Pilgrim’s Guide to Portugal. How to Travel To Fatima. Part 1
One of the most visited sacred places in the world is a small town in central Portugal called Fatima. Millions of people visit the Apparitions Chapel and other places associated with the apparitions of Virgin Mary that took place here in 1917. Most people arrive in Fatima through Portugal’s largest city Lisbon which is located just 80 miles south of Fatima. Lisbon’s airport has direct flights to and from all major European cities as well as some North American cities such as Atlanta, Boston, New York, Miami, Philadelphia, Montreal, and Toronto. Lisbon’s proximity to Fatima and frequent bus service between the two locations makes Fatima easier accessible than many people think. Today I will explain how to fly to Lisbon and then how to reach Fatima from Lisbon by bus.
- Flying to Lisbon
Round-trip economy flights between North America and Lisbon cost on average $550-$900 (from East Coast) and $700-$1200 (from West Coast). As always, flights are cheaper in winter months and more expensive in summer. If you follow airline sales closely and have flexible travel dates, you can sometimes find flights as cheap as $350-400 round-trip. However using airline frequent flyer miles is usually the cheapest way of flying to Portugal from North America because it can help reduce the cost of your flight to or nearly to $0.
Using British Airways Avios points for Aer Lingus flights can be a cheap way of flying to Lisbon (you can find more details on how to do it in one of my previous posts). You can book your whole trip with Aer Lingus and fly with them until Lisbon or you can use Avios to fly only until Dublin and later continue flying to Lisbon with Europe’s largest discount airline Ryanair which often has good deals especially in winter months (I once flew from Dublin to Lisbon for $30 in January). If you fly with Aer Lingus until Dublin and then continue to Lisbon with another airline, my advice would be to allow at least 3-4 hours between your arrival to Dublin and the departure flight to Lisbon. If you arrive in Dublin with Aer Lingus and continue to Lisbon with Ryanair, these will be two separate itineraries therefore in Dublin you will have to go through immigration control, claim your baggage, walk to another terminal, check in your luggage, and go through security. There is also a risk of you arriving in Dublin late and then being late to Ryanair’s Lisbon flight. Booking the whole trip with Aer Lingus (from US to Lisbon) on the same itinerary has its own advantages because in that case during your transfer in Dublin you will not have to go through immigration, to claim and then check in your luggage; and if you miss a connecting flight to Lisbon due to late arrival in Dublin, Aer Lingus will rebook you on their next available flight for free and in many cases provide food and hotel, if necessary.
Booking your flights to Lisbon with United Airlines MileagePlus miles is another great way of reaching Portugal, especially knowing that United allows adding an extra “free” flight in the middle of your trip through their Excursionist Perk. So you can fly from North America to Lisbon, then take a “free” flight to Rome, Paris or another European city and return home to the US or Canada for the same amount of miles as if you flew only to Lisbon and back home. You can read more info on how to book flights with United miles in one of my previous posts here.
American Airlines miles can also take you directly to Lisbon from the U.S. via Philadelphia (flights are seasonal). If there are no American Airlines flights to Lisbon for your travel dates, you can fly with American Airlines to another European city (Madrid, Barcelona, Paris, etc), visit that city and then from from there fly to Lisbon with Ryanair or another low cost airline (sometimes for just $30-50). You can read more details on how to earn and use American Airlines miles here.
You can also use certain travel credit card points to cover the cost of flights on Ryanair and other low cost airlines (as well as the cost of flights from the U.S. booked without frequent flyer miles). I will write an article about these travel credit cards in the near future.
- Taking a Bus from Lisbon to Fatima
The best way to reach Fatima from Lisbon is by taking a bus which departs almost hourly (and often even more frequently) from Lisbon’s Sete Rios Bus Terminal. The terminal can easily be reached from the airport by metro or taxi. However, if you arrive in Lisbon late in the evening you will need to stay in a hotel until the next morning as the last Lisbon-Fatima bus leaves around 7-8pm.
It is easy to reach Sete Rios Bus Terminal from Lisbon’s airport – you will simply need to take metro from the airport to Jardim Zoologico station. Airport (or Aeroporto) metro station is located right outside the Terminal 1 arrivals hall, on your right (look for the red/white sign with the word “metro”).
You can buy metro tickets from ticket machines or Metro staff. Cash and credit cards are accepted. You can also find metro system maps in every station. Before leaving your home, familiarize yourself with the metro system map and ticket options on Lisbon metro’s website.
From airport you will need to take the red line to S. Sebastiao station, then transfer to blue line (Reboleira direction) and exit the train in Jardim Zoologico station.
When you leave the metro system and reach the street level, you will be close to the bus terminal but likely will not see it at the beginning. There are actually two stations in two separate buildings located close to each other: Sete Rios Train Station and Sete Rios Bus Terminal. The train station looks bigger than the bus terminal and has Sete Rios sign on it so you will most likely see this building first. The bus station is located on a little hill which will be on your left (behind some trees) if you stand in front of the train station’s main entrance. If you cannot see the bus terminal, simply ask people to show it to you. Most Portuguese people speak English, are very pleasant and happy to help visitors. Before leaving home you can also check the station neighborhood on Google Maps.
Most of the time you can buy bus tickets at the bus terminal before your trip but if you travel around May 13 or October 13 (when tens or hundreds of thousands of people travel to Fatima) it is better to buy bus tickets in advance online here. If you are traveling to Fatima from another city in Portugal, most likely you will be able to reach Fatima easily by bus and buy tickets online, too.
Ticket online sale starts about a month before travel date but sometimes later (I was able to buy my bus ticket online for May 12, 2017 only about two weeks before travel date). You can find bus schedules on the same website, too. The cost of the ticket is around 12 euro. The trip from Lisbon to Fatima lasts about an hour and a half and it is a beautiful ride with the scenery of mountains, palm trees and vineyards.
Your bus from Lisbon will arrive in Fatima’s bus station which is located in the center of the town, about 10 minutes’ walk to the Basilica. Most hotels are also located around the Basilica area so it is likely that you will not need a taxi to reach it. But in case you need a taxi, they will be available near the bus station. It is a good idea to look at Fatima’s map online and print it or make notes before your trip so that you know how to reach your hotel.