How to have a great holiday in Portugal

Portugal is a fantastic place to go for a holiday, with beautiful scenery, great food and wine, excellent weather, and lots of interesting things to see and do. It’s relatively inexpensive to visit, and it is easy to reach from just about anywhere in the world.

In this article, we’re going to show you how to have a great holiday in Portugal. We recommend staying in the capital city of Lisbon for a few days and then heading north to the city of Porto for a few more days. You’ll enjoy visiting both of these cities, and we’ll also show you some great day trips to some of Portugal’s most scenic and pleasant villages.

Where is Portugal?

Portugal is located in the southwestern corner of Europe. It’s on the Atlantic Ocean and enjoys a temperate climate year round. Both Porto and Lisbon have international airports with flights from all over the world. You can also reach Portugal by train or by bus from anywhere in Europe.

Where is Portugal?

First Stop: Lisbon

You will most likely fly into Lisbon, so let’s start our holiday planning there. We recommend staying in the central part of the city, so that you’ll be close to tourist attractions, restaurants, and public transportation.

Lisbon’s “Top Twelve” Tourist Attractions

Lisbon is a pleasant city to just walk around – it’s got lots of character, and characters, old world architecture, and nice views to enjoy. It also holds a number of excellent tourist attractions that you may want to visit. Here’s our “Top Twelve” list of places to go and things to do while you’re in in Lisbon………

#1 – Castelo de Sao Jorge

Our #1 attraction is the Castelo de Sao Jorge, an 11th century castle built on a hill in central Lisbon. You can tour the castle, learn about Lisbon’s history, and enjoy some scenic vistas of the city below. It’s open 7 days a week and costs just 10 euros to enter. Guided tours are available.

Castelo de Sao Jorge Lisbon
Castelo de Sao Jorge

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#2 – Riding the “Number 28” Tram

The public transportation system operates a number of trams throughout the city. Many of these employ modern, articulated trams called “Articulado”. But much of the city is very hilly with winding, narrow streets that can’t accommodate the modern trams, so the city continues to operate the old “Remodelado” trams. They may lake look like they belong in a museum, but these are fun to ride. We recommend riding the “Number 28” tram which winds through old Lisbon from east to west. A ride will cost you about 3 euros.

Articulado tram Lisbon
Number 28 tram Lisbon
Number 28 tram Lisbon

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#3 – Santa Justa Lift

Another really unique mode of transportation is the “Santa Justa Lift”. This is a large, public elevator intended to help people cope with the steep hills in Lisbon. The lift has been in operation since about 1900 and retains the original look and feel. A lot of tourists ride up to the top just for the views. A ride to the top will cost you about 5 euros. You may want to purchase a 24 hour transit pass, which allows you to ride the Lift, the Trams, and the Metro (subway) system all day for around 6 euros.

Santa Justa Lift Lisbon
Santa Justa Lift Lisbon

#4 – Praca de Comercio and Rua Augusta Arch

Number four on our list is the Praça do Comércio which is a large public square facing the harbour. It’s a lively place with tourists and touts and surrounded by many shops and restaurants. The entrance to the square is beautifully framed by the Rua Augusta Arch, which was built to commemorate the reconstruction of the city after an earthquake in 1755.

Praca do Comercia Lisbon
Praca do Comercia Lisbon
Praca do Comercia Lisbon Rua Augusta

#5 – Elevador de Bica

Here’s another public transportation system making our list. This time it’s a funicular right in the middle of the city called “Elevador de Bica”. This is a cable car that climbs up and down a steep street. It’s really photogenic with the hundred year old cars climbing up the hill and crossing each other at the midway mark. We recommend riding up the funicular and then walking down the flight of stairs “Calcada de Bica Grande” which is one block east.

Elevador de Bica Lisbon

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#6 – Belem Tower

Now we’re going to shift our focus west, to the Belem area of Lisbon. Number five on our list is the iconic “Belem Tower” which is a 16th century fortification built to protect the port of Lisbon. It is a beautiful structure both inside and outside, and has been carefully restored and maintained. A visit inside the walls will cost you about 6 euros.

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#7 – Pasteis de Belem

Ready for a snack? Our next stop is a pastry shop called “Pasteis de Belem” which is not too far from the Belem Tower. This is the original shop, founded in 1837, which invented the traditional Portuguese custard tart called “pastel de nata” (egg custard, in English). They also sell other Portuguese treats and coffee so you can recharge your batteries.

