Car rental in Lisbon: is it necessary?

Written by Sam Van den Haute aka CheckOutSam

Lisbon has a lot of fun attractions and sights making the city the ideal destination for a short break. Once you have set foot on the Portugese soil you'll soon want to return to this memorable city.
For returning visitors and for those who visit the city for a longer time, a rental car in Lisbon can be very interesting. They offer you the opportunity to explore the surrounding area thoroughly and at your own pace. If you're planning to rent a car in Lisbon or if you want to know if this is necessary, you should definitely continue reading.

Sam Van den Haute CheckoutSam

Hi, I'm Sam, the blogger behind CheckOutSam!

Sam Van den Haute has been a full-time world traveler for ten years and has therefore gained a lot of travel and lifestyle inspiration on all continents. Do you still have questions after reading this blog? Ask them in the comments section or send me a message at [email protected] and I'll be happy to help you wherever I can!

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car hire lisbon

Car rental in Lisbon: cost

A rental car in Lisbon is very cheap. For one week you can already rent a small car for less than €40!!! If you would like a slightly larger car, you’ll still only pay €550. Add the insurance and you still only pay €85 to €100 for a week of unlimited use of your rental car.
I pretty much always find the cheapest prices on RentCars (€4.69 per day).

If you want to add insurance (I personally recommend this: you never know what can happen…) you pay between €5.5 and €11 extra per day. You can book this online or on the spot. If you take out insurance on the spot, you will however pay more. On average, car rental companies ask between €25 and €50 per day. The same also applies to renting a car on the spot. I’ve always found better rates online.

Some example prices (via RentCars):

  • Renting a small car for one week (Nissan Micra or Volkswagen Polo) costs €39.82 or €4.69 per day.
  • Renting a big car (Fiat Tipo or Ford Focus) for one week costs you €55 or €7.85 per day.
  • Renting a luxury car (Audi A4) for one week costs €274.18 or €39.16 per day.
  • Renting a convertible for one week costs you €823.73 or €117.68 per day.

car rental lisbon holidaycars

Why should you choose for car hire in Lisbon?

There’s a good chance that you’ll be traveling by plane to the Portugese capital. Unless you are taking your own car to Portugal, a rental car might be a good idea.

If you just stay in the capital of Portugal for a few days, I wouldn’t recommend to rent a car in Lisbon. The city has excellent public transportation and you can easily and cheaply travel across the entire city by tram, bus, metro and boat.
Only when you’re in (or near) Lisbon for more than four days, it’s worth it to rent a car. You can certainly see the capital in three days, so I would absolutely recommend leaving the city for some exciting day trips.
In the vicinity you can find several old castles and beautiful palaces, but also traditional fishing villages and wonderful beaches and nature. As far as day trips from Lisbon go, you have plenty of choice. If you have your own car, you also won’t lose time waiting for the public transportation and you have all the freedom needed to explore this fantastic region.

One last tip: Spend your first few days in the city and only choose to rent a car at Lisbon airport afterwards (you can easily get there by public transport, a taxi, an uber or a shared shuttle bus). This way you won’t lose money on parking and once you return home, you can immediately drive to the airport instead of stressing out waiting for public transportation or a shuttle bus to bring you back on time.

pantheon lisbon view car hire

The view from the Pantheon of Lisbon.

What car should you hire in Lisbon?

You don’t have to be a genius in geography to know that you will not travel through untouched jungle or have to overcome an imposing desert.
You definitely don’t need a Jeep. A standard car is more than enough. If you pay more, it really only depends on your personal preference and budget.

lisbon car rental

Sometimes the streets are a bit steep, but with a small car you never really have any problems.

What sights can I see without a rental car in Lisbon?

In the city itself, the metro is the fastest way to get around. There are four metro lines that operate from 6:30 in the morning until 1am. This is also the cheapest way to travel from the city to the airport, so this is really perfect if you are planning to rent a car at Lisbon airport at a later time.
Personally I also recommend to immediately pay for a day ticket for public transport (€6) or a cheap Lisboa Card.
This card costs €19 and with it you can make unlimited use of public transport in and around Lisbon and visit quite a few attractions for free (including the Jeronimos Monastery, the Tower of Belém, …)

Furthermore, the funicular railway is also very nice to take and almost an attraction in itself, just like the famous tram 28 that runs from Martim Moniz to Campo Ourique.
Because the city is located along the Tagus river, you can also travel by boat to a more limited extent. On top of that there is always the bus. So you see that in the city itself you have plenty of choice if you don’t want to walk.
I wouldn’t really advice you to drive around with your car, because it will only cost you money. Moreover, on foot you’ll get to explore a lot more of this beautiful metropolis.

