|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.
Spanish motorways are quiet... Off the motorways, roads are even quieter!
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.
the border crossing between Spain and Portugal,
there is the question of tolls. 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).
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
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.