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17 things you should know before renting a car in Portugal in 2022

Renting a car in Portugal and going on road trips across the country is the best way to get to enjoy it. It gives you the freedom to go to places you wouldn’t otherwise get to go, or you could, but it would take too much time with public transportation.

In this post, you will find several practical tips on rental cars in Portugal, how to create a perfect itinerary, and have an incredible experience exploring the country on four wheels.

Renting a car in Portugal

Because it is a small country, it is possible to drive around Portugal from north to south in a single trip and enjoy the wonders of this beautiful land.

During your Portugal itinerary, you will find large, bustling cities, historic villages that seem almost abandoned, dreamy beaches, and breathtaking scenery.

How to find the best Portugal car rental company

First thing first, we need to rent a car! To find the best Portugal car rental companies we suggest using Discover Cars as their website allows you to compare different rental car companies so that you can easily compare their prices, the insurance inclusions, and other details.

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Best Car Rental Deals w/ Free Cancellation, Compare & Save! | Discover Cars

Find the best car rental deals and explore around freely, at your own pace. My favorite way to enjoy a destination!

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RENTING A CAR IN PORTUGAL

Why drive across Portugal?

First of all, why should you consider renting a car in Portugal for your next trip?

Located on the west coast of the Iberian Peninsula and facing the Atlantic Ocean, Portugal has a lot to offer.

The nation is home to various attractive towns worth visiting, like Coimbra and Fátima. Other towns can be explored quickly, such as Óbidos and Aveiro, which are ideal for a road trip.

Not to mention, the impressive Portugal landmarks including natural places, intriguing castles, and historical palaces.

Portugal countryside

Since the distance between cities is short, the roads are great, and the landscapes are very inviting, driving across Portugal is the cherry on top of the cake of your vacation.

Besides, each city has its charm, culture, touristic points of interest, and cuisine. And you get to experience it all on your terms.

So, renting a car in Portugal is very worthwhile. But, it does demand some planning ahead in order to make the most of it.


RENTING A CAR IN PORTUGAL

Practical tips on renting a car in Portugal

In general, it is very simple to rent a car in Portugal! Most cities and the main airports have great car rental companies where you can pick up your online booked rental.

The ideal is to plan and make a reservation as soon as possible, so you can guarantee the best rental prices.

So, I suggest you look for car rental deals and discounts and compare prices on sites like DiscoverCars, which compares several car rental companies.

Car rental lady in the car

1. Documents required to drive in Portugal

Most tourists do not need an international driver’s license to drive in Portugal.

If it’s valid for up to 6 months from the date of arrival in the country, the driver’s license from your home country should be enough.

However, to rent a car, it is necessary to have a credit card to be able to pick up the vehicle from the rental car company.

It must be an international card (MasterCard, Visa, or American Express) and with enough limit to cover the amount that will be retained during the whole period you will have the car (which varies by company).

When you bring the car back, they “return” the retained value, since it was only (authorized on the card and not withdrawn, and they keep only the value of the rental itself.

So do make sure your credit card is valid for international purchases!

Renting a car in Portugal

2. Choosing the car

There is more to choosing a rental car than the price. Pay attention to the type of car and also to the size.

For example, for the city and little luggage, choose a compact and small car. For the road, a sedan. If you are traveling with four people, for example, invest in the wagon category upwards.

There is nothing worse than traveling with a suitcase in the middle of the passengers in the back. After all, we want cheap but we also want comfort!

Remember that you will choose a group of cars, not a specific vehicle because the rental company will give you whatever is available. If by any chance, they don’t have the class of car you chose, they will probably give you a free upgrade!

Also, keep in mind that the lower the category of your car (and the lower the damage waiver), the lower the rental price will be. But this is not the ideal combination. Save on the type of car and avoid a lot of headaches by investing in full, no deductible insurance for your vehicle.

Car rental sign at airport

3. Picking up the car

The pick-up of the vehicle is done directly at the rental offices or the airport, depending on the city and your choice.

You will do a quick registration and need to sign a checklist with the current state of the vehicle.

Most people arrive tired after hours of flying and just want to get in their car and head to their destination. But often, it is worth leaving the airport by taxi or other transportation before taking the car rentals.

Why? Because like in many other countries airport rentals are usually more expensive than the rental offices in town.

Remember also that due to the high demand at the airports, the lines and waiting times are longer for the release of the rented cars.

So, do this research beforehand and see if the savings are worth it.

It is good to remember that the service hours of the car rental companies outside the airport are more restricted though.

