Getting there & away
There are no scheduled seagoing ferries to Portugal, but many to Spain.
The closest North African ferry connections are from Morocco to Spain; contact Transmediterranea (www.trasmediterranea.net), Euro Ferrys (www.euroferrys.com), and FerriMaroc (www.ferrimaroc.com) for details. Car ferries also run from Tangier to Gibraltar.
Car ferries cross the Rio Guadiana border from Ayamonte in Spain to Vila Real de Santo António in the Algarve every 40 minutes from 8.20am to 7pm Monday to Saturday, 9.15am to 5.40pm on Sundays; buy tickets from the waterfront office (€1.30/4.40/0.65 per person/car/bike).
Bicycles can be taken on aeroplanes, but check this with the airline well in advance. Let some of the air out of the tyres to prevent them from bursting in the low-pressure baggage hold. Bikes are not allowed as baggage on Eurolines buses.
Buses are slower and less comfortable than trains, but they’re cheaper, especially if you qualify for an under-26, student or senior discount. The major long-distance carriers that serve European destinations are Eurolines and Busabout, neither of which have services in Portugal (you’ll have to go to Spain first). Eurohop services Spain and two Portugal destinations.
Eurolines (www.eurolines.com) is a consortium of coach operators forming Europe’s largest network. A Eurolines Pass gives you unlimited travel among 35 European cities, although Madrid is currently the closest city to Portugal covered by the pass. High-season prices range from €329/279 (adult/under 26) for a 15-day pass to €439/359 for a 30-day pass; low-season prices are 20% to 25% lower.
Eurolines’ main Portugal offices are in Lisbon (218 957 398; Loja 203, Gare do Oriente) and in Porto (225 189 299; Centro Comercial Central Shopping, Campo 24 de Agosto 125). For some European routes, Eurolines is affiliated with the three big Portuguese operators Intercentro (213 571 745; Rua Engenheiro Vieira Silva 55, Lisbon), Internorte (226 052 420; www.internorte.pt in Portuguese; Praça da Galiza 96, Porto) and Eva Transportes (289 899 700; www.eva-bus.com).
Busabout (www.busabout.com) is a hop-on hop-off network linking 36 cities in Europe. Buses run from May to October, and travellers can move freely around one of three networks. The bus picks up and drops off near select hostels and camp sites.
Passes range from UK£275 to UK£575, giving you from two weeks to up to six months to complete your journey. Youth (under 26) and student-card holders pay about 10% less. The nearest stops to Portugal are in Spain (Madrid, Barcelona and San Sebastian).
Eurohop (www.eurohop.es) is a hop-on hop-off network linking nine cities in Spain and two in Portugal (Lagos and Lisbon). Buses run from June to September, and travellers can move freely around the network, with buses leaving from each city every two days. Depending on your itinerary, prices run from €88 to a whopping €345. The bus picks up and drops off near select hostels.
Eurolines offers regular connections from Paris to all over Portugal, including Porto (25 hours), Lisbon (26 hours) and less often to Faro (29 hours). Expect to pay €88 to €95. Hefty surcharges apply to one-way or return tickets for most departures from July to mid-August and also on Saturday year round.
From Madrid, Eurolines/Internorte runs daily via Guarda to Porto (€41 one way, 8½ hours) and also via Badajoz and Évora to Lisbon (€41, eight hours); twice weekly, the Lisbon service starts from Barcelona (€84, 18 hours). The Spanish lines AutoRes (902 02 09 99; www.auto-res.net) and Alsa (913 27 05 40; www.alsa.es) each have regular Madrid–Lisbon services (€38).
The Portuguese carrier Eva (289 899 700; www.eva-bus.com) and the Spanish line Damas (95 925 69 00; www.damas-sa.es) operate a joint service three times weekly from Seville to Lisbon (€33 to €38, 4½ hours); with connecting buses to other cities at Ficalho.
Eurolines affiliate Intersul (289 899 770; Loja A, Terminal Rodoviário, Faro) runs from Seville to Lagos regularly in summer, and Eva/Damas runs a twice-daily service from Seville to Faro (€14, four to five hours), Albufeira and Lagos (€17, 4½ hours) via Huelva.
Eurolines has services to Portugal from destinations across Europe, typically about twice a week. Sample one-way fares from Hamburg are around €158/167/188 to Porto/Lisbon/Faro. Fares from Amsterdam or Brussels are around €140 to Lisbon or Faro.
Eurolines runs several services to Portugal from Victoria coach station in London, with a stopover and change of bus in France and sometimes Spain. These include two buses a week to Viana do Castelo (34 hours), five to Porto (33 hours), five via Coimbra to Lisbon (35 hours) and two via Faro to Lagos (38 hours). These services cost around UK£152 return.
Of more than 30 roads that cross the Portugal–Spain border, the best and biggest do so near Valença do Minho (E01/A3), Chaves (N532), Bragança (E82/IP4), Guarda/Vilar Formoso (E80/IP5), Elvas (E90/A6/IP7), Serpa (N260) and Vila Real de Santo António (E1/IP1). There are no longer any border controls.
