Driving in Spain, or any foreign country really, may seem a bit daunting, but with the right tips and preparation, driving in Spain is a great way to see certain parts of the country.
In general, driving is a great way to move around specific and contained regions of Spain. For instance, if you want to spend time in La Rioja visiting vineyards, to see the north coast in the Basque country, or to weave your way through olive groves and white-washed villages in the south, driving is a fabulous way to do this.
You have the freedom and flexibility to move at your own pace. You can stop when you want to and see what you want to see. If you discover an unexpected town and want to you change your itinerary to spend more time there, you’re not constrained by bus and train schedules.
Driving is really the only way to see smaller towns and more rural parts of the country, both inland and on the coasts. Local buses run fairly extensive routes in most places and it is possible to use these buses to get to some off-the-beaten path places. Buses simply do not go many places that you might want to see and, without renting a car, taking a taxi would be the only option.
While Spaniards tend to drive fast on highways, they are predictable drivers and follow traffic rules well. The highways are quite modern and well marked. Driving in cities (I don’t recommend driving in big cities) is similarly predictable.
Here are my dos and don’ts for driving in Spain —
Do make sure you are always in the right-hand lane when driving on the highway, unless you are passing another vehicle. This goes for divided highways with multiple lanes. You should never just drive along in the left-hand lane.
Do make sure to always respect the speed limit. This means making sure you’re not going much under the speed limit too.
Do make sure to pay extra close attention to the speed limit if you are on a smaller road that goes through small towns. In many areas, it is common to have the speed limit drop from above 100 kilometers per hour to 90 to 60 to 40 very quickly while you approach a small town. Sometimes these “towns” might be a few houses on either side of the road. Make sure you slow down adequately and respect these limits. They tend to be strictly enforced.
Do make sure you always, always stop for pedestrians in a cross walk. Cars always stop at the edge of the crosswalk, so it sometimes looks they they’re not stopping, but they always do and pedestrians count on this.
Do make sure you always signal. This goes for city and highway driving.
Do make sure that you always check to see if anyone is coming up behind you before passing a car on a divided highways. Cars can come up very quickly and unexpectedly at times, so they is very important.
Do be honest about your ability to drive a stick shift. If you’re not an experienced stick shift driver, driving in a different country on unfamiliar roads is not the best way to practice. It’s better to book ahead and request an automatic transmission.
Do make sure you have insurance coverage for your rental car, either through you credit card or through the rental car company itself.
Don’t drive in big cities like Madrid or Barcelona. You should absolutely avoid this. Smaller cities are much more manageable, though you still may want to avoid the city center.
Don’t use driving as your main mode of transportation between cities in different parts of Spain, say for instance, to get from Madrid to Sevilla or Madrid to Barcelona. It’s much more efficient to take the train unless, of course, you have lots of time and you want to spend it driving long distances between cities.
Don’t turn right on red. This is not legal in Spain. You must wait for the green.
Don’t drink at all and drive, not even one small beer or glass of wine. Spain has much stricter alcohol limits when it comes to driving and they’re rigidly enforced.
Here are some additional tips for things to consider when renting a car abroad.