Spain is a country that is filled with UNESCO old cities, beautiful national parks perfect for hiking, iconic buildings and churches of exceptional beauty. To fully explore off-the-beaten tracks destination, experience Spain’s beautiful countryside and appreciate the diverse and immense beauty this country has to offer, a driving holiday is our best option. Through our personal experience driving around Northern Spain for our vacation, we have compiled a list of tips on driving in Spain for tourists.
In a nutshell, driving in Spain for a tourist is considered relatively easy yet difficult. Dilemma isn’t it? Let’s get to the details on what’s considered easy for us and what’s deemed difficult.
Which side does Spain drives on?
You probably have researched and knew that Spain drives on the left side. If you hadn’t, then Viola! now you know. For those of you who comes from a right hand drive country like us, how much huddle will this be for you? Seriously, not much. All you need is a little tips and you are good to go! Read about our experiences and tips on Left Hand Drive versus Right Hand Drive.
Road Conditions in Spain
Spain has very good roads. We did not come across a single pothole even in small villages, country roads and national parks. The width of the lanes are reasonably wide unlike New Zealand which has narrower roads. Dividing lines are clearly marked. Snow clearing was very efficient too.
The tolled motorway was in fantastic condition. Nevertheless, we did not drove much on it since we wanted to appreciate the country side, and to save cost.
We drove mainly on the free national road where most parts of it run parallel to the tolled motorway. Being a two-way road, getting “stuck” behind slow-moving vehicles was inevitable. However, overtaking lanes are well allocated throughout.
We especially loved driving this road though it took us longer to reach our destinations. We were able to enjoy vast open fields, catch faithful pilgrims walking the Camino de Santiago, visit small villages which we prized more than the commercialised UNESCO towns, and drop by local cafes for authentic local food.
Caution on Spain’s Slanted Road
Unlike driving in other countries, we realised that extra effort is needed to keep our car straight and within the lane while driving in Spain. That’s because the roads in Spain are slightly slanted after noticing the photos we took were mostly slanted too. We hope this piece of information will help you avoid learning the hard way as we did. Just 20 minutes into collecting our car, we brushed our side mirror against a bus. Fortunately, there isn’t any damages. Phew!
Ah…this one was the real challenge for us! Be it driving in the cities or in the outskirts, road signs are scarce. It was difficult to find one, sometimes even at cross roads! When we do find them, they were either very small or “hidden” at sides of buildings.
However, fret not. Signage to major cities on the tolled motorway are good. As for the free national road, there are signs for direction to major cities at the start of the road. Thereafter, majority of the signs point to the various small towns since this road plough through numerous villages. During the many turns at split roads, chances of losing sight of your direction is high. So, give yourself ample time to hit your destination before sunset.
Fellow Spaniard Drivers
Generally, the Spanish were not aggressive drivers, and they do signal early when changing lanes. However, it is a totally different scene when driving in major cities. Drivers are fast and impatient.
We picked up our car from one of Hertz offices located at the fringe of Barcelona. Being a work day, traffic was heavy and there were many rushing pedestrians. Figuring our way back to our hotel while trying to get use to the car, our uncertainty attracted quite a fair bit of nasty hones from the cars behind.
We returned our car in Madrid around 4 pm. It was madness. Madrid’s many one-way streets meant that every missed or wrong turns will results in a 5 to 15 minutes drive to rectify the error. The heavy traffic didn’t give us much chance to think. Any further delay to move after a nasty honk and you would most likely get an angry stare from an aggressive overtaking driver.
Despite these, it shouldn’t be a deterrent to your upcoming driving holiday. After all, avoid driving in major cities is applicable to all countries, not just Spain.
Driving on Pedestrian Walkway
One extremely fascinating experience for us while driving in Spain was driving on pedestrian walkway! Before you gets all excited, know that not all pedestrian walkway can be driven on.
On a narrow two-way street, it seems like an acceptable norm is to park your car half or three-quarter way onto the pedestrian walkway so that both car and human traffic can flow.
As for driving through a pedestrian walkway, we can’t tell you exactly when or how….you just have to observe your surrounding. It shouldn’t be very difficult to fathom it out once you get a hang of driving in Spain.
One especially “high” moment for us was when we drove across this crowded must visit main square in Madrid!! It was so cool and an exceptionally adrenaline pumping experience!
Just like all major cities in the world, finding parking spaces in Barcelona, Madrid or any of Spain’s major cities is difficult. The fees are exorbitant too. Out of the cities, parking is not an issue at all. In fact, there are many free ones around. You just need to look for it or ask around.
Do we really need a GPS or Map in Spain?
In our opinion, if you enjoy adventures and surprise discoveries, then ditch your GPS.
Given that SIM cards are getting more affordable, and almost everyone had a GPS app in their smart phone, driving with GPS has become second nature to none. After all, GPS takes out most of the guessing work. I suppose this has become a must for you too especially after reading about the lack of signage above.
Coming soon: Comparing the top 3 most commonly used GPS
During our maiden driving vacation in Spain, we did not have a GPS. The Tourist Information Centres or car rental company do not provide maps as well. Nevertheless, we managed to reach all our planned destinations including the off-the-beaten tracks ones without much difficulties. The occasional getting lost gave us the opportunity to experience the warmth and kindness of the Spaniards who helped us. It also dotted our trip with many unforgettable adventures.
For example, this red landscape caught our attention along the way. We detoured to visit it.
Known as Las Medulas Roman Mines, it is an old working mine with a UNESCO status! We didn’t had time to explore the mine. But if you do, the place is open for exploring and trekking.
We hope the above would give you a good head start on what to expect for your intended driving holiday in Spain, and that you may enjoy the experience and have a safe journey!