How to get to Portugal

Car, train, plane, what are the options?


The options Drive to Portugal Portugal by train Fly to Portugal

Portugal is a long way away from the centre of Western Europe. To give a telling example, the distance from Calais to Lisbon is over 2000 km by the best driving route (see below). As for getting to Portugal by train, forget it, unless you're looking for slow travel. Portugal's rail network is essentially disconnected from the rest of Europe, and there are currently no international services except from Vigo in Galicia, northern Spain. Even getting from Madrid to Lisbon takes over ten hours, and three changes – though maybe, just maybe, the long overdue high-speed rail link  between the two neighbouring capitals will finally enter service in 2027.

That leaves the third option, to fly to Portugal. Fortunately Portugal has three international airports, and it is through these that most visitors enter Portugal, Porto, Lisbon and Faro airports are well-connected by regular carriers and low-cost airlines to the rest of Europe and, in the case of Lisbon and Porto airports, to the rest of the world.

Drive to Portugal

A car jouirney of 2000 km or 1,200 miles requires at least two days on the road, and for most drivers three or more, depending on the driving conditions and what - if anything - you stop off to see on the way. From the UK, Benelux and northern Europe, there are different options for driving through France (details
   Spanish roads
Spanish motorways are quiet...  Off the motorways, roads are even quieter!
on  Routes to Spain on About-France.com), the fastest being to use the French A10 motorway via Orleans and Bordeaux, crossing into Spain at  Hendaye / Irun, on the Basque coast.  

For the Spanish leg of the journey, take the A8 motorway, then the AP1 to Burgos, then the A62 via Valladolid and Salamanca to the Portuguese border at Fuentes de Oñoro. Spanish motorways are not crowded, and from Burgos onwards, driving is very easy, as there is little traffic on the road, except at peak periods.  Fuel is generally about 10% cheaper in Spain than in Portugal, so fill up before the border; the last fuel in Spain is a 24/24 filling station at exit 352, just before the border. For more on driving in Spain, see Driving in Spain.

After the border crossing between Spain and Portugal, there is the question of tolls.toll info If you have not already registered online, you must get a toll payment card at the first service area 11 km into Portugal (important: see tolls below for registration and procedures) There's a multilingual sign 1000 metres before the service area telling foreign vehicles to turn in for the toll booth.
    Once you are set up for your electronic toll payments, follow the Portuguese A25 motorway. until just before Guarda, where you take the left branch for the A23 marked Covilha and Guarda sul (south) if driving to Lisbon or the Algarve, and the right  branch, A25, marked Aveiro and Guarda Norte, if bound for Porto and northern Portugal. Don't look for  any mention of Lisbon or Porto where the motorways divide; for some reason the Portuguese highways authority often thinks in terms of the next small town, not in major destinations. It's only once you are past the intersections that you'll see an info board on the A23 telling you - as an  afterthought - that it is 307 km to Lisbon.

    France can be avoided all together by travellers from the UK who take the Brittany Ferries service from Portsmouth to Santander. The ferry journey is over 24 hours, more like a cruise than a ferry, and from Santander it is an easy drive up the A67 motorway to Valladolid, and then on to Salamanca (see above).

By train or bus to Portugal

Taking the train to Portugal is essentially an ecapade for rail buffs and those who do not like flying.

In the good old days,  there was a sleeper service from Paris to Lisbon, called the Sud Express. This was replaced in the 1990s by a French TGV to the Spanish border, and a sleeper service from Irun / Hendaye to Lisbon. The sleeper was stopped on account of Covid in 2019, and has not resumed.. Today it is possible to travel from Paris to Hendaye by direct TGV... but thereafter the journey on to Portugal involves a local train to San Sebastian, then a train to Valladolid or Madrid and on from there. Only one thing is sure; the trip will be long and involve serveral changes, and it won't be cheap.

From Madrid, the current rail option is to take a Spanish intercity from Madrid to Badajoz in four and a half hours, then a bus to Elvas, just in Portugal, then a slow train to Lisbon. This journey should become much faster in 2024, once the new high-speed line from Elvas to Evora is opened.  If all goes well, direct services between Madrid and Lisbon may be back by 2027.

    Bus / coach to Portugal

A far better option is to take the international coach service run by Flixbus from Paris to Lisbon. 2023 prices started at €99.99, and the journey takes over 24 hours. Flixbus, like train services, can be booked through The Train Line . 24 hours is a long time on a bus... but there are breaks, and price is good

Fly to Portugal

Portugal being a popular tourist destination, its three main airports are well served from all over Europe. Ryanair, Easyjet and Jet2 run hundreds of services each week to different airports in Portugal, from a whole range of airports in the UK and other parts of Europe.  For transtlantic services, Lisbon has flights from the USA, Canada and many capitals in Latin America; while Porto has just a few transatlantic flights, operated by United or Air Transat.

Virtually all package tour operators offer inclusive package holidays to Portugal, particularly to the Algarve region.

Getting round in Portugal

Portugal has a good internal rail network, with fast pendolino trains operating on most intercity routes. A new high-speed line from Elvas to Evora and on to Lisbon is scheduled to open in 2024 – part of the long awaited Lisbon to Madrid high speed rail link.

Cars can be hired at all airports and in most cities (see car hire), specially in resort areas, and rates are relatively cheap. Your car hire firm may be able to provide a toll transponder, letting you use electronic toll roads and Via Verde lanes on other toll barriers. See below.


Many Portuguese motorways are toll roads, and the system for paying tolls is not simple - as in France or Spain or Switzerland - but complicated. In fact there are two systems in place, and notably an electronic tolling system for which a transponder or a special card is needed..
  The easiest solution is to buy an Easytoll card. You can either register online for a card on the see Portugal Tolls official website before your go to Portugal, or else buy one beside the motorway just after you enter Portugal. You simply sign up your vehicle's registration number and connect this to a valid credit card (Visa, Mastercard). Tolls are then deducted from your card. For short visits, a three day "Virtual card" is available for €20.74, with unlimited use of electronic roads.
   On motorways that are not electronic, payment can be made in cash, sometimes by card, at toll booths.
   For full details and a map, see Portugal Tolls official website.

Lisbon tram
Once you've reached Lisbon, the city's iconic trams offer an interesting way to get round.


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Photo top of page by Pcdazero
Lisbon tram by Alec Eratti

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