Do you want to see gorgeous sites, eat the most decadent food, and spend very little money? Then driving through Portugal is the perfect trip for you! Unlike most Western Europe countries, Portugal is surprisingly affordable and drivable as well. We spent one week in Portugal and spent a total of $600 on food, gifts, alcohol, places to stay, gas, tolls, and the rental car!
Driving through a country gives you the flexibility to make various unplanned stops and see things at your own pace. Taking a road trip through Portugal is one of the very best ways to see this mesmerizing country. The big cities like Porto and Lisbon are not great for cars, so you can make these your starting and ending points. Then, spend time driving down the spectacular scenic coast and exploring them in depth.
I traveled through Portugal with five other friends in a large van and it’s a trip that I will always remember. Below is a great itinerary for those people that have one week to explore Portugal!
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Table of Contents
One Week in Portugal Breakdown
Road Trip Itinerary
Day 1: Travel Day 2: Porto Day 3: Pick up car, drive to Coimbra, continue to Évora, and end in Lagos Day 4: Lagos Day 5: Drive to Sintra, end in Lisbon, and drop off car Day 6: Lisbon Day 7: Lisbon
Porto is the perfect way to introduce yourself to Portugal. As you walk along the winding alleyways and look out over the red-tiled roofs you will have a hard time not falling in love with the city! Porto is often skipped over in order to focus on Lisbon, a much larger and more cosmopolitan city. However, I believe that Porto’s charm is something that should not be missed! Porto is fairly small, but there are a lot of hills, so make sure to pack comfortable shoes in order to see the city by foot!
I would suggest starting to explore Porto by wandering around the old part of the city- Ribeira, making your way towards Ribeira Square and the cathedral that sits at the center of it all. There you can take pictures and take it all in. We ate at Tapabento an authentic Portuguese restaurant. The owner sat down with us and told us exactly what to eat. We enjoyed tortilla española and delicious soups.
Then, we explored the streets of Porto, took a Port tour and watched a stunning sunset. After the sunset, you should grab dinner before hitting the town of Porto, which has a thriving nightlife. We went to Brauhaus where we ordered Francesinha the typical Portuguese sandwich. The waitress was impressed by our knowledge about Port and asked us if we had gone on a tour. After dinner, make sure to check out the clubs of Porto and dance the night away!
Things to See in Porto
- Sao Bento Railway Station – View this scenic railroad station where the walls of the station are covered in azulejos (blue and white handcrafted tiles). There is no train station in the world like it!
- Livraria Lello – The bookstore where JK Rowling wrote many of her Harry Potter books. There is often a long line to get in, so try to go early or make extra time for it!
- Ponte Luis Bridge – Walk to the other side of Porto across this bridge. The bridge offers great views of both sides of the city.
- Visit a Port Cellar- Here you should wander into one of the many Port cellars to find out more about the country’s famous drink. We went to Augusto Ramos for a Port tour and tasting.
- Watch a sunset on the water
Coimbra and Évora
The benefit of road tripping through a country is that you can make many stops along the way. This day will include a lot of driving, so make sure to get an early start so you can see it all. Starting from the rental shop in Porto, we drove down to Coimbra (1 hour drive), a university town and UNESCO World Heritage Site. The city sits atop a hill and the University of Coimbra offers beautiful buildings and places to stop and grab a coffee. Make sure to not spend too much time here, because you have other places to go!
Continue driving about 3 hours down the coast until you get into the heart of the Alentejo region, to the beautiful walled city of Évora. This is another UNESCO World Heritage Site, full of gorgeous white and yellow buildings, and historical monuments. You will probably be hungry when you arrive, which is perfect because the Alentejo is known as the “bread basket” of Portugal. We went to Adega do Alentejano and I highly recommend this little restaurant that resembles a cellar, because it was the best food I have ever had. We drank wine straight from the barrel and ate the most delicious soup. We stuffed ourselves until we could barely move.
Once you have garnered the strength to leave lunch, you should spend a few hours walking around and exploring the quaint city. There are plenty of historical sights to see and adorable buildings to look at. We wandered into one cute building that had a garden in the center. This was truly one of our favorite stops of the trip.
Eventually you will need to get back in the car, because you have a lot of driving ahead of you. After two and a half hours you will finally arrive in Lagos. We stayed at Lagos Uptown Bed and Breakfast. Even though we were exhausted, our spirits were lifted by how hospitable the owner was and the adorableness of it. The B&B sits a few blocks from the center of Lagos, has azulejos on the wall, and has a beautiful upstairs balcony where you can see the sea. Because there were six of us, we had the whole downstairs to ourselves, which was a nice option to enjoy wine and hang together. After a quick journey to get food you can retire from the day in this beautiful setting.
