By James | Last updated: January 2020* | 66 Comments

Driving Guide: UK To Portugal By Car

Every year, hundreds and sometimes thousands of people drive from the UK to Portugal and back again.

It’s obviously cheaper to fly, but there are a lot of benefits to driving to Portugal. You save money on car hire, you can bring a lot of your possessions over, and it’s also a good way to bring the dog to Portugal. These benefits are even more useful to expats or to anyone who’s planning to spend several months living in Portugal.

Unfortunately, there isn’t a direct ferry between the UK and Portugal. This means that there are two ways that you can get from the UK to Portugal by car.


Option #1: Go through France

Take the channel tunnel or a ferry to France. The ferries between France and the UK are usually considerably cheaper than those between Spain and the UK, however, you do need to factor in the cost of driving through France: petrol, tolls, and maybe an overnight or two in a hotel.

Click here to see information about driving through France

Option #2: Take a ferry to Spain

This way you get to avoid a day or two driving through France, but you do miss out on eating all those lovely baguettes and other French delicacies.

Although the ferries between the UK and France often only take a couple of hours, these ferries take between 20 and 30 hours. You can sleep for 8 of those, but you need to keep yourself entertained for the rest.

The UK-Spain ferries are a lot smaller than the UK-France ferries, and don’t have the child-friendly facilities that some of the larger boats have. If you have kids, you’ll need to bring a lot of movies to keep them entertained.

Click here to see information about taking the ferry to Spain

Driving from Ireland to Portugal? Some people go via the UK, in which case you have the two choices above, but you can also take a ferry directly from Ireland to France. You can view an up-to-date list of Ireland-France ferry routes on

Driving through France

Taking the ferry/chunnel to France

There are two ways to get to France, either via the Dover-Calais channel tunnel or via a ferry.

Option #1: Channel Tunnel (Eurotunnel)

Taking just 35 minutes, the channel tunnel is quicker than getting a ferry. If you live near Dover it could be a good option, but otherwise a ferry is probably a better option: Calais is very far over on the Eastern side of France,  meaning a longer drive across the North of France than if you took a ferry.

Option #2: UK-France Ferry

There are numerous ferry routes between the UK and France, and the best one for you depends on a few factors like which UK ferry port is nearest to you, how long it takes, what time of day you arrive in France, and where in France you arrive. has a map of ferry routes between England and France, which will show you what options are available. It’s a great website for comparing ferry prices, as is It’s worth using both Direct Ferries and aFerry when searching for ferries as one will sometimes have a cheaper price than the other.

Where you land in France  makes a difference to how much driving you have to do through France. The following is an approximation of the amount of time it takes to drive from each ferry port to San Sebastián in Northern Spain.

St Malo – 7 hr 30 min
Caen – 8 hr
Le Harve – 8 hr 50 min
Cherbourg – 9 hr
Dieppe – 9 hr 10 min
Roscoff – 9 hr 15 min
Calais – 10 hr 40
Dunkirk – 11 hr

Driving from France to Spain

Depending on which ferry you took, you will now have arrived somewhere in Northern France like Dunkirk, Dieppe, St. Malo, or Cherbourg. Your route now will take you down through France, towards Bordeaux and Biarritz before crossing into Spain near San Sebastián.

It’s possible to drive from St. Malo to Northern Spain in a day, but for most routes you will want at least one overnight in France.

Most people stop somewhere between Niort in the Poitou-Charentes region of France and Bordeaux in the Aquitaine region. It’s usually best to stop at one of the towns or villages off the motorway, rather than going into a big city like Bordeaux as this always seems to add on extra time. Hotels in cities are also less likely to have car parking, where as hotels near small towns often have space for parking.

Some South-Western French towns to consider include:

  • Niort
  • La Rochelle (off the route)
  • Cognac (slightly offer the route)
  • Bordeaux (involves going into a city)
  • Dax
  • Bayonne
  • Biarritz
  • Saint Jean-de-Luz

Next: see the section on driving from Northern Spain to Portugal.

Going straight to Spain

Taking the ferry to Spain

The ferry routes between the UK and Spain change frequently, as operators take up new routes and drop old ones. always has an up-to-date list of the ferries that go from England to Spain, and they’re good for comparing prices as well. I also use for price comparison, and recommend using both sites to see which offers the better deal.