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#8 – Jeronimos Monastery

Next up is the spectacular 16th century “Jeronimos Monastery”. The building has impressive architecture and there is an adjacent courtyard with a large garden. Inside you’ll find the old monastery along with several tombs.

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#9 – Magical Garden

Just a few steps from Jeronimos Monastery, you’ll find Lisbon’s “Magical Garden”. This is a hillside park that comes to life at night with 20 “luminous experiences” that combine light shows, sounds, and gardens. The entire experience includes about a kilometre of walking trails up and down the hill. Entrance costs around 15 to 20 euros. If you prefer conventional gardens, Lisbon’s Botanical Garden is directly across the street.

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#10 – Ajuda National Palace

Keep climbing to reach #10 on our list, Ajuda National Palace. Originally built as a summer residence for the royal family, the palace has been preserved as a museum of decorative arts. The palace is beautiful and you can see the original living quarters, state rooms, and throne room used by the royals.

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#11 – LX Factory

Feeling hungry? Great! Our next recommendation is “LX Factory” which is an old industrial factory that has been transformed into a cool arts, shopping, and restaurants centre. It’s located about halfway between the Belem area and the Placa, underneath the enormous “Ponte 25 de Abril” bridge.

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#12- Oceanario

Last but not least on our “Top Twelve” list is Lisbon’s public aquarium “Oceanario”. It’s located on the waterfront in a modern pavilion. Inside you’ll see a number of ocean habitats for all kinds of fish and other sea creatures. Entrance price is 19 euros. Next door you’ll find a beautiful “Water Garden” and Lisbon’s Science Museum.

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“Top Five” Day Trips from Lisbon

Lisbon is great but Portugal has many charming villages and beach towns that are worth a visit. Many of these can easily be reached on a day trip from Lisbon, so there’s no need to check out of your Lisbon hotel. More good news……….you won’t need a rental car for these day trips, just use inexpensive public transportation and leave the driving to someone else. Just make sure you choose a hotel that is close to the major train and bus stations.

#1 – Obidos

Day Trip #1 takes you to the charming and beautiful village of Obidos. It is an ancient, walled village with a medieval feel to it. Very popular with tourists, so be prepared for crowds if the tour buses are in town. The best things to do are to visit Obidos Castle (which now operates as a hotel), walk along the walls that encircle the village, visit the beautiful old churches, and to “get lost” in the winding little streets. Be sure to try the local alcoholic delicacy “Ginja” which is served in a chocolate cup!

To get to Obidos, take the “Rodoviaria de Oeste” bus. Their “Rapida Verde 788” bus departs from Lisbon’s Campo Grande bus station several time a day and the journey takes 1 hour and 20 minutes each way. In Obidos, the bus stop is located at Rua da Praca near the N8 motorway. From there, it’s s short walk into the village. A bus ticket costs about 11 euros each way.

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#2 – Ericeira

Our second day trip takes you to the beach village of Ericeira. This place is blessed with several beautiful beaches, where you can enjoy sunbathing, swimming, or surfing. The beaches near the village are suitable for sunbathing and swimming, while the beaches further known are world class surfing beaches. The waves during the winter surfing season are enormous, so be careful if you are new to the sport! You can take a surfing lesson here, expect to pay about 40 euros for a half day lesson including rental of a surfboard and a wetsuit.

The village itself is well worth the trip, as you will see commercial fishermen and their boats in the harbour, along with lots of shops and restaurants to visit. The seaside promenade sits on top of a cliff high above the ocean for some great vistas.

To visit Ericeira, take the “Mafrense” bus. Route 200 departs from Lisbon’s Campo Grande bus station several time a day and the journey takes about an hour each way. In Ericeira, the bus terminal is located on the highway about 900 metres from the beach, so you may want to hire a taxi. A Mafrense bus ticket costs about 6 euros each way.

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#3 – Sintra

Number three on our list is a day trip to Sintra. This place is very popular with tourists and locals so expect big crowds when you visit. It’s popular because there so many palaces, castles, mansions, and gardens to see, along with some beautiful scenery. Let’s take a look at the top sights in Sintra…….

