Portugal Express: How to Travel from London to Lisbon by Train as Flights Get Cut
Portugal Express: How to Travel from London to Lisbon by Train as Flights Get Cut - The London to Lisbon Train Route
The journey from London to Lisbon by train has become an increasingly popular route for those looking to avoid crowded airports and enjoy a more relaxed trip between these two iconic European cities. While flying may seem like the fastest option, the rail route offers a unique overland adventure and stunning scenery along the way.
The direct train from London to Lisbon covers a distance of roughly 1000 miles. It departs from London's St. Pancras International station, the main hub for Eurostar and other continental services. After crossing beneath the English Channel via the Channel Tunnel, the route continues through France, cutting through historic cities like Paris before entering Spain.
Key stops in Spain include Irun on the French border, Vigo, and the Portuguese frontier at Tuy. Once in Portugal, the train winds its way through the Portuguese countryside, passing sites like Coimbra and rolling vineyards along the River Tagus before pulling into Lisbon's Santa Apolónia station. The complete London to Lisbon journey takes around 20 hours.
While long multi-country train trips like this would have once required changing trains, the route is now served by direct sleeper trains. Operators like Intercidades de Portugal offer comfortable berths so you can sleep during the overnight portion between Spain and Lisbon. Many seasoned Euro rail travelers say the overnight train is far less exhausting than a succession of short flights or budget bus journeys.
In addition to the convenience, opting for the train allows you to see rural landscapes and towns often bypassed when flying. Rail fans suggest keeping your eyes peeled when crossing the border from Spain to Portugal for stunning views of the Portugal's Alentejo region. The approach into Lisbon also affords great coastal vistas.
If interested in stops along the route, schedule a few days to explore - Paris and San Sebastian in northern Spain are just two of the delightful cities to discover enroute. While direct trains provide the most efficient London-Lisbon link, don't pass up the temptation to hop off if something catches your eye. Just plan your schedule accordingly and hop onto the next train.
What else is in this post?
- Portugal Express: How to Travel from London to Lisbon by Train as Flights Get Cut - The London to Lisbon Train Route
- Portugal Express: How to Travel from London to Lisbon by Train as Flights Get Cut - Booking Tickets and Fares for the Journey
- Portugal Express: How to Travel from London to Lisbon by Train as Flights Get Cut - Key Stops and Sightseeing Along the Way
- Portugal Express: How to Travel from London to Lisbon by Train as Flights Get Cut - Crossing Borders and Changing Trains
- Portugal Express: How to Travel from London to Lisbon by Train as Flights Get Cut - Onboard Amenities to Enjoy During Your Trip
- Portugal Express: How to Travel from London to Lisbon by Train as Flights Get Cut - Tips for Making the Most of Your Rail Adventure
- Portugal Express: How to Travel from London to Lisbon by Train as Flights Get Cut - What to Pack for the Overnight Journey
- Portugal Express: How to Travel from London to Lisbon by Train as Flights Get Cut - Arriving Refreshed and Ready in Lisbon
Portugal Express: How to Travel from London to Lisbon by Train as Flights Get Cut - Booking Tickets and Fares for the Journey
Planning a trip on the London to Lisbon train takes a bit more research than just booking a quick budget flight. But for travelers who enjoy the journey as much as the destination, it’s worth the extra effort to get the right rail tickets and fares.
Several types of tickets are available for the route, depending on your needs. The most affordable option is a one-way, second-class ticket. These offer a basic, reclining seat on the train. First-class tickets provide more spacious seating in a quieter carriage. Sleepers and couchettes give you a bed for the overnight portion, with various configurations from private single cabins to open berths.
For multi-country trips like London to Lisbon, point-to-point or “direct” tickets offer the simplest booking. Available from rail providers like Renfe or European rail agents, these give you a single ticket for the entire journey with your seat assignments. The downside is direct tickets can be pricier than buying each leg separately. They also don’t allow stopovers.
Buying separate tickets per country or leg is an alternative. You’ll likely save money, but you must research timetables and connections yourself. Tickets bought together on Rail Europe as a “Global Pass” simplify this option a bit, while allowing stopovers up to one month. Just confirm trains line up across borders.
