Wander-Lush

28 Unforgettable Things to Do in Portugal: The Ultimate List

Portugal is easily one of the most rewarding travel destinations in Europe, with cosmopolitan cities, quaint villages, wine country, pristine forests – and not to forget, 1,800 kilometres (1,100 miles) of picturesque coastline ranging from dramatic cliffs, coves and caves to placid, sandy beaches.

Add to that more than 800 years of history, a fabulous food scene, music traditions and much more, and mainland Portugal plus the diverse islands of Madeira and the Azores have something to offer literally every type of traveller.

This mega Portugal Bucket List brings together 28 of the best things to do in Portugal, including must-sees, immersive cultural experiences , hands-on activities, and quirky and alternative Portugal attractions.

→ Don’t miss: The best places to visit in Portugal

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28 of the best things to do in Portugal

Ride the #28 tram in lisbon.

A yellow tram on the street in Lisbon, Portugal.

There’s no better introduction to Lisbon , the capital city of Portugal, than a self-guided tour by tram. A Lisbon icon, electric trams first launched in 1901 and have been ferrying locals and visitors alike up and down the city’s hills ever since.

Tram 28 is the best route for sightseeing and views. Think of it as Lisbon’s more authentic answer to a hop-on-hop-off tour bus! Running between Martim Moniz and Campo Ourique, it takes passengers along some of the city’s most beautiful streets, past key landmarks including Lisbon Cathedral, the Thieves Market, São Jorge Castle, National Pantheon, Miradouro da Graça, Arco da Rua Augusta, and more.

At just €3 per trip (paid either in cash to the driver or using a rechargeable Viva Viagem card), it’s also a very affordable way to see the best of Lisbon. Climb aboard a vintage Remodelado carriage, stake out a spot on one of the wooden benches, and sit back and absorb the sights and sounds of Lisboa.

The tram runs seven days from 6am. It’s a good idea to arrive early to beat the crowds. Riding the whole line takes around 50 minutes one-way depending on traffic. For a less-touristy alternative, the #12E tram follows a similar route through the historic Alfama neighbourhood , stopping at São Jorge Castle and Se Cathedral.

Alternative Lisbon experience: Follow the 28 tram route in a private electric tuk-tuk and snap photos of the charming yellow trams along the way!

Learn how to make Pastel de Nata in Belem

A single pastel de nata Portuguese egg tart on a white plate.

When visiting Portugal, it’s mandatory to munch on as many rich and flaky Pastel de Nata (Portuguese egg tarts) as humanly possible. This delicious pastry was born in the shadow of the iconic Belem Tower (Torre De Belem) in the 18th-century kitchens of Jerónimos Monastery, making Lisbon the spiritual home of Pastéis.

While you should definitely buy a pack or two of authentic Belem custard tarts to take home as a souvenir , why not go one better and learn how to make them from scratch yourself. It’s a life skill that will serve you well!

A Pastel de Nata Masterclass is a must-do for foodies and a great experience for kids. The original recipe is a closely guarded secret, but padeiras are more than willing to spill the beans for eager visitors who want to master the art. The best workshops take place in local bakeries and teach you how to make the creamy custard from scratch.

Try it: Book a Pastel de Nata Workshop with an expert baker , including a glass of Ginjinha sour cherry liqueur in an edible chocolate cup to pair with your fresh-baked tarts.

Cruise the Douro River in Porto

A fleet of rabelo boats on the river in Porto, with a beautiful bridge in the background.

Life in Portugal’s second city revolves around the Douro River, giving Porto some of its most famous landmarks including its handsome bridges and medieval Ribeira (riverside) district, with its colourful merchant houses and historic cafes .

Do as Porto’s wine merchants once did and let the trade winds whisk you through the city. A boat trip on the Douro is the perfect way to tour the top sights and learn what makes Porto one of the country’s most interesting cities .

In the past, rabelo – low-slung wooden cargo boats – were used to transport barrels of Port wine from the vineyards in the country’s interior to the city and onward to the shipping docks. A fleet of colourful rabelo now float the same historic route, taking visitors down Porto’s life-giving river and showing off the best of the city from a unique perspective.

A typical boat tour of Porto covers the famous ‘Six Bridges’ including Ponte D. Maria Pia, Ponte Infante Dom Henrique and Ponte de Dom Luís I, the Gaia caves, and the Cabedelo Nature Reserve. You’ll see the Foz do Douro, where the river empties out into the Atlantic Ocean, and the Barra do Douro with its dazzling lighthouse.

Take a day trip to the splendid Pena Palace

Pena Palace, a colourful Portuguese palace near Lisbon.

Pena Palace (Palácio da Pena) is one of the most popular tourist attractions in Portugal and a highlight of Sintra, a convenient day trip from Lisbon. Considered one of the finest expressions of 19th-century Romanticism in Europe, it’s both a UNESCO World Heritage Site and one of the Seven Wonders of Portugal.

Set atop a hill and enveloped by green forest (200 hectares of which is the royal garden), Pena Palace is instantly identifiable because of its bright red, yellow and mauve facades, scalloped white trimmings and pointed turrets. It might look cartoonish in photos but seen up close in person, it’s very lavish indeed – especially the painted interiors, which were used as a summer royal residence for Portugal’s ruling family. 

A Sintra day trip is very easy to organise, travelling by train on the CP-Sintra line from Lisbon. Pena Palace is a 30-minute bus ride from the railway station.

Alternatively, a combination Sintra, Cabo da Roca and Cascais day tour from Lisbon is a good choice if you’re on a tight timeline. Other noteworthy landmarks in the area include the National Palace on Sintra’s central square, Monserrate Palace and the Moorish Castle, later on this list of things to do in Portugal.

Pena Palace tickets: Pre-purchase your tickets online and skip the queue.

Listen to Fado music in Chiado, one of the best things to do in Portugal for local culture

Recognised as part of UNESCO’s Intangible Cultural Heritage of Humanity, Fado is a beloved Portuguese tradition that incorporates music, lyrics and movement. For an insight into the nation’s seafaring heritage, watch a live Fado performance in Chiado in Lisbon where Fado has been humming in the streets for more than 200 years.

Though its exact origins are a bit of a mystery, it’s widely believed that Fado emerged in the mid-1800s at a time when Portuguese mariners were undertaking their most daring sea voyages to the New World. Singing and dancing became something of a ritual for sailors as they searched for a reprieve from their stressful day jobs. 

Somewhat ironically, much of Lisbon’s Fado music is soulful and almost mournful. Coimbra Fado, by contrast, is more upbeat – apparently it was devised as a way for male students at the university to woo their female counterparts!

Fado is most commonly associated with Lisbon’s old Alfama and Mouraria districts. In the beginning the singers were all male, but today it’s women who take the lead, reciting stirring melodies that transport listeners to another time and place, accompanied by 12-string guitars and violas. Bars and restaurants in Alfama and Bairro Alto host Fado performers, and the popular Fado in Chiado theatre stages shows every night of the week.

Experience Fado: Folk music performances in Lisbon .

Tour one of the world’s oldest universities in Coimbra

A lavish library inside the historic Coimbra University in Portugal.

Have you ever been to a university that is a combination of a palace, a church and has strong vibes of Harry Potter ’s Hogwarts? If you haven’t, it’s time to add Coimbra University to the long list of things you must do in Portugal.

Coimbra is the biggest city in Central Portugal. You can easily reach it by train from Lisbon in about two hours or Porto in about one hour, or stop here on your road trip from Lisbon to Porto . There are many historical monuments in Coimbra but the university campus, designated as a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 2013, is the most famous.

With a history dating back to the 13th century, this stunning university is actually the oldest of its kind in Portugal and one of the oldest in Europe . It is located in what used to be a royal palace and has many interesting treasures to explore as well as commanding fabulous views of Coimbra and the Mondego River.

Some of the most interesting places on the university campus are the Capela de São Miguel, with its beautifully decorated ceiling and walls, the chambers of the palace, and the rooftop balcony that offers excellent views of the area. One place you must visit is the Biblioteca Joanina. Walking into this ancient library feels like stepping into a movie set: all golden decorations, a piano, and a resident colony of bats!

You can visit Coimbra University by yourself if you wish, but it’s best to take a tour to learn about the history and secrets that hide in the various chambers. The university organises guided tours. Note that if you buy your own tickets, there are two types – make sure you buy the one that includes a visit to the library.

By Maya from Chasing Lenscapes

Pre-purchase your Coimbra University tickets: These skip-the-line tickets include an in-depth 90-minute tour of the main halls and the Biblioteca Joanina.

Take a stroll in the enchanting Bucaco National Forest

Walking paths and overgrown trees in the Bucaco National Forest near Coimbra.

Located roughly 30 kilometres (19 miles) north of the historic city of Coimbra, the Buçaco National Forest is a true gem in Portugal. This 105-hectare green space houses one of the most remarkable tree collections in Europe, including species dating back to the Portuguese Age of Discoveries (around 500 years ago).

In the 17th century, the forest was settled by the Order of Discalced Carmelites – though it was previously inhabited for centuries before that. The monks built its walls, little chapels that are still standing today, and a convent that was supposed to be converted into a royal palace but is now a unique luxury hotel, the Buçaco Palace.

The best way to explore the forest is by foot, walking at least one of the many trails that take you through this enchanted place. Be sure to grab a map at the information centre (Posto de Turismo do Luso-Bussaco) as it will be very useful. Some of the points of interest you can’t miss while wandering through Buçaco are the Buçaco Palace, Fonte Fria fountain, and Portas de Coimbra (Coimbra Gate).

The most convenient way to get to the forest is by car, so this is a great opportunity to take a scenic road trip through central Portugal .

By Or from My Path in the World

Drink Port wine in the Douro Valley

Vineyards reach down to the Douro River in central Portugal.

If you’re in Portugal and you haven’t tried Port wine, have you even been to Portugal at all?! A tasting of the nation’s most famous export is an absolute must, and the best place to do it is the Douro Valley outside Porto, one of Europe’s most famous wine regions .

There are many advantages to doing a wine tasting in the Douro Valley rather than in Porto city. In Porto, you will only find overpriced touristy Port tastings; whereas in the Douro Valley, you will be able to visit centuries-old wine estates ( quintas ) in person. The acres and acres of vineyards here are incredibly picturesque and give visitors the chance to really immerse themselves in Portugal’s winemaking traditions.

The best way to visit the Douro Valley is through an organised tour from Porto. This one by Living Tours includes two different quintas, a boat tour on the Douro river, and a generous lunch. It’s also possible to rent a car and visit multiple quintas on your own. But that would mean you can’t drink port – so a tour is definitely the preferred option here!

By Lara from The Best Travel Gifts

Best Douro Valley tour from Porto: This itinerary by Living Tours includes tastings with the winemakers, a regional lunch, and spectacular views of the terraced vineyards.

Hike the Seven Hanging Valleys Trail in the Algarve

The Seven Hanging Valleys Trail in the Algarve, a walking route past cliffs and white sand beaches in Portugal.

There are few better ways to appreciate the beauty of the Algarve coastline than by foot. And thankfully, there are several stunning walkways you can take to explore one of Portugal’s premier beach holiday destinations from a different perspective.

One of the most popular walks along this stretch of sun-kissed shoreline is the Seven Hanging Valleys Trail . At just under 12 kilometres (7.5 miles) out and back, it’s an easy half-day hike, or you can do it over a full day and enjoy the many beaches you’ll pass along the way.

