Navigating the vibrant landscapes of Spain offers a seductive allure for explorers and travelers alike, with the country boasting an impressive five million tourists renting vehicles each year to traverse its sun-soaked terrains. Renting a car unlocks the freedom to journey from the bustling streets of Madrid to the serene beaches of Costa del Sol at your own pace, without the constraints of public transport schedules. While the allure of the open Spanish road is undeniable, prospective drivers must acquaint themselves with the local rental formalities, which include understanding insurance policies, recognizing the nuances of driving regulations, and selecting the right vehicle for the trip. Preparedness is key to a seamless rental experience, ensuring that the breathtaking views of Spain are enjoyed with peace of mind behind the wheel.

Car Rental In Spain

Why Rent a Car in Spain?

From the sun-kissed shores of the Costa del Sol to the rugged landscape of the Sierra Nevada, Spain’s diverse beauty is best enjoyed with the freedom of your own vehicle. As someone who’s explored Spain by road, I can attest that renting a car is the ultimate way to discover the country’s hidden gems, from quaint hilltop villages to tucked-away beaches, often inaccessible by public transport. You set your own pace, stop whenever a stunning vista catches your eye, and experience Spain’s warm hospitality off the beaten path. Embrace the joy of spontaneity and the comfort of privacy that comes with a rental car. Continue reading as we dive deeper into practical tips and must-knows on making the most of your Spanish road trip adventure.

What Size Rental Car: Big or Small?

When planning a trip and considering rental car options in Spain, the size of the vehicle is an essential aspect to think about. As someone who has experienced renting both big and small cars in various regions of Spain, there are a number of factors to weigh that could influence your decision.

Choosing a Big Rental Car

Traveling with Family or Group: If you’re planning a Spanish vacation with your family or a group of friends, a bigger car would offer the comfort and space needed for everyone, including room for luggage.

Safety and Comfort: Bigger vehicles typically come with a perception of being safer and more comfortable, especially on long drives. The extra space can make a significant difference on those scenic road trips through the Spanish countryside.

More luggage Capacity: If you’re embarking on a lengthier trip or just need to transport a lot of things (maybe you’re a golf enthusiast with a need to carry clubs), a larger car provides the necessary storage space without cramming.

Opting for a Small Rental Car

Maneuverability in Cities: Spain’s cities, like Barcelona’s Gothic Quarter or the narrow streets of Seville, are notorious for their tight and crowded streets. A small car will be much easier to maneuver and can save you from a few headaches when navigating these areas.

Parking Advantages: Finding parking can be a challenge in popular Spanish tourist spots, and a smaller car will significantly increase your parking options, fitting into spots that bigger vehicles wouldn’t dream of attempting.

Fuel Efficiency: With fuel prices often higher in Europe than what some travelers might be used to, a smaller car can offer savings, being generally more fuel-efficient than their larger counterparts.

Cost-Effective: In many cases, renting a smaller car can be more budget-friendly in terms of rental rates and associated costs such as fuel and parking fees.

Each of these points offers considerations that you, as a traveler, should think about before deciding on the size of your rental car. It ultimately comes down to your personal travel needs, the nature of your trip, and your comfort with driving and parking in Spain’s varied environments.

Picking up your Rental Car

When traveling through Spain, one of the most convenient ways to explore the region is by car. Over the years, I’ve had the opportunity to rent cars at various locations throughout the country, allowing me to dive deep into the local culture and landscapes at my own pace.

Major Airports and Cities

Some of the places where I have picked up rental cars include major airports, which are often the starting points for many travelers’ journeys. For instance, Madrid-Barajas Adolfo Suárez Airport offers a wide selection of rental car companies. Similarly, at Barcelona-El Prat Airport, you’ll find a number of well-known rental agencies just a stone’s throw from the arrival terminals. The convenience of stepping off the plane and heading straight to the rental desks can’t be overstated.

Other notable airports where I’ve rented cars are the Málaga-Costa del Sol Airport — a perfect gateway to the beaches of the southern coast, and the Alicante-Elche Airport, which gives convenient access to the Costa Blanca region. Not to mention, the beautiful Balearic and Canary Islands are also served by airports with robust car rental facilities like those in Mallorca, Ibiza, Tenerife, and Gran Canaria.

In-City Rental Locations

It’s not just airports – many Spanish cities offer central locations to pick up your rental car. In cities like Seville, Valencia, and Bilbao, you can find rental agencies in or near the central train stations or city centers. This allows for easy collection of your vehicle even if you are already within the country or are arriving via other means than air travel.

The convenience of these locations makes it simple to transition from one mode of transportation to another, ensuring that your travel plans proceed as smoothly as possible.

Rental Desk Experience

At these rental locations, whether inside an airport or in the city center, the rental desks are staffed with friendly personnel. The staff members are usually multilingual, and can converse comfortably in English, amongst other languages, making the process of picking up your rental car much less daunting for international travelers.

They are typically very informative, willing to answer questions, and will provide you with all necessary information regarding the rental agreement, car insurance options, and local driving regulations. Having a direct point of contact is incredibly helpful and can give you peace of mind before you hit the road and start your Spanish adventure.

spanish airport car rental

Remember to have your driver’s license, credit card, and any other required documents ready when you approach the rental desk to expedite the process. This helps ensure you can get on your way quickly, allowing you to discover the vibrant cities, scenic countryside, and stunning coastlines of Spain at your leisure.

Insurance, Excesses and CDW

When renting a car in Spain, it’s essential to understand the legal requirements and options for rental car insurance. By Spanish law, all car rental agreements must include basic insurance coverage, which typically covers third-party liability and personal insurance for the driver. However, this basic coverage often comes with a significant excess fee, which is the amount you’re responsible for paying before the insurance company steps in.

Understanding Excesses

The excess fee is a critical concept to grasp when dealing with rental car insurance in Spain. This fee is essentially a security deposit held against your credit card, which can be fully charged if you cause damage to the vehicle. Depending on the rental company and the type of car, this excess can range from a few hundred to several thousand euros. To protect yourself financially, it is highly advisable to get excess reduction insurance, which can lower this fee or eliminate it altogether.

