Most people arrive in Portugal through Lisbon, the country’s capital.
But this little corner of Europe has much more to offer. We packed our
bags and hit the road to explore the best cities, beaches and historical
attractions in Portugal.
We already showed you the best of South
Portugal on our Algarve road trip. This time we’re heading north, deep
into the country’s wine regions, hilltop villages and natural parks
with mountains and waterfalls. We even took a small detour to Spain, to
sample some tapas and visit the picturesque towns of Salamanca and
Below is an overview of our Portugal road trip
itinerary. It begins in Lisbon, continues to Alentejo and then goes up
the coast, passing through Porto and the Douro Valley until it reaches
Viana do Castelo. You can follow along or choose your own starting point
and go from there.
Note: The links on this article will take you
to a personalised itinerary of each city, which include tips on what to
see, where to eat, and where to stay.
As the capital, Lisbon is a good starting point for anyone looking to
visit Portugal. It’s hard not to fall for this city with its colourful
tiled façades, historical monuments and yellow trams squeezing their way
up and down the hills. As you walk through the city, you’ll inevitably
stumble upon a viewpoint, catching a glimpse of the Tagus river in the
Before beginning our road trip, we spent three days in
Lisbon, exploring its neighbourhoods and visiting the city’s main
attractions. From the trendy bars of Príncipe Real to the quaint streets
of Alfama and the imposing monuments of Belém, we did our best to
explore every corner of the city. Of course, we couldn't miss the
pastéis de nata and ginjinha too.
After that, we went on to
explore Sintra and Cascais. Both these towns are easily reached by
train from Lisbon and were once holiday retreats for the Portuguese
Royalty. Sitting above a hill, Sintra is famous for its fairytale
palaces and majestic gardens, but this region also has its share of
beaches. Cascais, on the other hand, is a small coastal town offering
beaches and incredible scenic points like Boca do Inferno.
Cascais, we drove to Setúbal, where we spent a day exploring Azeitão
and Sesimbra. We visited the wineries of Azeitão and relaxed in the
pristine beaches of Sesimbra, and in between, we ate some delicious
Our next stop on this road trip was Évora, the capital of Alentejo.
Few cities in Portugal have as much history as Évora. This city is an
open-air museum, where Neolithic monuments meet Roman ruins and Gothic
churches. Among those churches, is an eerie bone chapel and an
impressive fortress-like cathedral.
Évora is also the
perfect base to explore Alentejo, a balmy region dotted with vines,
olive groves and cork trees. From fortified villages to vineyards and
remote beaches, our Ultimate Guide to Alentejo shows you everything
you can’t miss in this region of Portugal. Besides the top attractions,
we also included a list of restaurants and hotels so you can make the
most of your stay.
From Alentejo, we headed up the coast towards Ericeira and Peniche.
These two seaside towns are among the best spots for surfing near
Lisbon, so we couldn’t help joining a lesson. Even if you’re not into
surfing, it’s worth coming here for a day trip on the beach and to try
some fresh seafood.
Both towns are old fishing ports, but they’re
very different from each other. Ericeira is an attractive town with
whitewashed houses trimmed in blue, while Peniche has more of a
low-key atmosphere drawing surfers with its tube waves. If you visit
between June and September, you can fit in a trip to the Berlengas
Island, an ideal spot for snorkelling and scuba diving.
miles east of Peniche is the medieval town of Óbidos. We spent a day
here getting lost in its narrow cobblestone streets, drinking ginjinha
, and climbing up the walls of the castle, before heading back to the
After Nazaré, we drove away from the coast to visit Tomar. The
first thing you’ll notice when you arrive is the astonishing Convent of
Christ looming over the city. Tomar was a former Templar town, and this
monument is a reminder of that era. The convent might be the top
attraction in Tomar, but there’s much more to discover, including
beautiful churches and parks. Once you’ve seen Tomar, you can check our
day trip ideas and explore other nearby towns such as Dornes or Fátima.
next big city on our road trip was Coimbra, which is about an hour
away from Tomar. It’s home to the oldest university in Portugal, and
even today it attracts students from all corners of the globe. Among its
main attractions is a library with an impressive Baroque interior. We
spent two days in Coimbra, exploring the university grounds, visiting
churches and wandering through romantic gardens. At night, we heard the
sound of Fado, sang by the local students. If you can spare a couple
more days in this area, a day trip to the forest in Bussaco or the Roman
ruins in Conímbriga are a few of the suggestions we left for you.
