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Posted on Jul 19, 2016 in Blog, Portugal

Should You Rent a Car in Portugal?

Should You Rent a Car in Portugal?

From time to time people write me with questions about their upcoming trips to Portugal. A common question that I get is, “Should I rent a car?”

Avoid this. Walk or take public transportation.

Avoid this. Walk or take public transportation.

Several years ago I suggested a friend rent a car to travel to Évora, a town in the Alentejo region known for its Roman ruins and medieval palaces and churches. Last year, when we went there ourselves, we had no problem using public transportation. We saw the countryside from the window of our comfortable air-conditioned bus, and the town itself was quite walkable. We have traveled to a number of other cities and towns in Portugal via public transportation, including Sintra, Cascais, Óbidos (which is a bit of a pain because there is a bus transfer in Caldas das Rainhas (route to Leiria) and then a cab ride to the medieval castle that’s the town’s attraction), Tomar, Coimbra, Aveiro, and Porto. We know we can take short bus or train trips to other spots we have yet to visit — Nazaré on the Atlantic Coast (a popular surfing destination but also one known for the devoutly Catholic widows dressed in black), Setúbal, a city south of the Tejo about an hour from Lisbon, and Guimarães, a city east of Porto that served as the country’s capital in the early Middle Ages.

Richard and I don’t like to drive, and we’re willing to put up with the inconveniences of public transportation — being tied to a schedule, possible delays (mass transportation generally runs on time, unless there’s a strike or other rare circumstance), taking taxis from station to hotel or city center (relatively inexpensive in Portugal) , buying tickets (speaking Portuguese helps, though English is widely spoken throughout the country), and limited access to the countryside. Having Portuguese friends with cars means we’ve seen rural villages, though we’re pretty much city people anyway. But if you want to explore rural areas or the wine country on your own, without having to sign onto a tour, renting a car is a good idea. The same if you want to travel to the Algarve, the country’s principal resort area.

The Lisbon neighborhood of Mouraria has become popular with visitors. But do you want to drive in this?

The Lisbon neighborhood of Mouraria has become popular with visitors. But do you want to drive in this?

On the other hand, if you plan to spend all your time in Lisbon and/or Porto, I suggest you not rent a car. Parking is nearly impossible, streets (especially in Lisbon but also in older sections of Porto) are narrow, winding, poorly marked, and usually one way. They love traffic circles — do you? In Lisbon especially, a street will dead end, and the only way to get to the intersection marked on your map is via a staircase. And, no, cars are not allowed to go up and down staircases. Taxi drivers frequently get lost in their own city, which is not your city. Older sections of these (and other Portuguese cities) were not laid out by professional planners but by livestock centuries ago. If you’ve ever driven through Boston, you know what I mean. I know several travelers who needlessly complicated their vacation by renting a car in Lisbon.

On the other hand, public transportation in both Lisbon and Porto is excellent, and both cities are pedestrian-friendly compared with others throughout Europe (looking at you, Dublin!). If you get lost, there are plenty of friendly, English-speaking people to offer directions. The Lisbon metro runs more frequently than any similar metro or subway in the U.S., and the stations and trains are great places to find out about fun events for both locals and visitors. Since my insanely-popular feature, “Trendsetter and Hipster’s Guide to Enjoying Lisbon,” touchscreen kiosks have been installed in many metro stations to help you find concerts, museum exhibits, festivals, and more. In Lisbon, the 28 streetcar passes through many of the major tourist destinations, from the São Bento Palace that houses the Assembly of the Republic to the historic Alfama neighborhood. The only Lisbon destination where you may wish you had a car is the LX Factory, because the many bus lines that run there aren’t the most reliable. But, parking in that neighborhood is pretty close to impossible so you have a choice — wait for the bus, spend an equal amount of time cruising around for parking, or spring for a taxi. (We waited for the bus and took the first one that came to whatever metro station it dropped us off.)

If you do decide to rent a car in Portugal, here are some additional tips, beyond the usual for renting cars in any country:

  • Around 90% of rental cars are manual transmission. If you need a car with automatic transmission, you will have to reserve one in advance.
  • Most cars are compact. They need to be, to drive on roads built before cars existed.
  • Bridges and highways charge tolls. The easiest is to pay 10 euros for the transponder at the rental agency, and have your credit card billed. Otherwise, it gets complicated, involving a visit to a post office within 2-5 days where you may have to wait in line to pay.
  • Major highways and secondary roads are generally good, and our experience is that drivers in Portugal are no better or worse than most places (despite complaints you may have read on other sites). But the first rainy days of fall can be dangerous, much like the first snowy days in the northern United States. After three months of nonstop sunshine, people aren’t used to driving in rain.
  • Drunk driving laws are stricter than in the U.S. and taken very seriously. The legal limit is .05 BAC, so your wine tour will need a designated driver.
  • Driving is on the right side of the road, as in the U.S. In the Algarve, watch out for folks driving on the left. There, one-way streets may be everyone’s friend.
  • [added 5/17] Pedestrians in crosswalks have right-of-way. Please honor this rule, as one of those pedestrians may be me.

Feel free to contact me if you have additional questions, particularly about navigating public transportation. I’m a big fan of buses and trains, for worry-free travel and as a way of meeting people and getting to know the country in a way that most tourists do not.

65 Comments

  1. Hi there we are going to lisbon and planning to go to lagos. Would you recc we rent a car. we are there for seven days. We are also planning to go to porto on our own!

