The Algarve is popular all year round. Temperatures don’t drop too low in winter and much of the tourist industry stays open. Retired couples from Northern Europe come for mild winters and to escape the short days and biting winds of home. But note, it can be wet too: the majority of the annual rainfall arrives between November and March. Temperatures start to rise in March and stay high through October. July and August may be too hot for many, with temperatures in excess of 35 degrees common. The beach/swimming season runs from June to mid-September - but out of these periods beaches are unlikely to be manned and swimming pools in some hotels may be closed.
The Alentejo is deeply rural and mostly free of tourists, while its seasons are governed by ancient rituals with festivals to celebrate everything -from the grape harvest in autumn to the slaughtering of pigs in spring. It’s hot and dry in summer, wet and wild in winter. Come in spring for lush savannah and wild flowers or in autumn for the last heat of the year.
Lisbon and its hinterland Estremadura has a year-round tourist season that lags slightly in January and February, then picks up again with the advance of spring. Most hotels have high and low season prices and there are good deals to be had in November and December, so come to do your Christmas shopping. Carnival passes though in February or March, and street parties and fireworks are the order of the day in June (Santos Populares: St Anthony on 13th, St John on 24th and St Peter on 29th). Portugal celebrates its maritime history in August with the festival of the ocean, the motorbike Grand Prix at Estoril takes place in the second week in October and November sees the Festival of Wine when the grape harvest is celebrated with the odd tipple.
The Madeira archipelago, discovered by the Portuguese in 1418, consists of Madeira, Porto Santo and a scattering of uninhabited islands. Mountainous Madeira lies only 723km west of Morocco, so its winters are mild and its summers are warm. The climate is not unlike that of coastal California, but the ocean waters moderate the temperature so that the island never suffers extremes of heat or cold. Winter months are pretty wet, particularly up in the mountains, though there are often spells of fine settled weather too. The clouds disappear almost entirely from May until September, but you get occasional drizzle, even fog, especially in the hills. In general this verdant, almost tropical island is blessed with sunshine: 5-6 hours a day in winter, and 7-8 hours in summer.
Note: flight, boat, train and bus timetables change constantly, and airlines come and go, so please do not rely solely on this information for your travel planning. Check with relevant companies, or a flight search engine like Skyscanner, first.
From the UK and Ireland to Lisbon:
Lisbon is served by various charter and scheduled airlines from the UK, including: British Airways from London Heathrow; easyJet from London Luton, London Gatwick, Edinburgh, Bristol and Liverpool; TAP from Heathrow and Gatwick; Aer Lingus from Dublin (and from Cork between April - October).
From the rest of the world to Lisbon:
Try the following airlines: Air France from Bordeaux and Paris Charles de Gaulle; Air Nostrum from Valencia; Lufthansa from Frankfurt and Munich; germanwings from Cologne. easyJet, Iberia, PGA Portugal and TAP fly from various European hubs to Lisbon. Royal Air Maroc flies from Casablanca, Continental Airlines flies from Newark and Sata International flies from various North American hubs.
From Lisbon Airport:
Lisbon Portela Airport (LIS) is located 7km (4.3 miles) north of the city. Most people take a taxi into Lisbon or pick up a hire car at the airport.
From the UK and Ireland to Faro:
Large numbers of charter airlines fly into Faro, especially in the summer months. Some of the scheduled services are as follows: easyJet from Belfast, Bristol, East Midlands, Glasgow, Liverpool, London Gatwick, Stansted, Doncaster, Luton and Newcastle; British Airways from Gatwick; Flybe from Exeter and Southampton; Monarch from Birmingham, Gatwick, Luton and Manchester; Jet2 from Blackpool, Leeds/Bradford and Manchester; TAP from Dublin and Heathrow; Aer Lingus from Dublin and Cork; Ryanair from Bournemouth, Derry, Dublin and Shannon.
From the rest of the world to Faro:
Try the following airlines: Air Berlin from Dusseldorf, Cologne, Dresden, Hamburg, Munster/Osnabruck, Munich, Nuremburg and Palma de Mallorca; Iberia from Madrid; Lufthansa from Frankfurt; Ryanair from Brussels-Charleroi, Girona and Madrid; easyJet from Geneva; TAP from Lisbon and Paris Charles de Gaulle; Sata International from Toronto-Pearson.
From Faro Airport
Faro Airport (FAO) is located 2.6km (1.6 miles) to the west of Faro. Most people take a taxi into town or pick up a hire car at the airport.
From the UK and Ireland to Porto:
Porto (Oporto) is served by a couple of scheduled airlines from the UK: easyJet, TAP and Ryanair fly there from London Gatwick (easyJet also flies from Bristol), and TAP flies from London Heathrow.
From the rest of the world to Porto:
Try the following airlines: Ryanair from Paris, Bordeaux, Marseille, Lille, Lyon and St Etienne, as well as Frankfurt, Dusseldorf, Pisa, Rome Ciampino; Air Berlin from Graz, Vienna, Salzburg and Innsbruck; and TAP from New York or Condor from San Diego, San Francisco and Portland.
From Porto (Oporto) Airport
Porto Airport (OPO). Most people take a taxi into town or pick up a hire car at the airport.