Beaches aside, there’s plenty to see along the path such as natural grottos (including the famous Benagil sea cave), rock arches and bridges, sea pillars, and a lighthouse.

The family-friendly hike is described as moderate, and can be hard going in the heat of the summer months, so do yourself a favour by hiking in autumn instead. At this time of the year, you’ll enjoy sublime temperatures, fewer crowds, and won’t have to jostle for a parking spot.

You can complete the track in either direction, starting at Praia Vale de Centeanes or Praia da Marinha. If you don’t fancy retracing your steps it’s possible to just do it one way and catch a cab or Uber back to your car.

By Nadine from Le Long Weekend

Kayak through the Benagil sea cave

Kayaks on the shore beneath the Benagil sea cave in southern Portugal.

Out of all grottos that dot the southern Portuguese coast, the Benagil cave is the most captivating. That’s because, in addition to the lateral erosion caused by the pounding waves, the rain has worn away the top of the cave. The result is a natural skylight that illuminates the cavern and the beautiful patch of white sand that lies inside.

The fenced area around this ‘eye’ allows visitors to peer inside from the top of the cave. But to truly experience the magic of the Benagil grotto, you need to access it from the water.

Instead of hopping on one of the small tourist boats that pass through the cave, you could join a Benagil cave tour by kayak or SUP. Most of these tours are organised in the morning, allowing you some time to enjoy this mesmerising cave without the constant boat traffic. The beauty of arriving by kayak or SUP is that you’re allowed to actually set foot on the gorgeous beach – a privilege that boat visitors don’t have.

A kayak or SUP tour typically lasts around two hours and takes you to see several intriguing sea caves along the coastline. It can be quite intensive, depending on the water conditions, but a support boat with a lifeguard tags along and can tow your kayak if necessary.

By Sarah from CosmopoliClan

Try it: Book your Benagil cave kayaking experience with Secret Algarve.

Swim in a natural hot spring in the Azores

People swim in a natural geothermal pool in the Azores.

One of the most exciting things to do in Portugal is experience the hot springs on the Azorean island of São Miguel. The largest of the Azores – a chain of islands in the Atlantic Ocean and an autonomous region of Portugal – São Miguel has a wide selection of hot springs to enjoy.

There are several different geothermal springs on the island, each with its own unique feel. Terra Nostra is probably the most famous, known for its large spring-fed pool that is so rich with iron and other minerals that the water is almost golden in colour. Terra Nostra also has smaller springs as well as a botanic garden and a restaurant where you can eat cozido , an Azorean stew cooked underground using geothermal heat (look out for it later on this list).

Another cool spot is in Ponta da Ferraria, where a hot spring meets the ocean just where some rocks make a natural pool. You’ll have to time the tides just right – otherwise it can be too hot or too cold – but it’s a magical experience feeling the water’s temperature ebb and flow as the hot spring water mixes with the brisk Atlantic waters. Best of all, it’s free!

Should you want even more soaking time on your Sao Miguel itinerary , there are several other hot springs in the Azores also worth mentioning, including Poça da Dona Beija and Caldeira Velha.

Tip: Bring a dark-coloured bathing suit to enjoy the hot springs in the Azores – lighter suits may get stained by the mineral waters.

By Allison from Eternal Arrival

Experience it: Evening tour to Furnas for hot spring bathing at Poça da Dona Beija as the sun sets plus a traditional dinner under the stars.

Go hiking at sunrise on Madeira Island

A man looking out over the Pico Ruivo do Paul viewpoint on Madeira island in Portugal.

Portugal’s second autonomous island region, Madeira, comprises four islands, each with a subtropical climate and breathtaking landscapes of volcanic rock formations, dramatic cliffs and pebble beaches. It’s no secret that Madeira boasts some of the most beautiful hiking trails in Europe , many leading to high-altitude viewpoints for panoramic views of the cliffs and ocean.

From moderate and flat levada walks that take you through the island’s forested interior (a UNESCO World Heritage Site) to more challenging mountain summits that see you rise up above the clouds, Madeira is a hiker’s paradise.

The Pico Ruivo do Paul trail is an easy hike of 1.5 kilometres (just under 1 mile), taking around 45 minutes to complete. It culminates at a 1600-metre-high marked viewpoint where you are rewarded with spectacular views down to the water’s edge.

One of the most adventurous things to do in Portugal is to set out for sunrise on another popular but longer trail that links the island’s two highest points, Pico do Areeiro and Pico Ruivo. This Madeira hike is more strenuous, taking around 7-9 hours to complete the 15.6 kilometres (9.7 miles).

Ride a moliceiro boat in the quaint town of Aveiro

Molicero boats on the waterfront in the town of Aveiro, Portugal.

One of the best day trips from Porto is to Aveiro, a charming town known for the gondola-style boats that roam the canals. With a long history, it’s a cultural wonderland with plenty of sights and culinary experiences thrown in for good measure.

Just an hour from Porto by train, Aveiro is easy to reach and explore on foot. The main activity is riding one of the colourful molicero boats. These were originally used to farm seaweed and keep the region fertile, although they’re now more of a popular tourist attraction. A short ride will set you back €5-10.

Another place to visit is the nearby Costa Nova, a small beach town with Instagrammable huts painted in every colour of the rainbow. It’s easy to reach Costa Nova from Aveiro by hopping on a bus or hailing a taxi.

Finally, don’t miss indulging in Aveiro’s culinary gems. Ovos moles are traditional snacks from Aveiro made with sweetened egg yolk in wafer. Many cafes sell them, but there’s nowhere better than Confeitaria Peixinho where they have been made since 1856. Try the ones shaped like mini molicero boats!

By Rose from Where Goes Rose

Try it: Aveiro moliceiro experience with a visit to the Aveiro salt pan, the old Beira-Mar, neighbourhood, the Jerónimo Campos ceramics factory, and the Fish Market.

Go azulejo hunting in Porto

Painted Portuguese azulejo tiles at Sao Bento Station in Porto.

Discovering the gorgeous azulejo tiles is one of the best things to do in Porto , Portugal. The word ‘azulejo’ stems from the Arabic al zellige , which means ‘polished stone’. You will find these glazed ceramic tiles almost everywhere in Porto – from churches to railway stations, fountains to benches. Azulejo is a very important part of Portugal’s cultural heritage.

King Manuel I of Portugal brought this art form to this country in the 15th century from Seville, Spain . Initially tiles used simple geometrical patterns, but over time the repertoire transformed into a more intricate and decorative art form depicting religious stories and the history of the nation. You will mainly find these tiles in blue and white. Shades of yellow and green are also common.

You can easily explore Porto’s azulejos yourself. You will find some of the greatest works inside the Sao Bento Railway Station , where almost 20,000 azulejo tiles painted in the early 20th century by Jorge Colaco depict the history of Portugal and rural scenes. The work took almost 11 years to complete!

Other outstanding azulejos can be found at the Porto Cathedral, Igreja do Carmo, Capela das Almas, Igreja de Santo Ildefonso and the Casa da Musica.

By Moumita & Sankha from Chasing the Long Road

Alternative experience: Try a tile-painting workshop where you’ll learn about the history of azulejos while hand-painting your own souvenir tiles.

Browse the beautiful Livraria Lello bookshop in Porto

The red staircase inside the gorgeous Livraria Lello bookshop in Porto, Portugal.

Located in the heart of Porto, the Livraria Lello is considered one of the most beautiful bookstores in the world. J.K. Rowling, author of the famous Harry Potter series, was famously inspired by it when writing her novels – she regularly visited the bookstore in the 1990s.

Founded in 1906 by the Lello brothers, the Livraria Lello, which is today one of the most famous Portuguese landmarks , attracts plenty of tourists thanks to its amazing design. Even before entering the bookstore, the white facade that combines Art Nouveau and neo-Gothic styles is quite stunning.

The exterior is certainly eye-catching, but it’s the store’s stunning interior to which the Livraria Lello owes its fame: the walls, lined with large bookcases from floor to ceiling, abound with volumes in all languages. The high point is definitely the iconic red spiral staircase.

This bookstore is so popular that an entrance fee is now charged (it costs €5, but the ticket price is deductible if you buy something inside). In any case, it’s a good idea to purchase your tickets in advance – otherwise you’ll have to queue twice: first at the ticket counter and then again to enter the bookstore. Try to visit in the morning to avoid the crowds on the staircase.

By Nesrine from Kevmrc Travel

Explore Tomar, Batalha and Alcobaca, the trio of UNESCO World Heritage Sites in Central Portugal

Columns and arches at Alcobaca Monastery, one of Central Portugal's three UNESCO sites.

One of the best things to do in Portugal is visit the country’s UNESCO World Heritage Sites. There is a trio of monuments located in Central Portugal that can be visited in one day as they are all located within an hour of one another.

The three UNESCO World Heritage Sites are the Convent of Christ in Tomar, Alcobaça Monastery, and the Monastery of Batalha. The first, the Convent of Christ in Tomar was originally a 12th-century Knights Templar stronghold until its dissolution in the 14th century. The Knights of the Order of Christ, as the Templars became in the 15th-century, continued at Tomar and aided Portugal in its maritime explorations during the Age of Discoveries. The site consists of both a convent and a castle built in the Romanesque, Gothic and Renaissance styles.

The Monastery of Batalha is a Dominican monastery originating in the late 14th century. It contains examples of Gothic and Manueline architecture styles. Alcobaça Monastery is a 12th-century monastic site credited with introducing Gothic buildings to Portugal.

All three sites are rich in architecture and history. All can be visited as part of a day trip tour from Lisbon if you are travelling in Portugal without a car. There is a discounted ticket for entry to all three sites which is valid for one year.

By Cath from Passports and Adventures

Day tour option: Book a private day trip from Lisbon with transfers and skip-the-line access to the monasteries.

Walk the medieval walls of the Moorish Castle in Sintra

Old walls of the Moorish Castle in Sintra, with Pena Palace in the distance.

Castelo dos Mouros (the Moorish Castle) is located in Sintra. Like the Pena Palace, it sits high on a craggy outcrop and can be seen for miles around. It’s less touristy than Pena and a more relaxing experience. Its rich history and spectacular views earn the Moorish Castle a spot on the best Sintra tours from Lisbon .

The Moors reigned from the 8th to the 12th centuries in Portugal and during this time, the strategic location of this very large castle (directly above the town) meant that it was the defensive centre for the whole Sintra region. This was also true during the later Christian rule of Sintra.

Make sure you stroll around the formidable castle walls and see the 12th century Igreja de São Pedro Chapel. From atop the walls there are incredible views of the Sintra mountain range.

This castle is also an unforgettable sight when you see it from a distance. The Royal Tower of Sinta (Torre Real) is the best place to view the castle from afar. Walking from the Pena Palace to the Moorish Castle is a wonderful experience, but there is also a regular bus service.

By Paula from Portugal Travel Hub

Explore the old town in Obidos

White-washed houses with colourful trims in the Portugal village of Obidos.

Only an hour’s drive away from bustling Lisbon (making it a great spot on a Portugal road trip ), the sweet, fairytale village of Obidos is a must-see in Portugal. The town is still surrounded by fortified walls and was actually gifted from King Denis of Portugal to his Queen for their wedding in 1282.