Collision Damage Waiver (CDW)

Collision Damage Waiver (CDW) is an additional coverage option that reduces your financial liability in case of damage to the rental vehicle. While CDW often lowers the excess, it does not necessarily cover all parts of the car, such as tires, windows, and the undercarriage. For information on what a standard CDW covers, it is recommended to check with authorities, such as the Dirección General de Tráfico, the Spanish traffic department, or reputable car rental websites in Spain.

Why Opt for Full Excess Cover?

There are several reasons you might want to opt for full coverage to protect your excess when renting a car in Spain. Firstly, it offers peace of mind while driving, especially if you’re not familiar with the local roads and driving customs. Secondly, it simplifies the return process, as you won’t need to go through the stressful checks for every minor scratch or dent. Thirdly, it can be more cost-effective, as paying for individual damages without coverage can quickly add up, possibly exceeding the cost of full coverage.

Reading the Fine Print

Lastly, always make sure to read the small print in your rental agreement. This helps you understand exactly what you are and are not responsible for. It will clarify terms and conditions pertaining to the insurance coverage, such as the procedures in case of theft or an accident, the documentation you must provide, and any exclusions that apply to your insurance coverage.

For comprehensive explanations of these terms and conditions, directly consult your car rental provider’s policy details or the Organización de Consumidores y Usuarios, which is a consumer rights organization in Spain that provides guidance on a variety of consumer-related matters, including car rentals. By fully understanding your rental car insurance options, you can protect yourself against unexpected charges and enjoy a smoother driving experience in Spain.

Renting Eligibility

In Spain, the legal age to obtain a driving license is 18 years old. This allows young adults the freedom to explore the roads and the picturesque landscapes across the country. However, it’s important to note that the age requirement to legally drive does not always align with the eligibility to rent a vehicle.

Minimum Age for Car Rental

Typically, car rental companies in Spain require the driver to be at least 21 years old, and in many cases, drivers under the age of 25 may face additional fees known as a young driver surcharge. This requirement is put in place by rental agencies to mitigate risks associated with inexperienced drivers. The exact age can vary depending on the rental company’s policy, so it is advisable to check directly with the provider.

To assist in planning your car rental in Spain, it is beneficial to refer to the government’s official tourism webpage on practical information for tourists, which offers valuable resources for those looking to rent cars and guidance on related regulations.

Additional Requirements

Besides the age criteria, renters usually need to present a valid driver’s license held for a minimum of one to two years, depending on the company’s policy. International drivers should also consider acquiring an International Driving Permit (IDP), as some rental agencies may request it alongside your national driving license. Acquiring an IDP before your visit can be done through the relevant authorities in your own country. For more detailed information about the International Driving Permit and how to obtain one, you might want to visit the Dirección General de Tráfico, which is the official site of Spain’s traffic authority.

Car rental companies will also ask for a credit card to place a security deposit on hold. The deposit amount will be blocked on your card for the duration of the rental period and released when you return the car undamaged and in accordance with the rental agreement’s terms and conditions.

When planning to rent a car in Spain, it’s always a good idea to carefully review all rental terms and the insurance options offered, looking specifically at the coverage details and any potential excess fees. Doing so will ensure a more informed and trouble-free car rental experience.

Documentation Needed to Rent a Car

When setting off on a journey through Spain’s scenic landscapes and vibrant cities, the freedom a rental car provides is unmatched. However, before you can hit the open road, it is essential to have the correct documentation on hand at the rental desk to ensure a smooth start to your driving adventure.

Valid Driving License

The primary document you will need is a valid driving license issued in your country of residence. The license must be current and without any serious endorsements. Drivers must have held their license for a minimum period, usually one year, but this can vary depending on the rental company’s policy.

International Driving Permit

For many travelers, particularly those whose driving license is not in the Roman alphabet (such as Arabic, Greek, Russian, or Chinese), an International Driving Permit (IDP) is required. An IDP serves as a translation of your national driving license and is recognized internationally. It is important to note that an IDP is not a stand-alone document; it must accompany your national driving license at all times.

People living in the United States, Canada, and other countries outside the European Union often need to have an IDP to rent a car in Spain. For up-to-date information regarding the necessity of an IDP and how to acquire one, visiting your country’s automobile association or governmental transport authority website is advisable.

Identification and Credit Card

In addition to your driving license, a valid form of identification, such as a passport, is usually required. This provides a secondary form of identification and is especially important for international visitors.

Spanish passport

Lastly, a credit card in the driver’s name is typically necessary to secure a rental. This credit card may be used to put a hold for a deposit which ensures coverage of any potential damages or additional costs.

Before traveling, it is best to check with your chosen rental company for their specific requirements and also to review the Dirección General de Tráfico, Spain’s road traffic authority, for official guidelines on driving in Spain as a visitor.

Where do I Rent a Car in Spain?

Spain’s charm is not just in its vibrant cities, but also in the picturesque countryside, quaint villages, and breathtaking coastal roads, which makes renting a car an excellent way to explore the country at your own pace. Whether you land at the airport, arrive by train, or are staying in the city center, you’ll have no shortage of car rental options.

At the Airport

When you land at any of Spain’s major airports such as Madrid-Barajas, Barcelona El-Prat, or Málaga-Costa del Sol, you’ll find a wide array of internationally recognized car rental agencies. Companies like Avis, Hertz, Europcar, and Enterprise often have offices right in the airport terminals, offering convenience and immediate access to a car upon arrival. Renting from the airport might be slightly more expensive due to airport fees, but the wide selection of vehicles and the convenience of hopping into your car right after your flight is a significant advantage.

At the Train Station

Major train stations, especially in cities with high-speed train connections like Madrid Atocha, Barcelona Sants, and Sevilla Santa Justa, also have car rental offices. Located usually within walking distance from the platforms, companies like Sixt and Alamo offer services for travelers looking to continue their journey by car. The advantage of renting from train stations is that they’re typically located in or near city centers, making it convenient if you’re staying nearby or want to start your road trip without going to the airport.