From the UK to Madeira:
easyJet flies from Gatwick, London Standsted and Bristol and TAP flies from Gatwick to Madeira. Thomsonfly goes from London Gatwick, Birmingham, Bournemouth, Exeter, Manchester and Glasgow.
From the rest of the world to Madeira:
Madeira is served by flights from most international hubs, including: Air Berlin from Berlin, Dresden, Dusseldorf, Hamburg, Leipzig, Munich, Nuremburg, Vienna and Zurich; Austrian Airlines from Vienna; Binter Canarias from the Canaries; TAP from Lisbon, Porto, Amsterdam, Barcelona, Caracas, Frankfurt, Madrid, Paris Orly, Vienna and Zurich; Transavia from Amsterdam.
From Madeira Airport
Madeira’s Funchal Airport (FNC) is set on the eastern end of the island, about 30 minutes' drive from Funchal. Most people take a taxi into town or pick up a hire car at the airport.
BY TRAIN TO LISBON
London to Lisbon via the Channel Tunnel and riding the French TGV takes over 24 hours. There are 2 main rail routes into Portugal: from Paris via Bordeaux, Biarritz, Irún, San Sebastian and Guarda to Lisbon (change at Guarda for Coimbra & Porto) and from Irún to Madrid crossing into Portugal at Marvão-Beirã and then on to Lisbon. For journeys on to the Algarve change at Lisbon. Try Seat 61 or Rail Europe for schedules and tickets.
BY SEA TO MADEIRA
There is no regular ferry service from mainland Europe to Madeira, though it is possible (with some determination) to travel on a weekly cargo ship from Oporto or Lisbon. Or of course there are many cruise companies which stop at Madeira, and it is occasionally possible to book a passage without signing up for the entire cruise (ask at a good travel agent). These dock directly in Funchal's beautiful natural harbour, on the south side of the island.
LISBON & FARO BY CAR
Out of Lisbon and Faro you either pay to use the motorway or keep to the single carriageways of the national roads. It is not hugely expensive to drive on motorways and if you want to get anywhere quickly, this is the only option. The east/west motorway in the Algarve can get busy around Faro, especially in summer, but the north/south motorway up to Lisbon is fast, reliable and often empty. The motorways that run through Lisbon are clogged with traffic and you will crawl most of the way through town. Avoid them if at all possible. The motorway north from Lisbon to Porto is the busiest in Portugal, but the motorway that heads east from Lisbon to Spain is the emptiest by some distance, making it quick and easy to head into the Alentejo.
Other than the motorways you’ll find very little dual carriageway. In the south and the east you’re out in the country and will find very little traffic, you can potter about at 90kmh. If you hug the west coast heading north from Lisbon, you’ll find the going slow. In general, the condition of country roads is only adequate.
Car hire is recommended, see our car rental recommendations.
Lisbon is a big city, terrifically tricky to navigate by car if you don’t know where you’re going. While several of the hotels we feature have private parking, we advise you do not take cars into the city unless it is unavoidable. If you do, it might be worth following a taxi in.
The Portuguese national rail company CP operates all trains in Portugal. Faro, Lisbon, Coimbra and Porto are all connected by high-speed trains.
Rápidos - the fastest, most expensive service on the Lisbon, Coimbra, Porto main run. Known as alfa.
Intercidades - inter-city services; advanced booking necessary.
Inter-regional - these trains stop at the main stations.
Regional - slow, local services.
There are also car-train services available on the main routes where you can take your car on the train.
Lisbon’s public transport network is made up of trams, buses and a small metro. Travel cards can be bought from Carris, who run the transport system. They have a small number of yellow booths around town where you can get tickets. Otherwise try metro stations or tram/rail termini. Travel cards are not expensive. As Lisbon is built on seven hills, you will thank yourself for buying one.
By far the loveliest way to get around town. Some are old, some are new. The old ones, with pitched pine interiors, clatter about in great style and are to Lisbon what the Route Master was to London. The famous Number 28 will take you up to the castle, while the 15E follows the River Tejo west all the way to Belém.
Buses clog the streets of Lisbon, but you’re above ground and get the view and if you can get a direct service, it’s worth jumping on. Travel cards are valid on all city buses.
This is more for commuters, with four lines which rarely intersect, two heading north and one each heading west and east, but it can be useful if it’s heading in your direction and you can use a travel card to travel on it.
Not expensive but do make sure your taxi has a meter. Those that don’t – and there are quite a few of them – will charge you double.
It is inevitable that you will plod about the city. The central areas are pretty close together and you’ll want to stroll. But Lisbon is hilly and the hills are steep. Your travel card is worth it simply to get you up to the top. The walk down is altogether more pleasant and you get great views of the city thrown in. There’s a free map available from all hotels, enough for a tourist to survive on, though it lacks detail, so if you want something more comprehensive, you’ll have to but it.
The River Tejo cuts a wide swathe through Lisbon, its banks a couple of kilometres apart. Ferries whiz across. You may like to take one over to Almada simply to get onto the water and glimpse the extremely impressive suspension bridge.
Faro's city centre isn't very big, and most sights are within a 20-minute walk.
MADEIRA BY CAR
Most people hire cars for the duration of their visit - see our car rental recommendations.
Taxis are pretty frequent and are yellow with blue stripes and a taxi sign on top. Outside the city, taxis work on a km basis without a taximeter.