Portugal Road Network

By | October 31, 2022

The motorways of Portugal.

According to wholevehicles, Portugal has a relatively extensive network of motorways, covering over 3,000 kilometers. In addition, there is a partially developed secondary road network. National roads (estradas nacionais) often have very low design standards compared to other countries, when this was the primary road network, travel times in Portugal were particularly long, with the interior being mountainous and the roads winding, while the flatter areas often had many buildings along the road. At that time, driving speeds were only high in the more sparsely populated and flatter Alentejo region of southern Portugal.

Portugal was one of the first countries in Europe to have a motorway, the A5 already opened in 1944. However, the motorway network only developed somewhat from the 1970s, although the large-scale expansion mainly took place in the period 1995-2010. After 2010, only ongoing projects have been completed, due to the economic crisis in the country, almost all projects have been postponed indefinitely. In the period 2013-2020, only three sections of motorway have been opened.

Since 2010, Portugal has had a well-developed and modern highway network connecting all the cities of the country. The highway network is 3,089 kilometers long (January 2020) and consists largely of toll roads, only around the major cities are toll-free highways. Most motorways lie along the A1 axis that runs from Lisbon to Porto and on to the Spanish border. This is also where most major cities are located. In the period 2000-2010 the number of kilometers of highways in the interior has grown steadily. In the south, the motorway network is limited to the north-south A2 and the Algarve highway along the south coast (A22). The urban areas of Lisbon and Porto have an extensive network of motorways and expressways.

In addition to the N-roads and the A-roads, Portugal has another category of roads, the via rápida, numbered with an IP or IC number. These are better developed roads that often consist of one lane with oncoming traffic and 2+1 lanes or super two characteristics. As a rule, these roads are completely grade-separated. A large part of these roads were built in the 1980s and 1990s, with a number of them being converted back into motorways after 2000. Two different developments can be distinguished here: IC roads that were given an A number because they were already built on a motorway profile, or IC/IP roads that were widened to a motorway and then given an A number.

Road management

The national road authority is Infraestruturas de Portugal. In addition, most motorways have been brought under concession, the largest players being Brisa and Ascendi.


Portugal was one of the first countries in Europe to have a motorway, namely the A5 in the west of Lisbon, which was opened to traffic in 1944. However, the second motorway opening did not follow until 1960, and was part of the A1in Porto. Shortly after, another section of A1 followed near Lisbon in 1961. The development of Portugal’s motorway network was very slow during the 1970s and 1980s, with mainly the A1 being built from Lisbon to Porto, and a number of short motorway sections in the region of Lisbon. In the 1990s a number of important axes were developed into highways, but this was not more than a basic network by the end of the 1990s. In the 1990s, however, the network grew quite strongly due to a number of long routes that were opened up. The rapid growth mainly came between 2000 and 2011, when highways were built on a large scale in Portugal, with the network being very dense, especially in a wide coastal strip. Despite this, not very many highways have been built in the interior, but this area is also sparsely populated. In 1998 Portugal grew through the border of 1,000 kilometers of highway. The limit of 2,000 kilometers already followed in 2004 and 2,500 kilometers in 2007, making the development of Portugal’s motorway network in the first decade of the 21st century impressive. However, the construction of motorways and other main roads came to a complete standstill after 2010.

The important older axes have been constructed as toll roads with a closed ticket system. Newer highways, especially after 2000, have been constructed with shadow tolls called SCUT. From 2008 Portugal entered a serious economic crisis where public finances became a problem. In 2011, tolls were therefore introduced on many highways in order to reduce the budget deficit. Because these highways were never designed for physical toll collection, a complex electronic toll system was created. On many of these SCUT highways, the traffic volumes dropped sharply after that, on some highways 30 to 50 percent lower traffic intensities were measured in 2012. On the older toll roads and the toll-free highways in the major cities, no major decrease was registered.

