Getting around by car is likely to be your preferred choice of transport when you move to Spain.
Cars offer the quickest way in most instances of getting from a to b and give you flexibility when travelling.
In this section of our guide to Getting Around in Spain, we take a look at Spanish roads, finding your way round Spain, traffic jams, parking and petrol stations in Spain.
When you start driving in Spain, you’ll notice a big contrast between the best roads and the worst.
Main roads and dual carriageways rank among the best in Europe and you’ll see some serious feats of engineering in the long mountain tunnels and high viaducts all over the country.
Driving along many major roads offers a quiet, smooth and pleasant experience.
At the other end of the spectrum, however, badly-maintained roads are commonplace, particularly in rural areas.
After spending thousands of millions on euros on the road network during the economic boom in the mid-2000s, Spain has dropped its road maintenance to a bare minimum, especially on secondary roads off the beaten track.
Expect pot holes, humps and fractured tarmac.
Spain has a reasonably large network of toll motorways, designated AP before the number and called autopista. Stretches of the A-7 between Cadiz and Barcelona are toll as are several roads around Madrid and Barcelona.
Toll roads usually offer the safest and quickest way of travel, particularly in busy areas.
Toll roads have at least two lanes in each direction, speed limits rarely drop below 100kph and there are few exits and entrances making driving considerably easier and safer than on conventional roads.
However, toll fees don’t come cheap and some toll roads increase their fare during high season (Easter and July and August).
You can get discounts for frequent travel (e.g. over 15 journeys a month). You can also fit a detector in your car, which allows you to use the automatic barrier at the toll booth and avoid stopping.
Many roads in Spain have two carriageways in each direction and are known as autovías.
They have an A in front of their number. Cities often have dual-carriageway bypasses, sometimes with more than two lanes each way.
Speed limits on dual carriageways vary between 80kph and 120kph. Speed traps are common as are police patrols.
Secondary roads make up the backbone of the Spanish road system and their condition ranges from very good to extremely poor.
They’re the most dangerous roads in Spain and the majority of accidents happen on secondary roads, usually because of speeding or not respecting the traffic signs.
Mountains form part and parcel of the Spanish landscape so there are plenty of mountain roads. At their best, the roads come wide and well-signed.
At their worst, they’re little more than single-lane tracks.
Hairpin bends and steep drops to the side are commonplace, however, and driving on these roads takes some getting used to.
If you don’t like heights and/or find the continual bends difficult, think twice about living somewhere accessible only via a mountain road.
Finding your way
Signage on the main roads in Spain is reasonable and you get plenty of advance warning of exits.
Roundabouts also have good signage. Finding your way in many towns and cities can, however, be a real challenge because signs are often randomly placed or non-existent.
Google maps comes into its own and if you have your own car, consider getting some sort of navigational system.
Spanish cities and large towns suffer chronic traffic congestion.
To make things worse, the Spanish timetable link to piece on Spanish timetable means there are four rush hours a day.
The first takes place in the morning between 8 and 9.30am.
The second happens at lunchtime, from 1.30 to 3pm. The third is after lunch as many people return to work between 4 and 5pm. And the last one takes place between 7 and 9pm.
If you’re buying a property in Spain in a town or city, make sure you have a private parking space. This will save you hours of time looking for somewhere to park.
Parking on the street (and for free) ranks as one of the major challenges for anyone living in a town or city and in some locations, it’s virtually impossible.
Most large towns and cities have designated street parking, usually denoted by blue lines and known as ‘zona azul’ (blue zone).
You pay in advance at a meter or via a mobile phone app. Car parks are commonplace, although they tend to be expensive especially in city centres.
Unless you live in a remote rural area, you’ll have no problem finding a petrol station. Most are self-service and some accept card payment directly at the pump.
Diesel (gasóleo) is the cheapest form of fuel in Spain where you can also buy unleaded (sin plomo) petrol.
The cheapest petrol tends to be available in large cities and during the week – many petrol stations put their prices up on Fridays and at the weekends.
Petrol stations provide tyre pressure pumps and water supplies, and some have car cleaning services.