In Portugal, the train is generally slightly faster than the bus, but the connections are less frequent and cost more. The immediate surroundings of Lisbon and Porto are quite well served by suburban trains.
Rail connections on Portugal’s main line, i.e. between Braga and Faro, are good. Alfa-Pendular (fast) trains are comfortable, first class is excellent. The Alfa-Pendular train only stops at the main city stations and often requires advance booking (recommended) between Braga, Porto, Gaia, Aveiro, Coimbra, Lisbon and Faro.
Intercity trains take you to other destinations, especially inland, such as Évora, Beja and Guarda.
Timetables are available and tickets can be purchased online on the Comboios de Portugal website.
If you book five days or more in advance, you will receive a 40% discount on the normal ticket price for Alfa Pendular and Intercidades trains. Only a limited number of these tickets are available in advance per train. Advance booking must be made no earlier than 60 days before the day of travel.
If you book a long-distance ticket to or from Porto-Campanhã, you can travel for free on local trains between this station and Porto São Bento (city centre).
Unfortunately, the rail network is limited, so you may have to travel off the beaten track by bus. Rede Expresso [www] is one of the largest intercity bus companies.
Lisbon and Porto, the two largest cities, have a clean, modern and air-conditioned metro system (underground/metro and light rail).
Road traffic in Lisbon and Porto is quite congested throughout the day and gets completely blocked at peak times, at least on the main roads to get in and out of the city. However, a car is the most convenient or only way to get to areas outside the major cities (rental cars aren’t too expensive, but the associated insurance is – unless you book the full package abroad). Note the advice below about the quality of some people’s driving skills.
In general, Portugal is not a good country for hitchhiking. On the deserted country roads of the south, you can wait many hours before you are offered a lift. Try to talk to people at petrol stations or car parks, etc. Drivers tend to be suspicious, but if you show them not to be afraid, they will probably accept you, and most of the time they will be generous. Try to look neat and clean. Hippie style will get you nowhere. Like everywhere else in the world, two men hitchhiking together won’t get a ride from anyone.
You can easily reach almost all major cities in Portugal, either by motorway or by good modern roads. The major cities are well connected by modern motorways (most of which are toll roads) and you can, if you wish, travel the entire north-south length of the country without ever leaving the motorway.
However, some secondary roads are in poor condition and need maintenance. Also, Portuguese driving can be unpredictable and, frankly, scary for the uninitiated. The country has something in common with most southern European countries that successive Portuguese governments have tried to combat: the appalling behaviour of some drivers on the roads. To combat this phenomenon, the road traffic law was recently amended to punish with great severity speeding, driving without a licence, driving under the influence of alcohol or drugs, and so on.
The motorways where driving is most reckless are those around Lisbon and Porto, the A1 and A2, and the Algarve. You can be on a two-lane toll motorway and not see any other vehicles, except for the car you overtake at 30 km/h over the speed limit and the car about 1.80 m from your rear that passes you with its headlights flashing. The behaviour when junctions turn into fast roads is also pretty bad. On other roads, you will get used to two classic Portuguese experiences: the suicidal overtaking attempts and the resulting absurdly outdated signs indicating when you can and cannot overtake – sometimes 5 metres apart – and the “penalty stop” traffic lights when you enter the 50 km/h zone in every small town, with a camera that decides if you are exceeding the speed limit. It is quite absurd that your speed is no longer monitored once you have exceeded the speed limit.
It is probably unwise for those unfamiliar with Portuguese driving to attempt to drive in Lisbon or Porto – be aware that if you do, drivers in the city will give no quarter and show little respect for lane markings (where they exist!). If you want to try it, choose a weekend or off-peak time. These are early morning (8am – 9.30am) and late afternoon (5pm – 7.30pm). Other Portuguese cities are much better, but their streets are often very narrow.
Portugal has an electronic toll system and you must make arrangements to register your number plate or get a toll stamp if you want to use the main motorway network. If you are entering by car, you can register your number plate at the border. If you rent a car in Portugal, it is likely that the car rental company will have a toll payment agreement.
Driving under the influence of alcohol
Driving under the influence of alcohol is a controversial topic and still quite common. The tolerated limit is 0.49 g/L in the blood (0.05% BAC), so exceeding this is illegal and can result in a fine of up to €1,250 and the revocation of your driving licence for one to twelve months. If you are tested and your blood alcohol level is between 0.8 and 1.2 g/l, the fine can be up to €2,500 and you risk a driving licence suspension of between two months and two years. Driving with levels above 1.2 g/L is a criminal offence punishable by up to one year in prison and a three-year driving ban.