Driving in Porto: 5 life saving tips

Driving in Porto can be frustrating because there is a lot of traffic (and a lot of construction work going…

Sara Riobom
3 de January de 2024

Driving in Porto can be frustrating because there is a lot of traffic (and a lot of construction work going on at the moment) and the road is filled with impatient drivers, but it can be worth it if you are planning to do some day trips to Douro Valley (or other places in Northern Portugal) or to explore the country by car.

As it is a somewhat challenging activity, I did this list of 10 life saving tips to driving in Porto. I hope it proves useful to you! 🙂

Do you really need a car in Porto?

If you already have decided that YES, you need to rent a car, then check AutoEurope, a price aggregator that will give you the best prices of the market. If not, just hear me out.

It may seem counterproductive that, in an article about the top tips 5 for driving in Porto, I am asking you to consider if you really need a car in this city. But I think it’s a question worth asking. It is not easy to drive in the center of Porto: it is a compact city, with a small historic center, full of traffic and where parking is difficult. Furthermore, the Portuguese are erm, creative drivers and it is challenging to share the road with them. I know it because I am one of them 😛

However, renting a car in Porto allows you much greater freedom of movement, mainly because public transport doesn’t work very well there, with the exception of the Porto metro.

Personally, I think the following rule applies:

if your trip consists of staying in Porto for a few days, it’s not worth renting a car. Take the Porto metro or hire a private transfer from the airport to the city center and enjoy a few days of rest.

If, on the contrary, you want to explore the fantastic day trips from Porto or venture south, in the direction of Lisbon, then definitely rent a car as it will prove most useful.

If you have decided to rent a car in Porto I recommend you to use AutoEurope, a price aggregator that will give you the best prices of the market. And, if so, keep on reading this article about the best tips for driving in Porto!

Top 5 driving tips in Porto

1. Plan your departure time taking account traffic 

construction works downtown porto

You should always plan your trip taking into account a good amount of traffic and with some time to spare, in case something unforeseen happens.

This seems obvious but it becomes particularly important if you drive in the center of Porto, where several works are taking place at the same time. The main works take place in these specific areas/streets:

– Avenida da Liberdade / São Bento train station / Rua dos Clérigos / Largo dos Lóios: construction of a new metro station is taking place in this area.

– Campo Alegre / Galicia: construction of a new metro station is taking place in this area.

– Ceuta Tunnel / Rua do Rosário: construction of a new metro station is taking place in this area.

Therefore, if you are driving near these areas, bear in mind that they are areas with a lot of traffic, so it is best to leave early. In general, I also always use Google Maps to calculate travel times, because it tends to be accurate.

In addition to these areas, if you are going to use the VCI – Via de Cintura Interna, which is a motorway ring that surrounds and crosses the city of Porto, bear in mind that there is usually a lot of traffic there during rush hours (from 8:30 am – 10:30 am and from 5:30 pm – 8 pm).

2. Take advantage of parking near subway stations

Many of Porto’s metro stations have large car parks right next to them, open-air and free. So, a good way to avoid city center traffic is to park your car in one of these parking lots and then take the metro. This is definitely one of my best tips for driving in Porto!

These are the Porto metro stations with free parking spaces right next to them:

parking lots near porto metro stations

3. Hassle free payment of parking spots on the street

In the city of Porto, parking on public roads is paid in Zones I, II, III, IV, between 9am and 7pm, except holidays, from Monday to Friday, and in Zone I on Saturday, between 11am and 4pm.

These are the Limited Duration Parking Zones (ZEDL) in Porto:

Red: Zone I (the most expensive)
Yellow: Zone II
Blue: Zone III
Green: Zone IV (the cheapest zone)

Parking on public roads has a maximum duration that varies between 2h and 10h, according to signage established at the location.

The current rates are:

parking prices downtown porto

To park in Limited Duration Parking Zones (ZEDL), you must obtain a valid parking permit. The ticket can be purchased physically at the parking meter (option A), or virtually, through the available electronic payment systems: Telpark and Via Verde Estacionar (option B).

These are the instructions to do Option A (using a parking meter):

0. Find a parking meter on the street, near the place where you decided to park.

1. Press the green button to activate the parking meter.

2. Insert coins. The accepted currencies are: €0.05, €0.10, €0.20, €0.50, €1.00, €2.00. The machine does not give change, as the entire amount you insert  is converted into parking time.

3. Press the green button to issue the title or the red button to cancel it.

4. Place the title on a visible place inside the front of your car (I usually place it on the tablier).

* * *

These are the instructions to use option B (electronic payment system):

As far as I know, Via Verde Estacionar is only available for residents, but Telpark is an amazing app that you can use to park your car safely on the street.You can pay using a credit card (VISA / MasterCard / American Express) or by Paypal. These are the instructions to use Telpark:

0. Download the app (available for iOS and Android)

1. Open the app Telpark on your phone and choose the option “Parquímetro” and then “Iniciar estacionamento”. Then you need to fill in these fields:

– Veículo (vehicle)

– Cidade (city)

– Tarifa (Tariff)

– Zona (zone)

– Duração (duration)
– Meio de Pagamento (payment method)

And then hit the button “Confirmar” (which means confirm, in English”). It ‘s that easy but if you need more information, please check Telpark’s website.

4. How to pay for tolls on the Portuguese highways

Most of the motorways (‘A’ roads with blue signs) are toll roads. If you haven’t got a special electronic device fitted to your car, make sure you don’t drive through the ‘Via Verde’ channel as you will be charged for the entire stretch of motorway when you leave because you won’t have a ticket to prove where you entered the toll road.

Therefore, when you rent a car in Porto (or anywhere else in the country) make sure to ask for the “Via Verde” service. You will pay a little extra BUT you will be saving yourself a lot of time, because if you don’t use the “Via Verde” service (which automatically debits the tolls value on your credit card)  you’ll have to pay at the post office a few days later if you’re driving a Portuguese-registered vehicle. This is not practical if you are only here on holiday, because the post office system takes 2 days to register your tolls so if you are leaving the country within two working days of driving through your last toll, you can’t pay in person.

An increasing number of toll roads don’t have toll booths and you are charged as you drive through a metal structure fitted with cameras. Again, the best way to pay for these tolls is to have the “Via Verde” activated on your rental car.

All car rental companies offer the use of an electronic device that registers any toll fees you incur while driving a Portuguese-plated car in Portugal – the “Via verde” system I was telling you about. This is a piece of equipment worth paying for – it costs between €1.50 to €2 per day, capped at about €20.

If you are using the “Via Verde”, you can also drive through the green Via Verde lanes at the traditional toll booths instead of paying on the spot. This saves you time as you don’t have to stop the car and means you can pay for all your tolls using the same method.

5. Driving in Porto: Portuguese people don’t really respect the driving code

… it is true. As a Portuguese myself, I can assure you that Portuguese people take the driving code with a pinch of creativity, meaning that we usually drive over the speed limits (inside and outside the city), we tend not to use the indicators when we want to change lanes and we tend to park creatively, on top of sidewalks mostly.

This doesn’t mean that YOU should not follow the driving code, quite the contrary – you should follow it but, because you shouldn’t expect the locals to do it, you should drive carefully.

6. Portuguese people cross the road whenever they want, so be careful

One of the things that surprises me most when I walk in European cities is how much people respect traffic lights as pedestrians. This is because in Portugal people don’t wait for the light to turn green for pedestrians, but they cross whenever there is a gap, taking advantage of it.

So, when driving, make sure you are aware of pedestrians who decide to cross the road at any time, in any place.

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