CP offers two standards of train service on this route; the cheaper Intercidades (Intercity) which takes around 3hrs 15 to complete the direct journey, and the faster, high-quality Alfa Pendular. Both require advance seat reservations.
Porto is a historic and varied city, famed for the production of Port, which is still matured in the vast cellars that stretch along the banks of the Douro River and with most of its old centre designated a world heritage site there is plenty to explore. Most high-speed trains depart from Campanhã station but its worth a visit to the more central São Bento station to admire its interior lined with elaborate blue and white tiles. Another icon of the city is the impressive arched Dom Luís I Bridge designed by Gustave Eiffel. You can cross the highest section of the bridge either on the metro or as a pedestrian if you have a head for heights! To get a unique view of the bridge, ride the funicular down the steep cliff from Batalha to the quayside at Ribeira.
A worthwhile side-track from Porto is the wonderful journey aboard the Linha do Douro Railway which runs through the Douro Valley to Pocinho (timings are shown in table 694). This journey is an ERT favourite, with the later section of the route between Pinhão and Pocinho considered to be one of the most scenic in Europe. There are regular daily departures from Porto (São Bento and Campanhã) with the entire journey taking around 3hr 30min, so it’s possible to make the return trip in a day if you take a morning train. During the summer months, there is also the option of a steam-hauled tourist train between Régua and Tua or you can combine your trip with a boat cruise. Make sure you sit on the right-hand side of the train as you travel towards Pinhão and have your camera at the ready!
Back to our main route and leaving Porto we depart south, passing the port lodges in the district of Vila Nova de Gaia and stopping at the seaside resorts of Espinho and Aveiro, dubbed the ‘Venice of Portugal thanks to its small network of picturesque canals and lagoons. The city offers a nice mix of historical attractions and attractive beaches making it popular with visitors. The canals are lined with a mixture of brightly painted art nouveau houses and are best explored by one of the ornate fishing boats or ‘moliceiros’. From the train, you may catch glimpses of the beautiful old station building, ornamented with blue and white tiles of regional scenes. It is currently fenced off and requires some much-needed renovation, but worth a visit by foot if you are exploring the city.
Continuing from last week, we depart Aveiro, southbound to Coimbra, Portugal’s medieval capital and home to the country’s oldest and most prestigious university. The city is the halfway point between Porto and Lisbon so it’s a good stopping off point if you are breaking your journey. The city’s upper old town’s narrow streets are packed with impressive academic buildings, libraries and museums as well as the interesting 12th Century Old Cathedral. Coimbra also boasts the largest botanical gardens in Portugal with beautiful terraced formal gardens and many exotic trees.
From Coimbra, we follow the more scenic main line through the towns of Alfarelos and Pombal, dominated by its medieval castle. Next is the world famous city of Fátima, visited by millions of religious pilgrims each year particularly in May and October on the anniversary of the apparitions of the Virgin Mary. Even if you are not Catholic, there are some beautiful things to see in Fátima such as the shrine and basilica. However, the station is around 12 miles away from the city centre so a taxi ride would likely be required.
The next stop is Entroncamento, an important railway town whose name translates to ”junction’ owing to its development at the junction of the Northern and Eastern railway lines. The town is now home to the modern national railway museum. From Entrocamento there is the option of branching off to another scenic line, into the stunning mountain scenery to Covilhã (Table 691), ideal for those fond of hiking or skiing.
For our final leg, we depart Entroncamento and our first station is Santarém. The town overlooks the winding Tagus River from its ridge-top position affording magnificent views of the district’s plains and river. The best view is from the popular Jardim das Portas do Sol – a garden encircled by the city’s medieval walls.
Our final stop is one of the oldest cities in the world, the capital, Lisbon. Full of diverse architecture with superb food and a fascinating history. There are two main railway stations; all services pass through the ultra-modernist Gare do Oriente which links to the city’s efficient metro, trams and buses and then it’s on to the more central and older Santa Apolónia.
Lisbon extends over seven hills so there are many wonderful panoramic views to be found from a steep hill walk through the narrow cobbled streets or on a gravity-defying tram ride. There are plenty of attractions and activities here to fill several days and as the city is close to a stunning coastline, beautiful sandy beaches in resorts such as Cascais can be easily reached with a short bus or train ride. The delightful town of Sintra is also a 40-minute train journey away (Table 699) and makes a worthwhile day trip. Nestled in the hills above Lisbon, the town was the summer residence of Portugal’s royal family. The charming pastel-coloured buildings, extravagant palaces, opulent mansions and castle ruins can be easily explored in a day using a circular bus route running from the train station.
To extend your journey further, there are regular fast services to Faro on the Algarve (Table 697) or an overnight service across the border to Madrid (Table 45)