Car Hire: Spain

The country of Spain is situated in the southwestern part of Europe, in line with the Iberian Peninsula to the south of France and Andorra to the east of Portugal. The Spanish coastlines can be located on the Bay of Biscay (a part of the Atlantic Ocean) and the Mediterranean Sea. Madrid is the country’s biggest and capital city. The country of Spain is remembered for its long history, distinct culture, powerful economy, and very distinguished living standards.

The area where present-day Spain is located and the Iberian Peninsula has resided for thousands of years. And some of the earliest archeological places in Europe can be found in Spain. 

Pieces of evidence show that the Phoenicians, Greeks, Carthaginians, and Celts all entered the region in the 9th-century BCE., but they were all expelled when the Romans started conquering the region during the 2nd century BCE. The Romans controlled Spain until the 7th century but several territories were taken over by the Visigoths, who came in the fifth century. 

In 711, the North African Moors infiltrated Spain and drove the Visigoths to the north. The Moors settled in the region until 1492 surviving several trials to drive them out. Present-day Spain was then united by 1512, according to the U.S. Department of State.

Today, Spain has ruled as a parliamentary monarchy with a governing office led by a chief of state (King Juan Carlos I) and an administrator of state (the president). Spain also has a bicameral lawmaking division made up of the General Courts ( the Senate) and the Congress of Deputies. Spain’s judicial part is constituted of the Supreme Court, also named the Tribunal Supremo. The country has 17 autonomous communities for local control.

Most of Spain’s land area is situated in the southwestern part of Europe, and its mainland in the southern part of France and the Pyrenees Mountains, and some in the east of Portugal. However, it also owns a boundary in Morocco, Ceuta, and Melilla. Two islands off the coast of Morocco, as well as the Canary Islands located in the Atlantic, and the Balearic Islands found in the Mediterranean Sea. When combined, this makes Spain the second biggest country in Europe next to France.

Spain possesses a powerful economy that is deemed as mixed capitalism and is considered the 12th largest economy in the world. The country is also recognized for its high standard of living and quality of life.

The dominant businesses of Spain are textiles and apparel, footwear, food and beverages, metals and metal manufactures, shipbuilding, chemicals, machine tools, automobiles, clay and refractory products, pharmaceuticals, and medical supplies. Agriculture is also one of the vital industries in several areas of Spain, and the major products manufactured from this industry are grain, wine grapes, sugar beets, vegetables, olives, citrus, beef, poultry, pork, dairy products, and fish. Tourism and the related service sector also play an important role in Spain’s economy.

Most of the landmass of Spain is made up of flat plains which are surrounded by rough, undeveloped hills. However, the northern part of the country is mostly covered by the Pyrenees Mountains. The highest point in Spain is found in the Canary Islands on Pico de Teide with a height of 12,198 feet or 3,718 meters above sea level.

The weather of Spain is fair with hot summers and cold winters inland and cloudy, cool summers and cool winters along the shore. Madrid, situated inland in the heart of Spain, possesses a normal January low temperature of 37 degrees (3˚C) and a July average high of 88 degrees (31˚C).

Top Road Trip Destinations in Spain

Spain grants visitors an abundance of must-see places including energetic cities, pristine beaches, and tasty food.

With so much to witness and experience, choosing what to explore on your following road trip can be confusing. That’s the reason we’ve created this road trip planner to help you find the best places to hit in Spain!

This itinerary highlights some UNESCO World Heritage sites from across the country and is excellent for bucket list explorers or history buffs. With this guide, you will start your 894-mile trip at Barajas Airport in Spain’s capital city of Madrid and drive through central and southern Spain. And then you will discover the seven must-see UNESCO World Heritage places from your bucket list.

Don’t forget to pack accordingly as temperatures in this region of Spain are known for extremes.

The Big 3: Barcelona, Valencia, and Madrid

Barcelona is a traveler’s mecca and can surely get a bit extreme in the summer season. That said, if you tour at a lower ebb, you will discover an awesome, quirky metropolis with a lot to offer. 

You can easily book a flight here which is plentiful and cheap and it’s also a magnificent site to pick up a car. You can hang here for a few days to sink it all in and also consider a day trip to the historic communities of Girona for a taste of the authentic Catalonian spirit.

