Car Rental in Andalucia
Did you know that Spain is the second most visited country on earth? Yep, it attracts 80 million visitors each year and that really shouldn’t come as any surprise, to be honest. After all, the Iberian peninsula boasts endless beaches, delicious food, diverse culture, friendly people and lovely weather.
Spain was actually the first foreign country I ever visited when I was a small child although my earliest memories of it are of cutting myself quote badly on the beach. After not visiting much as an adult, I recently fell in love with the nation all over again whilst on an epic Andalucian road trip.
Driving In Spain
Spain is a pretty big country (at least by European standards) but it is very well connected by a network of modern, well-maintained fast and efficient highways. Therefore, if you rent a car in Spain then it is quite possible to see a good bit country even if you only have a few weeks to explore. In our case, we only had 9-nights but thanks to our trusty automobile, we managed to do a loop that spanned pretty much the entirety of the Andalucia region.
In this post, I will provide all the essential information you need about renting a car in Spain. This will prepare you for your own Spanish road trip including a few nuggets of wisdom that I wish somebody had shared with me! Pay attention readers, I learned the hard way so that you don’t need to.
Requirements For Car Rental
Spain is in the EU and as such, is strict on the formalities and legalities. To rent a car in Spain you will need a full EU licence, or an international driving licence and many rental companies also require that licence has been held for 12 months. Some companies will rent to drivers under 25 years old but may charge an additional premium.
Most car rental companies in Spain also require a deposit payable by Credit Card only. All forms of Debit cards (including prepaid credit cards) are generally not acceptable. The amount of the deposit required will vary a lot depending on the company in question; some will ask for 200 Euro’s whereas others will ask for nearly 1000 Euro. The deposit will be refunded to your credit card once the car has been safely returned.
Personally, I like to travel with a dedicated credit card which I use only for car rental. This means that my other credit card has its full balance available for any expenditure and emergencies I need to make in my trip. Having multiple credit cards does not in itself, adversely affect your credit rating.
To avoid disappointment, be sure to check that your credit card is valid and has sufficient credit balance to cover the cost of the deposit before you leave home. The desk attendant will not be able to help you if you do not have an acceptable Credit Card. American readers, please note that American Express is been phased out in much of Europe – some agencies may not accept it anymore.
Once you get the car, keep your licence on you and keep the rental papers inside the vehicle. Spanish traffic cops are few and far between but if you do run into one, you will need both of those documents. Police in Spain are fair and approachable but firm in their duties – you can’t simply bribe them as you can in many parts of the world (although I’ve never actually tried).
Picking Up The Car
Rental car agencies have offices throughout Andalucia. Where exactly you wish to collect and return the car will depend on which areas you are visiting but generally, only major cities and tourist hotspots have car rental agencies. The major agency hubs are Malaga and Seville. Granada, Cadiz, and Cordoba are also well serviced. The smaller towns and cities may or may not have a collection and return points and none of the villages do. R
It will usually work out cheaper for you if you collect and return the car in the same place so do see if you can do your trip as some kind of loop. I suggest renting the car in Malaga. With a car, it is very possible to get from Malaga to Malaga and this is what we did. Malaga is also amongst the cheapest airports in the region so I highly recommend using it as your access point for your Andalucian trip.
When you first collect the car, take some time to inspect it for any existing scratches or dents. These should really all be logged on the sheet they give to you but if you find some that are not, however small, take clear photographs with a device that records the date and time and the photograph.
When you return the car, you should ensure it is clean, tidy and has a full petrol tank. Most airports have petrol stations situated just outside them pretty much for this exact purpose.
If you are picking a car up at the airport, please note that you will only be allowed entry to the arrival terminal on the day your flight lands. If you leave the terminal and need to go back in to get your car, you will need your boarding card. This almost caught me out once. Note that the pickup formalities can take some time and that queues can be slow moving. It took us over 2 hours to get our car which slightly impacted our itinerary for the day.
Driving Standards in Spain
The Spanish drive on the right side of the road. This can sometimes be quite confusing for the countless Brits who visit the region. You will notice that around Marbella/Torremolinos a lot of the road signs are written in English reminding motorists t0 keep to the right – this is in recognition of the armies of British expats who have settled in the region.
