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Driving in Spain - Tips From Those Who Have Experience

Driving in Spain - Tips From Those Who Have Experience

Old Feb 16th, 2005, 07:39 AM
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Driving in Spain - Tips From Those Who Have Experience

Okay, I think I'm going to be overruled on this one. I had anticipated doing a combination of train/auto on my trip to Spain in Sept/Oct. My S/O, however, likes the freedom of a car and the idea of not being on anyone's time schedule but his own. Well, if he's willing to do the driving, so be it.

Anyway, I have a number of questions for those who have driven/rented cars in Spain. I've gleaned some info from here already, so I'm seeing if I can beef that up.

We will be in Spain for 19 days and making a loop beginning and ending in Madrid. At this point it looks like we will arrive in Madrid, spend one night, then begin our travel. (We don't get into Madrid until around 3:00pm) We would end the trip with roughly 4 nights in Madrid. Okay...

1. I've checked out cars from various companies for pricing (Yes, I know it's early), and all of the cars suggest one or 2 small pieces of luggage. We will most likely be traveling with two 24" - 25" suitcases. Will the cars be big enough, or should we upgrade?

2. I know that places such as Granada and Sevilla are more walkable and not "car friendly", but are there cheaper (free, perhaps?) places to park a car. S/O is not keen on taking the AVE to southern Spain - feels he is going to miss "the real Spain" in between. Are there any hotel recommendations that offer free/cheap parking that are also for the budget minded?

3. I've noticed on several sites that an International Driver's License is "suggested." Does this equate to "required"? Will our California licenses work fine or could there be a problem? Also, I know I can get one through my insurance company (AAA), but my S/O has different insurance and I'm not sure they offer this service. Where does one get an International Driver's Licence in his case?

4. I'm open to hearing anyone's experiences - good or bad - on driving. Easy? Hard? Good roads? Other drivers? We would like to drive from Granada to Sevilla, possibly stopping in Ronda. Is this insane driving ourselves?

5. I've read/heard that one should never keep luggage stowed in the car while site-seeing, and I can understand why this would be true. However, has anyone had any problems with leaving luggage in the rear compartment while, say stopping to have lunch in a place that is not urban?

And just to let all know here: this our first trip to Europe. My S/O was a truck driver (big rigs) for the majority of his life, so he feels completely comfortable behind the wheel and hasn't met any vehicle he couldn't handle well.

I believe this is going to be a sticking point with him no matter what I tell him about public transportation Spain, so I need to work with this. But any and all pointers and tips and helps are greatly appreciated!
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Old Feb 16th, 2005, 07:50 AM
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I hope you have a wonderful trip and enjoy Spain as much as I do. Frankly, I'd feel a little better if HE were doing some of this background work but I also understand how that works...definitely let HIM drive if he is so insistent.

I suspect he is already pretty courteous as a driver and wil probably be happy to know that Europeans do not hog the left lane as people in the US do.

You may want to check out the necessity of having an International Fdrivers PERMIT (not the ID LICENSE)..some countries require it and others may not; sometimes for short periods they don't..others here will probably comment.

None of this is insane and it can easily be done. IMO the roads in Spain, at least the ones I am familiar with, were/are in good shape.
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Old Feb 16th, 2005, 08:16 AM
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Hi Chele!
We have done a similar trip to yours in Spain with a rental car, and enjoyed it very much.

Since then we took another trip from the Barcelona area to Madrid, also driving, and it was also no problem.

I'll try to answer your questions as well as I can based on our experiences:

1. I don't know about the sizes of cars, but I would suggest getting one that says it will accommodate two medium pieces of luggage, if that's what you're going to have.

2. We had a rental car while we were staying in Sevilla- not for driving in Sevilla, but for taking daytrips.

Our hotel arranged parking for us, and we didn't drive inside the city other than to and from the hotel, which worked out fine.

The same thing in Granada-- you can drive to it, park the car, and you won't need the car while you're there.

We did enjoy having the car to drive around the countryside. We could stop and explore little towns along the way and be flexible with our schedule.

3. My husband did get an international driver's license from AAA before one of our trips, recently, but then forgot to tkae it with him! So far we have never needed it, but I suppose it's not a bad idea to have one.

4. We didn't find driving in Spain any more difficult than driving in any other country. The roads were good, the other drivers were not a problem.

