Ultimate Portugal Road Trip: 7 Days Of Beaches And Culture

Portugal road trip 7 days
Photo by Benjamin Voros/Unsplash
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Welcome to our ultimate Portugal road trip, 7 days of pure adventure in the land of salt cod and surf. We’ve compressed all the top experiences and most enthralling destinations in this bucket-list country into a single week’s worth of driving. You’ll be hitting the road every day, but we’ve also managed to keep each leg to between one and three hours in total, so there shouldn’t be an overload of highways.

Along the route, you’ll visit some of the headline acts: Lisbon, complete with its totemic Moorish castles and throbbing nightlife areas, Porto, the UNESCO home of fortified wine, and the Algarve, which shimmers with some of the top beaches in the world. We’ve also thrown in some more off-the-beaten-path pitstops, from Roman Evora to the surf beaches of the Silver Coast.

You can complete our ultimate Portugal road trip, 7 days of beaches and culture, in whatever vehicle you like, as all the roads are either major motorways or secondary routes. However, it might be a good idea to take along something big enough to stash the surf boards, the hiking boots, and the party gear – there are chances to do the whole lot!

Day 1 – Porto and the Douro Valley

Douro Valley
Photo by Joseph Richard Francis

Jet into Porto and head straight into the heart of the city. You have time to check out the UNESCO-tagged old district. It’s called the Ribeira and is a maze-like mix of twisting cobblestone streets that weave down to meet the Douro River. You can park at the top of it all in the district of Bolhão. We’d say drop into the farmer’s market there (Bolhão Market) and then head south to see the Luís I Bridge and the Cais da Ribeira walkway, which is a great place for lunch overlooking the charming heart of Portugal’s second-largest town.

Now it’s time to hit the road proper. Drive directly west from Porto and you come into the Douro Valley. You’ll want to take the N22 roadway as it’s by far the most scenic of the lot that lead within. Be warned, it winds and meanders on the steep hillsides above the river itself, so there’s lots of bends to navigate. They’re worth it, though, since you’ll be rewarded with sweeping vistas of lush hills clad in vineyards for as far as the eye can see.

The region gets super beautiful about 1.5 hours into the drive. Add the Miradouro de Sao Leonardo de Galafura to the map and make a stop there – it’s an altitudinous lookout point that gazes down at the gleaming blue of the Douro from on high. We also adore the Quinta do Bomfim winery for a quick tasting stop (not for the driver, of course). It’s a family-owned vineyard with some exquisite Dow’s port labels to sample. The gorgeous Hotel Casa do Tua is a fine place to stay nearby, offering a pool right on the water’s edge.

Day 2 – Schist Villages and Coimbra

Schist Villages
Photo by Joke Langens/Unsplash

Day 2 takes you south into the heartlands of northern Portugal. This will be one of the longest drives on the whole of the Portugal road trip. The reason for that is you’re first making for the highlands of the Serra da Estrela Natural Park. It’s a wild region of blooming mountain herbs and forests, home to the famous Schist Villages (rustic settlements built from brooding dark stone up in the Portuguese highlands).

We’d recommend plotting the sat nav to take you to Piódão. A chocolate box village that cascades down a dramatic ravine, it was once a hideaway for outlaws. From there, move onto little Cerdeira. That’s further south and a touch smaller, though it’s now known as an artist’s colony and is the perfect place to pick up unique souvenirs.

You’ll emerge from the forever-winding roads of the mountains and head to the enchanting city of Coimbra to finish of this second leg. Prepare to be wowed. A mass of grand buildings and red-tiled roofs atop the Rio Mondego, this is one of the country’s most culturally rich places. It has the oldest university in the nation, and the nigh on 1,000-year-old Monastery of Santa Cruz. Explore the town and then stay at the boutique Casa São Bento. It’s, simply, lovely.

Day 3 – The Silver Coast surf meccas

Silver Coast
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It’s time to hit the beach. Escape the mountains by cruising straight down the A14 from Coimbra to Figueira da Foz. This is the gateway to the region known as the Silver Coast. It’s basically one long beach that runs through the heart of the country down the side of the Atlantic. And if that sounds like it’s a great place to surf, that’s because it is. Figueira da Foz itself has a main break on the beach, but there are also LOADS of less-busy spots as you venture south – Praia do Pedrogão, gnarly Praia Osso da Baleia.

You’ll probably want to stash the board for when you arrive in Nazare, especially if you happen to be traveling in October. This is Portugal’s big-wave surfing hub. The most famous wave is on Praia do Norte and there’s a funicular railway to the top of the Fortress of Saint Michael the Archangel for watching the experts do their thing.

Alternatively, keep on driving south to get to Peniche or Ericeira. These are two of the country’s most famous surf towns. The first is probably better suited to beginners, offering the starter waves of Baleal. The latter is tailored to intermediate and expert surfers. It’s actually a World Surfing Reserve, touting the barreling reef of Coxos and more. Affordable Meraki Guesthouse is a top place to bed down there.