Medieval cobbled streets lined with small shops and whitewashed houses are a perfect backdrop for photos. A must-do in Obidos is to try the famous sour cherry liquor, Ginjinha de Óbidos , which originated with 17th-century monks from the region who combined brandy with Morello cherries. It’s traditionally served in little edible chocolate pots to taste for only €1 – and it’s simply delicious. Trust me, you’ll want to purchase a bottle to take home with you.

After you’ve wandered the beautiful streets, don’t forget to check out the well-preserved Obidos Castle. It’s a great place to walk around and you can even stay the night  if you feel like treating yourself!

By Cazzy from Dream Big Travel Far

Explore Obidos: History tour of the village and Jewish neighbourhood with a Ginjinha tasting .

Go beach-hopping in Lagos

An old Roman bridge and rock formations at Praia dos Estudantes beach in Portugal.

Portugal’s southernmost region of Algarve is known for its golden sandy beaches, secluded swimming coves, rugged cliffs and sculptural sea caves. If you’ve come to Portugal in search of surfing, swimming or sunbathing, a tour of Lagos’s stunning beaches is something not to be missed.

The coastal city of Lagos is the ideal spot for a balance of city and surf. From lounging to exciting water sports, there is no shortage of activities to keep you entertained. Beach-hopping is indisputably the thing to do in this part of Portugal. Highlights include Praia dos Estudantes (‘Students’ Beach’), one of the most striking beaches thanks to the Roman-style bridge – once part of a now-fallen fortress – that stretches out between two rock formations over the ocean. The quiet cove here is ideal for frolicking in peaceful tides.

Meia Praia beach is an enormous stretch of sand just outside Lagos. Spanning a monumental 4 kilometres (2.5 miles), it’s never too difficult to find space to stretch out your towel here.

Visit the anchor cemetery on Tavira Island

Rusty anchors lying on the beach on Tavira Island, one of the most offbeat things to do in Portugal.

One of the quirkiest attractions in Portugal is the anchor cemetery on Tavira Island. On the sand dunes cascading into Barril beach , there are more than 200 large, rusty anchors. They were once used in tuna fishing when the island was a base for fishermen during the season. When the tuna population declined, the fishermen abandoned their anchors on the beach.

To this day, nobody really knows who collected them all and lined them up – but the truth is, whoever it was did the area a huge favour! Now, instead of being an abandoned location with old tumbledown fishing shacks, it has become one of the most popular tourist attractions in Tavira.

The fishing shacks have been transformed into busy restaurants and cafes, and the old train line that transported the tuna is now being used to ferry tourists on a small scenic train. It costs €1.50 one-way and takes you from the footbridge by Pedras d’El Rei, connecting the mainland with the island, over to the anchor cemetery.

Alternatively, you can walk a 1.3-kilometre-long trail next to the train line. There are also boats and ferries taking visitors from Tavira to the island. Unless you go on a private boat tour, you will be dropped off at Tavira beach. You then have to walk along the beach for 5 kilometres (3 miles) to reach the anchors.

By Linn from Amused by Algarve

Visit the Capela dos Ossos ‘Bone Chapels’ in Evora & Faro

Interior of the Bone Chapel at Evora in Portugal.

Many visit Portugal for the beaches, the food and the epic palaces – but there is something more off-beat that draws visitors to Portugal: a visit to the famous Capela dos Ossos or ‘Bone Chapels’.

Some will consider these unique religious sanctuaries a dark tourism destination , and while they are not for everyone, they are a very interesting (if not a bit macabre) site. The two most popular bone chapels in Portugal are at Evora and Faro. Both are very different from one another and for many visitors, places they never forget.

The Evora Bone Chapel, the larger of the pair, is located near the Igreja de São Francisco Évora Chapel (St. Francis Church). Crafted from the bones of more than 5,000 individuals, the chapel measures 18 metres long and 11 metres wide. The bones are laid out expertly, with skulls positioned in the interior as rousing decorations.

The second Capela dos Ossos, the Faro Bone Chapel, is located in the town of Faro within an unsuspecting church, the Igreja Do Carmo, in a small square. The tiny bone chapel is located at the rear of the church off a beautiful garden. This bone chapel is a complete contrast to the Evora Chapel in that it’s only 5 metres long and just over 2 metres wide.

By Bec from Wyld Family Travel

Walk part of the Portuguese Camino de Santiago

Yellow shells and arrows mark out the Portuguese Camino trail.

Walking the Portuguese Camino de Santiago is an amazing cultural experience and a great way to discover the country. The Portuguese Camino is the second most popular Camino route; about 100,000 people accomplish it every year.

Starting in Lisbon and finishing in Santiago de Compostela in Spain, the total distance of the Camino from Lisbon is 630 kilometres (391 miles). It takes 30 days to complete. Many people start walking the Portuguese route from Porto, which reduces the distance to 260 kilometres (162 miles). The way is marked with yellow shells and arrows.

Spring is the best time for walking the Portuguese Camino. The weather is nice, it’s warm and sunny, there are not too many tourists, and fields and hills along the route are covered in wildflowers.

Crossing a country on foot, visiting both well-known attractions and off-the-beaten-path places, is a truly unique way of travelling. Some of the highlights of the Portuguese Camino include Lisbon, Santarem, Fatima, Tomar, Coimbra, and Porto.

The best thing about the Camino is that anybody can do it. There are no rules or limitations – you can complete the entire Camino or walk only a section, carry your own backpack or use a luggage transfer service.

By Alya from Stingy Nomads

Learn to surf in Nazare

Nazare on the Costa da Prata is a magical place, even more so if you’re a surfer searching for the best waves on earth. Pros and novices alike have wet dreams of the legendary Nazare waves. Riding in Nazare’s cold Atlantic water and frothy white surf is about as refreshing and exhilarating as it gets.

According to the Guinness Book of Records, Praia do Norte (North Beach) in Nazare is home to the world’s largest waves ever surfed. The wide beach is just the place for experienced surfers hoping to ride one of Nazare’s legendary monster waves, which often reach up to 30 metres (almost 19 miles) high.

The lighthouse on the cliff above Praia do Norte is the best vantage point to watch these giant waves and the gutsy surfers living their best lives. Inside the lighthouse is a cool surf museum with paraphernalia and quotes from famous surfers who braved the monsters and lived to tell the tale.

Nazare is a great place for beginners, too. There are several surf schools and camps in town to choose from. Instructors will ease you into things and build up your confidence on the town beach with smaller waves. When the time is right, you will join the legends of Praia do Norte.

By De Wet & Jin from Museum of Wander

Go stargazing in Monsaraz

A night sky filled with stars in Alqueva, a must visit place in Portugal.

Right in the middle of the famous wine producing region of Alentejo in Portugal is an internationally certified Dark Sky Reserve, the first in the world to be recognised as a UNESCO ‘Starlight Tourism Destination’. The inky skies above Alqueva is a wonderful natural planetarium where there is almost no light pollution, making the whole area wonderful for star-gazing. It’s a must visit on any road trip of Portugal . 

On the edges of the hauntingly beautiful Alqueva Dam is the walled town of Monsaraz, home to the Observatorio do Lago Alqueva. Here you can learn about the Portuguese night skies and spend a few hours with their telescopes observing the constellations and planets of the solar system and the craters of the moon.

The quality of the Alqueva sky enables naked eye observation of a large number of celestial bodies. Your tutor for the evening will bring the sky to life. You’ll find out about the history of astronomy and how the first scientists discovered the stars and planets, how they were named, and what is known about each of them. 

On the right night, and with the right conditions, the velvety sky above Monsaraz may even show you the Milky Way, a hazy band of light seen in the night sky, formed by stars that cannot be individually distinguished with the naked eye. Make sure to bring your camera – you can take images through the telescope for an amazing reminder of your dark skies experience.

By Izzy & Phil from The Gap Decaders

Explore Portugal’s oldest and largest Natural Park, Serra da Estrela

A domed radar tower in Portugal's largest natural park, Serra da Estrela.

Located in the central part of Portugal, Serra da Estrela Natural Park is a mountainous area that contains the highest peak in continental Europe, known as the Torre. It has another claim to fame for being the first and the largest Natural Park in Portugal (though it doesn’t have the same status as Peneda-Geres National Park, the nation’s only Parque Nacional).

The Serra da Estrela is best visited by car or on a day trip with private transportation as access from the likes of Lisbon and Porto via public transport is not easy. There are several towns dotted around the foothills where you can stay.

Things to do in the Natural Park include taking the cable car down the valley to enjoy views across the Serra da Estrela mountains and beyond. There are also two towers with domed-shaped roofs that were former radar towers for the Portuguese Air Force. They make for great pictures. There is a retail building at the top of the mountain where you’ll find a restaurant and shops selling locally produced crafts and other products.

There are also walking opportunities, waterfalls to find, and a beautiful carving of the protector Saint of the Shepherds called Senhora da Boa Estrela etched into the rock face of the mountain.

If you are looking for unique things to do in Portugal outside of the main cities, jump in a car and head for the Serra da Estrela Natural Park. It is an area of stunning natural beauty and a place not to be missed.

By Cath from Travel Around Ireland

Day trip option: Excursion to Serra Da Estrela departing from Lisbon, Braga or Porto .

Join a Portuguese food tour in Lisbon

A plate of sadinhas assadas sardines, a must-try traditional dish in Lisbon.

Portugal has a lot going for it: an agreeable climate, historical cities, beautiful beaches, and excellent wines including the finest Port wine in the world. Another undeniable national treasure is delicious Portuguese food .

For food travellers, one of the best introductions to the cuisine of Portugal is a dedicated food tour. Most cities around the country offer this experience, but the best place for a culinary exploration has to be Lisbon, Portugal’s food capital.

A walking food tour is no doubt the best way to experience not just food, but also the culture and history of the city. A visit to some of Lisbon’s more traditional local neighbourhood restaurants, cafes, food markets and small shops will give you an insight into how locals live and what they eat.

Most food tours last for around four hours and are a short but tasty introduction to local food specialties that will leave you wanting more. While there are food tours in Lisbon that focus on popular venues and markets such as the Mercado da Ribeira , it’s nice to opt for a smaller tour to discover off-the-beaten-path eateries only the locals know about.

As for the food you’ll try: bacalhau (salted and dried cod fish and Portugal’s National dish) will most certainly be on the tasting menu. Don’t miss caldo verde , sausage and kale soup, or Pastel de Nata – all must-trys when visiting Portugal.

By Lori from Travlinmad

Recommended Libson food tour: 10 tastings of Lisbon with locals .

Eat cozido on Sao Miguel

A plate of Cozido, meat and vegetables cooked underground using geothermal heat in Portugal's Azores islands.

Furnas is located on the southeast side of Sao Miguel island in the Azores archipelago. The town, one of the most popular places to visit on Sao Miguel , sits in the remains of a long-extinct volcano and is the centre of the island’s geothermal activity. Home to hundreds of natural springs and streams, visitors have been coming here for centuries to try the mineral waters and thermal pools. They also come to eat cozido .

Cozido (also known as furnas ) is a traditional Portuguese stew made from beef, potatoes and vegetables including carrots and cabbage. Although you can find versions of cozido throughout Portugal, it’s only in Furnas that you will find Cozido nas Caldeiras . Literally translated as ‘cooked in the boiler’, this hearty meal is slow-cooked underground using volcanic heat.

At Furnas Lake there is a cozido cooking spot where local restaurants take their stews to be cooked. Each restaurant has a dedicated underground hole and the area is guarded by two men who are responsible for placing the pots in the ground and later removing them using long iron tongs.

