European Low Emission Zones

by | Mar 8, 2019 | Tips and Tricks

While this may not affect the latest Euro 6 version of the Volkswagen California, it certainly will affect anyone with a diesel powered vehicle registered prior to 2015. This article aims to forewarn our readers of any congestion / low emission zones you may encounter on your travels, including those where the age of the vehicle is irrelevent.

Over 220 cities and towns around Europe operate or are preparing to operate low-emission zones to help meet EU health-based air quality limit values. This means that vehicles may be banned from a zone, or in some cases charged if they enter when their emissions are over a set level.

Different vehicles may be regulated depending on local conditions. All restrictions apply to heavy vehicles, some to diesel vans, others also to diesel and petrol cars; while our website is geared towards Volkswagen California owners, it may be worth nothing that Italy and the UK have restrictions on motor cycles and three-wheelers in some areas.

A PUBLICLY FUNDED WEBSITE run by a network of cities and ministries that operate (or are preparing) Low Emission Zones gives up-to-date information on LEZs, such as which cities have LEZs, the vehicle types affected, the required emissions standards and their application dates. There is also some more concise information on THIS WEBSITE.

Click on the tabs below for a short overview of the restrictions that may affect anyone planning a European adventure. Please check back regularly as we will update this article as new information becomes available.

Belgium

There are several cities that have restrictions in Belgium, but  you will need to pay particular attention if visiting Antwerp and Brussels.

  • In Antwerp, the entire city centre is designated as an environmental zone. You can read more about the admission requirements by visiting THIS WEBSITE.
  • If you are a restricted vehicle you can request a temporary exemption which allows you to enter for a period of time.
  • Another option is to purchase a LEZ day pass for €35 per day; available from parking meters in the zone.
  • There is a restriction however that means you can only use one for eight days per year.
  • If you plan to visit Brussels be aware that the capital has been a low emission zone since 1st January 2019 — and also requires a day pass to enter. Some vehicles fall outside of this rule and the restrictions are detailed on THIS WEBSITE.
  • Ghent is now operating completely car-free zones; you can find out more by visiting THIS WEBSITE.

Czech Republic

The Czech Republic will be introducing restrictions in 2020/21.

  • The Emission Badge “Emisni-Plaketa” will be mandatory for cars, trucks, buses and motorbikes.
  • We will give you more details of these zones when they become compulsory. Meanwhile you may wish to bookmark THIS WEBSITE for future reference.

Denmark

There are several rules for heavy diesel vehicles that drive through a few larger cities in Denmark.

  • If you are travelling to Aalborg, Aarhus, Copenhagen, Frederiksberg or Odense in a motorhome weighing more than 3.5 tonnes, or vehicles with over eight seats, then you will need to display an ECOSTICKER to enter the environmental zones within the city centres. 

France

France has many different environmental zones and regulations where drivers need to display stickers in their vehicles to prove compliance to their emissions standards.

  • The most important places are in Lille, Lyon, Paris, Strasbourg and Toulouse.
  • Known as the “Ecovignet Crit’Air“, the stickers are available from THIS WEBSITE and cost just under €5 (including shipping within the European Union).
  • There are six types of stickers depending on the age of your vehicle and CO2 emissions — be aware that delivery can take up to six weeks.
  • There are currently two types of environmental zones — you can only drive into a permanent environmental zones with a valid sticker and are in force all year round. There are also temporary environmental zones that only need a valid sticker if there is long term or extreme pollution. There are occasional exceptions which are always signposted.
  • Anyone driving into the centre of Paris on weekdays between 08:00 and 20:00 has to display a sticker inside the bottom right of their windscreen. 
  • People with registered disabilities are allowed to enter restricted zones but will still need an emissions sticker.
  • Please note that cars and vans registered prior to the 1st January 1997 and motorbikes registered before 1st June 2000 are not allowed into any zone at all and stickers for these vehicles are not available.
  • In addition to the above, an all new low-emission zone will be introduced in Paris in July 2019. This is just for the capital and operates In addition to previously mentioned permanent and temporary zones. Other major cities, including Lyon, Reims, Strasbourg, Nice and Montpellier, will follow suit and the local authorities in those cities have until 31 December 2020 to set up them up.
  • You can find more information about the low emission zones on THIS WEBSITE (French).
  • In Lyon, including in the suburb of Villeurbanne, things are different as the zone only operates on days with extreme air pollution – these days are indicated on signs on the motorways and this is when a sticker is required.
  • The motorways through Lyon are exempt from the zone.
  • In Grenoble the use of an emissions sticker also depends on the degree of air pollution and applies to all roads and motorways.
  • Our recommendation is to get the sticker before traveling to France — driving in a restricted one without them carries a fine of at least €68
  • Over the next few years other cities will introduce environmental zones, thus far these are planned for Avignon, Bordeaux, Cannes, Clermont-Ferrand, Montpellier and Rouen.
  • News and updates are published on THIS WEBSITE.

Germany

Germany has environmental zones in many large cities. Known as ‘Umweltzones’ you can only access these zones with an emissions sticker known as an Umweltplakkette.