Day 4 – Sintra and Lisbon, an urban break in our 7 day Portugal road trip

Lisbon
Photo by Joseph Richard Francis

It’s a touch further south from Peniche and Ericeira to the mystical town of Sintra. High up in the mist-gathering Sintra Mountains, the place is a UNESCO World Heritage Site and a veritable wonderland for fans of fantastical architecture. We’d say try to get there early. There’s just so much to see, from the yellow-tinged Pena National Palace to the ancient Castle of the Moors. It’s best to park the wheels near the train station below and hitch a shuttle up.

We think just over half a day should take care of Sintra. Then, it’s on to Lisbon. The capital is about 35 minutes’ drive away, so you can be there pretty quick. Park up and then head to the Alfama. We can wholeheartedly recommend the Santiago de Alfama hotel. It’s a chic boutique hotel with minimalist rooms. It also gets you into the heart of the oldest part of the capital, where you’ll be lost between leaning houses and sardine-sizzling kitchens.

At night, head across to the area of Martim Moniz. The Miradouro da Graça is just above it, offering sweeping panoramas of the cityscape. Down below, you’ll find heady streets of Asian grocery stores and spice-scented curry houses. After eating, scoot across to the Bairro Alto, where Lisbon’s nightlife goes off the hook in happening craft bars and speakeasies.

Day 5 – Costa da Caparica and Evora

Evora
Photo by Frank Nürnberger/Unsplash

South of Lisbon across a big and impressive bridge on the Tagus Estuary lies the beautiful Costa da Caparica. It’s a summertime playground for the natives of the city, who come in search of endless surf breaks and golden sands on the Atlantic. A good way to visit the whole region in a few hours is to park up in the town of Costa da Caparica in the north and catch the mini train that runs the length of the beaches (it only goes in summer).

From the coast, the day continues with an easy cruise down the A2 highway to the city of Evora. We’d recommend making a quick stop at the Barragem dos Minutos along the way for a picnic lunch. It’s a deserted little reservoir surrounded by low hills and banks of pretty reeds.

For the afternoon and evening, you’ll be exploring Evora itself. It’s one of Portugal’s most historic towns, having seen its heyday under the Romans some 2,000 years ago. There are still relics of that age at the Templo Romano, where carved columns rise above the city. There are also the ruins of ancient Roman bathhouses. The city that surrounds them is a bustling and vibrant place, replete with palaces raised during the Inquisition and taverns that serve local farm-to-table food. Check out the Évora Olive Hotel if you’re looking for somewhere unique to stay.

Day 6 – Into the Algarve

The Algarve
Photo by Dan Gold/Unsplash

Rise early and hit the E802 or E1 going southwards. Both will whisk you straight through the Alentejo region and into the iconic Algarve. Within two hours you’ll be arriving at Albufeira but keep on going because that’s where you’ll stay this evening. Your goal is actually the charming resort of Tavira. It’s closer to the Spanish border and hosts an old castle next to bustling riverside districts. It’s also a prime gateway to the long, sandy beaches of Praia do Barril.

Once you’re done there, head over to Faro for a cruise through the Ria Formosa Nature Park. You’ll spot wild flamingoes and pull up at age-old seafood taverns in that truly gorgeous reserve. Faro itself then beckons with its maze-like Cidade Velha, which is gilded by one of the oldest and most handsome cathedrals in the area.

Your final drive will be 40 minutes from Faro back to Albufeira. Cruise into the Hotel Sol E Mar, a stylo resort stay that’s right above the main beach in the city. Take some time to stroll the Old Town of Albufeira. It’s a quaint mix of aged fishing cottages and whitewashed buildings. To the east is The Strip if you’re keen on a fix of no-holes-barred partying, Algarve style.

Day 7 – Western Algarve and Costa Vicentina, finishing our Portugal road trip 7 days in style

Costa Vicentina
Photo by Joseph Richard Francis

The glorious Western Algarve, arguably the most celebrated region in the whole country, caps off our ultimate Portugal 7 day itinerary. The drive today will take you west from Albufeira, initially on the south coast road. The shoreline that skirts the highway there is a medley of beaches and bays that will take your breath away. You can basically take your pick because they are all stunning, but Marinha Beach, Praia da Galé, and Praia do Camilo are among the best.

Turn off at the town of Vila do Bispo to make a detour into Sagres. This marks the south-westernmost point of Portugal. There’s a big, ruined fort – the Fortaleza de Sagres – on the headland there where you can stand and survey two sides of the Atlantic Ocean.

But don’t stay too long. The incredibly wonderful Costa Vicentina awaits to the north. Follow the N268 back up along the Atlantic Coast of the country. This is another surfing hotspot, with bay after bay that offers uber-consistent waves for all levels. Praia da Bordeira comes first. Take the hiking paths on the headland or paddle out to try a fast and challenging left-hand point. Then drive up to Praia da Arrifana, which is one of the country’s best beginner surf beaches. For the night, stay in charming Aljezur, a whitewashed old city where Amazigh Hostel offers bargain-friendly beds.

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Joe has been a freelance travel writer for over nine years. His writing and roaming have taken him from the colonial towns of Mexico to the chowks of Mumbai to the Southern Alps of New Zealand. When he's not putting together the next epic blog on the best Greek islands or ski fields in France, you can usually find him surfing or hiking – his two top hobbies.