If you're visiting Spain, squeezing in a side trip to Portugal is an absolute no-brainer. It's cheaper than Spain and culturally, they're quite different, so making a pit stop in Porto, famous for its port wine production and colorful coastline, is necessary. There are some great day trips worth taking from Porto and connections are good for getting to Galicia in northern Spain. Porto is 421 kilometers (262 miles) from Madrid.
Madrid and Porto are pretty poorly connected by bus and train, meaning: A 10-hour bus journey is just about the only way to travel by land. It doesn't even make a lot of sense to break up the journey, either, because the best en-route options are Salamanca in Spain or Coimbra in Portugal, but journey times are still long. Both cities are famous university towns with some beautiful architecture and a vibrant student scene, alone making them worthwhile tourist destinations in their own right, but they won't really save you any time.
If you don't plan to make stops along the way, then the best option is probably to fly—either to Porto, itself, or to Lisbon, where travelers can hop on a train to Porto.
How to Get from Porto to Madrid
- Flight: 1 hour, 10 minutes, starting at $30 (fastest, most convenient, and often times, the cheapest)
- Train: 10 hours, 20 minutes, starting at $62
- Bus: 8 hours, starting at $45
- Car: 6 hours, 600 kilometers (373 miles)
Porto has its own international airport (Francisco Sa Carneiro Airport), which makes air transportation to Spain's capital a breeze. According to Skyscanner, there are 56 direct flights going from Porto to Madrid per week and one-way tickets range in price from $30 to $70 USD depending on when you go (March is the cheapest and January is, in fact, the most expensive).
There are six airlines that fly nonstop between the two cities, including Iberia (the most popular) and Ryanair. Always be careful when booking with Ryanair, though, as hidden fees can add up if you're not careful. The flight takes just over an hour and because Porto's airport is well connected to the city center by metro, flying is an easy option, not to mention it's a lot quicker than any other form of transport.
Taking the train is certainly not the fastest way to travel between these two cities (and a lot of the time, it's not cheaper, either), but it's inarguably more eco-friendly and allows passengers to see the sights of Spain and Portugal along the way.
The downside is that it's a 10-hour journey. There are no direct trains, so travelers will need to transfer along the way, likely in Coimbra, Portugal, or, alternatively, they can go to Lisbon first, which can be a pleasant stopover). Tickets range from $62 to $82 USD. Train travel can be combined with bus travel, too.
Taking the bus, exclusively, from Porto to Madrid takes about eight hours. ALSA's coach line runs the route once per day, stopping only once at Madrid Estacion Sur along the way. Tickets cost between $45 and $70 USD.
Combining the bus and the train is quicker than taking either one of them exclusively. Travelers would board the Flixbus in Porto, then ride four and a half hours to Zamora. From there, they would need to transfer to the Renfe AVE train, which takes almost two hours with one stop at Madrid-Chamartin along the route. The entire journey takes about seven hours in total (an hour shorter than the bus and three hours shorter than the train). It costs from $45 to $90.
The 600-kilometer (373-mile) journey by car from Porto to Madrid takes about six hours. Drivers should take the A-4 to the E-82, which is—keep in mind—a toll road. Then, from E-82, get on the A-6 and follow it all the way into Madrid. You shouldn't have any trouble crossing the international border seeing as European countries are akin to U.S. states when it comes to border control; that is to say that you'll be lucky to get a picture of the "welcome to Spain" sign on the side of the road.
If you go a more southern route, which takes about five hours and 45 minutes, then you'll pass through Salamanca (part of the historic and sought-after Castile and León region) along A-66. This makes for a great stopover (almost directly at the halfway point), if you have the time.
What to See in Madrid
However you get there, you'll find that there's plenty to do in the nation's capital once you arrive. Madrid is simply brimming with art, history, culture, stunning architecture, and green spaces that can just about be enjoyed year-round (what with January temperatures in the 50 degrees Fahrenheit range and all).
A few of the most tourist-centric attractions include the Royal Palace of Madrid, which isn't technically where the Spanish royals live (rather, they reside in Zarzuela Palace), but it's a centuries-old landmark that's open to the public nonetheless; the Prado Museum, Spain's national art museum; and Temple of Debod, an ancient Egyptian temple that has been relocated to Madrid.
Spain's warm climate makes it easy to spend full days outside, simply wandering through the picturesque squares—Plaza Mayor and Puerta del Sol are two of the most popular and (disclaimer) busy. Those looking for a smidge of adventure might consider canoeing at the Buen Retiro Park, a green space that was once owned by the royal family but has since opened to the public.
Lastly, no tourist should leave without sampling a bit of Spanish fare. Besides the obligatory churro, there's paella, gazpacho, and sangria. The Spanish love their potato-and-egg combinations, so tortilla de patatas and huevos rotos can be found on many menus throughout the city.