How to get to Portugal

Portugal is located on the Iberian Peninsula in Southwestern Europe. In fact, it’s as far west as you can be on the European continent. Portugal has two Atlantic archipelagos – Madeira and the Azores. Portugal borders the Atlantic Ocean and its only land border is with Spain in the east.

Mainland Portugal has different requirements for passengers arriving internationally than the Autonomous Region of Madeira and the Azores. It’s important to check for any differences if you’re transiting through mainland Portugal en route to Madeira or the Azores, and vice versa, on domestic flights. There’s also a time difference, and they even accept different Vaccination Certificates in the Autonomous Region.

Arriving in Portugal by plane

There are 21 public airports in Portugal, two in Madeira and eight in the Azores. You are most likely to fly into the three international airports:

  • Lisbon (LIS)
  • Porto (OPO)
  • Faro (FAO)

Lisbon Airport (LIS) is the largest airport in Portugal, with the highest annual passenger numbers. Budget airlines arrive and leave from different terminals. The airport is close to the city and has good public transport links to central Lisbon. It’s possible to fly to Portugal from Spain in a little as an hour (Seville to Lisbon).

Travelers beginning their trip in the country’s north often choose to fly into Porto Airport (OPO) and take the metro to the city center.

Faro Airport (FAO) opened a new terminal in 2010. In the peak summer season, large numbers of visitors arrive to enjoy the Algarve’s stunning beaches.

If you are traveling to the Autonomous regions, you may fly into:

  • Madeira Island (Funchal, Madeira)
  • Porto Santo Island (Madeira)
  • São Miguel Island (Ponta Delgada, Azores)

English signage is prominent and is spoken widely at airports.

Madeira airport has had a new runway that makes it easier for planes to land and take off with the strong cross-winds and nearby mountains. Flights are delayed or canceled when the winds become too strong.

When leaving Portugal, remember that Portugal is one country that have a passport check at the gate and the lines can be long. Don’t try to dash for your gate at the last minute!

Arriving in Portugal by train

There are only two train corridors that enter Portugal from Spain, and these trains connect to London and to continental Europe. Unfortunately, the most common train routes ceased during COVID. They have permanently discontinued two services and two others may start up again, but in 2022, it is uncertain. They discontinued sud Express in March 2020 after operating for over 130 years.

There are two most common ways to travel between continental Europe (Spain) and Portugal. These are:

  • London to Lisbon via Barcelona & Madrid
  • London to Porto
  • Lisbon via San Sebastian & Vigo

Vigo to Porto Is the fastest train route from Spain at present. It is a Regional Express twice-daily service. It is also cheaper, especially the round-trip ticket. There is also a very slow daily railcar from Badajoz to Entroncamento railcar daily service which requires you to change trains three times to get from Madrid to Lisbon. Hopefully, more services will resume in the coming year.

Arriving in Portugal by road

The options of traveling by road to Portugal include self-driving (your own or a rental car or RV), or using the bus network. An international driving license is unnecessary if coming from Europe. However, you must carry an ID and it must have your photograph on it, as well as a reflective jacket for every traveler.

Tolls are the scourge of Portuguese tourists. There are two devices you can purchase, but if it all gets too complicated, you can stop at a post office before you leave Portugal and pay all outstanding tolls by telling them your license plate number.

A bus from Spain to Portugal is around 19 hours, which is why most travelers fly or take the train. The bus company, ALSA, runs buses from Barcelona station to Lisboa Oriente station.

A combination of train and then the bus can make the journey from Spain to Portugal is just over 11 hours and there are six of these services per week. However, driving yourself is just under 12 hours.

Reaching Portugal by sea

There are no direct international ferries to Portugal at the moment, but it is possible to take a cruise ship to Portugal or even a private charter. A new “green list” ferry route direct from the UK is planned in the coming months.

How to get around Portugal

lisbon
Lisbon’s number 28 tram is one of the most popular in the country

Flying between cities in Portugal

It is possible to fly between Lisbon, Porto, and Faro, but very few people do. The train network is the preferred option for these short hops. If you are connecting from an international to a domestic flight and need to change terminals in Lisbon, be sure you have enough time, as the entire process can be time-consuming.

There are regular flights between the mainland airports and Madeira and the Azores.

Travelling around Portugal by train

Lisbon, Porto, and Faro are the most popular departure and arrival train stations, although the entire country is well serviced by almost 3000 kilometers of rail lines. High-speed trains reach 137 miles per hour (220 km/hr) and so it’s easy to understand why travelers favor train travel for trips from the major cities.

Driving in Portugal

The options of traveling by road to Portugal include self-driving (your own or a rental car or RV), or using the bus network. For small villages, buses are a reliable option. Tolls need to be kept in mind and also areas in cities that limit cars. Many travelers enter Portugal via bus from Seville. This service takes 2 hours.

Ferries in Portugal

There are ferries between the Portuguese mainland the islands as well as regular ferry services between islands in the Azores, Madeira, and between the Azores and Madeira.