First up is the Palacio Nacional da Pena, or simply called Pena Palace. This is a spectacular 19th century castle with amazing stone sculptures, terraces, and gateways. It is painted yellow and red and it towers over the town below. Inside, the rooms are decorated with 19th and early 20th century furnishings that are “fit for a king”; the palace was a royal residence until a rebellion forced the royals to flee in 1910. There are two ticket options available. You can choose to visit the palace and surrounding parks with a 14 euro ticket, or you can choose to visit the parks with an 8 euro ticket. There are lots of trails and ponds to explore if you choose the park option.

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Our second recommendation is to visit the National Palace of Sintra. This palace dates back to the 15th century and is built in a Gothic architecture with white walls and two large, distinctive chimneys. There are many beautiful staterooms to visit and you’ll also want to see the “Magpie” room.

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Another place you should visit is the “Quinta de Regaleira” which is a large mansion built during the waning days of the Portuguese monarchy. The mansion is surrounded by some wonderful gardens to explore. You’ll likely spend most of your time outdoors, be sure to look for the mystical “Poco Iniciatico” (the “Pit of Initiaton” in English), a deep well with a spiral staircase that descends deep into the earth. Legend has it that the well was used as part of an initiation process! Entrance fee here is 6 euros.

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Our next recommendation is the “Castelo dos Mouros” (in English, the Castle of the Moors). This ancient castle was built more than 1000 years ago by North African Moors (Muslims) who dominated this portion of Europe at the time. It has been restored and provides some scenic views of the region. There is a nature trail from the National Palace to the Castelo so you can easily combine the two visits.

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Our fifth and final suggestion for your day trip to Sintra is the Palace of Monserrate. This was built in 1866 and combines elements of Islamic architecture with formal English gardens and a spectacular lawn. It’s a beautiful spot and generally less crowded than the other places on our list. It will cost you 8 euros to visit.

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The best way to visit Sintra from Lisbon is by train, as the train is quick and inexpensive and runs frequently. You have a choice of two train routes to get to Sintra.

If you’re staying in central Lisbon, take the route from Rossio station to Sintra station. If you’re staying on the east side of Lisbon, take the route from Oriente station. The cost is the same from either station, about 4.50 euros round trip. The journey to Sintra takes less than an hour from either station.

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When you arrive at Sintra train station, disembark and look for the “SCOTTURB” bus stop. SCOTTURB operates the bus service in Sintra, and they have two bus routes that are ideal for your day trip to Sintra. The town of Sintra lies at the bottom of a steep hill and all of the attractions are at the top of the hill. It can be a challenge to get to all of the sights by walking, so we suggest you buy “hop on hop off” bus ticket. These tickets cost 5 to 7 euros each.

Bus 434 operates in a circular route, with stops at:

  • Sintra Train Station
  • Historic Town Center
  • Castelo dos Mouros
  • Pena Palace and Park
  • Historic Town Center
  • Sintra Train Station

Bus 435 also operates in a circular route, with stops at:

  • Sintra Train Station
  • Historic Center
  • Quinta Regaleira Estate
  • Seteais Palace
  • Monserrate Palace
  • Historic Center
  • Sintra Train Station

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#4 – Cascais

Our fourth day trip from Lisbon takes you to a resort town called Cascais. Cascais is very popular with tourists and day trippers, because of it’s beautiful beaches and a seaside promenade that is perfect for a relaxing walk or bicycle ride.

To reach Cascais from Lisbon, take the regional train from Cais do Sodre station. It’s a scenic 40 minute journey, make sure you sit on the left side of the train for sea views.

Cascais has several beaches, including Praia da Raina which is right behind the Cascais train station. Walking west from the train station, you’ll see lots of shops and restaurants as you walk through the center of town. Head south to see the fishing pier and the main town square. Keep walking along the seaside and you’ll come to an old fortress that has been converted into an arts centre. A few more steps will take you to a fine arts museum and then to Santa Marta Fort and Lighthouse, which is now a museum. Keep walking along the beach and you’ll be rewarded with a visit to the “Boca do Inferno” which is a seaside cave where the waves crash into the shore.

Those are the main sights in Cascais, but many people choose to walk all the way to the next town called Estoril. Along the way, you’ll enjoy the views from a beautiful seaside esplanade.

