Motorcycling in Portugal- Everything you need to know

Motorcycling in Portugal- Everything you need to know

Planning a motorcycle trip to Portugal? Want to see some of the most breathtaking places in Europe? Here’s everything you need to know to go motorcycling in Portugal, including routes and places to visit.

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Motorcycling in Portugal- why you should go!

Portugal has a little bit of everything- dramatic coastline with sandy beaches, caves, mountains, fantastic cuisine and history. Oh, and wine. Lots and lots of lovely wine. It’s wonderfully traditional and many parts of it still feel utterly untouched by the modern world.

One of the best things about motorcycle touring in Portugal is that you can see the differences between the regions, try the local cuisine and really get a feel for the country in a short space of time. It’s also one of the cheapest countries in western Europe, so you can travel on a small budget without much issue.

In this guide, we’re going to share with you everything you need to know to go motorcycle touring in Portugal, including getting to Portugal and planning your route, where to stay, some road trip ideas and places to visit, driving tips and other practical advice to help you have an amazing Portuguese road trip.

We’re also going to share some things NOT to do- like use your dash-cam! (Did you know dash-cams are illegal in Portugal?!)


Motorcycling in Portugal- Where to go

When planning a motorcycle tour of Portugal, the first thing you need to do is decide where you’re going (and how long you have for your adventure!)

How long to go for?

If you’re riding from the UK to Portugal (we’ll cover that shortly), you need to allow at least 2 days to get from arriving in France (by either ferry or Eurotunnel) to Portugal. And that’s 2 days of pretty much solid riding (it’s about 15 and a half hours (1013 miles) from Calais to the north-eastern Portuguese border)

We don’t recommend visiting Portugal if you only have a week or your road trip. It’s too far and all you’ll do is drive there and back. Of course, if you’re going to rent a motorcycle and fly in, that’s perfectly doable in a week (more on that shortly).

If you have a couple of weeks, you can certainly explore a good chunk of Portugal, but you will be doing a lot of riding unless you stick to just the North of the country. Portugal isn’t a huge country- it only takes about 7 hours (470miles) to drive from North to South, so once you’re there it’s easy to see a lot in a short space of time.


Highlights of a Portugal Motorcycling Holiday

Some of the best places to visit when motorcycling in Portugal include:

  • The Algarve – the beaches there are some of the best in Europe
  • Lisbon – one of Europe’s most historical cities
  • Sintra- it really does look like something from a fairytale
  • Alentejo National Park- the largest protected coastal Natural Park in Europe
  • Porto- one of the oldest ports in the world
  • Cape St Vincent- Europe’s most south-westerly point
  • Serra Da Estrela- Portugal’s highest mountain range
  • Duoro Valley- if you like wine, here’s the place to go
  • Megaliths near Évora- these are amazing!

If you enjoy reading books before a trip, here are some we recommend:


When to go motorcycle touring in Portugal 

Portugal has one of the warmest climates in Europe. As such, it’s a magnet for northern Europeans- especially in winter.

Motorcycling in Portugal in winter

Portugal is great in winter. It’s one of the warmest places in Europe in February with average temperatures of over 16°C. The nice thing about Portugal during the winter is most places remain open, as so many tourists still visit, so it doesn’t all shut down like many other countries in Europe. (Of course, some campsites do choose to close, but there are still plenty open all year.)

However, not everywhere in Portugal is warm in winter. Expect snow and skiing in the mountains- especially in Serra Da Estrela (the highest mountain range).

Touring Portugal in summer

For us, summer in Portugal is just too hot. Average temperature in the Algarve in August is 29°C- that’s the AVERAGE. Because we travel with a dog, we try to avoid hot places like this and go motorcycling in Norway or other places with mountains and cooler air.

Also, it gets crowded in summer. Crazy crazy crowded. Beaches are packed and queues for tourist attractions are long. Being crammed in, in hot weather, doesn’t appeal to us at all.

Motorcycling in Portugal in Spring and Autumn

As with most of Europe, Spring and Autumn are perfect times to explore Portugal. The weather is still warm (average of 19.8°C in April and 22°C in October), but the crowds from summer have gone and you might even get stretches of beach all to yourself.

