If you want to visit Central Portugal, there are several different ways to get here. The quickest and easiest is to fly into either Porto or Lisbon airport, and then to hire a car . The journey time from Porto airport to Coimbra would be approximately 1 hr 20 mins , using the motorway toll road. From Lisbon it would take approximately 1hr 50 mins, using the toll road .( Unless there are traffic hold ups)
When you come to the first toll booths,make sure you get in the queue where there is a barrier in place, ( above is a simplified picture of coins)and take a ticket from the machine . There are lanes where cars drive straight through without stopping , (they have a green V above the lane), these are for people who have electronic tickets on their windscreen, which register the charge. Don’t be tempted to use them, as when you come to the exit toll without a ticket you will have to pay the maximum toll charge, which is much more expensive !
It is possible to travel on b roads and miss the toll charges,but I would not advice using them. I went to Porto on them once and it took more than twice as long, was not particularly scenic, and I probably used the toll costs in extra petrol.
It is an easy drive from Porto or Lisbon to Coimbra, especially if you use a sat nav ,as long as you are comfortable driving on the right hand side of the road, and are not a nervous driver. An important fact to be aware of is the scary way the Portuguese drive. It takes a bit to get used to, and is not for the faint hearted.
When behind the wheel of a car, some Portuguese seem to change from a polite gentle race into what can be only described as suicidal maniacs . On the motorway it is not so noticeable . However once you leave the motorway at Coimbra, to discover the towns and villages of Central Portugal, it becomes much more obvious.
There are several issues to be aware of. The first is tailgating .Many locals drive so close behind you it is unnerving, it is tempting to speed up, but they will just do the same, so don’t bother. The second and more worrying thing is seeing them driving towards you on your side of the road ! A regular practise here (for many) is to drive in the middle of the road, or even worse on the wrong side of the road . It is the Portuguese way of “straightening” the windy roads, and one which I still find a bit hair raising . I have met cars, lorries and buses coming towards me on my side of the road, on straight roads and blind bends, and on the odd occasion have had to almost drive off the road to avoid a collision. The good thing is the roads are usually very quiet, but it is good to be aware.
My advice is to take things slowly, and not to speed up when a car is close behind. They will overtake eventually. Also remember to drive near to the kerb , and away from the central white line. After a while it becomes a habit to stop looking in the mirror when a car is close behind and to drive close to the kerb.
The great thing about driving in Central Portugal, is that dotted around are lots of nice little picnic spots, and river beaches where you can stop for a break , enjoy the beautiful scenery and sunshine listen to the birds and smell the wonderful aromas of pine and eucalyptus. It is a beautiful area , and the flexibility of travelling by car means it is possible to stop when and where you please .
Finally, it is important to give some thought about re- fuelling . Whilst travelling on the motorway, there are petrol stations at regular intervals. However, once you start travelling on the smaller roads , it is possible to drive quite a long way without coming across any . Therefore I would recommend that once you are down to a half tank , fill up at the next opportunity.
On my first trip to Portugal I was driving with a friend and had picked up the car in Madrid, Spain.We filled up just before the border, ( as petrol was cheaper in Spain) . We then drove for 3 hours, and never saw a petrol station open on the way Were we glad we filled up when we did !
At the present time ,with the present exchange rate ,petrol is about the same price as it is in the Uk ,although Diesel is a little cheaper . ( unleaded 1,65€ Diesel 1,40€ per l )
If you want any more info on driving in Portugal , don’t be afraid to ask .
Bom Viagam !!
A few useful Portuguese words
Diesel – gasoleo
Unleaded Petrol – Sem chumbo 95 & 98
Ha’ um/uma ? Is there a?
Onde esta ? Where is ?
Quanto ? How much
Approximate Distances and times from Coimbra to some villages and towns in Central Portugal
( using a TOM TOM set to quickest route)
FIGUERA DE FOZ 53 KMS 35MINS
PENELA 31KMS 34 MINS
CONIMBRIGA 20 KMS 25 MINS
BUCACO 27 KMS 30 MINS
GOIS 50 MINS 44 KMS
ARGANIL 57 KMS 45 MINS
PIODAO 93 KMS 1 HR 29 MIN
MANTEIGAS (Serra De Estrella ) 121 KMS 2hr 05 MINS
COJA 65 KMS 50 MINS