Well, there isn’t really a short answer for this question.
It all comes down to where you are planning to relocate to in Portugal and what kind of lifestyle you want to have here.
A lot of people coming to Portugal prefer to stay in bigger cities and plan to make their living within city centers. For these cases, it is absolutely possible to not have a car.
This is especially true if you’re in Lisbon or Porto. However, in other small or even medium-sized cities, not having a car may complicate things a bit.
Let’s find out what we mean by this, shall we?
LISBON & PORTO
Easily the best cities to live in if you’re not planning on having a car in Portugal.
Lisbon has quite an extensive and undoubtedly convenient public transportation system that is actually very easy to navigate. Many options are readily available to move around the city center like buses, trams, metro, trains, ferries and, of course, by foot.
Generally speaking, we actually recommend NOT having a car in Lisbon and use public transportation. Why is that?
Like we mentioned before, you have a wide range of public transport options. Furthermore, you can walk around the city very easily, if you’re planning to have short length trips.
Traffic is extremely chaotic, especially during rush hours.
Parking is a nightmare.
Additionally, if you’re planning on going outside of Lisbon, it’s best to take a train or bus to save you time and headaches. Lisbon is the capital of Portugal, after all, so it does need to have a good transportation system to get in and out of the city.
Porto is very similar to Lisbon when it comes to public transport. Although it has a slightly narrower reach for buses and metro stations, it still has a commendable system!
When it comes to traffic, it’s the same as Lisbon: it can be very stressful to ride a car within the city (again, especially during rush hours) and parking can also be an issue.
All in all, if Porto and Lisbon are in your relocation plans and you’re debating whether you will need a car - you probably won’t.
If having a car in these cities is in your plans, you most likely only need it to travel long distances at your own pace and schedules.
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MEDIUM-SIZE AND SMALL CITIES
In most medium-sized and some smaller cities, there are regional buses that will travel daily to other nearby villages, as well as the ‘urbanas’ that are buses that travel within the city itself.
That’s about it when it comes to public transportation in smaller cities. Luckily, walkability in these cities are fantastic, so you can easily walk everywhere!
Cities like Coimbra, Aveiro, Braga, Castelo Branco, Évora, etc that are considered big cities but not as big as Porto or Lisbon, public transport is also not an issue for most part. Let’s break this down:
1. In most of these medium-sized cities, walking everywhere is definitely not a problem. With a few exceptions of, for example Coimbra, that is very hilly in the city center. To those who are older and/or have some difficulties walking, this may be an issue.
However, in flatter cities like Aveiro or Évora, walkability is one of the strongest points.
2. All of them have ‘urbanas’, the buses that can take you anywhere within the city.
3. There’s a good intercity bus system to nearby villages, as well as express buses that can take you pretty much anywhere in Portugal.
4. Most of them have train stations and are well connected to other major and medium-sized cities.
If you are someone who will most likely be constantly traveling all over Portugal, then we o recommend having a car if you’d like the freedom to visit and explore other cities without the schedule restraints of buses and trains.
INTERIOR & ALENTEJO
If you have plans to move into a smaller city/village in a more rural and secluded area of the Interior or in Alentejo, you will most definitely need a car.
Public transportation is practically nonexistent with a few exceptions of daily regional buses. In these areas, there isn’t a train line and buses are rare. Even express buses that cover all of Portugal, don’t cover most villages here.
Likewise, private transportation like Uber or taxis is also nonexistent.
For this reason, you will need a car for your most basic needs like grocery shopping, accessing some services (medical, financial, etc) and overall just to be able to travel around.
RAILWAY SYSTEM IN PORTUGAL
Why does the Portuguese railway system get a section on its own?
Simple answer: it’s complicated!
One word to describe the railway system in Portugal is “outdated”.
With the exception of the train lines covering the major cities (Lisbon, Porto, Aveiro, Faro, etc), the trains tend to be old and some not even in the best condition, especially in the coastal line (“Linha do Oeste”) and the few lines to the interior of Portugal.
There are several train lines available but these three are the main ones:
The Regional line that stops in most train stations in every city/village in the route;
The Intercity line that stops in most medium sized cities in the route;
The Alfa pendular that only stops in bigger cities;
However, a lot of areas are not covered by train at all, so if you’re looking to go to a city that is not in the route of any of these train lines, be prepared to have to exchange trains, taking a bus, or even a cab.
Another big issue with trains in Portugal is that they tend to be late. Or sometimes even canceled at the last minute. This has been a problem for decades here with no end in sight.
Savvy's CEO, Ana Caramujo, tells you all about this topic in one of our latest videos! https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=hCersp7QtcI
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