Last updated on 16-Aug-2023
Want to go on a road trip through Spain? 🙂
We wanted to explore more of Spain by car to have more flexibility than when flying to/from a specific location, so we decided on a road trip! We planned to spend at least two nights at each main stop and take short breaks to see a few other places along the way. We have also been to Barcelona (not included on this trip), and driving was an awesome way to see more of the country and find new destinations we’d like to spend more time at in the future. All in all, it was great!
In this post, I’ll provide the main outline for the trip and some general information, but I’ll also add more detailed posts for specific locations in the links provided below. This itinerary includes leaving from (and coming back to) Lisbon, but the start/end points could vary depending on your location/travel plans. The entire route was about 2400 km.
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Road conditions are usually very good in Portugal and Spain, and a car navigation system or cell phone with data works well to go anywhere with ease using the Waze or Google Maps apps. Many highways in Portugal have tolls, and the easiest way to pay for them is using a ViaVerde transponder. The toll costs can add up quickly, but the alternative routes can easily add 1h or more of driving time. So, pick your poison. 😉 In Spain, there are almost no tolls and we were able to avoid the ones we found (when calculating the routes on the apps) without adding significant travel time.
If renting a car in Portugal, it’s worth it to get the ViaVerde transponder from the rental company. They charge a small fee per day for the use of the transponder and then settle all the toll charges accumulated during the rental period when returning the car. This way, there’s no need to worry about having change to pay the tolls at the collection booths nor had to pay the fee charged for driving through an automated toll reader without the transponder. It’s even possible to pay for parking in many lots using the ViaVerde.
Regarding parking, it can be a challenge in some areas, so while spending time in each location, we usually opted to leave the car in one spot (near/at the hotel/accommodation) and get around for sightseeing using local transit or on foot. This worked out well, as traffic in the larger cities can be heavy and navigating the narrow streets near historic sites can be difficult and confusing.
Larger hotels usually have parking on the premises, and the cost was about 8-15 Euro per night. Smaller properties and short-term-type accommodations (e.g. Airbnb, VRBO, etc.) mostly have no parking. Check out the parking information in the property description on the reservation website, or contact the location directly to confirm details and availability. Public parking and street parking can be found in many areas, and are usually paid from 9 am to 6 or 7 pm, which means parking overnight is free. The tricky part is that there may be a limit on how many hours you can pay at a time, and you may have to go back to the car to pay for a new period.
Due to check-in/check-out times, it made more sense for us to drive out in the mornings (after having breakfast and checking out), make stops along the way if/where we wanted to, then arrive at our next accommodation, park the car, check-in, store our luggage, and start exploring that location at leisure on foot or using transit.
This map shows the main places we visited during this trip, and a list (with links) in the order we visited is below.
- Madrid – Lisbon to Madrid is the longest segment of this itinerary. It’s about 630 km (390 miles) and the actual driving time is around 6h. Along the way but still in Portugal, Evora and Elvas are cute towns for a quick stop, meal or coffee break, and then we cross the border into Badajoz. When planning what time to leave and the target arrival time, keep in mind that Spain is 1h ahead of Portugal, in a different time zone. So, as soon as you cross the border, you’ll lose 1h. But the reward is getting to Madrid, an amazing city with so much to explore and enjoy!
- Valencia – From Madrid, we travel southeast towards the coast to Valencia, about 365 km (226 miles) and less than 4h away.
- Alicante – From Valencia, we travel south to Alicante, and the shortest route is about 170 km (104 miles), less than 2h away. Since it’s a short distance, there’s the option to drive down the coast instead of inland, and check out one or more of these seaside towns along the way: Gandía, Dénia, Xàbia, Calp and Benidorm.
- Almería – From Alicante, we turn southwest to Almería. The shortest route is about 290 km (180 miles), or less than 3h driving, and goes by the city of Murcia. Again, there’s the option to drive along the coast and check out places like Torrevieja or Cartagena.
- Granada – From Almería to Granada, it’s a short drive of another 170 km (104 miles) or less than 2h. It’s also a change in scenery, from ocean views to mountains, and there’s so much to see and do in Granada that I don’t suggest any stops along the way. 😉
Note: If in a crunch for time, go directly to Málaga from Almería and then visit Granada on a day trip, but go early and plan to stay for dinner/tapas and maybe catch a flamenco show before heading back.
- Málaga – From Granada and the mountains, we head back to the coast to Málaga. It’s about 130 km (80 miles) or around 1:30h driving time. Málaga is such a treat! It’s beautiful and lively, so walkable and fun, full of history and charm, and a foodie paradise by the ocean. It certainly stole our hearts! Any visit there feels too short. We did a day trip to Marbella but didn’t enjoy it as much.
- Seville – From Málaga, we turn northwest to Seville, about 200 km (125 miles) and about 2h away. Seville is full of history and attractions. But it’s also large and busy, and traffic can be quite heavy during certain times of the day, so try to avoid driving there during rush hour.
From Seville, we head back to Portugal (and gain 1h back with the time difference!). One option is to cross the border into the Algarve, and this route is about 460 km (285 miles) or less than 4:30h travel time to Lisbon. Another option is to head north to Badajoz and trace the same route back from there. It’s about the same distance and driving time, but the Algarve route passes near the towns of Tavira, Faro, Quarteira and Albufeira and there’s much to see/enjoy in that area.
Note on cell phones: If you are visiting Europe and have an unlocked device, pre-paid SIM cards are available from many local companies and the data can be used in countries across the European Union (EU). Data plans from one EU country can also be used in other member countries without roaming charges. For non-EU countries, using data may incur roaming charges or you can get a card from that country. Check the terms for calling and messaging, as they may be long-distance when outside of the card’s original country. Cell phone coverage is pretty good, but if using data for navigation, I suggest downloading Google maps for the areas required, and keeping them for offline use (before setting out or using Wi-Fi, where available), as areas of spotty coverage are possible in more remote regions.
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