If you enjoy hiking, this is a great time to visit, especially in Spring when the flowers are blooming.

TOP TIP: If you are travelling outside of peak season, definitely get an ACSI CampingCard- you’ll save a fortune on campsites all over Europe, including Portugal


Driving from the UK to Portugal

Did you know that Portugal and England have the oldest alliance in the world, dating all the way back to 1373?! If you’re planning a motorcycle trip to Portugal, there are a couple of options from the UK, assuming you’re bringing your own vehicle (if you’re flying in and hiring, we’ll deal with that shortly.)

There are two ways people get their motorbikes to Portugal- motorcycle through France and Spain or take the ferry to Spain and then ride into Portugal. There are pros and cons to each.

Generally, taking a ferry from the UK is much more expensive than driving through France (depending on the time of year and type of cabin you choose).


Ferry from the UK to Portugal

There are no direct ferries from the UK to Portugal. You can travel with Brittany Ferries from Portsmouth or Plymouth and go to either Santander or Bilbao (both on the north coast of Spain)- those are the closest ports to Portugal. (Bilbao is about a 5-hour drive from the Portuguese border- 480km)

A one-way trip on either ferry from the UK takes about 24 hours and booking a cabin is recommended. They also have dog kennels onboard if you want to bring your dog.

The biggest consideration to this ferry (apart from the cost), is the weather. You will be crossing the notorious Bay of Biscay- and it can get ROUGH. Even in the middle of summer. As someone who gets seasick (hilarious considering I’m ex-Navy and lived on boats for 15 years), I avoid this crossing and prefer to drive from the UK through France to Spain and then Portugal, but it’s entirely up to you.

Driving routes through France to Portugal

If you decide that you want to ride your motorbike (or drive, if you’re motorcycle camping with a van) through France down to Portugal, you first need to decide if you’re going to take the ferry or Eurotunnel from UK to France (there are pros and cons to both).

The quickest route from Calais is via Le Mans and Bordeaux, crossing into Spain at San Sebastian. Then head towards Valladolid and you’re nearly in Portugal. It takes about 18 hours from Calais and you can join this route easily if you decide to come over on a ferry to Caen, Le Havre, Dieppe or Cherbourg.

Can I ride to Portugal in the Winter?

Yep. I know there are several huge mountain ranges (especially the Pyrenees), but generally the routes are all open, unless you happen to be really unlucky and hit it in the middle of a snowstorm -do check the weather forecast before travelling. My husband got this wrong many years ago and had to battle for two days on a bike (with a pillion) in a snowstorm. It was so bad he STILL talks about it!

If this happens, then we recommend stopping for the night somewhere safe and then continuing on when the snow has stopped and the roads have been cleared. Don’t forget you will need all-weather tyres in winter- more on that shortly. Alternatively, change your plans completely and go motorcycling in Croatia instead


Borders / Customs in Portugal

There is no border control if you’re driving between Spain and Portugal. However, there are restrictions on how much tobacco and alcohol you can carry and it must all be for personal use.

Also, now that the UK is a third country, you are only allowed to carry:

  • Wine/ Spirits: 2 litres
  • Perfumes: 50 grams of perfume/ 250 ml EDT
  • Coffee: 500 grams/ Coffee extracts and coffee essences – 200 grams
  • Tea:100 grams/ Tea extracts and tea essences – 40 grams

You can find a full list of all current allowances here


Hiring a motorcycle to tour Portugal 

If you don’t have your own bike, or don’t have time to ride all the way to Portugal, you can easily fly in and hire one. Just make sure to ask how to get from the airport to the rental agency- not all of them are at the airport itself and you might need to book a taxi.

To rent a motorcycle in Portugal most places will expect you to be:

  • 18 years or over, depending on the company’s rental policy and size of bike.
  • Have a minimum of 1 years riding experience
  • show identification (identity card for EU citizens or a valid passport for other nationalities) 

Make sure you have proof that you can take the vehicle across a border into Spain if that’s what you’re planning to do.

Don’t forget, it is YOUR responsibility to make sure the vehicle has the required safety equipment. The on-the-spot fines apply to you as the rider, not the company. Check in advance with the company what kit they will provide with the vehicle and what you will need to bring.

