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Orbit's Travel Blog - 19.06.2023.

Driving in Portugal: Travelling around Portugal With A Rental Car

Discover the scenic wonders of driving in Portugal. From coastal routes to charming towns, explore the country's beauty behind the wheel. Plan your adventure today!

"Once upon a time, in the sun-kissed land of Portugal, there existed a quaint village nestled amidst rolling hills and vineyards." This is how your Portuguese travel story can begin - how wonderful would that be?

Portugal's charm lies in its unique blend of history, culture, natural beauty, and warm hospitality. Whether exploring its vibrant cities, indulging in its delicious cuisine, or immersing yourself in its rich heritage, Portugal offers a captivating experience that leaves a lasting impression on visitors. Driving in Portugal is a fantastic way to explore all the country's beauty. 

Lisbon in the evening sun

Driving in Portugal

Familiarizing yourself with local driving regulations and staying up-to-date with any changes or requirements before your trip is essential. Before starting your Portugal road trip, let's review some important things to make your trip more enjoyable, less stressful, and safer. 

Traffic and road laws and regulations

One of the most common speculations people ask when driving in a new and foreign country is: "Which side of the road do you drive on?" In Portugal, you drive on the right side of the road. 

Always obey the speed limits and road signs. The general speed limits are 50 km/h in urban areas, 90 km/h on rural roads, and 120 km/h on highways. The Portuguese authorities use various speed control devices to monitor and enforce road speed limits. These devices include fixed-speed cameras, mobile speed cameras, and average-speed cameras. 

Seat belts are, of course, mandatory for all passengers in the vehicle. Children under 12 years old and less than 135 cm in height must be seated in an appropriate child restraint system. 

In Portugal, the legal limit for blood alcohol concentration (BAC) is 0.05%. The drunk driving laws in Portugal are strict, and penalties for driving under the influence of alcohol can be severe.

Roundabouts are common in Portugal, and they can be pretty busy. When entering a roundabout, yield to traffic already in the roundabout and use your turn signals to indicate your exit. Roundabouts in Portugal, especially in the larger cities, usually have multiple lanes, with the innermost lane being for immediate exits and the outer lanes for longer distances. If you must exit beyond the first one, choose the appropriate lane as you approach the roundabout. Keep to the right side of the road while navigating a roundabout and overtake other vehicles on the left when necessary.

Road signs in Portugal use international symbols, and most major highways have clear signage. It's a good idea to have a GPS or a navigation app to help you find your way, especially in rural areas. Many Portuguese cities have pedestrianized zones or restricted access areas. Familiarize yourself with these zones and avoid driving in restricted areas. To close this chapter, we would like to mention defensive driving. As with any country, it's important to practice defensive driving and be aware of your surroundings. Pay attention to local driving habits, use your mirrors frequently, and maintain a safe distance from the vehicle ahead.

On the road in Portugal

Another critical factor is road and driving conditions when you are on the road. Driving in Portugal can be relatively easy, especially on major highways and well-maintained roads. It depends on where you're driving, whether you might find it challenging or a walk in the park. 

Portugal's major highways and main roads are usually in good shape and well-maintained. They have clear signposts and adequate infrastructure. However, it's important to note that the condition of roads can vary depending on factors such as the region, specific routes, and ongoing construction or maintenance work. Some countryside roads or less-travelled routes may have narrower lanes, uneven surfaces, or occasional potholes. Road conditions can deteriorate temporarily during certain seasons or adverse weather conditions, such as heavy rain. In mountainous areas, winding roads or steep gradients may require cautious driving. 

Before setting off, it is advisable to research what the weather will be like, what kind of roads you will be driving, and whether there are roadworks or other delays on your planned route.

It's also good to have researched what you might expect on your road trip, such as tolls, gas stations and parking.

"Are there toll roads on Portuguese highways?"

"Are there any gas stations on my way?"

"How are public parking in Portugal?"

These questions are very all essential and great questions. The more questions you ask before you head off, the fewer surprises come your way!

Toll Roads in Portugal 

Portugal has an extensive toll road network. Some toll booths accept cash, but many are electronic and require a toll transponder or a pre-paid electronic card called "Via Verde." Rental cars often have an electronic toll device installed. Suppose your rental vehicle has a transponder or is part of another automated payment system. In that case, your car is automatically registered when passing through the gates. If your rental has no automatic payment system, you can pay with cash or a card at the toll gates. You will get a receipt you must keep until exiting the toll road, where you'll pay for the distance driven. There are some toll roads that you can only drive using an automatic payment system. Check with the rental company about the toll payment method before you drive off.

Parking in Portugal

In urban areas, parking spaces usually operate meters, and you need to purchase a ticket from the nearest parking meter or pay using a smartphone app. Some cities have designated "blue zones" where you must display a parking disc indicating your arrival time. Parking can be challenging in some areas, particularly in city centres. In rural areas and smaller towns, parking is usually free. Find parking information where you plan to park your rental car by searching on your smartphone or at the nearest Tourist Information Center. 

Gas stations

Gas stations are plentiful along major roads and urban areas, mainly in and near populated areas like anywhere else. Most stations accept major credit cards, but having cash on hand is also a good idea - just in case. Prices at Portugal's gas stations show per litre. It may be a surprise that Portugal has some of the highest gas prices in Western Europe.

Porto Skyline in Portugal

Renting a car in Portugal

For most of us, the best travel option is to travel independently and freely. Travelling around Portugal independently is generally relatively easy and convenient. Renting a car is a popular option for travellers who want to explore at their own pace. Most car hire companies are usually at airports, major cities, and tourist areas. 

