Portugal highlights on a 2 week roadtrip

Nature
The wow factor for nature - does it show nature at its best? Doesn't need to be the wilder-beast migration or diving with hundreds of hammerheads. Rather make you pause as you realise just how awesome the natural world can be
7
Culture
How much does this experience showcase some of the better and finer things that us humans can offer? Sure, it can be ancient ruins and renaissance churches, but it can also be festivals or soaking up some of the great modern cities of the world
8
Fun factor/activity
Very simple - was it fun? This is usually linked in with doing some kind of activity - i mean, walking along some cliffs is nice, but paragliding from them, now that is fun. Its a vastly underrated factor in a truly great experience
7
Avoid the crowds
Big tour groups and being surrounded by loud fellow tourists can sap the life out of even the greatest of travel experiences. This score is to reflect just how much you can avoid this. But. . . The score also takes into account if the crowds actually add to the experience, such as with a party town or a bustling food market
6
World famous
How world famous is the experience?
7
unique
How hard is it to have a similar experience in other places round the world?
7
Overall Score
The highest score of nature or culture, + fun factor, + avoid the crowds, + the highest score of world famous or unique. Then turned into a score out of 100. More details at the bottom of the page
70 *What the scores mean and where do they come from
continent
Europe
country
Portugal
Length of time
1-2 weeks
Rough cost
Obviously people have different tastes, so this will depend on those tastes, but this is a rough idea of price of the whole experience based on 2 people able to split the accommodation costs and excluding travel there and back
$ 2,000
Time of year visited
August
Primary Tags
Click on any of the tags to see all travel experiences with the same tag
RANKING
How this travel experience ranks compared to all the other experiences on this site
114th/334 This travel experience's ranking compared to all the other experiences on this site
Top 40% SUMMARY RATING: Superb

Summary

Portugal is a great country for visiting for 10/14 days as it has a heap of varied things to experience and not vast distances to cover.  By basing yourself in the 3 major areas of Porto / The Douro Valley, Lisbon, and the Algarve, you can use each as a hub for adventures nearby and also be able to stop off on a few places directly in between that are great for a couple of hours or so

 

Big highlights for me were actually some of the smaller places that I’d never heard of before I arrived in Portugal.  In particular the gorgeous Duoro Valley wine region, the hilltop town of Sintra and the beautifully charming streets of Cascais.  Plus, the more famous highlights of port tasting in Porto and various neighbourhoods of Lisbon

 

Each piece that makes up this itinerary has its own travel post, but I’ve also condensed the key points and listed some more general tips below

highlights

#1 Having lunch in one of the beautifully set vineyards of the Duoro Valley, looking across across the terraces to mountains and the river below

#2 Catching Sintra in the quiet early morning before the day tourists arrive, and enjoying the otherworldly magical gardens in the forested hills

#3 Wandering the cobbled alleys of Cascais before having sundowners from the Hotel Albatroz

#4 Port tasting and lunch overlooking the Ribeira district from Taylor's in Porto

#5 Walking from the beautiful Alfama district to the Castelo de Sao Jorge for wonderful views across Lisbon

#6 Seeing some of the wonderful Portuguese azulejos (hand painted tiles) that adorn the walls of many places in the town centra, especially in the Porto Sao Bento train station

#7 Alvao National Park for great views over the nearby mountains, gorgeous forests and reward yourself with a swim in the natural pools and waterfall by hiking the PR3 trail from Ermelo to Figas de Ermelo

#8 Descending the rather mysterious steps of the inverted Tower Poco Iniciatico in the Quinta de Regaleira in Sintra

#9 Walking along the riverfront and the 5 famous Porto bridges that cross the Duoro River

#10 An hour waling through the very cute hilltop town of Obidos with its winding cobbled streets, beautiful flowers along most alleys and bright white, blue and yellow painted houses

#11 Seeing the wide vast beach of Nazare, and, maybe, one of the world's largest waves