    Looking forward to your reply. thanks,
    AG

    • It’s good to have to have a car for any trip to the Algarve (where Lagos is). My suggestion, though, would be to rent the car at the airport, so you can just get on the highway and don’t have to drive through Lisbon’s streets, returning the car to the airport as well. If you spend time in Lisbon before or after leaving for Lagos, it’s really easy to get to and from the airport via the Metro. And if you take the train to Porto, which I recommend, the Oriente train station is three stops from the airport on the Metro or a short taxi ride. Have a great trip!

  2. How safe it is to drive a rental car in Portugal? What are road conditions and what are the traffic laws for foreigners?

    • Driving is generally safe in Portugal, with accident rates pretty much average for the EU. The main highways are good. Country roads are narrow and lack shoulders. Driving in Lisbon and the center of Porto is difficult because of narrow streets not on any particular grid, steep hills, and nowadays a lot of construction. I do not recommend renting a car to get around in either city. As far as traffic laws, driving is on the right as it is in most of Europe (exceptions are the UK, Ireland, Cyprus, and Malta) and most of the laws are standard. Signs are all monolingual in Portuguese.

  3. For a large family (8 people), do you recommend renting a car in Lisbon or would you recommend using public transportation? Are certain areas easier to get to within Lisbon with a car.

    • Once you go outside the area of the “7 Hills” (and its narrow streets and staircases) driving is more feasible. So Belém and points west, including Sintra and Cascais, are easy enough with a car, as are south across the river and east to the Oriente neighborhoods near the Parque das Naçōes, the aquarium, and the Vasco da Gama mall. With a family of 8, you would have to rent a van, which makes driving in the older parts of Lisbon even more challenging. The tourist areas of Alfama, Mouraria, Baixa, Chiado, Bairro Alto, and Principe Real are highly accessible by public transportation and a nightmare for driving. The LX factory in the Calvário neighborhood, which is worth a visit for the dining and shopping (including one of my favorite bookstores), is not well-served by public transportation but parking can be a problem at peak times.

      If you plan to drive a lot of places, it may be a good idea to book a hotel near the airport or Oriente train station, or else stay in a resort area in the suburbs like Cascais. You can get into the historic parts of Lisbon easily and the Metro and suburban rail both run late at night.

  4. Thank you for your post. We are a family of four, two teenage boys, me and my husband. Flying in and out of Lisbon in June. We don’t generally rent cars in Europe because of costs and find trains are easier. However, we are 13 days in Portugal and we are considering 5 days Lisbon then heading north and seeing Tomar , Coimbra and Obidos before landing in Porto for 4-5 days. We are active but love to visit cities too. I would love any suggestions. Maybe rent a car for three or four days? Did that in Italy. Any suggestions on places to stay appreciated. We generally vrbo so we have space during downtime but also like BnB type places. Hard to find family suites! Thank you in advance for any ideas, thoughts and suggestions!!

    • Thank you for your question! It sounds like you have a fun trip planned, and June is a good month — not too hot, probably, and a little before high season. As far as your question about the car, Tomar and Coimbra are quite accessible by train, though you will have to take a short taxi ride from the Coimbra-B station into the city. Obidos is not on a rail line, though the Rodovaria de Tejo bus (http://www.rodotejo.pt/) does go there, from the Campo Grande station in Lisbon, and takes about an hour. This line started up the year after we went to Obidos by bus, and in those days (2012), the trip involved a transfer or a long taxi ride from Caldas das Rainhas.

      I also recommend a trip to Evora, which you can also do by bus if you don’t want to drive. It has a Chapel of Bones and Roman ruins that are worth seeing, as well as a cool little university area. Here’s my blog piece on Evora: http://www.lynmillerlachmann.com/a-visit-to-evora/

      In general, if you don’t want to rent a car to get to these places, you don’t have to. Having a car for the days that you visit places outside Lisbon and Porto is certainly a convenience, and with four people, you might not be paying more than the train or bus would cost. (It would also depend on whether they would charge you more for renting the car in Lisbon and dropping it off in Porto.) In any case, I would not recommend driving a car in either Lisbon (because of the hills and narrow streets) or Porto (because it’s impossible to park). Rent and drop off at the airport, then take the metro into either city.

      As far as places to stay, we usually stay at university housing or with friends, but Obidos, and I believe Tomar too, have medieval castles that have been turned into inns. They’re a bit of a splurge, but your boys will enjoy them. The same for Quinta das Lágrimas in Coimbra, but it has an interesting history that involves ghosts.

      If you locate an AirBnB in Lisbon and would like more information about the neighborhood where it’s located, please let me know here or via the contact form.

  5. Great article! I am travelling to Portugal with 5 of my friends in July 2018 and we are renting a car because we have booked a villa in the countryside near Sintra. Do you have any recommendations on an area that we could get a rental and somewhat avoid the crazy traffic (Sintra, Cascais, etc.)? I have heard horror stories about driving from Lisbon to Sintra so if we could travel to a smaller town by train or bus and rent a car there, that would be ideal. THANKS!

    • Thank you! Glad I could help! If you’re flying into Lisbon, whatever traffic you hit between the airport and Sintra if you rent your car at the airport is still going to be less hassle than carrying your bags to the train station, on the train, and to the rental car office when you arrive in the town. There are two ways you can go from the airport directly into Sintra. Both are on major highways — one the Eixo (ring highway) E1 and A37, the other, the E1 and IC/A 16 (which has tolls, but the rental cars should be equipped with a way of paying those tolls electronically). Yes, there will be traffic, but you will bypass most of the city. In other words, you will not be driving through the streets of Lisbon, which is far more difficult than sitting in a traffic jam on a highway. Also, July is high season, and the sooner you book your car, the less expensive it will be.