Valencia is the home of Paella, a must-try dish in this city. Valencia also flaunts great art museums and energetic nightlife. Next up, drive towards Spain’s complex capital city of Madrid after making a little detour to Toledo.

Alcala University – Alcala de Henares, Madrid

After you pick up your rental car at the Barajas airport, take a drive for just 24 minutes northeast of Madrid. Here, you will discover the town of Alcala de Henares, home to Alcala University.

This city was the first in the world to be designed and constructed as a university town and accepted as a standard that was mimicked across Europe and in the US. The site became one of the UNESCO heritage sites for its superb architecture and cultural relevance which incorporates vital contributions to the Spanish languages.

The Hanging Houses of Cuenca – Cuenca

Cuenca is located high atop a mountainside, with hills that face the Hussar River. The antiquated structures were meticulously built in tune with the natural scenery, forming an architectural style that is both charming and culturally distinct.

The ‘hanging houses’ or Casas colgadas are a popular piece in the Castillo quarter which incorporates several mansions and huge baroque churches. As the name hints, these structures are dangling over the sides of the mountain walls that produce some awe-inspiring landscapes. Visitors can enter this part of the city via a tight suspension footbridge.

The Historical Town of Toledo – Toledo

Prized as an absolute ‘museum city’, guests to the historic city of Toledo will discover two millennia-worth of history recording back well into early Roman times.

With architectural constructions depicting three major religions (Christianity, Judaism, and Islam) and works of art from the myriad well-known artists, Toledo grants a window into the account of various ancient cultures in one stop. Travelers with inadequate time could always begin their journey here and hire a car in Toledo to explore what’s left in their destinations on their return to Madrid.

The Historical Center of Cordoba – Cordoba

Having been settled by all kinds of cultures over the ages, Cordoba’s architecture allows visitors a distinct mix of exquisite styles. The city holds 300 mosques including The Great Mosque (La Mezquita) recorded from 784 A.D. Its towering interior designs have not been copied yet anywhere in the world which makes it an ever-impressive structure.

Cathedral, Alcázar, and Archivo de Indias – Seville

You can discover three UNESCO sites in Seville.

The first is the magnificent and huge Alcazar compound, which is unquestionably one of the most remarkable destinations to visit in Spain. Visitors can explore the interior and will surely discover verdant gardens, sumptuous reflecting pools, and ornately adorned structures.

The second site you’ll see here is the cathedral which is considered the biggest Gothic structure in Europe and houses the remains of Christopher Columbus. The third one is the Archivo de Indias which houses treasured records from Spain’s early journeys into the Americas.

Aside from these UNESCO sites, the city is also well-known for flamenco dancing as well as bullfighting. Tourists could always rent a car in Seville to spend even more time exploring the ancient beauty of the city.

Archeological Ensemble of Merida – Merida

This ensemble is known as one of the most comprehensive and best-preserved models of Roman structure, flaunting a Roman amphitheater, a big circus, overlooking aqueducts, a majestic bridge over the Guadiana river along with various other structures. Visitors will be amazed to discover ancient dams that still operate as a true covenant to Roman architecture.

Royal Monastery of Santa Maria de Guadalupe – Caceres

The Royal Monastery of Santa Maria de Guadalupe was constructed encompassing the shrine to Santa Maria de Guadalupe.

The local historian describes that the Virgin Mary appeared to a boy in the mountains and said that her statue was kept high in the hillside. The boy calls the bishop who revealed a 2-foot sculpture that had been buried for centuries and is one of Spain’s three black Madonnas.

The monastery was awarded UNESCO status for its collection of religious architecture. The climactic mountain landscape encircling the Monastery makes it a magnificent last stop on your trip to Spain.

Driving in Spain

The Spanish are considered the most inconsiderate road users. When joining a motorway, don’t anticipate drivers to slow down to give way. You may have to pause for a moment on the slip road.

Several drivers neglect speed limits, and you’ll surely find some obstinant road users who deliberately use two lanes to stop such speed freaks from passing.

