Forget about driving and explore Portugal by train. The country’s reliable public transportation system reaches each corner and region, minimizing the need for a car and enhancing travel experiences by chugging along past the cork oaks and olive trees, vineyards, mountainsides, and the sparkling coast. From the resorts of the Algarve to the remote villages in the north, the daily trains provide a unique way to see Portugal’s different sides. Here are some tips that will make planning easier and help tourists see the best routes available.
The Alfa train
Travel across the country on the Alfa Pendular, Portugal’s high-speed train that blows past villages as it makes its way from one city to another. This is an excellent way to see the major sights even quicker and the train line runs from Braga to Faro, connecting Lisbon and Porto in the process, with a stop in historic Coimbra (at the Coimbra-B station).
The Douro Line
An unforgettable trip of a lifetime will take travelers on a journey along the Douro River on a line that has been running since 1887 through Port wine country, past sprawling vineyards, stone cottages and rolling green hills. It leaves from Porto at the stunning azulejo-covered São Bento station and heads to its last stop at Pocinho with other stops in Regua, Pinhão and Tua. Lasting 3.5 hours from beginning to very end, it’s possible to reach Pocinho and return to Porto in one day, but another option is spending a night at a vineyard estate (further enhancing the experience). A one-way ticket along the Douro line costs approximately €15 (approximately €30 for a full trip beginning and ending in Porto).
Interested in luxury travel? The Presidential is a top-of-the-line trip that pairs train travel along the Douro River with gourmet dining. Operating since the end of the 1800s, the Presidential was in ‘retirement’ for about 40 years before hitting the tracks once again, though trips are predetermined and must be booked in advance. The three packs available are for 1, 2 or 3 days, ranging from €500 to €2,000 and showcase a range of fine dining experiences from perfectly planned Michelin-star meals to wine tastings, live music, high tea, and chances to get up close and personal with Douro’s wine culture.
Lisbon to Porto
If time restrictions keep sightseeing on a tight schedule, at least try to see the two main cities by hopping on the alpha or regional trains from Santa Apolónia or Gare do Oriente in Lisbon and enjoying the three-hour ride (or slightly less) to Porto’s Campanha station. Historic with modern touches, located on picturesque rivers, and characterized by hilltop neighborhoods covered in a hodgepodge of colorful buildings, these two cities offer a unique and well-rounded view of Portuguese culture. A one-way trip costs approximately €30, making train travel a budget-friendly way to get from one city to the other.
Lisbon to Cascais
A popular trip takes travelers from Cais do Sodré in Lisbon to Cascais along the Tagus river’s opening to the Atlantic for a low €2.25 one-way ticket. Lasting 40 minutes, it makes stops in each town along the way including Santos, Belém, Oeiras and Estoril (a popular stop for a view of the beautiful Tamariz beach and seaside castle). An idyllic day trip from the capital, Cascais offers plenty to see and do throughout the year including bike riding along the coast, dining on exquisite seafood and ample shopping opportunities.
Lisbon to Sintra
Another unforgettable trip leaves from Rossio Station between Rossio and Avenida da Liberdade and heads to the majestic Sintra Mountains where a myriad of palaces and castles paint the landscape and the narrow, winding streets are filled with charming cafés, souvenir shops and restaurants. This trip lasts less than an hour, providing another opportunity for a day excursion from Lisbon, and drops passengers off in the heart of romantic Sintra where the country’s royalty and aristocrats once vacationed (some even made their homes there year-round).
Lagos to Tavira
While in the Algarve, why not travel from Lagos to Tavira and experience everything from the resorts to the traditional fishing culture? The train system takes less than three hours and stops in Faro, a perfect spot for lunch or an overnight stay and an ideal breaking point to experience the Ria Formosa wetland ecosystem.
Not only does traveling by train allow passengers to enjoy more of the views, but it’s a smart way to get around without worrying about the tolls too. Plan your own train trip by visiting the Comboios de Portugal website.