Fastest journey23hr 25m
London to Lisbon by train is an easy journey, one that can be accomplished in just under 24 hours. The obvious route is via Paris and then on over the Spanish border at Hendaye / Irun. There is just one departure daily. Leaving London at breakfast time and with a quick change in Paris, you'll be at the Spanish border by early evening - just in time to connect at Irun onto the Sud Expresso (also sometimes called SUREX) night train which runs overnight to Lisbon.
If you are making this journey from Portugal towards Irun, note that the night train from Lisbon continues beyond Irun over the border bridge to terminate at Hendaye, the first station in France. A high-speed TGV service departs for Paris just over one hour after the overnight train from Lisbon pulls into Hendaye.
Tickets for the above journey from London to Lisbon become available three months in advance - and that's when you get the best price.
One alternative favoured by many travellers is to break the journey in Spain. Travel from London to Barcelona and then continue at your leisure via Madrid to Lisbon. But bear in mind that the only direct trains from Madrid to Lisbon are overnight services. The Madrid to Lisbon hotel train is called the Lusitania. It departs from both the Spanish and Portuguese capitals just after nine in the evening.
London to Paris
Board a Eurostar service from London to Paris. There are upwards of 15 trains to Paris from London each day with departures at least hourly from the beautifully restored station at St Pancras in London. The fastest trains speed to Paris in just 2 hrs 16 mins, with slower services taking up to 20 mins longer to reach the Gare du Nord in Paris. The first part of the journey from London sweeps through Thameside landscapes and rural Kent to reach the Channel Tunnel. Little more than an hour after leaving London you'll already be in northern France, tracking south through Flanders fields towards Paris.
Remember to factor in at least half an hour for Eurostar's airline-style baggage check prior to boarding your train. There is a luggage and body scan and you'll be asked to show your passport. There are no restrictions on taking liquids on board Eurostar trains.
Paris interchange: Paris Nord to Paris Montparnasse
Cross Paris by Métro from Gare du Nord to Gare Montparnasse. To do so, head underground and follow the signs from the Eurostar platform to Métro line 4. Take the Métro in the direction of Porte d'Orléans or Mairie de Montrouge, which will get you straight to Montparnasse Bienvenüe in about 25 minutes. You should note that there's a 700m walk, along a moving walkway and up stairs and escalators, between the Métro at Montparnasse and the mainline station. We recommend allowing at least 45mins for the entire transfer.
If you arrive at Gare du Nord from London, bear in mind that you can buy Paris Métro tickets at the Eurostar terminal at St. Pancras and on board the Eurostar train. Similarly, passengers arriving at the Gare du Nord on Thalys trains from Germany, Belgium and the Netherlands can buy Métro tickets on the train (at the Thalys Bar). Although universally referred to as Métro tickets, they are in fact valid on RER trains too.
Paris to Irun
The TGV high-speed train from Paris to Irun departs from Paris Montparnasse station. Two direct daytime trains serve this route, taking 6 hrs for the journey. One departs in the early morning and the second around lunchtime. The journey starts with a very fast non-stop run from Paris to Bordeaux. Thereafter the pace slows, with the train stopping at Biarritz and other communities along the coast.
After the last stop in France at Hendaye, the train crosses the border into Spain to terminate in Irun, the first station in Spain. Additional train services run from Paris to Hendaye, from where a frequent light-rail service (part of the Basque Metro Donostialdea network) makes the 3-min journey across the bridge to Irun.
Irun to Lisbon (night train)
The overnight train from Irun to Lisbon is a useful option for travellers heading to the Portuguese capital from Paris, London or many other cities in France, the Low Countries, Germany and Switzerland. Transfer at Irun from the French TGV onto the Trenhotel service is quick and simple. On arrival in Lisbon, the train stops first at Lisbon Oriente and then ten minutes later at Lisbon Santa Apolónia. The latter is more convenient for the heart of the old city.
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Image credits: Railway station, Lisbon © Serban Enache