Bubbly Tourist created this itinerary for a recent road trip in Portugal. Whether you have 4, 7 or 14 days you can use this itinerary to explore the best places to visit and things to do within Portugal. We have identified the must-see locations below that will dictate your minimum length of stay. Also within this post is a map of Portugal including these key locations and total miles with drive time.
Click on each location (it will expand for you) to find specific places to visit, things to do, and driving details for that location.
Algarve (two to three days) - The southern beach region of Portugal
Head south from Lisbon for 2.5 hours by car and arrive to the sunshine and the sea of the Algarve region.
Things to do and see in Algarve:
Explore the caves along the coast. In Benagil, Bubbly Tourist rented a kayak for two and ventured out seeking the caves and remote beaches along the coast line. Not far from the launch point is the highly sought after Caves of Benagil. Be forewarned though that there are lots of kayakers and boat tours going to these same caves. The waters and the cliffs are quite spectacular though with lots of secluded coves, beaches, arches and other caves if you're willing to continue a little further east. The views from the water are unparalleled and make for some memorable photos.
Explore the old towns like Lagos of the Algarve. There are plenty of pretty cities along the coast from which to choose. Bubbly Tourist went to Lagos and spent a day exploring the old town. After winding our way from the free car park just outside the town walls for ten minutes, we finally popped into the old town right at the Praca Luis de Camoes. It's a very picturesque plaza with mosaic tiled streets all about, a traditional green tiled house on one of the corners and a First World War monument. There was even a musician playing his guitar to calmly welcome us to the old town. See the video here. There are plenty of restaurants, shops and traditionally tiled buildings to fill an afternoon.
Eat a traditional Portuguese dish like Polvo a Lagareiro. Lagareiro refers to a cooking style and usually ends in dressing grilled or roasted fish or seafood with extra virgin olive oil. In this case, octopus (polvo) is the star of the dish and is usually served with small, roasted potatoes with their skin intact. Done correctly, this relatively simple dish can be exquisite for those of us who like octopus.
Or grab some fish and chips. There's no shortage of fish and chips all throughout the Algarve. It's because the Algarve is a massive tourist destination for the British. So much that one might even think it was a British isle. And naturally with any popular British destination one will find their national dish. It's typically fried cod served with thicker french fries.
Hike the coastal cliffs. There are many hiking paths directly along the coast where one can walk or hike while taking in beautiful views of the sea. Outside the town of Luz where Bubbly Tourist was staying we could take a picturesque 45 minute relatively flat walk east into the quaint town of Luz. Going west, the path continued along the cliffs on a steeper and at times rocky hike up and down large hills to the sandy beaches of the little fishing village of Burgau. It's relatively undeveloped country so enjoy the serenity of nature.
Relax along the sandy beaches. There is no shortage of sandy beaches along the Algarve coast. Between these sandy beaches and the beautiful cliffs that surround them, it's no wonder this region is such a popular destination for many. It's also a nice place to do absolutely nothing and just chill. After all, isn't that what relaxing is supposed to be about? Here's a few select beaches:
Choose between Manta Rota and Cacela Velha (known to be quiet with white sand),
Farol da Ponta da Piedade (known for the rock formations),
Camilo (well known and tiny down 200 wooden stairs),
Dona Ana (considered to be the most beautiful beach but with limited parking),
Armado (take surfing lessons)
Coimbra (on the way from the Algarve to Porto) - The Harry Potteresque University
Retrace your route and head north around Lisbon for four hours by car and you'll find the charming city of Coimbra which is conveniently located right off the highway.
Things to do and see in Coimbra:
The Mosteiro da Santa Cruz (Monastery of the Holy Cross). This church is a National Monument of Portugal because the first two kings of Portugal are buried here. There were numerous papal privileges and royal grants which allowed the accumulation of considerable wealth. Its school and vast library made it a meeting point for the intellectual and power elites in medieval times. Pictured above are its beautiful cloisters.
The University of Coimbra. Sitting up top its steep streets, you'll find the University of Coimbra. It is one of the oldest universities in the world having been founded in 1290. Harry Potter fans will love the near identical uniforms of the a black suit, tie and cape worn by its students as they closely resemble the strict dress code at Hogwarts of a white button-down shirt, a tie with their house colors, a sweater, dark slacks or skirt, and a full-length cape. There are several sites to visit including the Royal Palace, the Royal Chapel of Saint Michael, the Botanic Garden and the Joanine Library (see below).
