Long story short, car parking in Spain is a challenge: in most city centers on-street parking is usually paid and controlled.
If you are like me you will want to get out of the cities and explore the small towns in Spain. Not only are they usually more picturesque and quieter, but often they give a truer version of the people and culture of Spain.
To get to the towns you will most likely need to rent a car. Some places you can get to by bus or train, but the easiest and most direct way which also gives you freedom is by rental car.
Spanish towns and villages are not meant to be seen through the car window. Find a parking spot and get out and walk around the town.
However, car parking in Spain can be a daunting experience.
As soon as you arrive at a town that you want to explore, follow the signs to a tourist office as there is often parking. Stop at the tourist center and ask for suggestions on where to leave your car.
Avoid driving through the center of any town or village. The streets all tend to be narrow, often on hills, full of one-way streets and are difficult to navigate if you have never been there before.
Where can you park your rental car in Spain?
It really depends on the size of the city or town you are visiting.
As a rule of thumb, there are the most common options where you can park your rental car in Spain.
1. Free car parks in the outskirts
Most big cities have a number of dissuasive car parks open to the public (most of them free of charge). They are the best option to avoid entering the city center suing your car. Instead, you can park there and use the public transport.
You will avoid the hustle of traffic jams, getting lost and spending a fortune in a paying car park or because of a fine.
2. Paying car parks in the city center or town
This online tool can prove useful if you are looking for public underground car parks. It’s only available in Spanish but it’s extremely easy to use.
All you have to do is type the location (city, address, zip code…) where you want to park your car. Then, choose the arrival and departure dates and times. Finally, click on the blue button (buscar means search).
The website will show you the best results according to this particular location. You can sort them by distance (distancia) or price (precio).
Each result shows the name of the car park, the total number of car spots, how much it will cost you and how far it is. Moreover, if you click on a specific car park and then on the get directions (conseguir direcciones) button, you’ll be sent to Google Maps.
If you park in any of these subterranean car parks, take note of where you are, and what landmarks there are as you exit. It’s easy to forget where you have left your car.
3. On the street
Sure, you can park your rental car on the street. But…
Paid parking applies to the center of most cities. In some towns, access to non-residents is forbidden. So make sure you do your research in advance to avoid getting into trouble and having to pay a fine…
Moreover, in most cities and towns, private entrances and garage doors have a ‘no parking’ (prohibido estacionar or vado permanente) sign accompanied by a police permit number enforcing the parking restriction. If you park your rental car in front of this sign you risk getting a fine, or even worse, your car can be towed away or clamped.
Parking in most Spanish towns and cities is problematic
In certain areas parking is restricted in all cities and towns and prohibited altogether, although it isn’t usually as expensive as in many other European countries.
In major towns and cities, it really depends how long you plan to stay:
- If you are spending a few hours or the day, try to park on the outskirts and use public transport. Alternatively, you can always go to a paying car park.
- If you plan to stay several days, you should definitely look for an accommodation that offers you a parking solution.
In many small towns and villages, you should park on the edge of town and walk to the center. Most of these towns are difficult to navigate and are full of narrow and dead-end streets pretty much everywhere.
Be careful because parking regulations vary with the area of a city, the time of day, the day of the week, and even whether the date is odd or even.
Avoid parking on the Carga y descarga (loading and unloading) areas, unless the times are clearly displayed. The times allowed for parking in cities where paid parking applies are limited and different depending on the colored zone hours.
Do not park in pedestrian crossings, corners, or in front of entrances and exits.
Do not double park.
As a rule of thumb, avoid committing any offense. In most cities controllers are everywhere (literally) and you will get fined or your car could be towed away. Better not getting one, traffic fines are heavy!
If you exceed your time in a regulated parking area and are fined, you can often cancel the fine by paying a penalty. You must, however, do it within a limited period.
Purchase a ticket called anulación aviso de sanción from a parking meter. You are generally asked to ‘post’ it in a special slot in the ticket machine. Read the instructions on the parking meter to learn how to proceed.
Your rental car was impounded
If your car has been towed away, there may be an adhesive sticker by the side of the road indicating this. As a non-resident you must first pay the fine in cash before paying the towing (grúa) charge, usually at two different places.
The amount of the fine will vary depending on the size of the car, the area it was parked, and how long it has been impounded.
You will need to ask a policeman or parking controller where the car pound is.
Avoid thefts and break-ins
Having your rental car stolen can ruin your trip, especially if your luggage and personal items were in the vehicle.
Here are some tips to prevent theft and break-ins while you are away. These are valid not only while you are in cities like Madrid or Barcelona, but at all times should you decide to go on a road trip around Spain.
- Park in well-lit, trafficked areas so your vehicle can be seen at all times.
- Put away all your electronic devices and the GPS. Don’t forget the cables and chargers.
- Put your luggage and other valuables in the trunk, out of sight.
- Turn off the engine, lock all the doors and close the windows at all times while you are not inside the car.
- Don’t leave spare keys in your rental car. Thieves know where to look.
- Always keep the car papers with you.
If by any chance your rental car is stolen, you must report the stolen vehicle as soon as you notice it. Call the police or go to the nearest police station. Give them all the information about your vehicle (model, license plates, color, etc.) and report any stolen items.
If you don’t speak any Spanish ask a local to help you.
Then, call your insurance company to report your stolen or damaged car.
Finally, call the rental car company to inform them of the situation and ask to get another rental vehicle.
This article is part of a complete tutorial about car rental in Spain where you can read all the information you need to organize your road trip around the country.
Here is a complete summary of all the guide:
1. What’s the best way to travel across Spain: a road trip or take the train?
2. Traveling to Spain by car
3. 10 epic Spain road trips
4. How to book your rental car online
5. How to find cheap car rental rates?
6. 8 Rental car tips & hacks for your Spain road trip
7. Do you need an International Driver’s Licence?
8. Getting around Spain: rental car
9. 6 tips for driving in Spain
10. Car parking in Spain