Lady looking out of a car

4. Scratches, tools, and spare tire

Before leaving the car rental company, check the vehicle’s condition very carefully.

Follow the inspection with the report they provide and all the problems that should appear on the inspection form.

Keep an eye on every scratch and mark on the car. See if the spare tire, jack, and wheel wrenches are in the rental car. Check that the tank is full, the radio is working, and the manual is in the glove compartment.

Don’t forget to take a copy of the inspection with you.

And I always recommend taking photos and videos at the time of the pick-up. If you see any damage or scratches it is very important to inform the rental car company so that you are not charged for this at the time of return.

Ponta de Piedade Portugal

5. Free or controlled mileage?

After deciding whether to take a car rental on your next vacation, it is good to know whether you will drive a lot or a little.

Some rental companies give you a choice between free or controlled mileage. The limit is usually around 62 miles per day.

Sometimes the discount is worth it. It might seem odd, but this rule is actually very common in Europe.

So, be careful, because sometimes you buy a car rental promotion and do not see between the lines that the mileage is controlled.

When you return the car you are surprised by the high charge for the exceeding distance.

Renting a car in Portugal - signing the contract

6. Full-full or full-empty?

Many car rental companies offer both choices when renting the car: return the car with an empty or a full tank.

The best choice is to receive the car with a full tank and return it the same way. It is difficult to use the whole tank and still make the exact calculation to deliver the vehicle without a drop of gasoline.

So when you leave the rental place, check if there is a petrol station nearby because you will need it when you return.

Otherwise, if you return the car with an empty tank, you will probably have to pay a much higher price for the fuel that will be replaced.

7. Car rental with free cancellation

Try to book your car rental sometime before your trip and preferably use reservations with no cancellation fees, like the ones offered by DiscoverCars.

If you have time, it is a good idea to redo the search every 15 days with the same dates and pick-up location.

Many times, the values go down. Then you just need to make a new reservation and cancel the previous one.

Road 25 in Portugal

8. Car Insurance

As the saying goes… Always better safe than sorry!

Always rent a car with full insurance coverage (meaning 0 deductible).

And be careful when making the reservation to check for accidents, theft, crash & third-party coverage. The latter usually requires an extra fee.

I always prefer to pay a little extra and rent a car with full insurance for peace of mind because I know that whatever happens I will be covered.

Usually, you have the collision damage waiver (CDW) included by default in the basic insurance, but if you want to upgrade to full coverage you will need to pay an extra 20 to 30 USD per day, depending on the company and the type of car.

Azore Ponta Delgada

9. Renting a car with credit card insurance

Many travelers forget that some credit cards offer insurance for rental cars. Coverage applies to all major countries in the world, including Portugal itself.

Yet, some car models may not be covered, check the regulations of your credit card company before counting on this service.

Towing costs and any charges for loss of use and administrative fees may be covered, if such charges result directly from a covered loss.

It sounds amazing, huh?! Well, the only issue is that you must decline the rental company’s offer of any partial or full collision coverage. This includes any other similar damage and loss (CDW/LDW) insurance offered by the car rental company.

In this case, what the rental company might do is raise that bond value they block on your credit card to cover possible problems and the deductible.

The negative side to this is that when using credit card insurance, you will have to pay the damage first and then ask for a reimbursement.

However, as I mentioned before, in some countries the rental companies include the CDW in the rate, so you no longer have the right to the card coverage.

So make sure you check that in advance. Although we always hope that nothing happens and we trust that we are careful, you never know and mishappenings can be due to other driver’s negligence and we are just in the wrong place at the wrong time.

Hence, full insurance will do. But that also goes for travel insurance, which I always suggest. I usually recommend World Nomads, which has very extended coverage and in some situations includes car insurance. But check what they have in fine print to be on the safe side.

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10. Additional driver

Are you traveling with friends or family? Will the routes be very long, and will you have to share the driving task?

Just keep in mind that rental car companies charge an extra fee if someone else is driving the rental car and you need to add the additional driver while signing the contract.

If you don’t do that and you have an accident while the driver is not included in the contract, the insurance won’t cover it.

Road in Portugal

11. Driver’s minimum age

This detail matters a lot when you want to rent a car. Just as when you hire insurance for your car, the age of the driver counts for the final rental price.

You might be a 22-year-old driver with an exemplary driving record, but this means nothing to the rental car companies.

Most companies charge a “minor driver” fee that in some cases can be as high as 35 euros per rental day. Also, sometimes there is a minimum age to rent a car.

