If you are planning a trip to Portugal one of the first things you need to consider is how you want to get around. The ways to explore this beautiful destination are different and depend on the type of trip you want to take, your budget and the stages of your itinerary.
Renting a car is for some the best way because it allows you to visit the country freely by building a tailor-made itinerary that will allow you to explore even more remote locations that are often difficult to reach by public transportation. Also, taking a rental car can be very convenient if you are traveling as a family or in a group with other friends because you can share the expenses.
An excellent alternative to the car is the train. Portugal’s rail network is not only well distributed throughout the country but also offers excellent connections with neighboring European countries such as Spain and France. Traveling by train is easy, inexpensive, and also interesting. Thanks to the many rail lines, high-speed trains, and night trains, it is possible to visit many parts of Portugal and Spain in just a few days. The trick is to optimize travel as best you can.
Buses can also be an excellent means of transportation for visiting Portugal especially between the country’s major centers. Many visitors choose to discover this destination using both rail and bus networks in combination. Depending on the distance to be covered and the schedule, it may be convenient to use one or the other mode.
There is no shortage of those who choose to visit this country on foot or by bicycle. Thanks to the mild climate almost all year round and the numerous bicycle routes discovering this country on two wheels will allow you to explore different places, from the wine lands to the coast, at a truly perfect pace. There are also numerous walking paths to take. Whether you choose to walk in a group or solo, Portugal is the ideal destination to discover through a slow journey that will also allow you to get to know little-traveled areas.
Here, then, is a guide to the different modes you can consider if you want to discover Portugal and what the pros and cons are for each.
If you love on-the-road travel, Portugal is a destination that lends itself to this kind of vacation. You can rent a car before you leave by taking the time to evaluate the different rental companies, the cars available and also the terms of the rental. Usually renting the car at the airport is the most convenient solution because it allows you to organize a trip in total freedom by choosing the stops you want to make independently without having to submit to public transportation schedules. Plus, if you take the rental car directly at the airport you will save money on the cab or bus it takes to get to the city center!
Driving in Portugal is not complicated, the roads are generally good-remember that driving is right-hand drive-plus the country has recently embarked on a program to modernize and fix the road network. The use of seat belts is also mandatory in Portugal and the use of cell phones while driving is prohibited. Police are often present along the roads for checks especially regarding compliance with speed limits. If you do not want to incur fines remember that on highways (A roads) the limit is 120km/h, on main roads the speed limit is 100 km/h, and on state and municipal roads the limit is 50 km/h.
The train is one of the most frequently used ways to explore Portugal since the country boasts a well-developed railway system that stretches more than 2,700 km and connects the main tourist locations. Portuguese trains are punctual, clean and efficient. Getting around by train allows not only to move between different cities quickly, but also to be able to admire beautiful views from the window. Portugal also boasts an extensive network of high-speed trains such as the famous Alfa Pendular train, which is one of the fastest trains in all of Europe.
Train tickets for most trains can be conveniently purchased online which saves you a lot of time and allows you to easily plan all your travels. Finally, you should remember that Portuguese trains offer not only domestic connections but also connections to many Spanish cities.
There are different types of trains in Portugal.
Alfa Pendular: these are the high-speed trains that are usually also the newest and most comfortable. These trains offer first-class tickets with comfortable seats and ample legroom, and second-class tickets. Alfa Pendular trains are equipped with a bistro carriage, air conditioning and Wi-Fi. Tickets on these trains are usually the most expensive.
Intercidades (Intercity): these are long-distance trains that connect Portugal’s major cities. These are slower than Alfa Pendulars, make more stops, and are also cheaper. These trains are air-conditioned and have a carriage with a bar that sells simple snacks.
Regional (R) and Interregional (IR): regional and interregional trains cover much shorter distances and are much simpler trains. There is no division between first and second class.
Urban (U): urban trains are common in large cities such as Lisbon and Porto, also stop at small stations and are ideal for reaching small villages or towns off the main tourist routes.
