Rental Cars in Portugal
Rates for hiring a rental car in Portugal are amongst the lowest in Europe and so hiring a car is a good way of getting around the country. This is especially true if you are planning to get off the beaten track as the rail network is less efficient in the more remote areas and some are really inaccessible unless you have your own transport. Bear in mind, however, that petrol (gasolina) is not as cheap as you might expect, with unleaded (sem chumbo) costing a bit more than diesel. Most rental cars in Portugal run on unleaded. Most driving licences are accepted in Portugal so you probably won't need a special international one. You may want to consider that Portugal has a very high accident rate before you get in the car, however, and the fact that its road surfaces are often full of potholes and dangerous drivers. Keep aware of who is behind you and watch out for those bends!
A recent spate of investment in Portugal's road structure means that the motorways and main roads are much improved of late. Up until the 1990s the only motorway ran from Lisbon to Porto and it hadn't even been finished. The EU funded road construction programmes across the country and now places like Beira and Trás-os-Montes are accessible by roads that are similar to motorways. These highways carry a number prefixed with the letters IP, which distinguishes them from the actual motorways, where the numbers are prefixed with an A. BRISA owns the private motorway network and is slowly expanding them to cover more of the country. The tolls are quite high (nearly €20 from Lisbon to Porto) but this means you have a good chance of getting you and your rental car there in one piece.
On the smaller roads in Portugal you will inevitably get stuck behind an agricultural vehicle of some denomination and then face the challenge of overtaking (or not overtaking if you are less than fearless). The town centres are ill equipped to cope with the rise in car ownership and you will have trouble parking in high season, ending up on the outskirts of town or forced to take the park and ride (a good option in Coimbra). In some cities unemployed men point out parking spaces, a handy aid often used by locals, and for a €1 tip they will keep an eye on your car for you.
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