No matter what type of rail pass or ticket you select, book early for the best deals. Ticket prices increase as trains fill up, similar to airfares. To get a sense of pricing, play with dates on sites like Trainline to see how advance purchase affects fares. Expect to spend around $150 or less for a simple one-way, second-class ticket booked well in advance. Sleepers cost more but can still be a travel bargain.
Along with your ticket, booking train accommodations like sleepers is essential. The best berths book out months ahead, particularly in summer. Use sites like Sleeper.dk to browse schedules and lodging options across the London to Lisbon route. Signing up for fare alerts from Omio can also help snag promotions.
Portugal Express: How to Travel from London to Lisbon by Train as Flights Get Cut - Key Stops and Sightseeing Along the Way
The journey between London and Lisbon offers far more than just a means of transportation from point A to point B. For those with a passion for train travel, the route provides a delightful overland adventure with opportunities to hop off and explore stunning scenery and cultures along the way.
While the direct London to Lisbon trip takes just 20 hours, don’t let the brevity prevent you from stopping to see the sights. Historic cities like Paris and San Sebastian deserve at least a few days, if not longer. Even brief stops in Bordeaux, France or Salamanca, Spain allow you to stretch your legs on station platforms and sample regional delicacies.
Crossing from France into Spain, make time to explore San Sebastian's slices of paradise – golden beaches and Belle Époque elegance. Wander the slender alleys of Old Town, feast on pintxos, and stroll the two-mile shoreline path hugging the bay. Further inland, wine lovers shouldn't miss Rioja country, just a short train ride south from the rail line. Swirl and sip tempranillo in towns like Logroño.
In Portugal, Porto makes an easy stopover, with direct connections from the London-Lisbon line. Portugal’s second city highlights include the hillside neighborhoods of Ribeira and Miragaia, linked by scenic bridges arcing over the Douro. Don't leave without sampling port wine across the river in Vila Nova de Gaia.
Of course, the capital and end point of your journey – Lisbon – deserves at least several days to experience its hills, Azulejo-lined squares, rustic cuisine, and soulful Fado music. But those who linger find even the smaller cities like Coimbra resonating with history, youthful vibrancy, and charm.
Wherever you choose stop, savor moments that only train travel allows: watching the passing scenery, chatting with a friendly stranger who shares your cabin, or disembarking at small villages far from crowded tourist haunts. Focus less on covering ground rapidly and more on each place and experience encountered along the way.
Portugal Express: How to Travel from London to Lisbon by Train as Flights Get Cut - Crossing Borders and Changing Trains
While direct trains make crossing between countries easy, border crossings and changing trains may still be part of your London to Lisbon rail journey. Knowing what to expect can ensure these go smoothly.
When boarding trains like the Eurostar from London to Paris, security and passport control happens right in St. Pancras Station before you depart. But crossing from France into Spain via train typically means a change in Cerbère. If you have separate tickets, be ready to grab your bags and exit the station to pass through border control. They’ll stamp your passport before you continue to your next train. The stop only takes about an hour, but missing your connection means long delays.
Spain currently has no border checks when entering from France or Portugal, so no worries there! But when departing Portugal to return to Spain, be ready for potential passport scrutiny, as guards verify entries and exits. The train journey finishes with typical airport-like security screening in London before heading home.
If possible, opting for direct point-to-point tickets can ease the stress of border crossings. Your bags stay on board and passport control happens seamlessly while you sit in your seat. Just have your documents ready to show the agents who walk through the train car. Knowing the procedures for each crossing means you can relax and enjoy the views, rather than stress about connections.
For veteran Euro rail travelers, border crossings like France to Spain are part of the adventure. Patrice B., a retired teacher from London who frequently travels to Portugal, recalls the chaos that once was Cerbère: “We’d be turfed off the train in the middle of the night with all our luggage to clear customs. They’d scribble chalk marks on the bags – your only hope of identifying them in the heap left on the platform!”
While cross-border connections have improved, a relaxed attitude and spirit of discovery still pays off. On a 2012 trip, Patrice arrived in Irún to find the next train to Lisbon delayed. Rather than fume, she dropped her bags in storage and walked to the coastal town of San Sebastian for an impromptu pintxo crawl, returning in time for the later connection. “Delays happen, but if you go with the flow, they become opportunities.”
