Portugal is, in our opinion, one of the most underrated travel destinations in all of Europe. For a small country, it packs a big punch. From historic cities and castles to white-sand beaches and vineyards, this place really has it all. In this post, we are going to go over everything you can’t miss in this JAW-DROPPING area and how to make the most of 2 weeks in Portugal!
So you’re planning a road trip through Portugal? Amazing! I could not be more excited for you. Although a relatively small country, Portugal is chock full of adventurous things to do and incredible places to go!
Highlights on the mainland include Lisbon, The Algarve, Sintra, Porto, and several smaller cities scattered along the west coast. Don’t worry if that feels overwhelming, we are about to get into all of it in great detail.
First things first, though, we need to talk about how you’re going to get around. There are several ways to travel the country, but our recommendation would be by car or campervan. Stopping into some of the lesser-known towns and coastal areas will make a big difference in your trip, and you just can’t get that on a tour or by using public transport. You do not need a vehicle in Lisbon, however, so plan to pick up your rental car after you’ve explored the city for a few days.
Driving in Portugal
Driving in Portugal is relatively easy, especially on the tolls roads and in the rural areas. Lisbon can be tricky due to the complex over changes and the sheer volume of traffic, so we would suggest you have a good navigator or Google maps.
Despite the cost, toll roads are quick, well maintained, and well signed which makes travelling far distances easy and comfortable. If you want to save money and have plenty of time for your trip, you can avoid the toll roads by toggling this setting to “off” on Google earth.
The non-toll roads are narrower, older, and usually consist of a round-about every few kilometres. In general, if you have the budget, we would always recommend going for the toll roads. Some exceptions would be the coastal roads in the Algarve and the drive between Porto and the Douro Valley, specifically for scenery.
To give you an idea of the cost, we spent a total of 130 EU on toll roads. This included driving from Lisbon to Porto, to the Douro Valley, down to the Algarve, and then back up to Lisbon in 10 days.
During this time we spent approximately 350 EU on diesel fuel. Although this was more than we originally expected, it was worth it to be able to see the entire country in the limited amount of time that we had. Keep in mind, we were also driving a campervan, so the fuel cost would be much lower with a small car.
There are options to suit every budget when it comes to accommodation in Portugal. From boojie all-inclusive hotels to Airbnbs or campervan rentals, finding a place to stay in this country is relatively easy.
In terms of hotels and Airbnbs, the earlier you book, the better! We stayed at hotels in Lisbon, Azores, and Madeira, and travelled the rest of the mainland in a campervan. For us, it was the perfect combination!
If you are wondering about this option, Portugal has far fewer rules about overnight parking than many other countries, making van life very doable. We used the app Park4night and the website Portugal Easy Camp to locate free or inexpensive places to stay each night.
When to Visit
Portugal is an excellent travel destination year-round, but there are certain months that receive significantly warmer weather and/or fewer tourists.
April, May, September, and October are some of the best times to visit Portugal as far as the weather and crowds go.
June to August can get very hot, particularly in areas like Lisbon. Everyone heads to the Algarve during this period to enjoy the heat on the beaches, making it extremely busy.
November to March is certainly the chilliest time to visit, but Portugal still gets a good amount of sun. It can be a great time to explore the cities and inland areas while avoiding the crowds and prices of high season.
Portugal Road Trip
Now that we’ve gone over all the basic housekeeping items, it’s time to get rolling on all the best stops for your Portugal road trip! Something important to keep in mind is that this itinerary only covers mainland Portugal. If you want to spend any time on the islands—and I think you should!— you will want to add another 7 days to your itinerary. I have linked more information on Madeira and The Azores below.
Timeline: 2 days
For many people, when they think of Portugal, they think of Lisbon. Lisbon is the vibrant capital and one of our favourite cities in all of Europe. With its warm climate, rich history, mouth-watering food, and lively atmosphere, it is sure to blow you away.
Depending on what you’re interested in seeing and how quickly you like to travel, this wonderful city can be done in 2-4 days. Because of our desire to travel the entire mainland in two weeks, we settled for 2 days in Lisbon. It was jam-packed with sights, food, and culture, but very doable. This hilly, coastal metropolis boasts historic castles, fantastic viewpoints, and a welcoming charm.