Besides these sights and attractions, there are a number of day trips that you can reach easily with public transport.
The Linha de Sintra train takes you from the center to the magnificent palace of Queluz in only 45 minutes. This is just as much a museum as a historical monument. The interior reflects the extravagant taste of the Portugese nobility of the eighteenth and nineteenth century. This culminates in a beautiful collection of baroque, rococo and neoclassical works of art. The garden is the absolute icing on the cake.

I would also recommend to take the same railway to visit the gorgeous palaces of Sintra. Many people even call this the most beautiful day trip from Lisbon. The magnificent Castelo Dos Mouros has been watching over the city since the eighth century. And of course you shouldn’t miss the Palacio da Pena either, and if you’re still not bored with all these colorful palaces and castles, then also go and visit the Palacio Nacional de Sintra.

You can also easily reach the charming coastal village of Cascais via the railway with the same name. In the small center it is pleasant to stroll around and people watch. Afterwards you can blow out on the praia (beach) of Ribeira and Rainha. If you stop one stop before Cascais (in Estoril), you can find even more beaches.

I would opt for public transport for all the above sights. You’ll not only save money with it, but it’s also a lot better for the environment. In these times when we are only too happy to grab the convenience of the car, it’s important to sometimes travel in an ecological way as well.

cascais lisbon car rental

One of the beaches of Cascais.

car rental lisbon sintra

The beautiful Pena Palace in Sintra.

Which sights are easier to reach with a rental car from Lisbon?

Besides the above, there are also many places of interest for which you are almost forced to rent a car in Lisbon. These are barely or not accessible by public transport and ultimately everyone understands that during your hard-earned holiday you also want to lose as little time as possible and want to see as much as possible.

Evora is in any case an excellent day trip. It’s a one and a half hour drive from the capital and the old center is more than just a UNESCO World Heritage Site.
Definitely don’t miss the impressive Sé Cathedral, the Museo de Evora and the iconic Roman temple. The main reason for going here was the ‘bones church’. A church of which the interior is made out of human bones and skulls. So cool!

In the north you can find that another great UNESCO World Heritage Site: the monastery of Santa Maria da Vitoria in Batalha. This pearl is a fine example of the Portuguese-Gothic style and was built in a honey-colored limestone to commemorate the victory of Joao I at Castille in 1385. Three years later they started with the construction of the monastery that was only completed one century later.

Less than half an hour’s drive from Batalha is a destination that means for the Christians what Mecca is for the Muslims: Fatima. Every year, many pilgrims travel to the Santuario de Fatima. Mainly on the twelfth and thirteenth of May and October. During this time, one commemorates the appearance of the Blessed Virgin to three shepherd children on 13 May 1917. These children are buried in the tomb of the Capela das Apariçoes (Chapel of the Apparitions) in the Basilica de Nossa Senhora do Rosario de Fatima. In front of this basilica is a square of twice the size of St. Peter’s Square in Vatican City. If you thought the Vatican is impressive, you should see this!

Culture lovers can also go to Mafra, where you can find an imposing palace that descends from the early eighteenth century.
Travelers who also like to combine nature with their city trip should spend a day at Serra da Arrabida. This jagged mountain rises 500 meters over the bay of Satubal and also consists out of the Parque Natural de Arrabida. Here you can have a thrilling hike, with amazing views.

Nearby lies also the picturesque fishing village of Sesimbra which has an extremely charming old center. After a tiring walk, this is the perfect occasion to eat grilled sardines or other fresh fish. You can also organize diving trips and sea kayaking from here.
Finally, there is also the Reserva Natural do Estuario do Sado, a nature reserve where many different birds can be seen. But the absolute prize animals are the bottlenose dolphins that swim very close to the estuary. You can admire them in all their glory from a boat when you book an exciting boat ride.

car rental around lisbon

There are quite some beautiful landscapes around Lisbon. Perfect for a road trip!

fatima lisbon car hire

Unbelievable to see! Fatima is impressive, but the pilgrims are too!

