Despite its inconspicuous size, Portugal is a country full of vibrant cities, cultural centres, and traditional villages with golden beaches and strands. Dive into the bustling city streets of the cosmopolitan Lisbon or travel off the beaten track to catch some sun and discover outdoor activities galore. There is much to see in Portugal for all types of tourists due to the diversity of landforms and climates spanning the country from north to south.
There are many ways to explore the beauty of Portugal. However, the most convenient way is to do it in a car. Good road infrastructure, easy to follow traffic rules that comply with most European standards, and a wide variety of rental cars.
Discover Road Trips in Portugal
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Many tourists decide to start their holidays in Lisbon. That doesn’t come as a surprise as the capital of Portugal is the country’s cultural heart. With an interesting selection of museums, art galleries, and art studios, the Old Quarter will be a dream attraction for all the art lovers.
Not that far from the capital, you will find such stunning places as Obidos, with its fortified city walls from the 16th century, Sintra, a true gem for history lovers, and Setubal, considered the culinary capital of the region.
Tomar, a historical jewel with such highlights as Convento de Cristo or Aqueduto Pegões, and Santarem, whose monuments are steeped in history, are also cities worth visiting. Yet a true crowning when it comes to regional attractions is surely Cabo da Roca, a great inspiration for photographers and artists from all over the world. Leave your car behind and enjoy the ambience of this pristine cape.
While discovering the nearest vicinity of Lisbon, you can’t really miss a stop in Fatima, located around 130 km from the capital. It is considered one of the most important Catholic sacred places visited by thousands of pilgrims on an annual basis.
Travellers interested in architectural highlights should head their steps to Batalha where they will find the popular Batalha Monastery dating back to the 14th century. The Alcobaça Monastery, located in Alcobaça, is an equally monumental building. Interestingly, it is one of the oldest Gothic constructions in Portugal.
The northern part of the country is a true treasure trove of attractions in itself. Aveiro, Guimaraes, and Braga are all characterised by long history, unique architecture, and great restaurants serving top-notch delicacies. However, the greatest highlight of this part of the country is probably Porto dazzling with a large collection of cultural venues. The city can boast a stunning waterfront, a maze of romantic city streets, and Baroque churches.
Another great northern highlight is Coimbra. The country’s capital in the past, the city has developed from a Roman settlement into an academic centre. What’s more, the exploration of this part of the country wouldn’t be complete without a visit in Vila Real or Viseu. The former is a quintessence of charm and peaceful ambience, whereas the latter can boast a large range of monuments, including a town hall, cathedral, ancient city walls, and the Altar of Igreja da Misericórdia.
Holidaymakers who would like to move southwards from Portugal’s capital should definitely consider a stopover in Evora or Mertola. Both cities date back to the Roman period with such ancient monuments as Torre del Rio or a Roman temple. Those who would like to escape the hustle and bustle of larger cities should pay a visit in Beja enjoying a peaceful location on a hill.
Sines, Lagos, and Tavira all possess the status of seaside resorts. Plenty of accommodation options, great beach infrastructure, and stunning views are guaranteed when choosing these places for a holiday trip.
Yet another gem of the southern part of Portugal is the popular Faro, famous for the most beautiful Portuguese beaches. It is located near Ria Farmosa, a natural reserve known worldwide for its salty lagoons and multiple bird species. Faro will be also a great starting point for such southern highlights as Cabo de Sao Vicente, Aljezur, or Vila Nova de Milfontes.
Renting a car and traffic rules in Portugal
If you’d like to rent a car, you can do it in one of the major cities. There is also an extensive offer of car hire companies available at all international airports. A rental vehicle comes with a number of insurance options which you can choose according to your liking. You should also take into consideration the fact that even though you have to be 18 to drive a vehicle, the minimum age required by car rental companies is 23-25.
In Portugal, just like in many other European countries, you have to drive on the right-hand side of the road. That’s why you don’t have to worry that much, even if you are a slightly less experienced motorist. Remember to always overtake the vehicle in front of you on the left, as overtaking on the right can cost you as much as €1,000. On motorways, the lane that is designated for overtaking cars is the middle one.
During your Portuguese trip, you should always carry your driving licence with a photo, vehicle registration documents or a green card, and vehicle technical inspection certificate. You’re also required to have third party insurance.
The fines applied when you are caught talking on the phone are relatively high as you can pay as much as €600 for this offence. So if you desperately need to make a phone call and you want to save some money, you should use a hands-free set.
Toll roads in Portugal
Driving around Portugal can be a bit pricey as there are a number of paid motorways in the country. The green lanes that can be noticed on motorways are reserved for motorists who use a special automatic payment system.
If you want to take roads which are marked as “electronic toll only”, the toll can be charged with the use of a special wireless electronic device located at the windscreen without the need to stop at the toll gates.
There is also a special system designed for tourists visiting Portugal called Toll Card system which is based on pre-paid coupons. You can buy coupons for €5, €10, €20, or €40. These have to be purchased before you enter the above-mentioned roads.
Yet another payment option is EasyToll which is a system that automatically deduces money from credit cards.
Speed limits in Portugal
The speed limits that have to be observed are: 50 km/h in built-up areas, 90 km/h on rural roads, and 120 km/h on motorways.
In Portugal, it is a common phenomenon to come across unmarked police vehicles or radar traps that are part of the speed limit enforcement. The use of devices with safety camera warnings is illegal. Thus, if you are caught possessing one, regardless of whether it is turned on or off, you’ll get fined.
Portugal: car equipment
Obligatory car equipment includes a warning triangle and a reflective vest. However, it’s always worth carrying such items as: a first aid kit and a fire extinguisher.