Following on from our recent guide to driving in France, we bring you our guide to driving in Spain. Spain is the cheapest place in Europe for a driving holiday (for car rental and petrol) and has the tenth biggest road network in the world. More than 683,000km of well-surfaced roads span the country from sultry Seville in the south to the spectacular Pyrénées National Park in the north, so a Spanish road trip is one of epic proportions.

But, before you vamos, here are a few things to know about driving in Spain:driving in spain mercedes-benz__gla__2014__187

On your marks:

There are three main types of roads in Spain with the following speed limits:

Type of road Speed limit
Toll Motorway 120km/h/75mph
Dual Carriageway 120km/h/75mph
Single Carriageway 100km/h/68mph
Other Roads 90km/h/56mph
Built-up Areas 50km/h/31mph

However, to save some cash, but maybe not time, dual-carriageways (autovias), prefixed with an ‘E’, are toll free and have almost the same maximum speed limit as motorways, but traffic can be heavy especially during peak summer months. Outside of Catalunya it is usually possible to get to your destination without using Toll roads at all if you wish. Most of Spain’s motorways around catalunya are toll roads (autopistas de peajes) and tolls, paid with cash or credit cards, are not cheap. Tolls range from €2.20 to nearly €45 with prices increasing in the summer. Ouch!

Except for fully hands-free units, the use of mobile phones, including earpieces and headphones, while driving is illegal; if caught you could face a €200 on-the-spot fine.driving in spain mercedes-benz__gla__2014__159

Get set:

By law, you must:

  • Be at least 18 and have a full driver’s licence (provisional licences are not accepted).
  • Have a minimum of third party, fire and theft insurance.
  • Carry a warning triangle (two are recommended) and a spare tyre or tyre repair kit & a replacement bulb kit – These are checked!
  • Wear a reflective jacket if driver and/or passenger(s) exit a vehicle that is immobilised on a motorway or busy road.
  • Ensure that all occupants wear seat belts, if fitted.
  • Seat children under 12 years of age and under 135cm in height in the back using a child restraint system adapted to their size and weight.
  • Use dipped headlights in tunnels.
  • Overtake only on the left side of the car you want to pass (undertaking is illegal).
  • Not have alcohol levels in the bloodstream exceeding 0.5g/l (the same as Ireland – about one glass of wine or beer).
  • Have a spare pair of glasses (if required for driving) in the car at all times.
  • Restrain any pets travelling in the car.
  • Not use your horn in towns at night and at any other time unless to prevent an emergency, you can flash your headlights instead, although judging by the noise on Spanish streets, drivers do not obey this law.
  • Observe the priority-to-the-right rule on roads that have equal status or whenever in doubt as to who has the right of way.driving in spain nissan__qashqai__2014__072


Most road markings and the traffic light sequence is the same as it is in Ireland and the rules regarding entering and exiting roundabouts are the same, apart from the obvious difference of driving on the left and going around roundabouts in an anti-clockwise direction.

If parking your car at night on inadequately lit streets you must have the car’s sidelights illuminated. However, there is a high rate of car break-ins so it is best to park in one of the many underground car parks instead.

Blue and red parking signs marked 1-15 indicate permitted parking on that side of the street for the first half of the month and signs marked 16-31 indicate parking on the other roadside for the second half of the month.

Spain is notorious for inadequate or non-existent road signs therefore it is recommended to carry a good road map; for sure you will need it at some stage. Often only road numbers or towns are listed, not both, so make sure your navigator is paying close attention to where you are going.

If you do get lost or miss your exit look out for signs saying cambio de sentido (change direction) as this is an opportunity to reverse your direction by taking an under- or overpass.

In a Spanish petrol station you will find 7 different types of  fuel, all of them are very common.

  • Gasolina sin plomo 95 (Unleaded Petrol 95 Octane)
  • Gasolina sin plomo 98 (Unleaded Petrol 98 Octane) Normal
  • Gasolina premium  (Improved) More expensive
  • Gasóleo A (Diesel) Normal
  • Gasóleo Premium  (Diesel) More expensive
  • Gasóleo B (Diesel) Cheaper but only for tractors and agriculture vehicles
  • Biodiésel

Another point worth noting is that Spanish drivers generally respect the right of way of pedestrians more than we do here in the UK and Ireland so be sure to give way to people crossing the road.

Recommended roads:

Take the 480km Basque Circuit through some stunning places including Bilbao, Pamplona, the Pyrenees and along the beautiful Bay of Biscayne coastline.

Test your nerve and driving skills on the road from Puerto de las Palomas to Zahara de la Sierra, a mountain pass with steep corkscrew turns and no safety barriers in parts! Yikes!

Drive the N110 following the Río Jerte for 70km through the Valle del Jerte, which is one of the most picturesque drives in Spain and is covered in cherry blossoms every spring.

driving in spain Valle-del-Jerte

driving in spain lake

driving in spain mercedes-benz__gla__2014__177


Extra Equipment:

If you’re driving in Spain, especially with the whole family on-board, space may well be at a premium. A good set of Roof Bars and a Roof Box may be the ideal solution if extra carrying capacity is needed – especially handy if you have young children in the car and bulky items such as Buggies and travel cots have to be brought along. Why not check out our Roof Rack buying guide or take a look at our Top 10 Do’s & Don’ts When Using a Roof Rack

If you’re planning on making the most of the good weather, you might want to bring bikes or watersport gear with you. If that’s the case, you’ll need a suitable solution for transporting them. We have a huge range of products in our Travel Equipment section which might be worth checking out.

  • John Cahill

    something else very important if hiring a car to maybe look at the options of purchasing excess insurance here before going abroad.