It’s not only restaurants that can use the cooking spot, however – anyone can turn up with their pot and for a few euros have it placed underground. Most cozido are left overnight to cook but you can also take your homemade stew along in the morning and return to collect it 5-7 hours later. Bom apetite!

By Katja from Globe Totting

Go diving in the Algarve

Southern Portugal’s Atlantic coastline is just as breathtaking seen from underwater as from above. Naturally it’s home to some fantastic sites for scuba diving.

Diving conditions are great in the Algarve, with calm seas, good visibility, a rich biodiversity and a variety of interesting underwater attractions. Around the towns of  Albufeira, Portimão, Lagos, Faro and Sagres there are a variety of dive sites for all skill levels. The colourful rocky reefs are covered in algae, anemones, soft corals and sponges. If you love marine animals you will not be disappointed diving here. 

All dive sites are rich in fish life with sea bass, sea bream, groupers and plenty of other species on the reefs. Keep an eye out or your camera ready for interesting creatures including colourful nudibranchs, octopus, moray eels and even seahorses.

For wreck diving enthusiasts, the Algarve has plenty to offer ranging from old ships from the 1750s to a B-24 Liberator Bomber plane wreck from World War II. Several were purposely sunk to make artificial reefs. Ocean Revival Park in Portimão is a unique diving project where four Portuguese navy vessels were sunk deliberately at different depths to form a marine life sanctuary.

Most dives are done from boats, but entering from the shore at some spots, such as the beautiful Porto de Mos beach in Lagos , is also possible. The Algarve can be divided all year round, but the best conditions are in autumn and spring when the blue waters are clear and the temperatures mild.

By Campbell & Alya from The Algarve Family

What is your favourite thing to do in Portugal? Is there something else I should add to the list?

More Portugal travel inspiration

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  • 24 hours in Porto
  • The best Airbnb apartments in Lisbon
  • The most unique places to stay in Portugal
  • Top Portugal souvenirs (and where to buy them)
  • Lagos beach guide

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  • Miranda do Douro
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Portugal

Countertop Dining Restaurants: The 28 Best Counters in Lisbon

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wbjc trip to portugal

Millions of tourists travel to Portugal every year, but it can be hard to figure out where to go. Luckily, this 1-Week Portugal Itinerary guides you on where to spend 7 days in Portugal. 

The itinerary starts in the Portuguese capital of Lisbon and then heads south. You can enjoy the journey fully through public transport, but when leaving Lisbon to head to the Algarve, we do recommend renting a car.

When renting your vehicle, you can select to pick up the car at Lisbon airport and return it at the end of your trip at Faro airport, where this itinerary ends.

While both Central Portugal and the north have a lot to offer, this 7-day itinerary is perfect for a first-timer who hasn’t yet visited the country. 

For everything you need to know before traveling to Portugal, check out our  Portugal Survival Guide.

1-Week Portugal Itinerary: Where to Spend 7 Days in Portugal

Day 1: Arrive in  Lisbon

This 1-Week Itinerary in Portugal starts in the capital of Lisbon. Many cities around the world fly directly to Lisbon. You can fly directly to Lisbon from many US airports, including Miami, Boston, Washington, San Francisco, and New York. 

One of the oldest cities in western Europe, Lisbon has seen a boom in tourism due to its unique beauty, historical attractions, and affordability.

The birthplace of Amália Rodrigues, the iconic  Fado  singer, Lisbon is rich in culture, history, and striking views. 

1-Week Portugal Itinerary: Where to Spend 7 Days in Portugal

Guide to Lisbon

For your visit day in Lisbon, start your day off in Alfama. The oldest neighborhood in Lisbon and the home of fado. Explore the neighborhood and look out for Fado spots, as well as historical monuments such as the Lisbon Cathedral, the Convent of the Grace, and more.

For lunch, take a look at our  favorite restaurants in Lisbon. 

For a traditional Portuguese meal, we recommend Alfaia, one of the oldest restaurants in Lisbon that opened in 1880.

If you are vegan but still want to try Portuguese food, we definitely recommend Ao 26 Vegan Food Project.

For the best pizzas in Lisbon, head to Casanova in Santa Apolonia to take some pizzas cooked in a large wood-burning stove and enjoy views of the Tagus river. 

Then head to Miradouro da Graca, one of the most iconic viewpoints in Lisbon. At the top of the seven hills of the city, you get to see historic neighborhoods and take photographs of the surroundings. 

Then take the iconic 28 tram from Miradouro da Graca that passed by Praca do Comercio and other locations. Hop off in Chiado.

Chiado is well known for being home to the best stores a nd luxurious cafes, located in the heart of the city. The 1700s Bertrand book store is located here, as well as the emblematic cafe A Brasileira. 

Take a 15-minute walk to Praca do Comercio, the city’s central waterpoint front. The large square used to be the site of the former royal palace that was destroyed in the Great Lisbon Earthquake in 1755. 

There are multiple shops and restaurants in the square. You can also climb the Rua Augusta Arch for 360 views of the city and the square. 

For dinner, head to 1 de Maio in Bairro Alto for an affordable Portuguese meal. This hidden restaurant offers delicious fresh seafood that you can see from the window and a variety of meats like lamb. 

After dinner, head to Pink Street in Cais do Sodre. The street features pink pavement and was once Lisbon’s Red Light District. Today, it is a nightlife hotspot.

Many bars today still reflect the Red Light District such as the iconic bar Pensao Amor which has memorabilia from the time. Walk around to experience the nightlife which often fills the street, locals bringing their drinks outside. 

Best Hotels in Lisbon

  • Inspira Liberdade Boutique Hotel:  Awarded the Best Luxury Green Hotel in 2019, Inspira Liberdade provides a relaxing Feng-Shui vibe for its guests. The hotel has a SPA, fitness room, bar, and a restaurant with Portuguese food called Pen Brasserie Mediterrânica.
  • Selena Secret Garden :  The hostel also has a rooftop deck, CoWork space for professionals, and a movie room. In the heart of Cais do Sodre, you are close to contemporary art galleries, bars with riverfront views, and within walking distance to Chiado.
  • Bairro Alto Hotel:  This hotel is situated in the best location in Lisbon, between Bairro Alto and Chiado in an 18th-century building in central Lisbon. The hotel features a restaurant with award-winning Chef Nuno Mendes and Executive Chef Bruno Rocha.

Day 2: Lisbon

For your second day in Lisbon, we recommend exploring Belem. Belem lies along the Tejo Estuary and is home to two UNESCO sites, Torre de Belem and Mosteiro dos Jeronimos. 

Mosteiro dos Jerónimos is a former monastery in Belém constructed in Portuguese Late Gothic Manueline style and you can visit the church for free. 

Torre de Belem is a 16th-century fortification that once served as an embarkation spot for Portugal explorers. It features a Manueline style and has been a World Heritage Site since 1983.

1-Week Portugal Itinerary: Where to Spend 7 Days in Portugal

A 2-minute walk from the monastery, head to Pasteis de Belem where the traditional Portuguese custard tart was first invented.

In the afternoon, we recommend booking a sightseeing tour. Since you only have 2 days in Lisbon, this is a great way to see as much of the city as possible. Here are our favorite guided tours of Lisbon:

  • Lisbon 3-Hour Sightseeing Tour by Tuk Tuk : This tuk-tuk tour rides up and down the hills of Lisbon, going through the city’s oldest neighborhoods and main attractions.
  • Lisbon Hop-On Hop-Off Bus Tour:  Book a 24-hour ticket which includes an audio guide. This affordable ticket allows you to visit different routes and hop in as you would like. 
  • Lisbon 3-Hour Tour by E-Bike:  This tour allows you to cycle through Lisbon on comfortable e-bikes with a guided tour. You will get to visit different viewpoints and historical attractions.

At night, walk to Bairro Alto, the most popular area for drinking outdoors. Tons of locals and tourists line the streets of Bairro Alto with a beer in hand. We recommend Ze dos Bois Gallery, a musical center that has live music and serves tasty drinks. 

Best Restaurants in Lisbon

  • Ze dos Cornos: For a Portuguese person, this place is like arriving at your Avó’s (grandma´s) house for dinner. Everything off the menu hits the spot, but try their codfish with potatoes or their rabbit. You can have a large full meal here with wine for under €15. 
  • The Green Affair: Open since 2018, the Green Affair serves Portuguese and international dishes. The restaurant offers lunch menus for less than €11 including a starter, main, and drink. For dinner, you’ll pay around  €30 for two people. 
  • Alma: Henrique Sá Pessoa’s, Alma also has two Michelin stars. The menu includes Portuguese dishes with influences from his worldwide travels. The menus start at €145 per person and do not include drinks. The wine tasting menu costs €80 per person. 

Day 3: Day Trip to Cascais & Sintra from Lisbon

Book Sintra & Cascais Tour

The great thing about Lisbon is its proximity to quaint coastal towns. Our favorites: Sintra and Cascais. We recommend either driving to these locations (both around 30 minutes from Lisbon), booking a guided tour , or taking a 30-minute train to each town. 

In Sintra, we recommend heading to Piriquita for the staple deserted called a “travesseiro”. After this energy boost, head to the Castle of the Moors. This is a medieval castle that sits on a hilltop and was built by the Moors in the 8th century.

Then, head to Pena Palace, one of the most iconic palaces in all of Portugal. The palace has a Disney-like feel, painted in beautiful colors in a romanticist style. You can also wander around the castle and see the beautiful green area that surrounds it. Tickets cost around €15.

1-Week Portugal Itinerary: Where to Spend 7 Days in Portugal

Guide to Sintra

We recommend having lunch at a seafood restaurant in Cascais. Our favorites are Furnas do Guincho and Baia do Peixe, the latter being a more affordable alternative.

Then it’s time to explore Cascais, the richest municipality in the country! Head to “Praia da Rainha”, a secluded  beach  with a wonderful view, perfect for a family photograph.

Find Frederico Arouca street, a high street with major stores selling Portuguese souvenirs. Then walk to the City Hall in Praca 5 de Outubro, a beautiful building surrounded by cobblestoned streets.

To wrap up your day, head to Guincho beach,  a 10-minute drive from the center of Cascais, to watch the sunset. If the weather is nice, take a dip! But be careful with the waves as they can get quite high. 

1-Week Portugal Itinerary: Where to Spend 7 Days in Portugal

Guide to Cascais

Day 4 & 5: Tavira

A 3-hour drive from Lisbon, drive south to Tavira, in the beautiful region of the Algarve. Alternatively, you can catch a train to Faro or a bus directly to Tavira. 

Tavira was built alongside River Gilão and features some of the best beaches in the Algarve, as well as picturesque narrow streets with traditional houses. Along with the stunning beaches, the town has multiple attractions such as shops and historical buildings.

Your two days will be more slow-paced than the past days in Lisbon. You will be spending most of your time at the beach.

Our favorite beach is Praia do Barril. The beach features a wooden path over golden sand which provides a gorgeous contrast with the dark blue waters. Due to the large size of the beach, you will rarely feel like it’s too busy, despite its popularity.

Praia de Tavira and Praia da Terra Estreita are also great alternatives in Tavira. If you want to discover multiple beaches this affordable  4-hour boat tour  takes you on an octopus tour and stops at multiple beaches.

In between resting at the beach, we recommend exploring Tavira. Take a walk through the city and explore the Chapel of Sao Bras, castle, and convent. Book this 100% electric 1-hour tuk-tuk tour  if you want a guided tour of the city from a local’s perspective. 

