Portugal is a country often overlooked in a trip around Europe. Perhaps because its location at the tip of the continent does not favor it when planning an itinerary that includes more countries, which is what the traveler who is going to Europe for the first time is looking for. But a road trip around the best in Portugal is worth it in and of itself.
Ten days are not enough. You could be a whole month discovering this wonderful country. But at least you can take an idea that will leave you wanting more.
From its charming capital with its ups and downs to the paradisiacal beaches of the Algarve, a road trip around the best in Portugal will take us through unforgettable landscapes and sensations. So without further ado, I leave you with the Best in Portugal in a 10-day road trip.
BEST IN PORTUGAL ROAD TRIP
DAY 1 AND 2: PORTO
We had heard many people telling us that they liked Porto better than Lisbon. And we have to admit that we had the same feeling (although we will go into details of the Portuguese capital later). Porto was revealed to us as a very pleasant surprise. A city that at first sight seems somewhat deteriorated by the passage of time, somewhat neglected, but it is in that aesthetic look where lies its greatest charm.
PORTO: A STREET ART CITY
After a couple of hours touring its streets, what used to be broken walls are now the perfect canvas for the most beautiful street art. At every step a graffiti, but not a simple word scrawled with spray. No. Porto distills urban art of high level in every corner. And we are grateful for that art because it turns what could be an opaque city into a place radiant with light that catches the traveler. Those walls that could have been sad now have a reason for being there.
WHAT TO DO IN PORTO
Porto is an easy city to walk. If you do not have any issues with walking, you do not need a public transport. Going to the Duero river, a name that perhaps rings a bell for the typical wines of the region, the first stop that attracts the traveler attention is the beautiful Praça da Liberdade, with the Town Hall in the background. This square is the center that divides the old city and the modern city, and it is from where the Avenida dos Aliados is born, full of buildings of modernist style.
Nearby there is the historic Majestic Café, representative work of the belle époque of the 1920’s. It is a precious thing to admire, its architecture is beautiful, but it is not fit for the weak pocket since the prices are in line with the high demand that lines up to enter. However, if you have an extra money to spend, it is worth having something to drink in a coffee place that was declared Cultural Heritage in 1983 (after a very strong restoration to give back its splendor after almost two decades of abandonment) and was, as legend says, where Harry Potter was born through the hands of JK Rowling, who lived in Porto for two years (although it is hard to believe since JK Rowling was in economic ruin at the time and the Café Majestic was, and still is, one of the most expensive places in the city).
Very close to the square we can also visit the San Bento train station to enjoy the history of Portugal represented on more than 20,000 tiles.
Now, without doubt, the most pleasant part of the city and the main reason why we have fallen in love with Porto: the banks of the Duero. There, between tables of bars, on the banks of the river, while the sun falls and several musicians are heard in the background, is the ideal place to take a break and a drink. The colorful houses behind, the people parading before us, and that air of water, are what Porto is: a large city that seems to live at a relaxed pace. At least that’s the feeling you have as a traveler; Maybe a Portuguese living there will tell us that we are crazy.
Once the legs were rested and the strength recovered, and once that drowsiness after drinking a glass of wine with the sun on the face had passed, nothing better than crossing the Luis I bridge to reach the other side of the river and, back to the top of the city through a beautiful funicular ride with an unparalleled view of the sunset over the riverside houses.
Two days, more than ideal, are necessary to enjoy this city. We could spend more time enjoying it, but this ten-day itinerary would not be possible.
DAY 3: AVEIRO AND COIMBRA
75 kilometers separate the city of Porto from what could well be known as the Portuguese Venice, saving the distances with the incomparable Italian city. Aveiro can be easily discovered on a morning as the most picturesque part of it is on the banks of the estuary that crosses and draws channels in the middle of the city. The Ria de Aveiro is nothing more than the waters of the Atlantic Ocean, which, unlike what one can think, does not enter the continent, but rather withdraws, thus giving rise to the estuaries. Along the canals, the houses follow each other in various shapes and colors.
Next stop: Coimbra. Its University, in the highest part of the city, with privileged views of the whole environment, was founded in 1290, although it was transferred to Coimbra in 1308, at the Alcáçova Palace. In 2013, its campus was introduced into the World Heritage sites.
Among its historical students is Egas Moniz, Nobel Prize in Medicine in 1949, and six future Presidents of the Portuguese Republic. So we head towards the university after walking around the beautiful city that lays below. It is not recommended to do it as we did it: with our son’s stroller. But we managed to do it and we survived, so if you have a kid, do not hesitate: the visit is worth it.