Take a list of what is legally required with you and check it off one by one as you are given the handover. Do not drive until you are happy you comply with the local laws.

You can expect to pay anywhere from 80€-180€/ day- based on model. Make sure you ask the right questions to know what’s included in your rental, such as:

  • Mileage limits/ surcharge
  • Kit included
  • Luggage included
  • Helmet rental available
  • Pillion allowed
  • Breakdown/ insurance cover
  • Times & location of pick up/ drop off
  • Documents needed

Motorcycling in Portugal- what gear do you need to carry?

Just like most of Europe , there are certain things you MUST carry with you whilst motorbike touring in Portugal.

Don’t forget, if you are motorcycling through Spain & France to get to Portugal, you need all the kit required by those countries, as well as the kit needed in Portugal.


Things you need to ride in Portugal- safety gear

These are the things you MUST have with you when you’re motorcycle touring in Portugal.

  • Wearing a helmet is mandatory for riders and pillions and you will be fined for breaking this
  • It is NOT mandatory to wear any other protective gear- but I highly advise that you do!
  • Hi-vis reflective jackets – you must wear them on the side of the road or hard shoulder or risk being fined. You do NOT have to ride with one on if you don’t wish to.
  • You do not need headlight beam converters on a motorcycle in Europe unless your headlight points dramatically to the left.
  • Country (UK) sticker attached to the back of bike on reg plates. (NOT the EU or GB sticker anymore!)
  • If you wear glasses you MUST carry a spare pair

TOP TIP: Buy these essentials for riding in Portugal in advance. If you wait until you’re at the ferry/ tunnel, you could spend THREE times as much!


Recommended bike accessories you MIGHT need when motorcycling in Portugal

The following kit are things you might need to carry in your kit.


What documents do you need to road trip in Portugal?

Unlike motorcycling in the UK, if you’re riding in Portugal, you need to carry the following documents:

  • Passport (or identity card)
  • Driving licence (check it is in date!)
  • Motorcycle Insurance documents- check you are covered for riding in Europe
  • Breakdown cover
  • Vehicle V5 logbook (which must show your correct address)
  • Vehicle must be legally taxed and MOT’d
  • International Driving Permit if required
  • Personal travel insurance

Do I need an international driving permit to drive in Portugal?

Most UK citizens do not need an IDP to drive in Portugal, as long as you have a card driving licence issued in the UK (in date, of course!)

You might need one if you have:

  • a paper driving licence only
  • a licence issued in Gibraltar, Guernsey, Jersey or the Isle of Man

Using a Dash-cam in Portugal

This warrants its own section, because so many people don’t realise the law. Using a dash-cam in Portugal is illegal as it’s against the law to film people or other peoples’ property. Not just that, but OWNING a dash-cam is illegal in Portugal.

So, if you do have a dashcam, or a Go Pro, you might want to consider not using it in Portugal and putting it away. The fines for disobedience can be up to 1,500€


Motorcycle stopovers & overnight parking in Portugal

In Portugal, there are several types of stopovers you can use.

  • Campsites
  • B & Bs
  • Hotels
  • Hostels

Portugal Camping sites for motorcycles

It’s easy to find motorcycle campsites in Portugal and they’re much like campsites anywhere else in Europe. Some are rustic and have very basic facilities, while others are designed for long-term visitors and have entertainment, clubs, pools and bars!

Campsites in Portugal are often a lot cheaper than you might expect, especially if you’re used to other countries in western Europe. Some are as little as 2€/pp/ night- but they are very basic.

Many campsites have large pitches, excellent (and clean) facilities and stunning views. And most have staff who speak excellent English.

TOP TIP: If you’re touring Portugal in summer, make sure to get a pitch with shade. You’re going to need it when the sun gets hot! However, don’t forget if you’re solo motorcycle touring, you’ll need to carry all your camping gear yourself.

TOP TIP: If you’re planning to stay in one area for a long time (30+ days), negotiate a special rate with the campsite directly. Most of them have some sort of discount- some are as little as £10/ day, including electric.