The Biblioteca Joanina (Joanine Library). Located in the heart of The University of Coimbra, this library is considered one the world's most beautiful. It's registered as a National Monument because of its 70,000+ volumes of historical and priceless documents and first editions. For this reason, they don't allow pictures inside the library. Fun fact: the library allows for a colony of bats to make their home behind the bookshelves. They'll consume the flies and gnats and other pests that endanger the survival of the books.
Se Velha Coimbra (Old Cathedral). This is where the second king of Portugal was crowned. Consecrated in 1184, it is the only Portuguese Romanesque cathedral from the time of the Reconquest which has survived relatively intact. The cloister started construction in 1218 and marks one of the first Gothic works built in Portugal. The impressive arcades have double pointed arches and are set in twinned colonnades.
Porto (two to three days) - The capital of the Port wine region. A must-see.
About an hour and a quarter from Coimbra you'll find yourself in the beautiful romantic city of Porto.
Things to do and see in Porto:
Visit the historic Ribeira district. In the heart of the old town, this has been a UNESCO World Heritage site since 1996. By day or by night stroll along the Douro waterfront and have some seafood at one of the many restaurants, or quench your thirst at a local tavern, or catch a performance by a street performer. But what's really neat about this area are the historic and colorful buildings off the narrow cobblestoned streets where one can enjoy getting lost through the maze of alleys or flights of stairs that lead up to the 18th century townhomes.
Take in the azulejos adorned buildings. The Sao Bento train station, located in Porto's city center, is often described as one of the most beautiful train stations in the world. That is because there are over 20,000 azulejos (tiles) by Jorge Colaco that visually depict some of Portugal's most relevant historic events. Not too far from the Sao Bento train station is the Capela das Almas (Chapel of Souls) which has a gorgeous display of religious figures on the exterior of the church. The cloisters within Porto's Cathedral also offers a spectacular array of the blue and white azulejos art.
See the magic of Livraria Lello, the famous Harry Potter bookstore. If you're a fan of Harry Potter then this is a must-see. Apparently it serves as the inspiration behind some of JK Rowling's scenes at Hogwarts given she used to visit the store on the weekends while living in Porto as an English teacher. What stands out most is the spiraling staircase and dipping bridge. Tip: by your ticket online in advance! When we arrived at the store, we were able to bypass the queues and walk straight into the store. It also entitles you to a selection of free books or a discount on a more expensive book.
See the sites of Porto while crossing the Ponte Dom Luis I (bridge) to cross the Douro river. It's a little challenging if you are scared of heights but it is quite the majestic walk between the municipalities of Porto and Vila Nova de Gaia with its magnificent views. You can cross on foot on the top section (shared by the metro) or the bottom section (shared with cars).
View Porto from the Monastery of Serra do Pilar. Once you cross the Dom Luis I bridge, you're not far from one of the best view points of Porto. Walk to the lights then take the steep road back towards the Douro river until you get to the top. You won't be disappointed as it offers views not only of the Dom Luis I bridge but over the entire city including the Cathedral and the Douro.
Take the Gaia cable car. It extends from the Jardim do Morro to the Cais de Gaia and can be a helpful way to avoid the steep inclines in parts of the Vila Nova de Gaia. Even if you're afraid of heights (like one half of Bubbly Tourist), it's quite manageable and not very long but offers magnificent views over this part of the city and takes you right over the port cellars.
Taste Port wine. Given that Porto is the capital city for Port wine, there is no shortage of wine cellars where you can have a taste or take a tour. Head to Vila Nova de Gaia where there are plenty of port cellars offering tours. You'll need to book ahead. The iconic brands of Sandeman, Graham's and Taylor's are all located here. But if you want to have a vineyard experience, consider booking a day trip (see below) to one of the wineries about an hour east.
Take in some food or drink at the Mercado Beira-Rio. At the base of the Cais de Gaia station you'll find some open markets offering all sorts of gifts to purchase. And not to far away from them you'll find the Mercado Beira-Rio (food market) which has your choices for food, including degustations, as refreshments, including a beer tap that you'll practically walk right into while entering the court.
Douro Valley (day trip from Porto) - Port vineyards
Bubbly Tourist highly recommends an all day tour to visit this winemaking region. The river and the surrounding valley are truly magnificent. For those who love wine, there is no better way to experience the port than at the vineyards themselves. We booked two tastings, an amazing lunch with river views, a boat ride down the Douro and a grape stomping experience (think I Love Lucy). However, with the wine sampling it's best someone else do the driving for you. If you're interested, we booked our tour through WineTourismPortugal.com and they arranged hotel pickup and drop off. They allowed us to customize our itinerary and provided excellent service, so we would recommend them. It's an hour by car to the Douro Valley.