      Once you’ve rented your car and settled into your villa, you’ll probably want to find the nearest suburban train station with parking and take that commuter train into Lisbon for sightseeing, shopping, and dining.

  6. Hello. Thank you for your wonderful suggestions. Me and 12 friends are going to Portugal for the first time this July 2018. We rented a house in Algarves. I do believe we all will be flying into Lisbon.

    A friend suggested we maybe hire a shuttle driver to take us to Algarves, which if i’m not mistaken is about 3 hours from Lisbon? Would you recommend any services that provide this? If not, should I just rent a car at the airport for a few friends and I and take the trip to Algarves from Lisbon? Although I am a bit apprehensive in driving in another country, I believe once I get adjusted it should be pretty straight forward on the roads.

    I guess our main focus to alleviate any headaches or confusion on transporting us all to Algarves. Being that this is the first time we all are visiting Portugal we want to make the transport to Algarves as smooth as possible.

    We will be in Algarves for 6 days/nights and will stay in Lisbon for 2 nights before heading back to the United States.

    Thank you in advance for any suggestions.

    • Hi, Eddie! Thank you for your question! One alternative you should consider is booking a flight to Faro, the main city in the Algarve, which will eliminate the need to drive or take the train for three hours each way. TAP Portugal is currently running a special in which you can fly to Faro, stopping over in Lisbon (because there are no direct flights from the US to Faro) and staying a day or two to sightsee in Lisbon at no extra charge. Otherwise, the cost for renting a 12-15 passenger van (or 3 cars) from the Lisbon airport for a week is close to $1000 in July because it’s high season — and that doesn’t even take gas and tolls into account. Public transportation from Lisbon to any of the cities in the Algarve is cheaper, even for 12 people. A round trip bus to Lagos, for instance, is 36 euros per person, which comes to 432 euros. One problem with trains and buses in high season is that you need to book in advance because seats sell out.

      One more question: Where are you staying in the Algarve? Closer to Faro, the flight or the train are better. And once you get to the Algarve, you’ll probably want to have at least one car to explore the area.

  7. I am visiting Portugal in March, and renting a car. Can you tell me what insurance coverage is required/recommend? Typical costs? Can you buy deductible down to $0.00? Recommended car rentals?
    Thx,

    • Hi, Pat! Thank you for writing in! If you have car rental insurance as a benefit of your credit card, it will work in Portugal. Otherwise, the rental companies offer a basic Collision Damage Waiver (CDW) and a super CDW. Both of them are pricey if you have other alternatives, but the super CDW will give you a zero deductible. But check with your credit card company first because you don’t want to pay if you don’t have to.

  8. What will a car rental cost from Sintra (April 28/2018 at10:00am pickup) and leave the car in Faro May 05/2018) around 5:00pm Faro airport?

    • The best thing to do is book online ASAP because rates change. The end of April and beginning of May is not high season, so the rental will cost less than in the summer. My quick check landed a price range for an economy car from $179 USD to $500 USD, renting the car from the Lisbon airport. While there are car rental options in Sintra, they are fewer and less likely to offer a one-way rental.

  9. Hi Lyn, thanks a million for the very informative blog on driving in Portugal! So much information & yet so many questions! We are planning on a trip to Portugal for early to mid October 2019! There will be 4 adults and an infant (will be age 2 by October 2019). We plan for about 12-15 days there–places to visit have not been finalized but will likely be: Lisbon–probably staying first 2 days and last 2-3 days of our trip (flying in/out of here from JFK/New York U.S.A); Porto, Obidos, Douro, Sintra, Evora, Averio, & Lagos/Algarve (not in this particular order. Not sure if this is jam packed for 2 weeks. Open to suggestions or any additional places we should to look into). Main question would be: Should we rent/hire a car? If so, should we do it from the beginning, or only for a portion of our trip? Thank you so much for your advice and looking forward to hearing from you!!

    • Thank you for writing in, Ethan! It sounds like you have a fun trip planned! You can visit all these places in 15 days; 12 days is too short for everything you want to see on this list because you’re basically going from one end of the country to the other. As far as additional places to look into, Coimbra would be at the top of my list, with the university, the library, the cathedrals, and the music, but it’s not for everyone. Read the two posts I have on Coimbra (http://www.lynmillerlachmann.com/a-trip-to-coimbra-by-popular-demand/ and http://www.lynmillerlachmann.com/what-to-do-when-your-column-cracks-and-other-thoughts-on-restoration/) and decide for yourselves. As far as renting a car, you definitely should not have one during the time you’re in Lisbon — and that would include traveling to Sintra, because it’s accessible by suburban train — but it would be a convenience if you want to stop in Obidos and Aveiro (and maybe Coimbra) on your way to or from Porto and drive through the Douro Valley when you’re there. The Algarve is the area of Portugal where you definitely need a car, but it would also save you time and give you flexibility when you go to Obidos, the Douro Valley, and Evora.