Coimbra, as well as several of the Portuguese cities, is a legs killer. Slightly steep streets, very steep streets, and streets that look like sloping walls. And also, like every great city in Portugal, it is beautifully decadent. Decadent in the most poetic sense of the word, because you just end up not caring if a wall is discolored, or a paving stone is out of place on the floor. On the contrary, it gives that air of “I don’t know why but I love it“, typical of the Portuguese cities.
What we did think out loud, as we climbed the eternal zigzagging of the cobbled streets towards the university, was that students had to be very eager to study and to do a university career in order to get up every single winter morning, while the cold and the dark morning – which is always harder to digest than dark nights-invade the body, and head up there, day after day, step by step, cobblestone by cobblestone.
DAY 4: ÓBIDOS AND LISBON
Halfway between Coimbra and Lisbon lays one of the most beautiful villages in Portugal: Óbidos. White and blue houses with red roofs. Plants protruding from the walls, entangled in cobblestone roads. Red and yellow flowers, violets, oranges. Cherry liqueurs in small chocolate pots. A wall surrounding the village and, in the background, a castle.
Óbidos has everything to be one of those magical corners in the world. But it has one more thing: the masses of tourists invading its small main street, with the succession of tourist trap shops that make Óbidos look like Toledo, Carcassonne, and every other town that they are as magical and unique as they are a box to tick in every tourist itinerary. We felt the way we do not like to feel. We felt like tourists in a village that deserves much more than that. Because Óbidos is wonderful. Surrounded by green hills and houses as white as clouds.
But there is still hope. There is still an Óbidos early in the morning, or late in the day. When you still don´t hear the buses arriving, or when they have already left. And with this, we do not mean that tourism is bad. On the contrary. Many of these towns live their splendor thanks to tourism. But we should find a way to find a balance to preserve the innate and real beauty of these sites as wonderful as Óbidos.
In a nutshell: if you can wake up very early and get to Óbidos by 7 or 8 in the morning, you will surely discover a totally different world. You will discover the true Portuguese village.
A little more than 80 kilometers away is the wonderful Portuguese capital, where we will spend the next two days. Lisbon, the city of the seven hills, the beautiful viewpoints, the fado, the tram of more than 100 years old.
WHAT TO DO IN LISBON
There are many places to enjoy in this city: the lower part, or Baixa, surrounded by hills, the city’s nerve center, with its straight streets in the form of a grid (this urban orientation was developed in the 18th century by the Marquis de Pombal according to the standards of the time after a strong earthquake hit and devastated the city), and it goes down into the Tajo River through the beautiful Praça do Comércio.
From there we can go to the most famous neighborhood in Portugal: Alfama, with its many bars and restaurants, and its identity as the “essential district of Lisbon“. It was there that the Fado was born and it is through its steep and paved streets that a one-century old tram (number 28), crosses the neighborhood and its peeled houses. It is here where we can visit the National Pantheon, the Castle of San Jorge, the Botto Machado Garden or have a drink enjoying the wonderful view from Mirador do Portas do Sol.
Lisbon is made for slow traveling (SLOW TRAVEL, THE ART OF TAKING IT EASY), from its infinity of viewpoints, discovering its different neighborhoods that have little and nothing in common with each other. It is not an easy city to walk because of its strong inclinations, that is why there is nothing better than to enjoy it from the windows of the famous tram.
DAY 5: LISBON / BELEM
This day will be dedicated to visiting one of the most important neighborhoods in Lisbon: Belem, home to two of the most representative architectural works of the Portuguese Manueline style: the Monastery of the Jeronimos and the Tower of Belem. This style, a variation of the Gothic and the Mudéjar, developed at the end of the XV century is characterized by a systematization of own iconographic motifs, of great size, symbolizing the regal power.
The Monastery of the Jeronimos is the first thing we see after descending from the various transportation options we have from the center of Lisbon (tram, train, and bus). This wonder was inaugurated in 1501 during the reign of Manuel I of Portugal, to commemorate the successful return of the navigator Vasco da Gama from his trip to India. It was erected on the bases of the Ermita do Restelo, place where Vasco da Gama and his crew spent their last night before leaving on their expedition, praying to the Virgin. And now, several centuries later, he rests in his tomb, in the Monastery itself.
It was designed by the architect Juan de Castillo. Its marvelous exterior competes with its striking interior: a single nave of 29 meters by 19, without central columns.
