Astrotourism, Venice-inspired canals, windswept beaches, mountain villages, gastronomy, and vintage trams — the European country of Portugal has it all and more. Roughly the size of Pennsylvania, a road trip through Portugal is the best way to see the sites since driving distances between landmarks, towns and other points of interest are relatively short. Portugal has a wide range of activities and sights, so it’s the ideal country for those with a variety of interests. Someone who loves wine tasting, but also loves history, architecture, stargazing, beach trips, boat rides, and hikes will feel right at home in this European destination. Alentejo & Alqueva
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Flying to Portugal is simple and fairly short as it’s one of the closest European countries to the eastern coast of the United States. Organize your flights as multi-city, starting by flying into Porto with a quick layover in Lisbon, and returning nonstop back to the US from Lisbon. Airlines like Delta and TAP Portugal operate nonstop flights between Lisbon and US hubs like New York or Miami.
Once there, it’s easy to get around via rental car, but be sure to ask your rental company about the best way to navigate the country’s expansive toll system. You can browse rental car prices through Kayak.
Portugal’s currency is the Euro, and you’ll be pleasantly surprised how affordable the country is when it comes to dining, accommodation, and activities.
You’ll have a variety of choices for lodging — big-name hotel brands such as Marriott and Melia have a presence in Portugal, and there are ample options for B&Bs, boutique hotels, or home rentals.
In cities like Lisbon and Porto, try to find accommodation with parking. Park your rental car and plan to get around these cities by foot or on public transport — taking the 28 tram in Lisbon is right of passage, after all. Take a look at current hotel rates for some of our favorite luxury hotels.
Many locals speak English, but it’s not a bad idea to brush up on a few key Portuguese words or phrases.
Start in the northern city of Porto, famous for Port wine. You can take a look at this list of the 10 most authentic and essential activities in Porto.
To get acquainted with the city, you can always do a free walking tour, which will give you the lay of the land. Here, you’ll probably pass landmarks such as UNESCO World Heritage sites like Torre dos Clérigos and the São Francisco Church, as well as the famed bookshop Livraria Lello and even the world’s most beautiful McDonalds, which was once one of the city’s most revered cafes. The fast-food joint still dons some of its former opulence, so you can munch on french fries beneath stained glass and chandeliers.
Then, take a river cruise to admire the six bridges that cross the Douro River. In fact, you can even schedule a full-day river cruise that will take you as far as the Douro Valley. It includes a variety of wine tastings, exceptional scenery and also lunch. A couple of different companies run these experiences, and they are quite popular. If the previous tour is booked, you can also try scheduling a cruise with Paola of CMTour.
Alternatively, you can drive to the Douro Valley and spend a couple of days in this stunning landscape. If you choose to do so, stay at the luxury vineyard resort Six Senses and schedule a guided wine tasting with a local in advance.
We know you’re dying to get into that Port wine, so plan to cross the iconic Dom Luis I bridge to get to Vila Nova de Gaia. The best way to do so is on the top of the bridge (it has two levels with walking lanes). When you reach the other side, take the cable car down and start hitting the wineries (it’s best to reserve in advance). Make sure to visit:
Then, stumble home in a delightful Port-inspired stupor along the bottom section of the bridge for a whole different set of views.
Head south from Porto until you reach Aveiro (less than an hour).
Known as the ‘Venice of Portugal,’ Aveiro’s canals are lined with the city’s colorful art nouveau architecture. Take a ride along the canals in one of the colorful gondola-style boats (named barcos moliceiros). Then, rent bikes, as Aveiro’s terrain is flat and ideal for cycling. Ride past all the beautiful buildings such as the cathedral. If you have time, head over to the fisherman’s village on Costa Nova to admire the quaint, colorful striped buildings. Private day tours to Aveiro that leave from Porto are also offered by experienced local guides.
Coimbra is another quick drive away — you’ll arrive in under an hour.
Spend the day exploring the Medieval city center on foot. Start with the University of Coimbra (including its gardens), which is the oldest in Portugal. Then, visit the 18th-century Baroque library, the Biblioteca Joanina. Highlights also include the cathedral and monasteries of Clara-a-Velha and Santa Cruz. Cross the river and check out the Vale de Inferno viewpoint at sunset for epic views of the hilltop city.
