Do you need a car in Lisbon? When you fly into the Portuguese capital Lisbon, you really are already landing right in the middle of the city, and this is absolutely the sort of place where you can start as you mean to go on – with easy metro and bus links from the airport. Lisbon boasts colourful trams that rival San Francisco or Melbourne, as well as a more than half decent Metro and an extensive suburban rail network.
Do I need a car in Lisbon? Introduction
You’ll find that you should have no problem not just getting to the main sites in Lisbon itself, but also getting to outlying areas like the famous resort of Estoril.
Why rent a car in Lisbon?
Why do you need a car in Lisbon?
- Road trips – the obvious reason for hiring a car in Lisbon is that it’s a natural place to start a Portuguese Road trip.
- Train pains – longer distance train services really aren’t that good outside the main north-south Porto-Lisbon-Faro trunk route.
- Train cost – if you are used to finding bargain off-peak advance train fares in countries such as the UK or France, then these are much harder to come by in Portugal. Most train services will operate with a much more simple price structure. This means a rental car might well be better value during the quieter times of year, but in the middle of summer when the car hire costs go up, most train fares will stay at a level peg.
- Rural Portugal – there is so much more to Portugal than the golf courses of the Algarve, and in order to see a good range of rural towns and villages, you will absolutely need to pick up a hire car in Lisbon.
- Flexibility – the key reasons for hiring a car in Lisbon would still be the same as anywhere else – you will have freedom and flexibility, and a hire car is certainly useful once you get outside urban areas.
- Lisbon car hire value – If you can find the right deal, then car hire in Lisbon can still be great value, even if it isn’t usually quite as cheap as you might expect in Faro or Porto. A hire car always becomes more worth it when you have enough people to fill it.
Lisbon v Faro?
Flying to Faro and then driving up from the Algarve might have two potential advantages over doing the same in Lisbon – firstly, you will almost always find a much wider choice of flights to Faro, and secondly, since there’s much more choice of car rental providers, you’ll probably get a better rental deal too.
We don’t advise doing this if you just want to stay around Lisbon, as if this is the case, we’d just suggest not hiring a car at all (as per reasons below). However, if you are interested in driving around southern Portugal, then it could well make a lot more sense to start your trip in Faro, rather than Lisbon.
Why not? Visiting Lisbon without a car
Visiting Lisbon without a car
- No need – you absolutely do not need a hire car in Lisbon if you just want to enjoy anything within the city and the area around it. This includes much of the coastline, which is easy to reach by train and/or bus.
- Public transport – in Lisbon this is much more than merely adequate – you will find a good range of metro and suburban rail services, together with plenty of buses, and of course those famous trams.
- Trams – the trams in Lisbon are very much part of the colour of the city, and they are also a cheap and practical means of getting around. Given that Lisbon is a dramatically hilly city, think of this as San Francisco without all the hype!
- Oriente station – one of Europe’s more impressive station structures is Oriente station, designed by Santiago Calatrava.
Although it’s not the main railway station part serving Lisbon, it should be easy enough to pass through as you travel around the city, and it’s well worth a detour to this “destistation” to gaze up at the impressive lattice roof work.
- Walking city – despite some tough gradients in some places on the banks of the River Tagus, Lisbon is still a great walking city. In the more historic areas, where steep sided buildings flank narrow streets, you shouldn’t find yourself beaten back by the heat of the sun.
- Public lifts -one of the most famous landmarks in Lisbon is the Santa Justa Lift, right in the heart of the city. It’s best to purchase a Lisbon tourist card, otherwise it will cost €5 to use. There are also 3 funicular railways within the city.
- Vasco de Gama bridge – no visit to the city is complete without crossing at least one of the impressive bridges which provide strategic connections in and out of the city. But there’s no need to get a hire car in Lisbon to do this – just take one of the plentiful local bus services.
- Cycling / bike hire – Lisbon launched a pioneering e-bike hiring scheme in August of 2017. Whilst this is in its infancy, you can also rent bikes from various places across the city. You might prefer instead to take the train to Sintra, and then rent a bike there to enjoy the fantastic forested landscapes between here and the coast. Check rental terms before setting off, as some locations only rent for a 3 day minimum period.
- Combine with Porto or Faro – it’s very easy to use coach or Portuguese national rail services to make a two-city break out of Lisbon and either Porto (again for a more urban experience) or Faro on the Algarve. You could also get a one way rental deal, but the chances are that this would be a needless extra cost, and for Porto at least, there would be little need, just like Lisbon.
There is no particular need to get a hire car in Lisbon if you aren’t already planning on doing so. If you are trying to decide if it is worth it to get a hire car in Lisbon, then we would suggest looking at a few more places you might want to visit which are relatively near to Lisbon first.
Does that swing it towards visiting Lisbon without a car? If not, then you will still find good value car rental options here, and with the freedom of a rental car, you will no doubt get to see some places that public transport can’t reach.
It’s just that Lisbon is also such a great city in its own right that you really would be missing out on very little by not getting a hire car here.
Would you hire a car in Lisbon?
Have you driven in Lisbon? Do you agree with our advice on whether or not it's worth hiring a car in Lisbon? Do you think you need a car in Lisbon? Tell us what you think using the comments section below: