We can't say it too many times: unless you have a special, compelling reason, do yourself a favor and avoid driving in Paris. But if you've decided to do it anyway, there are some things to know. France's roads are classified into five types; they are numbered and have letter prefixes: A (autoroute, expressways), N (route nationale), D (route départmentale), and the smaller C or V. There are excellent links between Paris and most French cities. When trying to get around Ile-de-France, it's often difficult to avoid Paris—just try to steer clear of rush hours (7–9:30 and 4:30–7:30). A péage (toll) must be paid on most expressways outside Ile-de-France: the rate varies but can be steep. Certain booths allow you to pay with a credit card.
The major ring road encircling Paris is called the périphérique, with the périphérique intérieur going counterclockwise around the city, and the périphérique extérieur, or the outside ring, going clockwise; maximum speed is 70 kph (43 mph). Up to five lanes wide, the périphérique is a major highway from which 30 portes (gates) connect Paris to the major highways of France. The names of these highways function on the same principle as the métro, with the final destination as the determining point in the direction you must take.
Heading north, look for Porte de la Chapelle (direction Lille and Charles de Gaulle Airport); east, for Porte de Bagnolet (direction Metz and Nancy); south, for Porte d'Orléans (direction Lyon and Bordeaux); and west, for Porte d'Auteuil (direction Rouen and Chartres) or Porte de St-Cloud (Boulogne-Billancourt).
For short jaunts, you could use the car-sharing service Autolib', a zero-emissions fleet of nearly 4,000 small electric cars docked at 1,100 stations in and around Paris. (Service is limited to within the Ile-de-France.) To rent one, all you need is an international drivers' license (or a European drivers' license), passport, and credit card. The process takes about 10 minutes at stations on the street or you can sign up online. You can reserve a car and a parking spot wherever you're going. See www.autolib.eu.
Finding parking in Paris is tough.If you must have a car, at least paying to park it is easy, if expensive. Metered parking in the capital costs €4 an hour for arrondissements 1–11 and €2.40 for arrondissements 12–20, Monday to Saturday from 9 am to 8 pm, with a six-hour limit for visitors. Look for the nearest dark green ticket machine horodateur and enter your license plate number to begin, then choose the amount of time you want, and insert your card (no cash or coins). Place the green receipt on the passenger side of the dashboard. You can also download the PMobile app and pay on your phone (www.pmobile.paris.fr). Parking tickets are expensive, and there's no shortage of blue-uniformed parking police doling them out. An often cheaper alternative is finding a lot or underground garage–-look for the blue signs with a white "P"; rates in the city center start at about €3.60 an hour, or €20 per day, while outside of the center you'll pay €10 to €15 per day. Parkings de Paris (www.parkingsdeparis.com) lets you reserve and prepay a spot in more than 100 city car parks (see other options at www.parisinfo.com). Happily, you can park for free on Sunday and national holidays; sadly, the city stopped the popular practice of free street parking in August.