Spain’s fastest roads are its autopistas . They are normally dual carriageways and are subsidized by peajes (tolls). Autovías are similar but have no tolls. The carretera nacional is the countrywide network of main roads or highways with the prefix N. Smaller minor roads are generally less well kept, but they are often a more leisurely and enjoyable way to see rural areas of Spain.
Many people drive to Spain via the French motorways. The most direct routes across the Pyrenees, using the motorways, pass through Hendaye on the western flank and Port Bou in the east. Other, rather more tortuous routes may be used, from Toulouse through the Vall d’Aran, for instance. From the UK, there are car ferries from Plymouth to Santander and from Portsmouth to Bilbao in northern Spain (see Ferries).
A Green Card from your motor insurance company is needed in order to extend your comprehensive cover to Spain. The RAC, AA and Europ Assistance have rescue and recovery policies with European cover. Spanish law requires you to carry your vehicle’s registration document, a valid insurance certificate and your driving licence at all times. You must always be able to show a passport or a national identity card as ID. You must also display a sticker on the back of the car showing its country of registration. The headlights of right-hand drive vehicles need to be adjusted or deflected. Stickers for this are available at ferry ports and on ferries. You risk on-the-spot fines if you do not carry a red warning triangle, spare light bulbs and a reflective jacket. In winter, carry chains if you intend to drive in mountain areas. In summer, take drinking water when travelling in remote areas.
In Spain gasolina (petrol) and gasóleo (diesel) are priced by the litre. Gasolina sin plomo (unleaded petrol) is available everywhere. All three cost more at the autopista service stations. Self-service stations, where you fill up yourself, are common. Modern petrol pumps in Spain are sometimes operated by credit card. You should run your card through the machine, press the buttons to indicate the amount of petrol you want in euros, and then serve yourself.
You must wait for service if there are attendants at the station. They will ask ¿cuánto? (how much?); you should reply lleno (fill the tank), or specify an amount in euros: diez euros por favor . If you do use your credit card to pay at a motorway service station, you will be asked to show your passport or another form of identification. Be aware, however, that some small stations in parts of Spain do not accept credit cards.
A filling station run by a leading chain with branches throughout Spain
Most traffic regulations and warnings to motorists are represented on signs by easily recognized symbols. However, a few road rules and signs may be unfamiliar to some drivers from other countries.
To turn left at a busy junction or across oncoming traffic, you may have to turn right first and cross a main road, often by way of traffic lights, a bridge or an underpass. If you are accidentally going the wrong way on a motorway or a main road with a solid white line, you can turn round at a sign for a cambio de sentido . At crossings, give way to the right unless a sign indicates otherwise. You must wear seat belts in both front and rear seats. Oncoming drivers may flash their headlights to mean “you go”; “danger”; “your lights are on unnecessarily” or “speed trap ahead”.
Pedestrian crossing sign
Cambio de sentido (slip road) 300 m (330 yd) ahead
Speed limits for cars without trailers on the roads in Spain are as follows:
Speeding fines are imposed on the spot at the rate of €6 for every kilometre per hour over the limit. Fines for other traffic offences (such as turning the wrong way into a one-way street) depend on the severity of the offence and the whim of the police officer.
Tests for drink-driving and fines for drivers over the blood alcohol legal limit, which is 30 mg per ml, are now imposed frequently throughout the country.
Speed limit 50 km/h (31 mph)
Spain has more than 2,900 km (1,800 miles) of autopistas , and many more are planned. These are generally toll roads and can be expensive to use. You can establish whether a motorway is toll-free by the letters that prefix the number of the road: A = free motorway, AP = toll motorway.
Note that Spain has changed its road numbering system, so some of the roads featured here may differ from new road signs.
The long-distance tolls are calculated per kilometre, and the rate varies from region to region. Among the busiest and most expensive are the AP7 along the south coast to Alicante and the AP68 Bilbao–Zaragoza autopista .
There are service stations every 40 km (25 miles) or so along the autopistas , and they are marked by a blue and white parking sign (P) or a sign indicating the services available. As you approach a service station, a sign will indicate the distance to the next one and list its services. Most have a petrol station, toilets, a shop and a café.
Emergency telephones occur every 2 km (1.2 miles) along the autopistas .
Driving through the Sierra Nevada along one of Europe’s highest roads
If you are travelling on an autopista , you pick up a ticket from a toll booth (peaje) as you drive on to it and give it up at a booth as you exit. Your toll will be calculated according to the distance you have covered. Over some short stretches of motorways near the cities a fixed price is charged.
Tolls can be paid either in cash or by credit card. You must join one of three channels at the peaje leading to different booths. Do not drive into telepago , a credit system for which a chip on your windscreen is required. Tarjetas has machines for you to pay by credit card, while in manual an attendant will take your ticket and your money.
Autopista toll booths ahead
The peaje manual channel, with attendant
Carreteras nacionales , Spain’s main roads, have black and white signs and are designated N (Nacional ) plus a number. Those with Roman numerals (NIII) start at the Puerta del Sol in Madrid. The distance from the Kilometre Zero mark in the Puerta del Sol appears on kilometre markers. Those with ordinary numbers (N6) have kilometre markers giving the distance from the provincial capital. Some carreteras nacionales are dual carriageways, but most are single-lane roads and can be slow. They tend to be least busy from 2pm to 5pm.
Autovías are roads built in recent years to motorway standard to replace N roads. They have blue signs similar to autopista signs. Because they have no tolls, they are busier than autopistas .
Carreteras comarcales , secondary roads, have a number preceded by the letter C. Other minor roads have numbers preceded by letters representing the name of the province, such as the LE 1313 in Lleida. In winter, watch out for signs indicating whether a mountain pass ahead is open (abierto ) or closed (cerrado ).
Sign for national highway N110
The most popular car-hire companies in Spain are Europcar ( www.europcar.com), Avis ( www.avis.com) and Hertz ( www.hertz.com). All of these firms have offices at airports and major train stations, as well as in the large cities.
In addition to the international car-hire companies, a few Spanish firms, such as Atesa , operate nationwide. There is also a growing number of low-cost hire firms like easyCar ( www.easycar.com) and hispacar (www.hisacpar.com), although you may need to pick up your car some distance from the airport.
You can often get the best deals by booking in advance online. There are also fly-drive and other package deals including car hire available. Fly-drive, an option for two or more travellers, can be arranged by travel agents and tour operators.
If you wish to hire a car locally for around a week or less, you will be able to arrange it with a local travel agent. A car for hire is called a coche de alquiler .
For chauffeur-driven cars in Spain, Avis offers deals from major cities. Car-hire prices and conditions vary according to the region and locality.
Some of the leading car-hire companies operating in Spain
Fold-out road maps can be obtained at airports, on the ferries and from tourist offices. The Spanish Ministry of Transport publishes a comprehensive road map in book form, the Mapa Oficial de Carreteras . The oil company Campsa publishes the Guía Campsa , a road map and restaurant guide conveniently in one book. Michelin publishes a useful series of maps (440–448, with orange covers) at a scale of 1:400,000 (1 cm:4 km), which thoroughly covers Spain in eight sections, including the islands. They are sold at bookshops and petrol stations all over Spain.
A series of more detailed maps at 1:200,000 for cycling, walking and other specialist uses is published by Plaza y Janés. Military maps at scales of 1:50,000 and 1:100,000 are available from Stanfords in London and from some local and specialist bookshops in Spain, such as Altaïr in Barcelona. Tourist offices in towns usually have a free street map.
The arrival of resident-only parking schemes means that street parking is increasingly hard to come by in major cities.
As a rule, you may not park where the pavement edge is painted yellow or where a “no parking” sign is displayed.
Occasionally there is a “no parking” sign on both sides of a city street, one saying “1–15” and the other “16–30”. This means that you can park on one side of the street only for the fortnight indicated on the sign.
In the cities, non-metered on-street parking is rare, but there are blue pay-and-display parking spaces. To use them, buy a ticket from the machine and display it on the inside of your windscreen. The cost averages about €1–€2 per hour. You can usually park for up to two hours. Major cities have many underground car parks. You collect a ticket when you enter and pay the attendant as you drive out.
A parking ticket machine
No parking at any time of day
Every city and/or region has its own taxi design and tariffs, but all taxis will display a green light if they are free. Most are metered; when you set off, a minimum fee will be shown. In smaller villages, the taxi may be a resident driving an un-metered private car – ask at your hotel or in a shop for the number of a local driver.
City taxis queuing for fares outside an airport
For recorded road and traffic information, call the national toll-free number for Información de Tráfico de Carreteras . This service is in Spanish only. Ask at your hotel reception if you need a translation. The RAC offers route-planning services tailored to individual requirements; these may include current road conditions.
The weather information service, Teletiempo , gives forecasts for the various regions, as well as the national and international weather. It also gives details on maritime and mountain conditions.
Often the cheapest way to reach and travel around Spain is by coach. Eurolines operates various routes throughout Europe and runs daily services to Barcelona. Check out the website for available offers.
Coaches from the UK depart from London Victoria Coach Station. Tickets may be bought from National Express (www.nationalexpress.com) or travel agents. The journey takes about 24 hours.
There is no Spanish national coach company, but private regional companies operate routes around the country. The largest coach company is Alsa , which runs in all regions and has routes and services that cover most of the country. Other companies operate in particular regions – Alsina Graells, for instance, covers most of the south and east of Spain. Tickets and information for long-distance travel are available at all main coach stations as well as from travel agents, but note that it is not always possible to book tickets in advance.
In Madrid the biggest coach stations are Estación Sur and Intercambiador des Autobuses . Always check which coach station your bus is due to leave from when you purchase your ticket.
Alsa, a regional coach service
Local bus routes and timetables are posted at bus termini and stops. You pay on the bus or buy a strip of ten tickets called an abono from estancos (tobacconists).
Indicators for Seville’s circular bus routes
Cycling is popular in Spain, and there are bicycles for hire in most tourist spots. However, there are few cycle lanes outside the cities. Bicycles may be carried on cercanías trains after 2pm on Fridays until the last train on Sunday night; on any regional train with a goods compartment; and on all long-distance overnight trains. If you need to take your bicycle long-distance at other times, check it in an hour before the train departs. You may have to send it as luggage and pay a baggage charge based on its weight. It might not travel with you, so you will have to collect it when it arrives.
Cycle touring, a popular holiday activity
AGENCIA ESTATAL DE METEOROLOGÍA
INFORMACIÓN DE TRÁFICO DE CARRETERAS