As much as possible, I always opt to travel by train in Portugal. In Lisbon specifically, one of my favorite things is that for certain itineraries within the city you can opt between train, tram, metro, or bus — from Cais do Sodré to Belém (train, bus, or tram) or from Terreiro do Paço to Oriente (train, metro, or bus), for example.
Portugal train travel from Lisbon, though, can be a bit more challenging but still possible with a little bit of planning and thorough research. To help you with the research part, I’ve put together this comprehensive guide.
These are the topics I will be covering (you can click on them to go to a specific section):
Understanding the Different Types of Portugal Trains
Comboios de Portugal (CP for short) is the government-run company that operates most of the trains in Portugal. The only exception is the so-called “bridge train” that runs on Ponte 25 de Abril, which is operated by the private company Fertagus.
Let me break down the different types of Portugal trains for you, what destinations they cover, and where to buy tickets for each:
- AP (Alfa Pendular) – the fastest trains in Portugal, with 1st and 2nd class cars, more comfortable, and typically the most expensive. They are equipped with air-conditioning, WiFi (although on all my trips it has been a hit and miss), and a restaurant car. You can buy tickets online (on the website or via the CP mobile app, which you can read about on the Lisbon apps blog post), aboard the train, and at ticket offices at the station. This train travels between Lisbon and Porto, between Faro and Porto (via Lisbon), and between Lisbon and Braga (via Porto).
- IC (InterCidades) – these long-distance trains were the one and only fast option before Alfa Pendular came into the picture in 1999. They’re slightly slower than the Alfa and they’ll have more stops, but they’re also equipped with air-conditioning and have 1st and 2nd class cars. When I’m choosing which Lisbon to Porto train to take, it usually comes down to choosing the IC because it’s the cheaper option and the difference in travel time is around 30 minutes (I can live with that). Tickets for this train can be bought at the same places as the Alfa Pendular. From Lisbon, you can take an InterCidades train to Porto, Guarda, second-city travel destinations like Covilhã and Guimarães, Faro, Évora, and Beja.
- R (Regional) – these are short-distance trains that serve smaller towns and cities, and that some locals in those areas use as urban trains or commuter trains. There is no 1st or 2nd class, and tickets can be purchased aboard the train or at ticket offices at the station. Not being able to purchase these train tickets online beforehand is a downside for me, but the good news is that I’ve never had issues buying a ticket on the same day of my trip (I don’t think most people choose to travel on a Regional unless they don’t have a choice).
- IR (InterRegional) – The InterRegional trains serve longer distances than the Regional trains and connect Lisbon to Coimbra (via Caldas da Rainha), Porto to Pocinho (via Peso da Régua), and Porto to Valença (via Viana do Castelo). Tickets also can only be purchased at ticket offices at the train station or aboard.
- U (Urbanos) – These commuter trains in the Lisbon area operate in four lines: Sintra, Cascais, Azambuja, and Sado (on the Tagus Southbank, from Barreiro to Setúbal). They run frequently, but try to avoid rush hour (7:00-9:00 AM and 4:00-6:00 PM). Tickets must be purchased before the trip at the ticket office at the train station or the automatic vending machines. On urban trains, you can use your Viva Card topped up with cash or trips (topping up with cash instead of trips is always a better option). Understanding zones can seem a bit tricky when you’re purchasing your train ticket on a vending machine, but all you have to do is select your final destination.
- Fertagus – Privately owned, Fertagus has been running the “bridge train” since 1999, between Setúbal and Lisbon (stations of Campolide, Sete Rios, Entrecampos, and Roma-Areeiro). You can buy the tickets at automatic vending machines or at the ticket offices at the train stations. You can also use your Viva Card on these trains; despite being a different company, since 2019 all public transport in Lisbon and the Greater Lisbon area belong to the same network. Trains between Lisbon and Setúbal run every hour. Although this train serves the Tagus’ South Bank, it doesn’t serve popular destinations like Almada, Seixal, Cacilhas, and Barreiro (but they’re all easily reached by ferry).
Which Lisbon Train Station to Choose?
For a long time, Santa Apolónia was the main Lisbon train station for long-distance train trips from Lisbon. Since 1998, it shares that spot with the Oriente train station.
Considering that all Alfa Pendular, InterCidades, Regional, and InterRegional trains stop there, choosing Santa Apolónia or Oriente depends on where you’re staying in Lisbon.
The stations of Rossio and Cais do Sodré are served exclusively by urban trains (Sintra Line and Cascais Line respectively).