The other architectural wonder of Belem is its famous tower. Originally used as a military surveillance tower, then as a prison, lighthouse and even as a tax collection center to enter the city, it is now a historical monument that seems to float on the water. It was built in the year 1516 under the orders of King Manuel I of Portugal. It is made up of a tower and a bulwark and is an ideal place to enjoy a beautiful sunset along the Tajo River.
Nearby is the Monument to the Discoveries, built in commemoration of the 500th anniversary of the death of Henry the Navigator, and as a tribute to all those Portuguese sailors who set sail on their historic expeditions to lands unknown to them.
DAY 6: SINTRA
Cascais and Cabo da Roca can be added to this day, but we, with a young son and a dog, decided to limit the day and visit only the beautiful city of Sintra. Just a half hour’s drive from Lisbon, this precious place is discovered before our eyes.
First of all a clarification: finding a place to park is very difficult in high season, so we recommend going early. The ideal thing is to leave the car in the lower part of the city and then ascend to Palacio da Pena by public transport, either by bus, taxi or in the famous tuk-tuk (if you go with small children, the tuk-tuk will not be an option as it is not legal to transport infants without a safety seat, and if you go with dogs the choice of bus or taxi will not be possible. Therefore for us, it was impossible to get on a public transport since we went with both, and there was no valid combination, so we had to climb our car further towards sunset when there were fewer cars parked uphill. It turned out to be a great success).
The town of Sintra is very small and pleasant to walk around during the first part of the day. Its narrow, cobbled streets and its green surroundings are a natural delight after two days in the Portuguese capital. The mandatory visits are the Castle of the Moors, on top of a hill, from where you get great views towards Sintra; The National Palace and Quinta da Regaleira; And, what for us was the most special sight: the magical Palacio da Pena.
This palace was built in the nineteenth century as a royal residence and is an incredible mixture of architectural styles ranging from Mozarabic to Gothic, transforming it into one of the most representative expressions of romantic style. Its construction was ordered by King Ferdinand II of Portugal as a gift for his wife, Mary II of Portugal, on the ruins of what was a former Monastery of the Order of Jeronimos, devastated during a strong earthquake in the eighteenth century.
It is a very exotic and exuberant place. It gives the feeling of being fictional. Its pastel colors ranging from yellow to blue, passing through all the red hues, contrasts with the green majesty of its surroundings and its beautiful English garden, which can be traversed on foot from the entrance of the enclosure to the door of the palace. It is undoubtedly a place to get lost for a few hours, enjoying every architectural detail like the wonderful Triton Window, an allegory of the creation of the world.
DAY 7, 8 and 9: EL ALGARVE PORTUGUESE
Many overlook this Portuguese region during a first visit to the country. And nothing would be more wrong. This region is a real joy for the lovers of the coastal towns and unbelievable beaches. Beyond its large tourist influx, the Algarve is still an indispensable region to complete a trip through Portugal. Three days are not enough to enjoy it, but without doubt, it will leave us wanting to return, and that is always good.
We will not divide this part of the itinerary day by day since the Algarve is a region to enjoy it in the way that you like. You can spend the three days touring its beautiful villages: from the villages of Faro, Albufeira, Lagos, and Tavira, to the smallest and quietest towns like Carvoeiro, Salema or Olhao. Or you can spend three days relaxing on its beaches with crystal clear waters and high cliffs. Our favorites were Praia da Marinha, Praia da Albandeira and Praia Carvalho. Wherever you go, you can not fail in this beautiful region. So we, therefore, leave here some photographs for you to enjoy.
DAY 10: ÉVORA
We left for our last day of the trip to discover one of the most beautiful cities in the country and not so far from the Spanish border: Évora. Its historic center was declared a World Heritage Site by UNESCO.
It is a quiet Alentejo city, with its typical low houses where white and yellow predominate. Walking through its streets you can discover its past as a city of the Roman Empire: the ruins of the Roman temple of the first century are unique throughout Portugal in terms of its conservation. You can also see some remains of the Old Wall and the Roman Baths. There are many architectural styles that can be enjoyed in its streets, from the impressive Gothic cathedral of the thirteenth century to the typical Portuguese architecture of its low houses.
Évora is considered a city-museum, and when you go through it you can understand why. Its splendor was reached in the XVth century when it became the royal residence. Its architectural wealth is unique and the fact of being a small city makes walking on foot a pleasure.
Ten days in Portugal is certainly very little. But if you do not have more time, this is an itinerary that can be done to at least leave you with an idea of what the country has to offer. So go ahead and start driving!
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