While it may seem easy to ride a train or bus heading to almost anywhere in the country, still, some destinations in Spain are only obtainable by car or on foot. If you’re considering purchasing or renting a car during your tour to Spain, though, there are several rules of the road that oppose American driving laws that you should keep in mind.

Driving Requirements

Before you start to drive in Spain, as a citizen from another country, be sure to carry your primary driver’s license as well as an International Driver’s Permit (IDP) and a set of safety gear to help you in an emergency. 

For example, even if you won’t be punished for not carrying safety vests with you if you are stopped by police, you could be charged if they see any passengers exit to the roadway for an emergency while not wearing a vest.

Here’s the list that you should carry along with you while driving in Spain:

  • Driver’s license and IDP (required)
  • Insurance documents (required)
  • Ownership documents or rental documents (required)
  • Fluorescent jacket for all occupants (required)
  • Two warning triangles (required)
  • An additional pair of glasses, if you wear them (required)
  • Fire extinguisher (recommended)
  • First-aid kit (recommended)

Rules of the Road

Although Spanish motorists drive their vehicle on the right side of the road the same in the United States, there are several complex and overt contrasts between the driving rules in the U.S. and those seen in Spain. 

From driving with a fluorescent jacket and warning triangles in the car to not using your phone or screen-based navigating device while driving, you’ll need to learn these rules of the road before you start to drive in Spain.

  • Driving age: You must be at least 18 years of age to drive and 21 years old to rent a car in Spain.
  • Seatbelts: The driver, as well as the passengers, are required to wear a seatbelt.
  • Children: All kids ages 12 and under and measures less than 4 feet, 5.5 inches (135 centimeters) must be seated in a proper child restraint system arranged to their height and weight.
  • Cell phones: The use of cell phones while driving is outlawed. Hands-free kits are allowed, but they are not permitted to have earpiece accessories. Additionally, the use of any screen-based navigating devices is also prohibited.
  • Alcohol: The only allowed blood alcohol limit for driving is 0.05 percent or 0.25 milligrams for each liter in exhaled air. Drunk driving regulations and penalties are severe in Spain, and you could also be put in jail for having a high blood alcohol level.
  • Fines and tickets: Unless you own a permanent address in Spain, the Guardia Civil are authorized to ask for payment for your fine immediately as a tourist. If you are incapable of paying immediately, they can confiscate the car. It is therefore sensible to pay immediately, particularly as there is a 20 percent discount if you do so. Be sure to take a receipt, particularly if you believe that the police officer has been unfair.
  • Yellow lines: Don’t park next to a yellow line in a residential area. If you do, your car will most likely be towed away (particularly if you are in a foreign car).
  • Gas stations: While you can usually fuel up almost anywhere in Spain, the main contrast in Spanish gas stations from American ones is that fuel is named differently in Spain. They call leaded gasoline super or super 68, they call unleaded sin plomo 98 or Eurosuper 95 and gasoleo for diesel. 
  • In case of an emergency: You can dial 112 anywhere you are in Europe and it will be connected to local emergency services. But there are also emergency telephones connected to the emergency network in Spain for every mile or so along motorways spread in the country.

Types of Roads and Speed Limits in Spain

Any Spanish road names that start with an “AP” are toll roads and, as a result, are normally nearly free from traffic. However, these toll roads will always have toll-free roads going more or less adjacent to them, which will be more occupied and probably more scenic.

Fully-fledged freeways are actually rare and far between. Most of the country’s road names start with “N”, which can range in design quite considerably. Some match expressways in all but name, while others are constructed with traffic lights and people’s driveways heading straight onto the road.

For the most part, speed limits on Spanish roads stay uniform across the country with expressways and main highways possessing the highest limits and residential and built-up places having the lowest speed limits.

