Outside of the densely populated cities of Madrid and Barcelona, the roads of Spain have some of the lightest traffic in Europe - congestion is basically unheard of in more rural areas.
Unlike most European countries, where road improvements involve developing old stretches of road by repaving and repainting them, in Spain new roads are often built next to the old ones. This means that in many cases you will find three choices of road on which to drive: the original old road, the post-Franco new road, and the modern "autovia" divided highway. Often it is best to stick to the most recently developed road - meaning you will likely choose the autovia - but in rare cases where you have to pay to drive on the autovia, you may decide to drive "off the beaten track" on an older road. If you take this option, you could find yourself as the only car on the road!
Access roads to main cities are prefixed by the city or province code - M for Madrid, SE for Seville, B for Barcelona - which are followed by one or two digits. Some minor roads do not have numbers - in 2004 most denominations of roads were changed to to a simpler format, but not all of them have been updated yet - so watch out for roads with one name, two names (old and new) or neither!
Motorways are the fastest option when travelling by car. Motorways run all over Spain and are generally not very busy - this is because of high tolls that put off many drivers. Tickets are issued automatically when you enter the motorway, and when you leave the motorway you hand your ticket in at a booth.
Main roads, which usually run adjacent to motorways, are often the most crowded roads to travel on in Spain. Drivers who wish to avoid high tolls on motorways will often choose to take the main roads, leading to dense traffic.
Secondary roads are not recommended unless you are an experienced driver - they are the narrowest and those that run through the mountains often have unprotected roadsides. It's best to avoid these as not only do they take up to three times longer than other roads, they can also be dangerous during winter thanks to ice and snow.
When driving in Spain, every car is required to:
Spain drives on the right-hand side of the road. Your car hire will be set up for right-hand driving, with the steering wheel on the left side of the car.
Drivers approaching an intersection must give way to all vehicles coming from the right.
Drivers already engaged in a roundabout have the right of way over drivers approaching the roundabout.
When entering a main road, drivers on secondary roads must give way to vehicles coming from either direction.
Vehicles on rails and emergency vehicles have the right of way over other drivers.
Spanish road speed limits are 110km/h on motorways (autopista), 90km/h on main roads and 50km/h in urban areas.
Do not drink and drive – the maximum amount consumed to be considered legal to drive is the equivalent of a glass of wine or beer.
For more information on travelling around Spain we recommend visiting the UK Foreign Office website.
For additional tips on driving in Spain, the following websites can provide additional information.
Make sure you’re insured for the kind of trip you want to take in Spain. Taking out a car hire insurance policy which is tailored for your holiday in Spain is a sensible precaution.