Tours in Tavira

1-Week Portugal Itinerary: Where to Spend 7 Days in Portugal

Best Hotels in Tavira

  • São Paulo Boutique Hotel:   São Paulo Boutique Hotel is located less than 5 kilometers from the beach and features an outdoor swimming pool, bar, shared lounge, and large garden for guests to enjoy. 
  • OZADI Tavira Hotel:  A 4-star hotel AZADI Tavira Hotel is 3 kilometers away from the beach and features a large outdoor pool, a fitness center, and two restaurants. 
  • Quinta Dos Perfumes:  An 8-minute walk from the beach, Quinta dos Perfumes is an 88-acre farmhouse that features beautiful orange groves and a salt-water outdoor pool.

Guide to Tavira

Day 6: Day trip to Benagil Caves

Benagil is a fishing village known for its stunning beaches and sea caves. The Benagil caves are a must-see if you head to the Algarve. We recommend booking a guided tour, many of which start in Albufeira. Here are the best day tours to Benagil Caves.

  • Dolphins and Benagil Caves from Albufeira : This boat tour allows you to discover dolphins, marine life, and Benagil caves in an inflatable boat. A stop for a swim is included!
  • Caves and Coastline Cruise from Albufeira to Benagil : This catamaran cruise takes you on a scenic route between Albufeira to Benagil. You will get to explore the sea caves and go for a swim. 
  • Boat Tour to Benagil Caves from Armacao de Pera : A boat cruise from Armacao de Pera that takes you to see the Benagil Caves with a crew that will tell you about the region.

1-Week Portugal Itinerary: Where to Spend 7 Days in Portugal

Benagil Tours

Day 7: Morning at the beach and travel home

Enjoy your last day at your favorite beach in Tavira. Again, we recommend Praia do Barril. Then travel back home from Faro Airport, only a 30-minute drive away from Tavira.

1-Week Portugal Itinerary: Where to Spend 7 Days in Portugal

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view of a yellow tram approaching the camera next to a church in lisbon, one of the many typical views to look forward to when planning a trip to portugal

Planning a Trip to Portugal: Your Easy 11-Step Checklist

Traveling to Portugal for the first time and want to make sure that you’re planning the perfect trip?

After living in Lisbon as American ex-pats, we have lots of tips (spread across dozens of blog posts and counting) for planning a trip to Portugal!

We’ve compiled this simple checklist for planning your first trip to Portugal with the hope that it will help you fall in love with traveling the country as much as we have–and with any luck, you’ll have the chance to return again and again.

Here’s what to know about planning a trip to Portugal, organized with an easy-to-use checklist that will help you book your Portuguese vacation in no time!

kate storm and jeremy storm sitting on a wall overlooking lisbon portugal

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Your 11-Step Checklist for Planning a Trip to Portugal

Step 1: check visa requirements for visiting portugal..

Based on the geographic readership of Our Escape Clause, the odds are that the vast majority of you will not need a visa to visit Portugal for up to 90 days for tourism purposes.

This includes citizens of the USA, Canada, the UK, Australia, and of course, anyone from an EU member state.

Portugal is part of the Schengen Zone, and therefore, anyone who needs a Schengen Visa to visit the area will need one to visit Portugal.

In the future,  the ETIAS system –essentially an e-visa procured by filling out paperwork online before traveling–will come into effect for the Schengen Area.

After multiple delays, is currently slated to begin sometime in 2025.

It’s best to always confirm visa requirements through official sources before traveling!

praia da marinha from above, one of the most beautiful beaches algarve portugal

Step 2: Book your flights to Portugal!

When shopping for flights to Portugal, you’ll no doubt notice that Lisbon has–by far–the biggest international airport in the country.

Technically called the Humberto Delgado Airport (LIS), though I’ve never heard anyone refer to it that way outside of official signs, it’s the most likely first stop in Portugal for travelers coming from outside of Europe.

The Porto Airport (OPO, or Francisco Sá Carneiro Airport) also services a fair number of flights from outside the continent, and the number of international flights has been increasing over the years.

ranger storm in front of igreja do carmo sitting on the edge of fountain one day in porto portugal

If you’re visiting Portugal as part of a multi-country Europe trip and are arriving from within the continent, the Faro Airport (FAO, or Gago Coutinho Airport) may also be worth checking out–especially if you’re looking at budget carriers.

Planning to visit another destination before or after Portugal?

Be sure to check if the TAP Air Portugal Stopover program , which allows you to build a 1-10 day Portugal “layover” into a flight to a different destination, is right for you!

We actually took advantage of the program on our own first trip to Portugal several years ago and used it to add 4 days in Lisbon to our originally planned trip from the USA to Paris .

Kate Storm in Lisbon Portugal on a sunny day with tiled buildings behind her

Step 3: Narrow down your Portugal itinerary.

This might be both the most fun  and  most stressful part of planning a trip to Portugal: finalizing where exactly you’re going to go!

Our recommended 10-day Portugal itinerary systematically covers the top places to visit in Portugal (Lisbon, Sintra, Porto, the Douro Valley, and the Algarve), but ultimately, the sky’s the limit!

And, while you can easily extend that itinerary by simply adding more days to each destination (they all deserve it), there are also dozens of other options that might call your attention!

For less-crowded beach towns, head to the eastern edge of the Algarve (Tavira has lots to offer), or check out towns on the Silver Coast between Lisbon and Porto like Peniche (don’t miss the Berlengas Islands!), Averio, Ericeira, and Nazaré.

If wine, ossuaries, and underrated cities are your vibe, consider checking out Évora .

close up of column of skulls inside bone chapel evora attractions

Love city-hopping? Portugal’s third city, Coimbra, is an ancient university town with lots to uncover.

Are monasteries your thing? If so, don’t miss the UNESCO-recognized monasteries of Alcobaça, Batalha, and Tomar (if you head this way, the walled town of Óbidos  is another must-see in the area).

Want to get far off the beaten path? Consider a visit to Peneda-Gerês National Park or to Monsanto , which is not only historic, beautiful, and uncrowded, but served as a House of the Dragon filming location.

… And of course, not only do these options barely scratch the surface, but they’re all located on mainland Portugal.

With enough time, you can stretch your itinerary even further afield with visits to Madiera and/or the Azores Islands, though each of them offers enough to do that they can also be standalone trips in their own right.

kate storm and ranger storm standing in front of the chapel of st michael, one of the best things to do in monsanto portugal

Step 4: Finalize your Portugal travel budget.

Now that you know exactly when your Portugal vacation is happening, how much your airfare was, and the kinds of things you want to do there, it’s time to finalize your Portugal travel budget!

We recommend taking the total amount you hope to spend during your first time in Portugal, subtracting any splurges or major expenses you know are coming (a pricey tour, some souvenir shopping , etc), and then dividing the remaining amount by the number of days you’ll be exploring the country.

Just like that, you have your daily budget for traveling in Portugal, or the amount of money you should try to stay under each day when you add up what you spend on food, activities, and intra-city transportation.

We detail this strategy more thoroughly in  our travel budgeting guide , and we’ve been using the same simple method for more than a decade!

kate storm jeremy storm and ranger storm visiting one of the beaches near lisbon portugal

Step 5: Book some activities in advance.

Hoping to enjoy some incredibly memorable tours and experiences in Portugal?

If so, be sure to book them in advance–and the more popular they are, the earlier you’ll want to book (especially if you’re traveling during the summer).

This is especially true for day trips like Sintra ( this Sintra day trip is one of the most popular day tours in the country), as well as attractions like the Jerónimos Monastery .

view of pena palace from the cruz alta viewpoint

Sintra is, without a doubt, one of the most important places in Portugal to plan ahead for, whether you hope to visit on a guided day trip or simply by pre-booking tickets to places like Pena Palace and Quinta da Regaleira in advance.

( Our detailed guide to visiting Sintra can help you plan that experience in detail.)

Some other experiences we have loved in Portugal include this delicious food tour (perfect for learning about Portuguese cuisine at the beginning of your trip), as well as a sunset cruise on the Tagus .

If you’d like to visit the Douro Valley but don’t want to drive there (too much port to enjoy!), pre-booking a day trip from Porto is also an excellent idea.

kate storm holding up a glass of port in the douro valley portugal

Step 6: Decide where to stay in Portugal and book your accommodation.

Now that you have the backbone of your vacation sketched out, it’s time to decide where to stay in Portugal!

We have specific recommendations for where to stay in posts about each destination we’ve written about (like this blog post about Lisbon and this one about Porto ), but overall, our general recommendation is to search for well-reviewed and centrally located properties within walking distance of some attractions.

These days, we book virtually all of our hotels and apartments in Portugal (and beyond) through Booking.com .

We typically aim for staying somewhere with an 8.0 rating or better, though that can vary a bit depending on the season, availability, how many hotels are in the area, etc.

A couple of hotels that we have particularly enjoyed throughout our travels in Portugal include Tivoli Lagos in the Algarve and NH Porto Hotel Batalha .

view of gardens at tivoli lagos restort, one of the best places to stay in lagos portugal

Step 7: Learn a little bit of (European) Portuguese.

As you’re planning your trip to Portugal, be sure to take the time to learn a little bit of Portuguese before you go!

Is it entirely necessary?

No, but it will be very appreciated!

(And whatever you do, definitely don’t speak to a Portuguese person in Spanish because it’s “the same” unless you want them to potentially tell you all about how it is very much not the same!).

lighthouse and swimming hole on the sea in cascais portugal

For English speakers, Portuguese spelling and pronunciation don’t necessarily always match up in an intuitive way, but preparing a few phrases in advance (and maybe bringing along a phrasebook like this ) can help.

Keep in mind that many online resources teach Brazilian Portuguese pronunciation, which is a bit different from European Portuguese.

For a few phrases on a short trip, it’ll do in a pinch, but seek out specifically European resources if you can.

Here are a few phrases to add to your arsenal:

kate storm with a collection of pastries at majestic cafe -- ordering in cafes is a great reason to study portuguese when planning a trip to portugal

Basic Portuguese Phrases to Learn When Planning a Trip to Portugal

Bom dia. — Good day.

Boa noite. — Good evening.

Adeus or Tchau (Pronounced like “ciao”.) . — Goodbye.

Por favor. — Please.

Obrigado (if a male is speaking) or Obrigada (if a female is speaking). — Thank you.

De nada. — You’re welcome.

Fala inglês? — Do you speak English?

kate storm walking along the castle walls, one of the best things to do in obidos portugal

Step 8: Make a packing list for Portugal (and shop!).

Generally speaking, packing for Portugal is fairly simple: a standard Europe packing list will cover most of what you need (here are our suggestions for spring , summer , fall , and winter ).

However, you’ll definitely want to pay close attention to your footwear.

Not only does a typical Portugal vacation involve climbing lots of hills (both Lisbon and Porto are full of them!), but it’s also a bit hard on your feet in other ways.

The distinctive Portuguese pavement (or  calçada portuguesa ) that you’ll see throughout the country offers its challenges: these walkways are both beautiful and a bit of a hazard in the rain.

They’re  incredibly  slippery when wet, especially if they happen to have fallen leaves sitting on them.

Watch your step, especially on hills, and opt for shoes with some grip on them!

kate storm walking across wavy portuguese pavement in cascais, a fun addition to an itinerary portugal 10 days

Here are a few other useful odds and ends to add to your Portugal packing list:

Travel Adaptors for France  — If you’re coming from outside of Europe, you’ll definitely need adaptors for your electronics–don’t forget to add buying these to your to-do list for planning your trip to Portugal!