Valencia train station car rental

In the City Centre

If you’ve already reached the city center or prefer to pick up your car a few days into your stay, numerous local and international rental agencies are available. Often these city center locations might offer better rates than their airport counterparts. The disadvantage may be a smaller selection of vehicles and the need to navigate inner-city traffic when you start your journey.

Renting Online Before You Travel

Another option is to rent your car online before you travel. Websites like, Kayak, and Expedia provide platforms where you can compare prices, car models, and rental conditions from different companies. Booking in advance can often secure you a better deal and allows you to manage the rental details at your leisure, avoiding the stress of on-the-spot decision-making and paperwork after a long flight.

The pros of booking online include potential cost savings, a wider choice of vehicles, and the convenience of having all your arrangements settled before you arrive. However, one must be cautious with prepayments and cancellation policies that could be less flexible than in-person rentals. Also, it’s important to read reviews and ensure you’re dealing with reputable companies to avoid any surprises when you pick up the car.

Whether you decide to book in advance online or rent a car upon arrival in Spain, ensure you have all the necessary documents, including a valid driver’s license, an international credit card for the deposit, and any required international driving permits. Driving in Spain can be a delight, with modern highways, well-maintained roads, and an abundance of scenic routes that make any drive memorable.

Is Renting a Car in Spain Safe?

Renting a car in Spain is generally considered to be a safe option for traveling around the country, offering the freedom to explore at your own pace. Spain boasts a comprehensive network of roads that are well-maintained and equipped to handle a large volume of traffic, particularly on major highways and in urban areas.

Condition of Roads and Highways

The road infrastructure in Spain is of a high standard, with the major highways — or “autopistas” — being especially well-cared for. These highways provide smooth and rapid connections between major cities and across the country’s varied regions. Tolls are often required for the faster autopistas, but there are also free motorways, known as “autovías,” which are of equally good quality, although they may have slightly lower speed limits and more junctions with other roads.

Country Road in Agés Burgos

When it comes to country roads, they are generally safe to drive on, but their condition can vary. In rural areas, roads can be narrower, more winding, and less well-maintained than their urban counterparts. Drivers should be particularly cautious on these roads, keeping an eye out for sharp bends, unexpected obstacles, and changes in road width or surface quality.

Spanish Drivers and Traffic Laws

Spanish drivers are known for being passionate, and while they largely stick to traffic rules, they tend to drive at a brisk pace, especially on highways. It’s important for visitors to stay aware of the local driving style and speed limits. Spain has strict traffic laws, and they enforce speed limits with speed cameras and fines. There is also a zero-tolerance policy for drinking and driving, with severe penalties in place.

Driving in City Centres and Small Villages

Driving in Spanish city centres can be challenging due to the busy traffic conditions, narrow streets, and limited parking options. Cities like Madrid and Barcelona are known for their bustling atmosphere, and navigating them by car requires attentiveness and patience. It’s often advisable to park outside the city centre and use public transport to move around once there.

In contrast, small villages offer a more relaxed driving experience. However, drivers should be mindful of narrower streets which are not always well-suited to larger vehicles. Expect to encounter fewer road signs, and fewer lanes, so be prepared for a more intimate driving experience that may include local pedestrians and cyclists sharing the road.

Overall, with attention to road conditions, adherence to local driving customs, and compliance with traffic laws, renting a car and driving in Spain can be a safe and rewarding experience. It allows for the discovery of both the country’s vibrant cities and its picturesque countryside, from the comfort of your own vehicle.

Is Renting a Car in Spain Expensive?

When considering renting a car in Spain, it is paramount to factor in various costs that you will encounter. The overall expense fluctuates depending on a multitude of factors such as the type of vehicle you rent, the duration of your rental, and the time of year.

Car Rental Costs

The most apparent cost is the rental price of the vehicle itself. In Spain, the daily rate for a basic compact car can start from as low as 15 euros per day during off-peak seasons. However, prices can surge to 50 euros or more during peak summer months or if you opt for more luxurious models or extras like GPS or child seats.

Toll Roads

Beyond the rental rate, if your travel plans include driving through toll roads, this is an additional cost to consider. Spain has an extensive network of autopistas, which are high-speed toll roads. The costs of the tolls vary depending on the length of your journey and the specific roadways you take. For example, traveling from Barcelona to Valencia might cost around 15 to 30 euros in tolls.

Fuel Costs

Fuel costs are another significant factor in the cost of renting a car in Spain. The price of fuel can fluctuate, but as of my last visit, the average price of petrol was around 1.40 euros per liter, and for diesel, it was slightly less. It’s crucial to recognize this expense, especially if planning longer road trips, as it can add up.

Additional Fees

It’s also wise to be mindful of potential additional fees that could accrue. These might include airport surcharges if you’re picking up your car from an airport location, additional driver fees, or late return fees. Insurances, which vary in coverage, can also contribute an additional daily cost to your budget, often ranging from 10 to 30 euros per day depending on the extent of coverage you opt for.

When factoring in all these associated costs, it becomes clear that renting a car in Spain can potentially be a significant portion of your travel budget. However, the convenience and freedom it affords can be invaluable for many travelers looking to explore the country’s diverse regions and landscapes.

Renting Automatic Cars in Spain

When it comes to renting a car in Spain, one of the decisions you might face is whether to choose an automatic or manual transmission. For those who are accustomed to driving automatic cars in their home country, it’s a no-brainer to want the same comfort and ease while navigating the scenic roads of Spain. Here’s why opting for an automatic car could be the right choice for you:

Convenience and Comfort

One of the primary reasons to rent an automatic car in Spain is convenience, especially if you are not adept at operating a manual gearbox. The stop-and-go traffic in cities like Madrid and Barcelona can be taxing for someone unaccustomed to clutch control and frequent gear changes. An automatic car simplifies the driving process, allowing you to focus entirely on the road and your surroundings, thus enhancing comfort during your travels.

