Portugal knows how to pack a punch. From its spectacular beaches and surf culture to its captivating history and culture to its dynamic food and wine scene, a Portugal road trip promises a rewarding vacation for travelers of all sorts and sensibilities.
Sure, Portugal might be small in size, but don’t let that fool you. Fancy a day spent exploring medieval castles and getting lost down cobbled alleys draped in bougainvillea? Prefer to sip exquisite Vinho Verdes and Ports while gazing out at expansive vineyards and lush, rolling hillsides? Or maybe you want to lace up your hiking boots and amble along sun-kissed cliffs and past imposing rock formations? Do it all (and then some) with this ultimate Portugal road trip itinerary.
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It is possible to access many of the highlights of Portugal via public transportation, but those who’ve read any of our posts know that we always prefer the freedom of being able to go where we want, whenever we want. Fresh off recent road trips in Tuscany and Norway, we didn’t blink at the opportunity for driving in Portugal. We got a fun little hatchback from Booking Group which had more than enough power to get us everywhere we needed to go.
With only about 10 days, we decided to pick up our car in Lisbon and then head straight to Aveiro, from which we would continue exploring northern Portugal. Unfortunately this meant we missed the beauty of southern Portugal, a region we plan on exploring further in the near future. But if you want culture, history, food, and—most importantly—wine, then you’ll love this custom Portugal road trip taking you through the highlights north of Lisbon.
How To Plan Your Portugal Road Trip
We wanted to plan a Portugal vacation that would take us to the country’s best wine regions—while also showcasing Portugal’s scenic countryside and idyllic towns along the way. Our itinerary did not disappoint. That said, you’ll want to customize your Portugal travel itinerary to your style. While the Douro Valley is one of Europe’s oldest wine regions (and well worth a visit for the spectacular scenery alone), if you’re not going to take a Douro Valley wine tour, then you won’t need three days in this northern wine region. Use these stops as a guide to customizing the Portugal road trip that works for you.
Our Portugal Road Trip Itinerary
- Days 1-4: Lisbon
- Days 4-5: Aveiro
- Days 5-7: Porto
- Days 7-10: Pinhao (Douro Valley)
- Days 10-13: Minho
What To Pack For A Portugal Road Trip
We visited Portugal in May, which meant we had warm weather and only needed a light jacket for the mornings and evenings. If you’re visiting Portugal in the winter, know it can be rainy; if you’re traveling to Portugal in the summer, be prepared for some scorchers (perfect beach weather!)
No matter when you visit, be sure to bring comfortable walking shoes. In Portugal you’ll find calçada, a traditional pavement that uses mosaics and black basalt. Though gorgeous, they can be slippery and difficult to walk across. Combine these Portuguese pavements with the ample walking you’ll be doing, and it’s hardly any surprise you’ll want a supportive shoe to help you see all the sites.
You’ll also want to pack layers for your Portugal vacation. While the weather in Portugal is often sunny, it can change abruptly—especially during the late fall and winter months.
Portugal does not require foreign drivers to carry an IDP (International Drivers Permit). However, Spain does, so if you’re extending your road trip to the nearby country, then you’ll need to add an IDP to your packing essentials. And if you are planning a European road trip, here are 8 things you need to know first.
Highlights From Our Portugal Road Trip
Due to an unfortunate travel delay, we arrived in Lisbon two days later than we had originally planned. This left us only one day for exploring the vibrant capital city—obviously not enough time to soak in all the urban pleasures of this ancient city.
Lisbon is a coastal city made up of seven hills overlooking the Rio Tejo. With its whimsical cable cars and an iconic suspension bridge similar in design to the Golden Gate, it’s hardly any wonder Lisbon is often dubbed the “European San Francisco.” While on surface level the similarities are striking, Lisbon has a vibe that is very much its own. Gritty street art, melancholic fado performers, charming sidewalk bistros serving up fresh seafood and centuries-old monuments set the scene for a capital city that is not only unique, but buzzing with a raw, infectious energy.
If you’re short on time, head straight to Belem. This is where you’ll find some of Lisbon’s most photographic and historic attractions. Don’t miss:
-The Monument of Discoveries
-The Monastery of Jeronimos
-The Belem Tower
-Traditional Custard Tarts at Pasties de Belem
Other popular things to do in Lisbon include riding Tram 28 through Old Lisbon and climbing to the top of at least one miradoure for sweeping city views.
An easy day trip from Lisbon, Sintra is an obvious inclusion on any Portugal road trip. This charming Portuguese resort town is a veritable fairy tale come to life, with its colorful Pena National Palace and lush pine-covered hills. After taking in the wonders of this UNESCO World Heritage Site, hop over to Praia da Adraga or Praia da Ursa, two wild and unspoiled beaches nestled between jagged cliffs.
Our next stop on our Portugal road trip was for one purpose only: to eat at Ze Manel dos Ossos, a traditional eatery tucked away on an inconspicuous Coimbra alley. Ze Manel dos Ossos only has seven tables and is popular with locals and tourists alike, so prepare to wait in a snaking line out the front door. The wait is well worth the reward though, as the hundreds of notes from happy customers that cover every square inch of the walls inside can attest. The feijoada here is legendary—don’t miss it.