#5 – Evora

Evora is the destination for our next day trip. It is a medium sized city with a number of sights worth visiting. You can easily reach Evora from Lisbon by Inter-City train in about 90 minutes.

When you arrive in Evora, walk north from the train station and your first stop will be the Chapel of Saint Blaise, a beautiful old church that may remind you of a Disney movie. Continue north and you’ll come to the Capela dos Ossos (in English, the Chapel of Bones). Inside this church you will find the walls are completely covered with human skulls and bones! It ‘s not to everybody’s taste, but it is a popular attraction here.

Keep walking to the main square Praca de Giraldo which is a large plaza with a central fountain. A few more steps will bring you to the Clock and Watch Museum (Museo do Rologio) which has a collection of antique clocks and watches on display.

It’s time for a drink! Walk east to Rota Dos Vinhos which is a wine tasting room specializing in the wines of the Alentejo region. After finishing your drink, you’re just a few steps from an amaing sight, the Templo Romano Évora, which are the ruins of an ancient temple built by the Roman Empire about 2000 years ago.

Our last stop is the Se Cathedral, a beautiful Gothic church which towers over the city. The main attraction here is to climb to the roof for a panoramic view.

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and here:

Second Stop: Porto

After seeing all that Lisbon has to offer, we suggest you spend a few days in Portugal’s second city Porto. The city is picturesque and has a few worthy tourist attractions, and just like Lisbon it is a great base for day trips.

Porto’s “Top Six” Tourist Attractions

Porto is a much smaller city than Lisbon so you’ll only need a day or two to visit the top sights.

#1 – Visit a Wine Cellar for Port Tasting

The city of Porto is named for “Port“ wine (Vinho do Porto, in Portuguese), so of course our #1 recommendation is to visit one of Porto’s wine cellars for a Port wine tasting. There are several wine cellars that are open to the public, so you can visit more than one if you like. All of the cellars are located in the “Gaia” area which is just south of the Ponte Luis I bridge. A visit often includes a tour of the facility followed by a tasting. Check before you go for tour times and languages. You will likely pay 10 to 15 euros for a tour and a tasting.

Vila Nova de Gaia.

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#2 – Douro River and Ponte Luis I Bridge

The city of Porto is dominated by the mighty Douro River which flows right through the center of the city. So our #2 recommendation is a visit to the Douro River. There are pedestrian promenades on both sides of the river where you can stroll, watch the boats, or have a drink or a meal and watch the world go by. The promenade on the north side of the river is “Cais de Ribera”, and on the south side the “Cais de Gaia”.

After enjoying the riverside, your next goal should be to get to the top of the Ponte Luis I bridge which spans the river. You have two great options for getting to the top! If you’re on the Gaia side, you can take a cable car ride called “Teleferico de Gaia” which will provide you with great views of the river as you ride to the top of the river bank. A one way ride will cost you 6 euros. If you’re on the Ribeira side, you can ride the “Funicular dos Guindais” which will take you from the river level up to the bridge for about 2.50 euros.

Once you’re at the top, walk across the iconic “Luis I” bridge for more views of the river.

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#3 – Douro River Cruise

Another way to enjoy the river is with a river cruise. There are inexpensive “Six Bridge” cruises that will take you under all six of Porto’s bridges. For a little more money, you can embark on a full day wine tasting cruise that will take you up the Douro River to a vineyard where you can get a tour of the facilities and sample some wine.

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#4 – Livraria Lello Bookshop

Our 4th recommendation is to visit a bookstore! Yes, one of Porto’s most popular tourist spots is a beautiful old bookstore that is world renowned as one of the most beautiful in the world. It is called Livraria Lello and inside you’ll find beautiful shelves, ceilings, and a curved staircase that was the inspiration for J.K. Rowling’s Hogwarts. You will have to wait in line and pay a small fee (5 euros) to enter the store.

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#5 – Torre dos Clerigos Bell Tower

#5 on our list is the “Torre dos Clérigos” Bell Tower which towers about Porto’s skyline. It stands 75 meters tall, and can be seen from all over the city. The view from the top is great, but it’s a tough climb up 240 steps to the top of the tower. The tower and church were built between 1732 and 1750 in a beautiful Baroque style. Entrance to the tower will cost you about 6 euros.