Which is the best route? There are a couple of things to consider like cost, journey time, and what time you will arrive in Spain/England.

If you’re driving from Portugal to England, you may want an overnight in the Spanish port city. Of all the different port cities in Spain, Bilbao tends to be the most recommended.

Driving from Northern Spain to Portugal

If you’re driving to Lisbon, or anywhere in the Algarve, Google Maps will try to get you to do as much as your route in Spain. If you’re driving to the Algarve, it’ll probably encourage you to enter at the Spanish-Portuguese border near Faro.

Now there are a lot of reasons to drive through Spain instead of Portugal, not least because you get to avoid the Portuguese tolls, but doing this you miss out on seeing so many great places in Portugal.

Guimarães, Porto, Coimbra, Ericeira, Sintra, and Lisbon – these are all places that should be on your itinerary.

The distance from Bilbao to Chaves on the Portuguese border is a little over 5 hours, or 4 and-a-half from Santander. From San Sebastián, it’s a little over 5 and-a-half hours. You could skip Northern Spain entirely and either spend the night in Chaves or head onto Guimarães.

If you want to stop in Northern Spain however, some recommended places to stop include:

  • Bilbao
  • Oviedo
  • Urederra park in Navarre
  • Picos de Europa

And, if you’re willing to go out of your way:

  • San Sebastian
  • Santiago de Compostella (and anywhere in Galicia)
  • La Rioja region

Otherwise, skip through to Portugal. Be sure to fill up your car in Spain first, though, as both petrol and diesel are typically cheaper there.

Driving through Portugal

The following are just a few places that you could consider stopping off in on your way through Portugal.

Lisbon: Portugal’s capital city, and a great destination to stop off at.


Guimarães is a small city and UNESCO World Heritage site, and one of the first places that you’ll come to in Northern Portugal. It is considered the birthplace of Portugal, and is home to several important architectural sites including Guimarães Castle and the Palace of the Dukes of Braganza (Paço dos Duques de Bragança).


Porto is Portugal’s second city, and the favourite of the two cities amongst the Portuguese. It’s easy to spend a couple of days here viewing the sites and visiting the various different Port houses. The nearby Douro Valley is incredibly beautiful, and also worth spending time in.


Aveiro is a small town situated between Porto and Coimbra. It’s often referred to as the Venice of Portugal, and its beautiful canals and colourful boats are definitely worth stopping to get a picture of.


Coimbra is a small city, and it’s possible to see all of the main sights in a day. It’s much smaller than either Lisbon or Porto, and also a lot less touristy.


Sintra is just a short 30 minute drive from Lisbon, and most of the sites can be seen in a day. Most people stay in Lisbon, and then drive around Sintra for the day before coming back to Lisbon.


Portugal’s capital city, Lisbon, is a city that’s definitely worth spending at least one night in. There’s plenty to see and do here: from Castelo de São Jorge in the city centre, to attractions like the Mosteiro dos Jerónimos, Torre de Belém , and the Padrão dos Descobrimentos in Belém.

Then, it’s onto the Algarve or wherever your final destination is. 

Sat Nav, Google Maps, or a roadmap?

It’s definitely worth investing in a Sat Nav or downloading a Sat Nav app like Scout GPS for your smartphone. With Scout GPS, you pay for maps individually or you can download a bundle (e.g. European maps). You don’t need an internet connect to use this app on the road.

Now that roaming is more affordable, you could also use Google Maps on your phone or do things the old fashioned way and purchase a European road atlas.

Tips & rules for driving in Portugal

It’s a good idea to read up on the different rules for driving in Portugal, things that you should have in your car, and tips for staying safe and making the most of your time here. 

Have you driven to Portugal from the UK, Ireland, or anywhere else? Do you have any tips for roads to take or hotels to stay in? Let us, and Portugalist readers, know in the comments below. 

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66 comments on “Driving Guide: UK To Portugal By Car”

    • There’s often a border fee for taking a car into another country and there may be a mileage limit with some companies. Apart from that it should be doable.

  1. my wife and i and our little dog are getting the ferry from ireland to Bilbao and will be driving to Alvor preferably through Spain .
    anyone done this already with a pet and know where to stop on the way overnight in a pet friendly hotel ?

