Pros v Cons of Driving in Spain and Portugal
To reflect on our recent driving experience, I compiled a list of Pros and Cons. Starting with the Cons so we finish on the Pros 🙂
- Driving in big cities: Just close your eyes and hope for the best! Well, actually its not all bad but I’d strongly urge you to drive very, very far outside of the cities of Sevilla, Spain and Lisbon, Portugal. Some of the tiniest streets in these 2 cities, even by pedestrian standards! At one point in Sevilla, I think we did a 6-point turn just to turn right…..And in Lisbon, you share the tiny alleyways with ancient, bulking trams!
- Parking in Spain: Not a cheap exercise. On-street parking is a godsend if you can find it but even then, the time restrictions are often only 2 hours max and the meter might only accept coins. When there was no better option, we paid between €10 – €18 per day for a parking garage. Problem with garages is they write the tariff rates only once you are inside the garage! To help in this aspect, I always used parkopedia.es to search for the rare free spots or cheaper garages. Also for the full list of parking charges we racked up, have a look at my post on Cost Comparison: Transport v Car.
- Tolls in Portugal: Its quite difficult to navigate through Portugal without eventually using some toll roads and they can be very expensive. I think the toll road from Faro to Lisbon costed us about €28! Legally in Portugal there must be a free national road running parallel to all toll roads but these free roads will often take twice as long as the tolled option! For more detailed info about tolls, check out my other post on tolls in Portugal.
- Getting lost often: Road signs in Spain but especially in Portugal can be hard to interpret. Trying to interpret road signs in Spanish or Portuguese (while driving at high speed) is a recipe for taking lots of wrong turns off highways, at roundabouts and even in city driving. The English translation is usually on the signs (I’d say about 85% of the time) but this doesn’t seem to help anyway!
- Driving can get tiring: Personally, I love the part of travelling between places. Sitting on a bus or a train and just admiring the scenery or striking up a conversation between fellow travellers. Driving a car almost every day for 3 weeks made me appreciate this aspect of travel so much more! Driving requires constant focus, you can’t turn your head and wonder at the monument back in the distance because you have to…DRIVE THE CAR!
I’ve shared some ‘con stories’ if you’d like to have a read here….
- Full autonomy of movement: the best part about renting a car is deciding everything on your own terms and not being at the mercy of a train or bus schedule. Once you check-out from a hostel/hotel in one city, there’s no need to store luggage and explore the city for 1-2 hours. Sometimes, you’ve seen everything already and you want to move on straight away to the next destination.
- Day trippers: often big cities in Spain and Portugal have amazing castles, charming villages or beaches just beyond the city. However, organising these little excursions can be more costly and time-consuming if you’re using transport. For example, during our stay in Bilbao we did day trips to Sopelana beaches and La Rioja wine region. For the beach trip, we just threw clothes, wet towels, camera in the car and the drive was super-quick. La Rioja – you probably need to book a proper tour with a bus and guide. Otherwise I don’t know how you’d manage a day tour there!
- Parking in Portugal: completely the opposite to Spain, parking in Portugal is a breeze and can easily be totally free! Even in Lisbon where the trams fight pedestrians and the cars feel like they’re mounted on top of each other, street parking outside the small historic centre is free and plentiful.
- Extra storage: as regular backpackers, we understand the pain of repacking travel bags every 2 days. It doesn’t all fit in after a while! At the start of your trip, all your socks, underwear, shoes fit in your bag perfectly like a well-played game of Tetris. After 3 different stops on your journey, your bag somehow becomes 10x smaller and nothing fits! However, having a car was just glorious. For 3 weeks, we never worried about bag space and it was heavenly!
- Driving in a new place is magical: Kind of as a self-rebuttal to my last ‘Con’, I also love driving! And driving in a new place can be challenging, exciting and eye-opening. For me its also driving on the ‘wrong side’ of the car and the road! Spanish and Portuguese drivers are generally very considerate on the road and it makes for a pleasant experience for foreigners.
- Scenery off the transport track: A lot of beauty is hidden on mountain roads or little side streets that you may never, ever see unless in a car. Driving through Ronda down to Gibraltar and then onto Cadiz was some fantastic mountain scenery. Also admiring the mist hover above the Atlantic Ocean during our drive from Cascais to Cabo da Roca was mind-blowingly beautiful. Hard to get the same views on regular bus or train routes….
So, there you have it. I hope this post helps you make a decision on renting a car in Spain and/or Portugal. And honestly I hope you do because in the end, it definitely will enable you to see more, enjoy more and do more!
Pros v Cons of Driving in Spain and Portugal