Sometimes the journey is almost as good as the vacation itself, and traveling by train from Lisbon to Madrid certainly ticks that box. 

Some years ago, the overnight train service meant you fell asleep in Portugal and woke up the next day in the Spanish capital. While it was certainly quicker than the current route, it also meant you saw none of the incredible views and charming towns that rolled past the carriage window.

Take the time to explore parts of Portugal and Spain you've never seen before on a delightful journey full of new discoveries – you'll never regret it.

A passenger looks from a train window out at the Tagus River, Portugal
Admiring the view of the Tagus River from the train toward Madrid © Austin Bush

Wave goodbye to Lisbon

Although it’s not immediately apparent on the ticket, the Portuguese leg of the trip isn't direct and requires a transfer in the town of Entroncamento. I board a train that departs from Lisbon’s Santa Apolónia station at 7:45am – a commuter train, which means no assigned seating nor cafe car. We depart, and the train hugs the left bank of the Tagus River, which narrows as we head north, the landscape shifting from industrial-feeling suburbs outside Lisbon to marshy fields after an hour or so. Around Vale de Figueira, the view changes to rolling hills, oak trees and the occasional vineyard estate. We pull into Entroncamento around two hours later and I only have a few minutes to quickly transfer to my next train.

A quick change at Entroncamento and on to the next stage

Upon arrival in Entroncamento at 9:28am, I board my ride to the Spanish border town of Badajoz: a two-carriage commuter train that’s such a bright shade of green it’s like a cartoon. On this humble train, I enjoy the most beautiful leg of the trip as we rattle through a landscape that is typically Alentejo (the region considered Portugal’s rural heartland): rolling hills populated by cattle and oak trees, whitewashed villages, former farmhouses, the occasional bullfighting ring and even an abandoned castle. The train is nearly empty, and I’m able to stretch my legs and walk around the caboose to take photos at will. After nearly three hours, we cross a tiny, unremarkable stream – and, without ceremony, we’re in Spain. Badajoz’s train station, the location of my next and final transfer, is only a few minutes away.

An alley with buildings painted in oranges, yellows and pinks, Badajoz, Extremadura, Spain
Badajoz’s enchanting old town © Austin Bush

Wander through the charming streets of Badajoz

If your train from Entroncamento is on time, it’s possible to make an almost direct transfer to a Madrid-bound train. But I wanted the chance to have lunch and explore Badajoz, so I opted for a later departure, giving me nearly four hours to burn in this historic city.

The train station is in the new part of town, just west of the Guadiana River, a 15-minute walk to the more interesting old town. I exit the station, head south on Avenida Carolina Coronado, cross the 15th-century Puente de Palmas footbridge and enter town via the Puerta de Palmas, a 16th-century fortification.

I arrive at around 2pm – exactly when museums such as the Museo de Bellas Artes de Badajoz and the Museo Extremeño e Iberoamericano de Arte Contemporáneo take their daily 2pm to 5pm siesta. But lunch is just kicking off at this hour, and there are a few interesting options in town. I opt for tortilla española and morcilla (blood sausage) at La Corchuela, an ancient, bullfighting-themed bar and restaurant located in the heart of the old city (the almost space-age Galaxia, is a more upscale option located slightly farther outside the city center).

After lunch, I explore Badajoz’s ancient center on foot, taking in the scene at Plaza de la Soledad and the Plaza de España, the over-the-top architecture such as the Giralda de Badajoz and the narrow paths that lead to the Plaza Alta and its trippy Moorish architecture. I ultimately emerge at the northern end of town, at the Alcazaba. This 12th-century Moorish citadel is the largest in Spain, and today functions as both archaeological site and public park. It’s possible to explore the gardens within the walls, as well as walk along the ramparts, which offer great views of town and the river. 

From the Alcazaba, I return to the river and cross the Puerta de Palmas back to the station to catch my final train.

Plaza de España, Badajoz, Spain
Exploring Badajoz's old town © Austin Bush

The final leg before Madrid

At 5:36pm, I board the train to Madrid. Operated by Renfe, this is a modern, high-speed carriage with comfortable seats equipped with power outlets, an onboard movie and cafe car. Slicing through Spain’s Extremadura region, the view takes the form of seemingly endless olive plantations with the rocky Sierra de Gredos forming a backdrop; at Mérida’s train station, I spot the remains of a Roman aqueduct. It gets dark and I fall asleep, only waking as we pull into Madrid’s hectic Atocha station at 10pm. Approximately 13 hours after having boarded my first train in Lisbon, I have reached my destination.

How to make it happen


Trains are operated by two different, unlinked entities: Comboios de Portugal and Renfe. This means you’ll need to book two sets of tickets to cover both countries.

Food and drink on the journey

The trains on the Portuguese side are commuter or regional trains and don’t have cafe cars. The Badajoz to Madrid train has a dining car that serves basic bites and drinks. There is a cafe at Badajoz’s train station that serves basic snacks and drinks.


There are no luggage lockers in Badajoz’s train station – traveling with a compact case or backpack will make exploring the city a lot easier. Wi-fi is not available in the stations or on the trains.

Travel disruption

In the last couple years, strikes led by employees of the state-run Comboios de Portugal (CP) have led to the cancellation of as many as half the country’s trains on multiple occasions. Before buying tickets, do a quick search or check CP’s website to see if a strike is in progress or about to happen.

This article was first published Apr 21, 2023 and updated Jun 14, 2024.

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