The drive to Ronda is great! It's really a beautiful part of the country, and you'll enjoy it.

With his driving experience, your S/O shouldn't have any trouble at all.

5. We have stopped to sightsee with our luggage in the trunk of the car, and have never had any problem.

I would just make sure that it is completely out of sight-- I don't leave anything at all visible inside the car to tempt anyone to break in. (But I would do the same thing in any country-- not just Spain)

I hope this relieves some of your anxiety about driving. I know some people don't enjoy it, and would rather take public transportation, but my DH and I certainly enjoy having the freedom of a car, and it sounds like your S/O will, too.

Have a great trip! Spain is a fabulous country!
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Old Feb 16th, 2005, 08:27 AM
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I found it strange driving in spain. It was my first and only experience driving on the wrong hand side of the road.

I was in and around costa del sol and Malaga. Entering a highway is fun. There's virtually no on ramp or room to speed up.
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Old Feb 16th, 2005, 08:55 AM
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We only drove along the Costa Brava but I will add my experience:

We rented a compact car and had enough room for the two of us (both travelling with 24" suitcases)

My BF got an international permit from AAA. He doesn't have a membership there and I think they charged $10. I suppose it was nice to have although we never needed it.

Driving took some time to get used to. The roads were in good condition and freeway driving was a breeze. It did, however, take us some time to figure out the directional signs and round-abouts (which are everywhere) on the secondary roads. I suggest getting a good map and directions to each of the places you are visiting.
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Old Feb 16th, 2005, 09:32 AM
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I am little confused maybe it is because the reply was from Australia, (do they drive on the left?) we were in Spain a couple of years ago and rented a car for the first time and had do problem and they drove on the right. I agree that a good map is a neccessity the round abouts drove my husband crazy. We are leaving in 2 weeks to go back to Costa Del Sol and are renting at the airport in Malaga. Rented from CarJet but haven't ever used them but seems that are lot of the people have. They had the best price.
Another thing is you mention Granada to Sevilla and a stop in Ronda. You might place youself so you're not arriving in Ronda late. You might not want to drive the roads in the dark in the mountains. Just a hint.
Good luck
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Old Feb 16th, 2005, 09:52 AM
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Thanks for all the great responses! I truly appreciate them.

I wish my S/O would take more interest in planning as well, but I'm the "planaholic" and he is the spontaneous one. (If it were up to him, he'd simply arrive in Madrid and figure out things from there!) And, yes, he is a considerate, cautious driver - much better than me!

It's nice to know that a compact car can handle 2 24" suitcases. Guess I can always check when it comes time to make the reservation.

I'll have to poke around about the IDP (thanks for the correction!), and see what I find.

Personally, I love long road trips, but I've never done one in another country but there is a first for everything. Plus, I can easily see his point of view, and it is just my own nervousness I'm dealing with. It's good to know that others have done this with a lot of positive memories - that does help!

I did manage to find a road map of all of Spain and gave that to my S/O so he can figure out distances and roads and such. We are going to begin working out a tentative itenary this weekend, so I imagine that map will come in very handy.

Thanks again for the tips and the reassurance! (And if anyone else has anything to add, I'm open!)
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Old Feb 16th, 2005, 09:56 AM
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We did this trip last year, I did all the driving (and navigating) with no problem at all. I love driving fast and being from NY, I'm used to driving under all conditions. The roads are well marked and I found merging onto the highways much easier here (with long lanes) then in many parts of this country. We p/u the car in Madrid on our fourth day in Spain then returned at the airport, spending the last night in Toledo so as to not have to drive back into Madrid (I find it easier driving out of big cities then into). We've been in Europe many times and always rent a car, it is the best way to find those special places. When you're in the South, I highly recommend a stop and stayover at the Parador in Arcos. (Between Seville and Ronda). We loved the Paradors. Let me know if you need any more details.
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Old Feb 16th, 2005, 09:57 AM
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We drove from Bilbao all over Asturias in northern Spain then back to Madrid. We rented the smallest compact and had plenty of room for 2 with suitcases and backpacks as well. We really enjoyed our AVE trip from Mad to Sev but the driving will be no problem. Spain is a very modern country with a well developed road system. Signs on the highways are easy to read and follow. There are a lot of toll roads and gas stations with coffee bars and restaurants. OTOH - driving in the cities is a nightmare to be avoided! Little towns, ok but the major cities - forget it! The streets are poorly marked and laid out like puzzles. Most hotels (once you find them!) have parking but often charge for it.
I have obtained an Int'l DL from AAA for both my Euro trips and never been asked for it. I want to say your state DL will be enough but ask your rental car company.
A suggestion - take the AVE from Mad to Sev, pick up your car at the train station in Sev and be on your way for the rest of your trip. Before you go, pick up a good map at B&N or Borders. Good luck and have fun!
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Old Feb 16th, 2005, 10:30 AM
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We spent two weeks in the Andalusia last September with a car (long trip report posted). We had a mid size Renault Megan which just made it in some of the tighter alleyway/streets. Had to pull in the mirrors many times. The highways were great. We actual were the only ones on them most of the time. Once you hit the cities it is a different matter. They are the craziest mazes and we've driven many European cities.