Spaniards generally drive manual cars. Automatic cars are rare so if you do want one, then I advise contacting the car rental agency well ahead of your trip so they can reserve one for you. If you have only ever driven an Automatic before then a manual will definitely be a learning curve and I am not sure the highways around the airport are the best place to practice.
Driving standards are pretty good but a little more haphazard than what you would see in the UK or the US. Speeding on the motorways is very common and I saw some racing as well as a lot of very dangerous overtaking. To stay safe on your Spanish road trip, stick to sensible, cautious driving.
Weirdly, there are relatively few traffic police around and you are unlikely to be pulled over on your trip.
Much like the Italians, many Spanish drivers are not bothered by the odd bump, dent or scratch in their vehicle. In fact, it is not uncommon for drivers to purposely drive into the bumpers of vehicles parked in front of or behind them to move them along a bit to facilitate parking. If this happens to your rental vehicle you can expect to lose some of your deposit.
The only certain way to avoid this is to be very careful about where you park. It may also be worth taking out full coverage to Insure you against all accidental damage and theft.
If you are going to be driving around Spain then I highly recommend taking some time before your trip to learn some basic Spanish so you can understand road signs. Learning Spanish is not too difficult for English speakers and is a useful life skill.
Parking in Andalucia
One of the biggest drawbacks of renting a car Spain is parking in major cities which can be really difficult. Many of the historic city centers, such as Seville, Cordoba, and Granda, were built long before cars and as such the narrow streets just cannot accommodate them. If you are staying in old Granada or Cordoba, there may not be anywhere to park anywhere near your accommodation. In Granada, we booked an Air B n B with a garage and the higher reservation rate was well worth it. In Seville, we managed to find a car park at just 6 Euro per day but it was a good 5km from our apartment – we needed to take the bus to get there with our bags and cases.
You should think about parking opportunities before you book any accommodation. It is easy to overlook this but do so at your own peril!
As I said, some Air B n B’s do offer on-site parking and high-end hotels usually have on-site parking. Other Air B n B’s may point you towards the nearest car park but this may not always be the cheapest. In these situations always make your own inquiries online rather than simply trusting your hosts’ word.
There are now some great parking apps and websites such as www.parkimeter.fr which will help you find car parks and tell you the prices. Car Parks which allow online bookings are usually cheaper but you need to ensure you have your smartphone with you to scan yourself in and out. In some cases, we booked our online parking minutes before reaching the city!
Parking on the street is possible but don’t count on finding a spot. Improper or “fly parking” may also sometimes be worth a try and we saw a few locals parking right onto the pavement and even blocking access roads in some cases. Spanish Police seem more relaxed (or lazy?) than in other Western countries and seldom enforce parking regulations of their own volition – somebody needs to expressly complain in order for them to take action (which is kind of how it should be).
We had no issues parking in the smaller towns and villages. In the cave town of Guadix near Granada we were able to leave it pretty much anywhere we wanted for free as the cool photos in this article will testify. In Pueblo Mijas, we found a free parking spot which was a 10-minute stroll from the main square and parking there saved us a few euros. There is also a big multi-story near the main square which is about 2 Euro per day.
Many of the coastal resorts such as Marbella and Caja de Mijas have a lot of parking options and the whole sprawl seems to have been built for cars (in fact, the region reminds me of LA). Most apartment complexes and condos have some on-site parking.
Spain’s highway (motorway/freeway/autobahn) system is very impressive and makes driving around Spain fairly straightforward. It stretches across the land tying the nation together magnificently. In Andalucia, the coastal regions are flat and the region becomes mountainous around Granada and the Sierra Nevada. That said, the inclines are gradual. Driving in Andalucia takes in pleasant, and sometimes stunning scenery.
