Driving in Portugal
Driving in Portugal
Driving in Portugal gets a bad press in the main and on one or two websites unwarranted alarmism is spread. These sites lead the first-time driver to believe that as soon as they cross the border madness and mayhem will stalk them on the asphalt. Not so. All the main roads are in good condition, service areas contain everything necessary to keep on rolling and driving is fastish but not that aggressive or crazy.
The main motorways (Vigo-Porto, Porto-Lisbon, Lisbon-Algarve and Lisbon-Badajoz in Spain) are toll roads. Euros and major credit cards are accepted as payment - and there are decent service areas catering for caffeine cravings, bottled beer lust, bursting bladders, the inevitable rapid onset of addiction to heavy duty pastries (savoury and sweet) and cheapish petrol (cheaper than Britain, France and Spain).
An attractive option is to come in from Spain on the E80 via Salamanca, since the city is a great stopover - plenty of decent tapas bars, atmospheric old town and a beautiful Plaza Mayor, in which virtually the whole population gathers in the early evening as part of its promenade. It takes about an hour to the Portuguese border from Salamanca and the road varies between single track and dual carriageway.
A new dual carriageway is under construction, which for the moment, is an obstacle to driving, as there are intermittent roadworks and quite a lot of works traffic in places, which slows the journey down a little. The road has a bad reputation and there are a lot of huge freight lorries, a few of which contain drivers who seem to believe that Keep Your Distance means being two centimetres rather than chevrons apart. In general, however, traffic moves along at a fair pace and people stay calm.
The border - Fuentes de Onoro on the Spanish side and Vilar Formosa on the Portuguese side - is relaxed - officials on both sides appear to be on deep undercover missions, which preclude visibility to the naked eye. You should just drive straight through. The main problem once in Portugal is fog.
The road to the first main town, Guarda, is very high up - the outside temperature went down steadily once across the border and thick fog quickly enveloped the road. This slowed the cars down - most dropped to a stately 75-80 miles per hour, though a fair few admirably refused to let zero visibility phase them, and continued to floor it.
Just before Guarda there is a turn to the E802 dual carriageway to Lisbon, signed for Torres Novas and Lisbon (stay straight on for Coimbra), which has recently been revamped and is a fast and safe route. The road gradually appears out of the mist as the descent begins.
This is a non-toll road and the combination of light traffic, top camber and pleasant views make the run to Torres Novas relaxing. The only slight downside is the lack of Service areas - none for more than 80 kilometres - which can put pressure on the bladder and the petrol tank if you have not sorted things out at the border.
At Torres Novas the road joins the main A1 toll motorway to Lisbon. You do not reach toll booths until just outside Lisbon. The Lisbon transit routes are busy and the driving generally fast. All major routes are well signposted, so you get a sporting chance of weaving across to the correct lane in time to make your turn.
The motorways from Lisbon to the Algarve and to Badajoz are both very good roads - the surface is fine and there are plenty of service stations. There is no discernible border as you cross from Spain to Portugal on the Badajoz-Lisbon route.
Overall driving is a good option in Portugal, as a way of seeing as much of the country as possible and taking in the football - the roads good, services decent and the driving fast, but not intimidating. There are quite a few interesting places which are not well served by trains and buses - for example, Evora, Guarda and Mafra (with its stunning monastery and views) were all much more difficult to get to by train or bus than I was told. Plus, having a car makes it easier to get out to the mountains and the beaches - recommended.
Portugal - Spain Road Connections
For Porto and northern Portugal:
Viseu (Portugal) from Salamanca (Spain) - via IP5 highway.
For Lisbon and central Portugal:
Elvas (Portugal) from Badajoz (Spain) - via route E90.
For Faro and the Algarve:
Beja (Portugal) from Seville (Spain) - via E1/IP1 highway.
Cars can be rented online for airport pick in fly/drive packages from the airports in Lisbon, Porto and Faro. See our Portugal car hire section for further details and prices.