      • Thanks Lyn for the quick and informative response!! By now, I’ve notice that you have been strongly advising others not to rent a car/drive while in Lisbon!! So with that said, you would recommend we rent a car at Lisbon only after we stay our initial 1st two days in the beginning of our trip: Preliminary idea is: JFK->Lisbon (rent car for going to)–>Sangres–>Lagos/Algarve–>Evora–>Douro Valley–>Porto–>Averio–>Lisbon (return car) & take public transport to–>Sintra–>car service or public transportation to Lisbon airport. Would this work? It’s tough when we are flying in/out of Lisbon but are advised not to car while in Lisbon. Thanks again for your input!

        • Yes, this is what I’d advise. However, some people have found another solution by staying in Sintra rather than Lisbon, a choice that I think is especially good for families with young children and in the high season when things are loud and crowded. If you stay in Sintra, you could rent the car upon your arrival at the airport and return it when you leave, and take the commuter train into Lisbon for the day to sightsee.

          • Interesting. That’s something we’ll definitely look into! Is the commuter train from/to Sintra/Lisbon reliable and runs often?

          • Yes, there are also buses, and if you rent the car when you arrive, you still have the option of driving. 🙂

  10. thank you for all your good advice. I realize you have answered in different situations but I still need your help please.
    We are four adults over 60. Taking a packaged tour to Lisbon, from there to Cascais 2 nts Evora 2nts, returning to lisbon where the tour ends. We wanted to extend the stay for another week – and tour company is not responsible for us if we do not return with them.
    In order to go to Albufeiri Lagos : do we go to airport by transport (4 of us with luggage) after tour ends , rent a car, drive to Lagos ( otherwise i have to go back to lisbon to pick them up to go to Lagos ).
    We then have to return a day early to airport to return car all four of us ( another expense) , then four of us return to hotel ( extra night ), and then transport again to the airport in the morning to flyout to Canada? the flight is early in the day so we cant risk driving and returning car etc o n same day
    OR – do we simply train it to Lagos from Lisbon after tour ends, rent car in Lagos, return it there, and then train to lisbon hotel, then airport next day?
    is that even doable? I am unable to firm up the plans in Lagos until I figure out how to handle this part. Am I complicating things? Ps . in general I am well travelled in Europe all by myself, but this trip am nervous to decide as am being responsible for the others enjoyment and safety as well. Please and thank you …

    • Hi, Hanna! Thank you for writing! I wasn’t sure whether you planned to go to Albufeira, Lagos, or both. There are five trains a day that go from Lisbon to Faro, stopping in Albufeira. However, there is no direct train to Lagos — you have to change in Tunes, and it takes a long time. The good news is, you can rent a car in Albufeira, and it will probably be cheaper than renting and returning at the Lisbon airport, but the rental companies in Albufeira are downtown and not at the train station. That means a 10 km cab ride that should cost around 8-10 euros. From Albufeira, it’s a 45 minute drive to Lagos. Both are lovely towns. It sounds like you’d prefer to take the train from Lisbon to the Algarve and not be encumbered by a car anywhere in Lisbon or have to drive several hours each way from there to your Algarve destination. You can definitely do it, with the caveats I mention above regarding the train route (better for Albufeira than Lagos) and the fact that you have to take a taxi into town from the station.

      • Thank you Lyn for your responsiveness and I apologize for the double post! I used “lagos” and “albufeira” thinking it is same thing. You have given me better options now.. First of all – I do not mind driving at all – but I was concerned about the logistics of picking up and returning the car at the airport. Would that change your answer? as well can you please tell me which beach area is better in terms of swimming(as opposed to surfing and watersports) and amenities ? As well – is there a car rental recommendation? I understand it is best to reserve from Canada before we arrive there. Your advice is much appreciated. thanks you .

        • I’m glad my comments were helpful! As far as the Lagos vs. Albufeira question, all of the towns in the Algarve have their own character, and apparently, Albufeira is more of a party place, with a boardwalk and bars and restaurants close to the beach, while Lagos is more refined. The town and the beach in Lagos are further apart, and the beach and amenities get high marks. (I, personally, prefer more urban areas with attractions, so when we went to the Algarve, we stayed in the much busier Faro.) By the way, the famous surfing beaches and towns tend to be along the western rather than the southern coast of Portugal.

          Although I’ve never picked up and returned a car at the Lisbon airport, I think the procedure is pretty standard for airport car rentals in cities around the world (take shuttle from terminal to rental office nearby), and the options are certainly plentiful. I don’t prefer a particular company because prices change, but I do recommend reserving ahead of time from Canada, and as soon as you know your dates to lock in the model you want and the best price. If you don’t mind driving, driving from Lisbon is more convenient if you’re going to Lagos. You can also stop in towns along the way.

  11. thank you for all your have posted.
    four of us over 60 taking a packaged tour: lisbon 2 nights, cascais 2 and evora 2 returning to Lisbon for one night then airport.
    Our group wants to stay an extra week. Tour company will not be responsible for us once we checkout of lisbon that last day.
    How do we go about heading to Albufeiri? Do four us with luggage go to the airport to rent the car and drive to Lagos ? on return four of us go to airport to return the car, then go back to lisbon to sleep overnight then head to airport again next day to fly out to Canada? ( early flight and cant risk driving back from lagos same day) note extra cost of four people going back and forth to airport
    or – do we simply take train to Lagos area, then rent car there, return it there, then train back to Lisbon for one night before we fly next day.
    am i complicating things ? what is the best way to handle some R&R at southern beach without all the complication?
    I am well travelled in Europe – but feel more concern because of responsiblity of the others’ welfare , enjoyment and safety. suggestions please and thank you .