  2. Hi
    i need to take my car to Lisbon, as have to move from Horley in UK to Lisbon for work, just wondering what is the cheapest way to do this, via ferry crossing or driving through toll roads. please advise

    • Hi Ashley,

      It’s hard for me to estimate it for you as it depends on quite a few factors like how much the ferry ticket from the UK to Spain is, how long you would take to drive through France (some people do it in one day, others two).

      Whenever I’ve costed it, the cheapest option is usually to drive through France, and it’s even cheaper if you stay off the toll roads, but it’s not the most convenient option. You will spent at least a very full day doing this, if not two. The difference in price was often £50-100, so you have to decide what’s most important to you.

      To work it out:

      Start with the price of the ferry ticket (Aferry is good for comparing prices) from the UK to Spain.
      Next, you’ll need to get a UK to France ferry/tunnel ticket price, work out whether you’ll need a night of accommodation, and estimate your fuel costs per km (which will depend a bit on your car).
      The easiest way to get the tolls and fuel price estimate is to use Autoroutes: according to Auto Routes, it’ll cost about €192 to drive from Calais to Bayonne (tolls and fuel).

      Hope that helps.

  3. It is worthwhile in my opinion getting a toll tag from Sanef when travelling through France. Although the cost for passing through the tolls are the same you can use the fast lane which in some places means that you race through whilst others are waiting.

  4. Hi – I’m in central Portugal now but need to drive back to UK – I’m wondering if you know of any websites/groups to find people that might also need to go to UK and prefer to go by car and share costs as the ferry with the cabin is like £300 minimum in December! I’m traveling alone after a house sit went badly wrong. I wouldn’t mind taking a dog/cat as I have a quite big estate car. I thought this would be a good way to share costs and help someone out also. thanks 🙂

    • Hi Ange,

      I’ve had a few housesits go wrong, so I can feel your pain.

      I don’t think there are any specific groups for this, so you would probably need to post a notice in all of the different expat groups. The other thing you could do is register the trips on BlaBlaCar and you might pick up a passenger or two for some of the trip.

      There are websites where you can bid to transport things like Shiply, and it might be worth registering on one or two of them as well as mentioning it in your post. As for dogs and cats, I don’t if there are any websites or groups specifically about transporting them.

  5. Hi! I know you provide information for trips out of the UK to Portugal. But thought the trip "links up" at some point from our departure point Rotterdam. We plan to drive one of our cars from Rotterdam to Portimao first week of December as we are moving there. We want to avoid any mountains so as to avoid any possibility of snow. So does the route outlined via Bordeaux Bilbao down to Valladolid, Salamanca, Badajoz involve any mountains? And does anyone have any experience on driving in December down to Portimao. Just trying to find the most efficient way to get to Portimao. I have been searching including TripAdvisor but could not find any information such as road conditions and any other tips for the journey. We went to the local equivalent of AA but they could not assist with any route planning as where to stop off for the night or the best route to take. We do not want to be in any large towns on the way and we do need secured parking as we will be travelling with some of our personal stuff. We do not expect to drive more than 8-9 hours a day. Would be great to get advice/input from anyone who has actually driven to Portimao and the route they took and where they stopped off for the night and or to take a look around. We are flexible. We planned to take it easy and not get stressed about the trip. Thank you

    • Hi Sultan,

      I drove from the Algarve to Berlin in January/February once and went up the right-hand side of Spain, past Barcelona. I stopped near Girona and also Lyon. I remember there being a lot of snow once I reached Germany, but I don't think I saw it before that.

      Can't really remember the hotels, unfortunately, but the one near Girona might have been there Hotel Costabella. I don't remember it having secure underground parking, but it was a little outside the city centre (but walkable) so reasonably safe.

  6. I would like to bring my son over to our home in the Algarve to but he has been advised not to fly because he is suffering with lung problems caused by chronicle pneumonia. We were thinking about driving to northern Spain to catch the ferry to the UK and bring my son back with us. Is anyone able to advise or recommend the less stressful route to take bearing in mind my son is not in the best of health?

  7. Buenos días, por curiosidad he entrado en tu página para ver cómo desde Inglaterra venís en coche al Algarve. Os recomiendo si venís por España ( autovía de la plata), qué es gratuita, conocer Salamanca, Plasencia, Cáceres o Mérida.

