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Portugal has so much to see and do and one of the most important things for visitors to do once they arrive is organize transport. Whether you rent a car or use public transport, here are a few tips to help you get around Portugal safely.
There are plenty of places to hire a vehicle in Portugal. The legal driving age is 18 but to hire a car, the minimum age is 23 or 25 depending on the hire company. If you are an inexperienced driver, you may have to pay an extra premium. You must also have a valid drivers' license and an International Driving Permit.
By law, your car must have a warning triangle, reflective jacket or vest, spare wheel, and spare light bulbs in case of a breakdown or headlight blowout, and seat belts are compulsory.
In Portugal, you drive on the right-hand side (same as the US) and overtake on the left. Undertaking (overtaking on the right) will see you hit with a 1,000 euro fine. On motorways, the middle lane is for overtaking.
Driving in Portugal can be dangerous. The IP5 and the N125 route to the Algarve, the EN125, the A20 in Porto and the Antigua ER101 are particularly dangerous roads. There are lots of windy, narrow roads and in rural areas, many are poorly kept.
There are several toll roads in Portugal. You can pay for them with card or cash, but motorways accept the VIA Verde automatic payment system, using a magnetic card attached to the vehicle’s windscreen. so check that your rental vehicle has a toll tag. There is also a system called Easy Toll, which tends to be easier for visiting motorists. You enter your card details at the border a photo is taken of your number plates. The system then automatically deducts the toll payment every time the registered vehicle passes a toll booth.
As a visitor, you can drive your own vehicle to Portugal for up to 183 days in any 12-month period, and can only use your vehicle for tourism; you are not allowed to loan it to anyone else. If you want to stay longer, you have to apply to the Portuguese Customs authority to have the car legally imported.
When it comes to road safety, Portugal has one of the less impressive records in Europe, however, authorities have been taking steps in an attempt to improve the statistics; with fatalities dropping by 40% since 2010. In 2019, there were 621 road deaths reported in Portugal which equates to 6.0 road deaths per 100,000 of the population compared to the UK average of 2.6 road deaths per 100,000 people.
Some other points to be aware of when negotiating Portugal's roads:
Should you get stuck in a sticky situation while driving in Portugal, here are a few handy phrases:
Portugal has a very reliable and inexpensive public transport system. Trams, trains, buses, and ferries all offer fast and affordable transport. But as with any public transport, users must exercise common sense and appropriate safety precautions while aboard to avoid becoming a victim of petty crime. Keep all bags in front of you, zipped up and locked. Store money and valuables out of sight.
Most public transport companies in Portugal have websites and mobile apps with up-to-date information on timetables, routes, and ticketing. Lisbon's Tram 28 is a popular route for visitors to the capital. Opportunist pickpockets are known to frequent this line so keep an eye on your belongings, secure your valuables and never leave any bags unzipped.
Portugal’s rail system is managed by the state-owned Comboios de Portugal (CP) which operates an extensive, scenic rail network. The fastest and most frequent connections are between major cities such as Lisbon, Porto, Aveiro, Coimbra, Faro, and Lagos.
The extensive bus system operates around the country and are comprised of high-speed buses, those that connect cities as well as slower regional routes. You can buy tickets online or at bust stations.
Taxis are also readily available and a much-less-crowded alternative to other forms of transport.
In areas including the Portuguese islands of the Azores and Madeira, taxis often make more sense given the shorter travel distances. Always set the fare with the driver before hiring to be sure that everyone is in agreement and there are no unpleasant surprises at the end of the ride.
There are ride-sharing apps including Uber, Cabify, Bolt, BlaBlaCar and Boleia.
Cycling is also a popular way of traveling around in Portugal. Off-peak times such as April to June and September to November offer the best climate and fewer tourists. There is a network of dedicated bike lanes in cities and long-distance bike paths are popping up on former railway tracks in rural areas, and there are more than 850mi (1375km) of trails and backroads from the north to the south of Portugal. With the Gira Bike you can rent bikes to pick up and drop off bikes at docking stations throughout the city. Motorways are off-limits to bikes. Drivers tend to be very bike-friendly.
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