Are you dreaming up a road trip where you can drive through sunny Portugal with your windows rolled down and not a care in the world?
We’ll do our best to make that dream a reality! Below you can find all the best places to go, things to see and food to try, so you can ensure that your two-week road trip through Portugal is unforgettable.
There are so many places to see in Portugal that it’s hard to choose which cities and towns to visit. Ultimately, it all depends on your preferences – if you favor a more touristic or remote route. As luck would have it, Portugal offers many different itineraries for all desires. The route we’ve picked is a mix of both, so that every passenger can be happy.
We recommend you start by the North of the country and make your way down. This way you can rest a few days in Alentejo and Algarve at the end of the trip.
Located in the almost absolute North of Portugal, Ponte de Lima is one of the oldest Portuguese villages. It’s amazingly full of Roman architecture and history, making it an incredible choice if you want to experience tradition. Many Portuguese traditions like the singing style desgarrada, typical craftsmanship (‘Artesanato’) and religious celebrations (‘romarias’) are common here. It’s smaller and with fewer foreigners, so English might be a little problem. However, the people of Ponte de Lima surely will do their best to help you.
Braga is also a very traditional and ancient city, but it has acquired a youthful and diverse side in recent years. Precisely because of this, culture is actively growing. This mixture makes Braga a very exciting city to visit. On the same day you can both become mesmerised by the 18th century sanctuary Bom Jesus and catch a concert at gnration or Altice Fórum. For lunch or dinner time, make sure you try Rojões à Minhota com papas de sarrabulho and Toucinho-do-céu for dessert.
Guimarães is the city where Portugal’s first king, D. Afonso Henriques, was born, thus people often refer to it as the birthplace of Portugal itself.
Nowadays, it has become a popular tourist destination, although still quiet and keeping a very traditional Portuguese spirit. The city’s medieval castle and ancient walls are some of its most popular attractions. But Guimarães is also home to a number of museums, art galleries and various other cultural institutions, all within walking distance. Plus, the northern cuisine is very prevalent here.
The harbour city of Porto is Portugal’s second-largest city after Lisbon. It is located at the mouth of the Douro River, which defines the picturesque setting of Porto. The region is famous for the production of Port wine. The labyrinth of narrow streets of the Ribeira area is charismatic for the city. You can easily get lost in the countless cafes or restaurants and spend a few lovely hours that way. While you’re here, it’s imperative that you try a ‘Francesinha’ – preferably for lunch since it’s quite heavy.
Aveiro is a charming city in Portugal that’s often referred to as the “Venice of Portugal.” The city is located on the Aveiro Lagoon and is known for its canals and colorful boats (moliceiros). Visitors can explore the city by taking a boat ride, visiting the Museum of Vista Alegre (the famous Portuguese Azulejos), or enjoying the views from one of the many bridges. If you’re a food enthusiast you should also definitely visit the Salinas (sites of traditional salt production) and try a fresh fish dish, followed by the typical Ovos Moles or Tripa de Aveiro for dessert.
Coimbra is a beautiful city known for its academic tradition, home to one of the oldest universities in the world – the University of Coimbra. Here, history, nature and city life are perfectly mixed. Right across the historic, pedestrian roads, there’s the Mondego River, guarded by huge gardens on both sides. Attractions Quinta das Lágrimas and Sereia Garden are also examples of this beautiful mix. While you’re around the area, try eating a ‘leitão assado’ in the region Bairrada, just outside Coimbra.
Located in the Castelo Branco district, Covilhã is a small town just nearby Serra da Estrela. It’s quite small and divided in two parts. The “upper part” is where the historic centre and the area closest to the University’s main campus are located. The “lower part” is where there are supermarkets, restaurants, and a shopping centre. The core population of the city is old people, but, much like Braga, the university brings a lot of young people and foreigners around, making it easier for you to get by. This is a great option for people looking for a more rural and local taste of Portugal.
Caldas da Rainha is also a more low-key city. An hour drive away from Lisbon, ‘Caldas’ is a haven for art and nature. It was even named Creative City by UNESCO. Here you’ll find paintings all over the city walls, and various sculptures through the streets. The city is also home to the University of Arts and Design, which accentuates the youthful and fun atmosphere. If nature is more of your thing, there’s many beautiful parks around, like Parque D. Carlos I. Caldas is very close to the Óbidos Lake, so you should definitely try a fish plate while here.
The capital of Portugal and the largest city in the country. Lisbon is a very lively metropolis – full of culture, modernity and opportunities. In recent years, it has become extremely popular, so touristic areas and attractions can be a little much if you’re more on the quiet side. However, we would still definitely recommend you visit.
You can have a little more off-the-beaten-path experience here if you choose to explore the streets of lesser known areas. Graça, Martim Moniz and Marquês de Pombal are some examples. Although very popularized, Lisbon hasn’t lost its spirit. So there’s ways you can still have a magnificent and authentic experience there. Here the main gastronomic point is definitely the sweets. Don’t leave until you’ve tried a Pastel de Nata!
The south of Portugal hides away several historic and quiet cities such as Évora. The city is known for its famous and well-preserved Roman temple, the Temple of Diana. It’s very peaceful and rather small, so we recommend you explore the city on foot. Be aware of the very high temperatures in the Summer months! And enjoy a ‘sericaia’ while you’re there.
As you drive through the Alentejo plains, the landscape changes as you approach Alqueva. It becomes the kind of oasis you want to go to decompress from your daily routine. The Alqueva region is around 2 hours away from both Lisbon and Faro. Right by the Guadiana River, you can see the biggest artificial water reservoir in Western Europe, the Alqueva Dam. The beautiful lakes around the area were a product of it. This is definitely a great option to relax a bit and take in the nature and clear air. Of course, with a glass of Alentejo wine on hand.
Monchique is a breathtakingly beautiful town in the mountains, fondly nicknamed “the garden of the Algarve”. Here you can go on beautiful hikes with views over the mountainous landscape and Atlantic and enjoy the unique combination of the beautiful nature, the town’s famous craftsmanship and well-being facilities. Definitely the place to go if you’re looking for some peace, quiet and stunning nature.
Though not big, the seaside city of Tavira attracts a lot of tourists, mostly during the summer. Tavira is an authentic catalogue of history, quite rich in cultural heritage and architecture. You can see it in the old buildings, renovated but with original features preserved. If you’re looking to just relax, then you can go to one of the many beaches in the area. Oh, and seafood is a must here.
Portugal is a large country with a lot to see and do. Here are some tips to help you plan the perfect trip:
Are you looking for a beach vacation? A city break? Or a wine-tasting tour? Once you know what type of trip you want, you can figure out what your best road map will be and where it will start.
Portugal has a Mediterranean climate, so the best time to visit depends on what part of the country you want to see. The north and interior regions are cooler and wetter, while the south is warmer and drier. Generally speaking, the shoulder seasons (April-May and September-October) offer the best weather conditions for driving.
Portugal is a popular tourist destination, so it’s important to book your flights and accommodation well in advance. This will give you more choices and help you get better deals.
No matter where you’re traveling, it’s always important to have travel insurance. This will cover you in case of any medical emergencies or cancellations.
Although English is widely spoken in Portugal, it’s always helpful to know some basic Portuguese phrases before you go. This will help you get around and be able to understand road signs a bit better.
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