Ideal for Beginners or Less Confident Drivers

For less experienced drivers or those who may be less confident with their stick shift abilities, an automatic car can be a real stress-reliever. Navigating through unfamiliar roads or dealing with Spain’s roundabouts can be daunting enough without the added complexity of manual gear changes. Automatic transmission allows for smoother journey continuity, which is also quite beneficial for drivers who may be dealing with any sort of physical ailment that makes manual shifting cumbersome.

roundabout in Carmona Spain

Scarcity of Automatic Transmission Rentals

Despite the appeal of automatic cars, it’s important to note that in Spain, as in many parts of Europe, manual cars dominate the car rental market. This scarcity means that automatic vehicles often come with a higher price tag, and there are fewer of them available at any given time. It’s not uncommon to find that automatic cars are the first to be booked out due to their lower availability.

Given this high demand and low supply, if you’re not used to driving stick or simply prefer the simplicity of an automatic, it is crucial to book your rental well in advance. Securing your automatic car early ensures that you can travel with ease and enjoy your Spanish road trip without the worry of having to adapt to a manual car at the last minute. Planning ahead saves you time and ensures a wider choice of models to best suit your needs and preference.

Whether you are cruising along the Costa del Sol or embarking on a cultural journey through the streets of Seville, renting an automatic car can provide a seamless driving experience. Just be sure to book ahead to ensure your trip is as smooth as the roads that lie before you.

Do I Need Air Conditioning

During the summer months in Spain, the temperature can soar, which often makes travelers wonder if air conditioning is a necessity, especially when renting a car. In my experience traversing the Spanish vistas, whether to get air conditioning in your rental car depends on several factors such as personal comfort preferences, the regions you plan to visit, and the season during which you are traveling.

Pros of Using Air Conditioning

The primary benefit of having air conditioning in your car is the increased comfort during hot days. Spain can get particularly warm, and air conditioning ensures a refuge from the heat.

  • Comfort: Traveling in a cool, climate-controlled vehicle can greatly enhance your experience, keeping you refreshed throughout your journey.
  • Health: For individuals sensitive to heat or with medical conditions, air conditioning isn’t just about comfort—it’s a health precaution, preventing heat exhaustion or other heat-related ailments.
  • Safety: Cooler temperatures within the car can contribute to increased driver alertness and safety. When it gets too hot, it could affect your ability to concentrate on the road.

Cons of Using Air Conditioning

Despite the comfort it provides, using air conditioning has its downsides, from environmental concerns to additional costs.

  • Cost: Renting a car with air conditioning usually means higher rental fees. Additionally, using air conditioning increases fuel consumption, which can bump up your travel expenses.
  • Environmental Impact: Air conditioning is not friendly to the environment. The increased fuel consumption results in higher carbon dioxide emissions, contributing to air pollution and global warming.
  • Experience: Some might argue that using air conditioning can isolate you from the full sensory experience of traveling through Spain. Rolling down the windows and embracing the local climate, sounds, and smells can be part of the adventure.

When deciding whether or not you need air conditioning in your rental car in Spain, weigh these pros and cons against your personal preferences and the outlines of your trip. Remember, what one person deems necessary might not be as crucial for another, but air conditioning can indeed be a saving grace during the intense heat of a Spanish summer.

Spain Driving Etiquette

Understanding the driving etiquette in Spain is key to having a safe and enjoyable journey across this beautiful country. Spanish roads might be similar to other European countries in terms of road quality and signage, but local customs and habits tend to give each place its unique driving atmosphere.

Respect for Speed Limits

When driving in Spain, paying attention to the speed limits is critical. Speed limits are strictly enforced with speed cameras and radar traps quite common, especially on highways (autopistas) and freeways (autovías). Limits tend to be 50 km/h in towns, 90 km/h on main roads, and up to 120 km/h on highways unless otherwise indicated. Always look for signs indicating speed changes based on road conditions and traffic density.

Priority to the Right

It’s important to note that Spain adheres to the ‘priority to the right’ rule. This means that in situations where it’s unclear who has the right of way, priority should be given to vehicles approaching from the right. In practice, this is often observed in smaller towns and rural areas where smaller roads intersect without clear signage or traffic lights.

Use of Horns and Indicators

The use of horns in Spain is intended for emergencies only and as a deterrent in dangerous situations. It’s seen as rude and unnecessary to honk in non-threatening situations such as slight driving mistakes by others. Indicators, on the other hand, are expected to be used liberally to signal your intentions on the road, whether it’s changing lanes, turning, or overtaking another vehicle.

Parking Habits

In urban areas, finding parking can be challenging. Spanish drivers often make the most of the space available, which can sometimes seem creative to the uninitiated. Be prepared to decipher blue lines, green zones, and white areas, which dictate paid parking, residents’ parking, and free parking respectively. It’s important to respect these designations to avoid fines. Additionally, during August, some rules might be relaxed in certain cities, as locals leave for their holidays.

Overtaking and Lane Discipline

Motorists in Spain typically follow a strict overtaking etiquette. Overtaking is always on the left, and using the right lane to pass is considered both illegal and dangerous. On multi-lane roads, it’s common for drivers to stick to the rightmost lane and use the left lanes solely for overtaking. However, always be vigilant as some drivers may not strictly adhere to this rule and may overtake from the right in slower traffic conditions.

During your time on Spanish roads, you’ll notice that local drivers are generally courteous and patient. They place a high value on avoiding conflict and drive with a sense of cooperation. That said, like anywhere, there can be the occasional aggressive driver or someone in a hurry. The key is to remain calm, adherent to local laws and expectations, and not be provoked into risky maneuvers. Above all, enjoy the drive and the beautiful views Spain has to offer!

