Getting To and Around Portugal
Getting Here: Most international flights into Portugal arrive in Lisbon, especially those crossing the Atlantic. Recently, Faro in the Algarve has become a busy hub for low-cost carriers from Britain and northern Europe. The northern city of Porto has also been gaining in popularity as a weekend destination for low-cost carriers.
From Spain, there's a 9-hour overnight train from Madrid to Lisbon; a planned high-speed link would cut travel time by two-thirds, but those plans are currently frozen because of both countries' economies. Driving from Madrid to Lisbon takes about 5.5 hours; to the Portuguese border, about 3.5 hours.
Getting Around: Buses in Portugal tend to be cheap, but they are often slow, thanks to the country's busy highways. Portugal has three types of buses: expresso, the most expensive, most rapid direct bus between Lisbon, Porto, and other major routes; rápida, a mid-level service in terms of speed and cost; and carrier, a slower local service that stops at small villages (and sometimes takes forever). Lisbon and Porto have good city bus systems for which you can buy a combination rail/bus/ferry pass.
Portuguese trains tend to be faster than buses for intercity travel, but also more expensive. The train from Faro to Lisbon takes about 3.5 hours; the route from Lisbon to Porto, 3 hours. Portugal's state railway company, Comboios de Portugal (CP), runs three types of long- and medium-distance trains: the regional, interregional (IR), and intercidade (IC) services. Check the website (www.cp.pt) for timetables and prices.
If you plan to drive around Portugal in either your own car or a rental, get either a GPS device or a good map. Most of Portugal's main highways, such as those linking Lisbon to Porto, or Lisbon to the Algarve, are portagens—toll roads. They tend to be immaculate and well maintained, but expensive and empty. Smaller, free (but slower) highways are labeled as IP or IC, for itinerário principal or intinerário complementar.