Comfortable Day Bag  — We currently use  Pacsafe’s sleek anti-theft backpack  and love it, but if you don’t want to shell out the cash for this trip, that’s totally understandable.

Just aim for something comfortable to wear, not flashy, and medium-sized–we used a  Northface Jester backpack  for years and loved it as well.

cloisters featuring azulejos inside the porto cathedral, one of the best places to visit in porto day trip guide

Reusable Water Bottle  — Save both money and plastic during your trip to Portugal and add a reusable water bottle to your packing list!

I love this metal one , and you’ll be glad to have it on you after snacking on the pastéis de nata  that you’ll undoubtedly pick up on the go!

Sea Bands  &  Non-Drowsy Dramamine  — If you’re planning to hit the water during your trip to Portugal and are prone to motion sickness like me, I strongly recommend adding Sea Bands to your packing list.

I use them on all boats and the occasional bus, and if things get really bad, take some Non-Drowsy Dramamine as well.

You don’t want to miss out on the joys of boating around the coast or rivers due to seasickness!

kate storm and ranger storm sitting along the seven hanging valleys trail, one of the best things to do in algarve portugal

Step 9: Purchase travel insurance for your Portugal vacation.

Don’t forget to  purchase travel insurance  before jetting off to Portugal! While Portugal is generally a perfectly safe place to visit, traveling, in general, opens you up to vulnerabilities that you simply don’t have at home.

If you miss a plane or train, have your luggage get lost, get pickpocketed, or worse, get injured, you’ll be glad that you have insurance.

Given how inexpensive travel insurance is when purchased in advance (especially as compared to the price of plane tickets to Portugal!), it’s well worth the investment.

Check travel insurance policy inclusions and prices for your trip here.

kate storm jeremy storm and ranger storm at a douro valley viewpoint

Step 10: Make an arrival plan.

This part of planning a trip to Portugal is as simple as it is important: make an arrival plan.

When you arrive in (most likely) Lisbon or Porto, you’re undoubtedly going to be exhausted, overwhelmed, and probably a bit jetlagged, too!

No matter how many times we arrive in a new place, it never stops being a tiny bit stressful, simply because there are a lot of variables at play in the first few hours of arriving somewhere new.

Make life easier on yourself by thinking ahead: when working on your plan for traveling to Portugal for the first time, figure out what your exact steps will be after the plane lands.

That means exactly how far away your hotel is, how you’ll get there from the airport (metro, taxi, airport transfer?), and if you’ll be traveling by taxi, what a reasonable price is.

line for taxi stand at lisbon airport arrivals, one of the best lisbon travel tips is that taxis are the easiest way into the city

Unlike some European cities, neither Lisbon nor Porto have regulated flat taxi fares from the airport, so you’ll likely need to negotiate (15 Euro or so is generally a solid rate in Lisbon).

Technically, taxis are expected to always use the meter–but traveling from the airport to the city center is often an exception to that rule when on the ground.

Though it’s not strictly necessary or the most budget-friendly option, if you’d like to make arriving in Portugal very easy for yourself, consider treating yourself to a private airport transfer when you arrive!

Here are well-reviewed airport transfer services for Lisbon , Porto , and Faro .

Book your airport transfer in Portugal today!

group of taxis parked in front of lisbon santa apolonia train station

Step 11: Enjoy an amazing trip to Portugal!

Once you’ve done the planning… it’s time for the fun part!

Enjoy every step of your first trip to Portugal, from the confusing parts to the magical ones–and yes, both will probably end up with a prominent place in your memories.

I vividly remember arriving in Portugal for the first time, jet-lagged, exhausted, and fresh into Lisbon off of a red-eye from New York City.

We were bleary-eyed and uncertain when getting a taxi from the airport and dropping off our luggage… but shortly thereafter grabbed a coffee at Fabrica da Nata (a place that would become a regular stop of ours in later years) before enjoying a Campo de Ourique food tour on our first morning in the country.

The thrill of enjoying a sunset cruise on the Tagus , taking a day trip to Sintra for the first of many times, tasting our first pastel de nata, and meandering the streets of Alfama left quite an impression on us: only a few years after our very first trip to Portugal, we moved to Lisbon for a beautiful, sun-soaked year.

I can’t guarantee that every first trip to Portugal will be quite as life-changing–but I can’t guarantee that it won’t, either.

kate storm in front of pena palace on a day trip to sintra from lisbon

Read More About Visiting Portugal

Excited to be planning your first trip to Portugal and want to keep reading?

We’d be thrilled to help!

You can  browse our dozens of Portugal blog posts here , or check out these guides:

  • 33+ Important Tips for Visiting Lisbon for the First Time
  • Portugal in Winter: Best Things to Do + Tips (What You Need to Know!)
  • 15 Best Things to Do in Belém, Lisbon (+ Itinerary)
  • 10 Exciting Portugal Road Trip Itinerary Ideas (+ Tips!)
  • Adorable Amarante, Portugal: Things to Do + Travel Guide

2 photos of portugal destinations, castle of the moors and porto cathedral cloisters. black and pink text reads "how to plan a trip to portugal your travel checklist"

About Kate Storm

Image of the author, Kate Storm

In May 2016, I left my suburban life in the USA and became a full-time traveler. Since then, I have visited 50+ countries on 5 continents and lived in Portugal, developing a special love of traveling in Europe (especially Italy) along the way. Today, along with my husband Jeremy and dog Ranger, I’m working toward my eventual goal of splitting my life between Europe and the USA.

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Traveling to Portugal: 7 things to know before you go

Lisbon's Urban Slyline

Editor's Note

Chances are you know someone who has traveled to Portugal and is raving about it. After spending two weeks exploring Portugal with my family pre-COVID, I wholeheartedly recommend the country as a great destination for kids when the time comes. But even the best places have pitfalls that come with the highlights, so here is what I encountered while visiting Portugal with kids in tow.

Related: The best credit cards for family travel

wbjc trip to portugal

Lisbon is a no-go for strollers

There's a lot about Lisbon to love. It's clean, safe and fun to explore. However, its streets are paved with cobblestones and it is remarkably hilly. Young kids might have trouble keeping up. Consider that one of Lisbon's major neighborhoods is named "Bairro Alto," which literally means "high neighborhood."

This is from a two-hour walking tour of the city, and only records stairs, not hills:

Lisbon Hills screenshot

Of course, you don't need to take a two-hour walking tour, but if you are visiting Portugal with an infant, I highly recommend a carrier over a stroller. With a toddler, you might want to limit your plans to neighborhoods that have public elevators and/or bring a stroller that is good with uneven terrain. On the upside, some of the elevators in Portugal, such as the Santa Justa Lift, are attractions in themselves.

Naturally, if an adult in your crew has limited physical abilities, some of these same terrain concerns would transfer to those situations -- so plan logistics accordingly.

We did discover that Ubers were cheap and plentiful. Most rides within the city were less than $7 for Uber X and many were under $12 for Uber Black.

Don't miss the Maritime Museum

A popular Instagram spot in the Belem District of Lisbon is the Monument of Discoveries. It's worth seeing for the view alone.

Read more: 11 best hotels for a beach holiday in Portugal

Lisbon Portugal Monument to the Discoveries and 25th April Bridge #lisbonportugal

But our favorite spot was actually across the street at the Maritime Museum (Museu de Marinha). It appealed to our kids much more than other museums as it took visitors through the adventures of Vasco da Gama and other Portuguese explorers. It even had artifacts from da Gama's voyages among its extensive collection. As a traveler, I was obsessed with the historical maps and globes displayed throughout the museum.

Younger kids will especially love the Galliot Pavilion at the end of the museum. There's a huge exhibition hall that houses royal yachts and brigs, fishing vessels and Portuguese ships with lots of room to explore.

wbjc trip to portugal

Admission to the Museu de Marinha is $6 for adults and $3 for kids 4–12. The museum is open daily, 10 am to 6 pm, in summer; 10 am to 5 pm in the winter.

Lisbon's famous trams can get crazy crowded

If you have seen photos of Lisbon, you probably know about the iconic yellow trams weaving through the city's distinctive neighborhoods. That's not what we encountered in the days before COVID-19.

Read more: 13 of the most beautiful villages in Portugal

wbjc trip to portugal

What we saw was a bit more crowded than the postcard image.

Lisbon Portugal trolley #lisbonportugal

I'm not sure when the photos of empty trams are taken, but during an entire week, we never saw a tram that wasn't standing room only. If a future visit is in the cards for you and your family, consider whether or not you'll be able to comfortable social distance before jumping on.

Visit Sintra on a sunny day

Prior to visiting Portugal, everyone we asked told us that we must visit Sintra, mainly because of views like this:

Palacio da Pena,Sintra,Portugal

This is another case where our reality was much different from our expectations. I mean, fog happens.

Sintra Cloudy day

Our moderately cloudy day obscured the views as a misty fog bank enveloped Sintra. We couldn't see the ocean even when we drove just a few yards away. In retrospect, I should have paid more attention and realized that Sintra was a weather-dependent destination because of its location about 25 kilometers (15.5 miles) from Lisbon near the ocean.

The Algarve's water is colder than the Mediterranean

Something to keep in mind if you're an ocean swimmer: Average water temperatures in the Algarve in southern Portugal top out in the low 70s in mid-August. In late June, when we visited, the ocean was 67 degrees according to Sea Temperature , which felt too chilly for more than a toe-dip for us. Those degrees made a huge difference in our ability to swim in the ocean.

If your kids are into building sandcastles and chasing seagulls, the beaches along the Algarve are ideal -- sandy compared to the rocky ones in Mediterranean hot spots. Just keep in mind that you might have to descend a long flight of stairs to get to a spot for your beach towel. Here are some more tips for navigating the Algarve with kids along for the fun .

wbjc trip to portugal

A house with a private pool is surprisingly affordable

TPG wrote about the Pine Cliffs Resort, a great hotel for families or groups of friends. Although it's definitely worth considering, so is renting a house with a private pool . We rented this one for 30% less than a room at Pine Cliffs for a week in June. With three bedrooms, including one in a turret, two patios overlooking the ocean and furnishings that look fresh out of an HGTV shoot, I'd say $254/night (before discounts) was a steal.

Photo via Airbnb

It's easier than ever to get to Portugal (in normal times)

Portugal is not currently open to most Americans due to COVID. And, as of Jan. 26, 2021, everyone age two and older traveling to the U.S. from Portugal must show a negative viral COVID-19 test result taken within 72 hours of departure before being allowed to board their flights; documented proof from a licensed healthcare provider of recovery from the virus within the past 90 days will also be accepted.

However, Portugal's pre-COVID popularity has not gone unnoticed by the airlines. TAP Air Portugal has a number of routes including nonstops from Washington, DC, Chicago and San Francisco. TAP is a member of Star Alliance and I've found great availability using United MileagePlus for 30k each way in coach or 70k each way in business class. United is a Chase transfer partner . Air Canada's Aeroplan is another good option if you want to transfer from American Express . TAP tickets include a free stopover in Lisbon or Porto , which can help maximize your travel budget.

wbjc trip to portugal

Bottom line

Believe the hype: In normal times, Portugal presents tremendous opportunities for a great vacation, though that doesn't mean it is perfect for every single traveler. My teen, who is notoriously hard to please , listed Portugal among his favorite countries. When I asked why, his understated response was simply, "I liked the vibe there." I understood what he meant: Between the maritime history, the expansive vistas and the friendly people, I liked the vibe there, too -- though I'm sure having a private pool didn't hurt.