Fuel and Rest Stops

Understanding Fuel Types in Spanish Petrol Stations

In Spain, like in many European countries, petrol stations offer a range of fuel types that may differ from what many travelers are accustomed to. The primary types of fuel available are ‘Gasolina’ (Petrol) and ‘Gasóleo’ (Diesel). Within these categories, you can find different grades with numbers indicating their octane level, such as ‘95’ and ‘98’ for unleaded petrol. Diesel might be labeled as ‘Diesel’, ‘Gasóleo A’, ‘Gasóleo B’, or ‘Gasóleo C’, with ‘Gasóleo A’ being the standard type for most vehicles.

Tips for Identifying the Correct Fuel for Your Rental Car

Before you start your road trip, it’s crucial to know the correct type of fuel for your rental vehicle. Filling up with the wrong fuel can lead to significant damage and a hefty repair bill. Usually, the fuel type is indicated inside the fuel cap; if not, check the rental agreement or ask the rental company explicitly. Many modern diesel cars have broader filler necks that prevent the smaller unleaded nozzles from fitting, but this isn’t foolproof, so always double-check.

Locating Fuel Stations Across Spain

Fuel stations are widely available throughout Spain, particularly along the Autovia (motorway) and Autopista (toll motorway). For longer trips into rural or secluded areas, it is wise to plan your fill-ups in advance, as stations can be less frequent. Many rest stops on the major highways are equipped with fuel stations, allowing you to refuel, grab a bite, and take a break before continuing your journey. These establishments are often open 24 hours, providing convenience for night drivers.

petrol station in Spain

Navigating Spanish Fuel Stations

The process of refueling in Spain is similar to other parts of Europe. Stations can be either self-service (‘autoservicio’) or full-service (‘servicio completo’). In a full-service petrol station, attendants will fill up your car for you and typically accept payment at the pump. Self-service means you’ll need to fill up the tank yourself but make sure to pay inside or at the automated machine before leaving. For payment, most stations accept credit cards and cash, but having both options is wise since some remote stations may not accept cards.

Useful Additional Services

Petrol stations in Spain often provide more than just fuel. Many are equipped with air pumps for topping up your tire pressure, water stands for cooling systems, and sometimes even car wash facilities. It’s also common to find small shops at petrol stations offering food, drinks, and other travel necessities.

When traveling through Spain and using various fuel and rest stops, awareness, and preparation for the different services and types of fuel available will ensure a smoother journey. Always take a moment to familiarize yourself with your vehicle’s requirements and plan your stops, especially when traversing less populated regions of the country.


Parking in Spain can vary significantly depending on whether you’re in a large city or a smaller town, and like many places, finding convenient and affordable parking can be a bit of a challenge. The cost of parking can range widely – in larger cities, it’s common for parking charges to be higher. The fees may vary; in metropolitan areas, expect to pay anywhere from €2 to €3 per hour on average for on-street parking, and €20-€30 for a day in a parking garage. However, in smaller towns and more rural locations, parking fees can be much less, and you may even find free parking spots.

Parking in Cities and Historic Towns

When it comes to parking in cities and historic towns, it can be particularly tricky due to their typically narrow streets and limited availability. In historic areas, finding parking can be an even bigger challenge due to preservation efforts and restricted vehicle access. It’s not uncommon for there to be designated parking zones outside the historic centers where you can leave your car and then either walk or take public transit into town. Parking garages and underground lots are available, but they are usually more expensive.

Parking outside the town/city and using public transport

A convenient and often stress-free alternative to parking directly in the town or city center is using Park and Ride facilities (or “Parkings disuasorios”) found outside many urban areas. You can park your car for the day, often free of charge or at very low cost, and then use public transport to get into the heart of the city. This method can save you both the headache of navigating narrow city streets and the cost of expensive city center parking.

On-Street Parking

On-street parking in Spain is controlled by marked parking zones, identified with blue lines (known as “zona azul”) where you must pay during designated times, and green zones which are typically reserved for residents. Make sure to check the hourly restrictions and maximum parking times as they can change depending on the area and time of year. In some cities, you may also encounter white zones, where parking is free. It’s essential to pay close attention to parking signs and rules to avoid fines and towing.

Remember, during your visit to Spain, always consider the extra time and budget required for parking, and when possible, use public transport to mitigate the hassle and expense.

Driving in Spanish Towns

Driving through Spanish towns can present a unique and vibrant experience for any traveler. The narrow streets, the hustle and bustle of daily life, and the rich history that is present at every turn contribute to an exciting journey. However, navigating these small and often crowded spaces may also come with its own set of challenges.

Navigating the Narrow Streets

Many Spanish towns, especially older ones with historical centers, were built long before the invention of cars. As a result, streets can be incredibly narrow, with tight turns and limited parking spaces. It’s not uncommon to find yourself in a maze of one-way systems or encountering streets that can only be accessed by residents. Patience and a small vehicle are often assets when driving in these conditions.

Alleyway in Toledo Spain

Dealing with Parking Constraints

Parking is another aspect of driving in Spanish towns that requires special attention. Space is at a premium and finding a spot to park near your destination can often be a challenge. Many towns have designated parking areas or garages outside the historical centers where you can leave your car and explore on foot. Being aware of local parking regulations is important to avoid fines or towing.

The Role of Sat Nav and GPS

In the labyrinthine streets of Spanish towns, a Sat Nav or GPS becomes an invaluable tool for any driver. Not only can it help you navigate the intricate network of roads, but it also provides real-time traffic updates, which are particularly useful during busy times or when events or festivals are taking place.

These digital navigators take out the guesswork of finding your destination and can save a significant amount of time that would otherwise be spent asking for directions or deciphering maps. Moreover, they can quickly adapt to changes, such as road closures or diversions, ensuring that you can focus more on enjoying the scenery and less on the potential stress of getting lost.

Another advantage is that Sat Nav systems often come with language support, making it much easier for non-Spanish speakers to follow audio directions. With the help of these devices, one can confidently venture into even the most unfamiliar Spanish town, knowing that they have a guide to assist them in reaching their destination hassle-free.

Overall, while there might be some complexities when it comes to driving in Spanish towns, the use of modern technology like Sat Nav and GPS can greatly enhance the experience, allowing travelers to navigate the streets with greater ease and confidence.