The speed limit on the Spanish Highway is 120KM (74 MPH). Most of the highways are free to use although there are a couple of toll roads in the Andalucia region. These seem to be ones that go under mountains or involve some marvel of engineering that presumably costs a lot to maintain. Any sat nav or Google Maps will offer you an option to avoid toll roads if you wish. That said, the one between Granada and Malaga is well worth the 5 euro fee as it dramatically crosses a suspension bridge overlooking the stunning mountains. Avoiding it may save you 5 Euro but will add around 20 – 40 minutes of your journey and rob you of the view so choose wisely!
We found the Highways to be a lot quieter than ones in many parts of Europe; in fact, we didn’t hit any heavy traffic at all during our whole trip!
Petrol Prices in Spain
There are absolutely loads of petrol stations around the region. The price varies but as a rule of thumb, it was around 1.25 for a litre of unleaded in May 2019. This will fluctuate so check ahead before booking your Spanish car rental.
I noticed that most gas stations had a very impressive selection of beer and wine. This does not mean that drink driving is OK in Spain though. In fact, the limit is 0.5MG which is even lower than in the UK. That means men can drink less than one pint of beer and women less than a half – to stay safe don’t drink on anything more than a small beer from a bar or small bottle or don’t drink before driving at all. Also, if you have had a heavy sesh the night before to avoid driving in the morning and have a big breakfast.
Pros of Renting a Car in Spain
Renting a car in Spain has a lot of advantages.
Some value the sense of freedom it offers – you can simply get up in the morning and set off wherever you want to go.
We found it enabled us to move around a lot faster than we could have done on public transport so we managed to cover a lot of distance and visit a lot of places in a 10-day itinerary. We could not have done this had we sued Public Transport and would have had to drop some destinations from our itinerary.
It also allowed us to visit a lot of small towns and villages which would have been very difficult to visit with a vehicle. The real magic of Spain still lies in its white villages and hilltop castles and no trip to Andalucia is complete without exploring some of them for yourself.
Renting a car also enabled us to make a few unexpected detours and stop-offs along our route. We stopped off to take in the sun Olive groves and also called into a Vine Yard for a quick tour – none of this would have been possible had we taken public transport. There is no afternoon pleasure like making love in the backseat of your vehicle besides a lush, green olive plantation! Our Andalucia visit would not have been the same had we ussed public transport.
Cons of Renting a Car in Spain
Of course, there are some downsides of renting a car in Spain.
Firstly it means you are responsible for looking after an expensive piece of borrowed equipment and that may play in your mind – you can’t simply jump onto the bus or train, relax and enjoy the view.
The biggest annoyance though was finding and paying for parking. We did lose a good bit of time messing around with parking and on some occasions ended up paying out more than we would have liked. That said, we got a lot better at this as the trip progressed and if you follow the advice I have given you then you can avoid the silly, rookie mistakes we made.
We also got lost a few times although with the aid of a Sat Nav we found our way again pretty fast.
The costs of renting a car in Spain can sometimes be more expensive than using public transport. That said, I think in our case, it worked out a good bit cheaper.
Costs of Car Rental in Spain
As a destination, Spain is very reasonably priced compared to other parts of Europe. It is definitely amongst the cheapest destinations in Western Europe to rent a car in.
The per day cost of the rental varies greatly depending on the type of vehicle, the dates, and the collection point. The price will also vary depending on whether you need to take out any “extras” such as an additional mileage allowance, extra insurance a Sat Nav. Breakdown cover and a spare tire or other common examples of extra’s. It is up to you what extras you take
There are some great price comparison sites on the web now which you should try. Pay close attention to what is actually included in the price though and be wary of any “too good to be true” prices you see. Some quotes may not even include basic things like Insurance or a Sat Nav. Many agencies will try to sell you these as expensive add ons once they have hooked you in with the initial “low” price.
I used Auto Europe. They are an online broker who scours the rental market to find the best possible deals. Their search engine is user-friendly allowing you to easily compare models and prices.
To get an idea of prices, I took a look at some prices for rental cars between 6 – 14 August collecting and returning in Malaga airport. I found Midsize cars available from as little as 74 Euro up to 219 Euro. There was plenty of cars available for the 120 Euro mark.