Portugal Express: How to Travel from London to Lisbon by Train as Flights Get Cut - Onboard Amenities to Enjoy During Your Trip
While passing scenery and destinations are the highlights of the London to Lisbon train journey, don’t overlook the pleasures of onboard amenities that make the long ride a true movable banquet. From sinfully rich desserts to regional wines and artisan coffees, you’ll find indulgences both inspired and transporting while underway.
The kilometre-long dining carriages aboard trains like the Intercidades de Portugal are a feast for the senses, serving a glorious round-the-clock menu. Passengers rave about Portuguese specialties like salt cod croquettes, Alheira sausage, Pasteis de Nata custard tarts. But you can also graze on Mediterranean bites like Manchego cheese, Serrano ham, or tapas. And that’s just in coach class!
First class Elipsos sleepers tempt tastebuds with included gourmet meals that define both decadence and destination. Sit down to sizzling Galician beef or roast suckling pig glazed with moscatel wine before sampling Spain’s finest sherries. Foodies shouldn’t miss the "Slow Food" focused El Transcantábrico luxury trains winding through tiny Spanish towns - onboard chefs source items like just-baked empanadas from local vendors at station stops.
Quench your thirst with regional beverages from an onboard bar car well-stocked with Portuguese vinho, Spanish cava and other local libations. Most overnight trains also offer complimentary morning coffee, tea and pastries to provide caffeine and fuel. You can socialize over cocktails in swanky lounge carriages before retiring to your sleeping berth.
21st century amenities like power outlets or WiFi may still lag behind Asian or North American trains. But club cars on routes like Paris to Lisbon feature cozy seating perfect for scribbling postcards, journaling, or getting lost in a book. Your rail adventure may be the rare chance to unplug.
The social atmosphere also beckons. Veteran rail rider Minna treasures late-night conversations shared while nursing a tawny port on her last Lisbon sleeper trip. She met a musician returning from his first fado performance abroad. “I learned so much about the soul of Portugal from our talks.” Moments like this capture the journey’s true magic.
Portugal Express: How to Travel from London to Lisbon by Train as Flights Get Cut - Tips for Making the Most of Your Rail Adventure
The route from London to Lisbon offers the chance to step off the treadmill of functional travel and rediscover the lost adventure of early rail journeys. While flying has made the world accessible, it has also diminished the romance of the ride. Reviving that spirit takes insight from veteran rail riders.
Patrice, our London teacher traveling to Portugal, embraces mishaps as part of the journey's fabric. She recalls the chaos of an unscheduled border stop where everyone was turned out to wander amid luggage chaos. Rather than railing against delays, she found joy strolling Spanish towns. "When you expect perfection, travel becomes work. But surrender to uncertainty, and it becomes pleasure."
Minna, the musician who bonded with a fado singer over port wine, similarly treasures unscripted moments. She advises leaving room for serendipity. Don't book every minute so you miss that glimpse of wildlife out the window, or chance to chat with seatmates. Let the schedule evolve.
This flexibility extends to the sites between start and end points. Treat the journey as a moveable feast, hopping off to explore enticing cities. Budget extra days to linger should a place speak to your soul. Curate your own adventure.
Analog tools enhance the old-fashioned voyage. Bring actual maps to trace the route, fiction set on the rails, and a journal to capture impressions. Pen postcards to mail from stops along the way. Sketch passing scenery. Savor the pace and disconnectedness.
Pack light to stay nimble. Lugging big bags makes hopping off less tempting. Limit electronics to prolong the digital detox. Photos wrongly convince us moments live on virtually - better to mindfully enjoy the present scene.
The rail experts also emphasize embracing local color. Sample regional specialties from the onboard menus and buy snacks sold on station platforms. Walk a beach in San Sebastian or stroll a vineyard in Rioja. People-watch in a Lisbon cafe. The culture lives in the quotidian.
Portugal Express: How to Travel from London to Lisbon by Train as Flights Get Cut - What to Pack for the Overnight Journey
Veteran rail rider Minna always comes armed with sleep aids to ensure she arrives refreshed. A lightweight sleep mask and earplugs block noise in busy berths. Melatonin or natural sleep supplements promote dozing off, as does chamomile tea. She also packs motion sickness bands for windy stretches.