Drive on the Right

In Spain, as in most European countries, traffic travels on the right-hand side of the road. For drivers accustomed to driving on the left, this can present some initial challenges and requires a heightened awareness of your surroundings to adjust to this different perspective on the road.

Adapting to the Right

When you first get behind the wheel in Spain, give yourself a few moments to acclimatize to being on the right side. The placement of the driver’s seat in the car will be different if you’re coming from a country where you drive on the left, which can affect your judgment of spacing on the passenger’s side. Always take extra care when gauging the distance from curbs, other vehicles, and lane markings.

Mind the Roundabouts

Roundabouts can be especially tricky if you’re used to driving on the left. In Spain, you’ll need to remember to give way to the traffic coming from your left as you enter the roundabout. All vehicles already in the roundabout have the right of way. Once inside the roundabout, keep to the outside if you intend to exit at the first or second exit. Get into the inner lane if you are going further around.

roundabout in spain

Overtaking and Lane Discipline

Overtaking in Spain follows the same protocol as in most countries that drive on the right—you should always overtake on the left-hand side. This can take some getting used to if your instinct from driving on the left is to check your right side before overtaking. Be vigilant with your mirrors and make sure to indicate your intention to change lanes early enough for other drivers to anticipate your movement.

Intersections and Signs

At intersections, remember that your reference point for turning is now different. You must approach turns with the idea of keeping the center of the intersection to your left, which is the opposite of driving on the left. Traffic signs and signals are generally positioned for visibility from the right side of the road, so remember to look in the correct direction for these cues.

While it may sound daunting at first, with a little patience and practice, adapting to driving on the right in Spain can be achieved safely. Remember to always stay alert, especially in the beginning, and give yourself plenty of time to react as you grow more comfortable with this new driving orientation.

Motorways in Spain

Spain’s motorway network is extensive and modern, providing efficient and fast travel across various regions of the country. As one traverses the Spanish motorways, the experience is generally pleasant, characterized by well-maintained roads and clear signage, making the overall driving experience easy, even for those who might not be familiar with the area.

Major Motorways and Their Routes

Among the major motorways in Spain, the following stand out for their importance and the vast areas they connect:

  • AP-7 (Autopista del Mediterráneo): This is a toll road that runs along the Mediterranean coast of Spain from La Jonquera near the French border to Algeciras near Gibraltar. Because of its scenic route, it is popular for both commercial transportation and travel.
  • A-1 (Autovía del Norte): Connecting Madrid to the northern city of Irun, the A-1 serves as a main conduit to the French border, cutting through historical regions like the Basque Country.
  • A-2 (Autovía del Nordeste): Linking Madrid with Barcelona, the A-2 is a key thoroughfare for commerce and travel between two of Spain’s most vibrant cities.
  • A-3 (Autovía del Este): Spanning from Madrid to Valencia, the A-3 is the main road connecting Spain’s capital to the Mediterranean coast, facilitating access to the country’s third-largest city and the popular beaches along the coast.
  • A-4 (Autovía del Sur): The A-4 provides a direct route from Madrid to the southern city of Seville, continuing all the way to Cadiz. This motorway is especially vital in linking the cultural heart of Andalusia to the rest of Spain.
  • A-5 (Autovía del Suroeste): Going from Madrid to the Portuguese border at Badajoz, this motorway enables a hassle-free journey to the neighboring country as well as to the historical region of Extremadura.
  • A-6 (Autovía del Noroeste): Also known as the ‘Road of the Northwest’, the A-6 connects Madrid with the region of Galicia, ending in the city of A Coruña.

Driving Experience

Motorways in Spain are particularly driver-friendly due to several factors. Toll roads (“autopistas”) and free motorways (“autovías”) are clearly distinguished by their signage. Toll roads tend to be less crowded and are often in optimal condition, offering rest areas at regular intervals. Non-toll motorways are also well-kept and provide smooth travel experiences. Modern service areas along these routes guarantee that drivers can rest and replenish necessities at their convenience.

Furthermore, due to Spain’s diligent efforts in infrastructure development, even the high capacity roads are designed to handle traffic effectively, rarely causing any delay, except for possibly during holiday periods or peak hours in urban areas. With numerous picturesque vistas, especially along the coastal routes such as the AP-7, the motorways in Spain can make for a memorable driving experience combined with the practicality of quick and comfortable travel.

Tolls in Spain

When traveling by car in Spain, motorists can expect to encounter a variety of tolls on numerous highways, particularly on the autopistas (high-speed toll roads) which are generally denoted by the ‘AP’ prefix. These toll roads are spread throughout the country and are more prevalent in the heavily touristic areas and routes connecting major cities. Tolls in Spain are typically based on the distance traveled, with prices varying depending on the road, vehicle size, and time of the day or year.

Understanding the Toll System

The toll system in Spain is quite straightforward. As you approach a toll booth, you will find multiple lanes categorized for different payment methods. There are lanes for telepeaje (electronic toll collection), manual payment lanes where you can pay by cash, credit card, or debit card, and some lanes dedicated for subscribers with special passes. Look for signs indicating the accepted payment methods and choose your lane accordingly.

Tolls Payment and Ease of Passage

For ease of passage, the telepeaje system, which uses a transponder device called VIA-T, is quite efficient as it allows drivers to pass through the toll without stopping. Visitors can rent a VIA-T box from car rental companies or purchase it from certain banks and service stations. If you choose manual payment, expect to stop and pay at the booth. Cash and card payments are generally accepted without any issues, ensuring a relatively smooth transit through toll stations.

Toll Costs

The cost of tolls can range significantly. For example, shorter trips may cost just a few euros, while longer trips between major cities can cost upwards of 20 euros. Costs can also be higher during peak travel seasons. It’s recommended to plan your route and budget ahead of time to account for these costs. Official toll road operators like ASETA provide useful tools to estimate toll costs for your journey.

toll highway spain

Avoiding Toll Roads

It is indeed possible to avoid toll roads in Spain if you prefer a more scenic and cost-free journey. Spain has an extensive network of national roads (carreteras nacionales) and secondary roads that do not require toll payment. However, be prepared for slower travel times, potential traffic, and sometimes less direct routes. Using a GPS or online map service that allows you to select a ‘no tolls’ option can be very helpful in finding alternate routes. For updated information on toll-free routes, visit the official Spanish Traffic Authority (DGT) website.