    • Oh, and I wouldn’t worry about complicating things. The R&R on the beach is worth it. And unless you enjoy driving, the train is a nice, relaxing way to go.

  12. Hello Lyn,

    Thank you so much for all the valuable information you have posted. We are a family of four (children aged 12 and 14) planning a 10-day trip to Portugal. It is our first time in Europe. I am debating between renting an apartment or hotel room directly in Lisbon and relying only on public transit for our trip or staying in an apartment by the sea in Costa da Caparica for a third of the price and renting a car. I would like to know your opinion.

    Thanks again!

    • Thank you for writing, Marie! And congratulations on your first trip to Europe! Portugal is a great introduction to the continent, with so much history and so many people who speak English and are eager to show their country to visitors. Given that it’s your first time and your children are older, I suggest spending the money to stay in Lisbon where the action is. Costa de Caparica is not all that close, and dealing with traffic and parking in Lisbon will definitely impact your experience. When are you going, by the way? Off season, it can be cold on the coast, and the ferry doesn’t run year-round.

      An alternative if you’re looking to save money and have some days for downtime is to stay in Lisbon for most of the trip but spend a few days on the beach at Costa de Caparica or the busier Cascais (which will be a bit more expensive but is also easily reachable by commuter train so you don’t have to rent a car). A lot will depend on when you’re going, how warm it will be on the beach and how much will be open then. Please feel free to ask follow-up questions!

  13. Hi Lyn! Wow, your blog is fantastic! I too have car rental question but seeking other advice. We are a family of four, with two teenage kids. Flying into Lisbon in July 2018. After a few days in Lisbon we want to travel to the Algarve region. We want to hit the beaches a lot, but I do not want to be isolated in too small a town. Which town/city would you recommend we settle in as our jumping off point? we are planning to take public transport from Lisbon to Algarve region. Also, is it absolutely necessary to rent a car once we are settled in, or can we catch any public transport between the small towns? or even uber something like it? (my wife is against renting a car).
    Thanks so much! Mike

    • Thank you for your comment, Mike! There are buses and in some cases commuter trains between the towns, so renting a car isn’t necessary if you’re averse to it, though you’ll probably want to stay in one of the more central and livelier towns. If you have teenagers and are looking for a place with a lot of things to do and see, Faro is probably your best bet. It’s a real city, albeit a small one. Check out my post, “In Faro, My First Visit to the Algarve.” While Lagos and Sagres are a bit more isolated, they have great beaches and nature tours you can sign on to. (Faro does as well; it’s a trip through the Ria Formosa wildlife preserve.) By the way, did you check out my post “Lisbon for Children and Teenagers”? On top of the museums and tours I highlighted, I recently found out about a new tour of Portugal’s African roots that your kids may enjoy: https://www.foodiebookings.com/tour/lisbon-african-roots/

  14. Hi Lyn,

    Thanks for such great wealth of info! Like everyone else here, we have a question regarding driving and renting a car while in Portugal! We will be visiting Portugal at end of Sept for 2 weeks! The places we’ll be visiting are (in order): Sintra, Obidos, Batalha Monastery (stop on our way to–>) Aveiro, Porto, Douro Valley and Lisbon! Oh we are so excited!! But at the same thing, a bit stressed!! Please help! Here’s our (4 adults and one toddler) main questions:

    1) Should we drive WHILE in Sintra–as we hear parking can be a huge challenge for these places we plan on visiting(we will visit: Day 1: Just tour around Cascais on day of arrival for walking around and meals. Day 2: Quinta da Regaleira Palace, Palacio Nacional de Sintra, Santurio da Peninha, & Cabo da Roca. Day 3)Pena Palace, Castle of the Moors, & Convento do Capuchos (the palaces of visit can be modify to best suit the best getting-around method).

    2)This question also depends on what we do from question #1. If it’s not advised to drive while in Sintra, then:
    a) How should we get around with those attractions in mind–taxi, bus, etc.?
    b) Where should we rent a car for the remaining tours of Portugal (as we hear there’s no car rentals in Sintra. We plan to end our Portugal trip with 3 days in Lisbon before flying back home)?

    What should we do Lyn? Thanks so much for taking the time to read and answer our questions in advance! We really would appreciate giving us insights in this stressful part of the planning!

    • Thank you for writing in! You shouldn’t drive while in Sintra; you’ll waste too much time looking for parking. There are buses between the attractions, or you can take a taxi. As far as where to rent the car, if you’re ending your trip in Lisbon (are you also staying in Lisbon for the days you’re visiting Sintra?), your best bet is to rent the car either downtown in Lisbon or at the airport. The downtown rentals are near Marques Pombal, and you should decide based on where you’re staying when you return to Lisbon. It looks like you’re spending most of your trip in towns or the countryside rather than in the two major cities, and there are five of you, so renting a car is definitely the way to go, except for the final three days in Lisbon.

      One question: Where are you staying when you first arrive and for the time you’re in Sintra? If you’re not staying in Lisbon and there’s parking where you are, it may make sense to rent the car at the airport as soon as you arrive.

      • Hi Lyn, thanks so much for the quick response!!

        Our plan is to rent an Airbnb with parking space for our stay in Sintra–which would be our 1st destination in Portugal (plan is 3 nights in Sintra before heading north). Then end our 2 weeks Portugal trip in Lisbon (plan is also for 3 nights). So with this, would you still suggest renting a car at the Lisbon airport upon arrival, drive to Sintra, park it at the Airbnb and then just take either the bus or taxi to all the attractions in Sintra–even to Santurio da Peninha, Cabo da Roca, & Convento do Capuchos? Then at the end of our trip, upon coming back to Lisbon (from Douro Valley), return the car at the airport before starting our 3 days in Lisbon (assuming we would then take either a taxi or train back to Lisbon after returning rental car)?