Portugal’s main train connections make it possible to visit the country’s major locations. Among the most common routes is definitely Lisbon-Porto, which can be done by Alfa Pendular high-speed trains. The travel time between the two cities is about three hours, and 14 trains depart daily from Lisbon to Porto. Roughly 274 km long, this route gives the opportunity to admire breathtaking landscapes on Portugal’s west coast.
The train is also the most efficient means, in terms of time and price, for those who want to reach Coimbra. The city located in the center of Portugal boasts a UNESCO World Heritage-listed historic center and is a must-see. The Portuguese capital is approximately 217 km from Coimbra, and 17 high-speed and intercity trains connect the two cities every day. Travel times are one hour and forty minutes by high-speed train and three and a half hours by regional.
Once in Portugal we recommend that you do not miss a visit to Lagos, the Algarve town famous for its beautiful views. The town can be reached from Lisbon via a train ride of about four hours by fast train or from Faro with a one-hour and forty-minute ride by regional train. Faro in turn is connected to both Lisbon and Porto by high-speed trains. Specifically, the Portuguese capital can be reached via a three-hour journey while Porto is 620 km away and can be reached in about 6 hours. From Lisbon it is also possible to reach Aveiro in two hours and twenty minutes and Albufeira in two hours and forty minutes.
Portugal is also well connected to several Spanish cities. For example, one can reach Madrid from Lisbon in only 10 hours and 37 minutes. There are many overnight trains with sleeping berths, which means you can catch the train in Lisbon in the evening, travel at night sleeping in your berth, and wake up in the morning ready to visit the Spanish capital. Porto, on the other hand, is well connected to the city of Vigo by a train that takes only 2 hours and 20minutes. The Portuguese capital is also connected to the Basque Country. For example, it is possible to reach Irún from Lisbon (801km) in less than 27 hours thanks to the presence of 3 trains per day. These trains also stop in other cities in Spain such as Burgos, Valladolid, and Salamanca.
Long-distance train tickets can be purchased online in advance, so you will be able to find affordable prices. Children under 5, seniors over 65 and Youth Card holders can enjoy reductions and discounted tickets.
If you are planning to visit the cities of Lisbon, Porto or Faro you might consider purchasing the Tourist Travelcard for 1, 2 or 3 days. This allows unlimited travel on the commuter trains of these three cities at a very discounted price. There is also a tourist card in the Algarve that allows you to travel for 48 hours along the Portuguese coast while saving money.
You can buy tourist cards locally at tourist offices, while train tickets that cannot be purchased online can be bought at train station ticket offices or on board the trains.
If you’re a planning a trip to explore much of Portugal (and perhaps even Europe) two solutions to consider might be the Interrail One Country Pass (Portugal) and the Interrail Pass. With the Interrail One Country Pass to Portugal you can discover not only the most popular cities such as Lisbon, Porto, Coimbra, and Faro but also the coastal areas. The One Country Pass is available for 3, 4, 6 or 8 days of travel that can be used within 1 month and allows unlimited travel on all rail lines in the country. If you are under 28 years old, you can also purchase the discounted Interrail Youth Pass. The Interrail One Country Pass also includes discounts of up to 25 percent on bus travel and tours.
If, on the other hand, you want to travel throughout Europe, you can get the Interrail Pass, which allows you to travel by train in Portugal and 32 other European countries. The Pass also includes discounts of up to 25 percent on bus tours of Porto, Braga, Coimbra and Lisbon. Ticket prices vary depending on the length of the trip, but there are discounts for children under 28 years of age. In addition, the Interrail Pass is also valid for travel on other public transport companies and with participating ferries.