Additional Resources

For further detailed information about the toll system and roadways in Spain, the Sociedad Iberica de Autopistas and the Ministry of Public Works and Transport may provide additional assistance and updated traffic conditions to help you navigate the Spanish road network more effectively.

Speed Limits in Spain

General Speed Limit Rules

Spain has a well-defined set of speed limits that apply to various types of roads and vehicles. As a traveler, it’s crucial to adhere to these limits to ensure safety and compliance with the law. On Spanish motorways, commonly known as ‘autopistas’, the general speed limit is 120 km/h. For dual carriageways with a physical separation between the two directions of traffic, known as ‘autovías’, the limit is also typically 120 km/h. When driving on conventional roads that have only one lane in each direction, the speed limit drops to 90 km/h. In urban areas, the speed limit is usually 50 km/h, which further decreases to 30 km/h or even 20 km/h in residential zones and areas with high pedestrian traffic.

Identifying Speed Limits

Determining the correct speed to drive at is straightforward in Spain because speed limits are clearly marked. Look out for circular signs with a red border and a number in the center; these indicate the maximum speed in kilometers per hour. Additionally, be aware that speed limits can change due to local conditions, construction work, or proximity to schools, so pay close attention to any temporary signage.

Speed Limit Enforcement

Spain enforces its speed limits stringently. Speed cameras and radar traps are commonplace, and fines for speeding can be substantial. In some areas, ‘Section Control’ systems calculate the average speed over a set distance to ensure drivers are not speeding. It’s always better to err on the side of caution and not exceed the posted limits.

For updated information on the speed limits in Spain and other traffic regulations, you can visit the official website of the Dirección General de Tráfico (DGT), Spain’s traffic authority. Additionally, travelers driving in Spain should consider checking with their car rental agency or local contacts for any recent changes to traffic rules or speed limit regulations.

Speeding Fines in Spain

Spain has a systematic approach to maintain road safety and manage speeding through both fines and traffic control systems. When it comes to speeding fines, the amount can vary significantly depending on how much you exceed the speed limit. The fines start from around 100 euros and can go up to 600 euros in extreme cases. A typical fine could be about 300 euros for exceeding the speed limit by 20-30 km/h on a motorway. Keep in mind that if you pay the fine promptly, there might be a 50% reduction.

A point-based license system is also in place. Depending on the severity of the offense, points can be deducted from your driver’s license, which can eventually lead to the license being revoked if too many points are lost. For more specific information about fines and point deductions, you can check the official Dirección General de Tráfico (DGT) website.

Speed Cameras and Traffic Enforcement

Speed cameras are definitely present in Spain and are commonly found on motorways, dual carriageways, and in urban areas where speeding is a concern. These are both fixed cameras and mobile speed traps that are operated by the police.

Fixed cameras are well-signed to alert drivers of their presence. However, mobile speed traps may not be as visible, and the police do not always signal their presence, making it particularly important to always adhere to the speed limits.

traffic police in spain

In addition to speed cameras, Spanish traffic police, known as the Guardia Civil, are known to set up speed traps to catch and penalize speeders, especially during peak holiday seasons or on roads with high accident rates. These speed traps can be anywhere but are especially common on secondary roads where people tend to relax their adherence to the speed limits.

Additional Considerations

For your safety and to avoid fines, it is crucial to be aware of and comply with all speed limits, which are clearly posted on road signs. Remember that limits will differ depending on the type of road you’re driving on. As an additional precaution, rental cars often come equipped with GPS systems that can alert you to the presence of fixed speed cameras. This can be particularly useful for tourists unfamiliar with the area.

Finally, keep in mind that as a driver in Spain, you’re subject to local traffic laws, and fines for foreign drivers can be substantial. In some cases, traffic authorities may require immediate payment of fines by non-resident violators. It’s also essential to carry all the necessary documentation, including your driver’s license, IDP (International Driving Permit), insurance papers, and car registration documents whenever driving.

Drive Times in Spain

Traveling by car in Spain offers a fantastic way to experience the variety and beauty of the country’s landscapes, from the sun-drenched Mediterranean coast to the rugged mountains of the interior. Below you’ll find a list of approximate drive times between major cities and popular tourist destinations based on my experiences. Do keep in mind that actual travel times can vary due to factors such as traffic conditions, the time of day, and the specific route taken.

  • Madrid to Barcelona: Approximately 6 hours via A-2/AP-2
  • Barcelona to Valencia: Around 3 hours and 30 minutes via AP-7
  • Madrid to Seville: Roughly 5 hours and 30 minutes via A-4
  • Seville to Granada: About 3 hours via A-92
  • Madrid to Salamanca: Estimated 2 hours and 30 minutes via A-50
  • Valencia to Alicante: Approximately 2 hours via AP-7

From Cities to Tourist Attractions

  • Madrid to the historic city of Toledo: Just about 1 hour via A-42
  • Barcelona to the Montserrat Monastery: Around 1 hour via A-2 and BP-1121
  • Seville to the Doñana National Park: Approximately 1 hour and 15 minutes via A-49
  • Granada to the Alhambra: About 15 minutes via A-395 (Note: Consider additional time for parking and access to the complex)
  • Valencia to the City of Arts and Sciences: Roughly 10 minutes via Av. del Professor López Piñero
  • Bilbao to the Guggenheim Museum: Just 15 minutes via Bilbao’s city roads

To plan your routes more effectively and for the most current information on Spanish roads, I recommend using the national traffic authority’s website, the Dirección General de Tráfico, and acquiring local maps or a GPS navigation system updated with the latest data. For travelers looking to explore more of the Spanish countryside or coastal regions, consider referencing the official tourism website of Spain, which provides valuable tips and travel advice. Remember to always allow for extra time to explore and enjoy the journey itself, as Spain’s roads can lead you through some spectacular and diverse scenery.

