Renting a car makes rural Spain accessible to the traveler. Having your own car affords you far more flexibility and freedom as you travel throughout the countryside of northern and western Spain or between cities. Within the major cities, you may find the metro or bus system sufficient and, arguably, more convenient. Travelers may find the best way to travel in Spain is a combination of public transportation and rental car.
Car rentals are affordable and will be similar to rates in the United States on average however they vary wildly based on the season. In off season, you can often rent a small car for a week for less than $100 USD in resort areas. Summer and school holidays are a very different story with prices often increasing by around 200% and more - generally, cost will be lower the earlier you book a car. Most major rental companies have a presence at airports and city centers. You can also choose to rent from one of many smaller companies and may find this even more affordable. The added expense of gasoline, insurance, and tolls should be factored in. It will be required that you purchase liability insurance and advisable to also add on additional insurance. Expect your rental car to be a manual transmission. If you need to rent an automatic transmission car, plan on making a reservation far ahead of when you actually need the car.
Although anyone over 18 with a license is able to drive in Spain, you may find companies will only rent to those over 21. While a US driver’s license is valid in Spain, it is advisable to pay the small fee and get an International Driver’s Permit. This option is available from the American Automobile Association and is an excellent idea as you travel throughout Europe and elsewhere.
Gasoline costs will be considerably higher when traveling in Spain then in the United States. Gas stations are readily available, and most accept credit cards. Be sure you know what kind of gas your rental car requires!
The roads in Spain are well maintained. Expect heavy traffic around cities and try to avoid rush hours. Large trucks will share the road with small cars and likely slow everyone down. You may find paying a toll and using the autopistas worth the extra money as they are less crowded.
To have the most enjoyable driving experience while in Spain: Drive defensively. Everyone in the car must wear a seatbelt. Be aware of the speed limit and follow it. Pass on the left and only when it is legal. Keep children under 12 in the backseat. Don’t use your cell phone unless you have a totally hands free option. Be safe and smart!