The Route

Rough itinerary

Travel Tips

  • For tips on Porto, see A day in Porto for the Taylor’s tasting and wandering through the Ribeira district.  In summary – you don’t need more than a day in Porto (instead focus your time on the Duoro Valley), but, when you are there, make sure to prioritise time for port tasting and lunch at one of the Port houses with views across the river (Taylor’s was superb)
  • For tips on the Duoro Valley, see Wine tasting around Pinhao in the Duoro Valley.  In summary, this was the highlight of our overall trip and I suggest to spend 2 nights in the Duoro around the Pinhao region.  Lunch at Quinta Nova was in particular gorgeous, as was taking a morning to hike the PR3 hike from Ermelo to Figas de Ermelo
  • For the drive from Porto / Duoro to Lisbon, I’d recommend stopping for an hour or so at:
    • Obidos is a very cute hilltop town with winding cobbled streets, beautiful flowers along most alleys and bright white, blue and yellow painted houses.  Definitely worth a couple of hours walking round on the way from Porto to Lisbon
    • Tomar is all about the UNESO-listed Convento de Cristo, which is a very impressive stone structure overlooking the town and, as the HQ for the Knights Templar, has a wide variety of Gothic, Manueline and Renaissance architecture
    • Nazare is famous for being the spot for the world biggest waves, and the maniacs who surf them. Whilst your chance of seeing the giant waves needs to be timed right, the beach and lighthouse themselves are worth checking out, especially for a break in the driving
    • Conimbriga is the best preserved Roman ruins on the Iberian Peninsular and a must for any Roman history fan
  • For tips on Lisbon and the surrounding areas see A long weekend for Lisbon and the surrounding gems of Sintra and Cascais. In summary, I would really recommend staying in Sintra and using it as a base for Cascais and Lisbon.  Make sure to check out the Quinta de Regaleira grounds with its Inverted Tower in Sintra, walking from the Alfama neighbourhood to the Castelo de Sao Jorge for wonderful views across Lisbon, and sundowners from the Albatroz Hotel in Cascais
  • For the drive down from Lisbon to the Algarve, I’d recommend stopping briefly in Alcacer do Sal for food an a brief walk along the river front.  You can easily do the lovely loop over the two bridges for a nice 45min walk
  • The Algarve – I didn’t write an entry for the Algarve area because we mainly just chilled out rather than pushed to see the various cool things (such as the coastal caves which looked fun).  Places we did visit and I’d recommend are waking through the old town centre of Tavira and taking a morning for one of the coastal walks of the Rio Formosa National Park.  For the later, we started at the Quinta do Lago area (specially the Casa do Lago Restaurant and Bar) and walked the roughly 2 hours walk out along the bridge and back round through the wetlands and beach.  It’s a nice contrast between the natural waterfront and the picture-perfect manicured Stepford-wives style resort
  • Transport – for this itinerary, we rented a car.   You could do with trains, but it would be more of a faff and just a bit harder for making stops in the various places along the way.  The car roughly worked out at €60-€70 a day, plus a €150 fee for dropping off in a different location. Be aware when driving that there are plenty of toll roads in Portugal!  Although the flip side is that on these roads the traffic is very light and you can cover some long distances quicker than you may think.  There are also some stunning bridges that you’ll pass on the drive, in particular the Viaduto de Corgo on the drive from Porto to Pinhao – world class

 

  • Couple of extra tips on Portugal:
    • Cash – bring beforehand if you can. The charges seem to be standard at 12.5% plus around €4 charge, which is higher than anywhere I’ve experienced
    • Portuguese context – as with all countries, it’s good to try to get a bit of history of the country so you can understand the context. The real golden age of Portugal was tied in with the Age of Discovery when Portugal and Spain led the way in forging truly global trading empires, so I’d recommend both: “Conquerors: How Portugal Forged the First Global Empire” by Roger Crawley; and “Over the Edge of the World” by Laurence Bergreen telling the story of Magellan’s circumnavigation of the globe.  Both bring that period to life and help illustrate in a an enjoyable way just how critical a role Portugal played in world history

Experiences nearby

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Score Detail

Background - how many times have you asked someone what a travel experience was like and the response was "amazing" or "awesome"?  That response is nice to know, but it makes it hard to differentiate that experience compared to others.  That is exactly what these scores are trying to do - differentiate the experience by giving a score out of 10 based on 6 categories and then giving an overall experience score

This overall experience score is calculated by:  take the highest of the "Culture" or "Nature" score (1-10) + "Fun factor" (1-10) + "Avoiding the crowds" (1-10) + highest of the "Unique" or "World Famous score" (1-10).  Then convert into a score out of 100

Extra detail - the logic being that I find all of the 6 individual scores important, but I don't want to mark an experience down just because it doesn't cover both "Culture" and "Nature", or because it isn't both "World Famous" and "Unique".  Take the examples of Safari in The Serengeti and walking through Rome - they both appeal at opposite ends of the nature / culture spectrum, and you can have a fantastic time without needing to appeal to both sides.  So, their overall scores aren't penalized for their lack of one or the other, and I've done the same for "World Famous" vs "Unique".  But . . . I do think that the "Fun factor" of an experience is important, irrelevant of other factors, and so is "Avoiding the Crowds" (or where there are crowds that add to the experience).  So, both of these scores are standalone