Compared to many other major cities, driving in Lisbon can be chaotic and unpredictable, so it's best for travelers to follow certain guidelines. This will ensure a pleasurable and safe driving experience in Portugal's enchanting capital.
Lisbon is an ancient city, so many of its streets were designed for foot and equestrian traffic originally. As a result, the streets in the innermost part of the city tend to be almost impossibly narrow. In addition, signage is not always posted, and cramped quarters can turn parking into a rather arduous ordeal.
Natives of other Western European countries generally view Portuguese drivers as impatient and unpredictable. Be prepared for tailgaters, traffic signal violations, and the near-constant din of honking horns.
In theory, the speed limit is 50km/h (31 mph) in Lisbon. However, traffic congestion means that the actual speeds achievable on Lisbon streets are often substantially slower than the legal speed limit. If you're planning on driving in Lisbon, then be ready to take your time while getting around.
Visitors from the U.S. may find Lisbon, Portugal's roundabouts to be fairly intimidating, but they just take a little getting used to. The trick is to stay in the central lane of the roundabout until you've located your exit, then merge to the right directly before exiting. You may have to make a couple of rounds before this is feasible, but you should have it down in no time. Watch out for other drivers, and don't rely on everyone around you obeying the traffic laws.
Yes, you read that correctly: vehicles merging into the flow of traffic have right-of-way over those already in the flow of traffic. Again, this takes some getting used to, but knowing this odd rule can certainly save you from headaches, and help you to stay safe while driving in Portugal.
During your visit to Lisbon, you may encounter pedestrians who will direct you to parking spaces. They're not doing this for the fun of it; they expect a tip in return for their services. The decision to tip is up to you, but some travelers have reported returning to find their rental cars damaged after refusing to tip these good samaritans for hire… something to consider when you're asked about car rental insurance.
As mentioned earlier, Lisbon drivers tend to be erratic and aggressive. It's nothing personal; that's just how it's done in Lisbon. But you'd do well to drive defensively. Don't rely on traffic signals to predict the behavior of other motorists. They just might (and often will) surprise you. Surprises are nice on your birthday, but not on the road, so look sharp when you're behind the wheel in Lisbon.
When you're visiting Portugal, having a car is essential – unless you plan on spending all of your time in a fairly restricted, urban geographical area such as Lisbon.
For certain parts of the capital city, having your own vehicle certainly is nice. But if you're planning on spending the day in the older parts of the city, you may want to consider leaving your rental car at your hotel, and taking advantage of the city's historic street cars, buses, and reliable metro system.
Seeing the sights on foot is a great way to really immerse yourself in local culture. Then when you're ready to venture further afield, stop back by your hotel and pick up your car.