Nazaré (between Porto and Lisbon) - Big wave surfing mecca
As you make your way south from Porto to Lisboa you can stop along the coast after two hours in Nazaré to see this amazing surfing location. The waves can be epic in the winter months and tame during the summer, but even then it's still not the place for a novice surfer. The world record was set here in 2011 with a 23.8 meter (78 feet) wave on the Praia do Norte of Nazaré and again in 2020 at 26.2 meters. Parts of Nazaré sit on the cliffs high above the water as evidenced in the photo below. Near the surfing deer (Veado) status, you'll find panoramic views overlooking Praia do Norte as you make your way on a short walk that will take you down to Forte de Sao Miguel Arcanjo. Although this particular part of town can be quite touristy, the views are worth it. And if you're hungry for the best octopus of your life, head 8 minutes down the road to Pangeia. This highly rated beautiful restaurant tucked behind some shrubs offers outstanding views off the cliffs of the Atlantic. The octopus was perfectly cooked and had quite the nice wine selection to accompany it. A truly delicious meal all the way around!
Lisboa (two to four days) - "Paris of the Portuguese speaking world". A must-see.
Head south from Nazaré for 1.5 hours and drop off the car in Lisbon. Stay in the city center and you will not need a car to enjoy this unbelievably beautiful city.
Things to Do and See in Lisbon:
Visit the Praça do Comércio (Commercial Plaza). This large plaza is right along the harbor and lies at the heart of city center. It's lined with shops and cafes and is the location for periodic events and street performers. It's rich in history including the tragic earthquake of 1755. You'll find the equestrian statue of King José I and the Arco da Rua Augusta (Augusta Street Arch) which provides the gateway (as well as views) from the plaza to downtown.
Ride a funicular up the hills. The hills up above the city center can be quite steep and can test your cardiovascular endurance. Never fear, there are several funiculars and elevators sprinkled around the city. We took the Gloria Funicular up the almost vertical hill to Bairro Alto to enjoy the nightlife bars and restaurants sprinkled in this maze-like area of town or to see the Pink Street. Cost-saver tip: although not expensive, we bought our funicular roundtrip ticket and used it twice to go uphill.
Take in some live Fado music. This soulful melancholic music is a symbol of Portuguese culture and tradition. It translates to "fate" in Latin and evokes a despairing belief in a futile destiny filled with pining and hopelessness. Up above the city center in Bairro Alto you'll find some of the best Fado houses in Lisbon. Most are restaurants that have a minimum spend or an expensive menu that includes the fado show. The Bubbly Tourist opted for Tasca do Chico which introduced us to the music in a less expensive venue without the traditional dinner and show experience.
Take an e-bike tour. If you're comfortable on a bike then this can be a really fun thing to do as you can explore vast areas of the city on a guided tour, and the electric assisted bikes make it a breeze to go up all the steep Lisbon hills. One might find it daunting but the tour operators are very careful in ensuring their clientele know how to operate the bikes, stay safe and remain out of harm's way. Bubbly Tourist decided to take the Lisbon Hills guided e-bike tour and had a blast.
Castelo de Sao Jorge. At the highest point above the city in the old town, you'll find this 11th century hilltop moorish Castle of St. Jorge. Image all the history it witnessed: the fall of the Romans to the Visigoths, the fierce conflicts between the Christians and Arabs, the sieges by the Castillians and the birth of Portugal as a seafaring nation. You can tour the ramparts, gardens and museum and /or take a break in the shade with a refreshment. Regardless of where you are, you'll find some spectacular panoramic views over the city and out to the river as seen in the photo above.
Explore the old town in Alfama. In addition to Castelo de S. Jorge (described above), you'll find plenty of other sites, restaurants, cafes and shops. If you don't mind the hills, it's a beautiful area just to walk and explore. You'll find the Lisbon Cathedral (Sé de Lisboa), you'll see the traditional Alfama houses with red roofs, you'll encounter multiple viewpoints with panoramic city views including the Miradouro de Santa Luzia, or you can just relax in a café or restaurant. Ahhh!
Share in the culinary dishes of Portugal. Pastel de Nata is a custard tart and it is the most famous Portuguese dessert. It's a sweet caramelized custard with a flaky golden brown puff pastry and is found throughout Portugal. Chances are you'll have plenty of opportunity to try some before you leave the country. The other national food is bacalhau (dried and salted cod). Fresh cod is referred to as bacalhau fresco. There is even a saying in the country that bacalhau can be served in 1001 ways so indulge when you get the opportunity. Finally, try the sardinha (sardines). If you like them, there are even tourist stores dedicated to the canned sardines that you can bring home with you.