Plano Rodoviario Nacional

The road network in Portugal is planned in the Plano Rodoviário Nacional, the first of which was established in 1945. In this, a network of 20,600 kilometers was given the status of national road, divided into three classes. It was not until 40 years later that it was succeeded by a second road plan in 1985. This was again followed by the current Plano Rodoviário Nacional of 2000. In this the national road network was reduced to approximately 16,500 kilometers and the road class estrada regional was created for former N-roads.

The road plan of 1985 was a response to the rapid economic growth and the strongly increased car use. The 1985 plan defined that journeys longer than 10 kilometers and roads with more than 2,000 vehicles per day had to become N-roads by 1975. All municipalities also had to be connected with N-roads. The IC and IP numbers were already established in the 1985 road plan.

The road plan of 2000 defined the Rede Rodoviária Nacional (national road network), divided into the Rede Fundamental (basic network), formed by the IP roads, and the Rede Complementar (supplementary network), formed by the IC roads. These roads have been developed as autoestrada, via rápida or a regular road.

European roads

European roads in Portugal
E1 • E80 • E82 • E90 • E801 • E802 • E805 • E806

Traffic intensities

Traffic intensities are low outside Lisbon and Porto. The busiest highways in these two cities count up to approximately 180,000 vehicles per day. Outside of this, only the A1 from Lisbon to Porto is used more frequently, but it also often has no more than 30,000 vehicles outside the areas of influence of Lisbon and Porto. Other routes are often quieter; intensities are often lower than 20,000 vehicles. On newer rural routes, intensities below 10,000 vehicles are regularly measured. On some routes, fewer than 5,000 vehicles drive per day, which is very low for a motorway. However, major road safety gains are made on these highways, on some routes the number of accidents has decreased by 80 percent after a highway was completed.

Traffic jams

Traffic jams in Portugal mainly occur on the busiest roads and bypasses of Lisbon and Porto, especially around the city centres. Congestion is less frequent in suburban areas, partly because quite a few suburban highways have recently been constructed. Furthermore, it can be busy during holiday trips, but congestion in Portugal is rare outside the largest cities, partly due to the well-developed road network.

Road numbering

There are different road number systems in Portugal, with two types of roads that are unique to Portugal.

The motorways are numbered with an A number, increasing from A1 to A44. A number of these A numbers are reserved for roads that have already been constructed on a motorway profile, but have not yet been given the status of autoestrada. This is especially true for the somewhat higher A numbers in the Lisbon region. There are also some A numbers with a suffix, for example A13-1 and A26-1, these are branches of the main route.

The national roads (estradas nacionais) have an N number. The main N-roads are numbered from N1 to N18, with the remaining first-class N-roads above them with a number between N101 and N125. Also the N numbers have branches with a suffix. In the past, the prefix ‘AND’ was also used, but this is no longer common.

There are also regional roads, called estradas regionais. These have an ER number. These are often former N-roads.

The municipal roads (estradas municipais) have an M number. These are not always signposted. They sometimes have two names, an Estrada Municipal (EM) and a Caminho Municipal (CM).

In addition, Portugal has a unique system of IC and IP roads. It is in fact comparable to the E-numbering system in Europe, but for within Portugal. The Itinerários Principais are main roads and connect important economic centers and are often international connections. These numbers often run over highways and expressways. The IC roads are the Itinerários Complementares, which complement the IP network. Many IP and IC routes have been partially extended to via rápida. A number of them are de facto motorways for which an A number has been reserved.

This makes road numbering in Portugal relatively complex with many layers that are seen as superfluous in other countries. There are E numbers, A numbers, IP numbers, IC numbers, N numbers, R numbers and M numbers. In addition, urban highways often have a local abbreviation, for example, the “Circular Regional Interior do Porto” is also called the CRIP, similar to the “Circular Regional Exterior de Lisboa”, the CREL. These abbreviations are also on signposts.


Signage on the N103 in Northern Portugal.