Lagos is a beautiful beach town situated on the Algarve. This town blows up in the summer and turns into a party, but in the spring time it is fairly empty. Despite the fact that it was spring, the temperature heated up to 80 degrees. So make sure you pack clothes to enjoy the warm weather! Depending on the season you can kayak or take a boat through the various caves that are along the shoreline. Make sure to do some sort of water activity so you can see the crystal clear water!
After enjoying the water activities, you should explore the little shops that are in the town. You can find plenty of souvenirs or cute gifts to take home. Stop for lunch in a cafe and then head to Ponta de Piedade. This is one of the most well known viewpoints in Lagos and it gets pretty crowded.
The Ponta de Piedade is on the way to your last stop of the day the Sagres or the End of the World. This is the most Western point of the European continent where cliffs jut out into the Mediterranean sea. In the 15th century the people believed this is where the world ended. This is the perfect place to sit, reflect on your travels, and watch the sunset over the horizon. You should wear a jacket, because it gets super windy and cold!
It’s time to head back North. You can switch things around so that you can end in Lagos and you won’t have to circle back, but we got the best flight deals this way. The driving distance from Lagos to Sintra is two and a half hours. We decided to keep the car, because this was the easiest way to get to Sintra.
Sintra is a historic town that is yet another UNESCO World Heritage Site and the castles and palaces make you feel like you’re in a fairy tale. You can park your car down below and take a tuk-tuk (super fun and a little adventurous) or taxi all the way to the top to the Pena Palace.
At the top you can grab a ticket for your entry at one of the electronic stations. You will want to spend a few hours walking around the colorful palace and wandering through the gardens. You can walk down the hill towards the town or hitch a ride. We wanted to return the car, so we headed back to Lisbon.
Things to see in Sintra
- Pena Palace
- Castle of the Moors
- Palácio Nacional e Jardins de Queluz
- Quinta da Regaleira
- Palace of Monserrate
We drove from Sintra to Lisbon and dropped off our car on the way. Our airbnb was located in the modern city area of Lisbon. It was nice and pretty central to most things, but I would suggest staying somewhere in Alfama or Belem instead. Those are cuter areas that are accessible to many of the tourist sites.
Book Your Stay in Lisbon:
Day One in Lisbon:
The very first thing you should do in Lisbon is go on this food tour. This was one of the highlights of our trip and I highly recommend booking it early! We met Ruthy at the Miradouro das Porto del Sol, a great vista to take pictures of the Alfama district. Alfama is the oldest district in Lisbon and one of the most picturesque as well. Ruthy was a friendly and chatty Portuguese woman that took us through the streets of Alfama trying all of the local food along the way.
After the tour you can continue to explore the streets of the Alfama district, visiting the Santa Engracia National Pantheon for the views on the balcony, walking to the Castle of Sao Jorge for the best views of the city or taking the tram 28 to see the city in a different way. You can stop into one of the local restaurants for dinner or a drink before heading back to the hotel to change.
Once you’ve taken a quick break or nap at the hotel, it’s time to prepare for the night ahead. You’re going out in one of the most fun cities, Lisbon! You want to head to the Bairro Alto where you will find clubs with lines out the door. The Portuguese love to party and they go out late and stay out until the wee hours of the morning. You can dance, drink, and get late night bites on the street.
Day Two in Lisbon:
On your other day in Lisbon I recommend going to the Belem district. Your first stop there should be the Jeronimos Monastery. The Monastery may have a long line, so be prepared to wait. The architecture is truly stunning and you do not want to miss noticing the small details etched in stone along the columns and walls. Fun Fact: This is where the famous Pasteles de Nata were invented by one of the monks that lived there!
You can head straight to the famous Pasteles de Belem, the bakery that is known for its Pasteles de Natas. Pro tip: You should skip the line on the outside of the bakery and go into the restaurant to get seated. You will get your food much quicker and you can sit to truly enjoy the food!
Once you’re full, you can head across the way to the famous Belem Tower. The tower is surrounded by the Tagus River and it is a beautiful sight. It was originally built for defense and has spots for canyons in the walls. If you have time, you should go inside and find out more about the tower.
Taking a one week Portugal road trip is one of the most incredible experiences you can have. While Portugal is a rather small country, it has so much to offer. If you have moreo time you can add additional stops like the Douro Valley or spend more time exploring these amazing destinations. I cannot wait to go back and find out more about this lovely place.
Let me know in the comments if you enjoyed this itinerary for Portugal!
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