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#6 – Riding the Tram

Just like Lisbon, Porto still uses old fashioned trams on certain routes. They are operated primarily for tourists who would like to experience a taste of the past. There are three lines to choose from. Line 1, the “Riverside” line, makes the route between the historic centre of Porto and the garden of Passeio Alegre on a single path along the banks of the River Douro. Line 18, the “Restore” Line, runs between Massarelos and the Carmo on a path that connects the historic parish of Massarelos to Garden of cordage, rope, Twine and its surroundings. Line 22, the “Low” line, traverses the emblematic streets of the city centre of Porto in a circular route between Casey and Battle/Guindais. A single ride ticket will cost about 3.5 euros.

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“Top Three” Day Trips from Porto

Like Lisbon, Porto is surrounded by many charming and interesting villages and sights. After enjoying all that Porto has to offer, we suggest some day trips.

#1 – Guimaraes

Guimaraes is a beautiful village that many consider to be the birthplace of the nation of Portugal. You can spend a few hours walking around the village and seeing the old buildings. A short walk north of town you will find a 10th century castle “Castelo de Guimarães” and “Ducal Palace”, both of which you can tour for a few euros. Another short walk south of town will take you to a cable car “Teleferico de Penha” which will whisk you to the top of Penha Hill for some views or a nice hike.

The best way to reach Guimaraes from Porto is to take the train from Sao Bento railway station. Note the train service is not that frequent so be sure to check the schedule.

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#2 – Braga and Bom Jesus do Monte

Our next recommendation is a day trip to the city of Braga, with a side trip to the Bom Jesus do Monte religious retreat.

Braga is a medium sized city but all of the most interesting sights are located within the compact old city centre. Your visit starts as you pass through the Arco da Porta Nova arch.

Braga is the religious epicentre of Portugal, so there are a lot of old churches to see here. The “Sé de Braga” may be the largest in town and is worth a visit. For a look at the 17th century Baroque era, visit “Raio Palace” which may be the most beautiful building in town. The “Jardim de Santa Bárbara” is a small botanical gardens located next to the burned out shell of an old palace. Rua Justino Cruz is a pedestrian street lines with shops and restaurants, and there are two public plazas that are good for relaxing and people watching: Largo Sao Joao do Souto and Largo do Paco. Keep walking east and you’ll come to Braga’s largest park and plaza, the Praca de Republica. This street is lined with beautiful old churches, a museum, and shops and restaurants.

To get to Braga from Porto, take the urban train from Sao Bento station to Braga station. There are frequent departures and the journey takes a little more than an hour. Juts walk a few blocks east from the station and you’ll be in the center of town. A round trip tickets costs less than 7 euros.

If you’ve still got some energy after visiting Braga, we suggest visit to the “Bom Jesus do Monte” religious sanctuary. It is just a short distance from Braga and well worth a visit.

To get to the sanctuary, take the local public bus (route # 2). There is a bus stop on Avenue da Liberdade, not far from the Praca de Republica, where you can board the bus. The ticket costs just 1.60 euros and you buy it from the driver. The journey takes about 30 minutes and bus will take you directly to the sanctuary entrance.

The Bom Jesus do Monte sanctuary sits on top of a hill with a spectacular staircase leading up to it. You can either climb the 564 stairs to the top, or ride a funicular to the top for a couple of euros. At the top, enjoy the views of the city and visit the sanctuary buildings. When you are ready to return, we suggest you walk down the stairs, and you’ll get some great photos along the way. The #2 bus will take you back to the train station for your return trip to Porto.

#3 – Aveiro

Aveiro is a small town on the coast and is our #3 recommended day trip from Porto. To see the best of Aveiro, arrive early in the morning so you can visit the lively fish market. Enjoy a leisurely walk down the main street from the railway station to the canals, where you can enjoy a gondola ride with all of the other tourists. Somewhere along the way, you may want to try a local delicacy called “Ovos Moles de Aveiro” which is a sweet egg pastry. Last but not least, for something decidedly different, walk underneath the highway towards the sea, where you’ll see Aveiro’s vast salt lagoons. There are a couple of places here where you can soak or swim in the briny water.

To get to Aveiro from Porto, take the train from Sao Bento station. A round trip will cost around 7 euros.