Here is a suggestion that worked for us, write your hotel name and address on an index card and show it when you get lost, which you will. Also, we followed a cab once in Cordoba (suggestion of the board) and it only cost 2 euros. As many replied you will not need to move your car once parked, but it's great to have the freedom to drive from town to town when ever you like. Rental for manual are cheaper and request diesel fuel. Good luck.
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Old Feb 16th, 2005, 10:31 AM
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It costs you a lot to drive in Spain: On toll roads tolls are very high; and gasoline at 90 Euro cents a liter isn't cheap.

I would spend the 10 bucks (plus photo costs) to get an International Driving Permit. You'll also need your U.S. State Driver's License. If you commit an infraction, they'll stamp it on your IDP and your State Driver's License authority won't ever know about it.

We stayed at a hotel in Sevilla that had a fenced parking area behind. It's the 3-star Hotel Monte Olivos, nothing special but with air conditioning and a small swimming pool. It's on c/Monte Olivet, very close to Santa Justa rail station.

I've driven Sevilla-Madrid and taken the AVE. The latter is preferible and there are several car rental companies at Sevilla's Santa Justa rail station.
Unless you're planning on stops along that route (Cordoba, for example) AVE is much more comfortable.

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Old Feb 16th, 2005, 11:33 AM
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> am little confused maybe it is because the reply was from Australia, (do they drive on the left?)

Spain drives on the Right. Australia, UK, Ireland and every asian country i've ever visited drive on the left.
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Old Feb 16th, 2005, 11:46 AM
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1. You will need to upgrade. When they say two small pieces- they are talking about carry-ons. Also - keep in mind that all luggage must fit in a closed trunk and be invisible - nothing should be visible in the car when its parked.

2.We just put the car in the hotel garage or lot. Some were free and some had modest charges. None were more than $10 or so. (We were in 4* places.)

3. Whoever is driving should have one - you really just need it for the translation - and in my experience a lot of cops in spain don;t really speak/read english. Also - suggest you rent so that both of you can drive the car - even if you don;t want to - in case of illness or ?

4. Overall driving is easy. Major highways are good and almost empty until you come into big city suburbs. Other roads are mostly good quality - unless you get into the deep country when they can be gravel. One thing you should be aware of is that in the mountains the locals will want to drive much faster than you do (they know every curve and hill - you don;t). You must get out of their way. If more than two cars are piled up behind you don;t go faster than you are comfy with - just pull over and let them pass - otherwise you're forcing them to pass you when it may not be perfectly safe.

Also, in the centers of the small towns the roads may be quite narrow. A couple of times we had to fold in the mirrors and ended up driving with wheels on both ot the sidewalks/doorsteps - with the road untouched under the car. (I know this sounds scary to those not used to city driving - but should be fine for your hubby.)

5. Never leave anything visible in the car - urban or middle of a field - even for a few minutes - you're simply asking for trouble. (Ths is just like NYC - never leave anything in a car parked on the street - can;t imagine why people ever do this!)

You will have a great time - driving in Spain is really not difficult.

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Old Feb 16th, 2005, 11:52 AM
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"1. I've checked out cars from various companies for pricing (Yes, I know it's early), and all of the cars suggest one or 2 small pieces of luggage. We will most likely be traveling with two 24" - 25" suitcases. Will the cars be big enough, or should we upgrade?"

Get the smallest car you can use. The narrow streets will be much easier to navigate.