From Coimbra, we made our way up to the North of Portugal. We stopped in Aveiro for a day and then continued up to Porto.
left a mark for its charming Art Noveau buildings, and the chain of
canals and the boats reminded us a little bit of Venice. The beach
wasn’t far away either, so we couldn’t help paying a visit to Costa
Nova. Besides the beaches, this little seaside town is a sight to behold
with its promenade of colourful striped houses. If you decide to stay a
little longer, you can also follow the nature trails near Aveiro, that
take you through dunes and mountains.
Then came Porto, the
beloved home of Port wine. We spent two days in the city, visiting
monuments and getting lost in its narrow streets. We covered most
attractions on our first day, including the famous Livraria Lello and
the striking Torre dos Clérigos. On the next day, we took a mini boat
trip along the Douro river, and when we came back, we crossed over to
Vila Nova de Gaia to visit the Port wine cellars. We even squeezed in a
visit to Foz do Douro to see the beaches.
After visiting Porto, we
travelled along the Douro Valley, one of the oldest wine regions in
the world. Here the vines grow on steep terraces, surrounding the Douro
river on both sides. We started in Vila Real and spent the next three
days visiting vineyards, tasting delicious wine (not just Port) and
exploring the small villages in between. We ended our tour in Miranda do
Douro, just a few miles from the Spanish border.
Since we were so close to the border, we decided to take a small
detour into Spain. We spent one day in Salamanca, a radiant Spanish
city located less than two hours away from Miranda do Douro. Its
sandstone buildings and plateresque architecture made it clear that we
had just set foot in a different country. We began our tour in Plaza
Mayor and visited the city’s main attractions, from the Universidad de
Salamanca to the Old and the New Cathedral. In between our sightseeing,
we made room for some tapas and wine.
After Salamanca, we
continued driving along the Spanish Border. We passed by the Arribes
del Duero Natural Park and visited a few small towns like Aldeadávila de
la Ribera and Zamora. We entered Portugal again through the tiny
village of Rio de Onor and then drove through the Montesinho Park,
before heading to the city of Bragança.
Our road trip continued in Bragança,
a historic city located just below the Montesinho Natural Park. We
entered through the city’s medieval gates and spent the morning
exploring the old town where we saw the castle and several churches and
museums. In the afternoon, we took a little trip down to Albufeira do
Azibo, a stunning water reservoir surrounded by beaches.
After Bragança, we travelled west to Guimarães,
the birth place of Portugal. This is where the country’s first king was
born and for a while, it was even its capital. The castle was obviously
on our list of things to see, but we also visited several churches, and
couldn’t help going up to the Penha mountain for a panoramic view of the
Just a short drive from Guimarães is Braga,
a city brimming with churches. From the oldest cathedral in Portugal to
the dramatic stairway of the Bom Jesus Sanctuary, we visited as many
churches as we could. The city is also near the Peneda-Gerês National
Park, a stunning nature reserve featuring mountains and waterfalls.
After exploring Braga, we saved a few days to hike through the hills and
swim in the lagoons of Gerês.
Viana do Castelo
was the next stop on our road trip. Standing between the Lima river and
the Atlantic ocean, it was a departure point for Portuguese navigators
in the Age of Discovery and later, turned into a port for codfish
trading. Places like the Museu do Traje and the Gil Eanes ship remind
visitors of the city’s maritime history. But the reason most people head
to Viana today is to see the sanctuary standing above the Monte Santa
Luzia, and of course, that made our list too. If you happen to visit in
the summer, the city offers a series of glorious beaches where you can
go for a swim.
To end our Portugal road trip, we followed the Costa Verde from Viana do Castelo to Porto. The name Costa Verde (Green Coast) comes from the lush green landscape that surrounds the beaches in this section of Portugal. As we made our way down the coast, we stopped by a couple of towns, starting with Esposende and ending at Leça da Palmeira. If you decide to follow our footsteps, we left you with an itinerary for each town, including the beaches you can’t miss.