Should you rent a car in Portugal? My answer is definitively a yes.
Below is my complete guide about driving in Portugal to help you plan, including:
- Is driving difficult? safe?
- Driving rules,
- Road conditions and safety tips,
- Parking information,
- Car rental tips
- Most beautiful roads not to miss,
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Driving in Portugal - Essentials to know + video
Essentials to know before driving in Portugal
If you don't want to read the entire article, here are the major points to be aware of about driving in Portugal:
- Minimum age in 18
- Driving in on the right side of the road
- Roads are overall in very good conditions
- If you have a wide car, do not enter the old villages. Roads are narrow.
- National speed limits are - 50km/h in residential areas, 90km/h on rural roads and 120km/h on Motorways
- Some roads have tolls - make sure your rental car has the V-tag
- Unbroken white lines are not to be crossed
- In case of accident - emergency number: 112
Below is a short video to give you a taste of what driving in mainland Portugal looks like on the fast roads, in the countryside, on mountain roads, in towns...
Where I rent my cars
I always compare prices right away on Discovercars.com.
This is one of the best customer-rated comparison sites on the market.
I have found really great deals and I think the platform super easy to use. I can filter based on my criteria.
Plus, they have a practical coverage option at great price that will cover you in case of damage to the outside of the car.
Need more help renting a car in Portugal? Read my 36 tips for a worry-free experience.
Getting around Portugal - by car or not?
Do you need a car in Portugal?
- No, if you mostly want to stay at a resort and go to the beach in the Algarve
- No, if you are staying in Lisbon and only exploring the town and maybe Sintra
- Yes, if you you want to enjoy the variety of sceneries Portugal has to offer
- Yes, if you want to have the freedom to adapt your program to the weather or avoid the crowded times,
- Yes, if you want to enjoy the gems off the beaten path
Overall, I think renting a car is the best way to explore the island and see all the best things to do, plus off the beaten path locations.
It will allow you to see the best landscapes Portugal offers.
All my favorite locations are included (with GPS coordinates, map and tips) in my travel guide eBook that helps you easily plan your 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.
The most tension I felt was in the Algarve, because this is the place with the most tourists.
Getting around Portugal without a car
It is possible to get around Portugal without a car, to see some sights, but it is not flexible
- Bus - Busses within the cities and between towns are well--developed
- Organized tours - If you are staying in Lisbon, Porto or one of the main towns of the Algarve, you can find a variety of guided tours to enjoy the main sights or do fun activities - see options
- Trains - All major cities are connected by train - for example you can get from Lisbon to Porto, Coimbra, Braga or Faro. The network uses Alfa Pendular Train which can reach 220km/h
Below is a map of the driving times you can expect around Portugal.
#1 to 6 - Portugal Driving Rules
Let's start with general rules and regulations you should be aware of:
#1 - License requirement / Age - Do I need an international driver's permit?
To drive in Portugal you need a valid driving licence from your country.
If you have a valid driving licence, which includes:
- a licence number,
- a photograph,
- a valid date
- and is in Latin letters,
Then you won’t need an international licence.
Otherwise, you do need one.
You must be 18 years of age (but know that many rental companies may have other age requirements).
It is also mandatory to always have the vehicle registration documents as well as a valid ID, such as your passport, with you.
#2 - Side of the road
Driving in Portugal is on the right side of the road.
It is very important to remember it on one lane roads when you have to give way!
#3 - General behavior rules
- Seatbelts are mandatory for all
- No cell phone while driving
- Headphones are illegal
- Kids under 12 cannot seat in the front of the car
#4 - Alcohol and driving
Alcohol limit is 50mg per 100ml of blood - but I always recommend not drinking at all if you are driving
#5 - Mandatory equipment to have in your car
In Portugal, the following pieces of equipment must be available in the car:
- Warning triangle
- Reflective vest or jacket
- Spare set of lights
- Spare wheel
- Booster seats for children under the age of 12 or shorter than 1.35m
#6 - Mandatory insurance in Portugal
The mandatory insurances in Portugal are: unlimited third-party liability insurance - it is automatically included in the price of all car rentals.
If you are visiting with your own car, don't forget to bring proof of insurance.
#7 to 12 - Roads conditions and Road Signs in Portugal
#7 - Conditions of Motorways and fast roads
Portugal has a lot of motorways to join the main towns.
They have tolls (more on that later) but they make transfers really fast and practical.
They are in very good conditions.
#8 - Conditions of other roads to enjoy
Once outside the motorways, roads vary.
