Portugal welcomes more than 20 million overseas tourists every year. If you are planning to join them, a road trip represents by far the best way to fully explore the nation’s towns, coastal destinations and secret corners. Driving in Portugal is nothing to be worried about – here we cover everything you need to know in order to plan a Portuguese road trip to remember.
Get your international driving license
The first thing you’ll need for your road trip is a suitable rental car. You’ll find all the usual rental agencies at Lisbon airport, as well as several local operators. If your driver’s license was issued outside the European Union, you will need to obtain an international driving license (sometimes known as an International Driving Permit or IDP) in order to drive in Portugal. This displays all the information contained in your native driver’s license, but translated into the local language. It’s easy and inexpensive to order one online, so get this arranged before you travel.
Once you have collected your car, keep your driver’s license, IDP and rental documentation with you at all times. In the event of a police stop, the officer will want to see them.
Choosing your car
Just like in the US or anywhere else in the world, the rental companies will have a range of vehicles available. You might be tempted to treat yourself and your family with a luxury vehicle or an SUV, but just keep the following points in mind:
Once you get off the main highways, Portugal is full of narrow, twisty roads.
Fuel costs are high - €1.50 per liter equates to more than $5.00 per gallon.
Stick shift is the norm here. Automatic transmission is available, but costs more.
It is best to book in advance, especially if you want an automatic.
To make the journey as relaxing and enjoyable as possible, it is best to select the smallest car that will comfortably accommodate you, your passengers and your luggage.
Portugal is a nation that is rich in sun-drenched beaches, picturesque villages, historic towns and beautiful scenery. Whichever direction you take, you won’t be disappointed. Here are a few suggestions for you to consider.
Follow the coast
Lisbon lies midway up the country and right on the Atlantic coast, so you could consider following the coastal road either north towards Porto or south in the direction of the Algarve. The latter is the most popular choice, and will take you through Sines, Lagos and all the way to Faro. It also takes in the beautiful National Park that lines the south west corner of Portugal.
For a shorter trip, the gorgeous town of Sintra makes the ideal weekend road trip. Nestled in the Sintra-Cascais Natural Park, just getting there along the mountainous roads surrounded by ancient castles gives the impression that you are driving into a fairytale world. The town itself is no less mesmerizing and will fascinate and entrance the entire family.
A mountain tour
Remember what we said about avoiding an SUV? Well that’s a piece of advice you might be best to ignore if you decide to take in the Serra da Estrela mountain range on your road trip, especially if you decide to go in winter. This is one of the few places in Portugal that experiences snow, so be warned. The route from Seia to Guarda is a good one to follow, and will take in the major sights.
Forge your own route
The above are three of the most popular road trip ideas for driving in Portugal. However, part of the fun is making your own discoveries, so make sure you pack a GPS, a road map and most important of all, a spirit of adventure. There’s something new to discover and enjoy around every corner in Portugal, so enjoy.