Read more about planning a vacation to Portugal:

  • Tips for Exploring Portugal's Algarve Region With Kids
  • Why Families Will Love Marriott's Pine Cliffs Resort in Portugal's Algarve Region
  • Portugal Hotels on Points for Families of 4
  • Go Here, Not There: European Cities Edition
  • The Best Bucket List Points Trips to Beach Destinations

Let's be friends! Sign up receive our monthly newsletter with updates and new in-depth guides. 

Wheatless Wanderlust

How to Plan an Amazing Portugal Itinerary (10 Days)

Planning a trip to Portugal? You’re in the right place. We started and ended our three month European adventure in Portugal, and fell in love with its warm, inviting culture (and SUPER friendly people), its food and wine, and its beautiful landscapes from the terraced vineyards in the world-famous Douro Valley, to the stunning beaches on the Algarve.

In this guide to planning your Portugal itinerary, here’s what we’re going to cover:

  • Exactly how to plan a 10 day Portugal itinerary, including what stops to make, what route to take, and all the important logistics you need to know
  • A guide to what to do, where to stay, and how to get there for each stop on the itinerary
  • Options for shorter (5-7 days) and longer trips if you have more or less time than 10 days in Portugal

Throughout the guide, we’ll share our favorite finds and experiences in Portugal based on our trip to help you plan your unforgettable trip.

Sound good to you? Let’s get into it!

wbjc trip to portugal

Disclaimer: Some of the links in this post, like hotel links, are affiliate links, meaning at no additional cost to you, we make a little bit of money if you click through and book. That being said, we would never recommend something to you that we don’t stand behind 100%.

Is 10 Days in Portugal Enough?

We want to start this guide out by setting expectations before we dive into how to make the most of a trip to Portugal if it’s your first trip. 

No, 10 days is not nearly enough time to see everything there is to see in Portugal. It’s true that Portugal is a relatively small country, compared to other countries in Western Europe like Spain, France, and Italy. It’s also true that there’s just too much ground to cover in 10 days. 

So you need to go into this itinerary knowing that you’re not going to be able to see it all . 

If it’s your first trip to Portugal and you have 10 days, we think you’ll be disappointed if you don’t see Lisbon , Porto , and the Algarve . So we’ve structured this 10 day Portugal itinerary to make sure you’re able to spend about three days in each of those places. 

Is it ideal? No, ideally you’d have more time to explore within each region. But with limited time, you have to make some compromises. 

But Matt and Alysha, what about Coimbra / Nazare / Braga (insert many other Portuguese cities here) ? Yes, all of those are well worth seeing, but if you only have ten days and it’s your first time, we’d recommend focusing your time on the three places we outlined above – Lisbon, Porto, and the Algarve. 

What if you have more or less than 10 days?

  • With 7 days in Portugal , we think you can realistically tackle the Lisbon – Porto corridor (including some nice day trips) OR the Algarve. Not both. 
  • With two weeks in Portugal , you’ll have more time to breathe and can add a few additional stops in smaller cities like Braga , Coimbra , Tavira , or Évora in addition to seeing Lisbon, Porto, and the Algarve. 

Getting Around Portugal

Getting around Portugal with limited time is a bit complicated, which we’ll get into in a second. 

At a high level, there’s a robust train network run by Comboios de Portugal and bus network through companies like FlixBus and ALSA that connect most major cities and towns throughout the country.

We used Omio a lot on our trip to Portugal. Omio shows you all the options for getting from one city to another in one place – by train, bus, or plane – so that you can compare without going to multiple other websites. Plus, we ran into issues occasionally with our American credit cards getting declined through the official train website, and Omio was much easier to use without throwing our phones across the room. It’ll cost you a very small service fee (usually one Euro per ticket), but we think it was a much, much better experience (which is why we used it so often).

We love traveling by train, and it’s the best way to get around on the west coast, between Lisbon and Porto (and even further north than Porto) where there are both regional and high speed trains to choose from.

Trains in Portugal are significantly cheaper than in places like Spain and Italy, which is an added bonus (they’re also slightly less comfortable, in our experience). 

With limited time, always choose the high speed (Intercity, or IC) trains, which will be more expensive but significantly faster.

Once you get out of that major thoroughfare, the options for train travel get a little worse, which is where the bus network comes in. Oftentimes the buses take roughly the same amount of time as the regional trains, and can be even cheaper. 

For each step in this itinerary, we’re going to give you our take on the best way to get from one place to another. Oftentimes it will be the train, but sometimes the buses offer a convenient alternative. 

Should You Fly Between Cities in Portugal? 

This one highly depends on which route you choose below. There are some journeys, particularly from Porto to the Algarve, that are actually best done by flying between cities. 

We’ll get into this in the “routes” section, but we’d only recommend flying if it’s absolutely necessary – it will be expensive, oftentimes slower if you count all the time getting to the airport and sitting around waiting, and less convenient overall. 

Definitely don’t fly between Lisbon and Porto – the high speed train does a good job connecting those two major cities. 

Should You Rent a Car in Portugal?

We think you should rent a car to visit the Algarve . The car will give you the flexibility to get off the beaten path a little bit and out to some less crowded (but equally beautiful) beaches that just aren’t well connected with public transportation. We would not have been able to make it to nearly as many places as we did if we didn’t have a car.

That being said, you can still enjoy the Algarve without a car, but it will be a slightly different experience. 

However, we absolutely would not recommend having a car in either Lisbon or Porto , where it will be more of a hindrance than a help thanks to parking and traffic. 

Instead, plan on renting a car when you arrive on the Algarve, and keeping it only during that leg of the trip. This will also save you money in the long run on gas, days of car rental, and tolls. 

We rented a car through AutoEurope , which gives you the prices and availability for multiple car companies all in one place.

When you choose your carrier, stick to the major international car rental companies like Europcar, Hertz, and Avis, and steer clear of the regional Portuguese car rental companies, which will do their best to nickel-and-dime you into financial ruin. 

wbjc trip to portugal

Tips for Renting a Car in Portugal

We think you should definitely rent a car to do the Algarve, it’s just a matter of figuring out the best way to do it for your particular trip.

Here are a few things to consider about renting a car in Portugal that we discovered over the course of our trip. 

  • If you’re picking up a rental car in one place and dropping it in a different place, your rental will be subject to a “one-way” fee that escalates based on the distances between locations. For reference, we picked up our car in Lagos and dropped it in Évora, which is about a three hour drive, and it was a 50 Euro fee. We imagine the fee would be similar for Lisbon. 
  • There is an airport surcharge of about 30 Euros, depending on the company, that applies when you are either picking up or dropping off at an airport (in this case, likely either Lisbon Airport or the Faro Airport). You could avoid this by picking up the car in Lagos instead, but if you are arriving at the Faro Airport, it makes more logistical sense to just pay the fee. 
  • There are toll roads throughout Portugal, which means you will pay to use the bigger, faster highways. The two you’re most likely to encounter are the A2 between Lisbon and the Algarve, and the A22 between Lagos and Faro. The easiest way to handle them is to ask your rental car company to activate their electronic transponder, which will automatically bill you for any tolls. More information on toll roads in Portugal here . 

Where to Start & End Your Trip

There are two options that we’ve come up with, and each has a set of pros and cons. Which one you choose most likely depends on your flight into Portugal. 

The first option is flying in and out of Lisbon , which tends to have the most routes – particularly direct flights – in and out of Portugal to international destinations.

This is also likely to be the cheapest option, though it’s the least convenient in terms of logistics (as we’ll get into in the next section) because it involves you making your way back to Lisbon from the Algarve, which can be a bit of a journey at over four hours. 

The second option, and the one we’d strongly recommend, is to fly into Porto and out of Faro (the main airport on the Algarve).

This option might have fewer flight options and can be a bit more expensive, but it’s also by far the most convenient because it doesn’t involve hours of backtracking to catch your flight home. 

The Route for This Portugal Itinerary

We’re putting our stake in the ground and recommending the version of the itinerary that has you flying into Porto and out of Faro, which is by far the least complicated way to do it. We think the potential added cost is going to be worth it for the time saved by not having to get back to Lisbon to catch your flight . 

We get that you might not agree, and it’s pretty easy to rearrange the itinerary below to accommodate flying in and out of a single city. You’ll just need to add a train or bus journey to your itinerary at the end to get back to catch your flight. 

With that out of the way, here’s how we’d spend 10 days in Portugal if it’s your first time. 

  • Day 1 : Arrive in Porto in AM
  • Day 2 : Porto 
  • Day 3 : Day Trip to Douro Valley
  • Day 4 : Travel to Lisbon (as early as possible)
  • Day 5 : Lisbon
  • Day 6 : Day Trip to Sintra
  • Day 7 : Travel to Algarve + Pick up Rental Car
  • Day 8 : Algarve
  • Day 9 : Algarve
  • Day 10 : Algarve + Fly Home

You obviously have a bit of flexibility in terms of when you choose to do the day trips from Lisbon and Porto, what days to do which activities, and more. We’re not going to give you a day-by-day itinerary – instead, we’re going to give you our picks for what to do, where to stay, and how to plan a day trip (to the Douro or to Sintra) for each city. 

The Complete 10 Day Portugal Itinerary for First Timers

And now that we’ve got all the boring-but-important logistics out of the way, onto the fun stuff! 

If you’re coming from somewhere like the US or Canada, you’re going to be a little slow on your first day due to jet lag. Plan on taking it relatively easy, drink plenty of water, and don’t go buckwild on the Port on your first day in Portugal. 

Days 1-3: Porto + Day Trip to the Douro Valley

wbjc trip to portugal

Your first stop in Portugal is Porto, which has a friendly rivalry with its neighbor to the south, Lisbon, over the fact that Porto was the original capital and is the city that the entire country is named after.

Portugal was conquered by the Christian armies of the Inquisition from north to south, ending in the 12 th Century, which is when the borders of present-day Portugal were formed (and have more or less stayed the same since). 

We found Porto to be similar to Lisbon in some ways, but significantly different in many respects.

The first is that it’s a much older city. Lisbon was leveled by a massive earthquake (somewhere between 8.5 and 8.9 on the Richter scale) in 1755. Along with the subsequent fires and a tsunami. Not a great day for Lisbon. 

Porto survived the earthquake, which means the buildings in the city center are much, much older. Which gives it a more lived-in feeling, and a less polished look. We heard the word “gritty” used, but don’t quite agree with that assessment. Lived-in is a better term in our experience. 

Everywhere you go in Porto, it feels like real people live there (rather than parts of Lisbon that feel like it’s exclusively tourists). And that’s a feeling that we really enjoy. 

P.S.: To help you plan an amazing few days in Porto, we wrote a guide to planning an amazing 3 days in Porto ! We also have a guide to spending one day in Porto , if you’re short on time.

wbjc trip to portugal

Porto is a great two day destination, which begs the question “why do you have us here for three days then?” 

At the end of every trip, we do a “best experience / food / drinks” recap together over a glass of wine (or several). There was an experience that came up over and over again during the conversation about our trip to Italy , Spain , and Portugal.

And that experience was our day trip to the Douro Valley , which included a winery visit to try port, an amazing lunch experience, and a boat cruise on the picturesque Douro River. 

