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How To Ask For Directions in French

by Catherine Reynolds
Woman on a bicycle in front of the Eiffel Tower

Do you need the fastest route to the Champs-Élysées? Wondering which street will take you to the Eiffel Tower? Maybe you just want to find the bathroom! In any situation, it can be useful to know a few phrases in French to help you ask for and understand directions. 

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Table of contents:

Common vocabulary for navigating

To get started let’s review some basic words that will help you get and give directions. Although English is a Germanic language, it has been influenced considerably by Romance languages like French, so some French words may seem similar to their English equivalents.

Vocabulary for locations:

le centre-villedowntown
le magasinstore
la boulangeriebakery
la banquebank
le distributeur de billetsATM
le marchémarket
le supermarchésupermarket
le cinémamovie theater
le muséemuseum
le parcpark
le bureau d’informationinformation desk
l’office du tourismevisitor center
les toilettesrestrooms
un ascenseurelevator
un escalier mécanique / un escalier roulant / un escalatorescalator
des escaliersstairs
les caissescashiers

Vocabulary for transportation:

marcherto walk
conduireto drive
une voiturecar
un parkingparking lot
une place de parkingparking spot
un un feu de circulation / un feu tricolore / un feu de signalisationtraffic light
une station servicegas station
un vélobicycle
le busbus
l’arrêt de busbus stop
la gare routièrebus station
le métrometro / subway
la station de métrometro station
le traintrain
la garetrain station
le bateauboat

How to ask for directions

Now that you’ve reviewed some common terminology associated with asking for directions, we’ll put it all together and show you some examples of how to ask where to go and the responses you might get.

To start, you’ll need to get someone’s attention. Other than saying hello, excusez-moi (excuse me) is a polite way to start a conversation with a stranger. Once you have their attention there are a few ways you can ask someone for directions. 

Where can I find…

One way is savez-vous où se trouve… (do you know where the … is found). This is a more formal way to phrase the question. Alternatively, the shorter où est… (where is…) or où se trouve… (where is … found) are more simple ways to ask. It’s up to your discretion to choose the appropriate question for the situation you’re in, but the short phrase où est… is generally acceptable when you’re in a pinch. 

When asking someone où est… be sure to conjugate être to match the subject. For example, les toilettes (the restrooms) is always plural. So to find the restroom you’d ask: où sont les toilettes? (where are the restrooms?)

How can I get to…

Another common way to ask for directions is by saying comment peut-on aller à… (how can one go to…). When asking someone how to get somewhere be sure you use the form of à that matches the gender and number of the location you’re asking about. For example, if you want to get to le parc (the park) you’ll ask someone: comment peut-on aller au parc? (how can I get to the park?)

Where is the nearest…

There are a few different ways to ask if something is near or far from you. The first is adding le plus proche (the nearest) to the end of your question. Make sure that the article, le, matches with the subject’s gender and number. For instance, if you want to find the nearest bank you’d say: où est la banque la plus proche? (where is the nearest bank?)

An alternative way to ask for the nearest location is with the phrase y a-t-il … près d’ici? (Is there… near here?). So if you need to find an ATM while you’re out you can ask someone: y a-t-il un distributeur près d’ici? (is there an ATM near here?)

Make note that when you use this phrase you’ll use un/une (a) instead of le/la (the) to ask where something is.

I’m looking for…

One other way to ask for directions is to tell someone what location you’re looking for. When you say je cherche… (I’m looking for) followed by a location to another person, it’s similar to asking someone directly where a location is.

How far is…

Another important piece of information when traveling in a new place is finding out how far away locations are from each other. To find out how close a location is you’ll ask someone: est-ce que c’est près d’ici? (is it nearby here?). Or to find out how far away it is you can ask: est-ce que c’est loin d’ici? (is it far from here?).

If you want to know if it’s within walking distance you’ll ask: est-ce que je peux y aller à pied? (can I walk there?). 

Savez-vous où se trouve…
…le musée?
…l’office du tourisme?
Do you know where the … is found?
…the museum…
…the visitors center…
Où est…
…la Tour Eiffel?
Où sont…
…les toilettes?
Where is…
…the Eiffel Tower?
Where are…
…the restrooms?
Où se trouve…
…la gare?
Où se trouve…
…les toilettes?
Where is … found?
…the train station…
Where are … found?
…the restrooms…
Comment peut-on aller à…
…la Basilique du Sacré-Coeur?
How can one get to…
…the Sacré-Coeur Basilica?
Où est … la plus proche?
…la boulangerie…
Where is the nearest…
Je cherche…
…la gare.
I’m looking for…
…the train station.