Most of them have at least one lane in each direction.
I have encountered very few one lane roads and they were very short, to access attractions.
Mountain roads have railings when there is a steep drop.
#9 - Driving in towns & villages
- Around Lisbon and Porto, it is not so easy to drive, like all major cities. There is a lot of traffic.They both have good public transportation, so I recommend parking your car when visiting them
- Smaller towns are generally easy to drive
- The most difficult are the old villages. The old center often have very very narrow roads and steep turns. As much as possible, park outside and visit on foot.
#10 - Speed limit & signs
- Speed limits are indicated on circular signs with red border and a number
- Speed limits are in kilometers per hour
- Speed limits are - 50km/h in residential areas, 90km/h on rural roads
- Cars towing trailers should not drive above 80km/H
- Blue circle signs with numbers indicate minimum speed on some lanes
- Plus, limits and dangers are often also indicated on the road itself.
#11 - Other road signs in Portugal
The road signs are classic in latin letters, nothing specific to know.
There are plenty of signs to indicate directions. Although sometimes in the countryside, they can be missing.
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:
#12 - Tolls 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
#13 to 15 - How to drive safely
#13 - Know the potential dangers
Apart from you driving too fast, the main dangers on the Portugal roads are:
- 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
#14 - Specific driving tips
Some specifics to Portugal driving are:
- It is illegal to overtake on the right in free-flowing traffic
#15 - What to do in case of accident
In case there are people hurt or there is a conflict, the emergency number in 112 is:
The best order of actions is:
- contact emergency services
- contact the police
- contact your rental provider
#16 to 17 - Parking in Portugal
#16 - Parking in towns
- 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
#17 - Parking in attractions
- The parking conditions vary greatly from one attraction to another
- Some beaches have free parking - others require paiement
- Some palaces / churches have free parking - others require paiement
- Always look for a big 'P' sign to learn more
- Better to have coins with you
Where to stay in Portugal?
- In Lisbon, to explore the vibrant city - see best rated accommodations
- In Sintra, to visit as many palaces as possible - see best rated accommodations
- In Porto, to feel the history - see best rated accommodations
- In Obidos, to walk on the medieval walls at sunset - see best rated accommodations
- In the Douro valley, if you love wine - see best rated accommodations
- In the Algarve, my favorite town is Lagos - see best rated accommodations
- In the Algarve, Portimao is practical to visit all the best beaches - see best rated accommodations
Find more inspiration in my article about where to stay in Portugal
#17 to 18 - Gas stations
#17 - Fuels and their names
- Fuel is quite expensive in Portugal
- Unleaded petrol is called "gasolina sem chumbo".
- Diesel is called gasoleo
- LPG is called GPL
- See the concentration of electric car charging station, where you are going in Portugal on this website
#18 - Management of gas stations
- gas stations are very frequent overall
- there are less stations in the Alentejo - so plan ahead
- you have to fill your own tank
- In some stations at night, you might have to prepay before being able to fill up.
#19 - Most beautiful roads in Portugal
If you want to drive on the most beautiful roads in Portugal, don't miss:
- Driving in the Alentejo surrounded by cork trees
- Driving in the Estrela mountains with the rock formations and glacial valleys
- Driving along the Douro Valley
- Driving around the Penada Geres National Park
#20 to 23 - Renting a car in Portugal
Below is a snapshot with the main things to know.
You can learn more on my article about renting a car in Portugal.
#20 - Type of car to rent
- Most cars in Portugal have manual transmission. You will pay more for automatic and they are fewer options.
- I recommend not choosing a car too wide if you plan on visiting villages
- It is not useful to have a 4WD
#21 - Where to rent
My top recommendation is to not have a car in Lisbon.
If you are flying to and from Lisbon airport, rent your car before or after visiting the capital city.
The largest car rental hubs in Portugal are:
#22 - Best rental car company
On the platform Discovercars.com, each rental company has a mark on 10 points. This is an average of the marks given by actual customers.
Don't forget that on Tripadvisor or Google for example, anyone can write a review even if they have not used the company.
Some of the best rated rental car companies in Portugal are:
#23 - General tips for worry-free experience
- There is nothing special about renting a car in Portugal - no specific insurance or rules
- As everywhere, I recommend a thorough examination of the car before taking it (and take pictures)
- Book early to get the best prices and the choice of cars
- Avoid driving in Lisbon and Porto - public transportation is excellent
- See all my tips on my other article
Plan your Portugal Itinerary
Want to see more of the best Portugal has to offer?
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:
And keep track of your own trip!
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