Nationals of EU countries need only their home driving licences to operate a car or motorcycle in Portugal, although holders of the UK’s old, pre-EU green licences should also carry an International Driving Permit (IDP). Portugal also accepts licences issued in Brazil and the USA. Others should get an IDP through an automobile licensing department or automobile club in their home country (or at some post offices in the UK).
If you’re driving your own car or motorcycle into Portugal, you’ll also need vehicle registration (proof of ownership) and insurance documents. If these are in order you should be able to keep the vehicle in Portugal for up to six months.
Motor vehicle insurance with at least third-party cover is compulsory throughout the EU. Your home policy may or may not be extendable to Portugal, and the coverage of some comprehensive policies automatically drops to third-party only outside your home country unless the insurer is notified. Though it’s not a legal requirement, it’s wise to carry written confirmation from your home insurer that you have the correct coverage.
If you hire a car, the rental firm will provide you with registration and insurance papers, plus a rental contract.
The quickest driving route from the UK to Portugal is by car ferry to northern Spain with P&O Portsmouth (0870 520 2020; www.poferries.com) from Portsmouth to Bilbao (35 hours, twice weekly mid-March to mid-December), or Brittany Ferries (0870 366 5333; www.brittany-ferries.com) from Plymouth to Santander (18 hours, twice weekly from March to November). From Bilbao or Santander it’s roughly 1000km to Lisbon, 800km to Porto or 1300km to Faro. Fares are wildly seasonal. A standard weekday, high-season, return ticket for a car/motorcycle with driver and one passenger (with cabin accommodation) starts at about UK£660/420, but you can usually beat this with special offers.
An alternative is to catch a ferry across the Channel (or the Eurotunnel vehicle train beneath it) to France and motor down the coast.
Trains are a popular way to get around Europe –comfortable, frequent and generally on time. But unless you have a rail pass the cost can be higher than flying.
There are two standard long-distance rail journeys into Portugal. Both take the TGV Atlantique from Paris to Irún (in Spain), where you must change trains. From there the Sud-Expresso crosses into Portugal at Vilar Formoso (Fuentes de Oñoro in Spain), continuing to Coimbra and Lisbon; change at Pampilhosa for Porto. The other journey runs from Irún to Madrid, with a change to the Talgo Lusitânia, crossing into Portugal at Marvão-Beirã and on to Lisbon. For trips to the south of Portugal, change at Lisbon.
You’ll have few problems buying long-distance tickets as little as a day or two ahead, even in summer. For those intending to do a lot of European rail travel, the exhaustive Thomas Cook European Timetable is updated monthly and is available from Thomas Cook Publishing (01733-416477; www.thomascooktimetables.com) for UK£11.50 online, plus postage.
The daily train journey from Paris (Gare d’Austerlitz) to Lisbon takes 20 hours. An adult, 2nd-class (Apex), under-26 ticket costs around €240 return for a couchette on the overnight Irún–Lisbon section. You can book directly with French railway SNCF (www.voyages-sncf.com).
The main Spain–Portugal rail route is from Madrid to Lisbon via Cáceres and the border station of Marvão-Beirã. The nightly journey on the Talgo Lusitânia takes 10½ hours. A 2nd-class one-way reserved seat costs €109; add on €82 for a berth in a four-person compartment or €102 in a two-person compartment.
The Badajoz–Caia–Elvas–Lisbon route (€18, five hours), with two regional trains a day and a change at Entroncamento, is tedious, though the scenery through the Serra de Marvão is grand. Onward Seville–Badajoz connections are by bus.
In the south, trains run west from Seville only as far as Huelva, followed by bus connections. You’re better off on a bus.
The fastest and most convenient route to Portugal is with Eurostar from London Waterloo to Paris via the Channel Tunnel, and then onward by TGV.
Coming from within Europe, you’ll have no problems entering Portugal by land, sea or air. However, if you’re arriving from further afield, check to see if you’ll need to secure a visa before arrival.