How to understand directions

Now that you know how to ask for directions you’ll need to be able to understand directions that are given to you. Below is some common vocabulary associated with streets and giving directions.

Vocabulary for directions:

(à) gauche(to the) left
(à) droite(to the) right
première à droitefirst right
deuxième à gauchesecond left
devantin front
loin defar
près denear

Vocabulary for navigating streets:

la ruestreet
le boulevardboulevard
un croisement / une intersectionintersection
un passage piétoncrosswalk
traverserto cross
continuerto continue
suivreto follow
au coin deat the corner of
au bout deat the end of
la prochaine ruethe next street
la rue suivantethe next street
a coté denext to
de l’autre côté deon the other side of
en face dein front of
a l’opposé deopposite of

Finding the right location

Giving directions in French can be as simple as responding la porte à droite (the door on the right) to more complicated descriptions like suivez la rue et les toilettes sont à côté de la gare (follow this street and the bathroom is next to the train station).

Often, more complicated directions will include specifics about the streets you need to take and where your final destination is located in relation to other buildings or landmarks. 

The verb suivre (to follow) is commonly used to indicate that you should follow a specific route. 

  • Suivez l’avenue des Champs-Élysées. = Follow Champs-Élysées avenue.

An alternative to suivre you may hear is continuer (to continue). This verb will be used in a similar way to suivre, but will usually include an additional direction such as continuer dans (continue down). 

  • Continuez dans avenue des Champs-Élysées. = Continue down Champs-Élysées avenue.

People may also refer to your destination’s location on a street to help you navigate. To indicate the corner of a street you’ll say au coin de (at the corner of) and the name of the intersecting streets.

  • Le Palais Garnier est au coin de la rue Scribe et de la rue Auber. = The Palais Garnier is at the corner of Scribe Street and Auber Street.

To indicate that the location is at the end of the street you’ll say au bout de (at the end of).

  • Le Palais Garnier est au bout de la rue Scribe. = The Palais Garnier is at the end of Scribe Street.

There are two different ways to say that a location is on the next street. Both la prochaine rue (the next street) and la rue suivante (the next street) can be used interchangeably.

  • Le Musée du Louvre est dans la prochaine rue. = The Louvre museum is on the next street.
  • Le Musée du Louvre est dans la rue suivante. = The Louvre museum is on the next street.

To tell someone to cross the street, you’ll use traverser (to cross). 

  • À la prochaine intersection, traversez la rue. = At the next intersection, cross the street.

And, when you’re specifying what’s across from the location you can use de l’autre côté de (on the other side of), en face de (in front of), or à l’opposé de (opposite to).

  • Le musée est de l’autre côté du parc. = The museum is on the other side of the park.
  • Le distributeur est en face de la banque. = The ATM is in front of the bank.
  • Les toilettes sont à l’opposé du magasin. = The restrooms are opposite to the store.

Putting it all together, a set of directions may look like this:

  • À la prochaine intersection, traversez la rue, puis prenez à gauche. Le musée se trouve au coin de la rue Jean Jaurès. = At the next intersection, cross the street. Then take a left. The museum is at the corner of Jean Jaurès Street.

A primer for traveling in France

France has many distinctive regions. You may be planning a trip to the famous southern Provence region known for its wine and fresh foods. Or perhaps you’re going to visit the northern Normandy region known for its historic beaches and the Mont St. Michel monastery. To help you get around on your trip and get the most out of each region you visit, it’s a good idea to familiarize yourself with the popular attractions, foods, and customs of the region you’re visiting. 

Each region is also subdivided into departments. In total, there are 101 different departments in France. Inside departments, areas are further divided into districts called arrondissements.  Within or across arrondissements are quartiers, which are like neighborhoods. 

While traveling through Paris, it’s common to refer to the arrondissement that you’re staying in or traveling to. An arrondissement is typically numbered and referred to using an ordinal number (e.g., first, second, third). In Paris, the lowest numbered neighborhoods are in the center of the city and the numbers get larger as you move away from the city center. For instance, Notre Dame is located in the cinquième arrondissement (fifth district). You can also say that Notre Dame is located in the Quartier Latin (Latin Quarter).

Vocabulary for French geography:

la régionregion
le départementdepartment
le quartierneighborhood
la côtethe coast
la frontièrethe border

Common French street signs:

It’s also a good idea to familiarize yourself with common street signs in France. Below are a few signs you’ll likely encounter while traveling through France.

interditforbidden (do not enter)

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