As one of the most geographically diverse and culturally rich countries in all of Europe, from the spectacular sun-soaked beaches of San Sebastian, to the crisp mountainous vistas of Bilbao, a trip to Spain is something all travel enthusiasts should partake in at least once. Spain has the second highest number of UNESCO World Heritage Sites and the largest number of World Heritage Cities in the world, all the more reason to explore this breath-taking country. With such a long list of heavy hitting, must-see destinations to visit, a car rental in Spain makes perfect sense. Why be confined to the awkward schedules and congested flows of public transit, when you can forge your own path in a rental car - winds of curiosity and amazement in your sails, propelling you through Spain's diverse and incredible landscapes?
Explore Barcelona and discover many elaborate cultural histories told through the lens of breath-taking architecture, rich aromatic cuisine, and dynamic city life, symbiotically intertwined to form one of the most vibrant cities on earth. Gaze upon the truly epic La Sagrada Familia Church in awe, enjoy a bowl of Spain's iconic seafood paella while picnicking in Gaudi's Modernist Park, or let the adrenaline-fueled chants of Camp Nou Stadium overtake you as Barcelona F.C displays its world-renowned soccer expertise at a home game. Enjoy the laid-back pace afforded to you by a car rental, as exploring a new country isn't the same without the freedom to craft a flexible itinerary, with ample time to discover the tourist hot-spots and tranquil, off-the-beaten-path, locales.
Auto Europe's travel guide to Spain is meant to help you develop a well-rounded understanding of traffic laws, driving tips, and top destinations, helping to make your next trip to Spain the vacation of a lifetime.
Tourists and travelers visiting from the United States often express their concerns regarding the many differences they will experience when driving in Spain, compared to their familiar home territories. Worry not, as Auto Europe's comprehensive travel guide will provide you with everything you need to know to navigate the streets of Spain with ease.
Freeways - autovias in Spanish - are abundant throughout the country of Spain, and these well-maintained roadways provide easy access to nearly every important destination. Unlike many other European nations where the roadways have a reputation for being somewhat rough and dilapidated (take the UK for example), Spain has undergone an incredible amount of infrastructure remodeling and, as a result, today's Spain is home to one of the most modern and well-maintained roadway systems in all of Europe. Tourists are commonly surprised by the rarity of traffic jams, the ease of use, and the overall efficiency of the roads in Spain which put most major American cities to shame.
If driving Spain's freeways is easy, parking in Spain can be just the opposite. Many drivers find parking incredibly hectic, as there aren't as many regulations in place, and locals seem to be happy to find creative ways to "make it work" with reckless abandon. The Spanish use their car bumpers more liberally than most, and it's very common to see drivers reverse until they 'bump' the car behind them, in an effort to maximize the amount of space they have to exit their parking spot. This can pose a threat to drivers of car rentals, as unless you are equipped with fully comprehensive insurance, you may be assessed minor damage fines that result from local drivers scuffing your bumper. You may not even notice these small scuffs and scratches until you return your rental vehicle and it undergoes inspection. Double parking is commonplace, so finding a spot with an easy exit is of utmost importance as well.
Because roundabouts are a relatively recent addition to Spain's roadways, implemented in the late 1970's, driving around them can be quite chaotic to the uninitiated. Many drivers have reported cars traveling in both directions in roundabouts - especially the larger ones found while driving in Madrid and Barcelona - which creates an all-out vehicle free-for-all.
In favor of avoiding potential collisions and administrative damage fees, Auto Europe recommends that driving routes involving roundabouts should be avoided when possible. If you must drive on a roundabout, drive aggressively and with confidence. Fully comprehensive insurance, including collision damage waiver (CDW), is highly recommended for drivers renting a car in Spain, as it provides renters with the peace of mind that comes with knowing that whatever damage occurs to the vehicle - minor or major - you will be covered without having to fork out your savings to pay for repairs on a vehicle you don't even own. Planning on visiting during the off-season when traffic and crowds are less hectic may be a good way to determine the best time to visit Spain, as well.
Spanish driving law dictates that all passing on expressways must be done in the left lane, with proper use of turn signal indicators. It is highly recommended that you follow these rules, not only to avoid hefty fines, but more importantly to maintain a measure of safety while driving in Spain. Despite the laws set in place to help coordinate traffic, don't expect everyone to follow the rules, as it is fairly common for drivers in Spain to pass on both the left and right, without the use of turn signals. Many times, drivers will approach you from behind, briefly flash their lights, as a signal that they will be passing, and then proceed to go around you. Don't take offense to the light flashing, as it's not normally done under hostile pretences, but rather as a friendly reminder that they will be passing you momentarily.
Although Spain is famous for its wine and offers travelers numerous outstanding vineyards, it is also famous for its harsh, yet necessary, punishments for those that choose to drive under the influence of alcohol. The legal blood alcohol limit is .05%, though even then it is strongly recommended that when planning to drive you do so completely sober. If stopped by the police, it is compulsory for all drivers to submit to a breathalyzer test if asked to do so. Failure to comply will result in immediate immobilization of the vehicle, legal fines, and potential jail time - regardless of your level of impairment.
Like nearly every other European country, using a cell phone or mobile device while driving in Spain is strictly forbidden. Hands-free devices must be completely "hands-free," using headphones, ear-pieces, or speaker-phone while driving is also prohibited, and offenders may be fined. If you must use your cell phone while on the road, make sure to pull off the road completely, not just to the shoulder. Put your vehicle in park, and then use your phone.
All drivers traveling in Spain are required to wear their seatbelt when operating a vehicle. Drivers are considered responsible for fines, even those that apply to passengers not wearing their seatbelt. Unless over 4'9" tall, children under the age of 12 are not allowed in the front seat of a car and, once again, if they are found to be seated improperly, the driver will incur a traffic fine.