Many rental companies allow one-way rentals within Portugal (apart from possibly the Portuguese archipelago) or nearby countries. However, you must get the company's permission and check for additional fees. 

Required documents 

Here are some essential documents you need to have with you when you pick up your rental car:

  • First, submit a valid driver's license from your home country before collecting your rental car and setting off on your adventure. Some companies require an International Driving Permit (IDP). Please check with the rental company to confirm their specific requirements.
  • You'll need a credit card in the prior driver's name for the rental deposit and payment.
  • Valid proof of insurance. Buying insurance at the car hire agency is advisable if your policy doesn't cover you while driving in Portugal.
  • You must be 18 years old to operate a vehicle in Portugal. However, the minimum age to rent a car is usually 21 years, but some companies may require drivers to be at least 23 or 25 years old. 

To avoid obstacles (and a rough start to your trip), it is good to check with the car rental company you rent from if they request other and more documents than the ones we have listed here. 

Popular destinations to rent a car in Portugal

The destinations that Orbit Car Hire customers most often rent cars in Portugal are Faro, Porto, Lisbon, Azores Islands, and Madeira.

Faro

Faro is a vibrant and charming city in the southernmost region of Portugal, known as the Algarve. Faro is often considered a great destination and a popular place to travel by rental car. Faro combines history, natural beauty, delicious cuisine, and a vibrant atmosphere making it an excellent destination for travellers looking to experience the best of Portugal's southern coast. As the capital of the Algarve region, Faro serves as a gateway to explore the wider area. From Faro, you can easily access other charming towns and villages, such as Lagos, Albufeira, and Tavira, each offering unique attractions and a beautiful coastline. 

Driving in Faro and the wider Algarve region can be a pleasant, convenient way to explore the area and relatively easy.

Most customers of Orbit Car Hire pick up their rental car at Faro Airport, also known as Algarve Airport. But you can also pick up your rental car in the city centre. Check the options available with the car rental company you are dealing with.

Porto

Porto is a lively and stunning city located in northwest Portugal. With its rich history, cultural offerings, stunning architecture, and warm ambience, Porto has much to offer visitors looking for an authentic and captivating experience in Portugal. 

Driving in Porto can be both convenient and challenging at times. The road conditions are generally good, but some smaller streets in the historic centre can be narrow and difficult to navigate. It is advisable to park your car outside the historic centre and explore on foot or use an alternative transportation option. While driving in Porto may present some challenges, with proper planning and awareness of local driving conditions, it is possible to navigate the city and explore its surrounding areas by car. 

The most common pick-up point for vehicles is the Francisco Sá Carneiro Airport, Porto Airport. You can also check with the car rental company you are dealing with to see if a car pick-up in the city centre is optional. 

Lisbon

Lisbon: Lisbon, the lovely capital of Portugal, is a destination that captivates visitors with its rich history, stunning architecture, lively atmosphere, and breathtaking views, making it a fantastic destination to explore and experience the best of Portugal's capital city. 

Driving in Lisbon can be a convenient way to explore the city and its surrounding areas. Still, it's essential to be aware of certain aspects of driving in this bustling capital. Lisbon is known for its hilly terrain and narrow streets. Some roads may be challenging, especially when encountering tight turns or steep inclines. 

Lisbon Airport is the most common pick-up location for most Orbit Car Hire customers. If another pick-up location is more convenient for you, such as the city centre, check with the car rental company you do business with if that is an option.

The Azores Islands

The Azores Islands are a truly magnificent destination with a unique and captivating experience. With their natural beauty, outdoor activities, cultural heritage, and commitment to sustainability, the Azores Islands offer a truly unforgettable experience for travellers. Whether you seek adventure, relaxation, or a deeper connection with nature, the Azores provide an exceptional and immersive destination that will leave you in awe of its wonders. 

Driving in the Azores Islands is a rewarding way to explore stunning landscapes and charming towns at your own pace. It allows you to explore the archipelago's hidden gems and experience the beauty of its landscapes. You can enjoy a memorable and picturesque journey through these enchanting islands with careful driving and a sense of adventure. 

Lake of seven cities in the Azores

Our customers love and visit the most Ponta, Terceira, and Horta. 

Madeira

Madeira: Madeira is a magnificent destination that combines natural beauty, a pleasant climate, and rich culture. With its untouched landscapes, outdoor activities, and welcoming atmosphere, Madeira offers a remarkable experience for travellers seeking a diverse and memorable destination.

Driving in Madeira can be an exciting and unique way to explore the island's stunning landscapes and lovely little towns. However, the island's mountainous terrain makes many roads winding, narrow, and sometimes steep. Madeira's weather can change with rain, fog, and wind, especially in higher elevations. It's essential to be careful and adjust your driving to suit the weather conditions. With attentive driving and an appreciation for the stunning landscapes, you can have an enjoyable and memorable experience on the roads of Madeira.

Hiring a car at Funchal Airport with Orbit Car Hire gives you great freedom to travel around the island of Madeira. 

Wherever your Portugal adventure takes you - driving in Portugal offers a fantastic way to discover the country's natural wonders, historic sites, and vibrant culture. With proper preparation, a respectful attitude, and a sense of adventure, exploring Portugal by car can provide an unforgettable and personalized travel experience. So buckle up, hit the road, and embark on a memorable journey through Portugal's enchanting landscapes and captivating destinations.

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