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Practical Information

When to Go

Portugal can be very hot and crowded with tourists in the summer months, so these months are not the best time to visit. The winter months (November through February) are cool and wet but if you don’t mind then you might enjoy a visit. Perhaps the best times to visit are the spring and fall (March through May and September through October) when the weather is mild and the crowds are not so large.

Lisbon weather

Language and Currency

Portuguese is the national language but English is widely spoken, especially in the hospitality business. The currency is the euro.

Where to Stay

In Lisbon, we recommend staying in the “Bairro” area, near the Rosso train and metro stations. You’ll have a lot of shops and restaurants to choose from, and you will be able to get to and from the public transportation, especially for all of those day trips.

Here are a couple of Bairro hotels that you may consider.

Chiado 44

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The 7 Hotel

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My Story Hotel

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In Porto, we recommend staying near the Sao Bento railway station. This is a great area for tourist attractions, shops, and restaurants, and you’ll be able to easily catch the train for those day trips.

We suggest one of these hotels.

House of Artists

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B the Guest

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My Ribeira Guest House

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Getting Around

Public transportation is the best way to get around in Portugal. Here are some inexpensive and easy ways to get around.

Getting around in Lisbon

You can get around Lisbon using the Metro (subway) system or bus. If you’re spending the day in the city, you can purchase a “24 Hour CARRIS” ticket which is valid for 24 hours. With this pass, you can travel on all Lisbon urban trains, Carris buses, elevators, funiculars and trams and the Lisbon Metro for 24 hours. Hop on and off wherever you want. A CARRIS pass costs about 11 euros. Note there are three different versions of the CARRIS pass, depending on where you are travelling, so please inquire before purchasing. Also, you need to load the CARRIS pass onto a “VIVA viagem” card, so you will need to purchase this card first.

This map shows the Lisbon Metro network, which has four lines (Blue, Yellow, Red, Green).

Lisbon Public Transportation network map

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and here:

To get from the airport to your hotel, you can take the Metro (red line) which has a station in Lisbon International Airport.

Getting around in Porto

For tourists, there isn’t much need to use public transportation within the city of Porto. Most of the sights worth seeing are all within walking distance of the center of town. But if you do need to travel a little further, you can get around Porto using the Metro (tram) system or bus. You can purchase individual tickets or an “Andante” ticket which is valid for 24 hours. An Andante pass costs 4 to 6 euros depending on how many travel zones you’ll be visiting.

For more information on the bus, click here:

For more information on the Metro, click here:

To get from the airport to your hotel, you can take the Metro which has a station in Porto International Airport.

Getting around Portugal

For getting around Portugal, your best choice depends on where you are going.

Portugal’s national railway operator “Comboios de Portugal” (CP) operates an extensive network of train services including some high speed “Alfa Pendular” and Inter-City trains. Prices are very affordable and CP offers some rail passes that offer great value for tourists. For example, a 3-day 2nd class adult ticket costs about 73 euros, while a 7-day ticket costs just 129 euros. These passes are valid for a month and allow unlimited travel on the days of travel.

For more information, click here:

and here:

For more information, on the Tourist TravelCard, click here:

Certain destinations are better served by bus. Portugal has a couple of bus operators that provide affordable transportation to many tourist attractions.

Rodoviaria do Oeste operates services to Obidos and other locations. Unfortunately, their website is in Portuguese only:

Mafrense operates services to Ericeira and other locations. Unfortunately, their website is in Portuguese only:

For day trips to Sintra and Cascais, the best choice is to take the urban railway services operated by Comboios de Portugal (CP). This map shows the Lisbon Metro and Railway network, which includes the urban railway services operated by the national rail operator Comboios de Portugal. CP offers a “Tourist Travelcard” pass which is convenient and offer great value. The Lisbon Travelcard Provides unlimited travel for 1 or 3 days (24 or 72 hours in a row*), on the Sintra/Azambuja, Cascais and Sado lines, all for just €6.00 (1 day) or €13.50 (3 days). The Porto Travelcard provides unlimited travel for 1 or 3 days (24 or 72 hours in a row) on the Aveiro, Braga, Guimarães and Marco lines, all for just €7.00 (1 day) or €15.00 (3 days).

How to Have a Great Holiday in Portugal – Wrapping Up

We hope you’ve enjoyed reading the article, and we hope that you are able to visit Portugal soon!

How to have a great holiday in Portugal