        Thanks so much again and look forward to your suggestions!!

        • Yes, definitely rent the car at the Lisbon airport upon your arrival and return it as soon as you get back to Lisbon. As you will see when you arrive, the airport is basically inside the city, and it’s very easy to get anywhere in Lisbon from the airport by taxi or metro.

          • Thanks so much Lyn! This just eases a huge stress spot in our planning!

          • Glad I could help! Please let me know if you have other questions.

  15. What a wonderful blog full of very valuable info. We are flying into porto late May, we have an Airbnb booked for 3 nights then want to hire a car to do the countryside, villages, wineries for 4 days. End up in Lisbon for 3 nights. Sounds like taking a rental car back to airport in Lisborn will be easiest, where do you think easiest in Porto will be to start at. We are staying central, nearPraco Carlos Alberto. Wonder if we can get a car in the city or would it be easier to go out to airport again. We are Kiwis, so drive on other side of the road, Though have travelled in Europe and the States.

    • Thank you, Anne! I’m glad you’re finding useful information in the blog! There’s no need to go out to the airport to rent the car in Porto. There are three rental agencies in the city (Hertz in Lapa and Avis and Europcar in Boavista), a short (10-15 min.) taxi ride from where you’re staying. Be sure to reserve the car as soon as possible and let them know it’s a one-way rental with drop off at the Lisbon airport, to make sure you get the best rate and the dates and model you want. And yes, for Lisbon, your best strategy is to drop the car off at the airport on your way in and take the metro from there.

      • Many thanks, we are so looking forward to travelling in your beautiful country. So nice to get info from someone who knows. Will take your advise!

  16. Hi Lyn,

    Wonderful/very informative blog. Travelling to Lisbon in April ’18 with my family. Two teenagers in the party. We’ll be in Lisbon for a week. We’ve already booked an AirBnB property in Lisbon. What cities/sites would you recommend we visit based on our 1 week time frame? Please rank your city/site recommendations. Thanks!

    • Thank you for your comment, Obi! Your trip is coming up soon! As far as places to visit outside Lisbon, a lot depends on your teens’ interests. Do they like history? Literature? Nature? Sports? It’s probably a little cold in April for beaches and watersports, but ideal weather for hikes and nature tours.

      I’m a history buff, so if they’re like me, the top three places outside Lisbon would be Porto (which includes, among other things, the Livraria Lello bookstore that inspired J.K. Rowling’s Hogwarts, as she was once an English teacher there), Coimbra (the site of one of the oldest universities and libraries in Europe — and school will be in session so you may see students in their traditional gowns), and Evora (Roman ruins and a large Chapel of Bones). However, if they’re specifically interested in medieval castles, there’s the Convent of the Knights Templar in Tomar and a reconstructed castle and medieval town in Obidos. Guimaraes is a bit out of the way unless you’re also going to Porto, but it also has an impressive castle.

      For nature tours, there are a couple of sites in the Algarve — the national forest surrounding Sagres, on the southwestern edge of the country, and the Ria Formosa wildlife preserve, which you can tour from Faro. In the other direction, Aveiro, one hour by train south of Porto, has a lovely canal tour.

      You may have already seen these, but I have posts specifically on Porto (2), Coimbra (2), Evora (1), Faro (1), Obidos (1), and Tomar (1). My husband has also reviewed restaurants in Porto and Coimbra.

      Please let me know if you have other questions!

  17. Hi Lyn,
    I’m so fortunate to find your wonderful blog! We are two women (fit single and 60+)looking to move to Portugal, Spain,France, or Italy for a few years. Purchasing a 3 or 4 country Eurail pass with some car rental to check out rural areas and smaller less expensive towns(especially in Portugal) seems the way to go, but what do you think?
    I’m also a horse trainer and will be checking out equestrian facilities.

    Can Americans cross borders in & out of Portugal to Spain easily by car? We will come in October 2018 to explore. No flight plans yet either. We’re looking for best country to enter and exit from price wise. Very flexible and a competent driver. Thanks!!

    • I’m thrilled that you’ve found my blog, Lilli! I’m especially interested in helping people who are looking to relocate for longer periods of time, and am in fact considering it myself. Crossing back and forth from Portugal and Spain is quite easy because both countries, as well as France and Italy are part of the Schengen Zone, which allows free movement among the countries in the zone. Schengen doesn’t correspond exactly to the EU countries. For instance, Switzerland is not in the EU but is part of Schengen, while Ireland is in the EU but not part of Schengen — the same with the UK until Brexit becomes official.

      If you’re looking for a rural area in which to settle, your plan to arrive in October, rent a car, and drive around is a good one. A lot of expats already live in the Algarve; one of the more popular towns along the coast for expats is Tavira. Quite a few towns along the Atlantic and Mediterranean Coasts of Spain in the regions of Andalucía, Valencia, and Catalunya are also home to expats.

      Besides the Algarve, the principal areas in Portugal for all things equestrian are the Alentejo region and the Ribatejo region.

