Travelling to Portugal by train takes you off the beaten tourist trail, with Lisbon, Porto and the Costa Verde high up on the list of its heritage highs.
Portugal was shut off from the rest of Europe until 1974 when military rule came to an end - peacefully and people-led. In many ways the country’s re-immersion has celebrated this notion of freedom ever since. In its landscapes, music and general joie de vivre. Here are our Portuguese pickings, all of which are accessible by international trains. Because, when travelling to Portugal, we like to go the peaceful way.
Travelling from Madrid to Lisbon by train
The best rail route between Madrid to Lisbon is on an overnight train, prices for which can often be less than any hostel or hotel. Taking 10 hrs 37 mins, this is a long but adventurous capital connection. On the edge of the Tejo estuary, Lisbon has become one of Europe’s most fashionable cities, while avoiding pretentious status. Ancient buildings with their traditional azulejo tilework have been sensitively restored; creaky trams take you to up to São Jorge Castle and a labyrinth of streets are home to old men playing dominoes outside old cafes alongside Michelin starred restaurants.
Travelling from Vigo to Porto by train
The other main international train route is from Vigo in northern Spain to Porto in northern Portugal - two coastal towns with dramatically different heritage and only two hours between them by train. The Portuguese coast followed by this train is called the Costa Verde, although there are some idyllic inland stops to discover en route too.
Valença is one of these stops, also known as Valença do Minho, and is the first one over the border from Spain when you take this train route. Step off of the station into a hilltop fortified village overlooking the Miño River. Spend a night if you can because, when the Spanish daytrippers go home, you have a perfect pocket of Portugal all to yourself. Or the verde before the costa.
Viana do Castelo is a medieval marvel on the coast, with an old quarter to mosey around, rococo palaces to drool over and a pre-Christian fort to climb up to. Its Basilica of Santa Luzia, on Mt. St. Luzia was inspired by Paris’ Sacré Coeur and you can reach it by funicular. Its green gem is the Rio Lima estuary so it’s all going on here really. So don’t overlook it en route to Porto by train.
It is hard to know why Porto is not more prolific on the carousel of city breaks. Located on the River Douro, take a boat trip to the famous port wine caves, saunter around the Ribeira historic quarter, climb the Clérigos Tower or hire bikes and cycle along the river boardwalk to the coast. Porto will always quench a thirst or feed a hunger, with superb seafood all over the city and its coastal environs, as well as cheap and more than cheerful wine. Don’t miss the chance to try a white port and tonic.
The Rota Vicentina long-distance walking trail
Outside of these international routes, you can easily book trains locally in Portugal as we don’t yet sell local train journeys there. Just to inspire you, consider travelling to Lisbon by international train and then booking locally to take on part of the 450km Rota Vicentina network of walking trails. One of the most popular segments is the Fishermen’s Trail, which takes you along 120km of south-west Portugal’s Atlantic coast. Divide that up into daily sections for a mini peaceful revolution in your own life.
Images top to bottom: Benagil Cave, Algarve iStock ©RichardALock, Miradouro de Santa Luzia iStock ©hsvrs, Valença fortress iStock ©jorgefran, Santa Luzia Basilica iStock ©fotokon, Douro River ©PRG-Estudio
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