You’re going to want an additional day in Coimbra to use as a base for exploring the unique Schist villages (Aldeias do Xisto) located in the Serra da Lousã. These mountaintop villages were made from a distinctive stone called schist and are incredibly picturesque. Hikers can trek through the hills from one village to another, or you can explore by car. The most popular is probably Talasnal, but Casal Novo and Chiqueiro are also worth a stop. Stop for lunch with a view at Varanda do Casal in the town of Casal de São Simão.
You can head back to Coimbra to spend the night, or take advantage and stargaze in the area. In 2019, the Starlight Foundation formally certified the 27 Aldeias do Xisto as Portugal’s second Dark Sky Reserve (Alqueva was the first, but more on that below).
Continue south for about an hour-and-a-half until you hit Óbidos. Stroll the cobblestone streets of this incredibly charming whitewashed town to check out all the sites. Don’t miss the main square and church and the castle, which dates back several centuries. We highly recommend booking a private tour with Knight Riders Tourism to get an immersive local perspective of this incredible medieval city.
Weather permitting, spend the afternoon at the Óbidos lagoon or catch waves at Peniche, Portugal’s surf capital.
It’s time to head inland (a couple of hours drive) to explore Alentejo, one of Portugal’s most underrated wine regions. Some of the most popular grapes varieties in Alentejo are Aragonez, Trincadeira, Castelão, Alfrocheiro, Alicante Bouschet, Arinto, Touriga Nacional, Antão Vaz, and Roupeiro, among others.
Stay, eat and wine taste at Herdade dos Grous, a wine estate with both a farm and lake on its grounds. When the sun sets, the Alqueva Dark Sky Reserve is just a 30-minute drive away. As previously mentioned, it was the first space in Portugal to be certified as an official stargazing space. You’ll be able to admire thousands of glittering stars without any light pollution.
It’s time for the final stop: Lisbon. Circle back up Northwest just over two hours for the final leg of your Portugal road trip. Take a look at of the 10 most authentic and essential activities to do in Lisbon.
Start your first Lisbon morning by taking the 28 train up to visit the hilly Alfama district. The train gets crowded so the earlier, the better. Snap photos and enjoy the experience, but be respectful. Be aware that many locals are riding the tram to get to work or go about their daily business.
The Alfama district is one of the oldest in Lisbon. The neighborhood is full of tiny streets lined with crumbling tiled buildings just waiting to be explored. Get lost in the maze of colorful buildings, maze-like passageways, and the occasional sea view. Stopping to roam around the 11th century Sao Jorge castle is a must. Guided tours of Alfama can also be scheduled in advance.
Instead of catching the tram, walk the downhill route back until you reach the Baixa (lower) district. Wander around until you reach the roofless Carmo convent, then pop in to check out the ruins. Then, pick up the Santa Justa elevator which will transport you to higher Largo do Carmo. The detailing on the 1902 structure is gorgeous — it’s a historical part of public transport, just like the trams are.
Leave the car parked in Lisbon today. Instead of driving, hop on the train to visit the iconic Pena National Palace in the nearby village of Sintra. This impressive structure’s vibrant color and romantic architectural elements are undeniably unique.
Your last day in Lisbon should include visiting Belém, a seaside neighborhood in Lisbon. Not only is it home to the famed Portuguese tart, but it also features some very special monuments. Start by visiting the Belém Tower set directly over the sea. Then, check out the massive Padrão dos Descobrimentos, a homage to the exploration age. There are a few other spots to see, like the Belém Palace and the Gothic-style Jerónimos Monastery, but don’t leave without stopping at Lisbon’s most famous pastry shop, Pasteis de Belém which dates back to 1837 for a famous custard pastry (or several).
Unique experiences are available all across the city, and one great way to round out your trip is to take a sunset sailing cruise with local wine and eats. It’s also worth stopping in the Mouraria district and hopping on this tour, for a locally guided food and culture experience.
More Recommended Stops
Depending on your interests, you could stretch this itinerary beyond 10 days. If your trip is during summer, head over to a seaside town just outside of Lisbon like Cascais. When traveling in winter, consider Vinho Verde wine tastings, tile-making workshops, or museum visits.
As we mentioned previously, another highly recommended day or multi-day experience is a road trip to the Douro Valley, a UNESCO World Heritage site and stunning landscape rich with exceptional wine. The best way to visit the Douro is to drive from Porto, or hire a private guide to take you there for the day.
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