Car Seats for Children and Babies

Travelling with children requires careful consideration, especially when it comes to their safety in a vehicle. In Spain, like in many other countries, there are strict laws surrounding car seats for children and babies to ensure their security on the road.

Spanish Car Seat Regulations

In Spain, it is mandatory for all children measuring 135cm tall or less to travel in an appropriate child restraint system. This law is in place for all cars, vans, and goods vehicles. Children taller than 135cm can use the vehicle’s standard seatbelt. The law in Spain prioritizes safety over age, so the child’s height is the determining factor. For very young infants, a rear-facing seat is compulsory.

It is crucial to adhere to these regulations, not only for the safety of your children but also to avoid hefty fines. For up-to-date information on these laws, always check Dirección General de Tráfico, the Spanish traffic authority.

Categories Based on Child’s Age and Size

Car seats in Spain, as elsewhere, are categorized into groups based on the child’s weight and height:

  • Group 0/0+: For newborns up to 10kg (approximately up to 15 months old), always rear-facing.
  • Group I: For children weighing between 9 and 18kg (approximately 9 months to 4 years old).
  • Group II: For children weighing between 15 and 25kg (approximately 4 to 6 years old).
  • Group III: For children weighing between 22 and 36kg (approximately 6 to 12 years old).

Renting vs. Bringing Your Own Car Seats

Renting a car seat with your vehicle in Spain can be a convenient option. Most car rental agencies offer child seats as an add-on to your booking for an additional daily fee. This can be a hassle-free option but be wary as costs can accumulate, and the quality or cleanliness of the car seats can vary. On the positive side, it eliminates the need to travel with your own, which can be particularly helpful if you’re managing multiple pieces of luggage.

Bringing your own car seat, on the other hand, ensures that you are using a product that you trust and that your child is accustomed to. This can put your mind at ease, knowing that your child is safe in a seat that meets your standards. However, it can be cumbersome to carry along, and there could be additional fees from airlines for checking in bulky items.

When choosing between renting or bringing your own car seat, consider the duration of your stay, costs, convenience, and peace of mind. Each family’s needs will differ, so there is no one-size-fits-all answer. What’s paramount is that whichever option you choose, you ensure that the child restraint system complies with the safety standards and regulations required in Spain.


Spain offers a diverse traffic experience depending on where you find yourself in the country. The road infrastructure is generally good, with well-maintained highways (autovías) and toll roads (autopistas). However, traffic can be quite a challenge, especially in large cities like Madrid and Barcelona.

Driving in Cities

In major Spanish cities, expect heavy traffic during peak hours, much like any large metropolis around the world. Patience is paramount, as rush-hour congestion can cause significant delays. Madrid’s M-30 and Barcelona’s Rondes are notorious for their traffic jams. If you plan on visiting these cities, considering using public transportation or prepare for the occasional stop-and-go experience. For up-to-date traffic information in Madrid or Barcelona, you can visit the Dirección General de Tráfico website.

Driving in Madrid Spain

Driving in Towns and Villages

When venturing into smaller towns and villages, the pace of traffic changes dramatically. Roads become narrower, and in some historic towns, you may find yourself navigating through tight streets barely wide enough for a single car. It is not uncommon to run into areas where parking is scarce, and many town centers have restrictions for non-residents. Make sure to check the local regulations to avoid fines or towing. If you need to understand the local traffic signs and regulations, you can consult the Spanish Traffic Authority’s (DGT) digital headquarters.

Expect the unexpected when driving in rural areas. From tractors and farm animals on the road to sudden sharp bends, Spanish countryside roads demand attentive driving. It is a good idea to review the country’s traffic regulations before you set out on your journey. In any instance, whether city or village, it is crucial to always stay alert and adapt to the local driving customs to ensure a safe trip.

Top Tips for Renting a Car in Spain

Spain is a beautiful country to explore by car. With its diverse landscapes and bustling cities, renting a car gives you the freedom to discover its many charms at your own pace. Here are my top five tips for a smooth car rental experience in Spain:

1. Know the Legal Requirements

Before you arrive in Spain, ensure you have all the required documents. A valid driving license from your home country is a must, and it’s a good idea to get an International Driving Permit (IDP) if your license is not in Spanish. Be aware that the minimum age to rent a car in Spain is typically 21, and you may need to have held your license for at least one year. For more information on driving regulations in Spain, you can visit the Dirección General de Tráfico (DGT).

2. Choose the Right Vehicle

Consider the size of your party and the nature of your travel when selecting a vehicle. Compact cars are easier to navigate through narrow streets and park in tight spaces, which is especially convenient when visiting older city centers. If you’re planning to explore the countryside or coastal areas, you might prefer something with more power or space. Keep in mind that manual transmissions are more common in Spain, so request an automatic in advance if necessary.

3. Understand Your Rental Agreement

Always read the rental agreement carefully and ask about anything that’s not clear. Pay attention to the insurance coverage and consider whether you need additional protection. Spain requires a minimum third-party liability insurance, but you may want extra coverage for peace of mind. Check what the policy says about fuel, mileage limits, and extra fees, such as for additional drivers or one-way rentals.

4. Inspect the Rental Car

Before driving off, thoroughly inspect the car for any existing damage and ensure that it is noted on the rental agreement. This can prevent disputes when you return the car. Take photos or a video of the vehicle’s condition at the start and end of your rental for added documentation.

5. Be Prepared for Spanish Driving Customs

Driving in Spain might be different from what you’re used to. Keep in mind speed limits: 120 km/h on highways, 90 km/h on single carriageway roads, and 50 km/h in urban areas, unless otherwise indicated. Be aware of toll roads, known as “autopistas,” which are more expensive but generally offer smoother and faster journeys. Lastly, parking in major cities can be challenging; look for blue zones (“zona azul”) for paid street parking, or use monitored parking lots and garages.