12. Should you pay extra for GPS?

Most rental companies offer extra services and gadgets for an additional fee. And GPS is the most common one out there. After all, no one wants to get lost and waste time and gasoline, right?!

But nowadays, your phone is more than enough for that.

Besides helping us find ourselves, you can use Google Maps to research places and Spotify to guarantee the soundtrack, of course.

And, for this, nothing better than an international sim card and a functioning cellphone, or, even better, you could get a local sim card, to have a smaller bill for your international data.

ladies in front of a car

13. Filling up the tank

Always confirm with the rental company which fuel to put in the car. If possible, opt for Diesel: the trip will be much cheaper because the price difference for other types of fuel is big.

Keep in mind that gasoline is called “Gasolina” and diesel is called “gasóleo” in Portuguese. Both words are fairly similar, and you don’t want to put the wrong fuel in your car.

Every 25 miles, more or less, there are gas stations with convenience stores and signs indicating the distance to the nearest ones as well as the prices.

In Portugal, these stations are called “service areas”.

When you arrive at the gas station, you will have to fill up your car, since there are no employees to do this. Go to the convenience store’s cashier to pay for the full tank.

14. Returning the rental car

In Portugal, like in other parts of the world, you may rent a car in one city and return it to another, instead of returning it to the same city.

This one-way rental usually comes with an additional cost, a fee known as “return tax”.

This fee covers the costs of driving the car back to its original location. The amount itself is determined by the rental company and is frequently included in the rental fee.

You’ll see that the car rental prices skyrocket when we simulate returning the car to a place other than its origin.

But, is it worth it? It all depends on how many days you have and how you plan your Portugal itinerary.

Also, whatever drop-off locations you choose, try to return the car a bit earlier than the appointed date and time so as not to pay an extra daily charge.

Sometimes they offer a 1-hour grace period pe but you better stick to what’s written in the contract.


Lisbon city tram

RENTING A CAR IN PORTUGAL

Driving in Portugal

We would like to share some practical tips about driving in Portugal as well so as to make your experience easier!

1. Parking in Portugal

One of the most annoying aspects of renting a car is where to park it when you don’t need it.

In Portugal, in almost all public places you have to pay for parking. If you find a parking space on the street, look for parking meters. They are very easy to use, simply insert coins and define how long you will stay there.

In general, you have to pay to use the meter between 8 am and 7 pm. It goes without saying but remember to place the ticket somewhere visible on your dashboard, facing up!

Be aware that some areas have a maximum duration of 2 hour-tickets. After finishing these 2 hours, you need to pay for a new ticket.

In the major cities, there is usually a good supply of underground parking – where you only pay at the end, according to the time you stay there. And in shopping malls and supermarkets parking is usually free.

Also, keep in mind that depending on where you stay, it may be difficult to get a parking place, so if possible, choose an accommodation that includes parking.

Coastal road in Portugal

RENTING A CAR IN PORTUGAL

2. Is driving in Portugal safe?

Since the majority of cities in Portugal are extremely safe, it is possible to leave the car on the street at night.

Just don’t leave your belongings on display, and take extra precautions if you’re in a big city like Lisbon or Porto.


RENTING A CAR IN PORTUGAL

3. Traffic fines in Portugal

No one wants this but you might get a fine either for speed, bad parking, or other road mishappenings. What to do then?

Well, if you have received a traffic ticket or parking ticket and you receive a notice on the windshield of the car, it is best if you pay it as soon as possible.

You can easily pay the fine on the same day or within 5 days at a post office (CTT).

For cases of speeding, you can be notified by letter through the rental car company for a period of up to 3 months.

Remember that the rental company has your data: address, cell phone number, and credit card. So, there is no getting out of it.

Just pay attention to the road signs in Portugal and you should be fine.

Portugal road countryside

RENTING A CAR IN PORTUGAL

4. How are the roads in Portugal?

Besides the beautiful scenery, renting a car in Portugal is great because the roads are excellent! Well-maintained and without traffic, the roads in Portugal are divided into freeways, national roads, main routes, and complementary routes.

Freeways

For those who want to save time and don’t mind paying tolls, the indicated roads are the freeways, “AE”. The maximum speed on them reaches 75 miles per hour and the asphalt is impeccable.

But there is always an alternative not to pay for tolls, just choose the secondary roads.

These, in general, demand a little more time to reach your destination, because most of the time they pass through some city (or very close), and the authorized speed is lower.

But… if you are just driving around, this probably won’t be an issue, will it?

National and local roads

The main and complementary routes are roads that better distribute the flow of cars on the roads, and also have stretches that enter cities and help in the flow of the daily traffic.