Yes. They DID ban wild camping in Portugal at the beginning of 2021… and then they changed the law again. So it is ok to stay off-grid, even if you’re campervanning in Portugal.

motorbike touring in Portugal- everything you need to know to plan your tour
motorbikes in Portugal

Driving and motorcycle laws in Portugal

The road network in Portugal is apparently one of the best in Europe (according to a Portuguese website) but the country has one of the highest accident rates in Europe.

Portuguese drivers rarely use indicators and will regularly cut wildly across several lanes to reach an exit. Police are trying to stop this (and other stupid driving behaviours) but it means fines for speeding and/ or reckless driving are high and must be paid on the spot. The worst areas are around Lisbon, Porto, on the A1 and A2 and in the Algarve- ride with extreme caution in these spots.

There is a four-lane motorway (auto estrada) running from Lisbon to Porto(about 360miles) and multiple good-quality two lane highways (many of which are toll roads.)

Road surfaces are generally good on major roads, but some secondary roads are not well surfaced and need to be ridden with care, especially on sports bikes.

Let’s cover the basic rules and some tips for motorcycling in Portugal:

  • Portugal drives on the right
  • Vehicles coming FROM the right have priority at junctions
  • On roundabouts, vehicles already on the roundabout have right of way.
  • Speeds are in km/h, not mph (you might want to change the setting on your motorcycle sat-nav)
  • Failing to stop at a “Stop” sign can lead to a fine of up to €2,500
  • It is illegal to ride with headphones connected to a sound device
  • You need dipped headlights during the day
  • It is illegal for a motorbike to carry passengers under the age of seven
  • Handsfree kits are allowed
  • It is forbidden to use a dashcam or radar detector for speed cameras
  • Road surfaces are generally pretty good in towns and cities, but can be bad in the countryside.
  • Trams always have priority everywhere- keep eyes in the back of your head if you’re driving near a tram network.
  • Emergency vehicles and military vehicles have priority over other road users.
  • There is no border control between Spain and Portugal – you can just ride right in

Is filtering/ lane splitting legal in Portugal?

Legal? No. Does ‘everyone’ do it? Yes. Common advice from people who live/ ride in Portugal is if the traffic is stopped, you can filter to the left. If there is a solid line, don’t cross it, but dash is ok. But there is a chance of a fine if caught, so filter/ lane split at your own risk.


Roads in Portugal

There has been a lot of money spent in recent years to build new roads (hence all the tolls!) Most of the major roads have been resurfaced and are pretty good, but there are many older roads in more rural areas which are in poorer condition. There are also plenty of off-road trails if you have a scrambler/ trail bike.

Traffic Lights in Portugal

Traffic lights use the 3 colour system. There is no amber signal after the red, and a flashing amber light indicates “caution”. A flashing or constant red light indicates “stop” and is used near level crossings and to give warning of an obstacle.

Speed Limits in Portugal (unless otherwise signed!)

Breaking the speed limit could result in either an on-the-spot or an automatic fine being sent to you.

Motorcycles:

  • 120 km/h (74mph) on motorways and some dual carriageways
  • 100km/h (62mph) on major roads
  • 90 km/h (55 mph) on minor roads (out of town)
  • 50 km/h (31 mph) in built-up areas

Speed Cameras in Portugal

Many roads have automatic speed cameras on in Portugal and they’re quite happy to send tourists a fine through the mail.

You might also find random traffic lights, which turn to red in the middle of nowhere if you’re speeding and make you wait for a couple of minutes before turning to green so you can move off again. These are surprisingly effective!

Drink Drive law in Portugal

Alcohol laws are stricter in Portugal than the UK. The legal limit is 0.05% blood alcohol (the UK is 0.08%) and applies to the driver of any motorised vehicle. If you’ve had your license for under 3 years, the limit is 0.02%

– A blood alcohol level between 0,5 g/l and 0,8 g/l is considered a serious offence, and it is sanctioned with a driving inhibition between 1 month and a 1 year and a fee payment of an amount from 250 up to 1.250 euros. 
– A blood alcohol level between 0,8g/l and 1,2g/l is a very serious offence, sanctioned with a period of driving inhibition between 2 months and 2 years and a fee payment of an amount from 1.250 up to 2.500 euros.  
– A blood alcohol level of 1,2g/l or more is considered a crime, that can be punished with imprisonment up to 1 year or fee penalty up to 120 days, and driving inhibition between 3 months and 3 years.