  8. Info on flying if it helps… TAP fly Pets to Faro on a scheduled flight from Heathrow, however this involves 1 stop and a plane change in Lisbon. The charge for a 1 way carriage for a large Dog is 100 euro but you do have to provide your own flight suitable ‘crate’ for the hold. I am just waiting to hear back from them if 1 way means the booking from London to Faro or the stop in Lisbon makes it 2 and hence 200 euro.

  9. I’m just about to drive to castelo branco, from Calais for the second time. It took me about 22 hours, with 6-7 short coffee/toilet breaks.
    I’ve also taken the ferry to Santander, which was 30 hours, of the 2 I preferred driving, although the ferry worked out cheaper.

  10. In October I am takig a ferry from Portsmouth to Santander. I am planning to visit Santiago and drive doen to Porto, then stay a few days there, then drive back to the UK via France. I’ve not planned properly yet but the suggestions above seem great. I am travelling with 2 dogs and one more person. Any advice on taking pets? These are toy breed, very small, and one of them fits in a handbag. I will have all documents for the pets, passports, vaccines, etc, but just want to some advice on places to avoid with pets, where to sleep, any issues with driving with pets in france, spain and Portugal etc. I am planning to spend about 17 days on route using a Peugeot 3008 diesel.

    • Hi Miguel,

      I’d recommend booking a pet-friendly cabin (if you want one) quite far in advance as these sell out quickly on the UK to Spain ferry routes.

      Finding pet-friendly hotels isn’t very difficult, but I will try and do a list of them between now and then. I think in France there is a law where hotels, B&Bs etc all have to accept pets so it’s even easier there.

      Driving with pets usually takes a lot longer than normal driving as you have to stop off quite a bit to walk them and let them go to the toilet. It’s a good idea to factor that into your plans.

  11. Hi I will be travelling from uk by car and ferry to Calais
    However pls can you tell me how I Can get to Porto from uk by ferry

    From Calais to Porto it’s 18 hours drive

    • Hi Fazna

      There’s no ferry to Portugal from the UK. The closest ferry is the ferry from the UK to one of the ports in Northern Spain (see the article above for more information).

  12. Hi there, loving this article and thread. (And in fact the whole site!)

    We are moving to SW Algarve for a trial period in September, and thinking of driving down with our two children (3 and 1 yo) and our two cats, in a car as we don’t have a camper/motorhome. All the stop-offs in Portugal sound great, but are the cats just going to complicate this enormously? We could ship them separately for about £700. Or do you think it is easy to find hotels that will put up with a couple of cats?!

    Do you think it’s worth looking into buying a camper van for our stay (9 months more or less) for the purposes of driving down, and for further adventures whilst there?!

    Thanks in advance.

    • Hey Amy,

      So glad you like the site! It’s still a work in progress, but getting there!

      I think it’s definitely a good idea to do a trial period in the Algarve before committing to moving here.

      As for the driving, I would probably drive down with the cats. I don’t know anyone who has done the trip with cats, but a few people with dogs. I imagine the hotels that take dogs would also take cats, but I’m not sure. I don’t know how you manage toilet breaks with cats, but I have seen people with leads for their cats. Maybe something to get them used to beforehand?

      You could get the ferry from the UK to Northern Spain, and book a pet-friendly cabin. That way they can be in the room with you. Then you could do the trip with just 1 overnight if you wanted to? You could even drive it in one go, although that’s not ideal.

      Alternatively, one person could fly to Portugal with an airline that takes pets.

      As for the campervan, it’s definitely not necessary for the trip but, if it’s something you want to do, it’s something to consider. The Algarve is very campervan-friendly, so it’s a good place to try van living. It would probably mean forgoing a car, though, and a car is a lot more practical for the small streets in most Portuguese towns.

      Hope that helps!

  13. This year we are taking the ferry to St Malo ( previously have gone via Gijon & Bilbao ) heading to the Algarve near Lagoa so would appreciate any tips/ recommendations as to where to stop over. We will be taking 5 days to travel down.

    Chris & Bruce

    • Hey Chris & Bruce,

      If you’re into food, San Sebastian in the North of Spain is a good place to stop. The Parc naturel régional du Marais poitevin just north of La Rochelle in France is also beautiful.