  • The sticker is valid so long as your number plate is recorded on the sticker.
  • You will need a separate emissions sticker for each vehicle issued at a cost of €6.
  • Vehicle owners who have a European Disability Parking Card (clearly visible behind the windscreen) are exempt from purchasing a sticker.
  • You can see a list of cities where you will need a sticker on the German Government Website. A few examples include Berlin, Bonn, Cologne, Karlsruhe, Leipzig and Munich.
  • Very often you will find suburbs that also fall within the zones, so be mindful of this when entering or leaving the areas.
  • You will not need a sticker on motorways.
  • There is fine of €80 for not displaying the correct sticker.
  • Bonn, Hamburg and Stuttgart have recently banned older (Euro 5) diesel vehicles completely and and other cities will implement their own diesel ban this year including Berlin, Darmstadt, Essen, Gelsenkirchen and Mainz.
  • These plans may be subject to change and therefore it is advisable to check THIS WEBSITE before visiting.

Hungary

Budapest and some other large cities a smog alarm will operate at certain times; at these times there is a ban on certain types of vehicles entering the cities.

  • Often this will include vehicles that do not meet Euro 6 standards
  • THIS WEBSITE has more information on which vehicles meet Euro 6 requirements. The smog alarm is often announced a couple of days in advance of restrictions.
  • In Budapest there are many streets in the historic centre where vehicles are always prohibited regardless. In this instance it is advisable to park outside the city and use public transport.

Italy

Environmental zones operate in quite a few Italian cities. Known as “Zona a Traffico Limitato” (ZTL) they include Florence, Palermo, Pisa, Rome and Verona. 

  • These environmental zones are closed to motor traffic at certain times; there are no fees, but if you drive in those zones when disallowed you risk a hefty fine.
  • There are indicator signs at the entrance to these zones that also signify the times traffic is banned.
  • There are also environmental zone in several tourist areas; for example it is no longer possible to drive a car or motorhome within the city walls of Lucca or Pisa.
  • In Milan you will need  what is called a “vignette” to drive into the city centre on work days between 07:30 and 19:30. This is a one day pass which you can purchase for €5 at newsagents and kiosks. You can find more information HERE.
  • In some areas you will need a temporary permit in order to make simple drop offs — for instance, if you have booked an apartment or hotel and need to drop off your luggage you can request a permit from the owner.

In the Netherlands Rotterdam and Utrecht have Low Emission Zones.

  • In Rotterdam this applies to trucks with a diesel engine that fall under Euro 1, Euro 2 and Euro 3 of the EU emission standards; typically these are diesel engined delivery vans and passenger vehicles registered before 1st January 2001 and petrol engined delivery vans and passenger vehicles registered prior to 1st July 1992.
  • In Utrecht the rules only apply to diesel vehicles registered prior to 1st January 2001.

Norway

The only environmental zone in Norway is in Oslo.

During times of poor air quality the city centre is closed for all diesel vehicles. However, there are exemptions for vehicles carrying anyone registered as disabled.

Closures are usually announced on the radio in advance. If you aren’t ahead of local news then public transport will almost certainly be the best option.

Spain

Quite a few Spanish cities have environmental zones with many areas you can only enter with a sticker. Others zones forbid all vehicles completely.

  • These zones are indicated with signs reading “ëArea de prioridad residencialí”.
  • Cameras check the zones remain car-free.
  • In Madrid you risk a hefty fine if you drive into any of the central zones. Permit holders receive an exemption.
  • Barcelona is one large environmental zone.
  • Since 2017 traffic has become increasingly limited in the city. Every different type of vehicle needs to have a particular sticker to drive into the city.
  • You can find more information on THIS WEBSITE.
  • There are four types of emissions stickers: blue, green-blue, green, and yellow. You can buy these stickers at post offices for € 5 (2019).
  • You can find out which sticker you need for your vehicle by visiting THIS WEBSITE.

Sweden

Car traffic is limited in Gothenburg and Stockholm city centres from Monday to Friday.

  • If you are visiting either of these cities with a car, campervan or motorhome you will need to pay a charge.
  • However, on public holidays and for the duration of July the charge is lifted and access is free.
  • The charge depends on which time you enter the area — prices are listed on entry and cameras will record your licence plate.
  • You will receive a bill at the address your vehicle is registered to.

United Kingdom

London is subject to three restricted areas, the Congestion Charge Zone, The Low Emissions Zone and The Ultra Low Emissions Zone.

  • You will need to pay the Daily Congestion Charge in order to drive into the centre of London. This is an charge that nearly all vehicles have to pay, including cars and motorhomes with foreign registration. 
  • The zone is indicated with signs at the entry points where cameras record your car registration plate.
  • You can only pay for the entire day at a cost of £11.50 (2019). The rule only applies on weekdays between 07:00 and 18:00.
  • On 8th April 2019 a new Ultra-Low Emissions Zone (or ULEZ) was introduced within the same boundary as the Congestion Charge. Vehicles that do not meet strict requirements can enter the zone on payment of £12.50 (2019) on top of the existing congestion charge.
  • The rules for the ULEZ are explained on THIS WEBSITE and affect most diesel vehicles that do not meet Euro 6 requirements and most petrol vehicles that do not meet Euro 4 requirements (including motorbikes). Historic vehicles registered prior to 1980 are exempt from ULEZ charges, with this date rolling forward every year.
  • In 2021 The ULEZ will be extended to cover a much larger area of London — we will update this article with new information nearer the time.
  • The last thing to be aware of is that there is another wider Low Emission Zones (LEZ) around the outskirts of London that may apply if you are entering with a motorhome or larger vehicle. Depending on the weight and age of your vehicle you may need to pay to enter this zone and foreign vehicles must register in advance. You should do this two weeks in advance of your visit by going to THIS WEBSITE.
  • You can find an overview of the most important LEZ rules HERE.

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