Portugal has international airports at Lisbon (Airport code LIS; 218 413 500;), Porto (Airport code OPO; 229 412 534) and Faro (Airport code FAO; 289 800 800). For more information, see www.ana-aeroportos.pt. Portugal’s flagship international airline is TAP Air Portugal. The main domestic airline – but with a growing menu of European connections – is PGA Portugália Airlines. Following are details of major carriers serving Portugal:
Aer Lingus (airline code EI; 217 220 511; www.aerlingus.ie)
Air Berlin (airline code AB; 289 800 832; www.airberlin.com)
Air France (airline code AF; 808 202 800; www.airfrance.fr)
Air Luxor (airline code LK; 707 500 505; www.airluxor.com)
Alitalia (airline code AZ; 800 307 300; www.alitalia.com)
British Airways (airline code BA; 808 200 125; www.britishairways.com)
British Midland/BMIbaby (airline code BD; www.bmibaby.com)
Continental Airlines (airline code CO; 808 200 079; www.flycontinental.com)
Delta (airline code DL; 213 139 860; www.delta.com)
Finnair (airline code AY; 213 522 689; www.finnair.fi)
GBAirways (289 800 771; www.gbairways.com)
Go/easyJet Airways (airline code U2; www.easyjet.com)
Grupo SATA (airport code S4; 707 227 282; www.sata.pt)
Iberia (airline code IB; 808 261 261; www.iberia.com)
Lufthansa (airline code LH; 214 245 155; www.lufthansa.com)
Monarch Airlines (airline code ZB; 289 889 475; www.flymonarch.com)
PGA Portugália Airlines (airline code NI; 707 789 090; www.flypga.com)
Regional Air Lines (airline code FN; 218 425 559; www.regional.com)
Ryan Air (airline code FR; 289 889 407; www.ryanair.com)
Swiss International Air Lines (airline code LX; 808 200 487; www.swiss.com)
TAP Air Portugal (airline code TP; 707 205 700; www.tap.pt)
Transavia Airlines (airline code HV; 218 925 454; www.transavia.com)
Tunisair (airline code TU; 218 496 350; www.tunisair.com.tn)
Varig (airline code RG; 214 245 170; www.varig.com.br)
Virgin Express (airline code VS; 808 208 082; www.virgin-express.com)
Carriers with multiple daily Paris–Lisbon and Paris–Porto connections include Air France, Portugália and TAP. Direct connections to Lisbon from elsewhere in France also include those from Bordeaux, Nice, Lyon and Toulouse. More expensive flights to Porto go daily from Bordeaux, and weekly from Nice. Flights to Faro are less easy to come by.
Agencies with branches around Portugal:
Nouvelles Frontières (08 25 00 07 47; www.nouvelles-frontieres.fr)
OTU Voyages (08 20 81 78 17; www.otu.fr)
Voyages Wasteels (08 25 88 70 70; www.wasteels.fr).
Voyageurs du Monde (08 92 23 56 56; www.vdm.com).
Carriers with daily Madrid–Lisbon connections include Iberia, Portugália and TAP. Portugália, TAP and Iberia also fly Barcelona–Lisbon. Portugália also has affordable smaller aircraft flying direct to Lisbon from Bilbao, La Coruña, Málaga and Valencia.
An air-fare specialist with branches around Germany is STA Travel (01805-456 422; www.statravel.de). In Belgium go to Usit Connections (070-23-33-13; www.connections.be). In the Netherlands, try Amsterdam-based Air Fair (020-620 5121; www.airfair.nl).
The major links from Germany are Frankfurt, Berlin and Munich to Lisbon, and Frankfurt to Porto. Other direct connections to Lisbon are from Cologne, Hamburg and Stuttgart; and to Faro from Frankfurt. Germany also has busy charter traffic to Portugal.
From Amsterdam, there are daily flights to Lisbon and Porto, and several weekly to Faro. Charter specialist Transavia (020-406 04 06; www.transavia.nl) also offers scheduled flights from Amsterdam to Porto, and Rotterdam to Faro.
Thanks to the UK’s long love affair with Portugal and its ‘bucket-shop’ tradition, bargains are plentiful. The UK’s best-known bargain agencies and internet-based dealers:
Flight Centre (www.flightcentre.co.uk)
STA Travel (0870-160 0599; www.statravel.co.uk)
Trailfinders (0845-050 5891; www.trailfinders.co.uk)
Reliable sources in Ireland:
Trailfinders (01-677 7888; www.trailfinders.ie)
Usit (0818-200 020; www.usit.ie)
Scheduled direct flights go daily to Lisbon from London Heathrow, Gatwick and Manchester. Porto flights also leave daily from Heathrow and Manchester, and less frequently from Gatwick. There’s also a veritable bandwagon of flights to Faro. At the time of research, ‘no-frills’ carriers to Portugal included Go/easyJet (London, Bristol and East Midlands to Faro), BMIbaby (East Midlands to Faro), Monarch (London to Lisbon and Faro; Manchester to Faro) and Ryanair (Dublin and Shannon to Faro; Dublin, Liverpool and London Stansted to Porto).
The only direct US air links are to Lisbon: daily from New York JFK, Newark and Los Angeles and less frequently from Boston. If you don’t mind connecting flights, return fares start at around US$700 from New York or US$1100 from Los Angeles. Chartered flights between Canada and Portugal are through Sata Express and Air Transat (Toronto to Lisbon and Porto).
Circle the Planet (800 799 8888; www.circletheplanet.com) is a leading consolidator, and you can always try your luck with Orbitz (www.orbitz.com) or Hotwire (www.hotwire.com). A big air-fare specialist in the USA is STA Travel (800 781 4040; www.statravel.com). Canada’s best bargain-ticket agency is Travel CUTS (866 246 9762; www.travelcuts.com).