      Maybe some other drivers on here will be able to chime in with other recommendations.

  14. Hi, we are currently in Cascais, having driven down from Bilbao in our camper over the previous 3 weeks. I must say, the “All the Aires in Spain and Portugal”, published by Vicarious Books, was invaluable, helping us to save money by stopping, either overnight or for a couple of days, in places of interest.
    We stopped off in Gijon, A Corûna and Santiago de Compostela in Spain, and they were all really worthwhile. Once in Portugal we tended to stay for longer, on the coast in campsites, for electrical hook-ups and showers etc. We found the Orbitur group have good facilities at a very reasonable price (less than €20/night, with their Camping Club discount, which costs €11, for the year) .
    Now nearing the end of our month away, and it’s been fabulous!! We leave Guincho tomorrow, and have 2 days (3 if you include Wednesday- the ferry leaves at 17.30) to get up into Spain, probably overnighting in Salamanca.
    The ferry (Brittany freight ferry, not much in the way of entertainment, but much cheaper than the “cruise” ferry) cost a reasonable £700-ish, for the 2 of us and a 6metre Mobile home, and, although I’m not particularly looking forward to the 26-odd hour crossing, seems good value to me…
    My advice- just do it!! You’re off the main tourist drag for most of the time, and can stop off wherever you like, and whenever you’re tired.
    Tim n Teresa.

  15. Hello
    I’m planning to travel to albufeira in July via car, not sure whether to go from Santander or Bilbao and what route to take ? Are you able to help?

    • Hi Amelia,

      In terms of driving distance, there’s not much in it. I would probably choose Bilbao, simply because I’ve never been there and it looks interesting but you might not be planning to stop there. Most people get driving as soon as they hit the Spanish coast.

      The route Google suggests is across Spain via Salamanca, down to Badajoz, and then into Portugal. This is a good route to take, especially as there aren’t tolls in Spain. Petrol and diesel are also cheaper here.

      Although it’s not quite half-way, Salamanca is a pleasant city and somewhere that a lot of people stop off at. It’s perfect for an overnight.

      Alternatively, you could drive through Portugal. It would mean you’d get to see a bit more of Portugal, and you could stop off at somewhere like Guarda or Castelo Branco, but it’s going to take longer and be more expensive.

  16. We are creaky joints people but adventurous nevertheless. Considering ferry/road trip UK-Portugal. We’d like to stay in lodges or static caravans on campsites en route if there are such things, any idea please?

  17. Hi James,

    Thanks for this post and all your answers to the comments. We are looking to drive from Lisbon to Paris over 10 days. We like to travel to small towns and tend to only spend a day in the bigger cities.

    What route would you recommend we drive? Of all the places you’ve listed above, are there any must-see small towns you would recommend we stay in?

    Lisbon, Porto and Bordeaux seem to be the ones we should spend a day and night in

    • Hi Trish,

      I’ve visited Salamanca, Burgos, and San Sebastian. Burgos was only for a few hours, but it seemed pleasant. The other two were both very nice. Getting in and out of San Sebastian without a sat nav is tricky for some reason: everyone (including myself) seems to get lost. It does have some great food, though, so worth stopping off at.

      In France, the area around La Rochelle and the Parc naturel régional du Marais poitevin is very nice. I stayed a little further north at Noirmoutier-en-l’Île, which is also recommended if you want to go a little off course. Cognac is also on your route and very nice, if I remember correctly.

  18. Hi James

    I found this article really useful including the article on Portuguese tolls.

    Have been contemplating whether to drive from St Malo to Guarda in Portugal with a 2 year old. Intention was to drive overnight and try and do as much as possible in one go and from your article it appears that maybe a stop in northern spain may be an option to split the trip.

    Any other suggestions you may have would be appreciated. I would add I have never driven in Europe.

    • Hi Philip,

      Thanks for your kind words.

      Driving in Europe is very easy. The roads are good, and there are plenty of places to stop off (more so in France than Spain).

      I’ve always found it hard to get through France without a stop. Google Maps suggests it can be done in about 8 hours on the toll roads, but it seems to take me longer than that. I normally find myself starting to get very tried between Bordeaux and the Spanish border.