If it is your first time visiting Lisbon, try to choose a hotel in the Alfama, Baixa, or Bairro Alto district. They all offer excellent accommodation within walking distance to the majority of the places you’ll want to go. This means that you will save time and money by not having to rent a vehicle or take taxis around the city.
Some of the top things to do here include Saint George’s Castle, The Miradouro de Santa Luzia, LX Factory, The Arco da Rua Augusta, Pink Street, TimeOut Market, and Praça de São Paulo. You can learn more about all these stops in Lisbon in this blog post.
Timeline: 1.5 days
Straight out of a fairytale, Sintra is a charming little town that is home to several magnificent castles. Only about 30 minutes northwest of Lisbon, 1-2 days here is perfect for touring the area.
Though there are several monumental castles in Sintra, they are all incredibly unique. From the colourful walls of Palácio da Pena to the ornate detail of The Monserrate Palace, not one of these castles is remotely the same.
The combination of the close proximity to Lisbon and the beauty of each of these structures means that Sintra is bustling with tourists most of the time. Despite the crowds, though, it is a must-see destination in Mainland Portugal.
For more information, photos, and details on recommended itineraries and how to get there from Lisbon, visit the link below.
The West Coast
Timeline: 2-3 days
The west coast of Portugal is often missed by travelers who opt to spend all of their time in Lisbon or the Algarve. If you are planning to make your way up to Porto, however, the stunning stretch of beaches and coastal towns are sure to delight you.
This section of Portugal is far less touristy, more authentic, and holds a special place in our hearts. You will, without a doubt, need a vehicle to see it, but we promise, it’ll be worth it.
We travelled this entire coast in a campervan and it was perfect! There are several places to stay overnight for free, making the van a great home base. In total, 2-3 days in this area is enough, unless you want to add a few extra days to surf or lay on the beach.
In this post, we will start south by Lisbon and make our way up to Porto. Keep in mind, though, that you can hit some of these stops on your way there and some on your way back to break up the drive.
Praia da Ursa
Lonely Planet praises this beach as one of the most beautiful in the world, so how could you miss it? Only about 30 minutes west of Sintra, this is a great stop for sunset after a day of castle hopping.
Access to this beach is a bit tricky because the path is steep and made of pebbles. Make sure to bring good footwear! Trust me, you will not want to hike it in sandals. Once you arrive, though, you will be greeted by white sand, impressive rock formations, clear blue water, and a whole lot of beauty.
Obidos is a small medieval village about 1 hour north of Lisbon and Sintra. It is a great place to stop and stretch your legs. You can walk around the old city walls, the Obidos Castle, and the Óbidos Aqueduct. The ancient cobblestone streets are remarkably picturesque and lined with shops, restaurants, and bakeries.
Nazaré is a tiny seaside town known for having the biggest waves in the world. During the winter months, surfers from all over the globe come to ride waves over 70 feet tall! While the waves were pretty tame when we visited, we LOVED Nazaré!
From the adorable whitewashed houses and restaurants along the main beach to the daily markets and views from O Sitio—the top part of the town, you can drive or take the funicular there—we spent almost two whole days in this charming Portuguese village.
We found Costa Nova completely by accident, but it was one of the highlights of our road trip through Portugal. After being thoroughly disappointed by Aveiro—which is known as the Venice of Portugal, but has a total of 1 canal that is, in our opinion, a tourist trap— we set out to find a little beach to soak up some sun.
We were pleasantly surprised by Costa Nova’s serene white sand and colourful striped houses. There is a long boardwalk that runs along the coast and almost zero tourists. It’s absolutely heavenly.
Timeline: 1-2 days
Porto is a vibrant and charismatic coastal city located in northern Portugal. This colourful community lies along the stunning Douro River and offers visitors a taste of culture unparalleled anywhere else in the country.
I read a quote before visiting that really rang true as we strolled the cobblestone streets enjoying the live music, the smells of the local restaurants, and the evening breeze off the river.
“If Lisbon is the heart of Portugal, then Porto is the soul.”
Porto completely blew us away and it happened almost immediately. Even David— who is not typically much of a city guy— fell in love with this magical place. Everything from the food to the local people to the exquisite street art had a remarkably different feel than the rest of Portugal.
It’s hard to put into words, really, but there is something about the way the city makes you feel that stays with you long after you’re gone. If you are debating whether or not to make the trip up north, let me offer you some perspective.
We loved Lisbon. It was bustling with fantastic food, impressive shops, and incredible architecture. If given the choice to go back to only one city in Portugal, however, we would choose Porto every single time.
Some of the best things to see in Porto include The Dom Luis I Bridge, The Cais da Ribeira, The Monastery of Serra do Pilar, The Clérigos Tower, Bolsa Palace, and Porto Cathedral. For more information on things to do in Porto, check out this post and YouTube video.
The Douro Valley
Timeline: 1-2 days
The Douro Valley, a must-visit while you are in northern Portugal, is located about 1 hour east of Porto. It is a stunning wine region made up of rolling hills and scenic vineyards divided by the winding Douro River. If you don’t want to worry about driving, there are several day tours available from the city. Most of them include wine and port tastings, lunch, and boat rides down the Douro River.
If you have a vehicle or a campervan, you can visit the Douro Valley on your own. Quinta do Monte Travesso, a beautiful vineyard in the region, will actually let you stay the night for free in your camper if you buy a bottle of their wine. They even offer warm showers, a restroom, and electricity. Some other great vineyards in the area include Sandeman, Quinta do Bomfim, Quinta do Pôpa, and Quinta da Roêda.
Timeline: 5-6 days
Buckle up folks because we have undoubtedly saved the best for last! The Algarve is an incredible piece of coastline along Portugal’s south shore. With several unique beaches, charming villages, fantastic restaurants, and legendary nightlife, this is one of the most popular areas in the country.
From Porto, it will take about 5 hours to reach The Algarve. Since you are driving almost the entire length of the country, it is a good idea to save a few of the west coast stops from earlier to break up this day.
Famous for dramatic limestone cliffs and white-sand beaches, the Algarve was one of our favourite places in all of Portugal. Although the Algarve can get busy, especially during peak travel times, it is 1000% worth a visit.
We would recommend anywhere between 4-10 days for exploring the coast depending on what you want to do and how fast you like to travel. We spent 5 full days surfing, beach hopping, and bumming around in our campervan which felt like the perfect amount of time.
The Best Beaches in The Algarve
Some of the best beaches include Praia da Marinha, Praia do Camilo, Praia dos Estudantes, Ponta de Piedade, Praia Dona Ana, Praia de Odeceixe, Praia dos Tres Irmaos, Praia de Carvoeiro, and the hike in beaches by Portimão. For more information and photos of each one, check out this blog post.
The Benagil Cave
The Benagil Cave, located near the town of Carvoeiro, is one of the most photographed places in the entire country. The turquoise blue waters and light rays beaming into this miraculous ocean cave are pure magic! This is a must-add stop to your Portugal road trip.
Only accessible by water, there are several tours that bring hundreds of people inside the cave daily. The remarkable natural landmark features two dome-shaped entry points and a skylightesque hole in the roof, which allow a great deal of light in. These unique features paired with the textured limestone rock and clear blue waves rolling in make it one of the most beautiful caves in the world, without a doubt.
David and I were able to get this natural wonder all to ourselves for two whole hours, and we go over how to do it in detail in this blog post and Youtube video.
Notable Towns in The Algarve
Lagos is a lively city on Portugal’s south shore known for phenomenal beaches, colourful streets, exceptional nightlife, and the old town. It would be a great home base in the Algarve because it is easy to access with a ton of amenities.
We spent several days in Lagos and fell in love with the vivacious atmosphere. From cute little breakfast cafes to happy hour patios, there is no shortage of incredible meals in this vibrant, coastal town.
Sagres is a town that feels more remote and less touristy than many other places in the Algarve. The cliffs surrounding it were some of our favourites in all of Portugal! Most famous for the Fortaleza de Sagres, a historic fort built on the edge of the limestone rock faces, you can also find some great places to eat around the town square.
We ate at Babugem, which has a reputation for serving up fantastic local fish. The owner was absolutely lovely and our meal was incredible. If you are in the area, this hole-in-the-wall restaurant is an excellent option!
Tavira is a small, authentic city about 30 minutes from the Spanish border. We only visited for a few hours during our road trip through Portugal, but it left a lasting impression. Being so far east, this area does not get as many tourists as the rest of the Algarve.
The quiet, charming streets are full of culture and the Castelo de Tavira is impressive to see. If you make it to Tavira, you have to eat at Ti Maria Tapas & Garrafeira. Seriously, don’t miss it! It was some of the best food we have ever had.