  • Expressways and main highways: 75 miles per hour (120 kilometers per hour)
  • Separate roads: 56 miles per hour (90 kilometers per hour)
  • City areas: 31 miles per hour (50 kilometers per hour)
  • Built-up areas: 18 miles per hour (11 kilometers per hour)
  • Residential areas: 15 miles per hour (9 kilometers per hour)

Parking in Spain

While parking may seem very easy in most country towns and smaller cities, it can be challenging to find a spot outside of paid parking carports in the main cities of Spain. Additionally, several rules and laws are directing where you can park that makes it even harder to spot a good parking space:

  • Parking is not permitted within 16 feet (5 meters) of a curve or intersection.
  • In general, parking is only allowed in blue parking zones named zona Azul or zoa O.R.A., which are identified with symbols in Spanish and have a maximum parking time of two hours during the day but not between 8 p.m. and 8 a.m.
  • All cars must be parked on the right-hand side of the roadway but not on one-way streets, which may enable parking on both sides of the road.
  • Paid parking spaces typically consist of two-hour limits and are labeled with signs and blue or green lines. These parking areas can be paid for at roadside meters or machines, or by employing a mobile app in some cities.

Illegally parked cars will be towed, and drivers will need to go to the nearest police station and pay fines and other charges.

Additionally, several towns apply wheel clamps (recognized locally as cepo) to implement the fine, especially on rental vehicles. If your car’s wheel is clamped, you will need to go to the nearest police station to pay the penalty and schedule for it to be removed.

Hiring a Car in Spain

Driving in Spain is relatively easy when traveling between cities. Big city driving, however, does require a little amount of time to get used to. It’s not advised for first-time visitors to Europe who are only visiting for a short time. Unless, of course, if you’re a thrill-seeking person that enjoys some exciting city driving.

The vehicles in Spain are driven on the right-hand side of the road. If you’re from a country that drives on the left-hand side of the road, then you have to take it easy until you get into the hang of it.

If you are intending to do some sightseeing and day trips, it would be ideal to rent a car. And why not? Renting a car in Spain will help you achieve the most from your holiday and it’s stress-free, too.

Where to Rent a Car in Spain

With so many car rental companies that you can choose from, the ideal place to search for a rental car in Spain, particularly for those who live outside the country, is on a subsidiary’s site.

These sites star all the well-known car rental companies such as Hertz, Budget, National, and Alamo along with some European brands. They also display the prices for different car types on an easy-to-read table.

Travelers will mostly pick up their rental car at the arrival airport, like Barcelona Airport, which offers rental car reservations instantly on their website. However, there may be fewer choices available.

Most Spanish cities and famous places are served by a nearby airport and that’s where you can easily locate the rental companies. However, it is likely to pick up a car in a non-airport area. Just anticipate spending a higher cost for those cars.

What You Will Need to Rent a Car

  • A driver’s age must be at least 25, though there are car rental companies who allow young drivers but expect to pay a “young driver’s fee“.
  • Valid driver’s license
  • International drivers permit (for those from a non-EU country)
  • Passport
  • The credit card has the same name on the rental contract

Car Sharing

Car sharing is the most affordable and most economical way of driving around Spain and the rest of Europe. It is safer and more reliable than hitchhiking in Spain, as you can join a person allowing a ride before you start on the journey. This means that you no longer have to make a snap quick judgment on their character.

Car sharing is an old method but like most things, it has moved online. These are the most famous car-sharing sites in Europe:

  • Blablacar – French site, with loads of individuals touring from France to Spain, that has gone global in latter years. Purchased or partnered with some of the old ‘Covoiturage’ French sites and the German Mitfahrgelegenheit site.
  • Compartir.org – a Spanish site that has a loyal Spanish patron base.

Tips For Renting A Car In Spain:

Here are some of the best important tips to bear in mind when it comes to car rental in Spain:

  1. Stay away from extreme city traffic by riding a train to a smaller city and picking up your rental car there instead!
  2. Most car rentals are manual. You have to ask for automatic if that is what you prefer, and it will cost you quite a bit more
  3. Request for diesel rental cars in Spain to save some money on gas
  4. Wish to pick up your car in one town and drop it off in another? Normally possible, but avoid extra charges by not picking or dropping the rental off at an airport
  5. Size really does make a difference. In the boroughs and communities of Spain, particularly those you’ll want to be traversing while on holiday, some roads are Small. Avoid renting a big car unless you really require it.
  6. Check the fuel policy thoroughly when scanning for a car hire company in Spain. With some companies, you will obtain a full tank of fuel and be required to return it full afterward or you will end up paying an extra and inflated fee.

Frequently Asked Questions

Can a person drive in Spain with a non-Spanish driver’s license?