Getting around Portugal by bus can be a good option. Bus stations are in most cases located in city centers so once you arrive you can start exploring your destination right away. There are three different types of buses in Portugal:
Especially in the summertime, buses are a popular means of transportation so the advice is to book your ticket in advance. The main companies that travel in the country are:
Rede Expressos is the largest bus company in Portugal with a network that covers most of the country, including the Algarve. Tickets can be easily purchased online and there are discounts for young people up to age 29. The Lisbon – Lagos trip (roughly 300km) can be made in less than four hours, Lisbon -Albufeira in three, while Lisbon – Porto takes roughly four hours. If, on the other hand, you want to reach Faro from the Portuguese capital, the distance to travel is 320km and will take approximately three hours and thirty minutes.
Renex has routes connecting Vila Real de Santo Antonio with Faro, Almancil, and the Renex Vale Paraíso Terminal outside Albufeira; Vale Paraíso, in turn is connected with Lisbon, Loule, and Lagos. Renex also operates bus services from Porto to Barcelos (Linha Barcelos taking one hour and thirty minutes) and from Porto to Braga (travel time one hour and ten minutes).
Rodonorte is a large bus company serving northern Portugal with services from Vila Real connecting it to Aveiro, Amarante, Braga, Bragança, Chaves, Coimbra, Covilhã, Guarda, Guimarães, Lamego, Lisbon, Mirandela, Porto, Povoa de Varzim, Viana do Castelo, and Viseu.
Eva Transportes is a more regional network that travels mainly in the Algarve. Buses operated by Eva also connect Lagos, Portimão, Albufeira, Faro Olhão, Tavira, and Vila Real de Santo Antonio with Seville in Spain by traveling the southern coast route.
Other companies such as Busabout, Eurolines, and Flixibus provide long-distance connections not only within Portugal but also with many Spanish cities such as Seville and Madrid and with other European cities such as Paris, Amsterdam, and Brussels.
Portugal is a nation that boasts a high number of airports, but moving within the country by air is not recommended since not only do you risk losing a lot of time in travel but also find airline tickets often more expensive than train or bus tickets.
It may be useful to use the plane for those traveling between Faro and Lisbon. This route made by train takes three hours, by bus three and a half hours, and by plane only fifty minutes.
It turns out to be necessary to take the plane to reach Madeira, the main island of the archipelago of the same name, which is about 500 km from Africa. Flights between Lisbon and Madeira are numerous, and the trip between the two locations takes just over ninety minutes.
Given the beauty of its landscapes, the welcoming population, and the many amenities, Portugal presents itself as an ideal destination to discover on foot or by bicycle. Moving by bike or on foot is definitely a slower type of travel that allows you to better get to know even the lesser known and beaten locations where you can find quaint villages, vineyards, excellent Mediterranean cuisine and numerous car-free routes.
The many bike paths and different routes make Portugal perfect for anyone who wants to take a bike vacation. Among the most popular routes is definitely the one from Lisbon to Faro viaSintra, Setubal, Vila Nova de Milfontes, Southwest Alentejo, the Vicentina Natural Park and Aljezur. The Algarve with its beautiful views and infrastructure is also a region that is particularly well suited for exploration by bike, especially the less urbanized areas.
Also recommended is the route from Porto to Lisbon, which allows you to visit the towns of Furadouro, Costa Nova do Prado, Mira, Figueira da Foz, Coimbra, Obidos, and Lisbon. Finally, it should be mentioned that the Eurovelo 1 route, which starts at the North Cape in Norway and ends at the Portuguese town of Cape San Vincente, also ends in Portugal, almost always skirting the Atlantic coast and passing through many towns and a wide variety of landscapes.
For those who like to discover a country on foot, Portugal offers a large number of walks and trails. The most famous is certainly the Portuguese Camino de Santiago, which runs through the northwest of Portugal until it reaches Santiago de Compostela. There are actually three routes: the Coastal Trail, the Central Trail, and the Fatima Variant. The Central Path follows the ancient route from Lisbon to Santiago via Barcelos and has always been the best known and most traveled. Another Path is the Rota Vicentina that starts from Santiago do Cacém in the Alentejo and arrives at Cape St. Vincente in the Algarve for a total of 340 km. Again there are two variants: one passes through the interior of the Alentejo Natural Park, the other runs along the coast.