Your Guide to Train Travel in Portugal
Portugal is a fascinating country tucked on the far western stretch of the European mainland. It has a vast, unspoiled coastline and an absorbing history. It also works in perfect combination with a rail journey through Spain, its only neighbor. Train travel in Portugal is simple and comprehensive – high-speed trains get you between the main cities, and quirky regional lines take you off the beaten track.
Portugal’s long, narrow shape makes it an intriguing country to tackle by rail. Linear rail routes exist up and down the coast, but without careful planning you may end up spending entire days retracing your steps. Not that it would be a problem, given the beautiful scenery, but with a bit of forward planning you can maximize your time with a Eurail Pass in Portugal.
Types of trains in Portugal
There are many regional trains running throughout Portugal – these make regular stops and are generally slower than other options. Think of these as complements to the high-speed trains that connect the bigger cities.
Intercidades, or InterCity trains, are also regional trains but they run faster and make fewer stops – these usually run between major towns and cities. If you choose to travel on an InterCity (IC) train, you will need to make a seat reservation ahead of time at the station.
When it comes to train travel in Portugal, the Alfa Pendular is the fastest train between all of the country’s major cities including Braga, Porto, Coimbra, Lisbon and Faro. You must reserve a seat at the station prior to departure. Celta trains connect Portugal to Spain via the Porto to Vigo line – this is the only international high-speed line.
The Trenhotel international night train connects Portugal to its neighbors. If you’re traveling from Madrid to Lisbon, your best option is the Trenhotel Lusitania. This will get you between the two cities in approximately 11 hours. Trenhotel Sud Expresso also operates night trains between Lisbon and Hendaye on the border of southern France, from where you can catch a TGV to Paris.
Train travel in Portugal
How to get to Portugal using international trains
Train travel options between Portugal and Spain are fairly limited. If you wish to travel from Spain to Portugal by rail, make your way to Madrid. From there, you can catch an overnight train to Lisbon or Coimbra. Also consider approaching Portugal from the north – you can catch a Celta train from Vigo to Porto.
There are no trains between the south of Spain and the south of Portugal, but dozens of fast, regular bus connections. If you’re traveling from France, consider catching the Trenhotel Sud Expresso from Hendaye to Lisbon.
Domestic train travel in Portugal
Given Portugal’s geographical layout, most major domestic rail routes run in a north-south direction. There are high-speed trains between Braga in the north, all the way down to Faro in the south, which stop in at Porto, Coimbra, and Lisbon along the way. There’s a comprehensive network of small regional trains from these stations if you want to venture off the main rail route.
Making reservations for trains in Portugal
You need to reserve a seat on most high-speed trains in Portugal. This is usually cheap and easy – you can do it at the station a day or two before departure, or on the day of departure in the low season, and it costs €5 regardless of the route or length of journey.
Suggested itinerary: Two weeks in Portugal
Given Portugal’s layout, it makes sense to try and structure a trip from either the north or the south – this itinerary will work in either direction:
Algarve coast (Days 1 – 4)
Portugal’s Algarve coast is beautiful and unspoiled, though in the summer months a party is never far away. Most towns are worth exploring, and the trains up north leave from Faro.
Lisbon (Days 4 – 8)
Portugal’s capital city is vibrant and beautiful. It should be one of your focal cities on this trip – if only to recover from the late night parties. You’ll also spend long days walking the city’s hills, exploring nearby coastal villages and the iconic Sintra.
Obidos (Days 8 – 10)
Obidos is a quirky hilltop village that you can reach by regional train en-route to Porto. Just be prepared for a steep walk up to the castle from the quaint station below.
Coimbra (Days 10 – 11)
Coimbra is essentially an ancient university town, full of history and with an intoxicating student life.
Porto (Days 11 – 14)
Porto is a spectacular city full of life and beautiful sights. Spend as much time here as possible to soak in everything that it has to offer. If time allows, continue up to Braga. It’s a beautiful part of Portugal and it offers easy rail access to the north west of Spain.
- Portuguese train stations are beautiful and often attractions in themselves. Be sure to allow extra time to explore them before you depart.
- Transport between Spain and Portugal is difficult by rail. Consider taking a bus to save travel days and avoid lengthy detours.
- Starting in either the north or the south allows you to follow a linear route without retracing your steps.
- Many Portuguese towns, particularly those in the south, are highly seasonal. This means they’re vibrant and more expensive in summer, and cheap and borderline deserted in the winter – choose which suits your style of travel best.
- Most bigger stations in Portugal have all the facilities you might expect, including lockers, cash machines, wifi, foreign exchange, and cafés.
- Smaller train stations on regional routes are often without any facilities – some, such as Obidos station, are simply platforms. Be sure to plan ahead and purchase any supplies you might need ahead of time.
- English is spoken widely throughout Portugal, and locals are friendly and welcoming.
Getting to Portugal by rail may be a bit tricky. However, once you’re there, train travel in Portugal makes for an easy and efficient Eurail trip. High-speed trains connect all major cities, and smaller, obscure towns are just a short regional train ride away. See it all with a Eurail Portugal Pass!
For more about train travel in Portugal:
Your Europe bucket list, part 3/3: Eurail countries P to T
Europe’s premier party destinations
Top 10 wine regions in Europe by train