When we went through our do’s and don’ts of driving in Spain we highlighted the importance of getting familiar with the types of roads in Spain. This is what this text is all about.
Let’s get started right away with the most important types of roads in Spain. The good news is that the majority of them are free to use!
Autopistas de peaje
Autovías de peaje are toll roads, identified on the map with the letters AP followed by the road number. White letters over a blue background.
In recent years, a handful of autopistas have been turned into toll-free roads, due to the expiration of the concession that allowed a specific company to operate the autopista.
On autopistas there are a minimum of two lanes of traffic flowing in each direction. Both directions are usually separated by a median. The autopistas de peaje always avoid going through cities, towns or villages.
There can be quite a distance between service stations on autopistas de peaje – sometimes 40 km or more. You will see large signs showing the distance to the next petrol station, and to the one coming after, so you can decide where to stop.
On most (but not all) autopistas de peaje, you will go through a cabin toll on your way inside the road, where you will collect a ticket. When you leave the autopista, you will go through a similar cabin toll, where you will insert the ticket you collected on entering the autopista, and pay the due balance.
Maximum speed on autopistas is 120 km/h.
Our assessment of AUTOPISTAS DE PEAJE
Autopistas de peaje are the fastest way of getting from A to B, but are not the ideal choice for a road trip, since they avoid all the places where you would want to go.
Autovías are quite similar to autopistas de peaje, but they are free to use. They appear identified on the map with the letter A followed by the road number. White letters over a blue background.
When an autovía becomes a ring road, the letter identifying the autovía can change from A to another letter identifying the city: so, in Madrid you will have the M-30 or in Zaragoza the Z-40.
On autovías there are a minimum of two lanes of traffic flowing in each direction. Both directions are usually separated by a median. The autovías always avoid going through cities, towns or villages.
There can be quite a distance between service stations on autovías – sometimes 40 km or more. You will see large signs showing the distance to the next petrol station, and to the one coming after, so you can decide where to stop.
Maximum speed on autovías is 120 km/h.
Our assessment of AUTOVÍAS
Autovías are great if you want to go from A to B, preferably in the short distance. They are not good for road trips as they avoid the interesting parts of the country.
Carreteras nacionales are national roads, identified on the map with the letter N followed by the road number. White letters over a red background.
National roads are free to use. They might have two lanes of traffic of just the single one. They might cut across cities, towns or villages.
On national roads you might discover that, for long stretches of road, overtaking is not allowed.
Maximum speed on carreteras nacionales is 90 km/h. But the maximum limit changes the whole time. It goes down to 70 km/h wherever there is a road junction, and drops to 50 km/h as soon as a small village or town is reached.
Our assessment of CARRETERAS NACIONALES
Although you need to be extra careful on carreteras nacionales, they are road trip territory, allowing for closer contact with towns and villages.
Carreteras autonómicas are country roads, identified on the map with the first letter of the administrative division they belong to. In our example, it is the letter C followed by the road number.
The are three types of carreteras autonómicas:
- level 1, identified with black letters over an orange background.
- level 2, identified with white letters over a brown background.
- level 3, identified with black letters over a yellow background.
You don’t need to worry about the distinction between the three types of roads. They tend among the most basic roads in Spain. They are also the most fun to drive along.
Maximum speed on carreteras autonómicas is 90 km/h, but more often than not, you will have to drive at a much slower speed.
Our assessment of CARRETERAS AUTÓNOMICAS
Although carreteras autonómicas are among the most basic of all the road types in Spain, they are the most fun to drive.
If you see the letter E followed by a number, over a green background, you are on a road that belongs to the international E-road network, a system used for naming cross-national roads in Europe.
In the specific case of Spain, and to a large extent, this information is irrelevant, as it doesn’t reveal anything about the road it is naming. In Spain, an E road can be an autopista de peaje, an autovía or a national road.
It is for that reason that you will always be the E identification along with the national tag of the road.
The kilometre zero for roads in Spain is found in Madrid.
Head to the Puerta del Sol, in the heart of the Spanish capital, and look for the plaque on the ground right in front of the building occupied by the Government of Madrid.
HEADING TO SPAIN?
Have a look at the do’s and don’ts of driving in Spain.