The signage is fairly simple and is not as developed in detail as in neighboring Spain. The road number is usually in plain text on blue signs on the highways, with a number of targets and arrows below that look a lot like those in Belgium. There is a white horizontal stripe between the targets and the lane marking arrows. Other roads have white signs with black letters. On distance signs, the A number does have a frame. The fork carriages are similar to those in Great Britain. Indirect road numbers are indicated in brackets, indirect targets sometimes as well. Roads with an IP number have green signs with the IP number in a red box. Signposts are similar to those in Spain. The highway symbol is used from the OWN. Exit numbers are in black letters in a yellow box and are not very noticeable. Brown signs with white letters are used for tourist destinations. Goals outside Portugal are not referred to, only the designation ESPANHA is seen. Aesthetically speaking, Portuguese signage may be among the ugliest in Europe, but it works.

Many highway numbers in urban areas, especially those that are not part of the primary highway network (such as numbers between 20 and 44) ​​are not always displayed. Sometimes these abbreviations, such as CRIL, CREL, CREP have what bypasses are, others are only indicated by the older IC or IP number. Long-distance highways with higher numbers are usually signposted.

Toll roads


The original concessionaire in Portugal was Brisa, which before 2010 managed Portugal’s only toll roads. These were mainly the long-distance roads along the coast, the toll roads in eastern Portugal were traditionally toll-free until 2010, as well as around the major cities. The company started in 1972 and is spread over six concession areas; Brisa, Brisal, Douro Litoral, Atlântico, Baixo Tejo and Litoral Oeste. In 2009, the company managed some 1,500 kilometers of toll road, representing almost half of the Portuguese motorway network.


Ascendi was founded in 1999 with the main task of operating toll roads in the north and center of Portugal. Later, two toll roads were added near Lisbon. Ascendi has six concession areas; Costa de Prata, Grande Porto, Beiras Litoral e Alta, Interior Norte, Pinhal Interior and a piece of A4. Later Grande Lisboa and Norte were added. These were originally toll-free highways under the SCUT regime. A physical toll has been levied here since 2010 and 2011, making Ascendi a big name in Portugal alongside Brisa.

Electronic toll

Since 2010 and 2011, almost all former toll-free highways have tolls. These toll roads are not under the control of Brisa, but under the control of the Portuguese government. Originally, these were highways with a SCUT regime, a system of shadow tolls paid from revenues from road tax and fuel excise. In order to reduce the government deficit, tolls have been levied here since 15 October 2010 and April 2011 using an electronic system. Because these roads were never built to become toll roads, there are no physical toll stations, an electronic toll collection has been introduced here. Portugal was the first country in Europe to implement fully electronic toll collection on such a large scale.

Payment options

There are various options for paying tolls on the electronic toll roads. For foreigners, Easy Toll is the best option, whereby the license plate number is linked to the credit card at a terminal at the border, after which the toll is automatically debited. Another option is the TOLLCard, a debit card that comes preloaded. Frequent users can use the existing Via Verde, an in-vehicle transponder that can also be used on regular toll roads with toll gates. A fourth option is TOLLService, a prepaid card of €20 with unlimited use for 3 days.

Traffic Effects

After the introduction of the electronic toll on former SCUT highways, traffic volume on these highways has fallen sharply, especially those in the periphery show a decrease of 30 to 50 percent in the first quarter of 2012 compared to the first quarter of 2011. [ 5]


In 2012, the revenues from the former SCUT toll roads with an electronic toll system amounted to a relatively small €153 million. This is because the amount of traffic on many former SCUT toll roads has been halved. The operating costs of the system amount to almost 30% of the revenues, namely €50 million.

Road safety

Year Road fatalities
2010 937
2011 891
2012 718
2013 637
2014 638
2015 593
2016 565
2017 624
2018 704
2019 614

In 2010 there were 80 road deaths per 1 million inhabitants in Portugal, a decrease of 49 percent compared to 2001. Portugal is therefore still one of the less safe countries in the European Union. Portugal is one of the few EU countries where the number of road deaths decreased every year between 2010 and 2015. In many EU countries the number of road deaths increased from 2013. In 2015, 60 road deaths per 1 million inhabitants, slightly above the EU average. The difference with neighboring Spain is striking and is almost twice as high.

Portugal Road Network