Traffic rules in Portugal

With a rental car in Lisbon, you must always drive on the right side of the road and always put your seat belt on. You also can not use your smartphone behind the steering wheel, and you can of course not throw any waste on the roads. If you do one of these things, you will -of course- get fined.
If you plan to drive after tasting some Portuguese wine, I recommend you to take a taxi, because there’s an alcohol limit of 0.5 per mille.
As far as the maximum speeds go, these are the limits:

  • 50 km/h within the built-up area
  • 90 km/h outside the built-up area
  • 100 km/h on motorways
  • 120 km/h on motorways

Keep the following tips in mind when you’re on Portuguese roads:

  • Portuguese drivers don’t seem to know what indicators are used for. Make sure to be extra attentive, as other drivers may stop without warning in the middle of the road.
  • In rural areas, the locals sometimes leave their car in the middle of the road to have a chat somewhere. If this is the case, you just have to honk until somebody comes and move the car.
portugal car rental lisbon

Now, say so for yourself… Don’t you want to drive over this bridge at night yourself?

Toll roads in Portugal

The country has two types of toll roads: the so-called manual toll roads where you can pay cash or with a bank card, and the electronic toll roads. With the latter you can only pay electronically and for this you have these options:

  • Toll card: a prepaid card that you can buy at service stations.
  • Easytoll: with this you link your license plate to your credit card.
  • Toll Service: ideal for travelers who only stay in the country for a few days. This costs you 20 euros and is valid for three days.
  • Via Verde Visitors: if you opt for car hire in Lisbon, you can also rent this device at your car rental company. For your own car you buy it in a Via Verde point or in a post office. This is the best solution if you’re going to travel in the country for a long time. If you don’t activate this device with your car rental company, you have to sign an extra paper. If you don’t know what you are signing, ask for some more info first! Also keep in mind that some roads only work with electronic tolls and that you thus are forced to take this device. If you don’t have this device in your car, you’ll receive the toll costs + a small extra cost on a later date anyway…
toll roads portugal lisbon

Because of the small streets in Lisbon, it can sometimes be a bit scary to drive, but outside of Lisbon the freedom of a car is wonderful!

Parking regulations in Portugal

If you see ‘Estacionamento Probido ‘ somewhere, you should know that this means prohibited parking in Portugese. This is also indicated by a white and blue sign with a red line through it, or by a yellow or red sign on the pavement.
You may not park within 5 meters of a crossroads, 25 meters before or 5 meters after a bus stop or within 6 meters of a tram stop.
In a one-way street you park in the same direction as the traffic.
As far as parking in Lisbon is concerned, this is especially difficult (and expensive) in the historic center. The center has three parking zones where you pay the following rates from Monday to Friday from 8 am to 8 pm and on Saturday from 8 am to 6 pm:

  • Red zone: 1.60 euro per hour (maximum 2 hours)
  • Yellow zone: 1.20 euros per hour (maximum 4 hours)
  • Green zone: 0.80 euros per hour (maximum 4 hours)

Please note that you may not park in a residential area from 8 am to 6 pm. In some areas it’s even prohibited at all times. So always check the signs!

If you’re looking for a cheap parking spot, you should search in the south of the center not so far away from the coast. Here you pay a maximum of five to six euros per day. Some examples of these cheap parking zones are Santa Apolonia, Docas and Docas Ponte.
And if you still can’t find a parking spot on the streets, you can still park your car in a number of underground parking garages.

parking lisbon

Exemplary parked cars in Cascais.

Rent a car in Lisbon online

Of course it’s much cheaper to book your rental car in Lisbon well in advance and online. In my experience you usually have the cheapest prices on websites such as RentCars.
You have to be at least 23 years old to rent a car in Lisbon and in some cases even 25. With a driving license from the EU, you don’t need an international driver’s license.

car rental in lisbon

One thing is certain: by booking a rental car in Lisbon you can see much more of the beautiful surroundings!

As you might’ve noticed by reading this article, you can plan many nice day trips if you have a rental car in Lisbon. However, this is not necessary if you’re fine with booking guided tours and excursions. A rental car is especially interesting if you want to explore the whole country and don’t feel like driving to Portugal yourself.
Finally, it may be wiser to limit yourself to visit to the city itself on your first (short) visit, and to only explore the wider area afterwards.

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In this article you'll find a few affiliate links. When you book something with these travel organizations, I get a small commission. You don't pay anything extra for that. You can thus see it as a way to support this blog if you found the information helpful. I use all of these travel organizations myself, and I will only recommend the ones that I really like.

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