Coimbra itself is a University city with plenty of attractions, should your Portugal travel itinerary afford you more time to explore. Amble through the maze of streets in Old Town, visit Coimbra University and its legendary gold-clad library, then catch a musical performance at Fado ao Centro.
The next stop on our Portugal road trip was “the Venice of Portugal,” otherwise known as Aveiro. With its romantic canals and Italian-like gondolas, the downtown does remind one of Italy’s famed floating city. While exploring the historic center, it’s possible to take a ride on one of the brightly painted moliceiro boats. The rides are undeniably touristy but also fun and relaxing—just make sure your trip also includes a boat ride to the nearby lagoons.
The lagoons of the Aveiro River have long produced salt, and it’s still possible to take a tour of the artisanal salt creation process. Or, simply pick up some flor de sal for a delicious souvenir. Other things to do in Aveiro include admiring the abundance of Art Nouveau architecture and learning about the striking blue and white ceramic tiles (don’t miss the train station for perhaps the most dramatic display.)
While exploring Aveiro, don’t miss taste testing the local delicacy, ovos moles, or egg yolk and sugar pastries.
Near Aveiro is Costa Nova. Though it was a bit chilly during our visit, we loved walking along the sandy beach with its picturesque dunes and photographing the colorful, candy-cane striped cottages.
After a charming stay in Aveiro, the next stop on our Portugal road trip was Porto.
This colorful merchant city lies along the Douro River, the beating heart of Porto. On one side you’ll find historic Port wineries, and on the other, red-roofed heritage buildings seemingly built on top of one another. There’s a tangible old-world glory to Porto, where crumbling facades lie alongside elegant Baroque architecture. After a day of seeing the sites, riverside cafes and bistros deliver a satisfying spot to watch the sunset while indulging in Portuguese delicacies.
While you’re in Porto, don’t miss:
–The Livraria Lellos, one of the world’s most beautiful bookstores. It’s crowded and touristy and expensive, so don’t expect to find a quiet nook to read in. That said, the architecture is beautiful.
-Explore historic Porto starting at the Porto Cathedral, then heading on to the Cais da Ribeira waterfront. From here, cross the King Louis Bridge and then sit back with a glass of port on the rooftop of Espaco Porto Cruz.
-If you have extra time, the Serralves Art Museum is a tranquil reprieve from the crowds of downtown and boasts thought-provoking sculptures throughout the large park.
The highlight of our Portugal road trip was the Douro Valley. We combined a few nights in the quaint town of Provesende with another few nights at The Vintage House in Pinhão. The unique juxtaposition of the two towns was perfect.
It’s possible to get to Pinhão by river cruise or by train, but having a car and being able to explore the beautiful backroads made the experience so much more memorable. The scenic drive from Porto to Pinhao takes about four hours. This was easily the most gorgeous section of our entire road trip and highly recommended.
Of course, one of the main reasons to visit the Douro Valley is to indulge in the region’s world-class wines and ports.
It’s important to know that the best wineries in Douro Valley are spread out and most require advanced reservations for a tasting. Jorge Barefoot Wine & Tours was the perfect solution. You can read the full review of our Douro Valley wine tour here.
Continuing Our Road Trip Through Northern Portugal
After the Douro Valley, we continued heading north into the Minho region of Portugal. Known for its hospitality, the Minho region is the ideal spot to sip Vinho Verde at a sidewalk cafe, travel through time as you visit some of Portugal’s most historic landmarks, or even enjoy a day of sun, sand, and sea via any number of water sports. Below are a few of our favorite spots.
For our full guide to the Minho region, read our article: Exploring Minho Portugal: A Stunning Region of History, Culture and Cuisine
Considered “The Birthplace of Portugal” Guimarães is full of history. The Guimarães Castle is a great place to gain some historic insight into how Portugal came to be. After visiting the castle, we recommend grabbing a drink or a bite to eat in the city’s historic center, a UNESCO World Heritage Site.
Ponte de Lima
Though Guimarães may be known as “the cradle of the Portuguese nation,” Ponte de Lima is actually its oldest city. The medieval bridge is worth seeing both during the day and at night when it’s lit up along with the rest of the town. We based our stay in the northern region at the Carmo’s Boutique Hotel, winner of Portugal’s Most Luxurious Hotel.
Viana do Castelo
Last, but certainly not least, is Viana do Castelo. This is a great town to just simply wander around and get lost amongst the old stone streets. Be sure to drive to the top of Santa Lucia to see the Basilica and take in, what in 1927 National Geographic called, one of the best panoramas in the world. There is also a large white sand beach if you’re looking to relax in the sun during the summer months.
Portugal is one of our favorite travel destinations, and we can’t wait to return to the country for a Portugal road trip that explores south of Lisbon.
Our Portugal road trip was made possible by Booking Group. If you’re looking for a safe and easy way to rent a car and explore the highlights of Portugal, we can’t recommend Booking Group enough.
Have you taken a Portugal road trip? What were your favorite spots along the way?
This road trip was made possible in part by Booking Group. As always all thoughts and opinions are our own.