Low Emission zones in Portugal

Portugal does have one low emission zone in Lisbon. About 33% of the city is inside it, so be careful if you drive in.

Click here for more detailed information about how to find zones across Europe.


Tolls in Portugal

There are two types of toll in Portugal- both on motorways:

  • traditional motorways with toll booths, where payment is made by cash, bank card or electronic tolls.
  • Purely electronic toll motorways. In order to use these roads, you MUST have an electronic device in your vehicle.

Easy Toll

Easy Toll uses your bank card and number plate to take payments. You enter your card details at a sign up location on the border and get a photo of your registration plates taken. The system will then deduct toll payment from your bank card every time your vehicle passes a toll gate.

Signing up costs 0.74 euros, plus a 0.32 euro administrative fee. 

This method is valid for 30 days, and the tickets issued at the toll must be kept as proof in case of a problem. You can find out more on the Portugal tolls website

Via Verde

If you regularly use toll roads, it may be worth signing up to the Via Verde scheme which takes you through the fast lane without having to stop and pay.

Via Verde is the only system which works on ALL the Portuguese motorways. It also covers a decent section of Spanish toll roads too. You buy a transponder and then get charged or what you use. The nice thing about them is that once you have one, it doesn’t expire, so it’s valid for whenever you return to Portugal.

e-Movis

Personally, we use e-Movis for tolls all over Europe and we’ve never had a problem. These allow you to use the VIA-T lanes in Portugal

It’s worth noting that you need a DIFFERENT e-Movis tag for Spain and Portugal (one does both countries), than you do for France. So if you’re driving from the UK to Portugal, you will need at least 2 e-Movis toll tags and you’ll need to remember to switch them over.

Pre-paid Toll Card

This system is relatively straightforward and handy instructions are written on each card.

You buy a pre-loaded card with either 5, 10, 20 or 40 euros. You then activate the card with an SMS message, using the code printed on the card and the licence plate of the vehicle. 

There is a service cost of 0.74 euros for each card purchased. 

If you head home with credit still on your toll card you can get this refunded – just return it to the main post office in Portugal, the CTT.

There is also a Toll Service, which is a pre-loaded card with unlimited use for 3 days or previously defined journeys.

You can purchase these at the CTT post office, online at www.tollcard.pt or at various service areas.

This website also shows how much each toll road will cost, so might be worth a look when you’re planning your route through Portugal.


Motorbiking in Portugal- what to do in the event of a road traffic accident

You should have a European Claim Form provided by your insurer before you leave. In the event of an accident, all parties complete and sign the form at the scene and then send a copy to your insurer for assessment.

What to do at the scene:

  • Stop your vehicle immediately but safely- out of the flow of traffic if possible.
  • If a vehicle is blocking the road, use hazard lights and put the red warning triangle 30 metres from the scene to warn approaching traffic
  • Exchange your details with the other involved parties. Be sure to get:
    • Name and address of all the people involved in the accident
    • Vehicle registration numbers of all parties
    • Insurance company details of all parties
    • Take photos of damage using a camera, GoPro or phone

For more details, read this step-by-step guide on dealing with a road traffic accident in Europe


Other essential tips for motorbike touring in Portugal

Getting Fuel

Petrol and diesel are widely available. Many fuel stations are 24h on the main roads and are self-service with card machines.

Petrol is Sem chumbo (95 / 98) – Green handles on pump

Diesel is Gasóleo or Diesel. Black or yellow handles on pump

It is not allowed to carry fuel in cans, even in small amounts, so be careful if you have a vehicle and want to carry fuel for your motorbike.

Some places are 24h pay at the pump, but may require you to go into the shop and pay the cashier either in advance or after you’ve filled up- there will be a sign to tell you what to do. (Leave your car in front of the pump and make a note of the pump number.)

You can pay using cash or a credit card. Many places do NOT take American Express. You can usually use your UK cards without a problem.