Of course, but it requires to be matched with the International Driving Permit. The car rental company may not ask for it, but that doesn’t suggest you are in the clear. 

If you are stopped by the police and don’t have it with you, then you’ll surely feel the pain of paying a hefty fine.

Most insurance will only cover it if you have a “valid driver’s license”. Any license isn’t sufficient in Spain alone. It must be matched with the international driving permit, so go pay $20 or so and just get it!

What are the minimum and maximum ages when renting a car in Spain?

The minimum legal age in Spain for driving is 18. But most car hire companies require their drivers to be a minimum age of 21 to hire a car. Although, drivers under the age of 25 can pay a “young driver’s fee”, to be able to rent a car in Spain.

If your age is over 65, 70, or 75, you may also be bound to purchase the full insurance straight from the car rental company. The ages listed vary depending on which rental car company you prefer. Some may charge a higher price, but you will surely be covered.

What do you need to rent a car in Spain?

Before you rent a car in Spain, be sure that you are of the right age. The driver must present his or her valid driver’s license.

Non-EU license holders are required to obtain an international driving permit. The driver’s name must match the rental agreement. You are also required to present a credit card matching the name on the rental contract for the deposit of the car in case of damages. They will also ask you to present your passport.

Which side of the road do you drive on in Spain?

All vehicles in Spain are driven on the right-hand side of the road with the driver on the left side of the car. This is a bonus for Americans or those living in a country with this type of driving condition. That said, they do drive really fast and normally only drive on the far left lane for passing. If you notice yourself sightseeing in the left lane, scoot over and drive in the right lane.

Are there any hidden charges when hiring a car in Spain?

Check your contract thoroughly for any hidden charges like the collision damage waiver/CDW (Cobertura de daños por colisión), theft coverage (Cobertura contra Robo), personal accident insurance/PAI (Asistencia por lesiones personales), airport taxes (cargo de Aeropuerto), equipment and car parts charges, and additional drivers fee. Make sure to read the whole agreement provided by your car rental company.

Some companies don’t allow unlimited kilometers (kilometraje ilimitado), so you are required to pay per kilometer after you reach their threshold, and this can be very expensive. Don’t be afraid to ask for the total mileage limit of your car rental in Spain.

What if I receive a speeding ticket in my car rental?

Don’t think that you are free from paying a speeding ticket just because you are using a rental car or you just dipped over to Portugal. The country of Spain is equipped with speed cameras and they will send the footage straight to the car rental company. They will analyze the footage and if it matches, you’re surely going to pay an additional 50 euro for the processing fee.

The good thing about speeding tickets and most tickets issued in Spain, the charge is much lower if you pay it immediately. Once they catch you speeding with a rental car, it will be sent immediately to the rental car company and they will contact you for a 30-day window

So when driving a rental car in Spain, be mindful of the speed limit and try not to pass beyond it. It could save you a good amount of money!

Final Thoughts

Spain continues to be one of the most toured countries on earth and it’s very easy to understand why. The Iberian nation extends miles of beach, a vibrant culture, gratifying food, welcoming people, and of course, some amazing weather.

Spain is a lovely big country (at least by European standards) and it is also well equated by a modern, well-maintained chain of fast and cost-effective highways. Therefore, with a set of your very own wheels, it is absolutely possible to acquire a lot of the country even if you only have to spend a few weeks.

Hiring a car in Spain has several advantages.

For one, renting a car in Spain gives you a sense of freedom. You can wake up in the morning, jump in your car, and drive wherever you want to go. It would enable you to move around a lot faster than you could have done on public transport, cramming you in a lot of different places into your short itinerary.

It will also enable you to visit a lot of small towns and villages which would have been very challenging to visit without having your own vehicle. The real magic of Spain still rests in its white villages and hilltop castles.

Also, having a car will let you make a few unforeseen detours and stop off along our route. You can stop to take in the sun olive groves and make a stop into a Vine Yard for a quick tour – none of this will be possible if you take public transport.

Ultimately, if you are just going to major cities or touring relatively few destinations, and prepared a fixed itinerary, then public transport may be cheaper and easier for you. However, if you want to explore Spain more, then renting a car will be of great value for you.