Driving in Spain can be difficult because of how Spainards drive but some trips necessitate renting a car of your own. Renting a car in a foreign country can be overwhelming but it's not much different than renting a car at home, especially with the abundance of English-language car rental aggregators.
Is it Practical to Rent a Car in Spain?
Renting a car in Spain will never be the cheapest option for transportation, but it might be the most convenient. The basic rental will cost more than your train or bus ticket and then on top of that, you'll be paying for road tolls and petrol.
That said, renting a car is essential if you want to explore some of the harder-to-reach regions of the country like the Alpujarras, the Rías Bajas (to the west of Santiago de Compostela), or the region around Cadiz and Tarifa.
If your Spain itinerary only hits the country's big cities, renting a car is not a good idea. For a start, parking in most big cities in Spain is a nightmare. A journey that would normally take 15 minutes by car often takes double that as you look for a parking space. Another major problem is the traffic. Madrid is so congested that rush hour traffic jams start as early as 5 a.m.!
Also, if a city is big enough to require a car to get around, it will have a metro system. Madrid, Barcelona, Valencia, and Bilbao all have metro systems and Seville got one in 2009. The cities that don't have a metro system—which includes Granada, Santiago de Compostela, A Coruña, Toledo, and Segovia—are small enough that a car is unnecessary.
Where to Rent a Car in Spain
With so many car rental companies to choose from, the best place to look for a rental car in Spain, especially for those outside the country is on an aggregator site. These sites feature all the familiar car rental companies—including Hertz, Budget, National, and Alamo— along with some European brands. Aggregators also show the prices for a number of different car classes in an easy to read table.
Most travelers will pick up their rental car at their arrival airport. Some Spanish airports, like Barcelona Airport, offer rental car reservations directly on their website, however, there may be fewer options available. Most Spanish cities and popular destinations have a nearby airport and that's where you'll find the rental cars. However, it is possible to pick up a car at a non-airport location. Just expect to pay a higher price for those cars.
What You Will Need to Rent a Car
- Drivers must be at least 21 years old, though there can be a young driver fee for those under 25
- Valid driver's license
- International drivers permit (for those from non-EU country)
- Passport for the main driver
- Credit card with a name matching the one on the rental contract
Car sharing is one of the cheapest and most economical ways of traveling around Spain and the rest of Europe. It is safer and more reliable than hitchhiking in Spain as you can meet the person offering a ride before you embark on the journey (meaning you no longer have to make a snap judgment on their character). Car sharing is an old practice but like most things, it has migrated online.
These are the most popular car-sharing sites in Europe:
- Blablacar - French site, with lots of people traveling from France to Spain, that has gone global in recent years. Bought out or partnered with several of the old 'Covoiturage' French sites and the German Mitfahrgelegenheit site.
- Compartir.org - Spanish equivalent site that has a loyal Spanish user base.