Portugal Travel Tips

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Driving in Portugal

How to drive round a roundabout

How to drive around a roundabout

A helpful graphic.

Most Brits are either shocked or highly amused by the way Portuguese people drive. Even Portuguese people laugh at how crazy everyone else drives in Portugal. Nothing is more shocking/entertaining/frightening (delete as applicable), however, than watching Portuguese people navigate a roundabout.

People who took a driving test in the UK will remember having to learn roundabout etiquette. There is a very simple and basic logic to it - you adopt a position relative to how far around the roundabout you need to go. If you are taking the first exit, you stay on the left (if you are driving in the UK). If you are rotating beyond 12 o’clock you should indicate and take an inside lane, until you approach your exit, when you indicate to change to an outside lane.

Portugal has two main problems when it comes to roundabouts (or “rotundas”). First, roundabouts hardly existed here before Portugal joined the EU, so a large proportion of the population never had to learn how to drive around one. Second, the general rule when driving is to give way to the right. So, when you come to a large roundabout in Portugal, you often see people in the wrong lane, not indicating, while some people on the roundabout will be trying to give way to others waiting to get on it.

Fortunately, some bright spark in a government department has taken time out while the politicians are trying to get elected to introduce a new rule. From July, the way to drive around a roundabout is just like it works in the UK - except it is anti-clockwise and not clockwise, so don’t go showing up your countrymen now by going the wrong way round.

I discovered this by chance on the blog of insurance broker Pedro Monteiro.

Updated clarification from roundabout rules introduced in 2014

Spotted on Algoinfo.

  • Give way to traffic already on the roundabout, whichever lane they are in.
  • Occupy the right-hand (outside) lane if you are taking the first exit.
  • If taking any other exit you should only occupy the outside lane after passing the exit immediately prior to the one you wish to take.
  • Move progressively towards the outside lane, taking the appropriate precautions when changing lanes
  • Horse and cart, bicycles and heavy goods vehicles may use only the right hand lane but are required to facilitate the exit of drivers on the roundabout.
  • If you use the right-hand lane, with no intention of taking the first exit, you risk a fine of between 60 and 300 euros.
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  1. jooseppi

    but it is always counter clockwise in any country exept UK

    • Steve Masters

      The UK isn’t the only country that drives on the left.

    • Steve Masters

      Not true. South Africa drives on the left and roundabouts (or traffic circles) are clockwise.

  2. Emanuel Vieira

    Well, there are a couple of things missing here… For example, if you’re in a roundabout but your means of transportation doesn’t have an engine (bicycle, on a horse, in a carriage, etc), you’ll have to stop inside the roundabout whenever a vehicle (with an engine) wants to get in. So the whole concept of having fluent traffic goes out the window right there. Also, in Portugal they love plastering the roundabout exits with zebra crossing. Again, totally against the concept of fluent traffic.

    • Steve Masters

      Thank you Emanuel for those additions.

    • vasco

      In the Netherlands we even have bycicle lanes arround the roundabouts. These bycicle lanes have priority above the car lanes. So when we enter the roundabout we have to already check those lanes for bycicle traffic. When exiting a roundabout car drivers must give way to cyclists.

      like here:

      and here:

  3. Alfred

    It’s also considered completely normal to park on a roundabout here.. or stop to pick someone up. even the police stop and search on roundabouts. Once again, totally against the concept of fluid flw. Also, if you have an accident on a roundabout and you were in the right hand lane, you a basically blameless as you were just “exiting” (despite having no intentions of actually doing so and continuing all the way around). Insurance will always find the one in the left lane responsible.

    • Steve Masters

      There’s a roundabout near Norteshopping in Porto where there are frequently accidents. It always used to amuse me that the drivers leave their cars where they are until the police arrive. They don’t move them to let traffic flow. Maybe that’s the law, but it’s crazy.

  4. Alan

    No mention of using indicators? Is this a legal requirement on Roundabouts in Portugal?

    • Steve Masters

      There was an update to the law in 2014, but it looks like a lot of drivers have been confused by it.

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