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To drive or not to drive?

My husband and I (retired) are planning a trip to Portugal for two weeks at the end of September. I can't decide on if we should take public transportation or rent a car. I do not want to rent a car if driving is going to be stressful much of the time due to traffic, parking, not knowing the language etc. I'd appreciate advice on this issue. Thanks!

Posted by
11154 posts

I did not rent a car, but only saw Lisbon, Santarem, Tomar, Coimbra, and Porto. These have good train and bus service. A large part of whether or not you will want or need a car depends on what you want to see. However, don't drive in Lisbon. Even by the standards of other European cities, driving in Lisbon was harrowing to watch; I can't imagine actually doing it.

Posted by
409 posts

As the previous poster said, forget driving in Lisbon! Been there, done that, not looking forward to the next time I am in Lisbon and have to drive. That being said, the rest of Portugal is fairly easy. Be careful of any small roads the GPS wants you to take...some are EXTREMELY narrow! Road signs are great and the highways get you everywhere quickly. I guess it depends on where you will visit, good luck!

Posted by
16769 posts

As a single traveler on a budget, and with plenty of time, I had no problem using a combination of train and bus around Portugal. However, both train and bus schedules can be sparse or inconvenient in places, such as in the Duoro Valley or between Nazare and Fatima. The arrival and connection summaries at the start and end of each chapter in Rick's guidebook will give you an idea of the more problematic destinations. I also would not hesitate to drive (outside of Lisbon), for more flexibility and self-sufficiency.

Posted by
8293 posts

My sister and I had a rental car for two weeks in Portugal one year. No problems anywhere but watch out for those hotshot kids on motorcycles. They have no fear of death.

Posted by
3986 posts

It depends on where in Portugal you are going. Public transportation can be slow - it takes the same time to drive from the Algarve to Lisbon as the train takes c 4 hours. Many places do not have much in the way of public transportation so I would suggest hiring a car. Not knowing the language can be more of a problem getting on trains and buses than driving. The end of September is end of the holiday season, so there will be less traffic too.

I have driven in Lisbon and it is nowhere near as bad as driving in London or Paris. The driving of the locals on the Algarve is some of the worst in Europe, perhaps explained by the fact that in Tavira in 1974 there were only 4 cars pre-revolution, supposedly, so they do not have much of a history of driving.

If you hire a car, take care to park in well-lit areas and ideally leave the parcel shelf out and the glove box open as we have had an attempted car theft on the Algarve by someone trying to jemmy the door lock whilst we were either at the beach or at the supermarket. Show them there is nothing to steal. Crime is higher in the Algarve than further north as they target the tourists. Portugal is a great country - just be sensible.