Many airlines are also trying to muscle into the car rental market and will often try to sell you a deal at the same time as booking your ticket. I have no experience of doing this so cannot comment. Personally, though, I find the notion of sorting car rental at the same time as my flight a bit high pressure and prefer to get my ticket sorted and then look at care rental at my leisure. The airline will email you a few days after your booking and then again before your trip trying to entice you so there is nothing to gained by panicking g and rushing into booking with them at the same time as buying your ticket.
As well as the rental cost itself, you need to make allowances for petrol and parking. The price of unleaded petrol is currently around 1.25 Euro per litre as of May 2019. In 10 days I and my girlfriend put around 100 Euro in and covered pretty much the entirety of Andalucia. To estimate your petrol costs, make a rough itinerary of where you want to go, add up the distance between destinations together and then use the formula below;
KM x 1.25 = $
This formula is only a rough guide and you should leave some extra headroom (I suggest 7.5%) in your budget for things such as (1) petrol prices rising (2) burning petrol by getting lost (3) extra day trips and side quests!
Parking costs are a lot harder to estimate. The expensive city car parks usually cap their costs at around 20 Euro for 24 hours but always check this. You can usually find cheaper car parks though (we found one in Cordoba for 6 Euro a day) using www.parkimeter.fr and free/street parking should be possible for at least some of your trip. Planning ahead and booking parking online will always yield savings.
Public Transport in Andalucia
For some, it may prove cheaper to do your Andalucian adventure by public transport depending on precisely where you are going and what you want to see. The bus between Seville and Andalucia is Granada under 20 Euro.
You should also remember to budget for inner city transport such as buses, metro and taxis. The metro and buses are about 1.20 per ride in most cities.
Public transport is great for getting between major cities on popular routes but can become problematic when trying to get off the beaten track. For example, if you are looking to take a tour of the white village then it will prove very difficult on public transport.
In summary, if you are sticking to major cities, visiting relatively few destinations and have a fixed itinerary, then public transport may prove cheaper and easier for you. However, if you want to really explore then renting a car will work out to be great value for you. I think it is usually worth taking a car for at least some of the trip so you can get into the nooks and crannies of the region, visit some Olive Oil refineries and do some cool photo shoots as I did!
The Ultimate Andalucian Roadtrip!
Andalucia is pretty much the quintessential Spain. It is the home of Flamenco, tapas and Sherry wine and is famed as a region of 1000 pretty white, sun-kissed villages.
Start your trip in Malaga collecting your car from the cities airport (named after Pablo Picasso). We will be taking Malaga in later but for now, let’s get onto the road! Head out in the morning towards the mighty Seville but firstly, take a stop at Ronda to admire the famous bridge. If you have an abundance of time, then, by all means, spend the night in Ronda but if you are tight in time then have a stroll around, get your pictures and get back in the car.
Reach Seville by late afternoon in time for a Siesta. Spend a few nights in this fascinating city taking in a flamenco show and then exploring Royal Alcazar (book ahead to skip the line).
Afterward, we drive over to Cordoba either for a long day trip or an overnight stay. Have a late Tapas lunch in La Tata (it’s cheap and delicious) and check out the famous Mezquita and bell tower as soon as they open at 9 am.
Next head towards the mighty, mythical Granada where you can spend your days exploring the Alhambra (book well ahead to avoid disappointment!) and your evenings enjoying free tapas in the many bars. My pick for the tapas is Bodega Castaneda although all the places near Mirador San Nicholas are decent.
The mountain scenery is stunning up here and there are lots of great day trips to do with the car. We took a drive to the cave city of Guadix which was one of the highlights of our trip. An afternoon is usually enough although if you want, you can spend the night in a cave house!
Finally, head back towards the coast for some beach time. There is a beach for everybody down there be it Marbella, Torremolinos or Almeria there is a beach for everybody. We stayed in Caja de Mijas which is a functional but soulless modern resort. It is well situated between Malaga and Marbella and makes a great jumping off point to explore Las Pueblas Blancas, (The White Villages) such as Pueblo Mijas.
To end, I recommend at least a day in Malaga itself before returning the car. Malaga is fun and funky and mixes boozy bars and party hostels with art museums and an utterly stunning cathedral.