  18. Hi Again Lyn! I wrote you back about a month ago and love your blog. We , family of four with two teenage kids, are arriving in early July in Lisbon spending a few nights there, then traveling to Lagos for a few nights, then back to Lisbon for a flight to Morocco.
    First question, we are now considering renting a car to travel to Algarve. I used one of the euro rental comparison web sites, and I see most cars have limited mileage, but i can’t see what the limit is? Do you have any idea? in the U.S. we are used to most rentals being unlimited mileage.

    Second, any thoughts or suggestions on the Morocco part of our trip???
    Thanks!

    • Mileage limits vary. I checked a couple of comparison sites, and they ranged from 150 km to 250 km at the low end, and over 1000 at the high end. A 250 km limit (about 150 miles a day) seems to be fairly common. The drive from Lisbon to Lagos is a bit over 300 km, so you should take that into account when choosing a car rental package.

      As far as Morocco, I haven’t been in several decades, when I traveled there as part of a high school study abroad program in Spain. My knowledge is definitely out of date, but I do remember having a good time when I visited as a teenager!

  19. Hi
    U hv scared me off car rental as me myself love to walk n see every corner of the city by foot n love public transport like urself but i hv a 7 yrs old autistic child who cant walk n is traveling with me is y i need to rent a car but if there r no parkings then it beats the purpose any suggestions or help as i dont hv a wheelchair n dont know if we can rent one there?
    Thanks

    • Hi, Mav! The other option you have besides renting a car is taking taxis or tuk-tuks. Taxis are plentiful, and transport by tuk-tuk has become quite popular in the areas close to downtown where the streets are narrow or there aren’t real streets but passageways. Unfortunately, Lisbon is not a great place to be for people with physical limitations or who need wheelchair transport, though we did have friends with toddlers who navigated the city quite well with a stroller. Towns in the Algarve that cater to older tourists and retiree residents are much better in terms of wheelchair availability.

  20. Hi Lynn,
    I discovered and love your blog especially the pros and cons of renting a car in Portugal. So here is my dilemma! My wife and I are traveling to Portugal in May 2018. We have booked our lodging, staying six nights in Lisbon, five nights in Albufiera, two nights in Porto, two nights in the Douro Valley in Cambres and finally a last night by the Lisbon Airport. We would like to explore by car the Algarve and Duoro Valley but plan to use public transportation while in Lisbon and Porto. My dilemma is whether to 1) rent a car when leaving Lisbon, drive to Albufiera and around the Algarve coast, then drive to Porto where we would drop the car off and then rent another car two days later for the trip to Duoro Valley and drop that car off at Lisbon the night before our flight home; 2) take public transportation to Albufiera from Lisbon and then rent a car while in Albufiera then drive to Porto (or fly?) where I would return the car and then rent another car two days later for our drive in the Duoro Valley and return to Lisbon. The third option would be to rent a car upon leaving Lisbon and keep it during the remainder of our trip (10 days) and pay to park it outside Porto for the 2 days we tour Porto and then pick it up for the last 2-3 days. Your advice would be most appreciated. Thank you!

    • Thank you for your question, Dave! It sounds like you have a fun trip planned! As far as your rental car options, I suspect that the third option — renting the car as you leave Lisbon and keeping it for the 10 days you explore the Algarve, Porto, and the Douro Valley — is the cheapest in the long run, and it gives you the option of visiting towns in the Alentejo or elsewhere on your way to Porto or as you’re driving back to Lisbon.

  21. Hi Lyn, Very informative blog, thank you. Like many others my husband and I are trying to decide if we should rent a car for part of you two week trip May 2018. We arrive Porto and stay for three nights. We would then like to visit the Douro Valley 1 or 2 nights, possibly Coimbra, Averio, Nazare, 2 nights with a trip to Obidos. We are meeting up with friends in Sintra on day 10 of our trip. We fly out of Lisbon after a 3 day stay on day 14. Is it feasible to do all this by train or should we rent a car as we leave Porto and drop it off as we arrive in Lisbon? Thanks in advance for your help, I find planning this trip a bit daunting.
    Lisa

    • Hi, Lisa! It sounds like you have a fun trip planned! I suggest renting the car as you leave Porto and dropping it off when you arrive in Lisbon. While Coimbra and Aveiro are easily reachable by train, and you can find multi-day tour packages for the Douro Valley, your other destinations are off the rail line, and in any case, the car will give you more flexibility. Please let me know if you have other questions!

  22. Hi Lyn, my wife and I are going to Portugal end of Oct for 16 days. We’ll be spending about 3.5 days in the Porto area. I’m thinking Sintra 0.5 days, Porto 2 days and Guimaraes/Braga 1.5 days before going to the airport to go to Faro. Would you recommend G/B for 1.5 days (less or more)? After Algarve, we’re planning to take the bus or train to spend another 5.5 days going to Evora 1, Lisbon 2.5, Aveiro 1 and Coimbra 1. Is it feasible? Or would you recommend other cities? We’ll be flying in and out of Lisbon.
    Thanks in advance

    • Hi, Ali! It sounds like you have a busy trip planned. Overall, I think it’s feasible, but you’ll need to shift a few things around. Aveiro and Coimbra are much closer to Porto than Sintra, which is 45 minutes from Lisbon by commuter train. In fact, you can take a commuter train from Aveiro (and in another direction, Guimarães) from Porto. I suggest spending 4.5 days in the Porto area: 1.5 days in Porto itself, 0.5 days in Aveiro, 1 day in Coimbra (stop in Aveiro on your way to overnight in Coimbra) and 1 to 1.5 days in Guimarães/Braga/the Douro Valley.