NOTE: It is illegal to run out of petrol when crossing Lisbon’s mile-long 25 de Abril bridge.


Motorcycle touring in Portugal- security

Portugal has a lower crime rate than many other countries in Europe, but motorcycle thefts do happen, as does petty theft and pickpocketing.

We highly recommend paying extra attention to your motorbike security when travelling in Portugal. I know it’s not always possible, but try not to leave your bike unattended in an unsecure area.


More useful things to know about bikelife in Portugal

Some more tips to help you enjoy your time in Portugal.

Emergency Numbers: 112 will get you everything

Language– The Portuguese are pretty good at languages. Portuguese is spoken, along with Spanish. Many of the younger generation speak English well.

Currency– Euro

Cards– most major credit and debit cards are accepted. American Express is only taken in large stores (not at tolls and often not at fuel stations)

Timezone– GMT+1 (or one hour ahead in BST)

Mobile Phone and Internet – It’s usually possible to use your UK phone and data in Portugal, but do check with your provider.

Tipping- Tipping is not expected but appreciated. 5% – 10% in restaurants is standard if you are happy with the service.

Shops– Food prices are pretty inexpensive. Traditionally, shops are open from Monday to Friday, from 9 or 10 a.m. to 7 p.m. Some close for lunch from 1 to 3 p.m. On Saturdays, shops generally close at 1 p.m. though in city centres some are open in the afternoon. Many shops close on Sundays. Bigger supermarkets may be open, but will close at lunchtime.

Don’t confuse Portugal with Spain- the Portuguese are very proud of their culture and heritage. They enjoy life at a slower pace and there are plenty of queues.


Food and Drink in Portugal

Markets are the hub of life in Portugal. You’ll find one in every village, town and city, with a range of local produce for sale. Many people in Portugal only ever eat seasonally, so local dishes will change depending on time of year.

Make sure you have cash (including small change) and bring your own bags. Pay attention to the signs in these car parks- they will say when the market is and if you are unable to park on certain days.

Local dishes in Portugal to try include:

  • pastel de Belém/ pastel de nata- DELICIOUS custard tart
  • Francesinha – ham and cheese sandwich
  • Caldeirada de Peixe -stewed fish
  • Salt cod or bacalhau

Touring Portugal with a dog

Portugal is slowly becoming more dog-friendly. Dogs are now welcome in cafes and restaurants and are allowed on trains- make sure you have a muzzle and their paperwork.

They are not allowed on many beaches in summer and are not allowed into public places like museums. Small dogs in crates are allowed on buses and trams; large dogs are unwelcome on most of them.

Don’t forget how hot it gets in summer and to make sure your dog is comfortable.

To return into the UK you’ll need a vet on the continent to administer a worming treatment and then allow between 24 hours and 5 days before re-entering the UK.

Be warned, there are MANY stray dogs (and cats) in Portugal- more than I’ve seen anywhere else in Europe. Feeding them is a bit like feeding seagulls…


Using a drone in Portugal

You are allowed to take and fly your drone in Portugal, but they are VERY hot on privacy laws and recording people without their permission- especially if you then upload the footage to Youtube or something.

READ MORE: What’s the best travel drone (and how to choose)

Drones and similar remote-controlled flying devices must be kept at least a minimum 150m from people, vehicles and buildings that are not connected with the drone operator. Flying must happen in daylight only and up to a maximum height of 120m. Never fly closer than 5km to airports. The drone must always remain within the sight of the operator.

Please check for local regulations and military or other special restricted areas where all the aforementioned activities are forbidden by law. Here are current rules.


DISCLAIMER: This post was last updated in October 2021. We try to keep it as up to date as possible, but cannot be held responsible for any changes made to the law since the last update. If you do find any discrepancies, please do let us know. Thanks.

Motorcycle touring in Portugal- complete guide. Everything you need to plan your motorbiking trip to Portugal or go motorcycling in Portugal. Best Portugal motorcycling routes and places to visit, plus tips and essential things to know.
Motorcycle touring in Portugal- complete guide. Everything you need to plan your motorbiking trip to Portugal or go motorcycling in Portugal. Best Portugal motorcycling routes and places to visit, plus tips and essential things to know.

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