The original, independent guide to Lisbon
This tourist guide will present an unbiased opinion to help you decide if to hire a rental car during your holiday to Lisbon. For a detailed guide to driving in Lisbon please click here. The second section of this guide will provide advice on Lisbon car hire and detail some of the sneaky methods the companies employ to extract further cash from visitors. Before starting it is worth noting that Portuguese driving is very erratic and Lisbon is very challenging place to drive in.
The answer to the question depends on the type of holiday you wish to have and the style of tourist that you are. Lisbon and the surrounding region is served by an extensive and good value public transport. In central Lisbon all the common tourist sights are served by the metro or tram networks and at night taxis are inexpensive and safe.
The popular day trips of Sintra and Cascais are connected by a good railway service and parking at both destinations is limited. Driving in central Lisbon (Baixa, Alfama, Bairro Alto and Graça) is a complete nightmare, with no parking, over crowded roads and impatient drivers.
The remainder of Lisbon is equally difficult to drive around with poor signage, never ending traffic and the constant battle against the Portuguese poor driving style. Generally if this is your first visit to Lisbon or the visit is less than 3 days you don't need to hire a car.
Lisbon car hire is ideal for those tourists who wish discover further than the boundaries of the capital. A rental car adds flexibility and convenience for exploring the region surrounding Lisbon and is essential for families who will be located outside Lisbon's radius.
Public transport south of the River Tagus is poor and a rental car is needed to explore the Setubal Peninsula. Portugal has a good intercity coach network so travel between big cities or popular tourist destinations is easy but local services can be very limited.
The roads outside of the Lisbon region are generally empty and because of this, comparatively safe to drive on. There is a modern expressway network of roads that is little used by the Portuguese due to the relatively high tolls. The fees are collected using an over elaborate electronic system and if you are planning to travel on any toll roads confirm with the rental agency about their own policies and arrangements as fines are steep.
Renting a car in Portugal is not always as cheap as it appears especially when booking via the internet. All car rental companies levying "additional optional" fees which can significantly increase the price of the rental. These optional fees come in the form of; additional insurance to cover the ludicrous excess fees, additional driver fees, fee to hire the toll road device (which sits in the car) or children baby seats.
The biggest scam by Portuguese car rental agencies is the additional insurance that covers the massive excess fees that are applied in the event of any damage to the car. The damage excess can be up to E800 and the additional insurance is E15 per day, a significant percentage of an economical rental price. Given the Portuguese style of driving this additional fee is almost a necessity.
Sat-nav and the electronic toll devices must be hired per day and again annoyingly increase the total rental price. Sometime the cost of a sat-nav hire is more than the price of downloading European maps for your home unit.
Young drivers will face further fees and these young driver fees extend up to the age of 25. Young drivers should expect to pay E15-20 per day and tourists under 21 may not even able to hire a car.
Renting a car for a Lisbon holiday often appears very tempting, especially with what appears to be great offers out of the high season. If this is your first trip to Lisbon and the trip length is less than 5 days then there is probably no need to rent a car.
A rental car is invaluable for touring especially the Setubal Peninsula or the Alentejo region as public transport is very limited. A sensible option for people new to Lisbon and wishing to tour the region should only hire the car once they have finished in Lisbon, typically three days.
When booking the car always be aware of the additional fees, which are rarely publicized at the stage of booking and are only payable on collection of the car.