right-hand side of the road. If you’re hiring a car in Europe it will be left-hand drive, so it should just be a case of adapting. If you’re taking your own car overseas, remember to adjust your rear-view mirrors, as passing traffic will appear at a very different angle.
The best advice on how to drive in Europe is simply to take a defensive approach until you feel comfortable. You should follow the rules of the road closely and get familiar with local driving customs. It’s also sensible to plan your route in advance, so you can give your full attention to traffic.
By and large, Europe’s driving rules are much like the UK's, although certain countries have specific laws to follow. To help you out, we have guides on driving in some of Europe’s most popular destinations on our website.
If you follow the guidelines below, they will help you to stay safe and on the right side of the law in the country you are visiting:
Almost every country in Europe drives on the right, apart from:
In almost all cases, drivers on the main road have right of way in Europe, except for in a (gradually decreasing) number of locations in France, where priorité à droite still exists. This is an odd rule to get your head around, but it allows the traffic entering the road at certain junctions to go first. You can spot these junctions by their red-edged triangular signs that have a black cross on a white background.
Some European cities have tram systems, which almost always have priority over car traffic – and often buses also get the same privilege. It’s also worth brushing up on cycling laws, as in some countries like the Netherlands, bicycles have priority over motorised vehicles on roundabouts.
Finally, watch out for local customs – in Spain, the side of the road you can park on might switch depending on the day it is, or in Italy, you may not be allowed to drive in a city’s ‘old town’ on certain days. On-street signage should avert you to these peculiarities.
The speed limit in Europe is largely the same across the continent, but with certain idiosyncrasies:
While much of Europe has a temperate climate, northern Europe – and especially Scandinavia and Eastern Europe – deals with heavy snow in winter and limited light throughout the day. Also, driving in mountainous regions, such as the Alps, can require different behaviour behind the wheel:
While Europe’s roads are mainly well-maintained and enjoyable to drive on, there are a number of hazards to watch out for:
If anything does go wrong, get directly in touch with your car hire company. If there’s been an accident, you can call the emergency services anywhere in the EU on 112.
Here are some driving tips to make sure your journey around Europe is hassle-free:
Your experience of driving in Europe should be an odyssey to remember for years to come. More information about driving in Europe can be found at: