Travel SOS – Driving in Spain

Who wouldn’t want to jump in a car and drive through Spain? Chas is making plans to do so next year, but has asked for some advice, which Kay O’Sullivan is only to happy to give.

Q. Chas
We are going to drive in Spain for three weeks next year and hope to take in as much as possible. Can you offer any advice or personal experience for a Spanish road trip.

A. First a confession: I can’t drive on the ‘wrong’ side of the road. Even the thought of it terrifies me as I have trouble differentiating right from left. So to answer your query, I spoke with several travel industry colleagues who have driven in Spain lots of time.

The word was don’t bother with a car in the big cities. It will be a nuisance. To deal with congestion and pollution, Madrid and Barcelona have curfews on when cars are allowed into the city. Also parking in cities is scarce and expensive, but it shouldn’t be a problem in the villages you, no doubt, have on the itinerary. (And if you haven’t started your research, go first to the official tourism site for Spain. It is better than any guidebook and also lots of tips from other travellers. It’s one of the best country websites I’ve delved into over the last decade working as a travel writer.)

Spain’s road system is well maintained, but the advice is that you should hire a car with a GPS, especially if you intend exploring back roads. The reasoning being if you get lost away from the well-worn tourist tracks, you will have difficulty finding someone who can direct you in English.

But even if you are a superb driver, it is not just about you on the road, so I looked into Spanish driving habits and there’s good news on that front as well.

Spanish drivers have a good reputation. Not quite as brilliant as the Germans – whose penchant for following rules applies to the road system – and at the other end of the scale the Italians who believe road rules only apply to lesser beings. Unlike German autobahns, speed limits in Spain are sensible – 120 kilometres on dual carriageways and 50 kms in built-up zones. Talking and texting on mobiles is prohibited and to get a licence Spanish nationals have to undergo a two-step process, both practical and theory, and they have to have completed primary school. (As to why I can’t find out, but I suspect it has to do with being able to read and write.)

Anyone renting a car needs to be over 21 and you will need an international licence unless you have a European Union passport.

But the worrywart in me can’t help passing on this story. A friend went travelling with a well-known Spanish-born chef who has numerous restaurants here but visits Spain regularly. The purpose of the trip was to check out any new food trends emerging in what many believe is the gastronomic leader of the western world. But the chef and his mate didn’t get far. Our chef, whose skill with the skillet has earned him several hats, picked up a hire car, drove out of Madrid airport and promptly ran into another vehicle. Car totalled. Driver and passenger unscathed, thank heavens.

The moral here is not don’t drive, but perhaps think twice about driving when you are jetlagged. If I sound like your mother, apologies, I want you to have the best possible time.

For more information on all things in Spain, including driving

Do you have a travel question for Kay? If so, email your Travel SOS to

Kay O’Sullivan is no accidental tourist. More than a decade ago, she decided to combine two of her favourite things – journalism and travel – and become a travel writer. Since then, she has worked for numerous papers, magazines and on the internet, both here and internationally.

Written by YourLifeChoices Writers

YourLifeChoices' team of writers specialise in content that helps Australian over-50s make better decisions about wealth, health, travel and life. It's all in the name. For 22 years, we've been helping older Australians live their best lives.

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