"2. I know that places such as Granada and Sevilla are more walkable and not "car friendly", but are there cheaper (free, perhaps?) places to park a car. S/O is not keen on taking the AVE to southern Spain - feels he is going to miss "the real Spain" in between. Are there any hotel recommendations that offer free/cheap parking that are also for the budget minded?"

There is no "real Spain in between. The country side is boring. Take the AVE. It's a great ride, you relax and drink espresso while wattch a movie (in Spanish.) You end up in the middle of Seviller and don't have to fight the horrendously confusing streets. This is the best advice You will ever get!!!!

The best plan is to take the AVE to Cordoba, get off and see the sites there for few hours. The Mezquita is a highligt of any trip to Spain. Then get back on for the quick ride to Seville.

"3. I've noticed on several sites that an International Driver's License is "suggested." Does this equate to "required"? Will our California licenses work fine or could there be a problem? Also, I know I can get one through my insurance company (AAA), but my S/O has different insurance and I'm not sure they offer this service. Where does one get an International Driver's Licence in his case?"

It is not needed unless you get stopped by the police or have an accident. Then you are much better off with it.

"4. I'm open to hearing anyone's experiences - good or bad - on driving. Easy? Hard? Good roads? Other drivers? We would like to drive from Granada to Sevilla, possibly stopping in Ronda. Is this insane driving ourselves?"

Driving anywhere in or near cities and towns is a nightmare. Few or no road signs, confusing twisting roads that change their names every 100 yards, tiny narrow streets which are one way so once you get lost, you stay lost. In cities, the few streets signs are on buildings. At night they become invisible.

Once you get out of Seville, however, the freeways themselves are very good in Andalucia (but very confusing around Madrid.) The drive to Rhona is easy. Going on to Granda is also a relatively easy drive, unless you go via Malaga, where traffic is bad.


:5. I've read/heard that one should never keep luggage stowed in the car while site-seeing, and I can understand why this would be true. However, has anyone had any problems with leaving luggage in the rear compartment while, say stopping to have lunch in a place that is not urban?"

I would never leave anything visible in a car anywhere.

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Old Feb 16th, 2005, 12:08 PM
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You can get either an IDP or an IDL at AAA whether you are a member or not. The IDP requires two passport-sized photos. I was able to get those at my local AAA office as well.
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Old Feb 16th, 2005, 02:12 PM
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Wow, this is terrific! Thank all of you so much. So nice to know so many folks enjoyed traveling by car. Definitely will keep this thread for planning!
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Old Feb 16th, 2005, 04:11 PM
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try to organize yor trip so you do not drive in the city of madrid. traffic is heavy most of the day and night, and the city itself is so spread out that unless you really know it well.. it can be trying.

other than that.. just keep to the right and remember.... no right turn on red!


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Old Feb 17th, 2005, 12:00 AM
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I'd like to add that spain does have some nice big modern highways. In hilly areas they take to digging tunnels and such things so you don't even have to drive around.
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Old Feb 17th, 2005, 09:32 AM
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Concerning car size. If you think you will be driving around the cities a lot go smaller. But these cab be uncomfortable and noisy if on the autopista a lot. My advice for 2 would be to go for an equivalent to Hertz Group C - it has suited 2 of us fine for a mix of driving in Spain.

Navigating the towns and cities can be challenging. It is much easier with a Red Michelin guide for Spain. It will be in Spanish but as well as having hotels and restaurants listed throughout the country it also has very detailed town plans with all the roads marked indicating which are one way etc. My partner does the navigating around town for us with the aid of one of these and they work really well.
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Old Feb 17th, 2005, 12:55 PM
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Diz01:
Thank you so much! Our plans are tentative at this point, but I believe the majority of driving is going to be on the wide open roads and very little city driving. I anticipate the only city driving to be Cordova, Seville, and Granada - and only then to get to our hotel (or the Mezquita in Cordova). I would think we would drop off the car in Madrid, but I don't suppose we would do any real driving in Madrid. I would like to stay with a smaller car, but my S/O is 6' and weighs 250, so I'm beginning to think we may have to a little bigger just he will be comfortable!

I've seen the green Michelin guides, but did not buy one. I haven't seen the red ones. Wonder if I can get my hands on one via Amazon? It would be better if I were to navigate because, while my S/O is fluent verbally in Spanish, I can read Spanish better than he can.

So much to think about and consider! Thank you!
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