      Since you’ll spend an extra day in the north of Portugal, you’ll have to take that day from the time you spend in Lisbon. In your 4.5 days in Lisbon, you’ll have 0.5 in Sintra, 1 in Evora, and 3 in Lisbon.

      Hope this helps! Please let me know if you have other questions.

      • Hi Lyn, just got back from Peru. Thanks for your recos. I like your plan better. My plan looks very busy now that I review it but there are many places to see. I haven’t even included Obidos. I think I should also eliminate Braga. What do you think?
        Thanks again for your help. Ali

        • If you want to eliminate one, Braga is a good choice because Guimarães has the famous castles that are worth seeing. As far as the Douro Valley, I’m adding a post very soon about the boat tours that may help you make up your mind.

  23. Hi Lyn!

    I’ve read a lot of your posts on this thread and figured you’d be a good person to help me out. I’m travelling from Lisbon to Porto from June 17-21. I plan to see Sintra the day I arrive the 17th, Obidos, Nazare, Alobaca, Batalha, & Fatima the 18th (are these all doable in one day or is it tight?), Coimbra the 19th, and then for the 20/21 I’m trying to decide between Braga/Guimarães or Guarda/Belmonte/Sortelha. Any recommendations? I am also still trying to decide if I should rent a car or not… which is the google search that got me to this page. Thanks in advance!

    Denae

    • Hi, Denae! Thank you for writing in. Are you arriving in Lisbon on the 17th? If so, this sounds like you’re spending no time in Lisbon at all. Assuming you don’t like cities and wish to stay away from Lisbon and Porto altogether, you can visit Sintra on the 17th and overnight in Obidos. That will give you enough time to drive around Obidos, Nazare, Alobaca, Batalha, and Fatima the next day (and spend the night of the 18th in one of them) because they’re all close together. You should get to Coimbra early on the 19th and spend the night there because there’s a lot to see! As far as the Braga/Guimarães or the Guarda/Belmonte/Sortelha itinerary, the more popular one among visitors is Braga/Guimarães because of the castles. The other area, east of Coimbra, is near the national forest and suffered from the wildfires last year. As far as renting a car, I suggest you do it because most of these places are not on train lines or require complicated connections that will eat up a lot of time in a short visit with a packed itinerary. I don’t recommend renting a car if you’re only going to be in the big cities, but in rural areas and in the Algarve, it’s a necessity.

      Hope this helps! Please let me know if you have further questions.

      • Thanks for your reply! I’m actually going to be in Portugal for 2 weeks but I already have most of the second week planned. I plan on exploring Porto & Lisbon in that week as well as Evora and Marvao if I have enough time (thoughts on Marvao? I’ve already seen that you recommend Evora). I didn’t realize there’s been wildfires in the Guarda area. Thanks for the heads up! I’m strongly considering renting a car for the places outside of Lisbon & Porto but I’m Canadian and still need to look into the requirements of renting a car. I’m thinking I may need an international driver’s permit.

        • Marvão is in the middle of a national forest and has beautiful places worth seeing, but most people who visit do so while visiting sites in nearby Spain. It’s right on the border but a 2-hour drive from Evora. It depends on how much time you have, but if you’re going to be in Evora for only a day or so, there’s plenty to see there.

          As far as the wildfires, there’s little danger this year in areas that burned last year, but you’ll likely see a lot of damaged forests on your way. Wildfires are always a possibility in Portugal during the hot and dry summer months (in fact, I translated a novel for teens in which a wildfire plays a major role in the story), so if you’re driving in rural areas, pay attention to advisories and detour signs. Don’t ignore them or try to go into or through prohibited zones.

          As far as the international driver’s permit, my understanding is that they’re not necessary anymore, but you should check with one of the international rental car companies in both Canada and Portugal, like Hertz or Avis, just to make sure.

  24. Hi Lyn! Your blog is fantastic! Thank you for sharing all this information with us travelers! I was wondering if there are any specific car rental companies your recommend? I’ve read a few reviews about some people getting charged for many extras upon return. Thanks in advance!

    • Thank you for your support, Aimee! As far as rental companies, I don’t have a specific recommendation because companies and their prices and policies can change quickly. The best places to look are review sites such as Trip Advisor and Yelp, which aggregate large numbers of reviews and which are searchable by most recent. If you search reviews from worst to best, you can also see what problems regularly occur.

  25. Hi there: I am planning my honeymoon for mid-September, and wanted to get your sense of whether a car is necessary? I wanted to hit Porto, Coimbra, Lisbon, and Lagos in about a week and then do Andulacia (Sevilla, Cordoba, Granada, and Malaga) in the second. Do you think a car is necessary? It seems to me that it is only necessary to get to the Algarve and then to get there from Sevilla.
    Also, does the order I laid out above seem possible (Porto –> Coimbra –> Lisbon –> Lagos?). Thanks!!

    • Congratulations on your wedding and honeymoon! Your order is perfect, as you’re going from north to south. You don’t need a car for Porto, Coimbra, and Lisbon, but it’s useful for the Algarve unless you’re going to a resort or a single town and plan to stay there the whole time. (That may be the case for you, given your schedule of four places in seven days.) You can also take a bus from Lagos to Sevilla; it’s about a 5-hour trip. I’ve never rented a car in one country and returned it in another, in large part because the one-way drop-off fees can be quite high. You should check with the rental company to see what kind of deal you can get on a one-way.

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