Preparing your road trip and wondering what driving in Portugal is like?
Here is a video to show you what to expect and a complete guide with tips to drive safely in the cities, in the countryside and in the mountains.
- Portugal driving rules,
- road signs,
- and tips on renting a car and planning your itinerary.
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Driving in Portugal - Video
Wondering how difficult driving in Portugal is? Here is a short video to show you what it is like to do a Portugal road trip:
How difficult is driving in Portugal? - Short answer
Driving in Portugal is generally easy. There are a lot of recent roads and they are mostly well maintained.
Some villages on hills will have very narrow roads, so park outside and explore on foot.
Summary of rules to know:
- Driving in on the right side of the road
- Some roads have tolls - make sure your rental car has the V-tag
- Unbroken white lines are not to be crossed
- You need a EU valid license or an International Driver Permit
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Driving Rules in Portugal
Let's start with general rules and regulations you should be aware of:
License to drive in Portugal
- If you are from the EU and have a valid license from your own county with your photo, then you can drive in Portugal
- Coming from another country you will need to have both your license and the International Driving Permit - You will be asked by officials and rental agencies;
- The law allows you to drive from 18 years of age, but most rental company will have other requirements such as being 21 years old or 5 years of having a driving license... Check with each rental agency.
- There is no official age limit to driving. However, rental agencies can have rules in place. Check with them.
Other requirements for driving in Portugal
- It is also mandatory to always have the vehicle registration documents as well as a valid ID, such as your passport, with you
- As a minimum you must have third party insurance and papers to prove it
- In the car, you must also carry: a reflective danger jacket, a reflective warning triangle, spare bulbs, a spare wheel and approved child seats for children under 12 years old or under 150cm.
General Driving rules in Portugal
- Driving age in Portugal is 18 years old
- Driving is on the right side with the wheel on the left side of the vehicle
- Alcohol limit - legal limit is 50 mg of alcohol in 100 ml of blood
- Use of cell phone - you can use only with hand-free system
- Headphones are illegal
- Seatbelts are compulsory for driver and passengers
- It is illegal to overtake on the right in free-flowing traffic
- In case of accident - emergency number: 112
Need help planning your itinerary? Check out my travel guide eBooks:
Road Signs in Portugal
The road signs in Portugal are classic using the Latin alphabet. There is nothing specific to understand.
Plus limits and dangers are often also indicated on the road itself.
Speed Limits in Portugal
- Speed limits are indicated on circular signs with red border and a number
- Speed limits are in kilometers per hour
- National speed limits are - 50km/h in residential areas, 90km/h on rural roads and 120km/h on Motorways
- Cars towing trailers should not drive above 80km/H
- Blue circle signs with numbers indicate minimum speed on some lanes
Directional Portugal Road signs
There are plenty of signs to indicate directions. Although sometimes in the countryside they can be missing. I recommend the use of a GPS.
The only issue I had was sometimes to realize that I had entered a town or village. The signs are white and don't jump at you, so I forgot to slow down.
Points of interest are indicated on brown signs:
In towns, the names of the streets are indicated:
Toll roads in Portugal
- Portuguese Motorways are not free. They have tolls along them.
- The easiest is to get a V-Tag with your rental car - This is V for Via Verde and it allows you to validate each time you go through a toll. You will pay at the agency at the end
- But if you don't have one - In the North most have toll booths near the V-tag lanes, so you can stop and pay
- But in the South, there are tolls without any booth. In that case if you don't have the V-tag, you have to go to the post office within a couple of days to pay your toll - but then you will be charged for the whole length since you don't have evidence of where you entered
- Learn more here
Road conditions & Difficulty - Portugal driving tips
How easy is it to drive in Portugal ?
- Generally, I thought driving in Portugal was easy. The only difficult sections are driving in old medieval villages because the streets are so narrow.
- Otherwise even in the mountains the roads were in very good conditions. I don't remember any moment when I go worried.
- Plus, the motorways are quite recent and is extremely good conditions. If you are ok with paying tolls, they will take you around quite fast.
You can watch the video again and see that it is not that difficult. Just take your time.
Dangers when driving in Portugal
Compared to other countries where I have traveled, it felt like there were a lot less dangers on the road - no wild or farm animals wandering free, very few one-lane roads...
There are 3 main dangers to be aware of when driving in Portugal:
- The Scenery - sometimes the road is so beautiful that you are distracted. Better to stop!
- Idiots and speed lovers... well they are everywhere. Can't do anything about it
- At night many roads are not very well lit
Parking in Portugal
- Parking in Lisbon and Porto can be a real pain. There are only a few parking lots and they are very expensive. If you can, try to plan visiting Lisbon before renting or after returning your car to visit the rest of Portugal
- For small medieval cities, I recommend parking outside the fortification walls. There are not many parkings inside and the streets are extremely narrow. It is quite stressful
- Always pay your parking - they are very quick to fine, even early Monday mornings. When I went down in Sintra to pay on a Monday morning, I was a bit late and I already had a fine!!!!
- When in Lisbon or Porto, I recommend parking in a paid underground carpark and visit using public transportation
Renting a car in Portugal
- There is nothing special about renting a car in Portugal - no specific insurance or rules
- Most cars in Portugal have manual transmission. You will pay more for automatic and they are fewer options.
- You might have to queue at the Lisbon airport - this is quite busy
- All major international rental companies are available as well as smaller ones.
- Rentals are normally charged per 24h period - so be careful when you select your pickup and drop off times
- Rental companies outside of the airport may close early on Saturdays. Make sure of the times
- Note: like everywhere, the rental is more expensive if you drop off your car at a different agency. Better to plan a round itinerary.
- As I said before, better to start renting after leaving Lisbon or give back the car before visiting Lisbon. No need to have a car in Lisbon and pay high parking prices.
- Rental companies may retain the excess amount for the collision damage waiver - this is not to be paid, but they block it on your account. Make sure you have enough credit on your card for them to do so.
And make sure you always read the terms and conditions carefully!
Plan your Portugal Itinerary
There is so much to see around Portugal: beaches, villages, cliffs, mountains, monasteries, cities... It can feel overwhelming to try and decide on your itinerary.
To help you plan your road trip, check out:
- My article with suggested Portugal itineraries
- or the 2 ebooks I wrote for you, with practical maps and tips plus GPS coordinates for all the locations not to be missed! They will save you a lot of planning time:
Want to see more of PORTUGAL?
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