If you are looking for a relaxed and inexpensive way to explore the Algarve – take the train! The trains in Portugal are run by Comboios de Portugal, in short CP, and their trains are usually on schedule, they are clean, and not too crowded.
If you for example want to go all the way from Vila Real de Santo António (next to the spanish border in the east) to Lagos on the other end of the East Algarve, the average journey takes 3h and 15 min and costs € 10.40 (regular price).
There is one stop in Faro, where you have to change trains. That’s no big deal, usually that train is waiting on the track next to you. If you are unsure, just ask the ticket inspector.
The route Vila Real de Santo António to Lagos is served daily by 8 regional trains (Cppt).
If you want to start your trip in Vila Real de Santo António, you will need to purchase your ticket at the ticket office at the railway station, as for now it’s not possible to buy tickets online for that route (I’ve tried). In case you made a different experience, let me know!
Don’t worry in case the office is closed – you can always buy your ticket on-board without extra cost. Same goes for boarding a train at small stops like Castro Marim, or Monte Gordo.
Just make sure to speak to the ticket inspector as soon as you get on the train to avoid getting fined (that’s the recommendation of CP, anyway. From own experience, it’s okay to take a seat and wait for the ticket inspector). According to CP, all ticket payments on board the train must be made in cash.
This is the site of Comboios Portugal, where you can buy tickets online and find out more about connections, time tables, etc. (in english):
Rough overview rail routes Portugal (small stops are not included)
Some route infos:
Vila Real de Santo António to Faro:
Train type: Cppt Regional; Ticket price: € 5.20; Journey time: about 1 hour; Nonstop
Faro to Lisbon:
Train type: Intercity; Ticket price: € 21.20 (2nd class), Journey time: about 3h 30min; Nonstop
Vila Real de Santo António to Lagos:
Train type: Cppt Regional; Ticket price: € 10.40; Journey time: about 3 hours; 1 change in Faro
There is a helpful site with detailed info about arrival/departure times, and ticket prices: www.virail.com
Have fun and enjoy the scenery on your trip!