The word “périphérique” literally means the same as the English “peripheral”, except when talking about Paris, when it refers to the 35-kilometer belt highway that encircles the city, fed by some of France’s largest highways. It’s known as one of the busiest roads in Europe, and strikes fear into the heart of any non-native Parisian. You might have been treated by a trip along the Périphérique if you took a taxi from the airport or went for a weekend out of town. If not, here’s all you need to know about Paris’ busy “belt”.
The Périphérique measures 21 miles long and stretches around and over Paris’ old fortifications that marked the borders of the city. Nowadays, it carries over one and a half million vehicles around the city outskirts every day! Construction first started in 1958, and the “Périph” (pronounced pey-reef) was a victim of its own success, quickly becoming the busiest road in France.
While the speed limit is legally restricted to 70 kilometers (just under 45 miles an hour) many drivers on the Périphérique do not respect this limit at all, especially not the scooters and motorcyclists who weave between lanes. Despite the fixed and mobile speed cameras, it seems that the French just prefer to get to their destination a little faster than they’re told to… And it’s not just the speeding that makes the Périphérique a dangerous place to drive – Parisian motorists are notorious for their reluctance to use the turn signal!
Whenever an accident does happen, the lack of emergency lanes means that the road is often blocked for a long time, causing miles of tailbacks and angry, honking Parisians. Getting an ambulance or police car through the traffic can be a real challenge…
Cause for Confusion
Getting onto the Périph is relatively easy. The city has numerous “Portes” which all lead onto the highway. Finding out if you’re going in the right direction, however, is not so simple. The Périphérique is divided into an outer and an inner ring, each traveling in opposite directions – one clockwise and the other anti-clockwise. There are generally four lanes, and exits are on the right. However, drivers are legally obliged to give priority to vehicles entering from the right, which means a lot of moving in and out of the slow lane.
All that aside, you needn’t be afraid if you or your taxi driver ands up on the Périphérique. Just remember, Parisians toot their horns all the time, so you should ignore them and focus on the road! Plus, if you do realize you’re going the wrong way, at least you know that you’re just driving in a big circle, so you can’t get lost!
However, if four wheels around Paris’ Périph sounds a little too much, why not try out a calming, safer, and far more beautiful trip around the city center on our Paris Day Bike Tour!