Portugal is a popular southern European travel destination for many reasons: its glorious beaches and historic cities attract tourists for short visits, while digital nomads, pensioners and remote workers like to stay for months especially during the winter in the country. Many people from central and northern Europe simply drive their motorhomes to the south coast where the climate is comfortable even in the winter. This may be changing because of a new law that prohibits campervans to park at many public car parks during the night.
The law that restricts parking has been in effect since 2021, and now, two years later, it seems that no solutions are provided for those thousands of travelers who have made the trip to Portugal from their home countries. We made a trip to Algarve in January 2023, and I can confirm that yes, there are a few camp sites and motorhome parks on the south coast where all vehicles are welcome, but even in January they tend to be fully booked. Thousands of travelers are left without legal choices for parking during the night.
German supermarket chain Lidl is an exception. It has reserved space for a few campervans at the car park of each grocery store on the south coast.
So, the situation is not exactly ideal both for local people and businesses who would like to earn something from visitors, and for travelers who would like to contribute to the local economy.
Large car parks in destinations like Sagres (in Algarve, south coast of Portugal) that earlier were available for campervans and motorhomes are now explicitly forbidden from parking during the night (10 pm – 8 am). That’s correct, even parking is prohibited. It means that large public car parks are completely empty during nights. Village residents and businesses are left empty handed. The money that visitors would spend, for instance, to dining or breakfast is not spent at all in the town. Perhaps that money is spent at a Lidl grocery store located in a nearby town.
I perfectly understand why a region wants to set rules for wild camping, and residents don’t necessarily want bus-size motorhomes to block their sea views. Solutions in other countries, such as in France and Spain are simple. Commercial caravan parks are easy to find practically everywhere, even on mountains. Villages and towns that want to attract visitors provide free parking for campervans at dedicated sites out of town center. Others collect a small fee for a 24 hour campervan parking ticket near the town center. In central France, we once stayed in a village car park that asked for a voluntary contribution from motorhomes. They got it.
Should you drive your motorhome to Portugal? Yes, it is a marvelous destination. If you are used to driving around, exploring, and deciding on the fly where to stay a night, you need a new strategy. For traveling in Portugal, plan and reserve your stays before you go. Especially the south coast, the Algarve province, is a very popular winter destination for road travelers.