In total, you can train travel around Portugal from Lisbon from the following 13 train stations:
- Alcântara-Terra – Sintra and Azambuja lines (U trains); to not be confused with Alcântara-Mar, one of the stops of the Cascais Line train
- Belém – Cascais Line (U trains)
- Benfica – Sintra and Azambuja lines (U trains)
- Braço de Prata – Sintra and Azambuja lines (U trains)
- Cais do Sodré – Cascais Line (U trains)
- Campolide – Sintra and Azambuja lines (U trains) + “bridge train” (Fertagus)
- Entrecampos – Sintra and Azambuja lines (U trains) + Southern Line Lisbon-Faro (AP, IC, and R trains) + “bridge train” (Fertagus)
- Lisboa-Oriente – Sintra and Azambuja lines (U trains) + Northern Line Lisbon-Porto + Southern Line Lisbon-Faro (R, IC, and AP trains)
- Lisboa-Santa Apolónia – Sintra and Azambuja lines (U trains) + Northern Line Lisbon-Porto (R, IC, and AP trains)
- Marvila – Sintra and Azambuja lines (U trains)
- Roma-Areeiro – Sintra and Azambuja lines (U trains) + “bridge train” (Fertagus)
- Rossio – Sintra line (U trains)
- Sete Rios – Sintra and Azambuja lines (U trains) + Southern Line Lisbon-Faro (AP, IC, and R trains) + “bridge train” (Fertagus)
Insiders tip: save time by traveling by urban train between busy touristic areas of Lisbon. A train trip from Cais do Sodré to Belém takes 7 minutes. From Santa Apolónia to Oriente by train, it’s 8 minutes (especially helpful tip for Web Summit attendees).
Please note that the Sintra and Azambuja lines (for urban trains) are the most complex. If you’re catching the train at a station where the line splits (or joins, depending on where you’re coming from), always confirm the train’s final destination and if you’re on the right platform.
The Sintra Line splits in Benfica: one way goes to Rossio (via Campolide) and the other way goes to Alverca via Sete Rios, Entrecampos, Roma-Areeiro, Marvila, Braço de Prata, and Oriente.
The Azambuja line splits in Braço de Prata: one way goes to Alcântara-Terra via Marvila, Roma-Areeiro, Entrecampos, and Sete Rios, and the other way goes straight to Santa Apolónia.
How to Buy Portugal Train Tickets Remotely?
Whether to buy Portugal train tickets remotely before your trip or when you’re already in Lisbon depends on how far in advance you like to plan.
Keep in mind that train tickets can only be purchased in advance for InterCidades and Alfa Pendular trains.
Using a Third-Party Service
If you prefer to travel with every part of your itinerary perfectly planned, you can use a service like Rail Europe* to buy train tickets from Lisbon to Porto or from Lisbon to Faro. I researched different dates for both routes, and noted down the following pros and cons:
- Pro: you don’t have to worry about buying tickets once you get to Lisbon.
- Pro/Con (depending on your preferences): you’re purchasing a physical ticket, so you have to buy your train tickets at least two weeks in advance (or eight working days) because they will be mailed to the address you provide.
- Pro: they only show you options for direct trains, so you don’t have to worry about selecting routes.
- Pro/Con (depending on your preferences): they only show you options for the average-priced long-distance train (InterCidades).
- Con: they add a service fee to your train ticket final price.
- Pro/Con (depending on your preferences): they don’t show you all the trains available for that route on those dates; if you like to keep things as simple as possible, this could be a good option.
Using CP – Comboios de Portugal App or Website
I still think that using the CP – Comboios de Portugal app or website is the best way to buy train tickets, whether you’re already in Lisbon or are still planning your trip.
You need to create an account before purchasing tickets though, but both the website and the app have an English version and they’re pretty user-friendly. Payment modes include PayPal and credit card (VISA or Mastercard), and you get the e-tickets on your email and on your mobile app (if you’re using it).
When buying the ticket online, you must fill in your name (as it’s shown on your ID) and your ID number (passport, citizenship card, driver’s license, or residency permit). If by any chance your mobile device fails or you delete the email by accident, the ticket inspector will ask you for a valid ID to cross-check with the passenger information they have on their PDA.
I don’t have that many cons except the fact that you can only buy online tickets for InterCidades and Alfa Pendular trains. If I could choose, I’d only travel with e-tickets.
Final Notes About Train Travel in Portugal from Lisbon
Portugal is a small country and, as you could see, Lisbon is fairly well-connected by railroad to a bunch of other destinations in the country. Although there are domestic flights to Porto and Faro from Lisbon, sometimes cheaper than a train trip, weigh the hassle of going through airport security against being able to jump on a train just minutes before its departure.
As for the urban trains, use them with respect for those who need it the most: the daily commuters. Also, always remember to validate your ticket before boarding the train – in some stations, it’s impossible to get in and out without validating the ticket first, but that’s not the case with all.
In general, Portuguese trains run on time and they’re reasonably comfortable (even if you’re traveling 2nd class).