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Portugal: Transport and getting around

I thought to get away from virus talk and angst, and being somewhat stuck at home, I would share some thoughts, based on category, on my recent trip to Portugal. This one, on transportation.

I do have to say that I am a dedicated Public Transport type of guy, in a couple dozen trips to Europe, I can count on one hand the times I used a rental car or family/friend car for a portion of a trip. However, for Portugal and the trip we wanted, a car seemed like a good option for some of the trip.

We did rent a car, but also used the train, local bus, Trams, Funicular, Taxi, Uber, about everything but a boat (It was February)…and we declined the hordes of Tuk-Tuks in Lisbon.

Our trip was best described as an overview, with the plan to return some day to enjoy the best spots. It did resemble the two week Itinerary Rick has in the Portugal book, coming in at 15 days on the ground and covering all of the regions, but not necessarily the same mix of towns. We wanted to touch on some towns, hit others not easily accessible by Public Transport (or requiring much more time than allotted). Some examples a car allowed:

  • Lunch and a walk in Evora before spending the night in Monsaraz, including visiting the Megalith site outside of Evora.
  • Basing in Loule in the Algarve, mainly for Carnival, but exploring the coast during the Day, including Salema, Sagres, Lagos, and Tavira, including some time exploring the salt marshes and an unexpected afternoon at the beach (again, it was February)
  • A brief stop in Obidos to walk the town and lunch in Nazare, before heading to Tomar. In Tomar, we also side tripped to the Aqueduct outside of town.
  • A visit to Conimbriga on the way to Coimbra
  • A visit to an out of the way Sparkling Wine producer and drives up the Douro Valley.

Driving in Portugal was easy, we avoided the big towns of course. The roads were good, the tollways excellent. For the 8 days of rental, we did pay about 300 euro, that included a transponder for the tolls and a one way rental, Lisbon to Porto. Rental was through Avis, I use them for business travel, and we used Airports for pickup and dropoff, mainly for the operating days and hours. We probably spent 150 to 200 euro in fuel, Parking less than 50 euro, a good chunk of that in Coimbra since we stayed in the city center.

For tolls, the 30 euro or so was worth it for the transponder, paying cash would have been double that easily, and in many cases, there was no pay as you go option.

We used AMEX Premium Rental coverage ($29), but had no issues, so take that as you like.

The tollways were fast and nearly traffic free. I hesitate to speed in Europe, but on the tollways, if you go the limit, most cars blast past you. I did kick it up a little bit, but resisted the urge to keep up with the BMW’s and Mercedes.

If there was any anxiety about driving, it was parking. A few places trying to parallel park on a steep hill, with a manual, and only the little button type parking brake, was unnerving; but the real horror was Parking Garages…usually underground…45 degree ramps…passages a few inches wider than a small car…and spaces made for a golf cart. How we managed 3 of them without scraping a fender or bumper I have no idea. I would make sure I have full coverage just for garages.

As for other forms of transport…

The Train between Porto and Lisbon was easy and comfortable. Transport within Lisbon and Porto was best done by Taxi or Uber. To be honest, Uber was cheaper than public transport for two people and door to door. The exception was that the trams were fun, and the Funiculars and Elevators worth the experience.

Overall, when we return, if we focus on areas other than Lisbon and Porto, we would likely rent again, it was just nice being able to get around and plan our time as we like.

Posted by
3939 posts

Your car hire was expensive for February - I have paid less for a month’s hire on the Algarve in February, although some was probably a one way drop fee. A transponder certainly makes life easier.

You certainly crammed a lot in - I would take at least 3 weeks if not 4 to cover so much area.

Posted by
4777 posts

Yes, I think I could have found a better deal on the car, but the one-way drop-off, plus using an airport location played a role in that cost, but both were important to us. If I were going back, and spending time in one area, I think a local rental would make more sense, and about half the cost. Avis I use frequently for business, so there was some perks using them this time.

I agree that the pace was fast, but again, for what we wanted, an overview, it really did not feel fast. We did visit some sites, but did not by any means hit every church and museum, so the pace could be brisk. As an example, our longest day probably would not be advised, but we left Loule in the Algarve early (8:00 AM) and was in Obidos around 11:00. Obidos was worth a walk through the town, a look in a shop or two, a church, but for the hour or little more we were there, it was plenty. We then drove through Nazare, looked around a bit (not much going on in February) found a place for lunch, had a great one, then took off for Tomar. We took care of a hotel, then still had time to visit the Castle/Monastery, see the Aqueduct, and walk around the town. Also sat with the locals in a small bar, and later had a nice meal. We did not feel rushed, we covered a lot of miles, but even the driving was enjoyable.

Posted by
395 posts

Thank you for your comments and review. We're planning a trip to Portugal sometime in the next year or two, so this is good info.