Treat yourself to an amazing dining experience with bubbly, of course. There are countless delicious restaurants in Lisbon including 18 Michelin restaurants. So on our last day in Lisbon, Bubbly Tourist ventured up in Bairro Alto once again and splurged at Suba, a restaurant on the top floor of the Verride Palacio Santa Catarina hotel. We chose a late 2pm lunch and were offered seating both inside and out. Believe us that the views are amazing regardless where you sit (we sat inside), the service was impeccable, and the Portuguese style cuisine was presented beautifully and just out of this world delightful! Following your meal, head up to their rooftop for incredible 360º views.
Shop the upscale Avenida da Liberdade. The avenue is wide and lovely with plenty of shops and restaurants. It reminds us of the Champs Elysees in Paris only more shaded with all the mature trees and somehow more relaxed. All the high-end shops can be found along the Avenida da Liberdade. If you're interested in purchasing something fashionable you will find it here. And don't forget this cost-saver tip: take advantage of VAT refunds. Certain purchases over a minimum euro limit qualify for a VAT (Value Added Tax) refund of between 12% - 15% by the government but require the retailer to provide the appropriate documentation.
Sintra (day trip from Lisbon) - Romantic palaces of a bygone era. A must-see.
Hire a driver or take a tour or bus on a day trip from Lisbon to Sintra.
Things to do and see on your day trip from Lisbon:
Pena Palace and park. This is a must-see when in Portugal. Not only do you have this amazing hilltop palace where Portuguese royalty once lived to visit with incredible views of the Atlantic ocean, but you can easily hike the park with its lush fern gardens and hidden paths for hours on end. Tip 1: trust us and buy a timeslotted ticket to be first in the palace. Otherwise, you'll end up waiting in the line for your timeslot with a hundred other people (and is not marked so ask around) and due to the thousands of tourists waiting in line ahead of you, you won't gain entry to the palace until well after your designated time. And even after you get bleeped to go through the castle gate, the line continues in single file throughout the majority of your palace visit. Tip 2: get a taxi or hire a driver to take you to the front entrance or take Bus 434 from the train station. It's a long steep one way road to the top with lots of traffic and walking is NOT an option.
Moorish Castle. Full disclosure: Bubbly Tourist didn't see this castle because of all the time spent waiting to get in the Pena Palace, but it's convenient enough to the palace and park so stop in and take in this monument. The walls of this fortification look pretty dramatic against the coastal background and there's centuries of history here. The Moors (or Moops if you're a Seinfield fan) lived here until 1147 and then by the Christians through the 15th century.
The town of Sintra. This adorable hillside town is a perfect stop after visiting the Pena palace, park and castle. Take a break and grab a bite to eat, do some shopping (we bought an olive serving platter), or have a drink. You can also visit the National Palace of Sintra which we did not do. Per the recommendation of our driver, we had a Travesseiro which is a famous pastry of the Sintra area. It's a pillow shaped puff pastry (travesseiro literally translates to "pillow") that is light and airy and filled with a sweet almond cream with powdered sugar on top. Yum! We also stopped at Cantinho do Lord Byron for a drink. This tiny little pub has outdoor seating right on the cobblestoned street which makes for an excellent spot to relax.
National Palace and Gardens of Queluz. This beautiful off-the-beaten path palace and gardens is a must-see. Avoid the mistake we made and visit Queluz after visiting and not before the Pena Palace of Sintra. See Tip1 above and be first in line at the Pena Palace. Tour the beautifully decorated palace and take the time to see the beautiful fountains and the azulejo lined swimming pool and palace walls. The palace was permanently inhabited by three generations of the Portuguese Royal Family until their departure in 1807 to Brazil due to the Napoleonic invasion.
Cascais (60 minutes from Lisbon) - Beautiful seaside village near Lisbon
Cascais is easily accessible via train from Lisbon's Cais do Sodre train station which is the final station on the green metro line. Cais do Sodre terminates in the center of Cascais and can also take you to other of the region's finest beaches outside of Lisbon.
Looking for an oasis of rest for a day or longer? There are beaches, spas, pools and walks from which to choose in Cascais. Head to this upscale village full of shops and seafood restaurants along the sea. Interested in sports: rent a bike, a surfboard or a court to play paddle. Interested in food & drink: pick from a selection of nice restaurants, have a refreshing cocktail, or just chill with some bubbly on a patio overlooking the water.
The best places to visit in one week (or two) in Portugal - Itinerary Map
Bubbly Tourist created this itinerary for a recent trip to Portugal. We started and ended in Lisbon which in itself is 760 miles or 12 hours in the car. This does not include the day trips to the Douro Valley, Sintra and Cascais.