Also known as two-way roads, national roads are the old roads that cut Portugal from North to South and were replaced by freeways.

The speed limits on the national roads vary a lot since many times they pass through cities. Pay attention to the signs. These are the roads indicated by an “N”.

As you can imagine, the local roads (or urban roads) are the older roads that go through villages.

The speed limit is also variable, so keep an eye on the signs. These are the roads indicated by “IP” and “IC”.

Obido Portugal
Obido Portugal

RENTING A CAR IN PORTUGAL

5. Tolls and Via Verde

Portugal, like many other nations across the world, has some roads with tolls (called “portagens” in Portuguese).

These toll roads are charged by sections, which means that every time you enter a highway, you get a ticket and only pay when you leave.

Depending on the distance traveled, the system calculates how much you have to pay.

A great piece of advice for travelers driving in Portugal is to rent a Via Verde to avoid tolls.

You prevent any hassle with tolls by passing right through the toll booths and being charged on your credit card.

The benefit of having the Via Verde is that you don’t have to go to a PayShop network (or CTT Post Office) to pay the SCUTS after.

SCUTS is a toll collecting method that cannot be paid in cash. The highway cameras take a photo of your license plate, and you must remember to pay within 5 days.

But, if you have the Via Verde, everything is charged directly to your credit card, and you don’t have to bother about tolls at all.

To give you an idea, the total toll from Lisbon to Porto is somewhat more than €20 one way.

There is the option of taking toll-free routes if do not mind making a little longer trip but saving more money.

Toll roads are better and typically shorter, but you may simply take national roads instead. These are more popular amongst truck drivers and people who do not want to pay tolls.

Porto Bridge - Lisbon to Porto

RENTING A CAR IN PORTUGAL

6. Speed limits in Portugal

Highways: 120 km/h (75 miles per hour)

Two-way roads: 90 km/h (56 miles per hour)

Urban roads: 50 km/h (31 miles per hour)


RENTING A CAR IN PORTUGAL

7. Distances across Portugal

In general, when planning their Portugal itinerary, people start from the capital. So here are some examples of distances from Lisbon, to give you an idea:

Lisbon to Porto – 314 km / 195 miles

Lisbon to Coimbra – 204 km / 127 mi

Lisbon to Faro – 278 km / 173 mi

Lisbon to Fátima – 128 km / 80 mi

Lisbon to Óbidos – 85 km / 53 mi

Lisbon to Évora – 134 km / 83 mi


RENTING A CAR IN PORTUGAL

How much does it cost to rent a car in Portugal?

As most holiday trips budget, the costs of driving when visiting Portugal also depend on the season you are going to rent the car. The values change according to the demand, which means that in the low season the values are much lower than in the peak season.

But, generally renting a car in Portugal is not expensive (obviously depending on the model of the car you choose). What will determine the value of your car rental are these factors:

✔ Model and size of the car. As you can imagine, the best price is usually that of a smaller car.

✔ Manual transmission vs automatic: you need to keep in mind that the value of the car is more expensive if they are automatic cars. Usually, the best deals are for manual cars.

✔ Age of the driver. As I mentioned, young drivers usually pay more, and rental car companies sometimes classify their prices like this: 19-24 years, 25-74 years, 75+.

✔ Booking in advance: if you book a car online for the next day it will cost much more (double or more) than booking a car at least 7 days in advance. It is best to book a car 15 to 30 days in advance and use a booking engine such as DiscoverCars to find the best deals.

✔ Number of days and day of the week: when you rent for more days, the price per day is much cheaper than renting the car for only one day. Another thing that influences the total value of car rentals is the day of the week you rent. Usually, renting a car on the weekend is a bit more expensive. But, not always.

✔ Extra services: GPS, Via Verde, child seats, number of drivers, etc.

✔ Car insurance. Prices will highly depend on your choice of insurance: no insurance, partial (covers your car, but not that of others – in case of crashes, for example), or total (covers your car and that of others – it is the most recommended).

✔ Pick up and return location: picking up and returning the car at the same place is cheaper than picking up at one place and returning it at another.

Faro algarve aerial view

RENTING A CAR IN PORTUGAL

Best time to go on a road trip in Portugal

Located in southern Europe, Portugal is one of the sunniest countries on the continent and so can be visited at any time of year.

Of course, better seasons are depending on what you want to see. The giant waves of Nazaré, for example, occur throughout the winter.

The grape harvest, on the other hand, occurs in the autumn. And if you want to prolong your stay and explore the beaches of the Algarve, spring or summer are the best times to do it.