Patrice, our London teacher, travels with a silk sleep set for stylish slumber. Breathable fabrics like cotton help regulate temperature in cramped sleeper bunks. Having dedicated PJs prevents sleeping in travel clothes. She also includes a collapsible blanket that cozies her completely.
While sleepers include fresh linens, regular rail coach seats mean self-sufficiency. Bring a travel pillow, inflatable footrest and shawl to create an ersatz bed. Stretchy leggings or pants allow catnaps in contorted positions.
Night trains tend to run cool, so base insulating layers are key. Both Minna and Patrice recommend merino wool tops for added warmth minus bulk. In summer, a breeze blocks sweatiness. For chilly spring or fall trips, pack heavy socks, a beanie and weighted sleep sack.
Given limited amenity access overnight, carry your own care kit. Include dry shampoo and makeup remover pads for freshening up on long journeys. Keep lips and skin hydrated in dry, recirculated air with moisturizers and balms. Don't forget daily medications, supplements, contacts, and eye glasses.
Having healthy snacks on hand also boosts comfort. While dining cars serve meals, you may crave a nibble while tucked in your bunk. Pack non-messy bites like whole fruit, roasted nuts, trail mix and granola bars. Dried fruit and veggies hydrate sans extra water. Avoid smelly or noisy foods out of courtesy.
Stock lightweight reusable bottles for water. Dehydration exacerbates the effects of motion and disrupted sleep. Patrice cautions against alcohol and caffeine as both further dehydrate. Bring herbal tea sachets for a calming, soporific effect.
While attire can feel secondary over function for train travel, remember you may hop off for sightseeing along the route. Minna likes versatile neutral staples that mix and match, complemented by pops of color. Scarves dress up tees when dining in the club car. Sturdy walking shoes allow trailhead hikes but avoid big clunky trainers.
If stopping in multiple countries, bring plug adapters to charge devices despite electrical differences. Download maps, music playlists and e-books offline since WiFi is spotty. Use offline translation apps to converse with fellow travelers. Portable chargers keep phones from dying while documenting your adventure.
Portugal Express: How to Travel from London to Lisbon by Train as Flights Get Cut - Arriving Refreshed and Ready in Lisbon
After nearly 20 hours chugging through the Spanish and Portuguese countryside, the approach into Lisbon comes as a relief. But no one wants to arrive at their dream destination fuzzy-headed, groggy and grubby. Experienced riders like Patrice have fine-tuned strategies to hop off the train in top form. A little planning ensures you step onto the platform perky and polished to maximize that magical first day in Lisbon.
Getting decent shut-eye enroute stands paramount to an energized arrival. Travelers determined to power through with coffee and adrenaline often end up drained. Take time a few days before to reset your sleep cycle to match the itinerary. If your train has an evening departure from London, start gradually shifting bedtime earlier. Add melatonin or CBD supplements to ease the transition.
Packing a few sleep aids also helps baby your body into slumber. Experienced rail riders like Minna wouldn’t dream of an overnight passage without earplugs, masks and motion sickness bands. Use deep breathing exercises to unwind or practice yoga stretches in tight sleeper berths. If your thoughts race, jot them in a journal cleared for the trip. Ditch distracting devices for old-fashioned books.
Onboard comfort touches give you a mental lift before Lisbon. After waking, wash up with cleansing pads to remove the night’s travel film. Apply moisturizers liberally in low humidity cabins. Change into fresh clothes and use dry shampoo and fragrant body spritzers to smell delectable. Swiping on bold lipstick and outfitting travel hats pep up drooping moods.
Disembarking renewed also requires fueling up properly. Pay attention to when and what you eat before arrival since Portugal’s time zone differs from the UK. Stick to easy-to-digest foods that energize like whole fruits, roasted nuts or oatmeal. Hydrating is essential; down at least eight ounces of water per hour. Herbal teas brewed with your own bags provide antioxidants minus caffeine’s crash.
Don’t stress about nonexistent WiFi. Download shows, playlists or Kindle books in advance. Treat offline time as a rare opportunity for old-school pastimes like writing postcards to be mailed from your first stop. Pen thoughts and observations in a paper journal. Chat with rail mates or play classic travel games.