      I do think a stop-off is definitely a good idea. One option is San Sebastian which is a really nice city, and I think on your route, but it’s really confusing to get in and out of. If you have a sat nav you’ll be fine, but it always seems to be quite confusing without one.

      I don’t know if you’ve considered this but, if you’re coming from the UK, another option would be to take the ferry to Northern Spain. It’s a long crossing, but easier than driving.

  19. Many thanks we’ll be leaving from north London.
    The plan was get the train across as it’s quicker and then drive for at least 6 hours have a break then make a plan of wear to get to to stop over night.
    I’m used to doing long trips I’ve already had a couple of 600 miles plus in a day this year.
    Thanks for all you’re advice great help.

  20. Hi James
    I’m planning on driving to Vilamoura in August with my teenage son I’m happy to go on toll roads if it’s quicker will I have to pre pay for tolls or simply stop at gates.
    As I’m only planning on stopping off for one night somewhere.
    Many thanks Justin

    • Hi Justin,

      Where are you driving from? The UK?

      Many people drive through Spain to the Algarve as there are no toll roads there, usually joining at around Badajoz, and that might suit you if you’re not really stopping off too long anywhere. In Portugal, most of the toll roads have two options: the electronic Via Verde and an option to pay by cash/card (often manned).

      The electronic toll roads are the issue as they are electronic only, and there are issues with foreign reg cars. This article will show you how to register or pre-pay for them, and it also contains a map of where they all are.

      They’re mainly in the North of Portugal, but there’s also the A22 in the Algarve to watch out for.

  21. Hi James,
    We are planning to drive down through Portugal to the Lagos area at the end of September. We’ll be traveling and camping in a 4×4, and we want to travel on the many off road tracks to visit some of the more secluded parts of the country and coastline that can’t be accessed in a car. Can you tell me where I can get more info on these routes, and the places/regulations of wild camping.

    Many thanks,


    • Hi Nick,

      Wild camping isn’t legal in Portugal mainly because there are big concerns about fires, but also littering. The police do turn an eye to it a lot of the time, but they also do ask a lot a lot of people to move on as well and sometimes fine people as well.

      That said, a lot of people still do it. People tend to park in car parks, and in a lot of the Algarve and the South of Portugal this is tolerated. I’d say that the police are much less likely to tolerate someone off-roading and parking close to the beach.

      • Hi James,

        Thanks for your reply.

        We’ll be sleeping in our truck and not a tent so shouldn’t attract too much attention, so car parks may be the answer.
        I’ve been led to believe that there are many off road trails that can be driven without breaking any laws, so is this not the case then?
        Any info on them would be gratefully received.



  22. I am planning a trip this June (2019) to Euprope for 14 days. I am from Western Australia. My First 14days are being spent in the U.K where I have a hire car booked for a month. I am wanting to travel across to Europe and visit Portugal (Lisbon), Venice and Lake Gardo, Switzerland, Vienna, Prague and Amsterdam. If possible Spain. Have you any information to advise me of as to whether it would be best to self drive, or book a tour to those locations (any sites would be most welcome). If you have any better suggestions/options I would greatly appreciate your feed back. Thanking you in advance.

    • Hi Kerry,

      A car is going to give you a lot more flexibility, and you may need it for more remote places like Lake Garda. It’s worth looking at the trains to see if that’s worth considering. It should be fairly affordable between places like Prague and Vienna, but you may want to consider it for the entire trip as well. Interrail’s 15-day ticket might be worth looking at, and might be cheaper than booking all the journeys separately.

    • Hi Grace, I don’t think there is. You can get a ferry to Northern Spain (the routes change frequently, but Santander and Bilbao are the two current ports) and that’ll cut about 3 or 3 1/2 hours off your drive.

      It’s definitely a bit of a drive, but Northern Spain is very beautiful and worth a visit (if you haven’t already been).


  23. I drive to Portugal from the uk and back again at least 3 times a year and in my experience I never use the French toll roads as they cost over 150 euros between Calais and san sabastian also the fuel is around 20 cents a litre cheaper on the non toll roads. Yes it does take around 5 hours longer but the savings are massive and you also see the little French villages closer up and hotels are cheaper too. There are a lot more speed cameras to be aware of this way but if you stick to the speed limits it’s not a problem.

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