Aside from that, it’s worth noting that the months of July and August (summer for Europeans), as well as the time between Christmas and New Year’s, are regarded as high seasons in Portugal. As a result, everything is more crowded and expensive.

So, in general, I would suggest that the best time to visit Portugal and make the most of your trip are spring (from March to early June) and fall (best between September and October).

Prices are lower, the attractions are less crowded, and the weather is still nice during those months.


RENTING A CAR IN PORTUGAL

Portugal road trip itineraries

With a breathtaking Atlantic coast, mainland Portugal offers trip itineraries for all tastes and pockets. You can drive through the most beautiful coastal towns and explore the most famous landmarks in Portugal. Just take your pick!

Sintra Castle - Landmarks in Portugal

Driving across Portugal

Many people decide to visit Portugal from north to south since the country is so small. You can start the trip in the north and go down, or start in the south and go up, stopping along the way, of course!

But since most flights arrive in Lisbon, I recommend you start in the capital. After arriving, stay at least two days in Lisbon to see all the interesting parts of the Portuguese capital.

Then you can opt for an Algarve itinerary, in the far south, and see all the beaches in the region.

North of Portugal

If you prefer the North, go from Lisbon to Sintra, Óbidos, Fátima, Aveiro and Coimbra. They are very famous cities, and very touristy.

When you leave Coimbra, go in the direction of the Douro, the Port Wine region, and drive through several small towns in the region before hitting the road again to Guimarães – a very charming city and considered a UNESCO World Heritage.

Then visit Braga, Portugal’s third-largest city and a place where history, religion, and culture coexist alongside university life and technological industry. Finally, head to Porto, which deserves to be explored in more time.

FATIMA

Algarve trip

Obviously, you can also go on a road trip entirely dedicated to the southernmost region of Portugal. The Algarve has a lot to offer, with its cinematographic beaches, spectacular caverns, dramatic rock formations, and historical heritage sites.

An Algarve itinerary can start in Faro and within 5 days you can explore the region.

Lisbon to Porto

When driving from Lisbon to Porto on any chosen route, it is possible to include some cities without going off the path. Some cities between the two destinations are Peniche, Óbidos, Batalha, Alcobaça, Fatima, Tomar, Coimbra, and Aveiro.

Route of the convents

One idea is to visit the convents of Alcobaça, Batalha, and Tomar on the same day. A special tip is that you can buy combined tickets for these attractions and get a nice discount.

Convento de Cristo Tomar
Tomar Convent

Palaces Route

Another “thematic” route can be the Palaces route. You can make a circle, leave Lisbon, spend the morning in Queluz and the afternoon in Mafra, and go to Sintra at night to enjoy a weekend exploring the Sintra castles. From there, return to Lisbon and you close the circle.

Douro Region

From Porto, you can visit the entire Douro River Valley region, including cities like Lamego and Amarante.

Douro Valley winery overview
Douro Valley

Historic Circle

When using Porto as your base, head towards Braga, with a one-day stop in Guimarães. On the way back, stop in Barcelos to buy one of the best souvenirs from Portugal. Or you can go a little further north to visit Viana do Castelo.

Coimbra to Porto

Between these two cities, a good stop, especially in the summer, is the beautiful Aveiro.

Évora

From Lisbon, you can go to Évora and take advantage of the car to visit the vineyards of the region.


RENTING A CAR IN PORTUGAL

So, is it worth renting a car in Portugal?

The short answer is: “It depends”.

Before booking a car for your trip to Portugal, I highly recommend thinking about what are your priorities for your trip.

If the idea is to stay only at one destination, it doesn’t make sense to drive. Many streets have restricted traffic, you will suffer to find parking, and public transportation is SUPER cheap.

And, keep in mind that Uber and Bolt are the popular four-wheeled urban commuting apps in Portugal, and they’re also a bargain.

But if you want to explore the Algarve beaches, go for it! If you want to start in Lisbon and stop in smaller towns until you get to Porto, have no doubts.

The car is also a handy way to do some day-trips from the Portuguese capital.

Armação da Pêra portugal algarve

Renting a car in Portugal: final thoughts!

So if you wanted to rent a car in Portugal but still weren’t sure about it, we hope we have helped you clear your mind and given you some useful tips on how and where to rent a car.

Renting a car in Portugal is very easy. Just make sure you book in advance pack your driver’s license, purchase your travel insurance AND full car rental insurance, buy a local sim card and download google maps and you are good to go!

Enjoy Portugal!


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