It’s expensive, it’s true, but we think it’s worth a whole day of your time to see the famous terraced vineyards of the Douro Valley, one of the oldest wine regions in Europe (if not THE oldest). 

Pro-tip : Every single local we met in Porto said something along the lines of “hey, be careful with port” – it’s super easy to drink, it’s 20% alcohol, and it’s full of sugar so the hangovers are awful. You’ve been warned. 

wbjc trip to portugal

Arriving in Porto

There’s a handy metro line that goes to and from the Porto airport – Porto Francisco Sá Carneiro Airport (OPO) – in 30-40 minutes. You can buy tickets at the entrance, and it will connect you with the other metro lines once you arrive in the city. More information here . 

You can also take a taxi (which will cost around 23 Euros) or pre-book a private transfer to take the stress out of arriving. 

What to Do in Porto

Here are some things we enjoyed in Porto, in no particular order.

  • A Walking Tour to Learn about Porto’s History . Porto’s history is fascinating, going all the way back to the Roman Empire (and beyond that, too) and along the way becoming the capital of Portugal before Lisbon was given that title. One thing you’ll notice is the fact that Porto is an older city than Lisbon, mainly because of the earthquake that leveled Lisbon in 1755. A walking tour will introduce you to all that history and more with a local who can give you tips on what to eat and where to eat it, how to get around, what not to miss, and more. We always do walking tours in nearly every city we go to, and always walk away (ha!) with a bunch of new stories and a better understanding of history. We’ve also learned that you get what you pay for here, and there’s a reason the free tours are, well, free. Here’s the one we’d choose in Porto, though we actually chose this private walking tour in Porto ourselves with our favorite tour company, Withlocals. 
  • Miradouros . Porto is a beautiful city, perched on a hill overlooking the river below, so there are a few viewpoints that we think you shouldn’t miss. First is Miradouro da Vitória ( here on Google Maps), which is a place we found ourselves multiple times on our trip. It’s a great view out over the city and river, and it’s worth the effort you’ll expend coming from the bottom of the hill. On the opposite side of the river, Jardim de Morro ( here on Google Maps – technically in Vila Nova de Gaia) has some of the best views of the city, which sprawls up the hill away from the river, and the Ponte Dom Luis I (the bridge).
  • The Port Houses in Vila Nova de Gaia . Across the river from the city of Porto is a separate city called Vila Nova de Gaia, which is where all of the port houses are located. It’s worth an afternoon of your time to cross the river and do a tour, where you’ll learn about the process of making port and usually get to enjoy a tasting at the end to understand the differences between ruby, tawny, and the other types of port. We did the tour at Graham’s Port Lodge and really enjoyed it, though we also heard good things about Taylor’s and Churchill too from various locals we interacted with. If you’re looking to try port in the city center of Porto, go to Prova , where we got a mini-lesson on the basics of port before we made it across the river later in the trip. 
  • Eat a Bifana and a Francesinha . Two of Porto’s most famous dishes are meat-heavy sandwiches that we had mixed feelings on. Neither of us are huge meat eaters, and I have Celiac Disease and need to eat gluten free, so our choices were limited. We did manage to find both, though! The Francesinha is a sandwich stacked with multiple types of meat, a fried egg, and a spicy sauce made of beer and broth. It’s basically a heart attack on a plate. We enjoyed it, but probably wouldn’t eat it again. The second is the bifana , which is a pork sandwich that is both cheap and delicious. My brother was the guinea pig here, and ended up enjoying it. We got it at Conga , recommended to us by our walking tour guide. You know it’s authentic when you can see them making the meat in the window. 
  • Livraria Lello . We’re conflicted about this one, because we actually chose to skip it after seeing the massive line outside – which exists all day long, opening to closing. This is a beautiful bookstore that became famous when fans learned that J.K. Rowling wrote a portion of the books while working in Porto as an English teacher in the early 90’s, and that this bookstore might have served as inspiration (key word: might). The interior, particularly the staircase, is beautiful, but we were a little shocked by the price and popularity. It’s 5 Euros to enter, which you’ll get back if you decide to buy a book.

You might notice that all of the port houses have very, uh, English names. Graham’s. Taylor’s. Sandeman’s. That’s because they were, and still are, owned by English companies who, at the time they were started, were looking to find a new source of wine after the French ramped up prices.  

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If you’re looking to get some deeper knowledge and insight into the food scene in Porto and northern Portugal, we’d recommend a food tour. Given the fact that I have Celiac Disease, we didn’t do one ourselves (it would just be me salivating over everyone else eating delicious food, even though I’d love the history and stories part of the tour). Here’s the tour we would have done, had it made sense. 

wbjc trip to portugal

Where to Stay in Porto

Porto is a compact city, so staying anywhere near the center of the city is going to put you within walking distance of basically everything in the city. It’s a little bit hilly, but not too bad.

We have an entire guide dedicated to deciding where to stay in Porto , which you should definitely read if you want to get deeper into each neighborhood we recommend and why we like it.

Otherwise, here are the highlights.

That being said, we’d recommend staying relatively close to the river, either in the upscale Ribeira neighborhood along the river, or in one of the neighborhoods adjacent to it to the north. 

We personally stayed in Bolhão , which was about 10-15 minutes away from the river on foot, and was a more affordable location than the area along the river. And, to be honest, it was much more enjoyable and we’d stay there again in a heartbeat. 

We heard mostly Portuguese (versus the mix of English, French and Spanish you’ll hear near the river) and there were a ton of great places to eat and drink within 3-5 minutes of walking. And it felt younger and more lively, particularly at night. 

We stayed at Your Opo Cozy Apartments , which was the perfect base for us because we need access to a kitchen and prefer having more space to spread out (especially since we were traveling with my little brother).

We also had our eye on Hotel Moon & Sun , which is a good option if you’re looking for a nice hotel in a great location (across from one of our favorite coffee shops in the city). 

Update 2024: My mom and her friend stayed at Hotel Moon & Sun in late 2023 and loved it. The location is great (they also loved So Coffee Roasters across the street).

We were originally going to stay at The Passenger Hostel , but changed to an apartment with more space when my brother decided to join. 

Planning Your Day Trip to the Douro Valley

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In short, we could not recommend the tour we did more highly . Like we said above, we spent a full 90 days (well, 89, really) in Europe, and that day was at the top of the list of our favorite experiences. 

If you’re looking for our top recommendation, that’s the tour we’d choose. However, there are a couple of other ways you could tackle the Douro Valley. 

  • Do it independently by public transportation : It is possible to do this day trip using public transportation, but we think you have to make significant trade offs doing it that way (though it is much cheaper). There is a train from Porto to Pinhão, a major town in the Douro Valley full of wineries and restaurants along the river. However, once you’re there, you’ll have to walk / taxi between places, and you’re really confined to the area immediately around town. 
  • Do it independently by car : If you rent a car, we think you’ll have a better experience than using public transportation. But, again, it comes with tradeoffs. You’ll have to drive, which means watching how much port you drink (don’t drink and drive, folks!), and it can be expensive and inconvenient to rent a car for a day. That being said, it does give you more flexibility even than a guided tour to discover places that you wouldn’t have otherwise found, which we like. If you want to do the Douro Valley independently, this is how we’d do it. 

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We’d definitely recommend making it out to the Douro Valley. The best way to do it is either by  booking the tour we did , which includes a winery, an amazing lunch (with more wine), a Douro River cruise (with more wine), and all transportation, or  renting a car and doing it independently .

Days 4-6: Lisbon + Day Trip to Sintra

wbjc trip to portugal

Lisbon, Portugal’s capital, is a lovely city to explore. In fact, it reminds us a lot of San Francisco, our last home before we quit our jobs and hit the road full time (ish).

It has hills with amazing views, a great food and drink scene, and even has a red bridge that looks suspiciously like the Golden Gate. 

We were somewhat surprised to learn that the entire city was essentially flattened in the 18 th Century thanks to a giant earthquake (another similarity to San Francisco). It has since been rebuilt, and has made multiple lists of “best places to travel” over the past decade or so. 

Lisbon is no longer off the beaten path, but it still very much has the charm of a mid-sized city, with a mix of tourists and locals, that places like Paris and Rome just don’t have. 

wbjc trip to portugal

Getting to Lisbon

Hourly Intercity (IC) trains – those are the fast ones – depart from Porto’s Campanhã train station and will take you to Lisbon in about three hours. We’d opt for an early train to get to Lisbon by noon or so. 

Plan to arrive at Lisbon’s Santa Apolonia station, which is connected to the rest of the city with Lisbon’s clean and efficient metro. The alternative is Oriente, which is further out and not as well-connected. 

Click here to see prices and train times for the journey from Porto to Lisbon . 

What to Do in Lisbon

We have an entire guide to spending 3 days in Lisbon, which you should definitely read for far more detailed information on exactly what to do and see in Lisbon. 

Here are the highlights. 

  • Try to Visit All the Miradouros . Lisbon is a city full of hills, which means there are great views to be had at the top of them. Our favorite views in the city were from Miradouro da Senhora do Monte ( here on Google Maps), which is allll the way at the top of the hill behind Alfama. The view, which includes the castelo and the bridge, is worth the climb (it’s where the picture at the top of this section was taken). Another great view is Miradouro de São Pedro de Alcântara ( here on Google Maps), which is near Bairro Alto with views back towards the castle.  
  • Take a Walking Tour to Learn About the City’s History and Rebirth . We actually did two different walking tours in Lisbon, and would recommend them both. The first was a private walking tour through Withlocals , which is one of our favorite tour companies. They connect you with a local who takes you on a one-of-a-kind private city tour to see their city through their eyes, which is unique. We also did the We Hate Tourism walking tour through the “Real City,” which is more focused on socially responsible travel and takes you to a neighborhood that you probably wouldn’t ordinarily make it to on your own. Both are great for different reasons. 
  • Head Out to Belem . Belem used to be a suburb of Lisbon, and in a way it still kind of is, though it’s technically inside the city limits. There are a few things to do and see out in Belem, and it’s an easy 15-20 minute tram ride from the center to get there. There’s the Torre de Belem, a former defensive tower (that wasn’t particularly good at its job) turned prison that sits in a strategic location along the Tagus River. DON’T GO INTO THE TOWER – NOT WORTH IT. The Jerónimos Monastery is worth a visit for the beautiful cloister. The Monument to the Discoveries is a towering nod to Portugal’s intrepid past as one of the original naval powers in Europe. And, of course, there’s Pastéis de Belem , which claims to be the first place to sell the egg custard tart, and has its own name for them that nobody else gets to use (they came in second in our pastéis de nata taste-off). 
  • Hunt for the Best Pastéis de Nata in Lisbon . Over our time in Lisbon – almost a week – we made it a goal to try all the pastéis de nata and decide which one we liked best. We quickly learned that the endeavor was going to be impossible, so we decided to focus on the couple of spots that consistently get all the press. Mantegaria , a recommendation from our walking tour guide, ended up being the clear winner. Pastéis de Belem took the second spot. Aloma , a pick of both locals we did walking tours with, was a distant third, but that might have been user error given that the pastéis we got weren’t warm. It’s also worth noting that they aren’t usually gluten free, so Matt had to watch Alysha and his two brothers devour pastéis with reckless abandon. 

wbjc trip to portugal

Where to Stay in Lisbon

First of all, below is the short version. We have an entire guide dedicated to deciding where to stay in Lisbon , which you should read for more detail on the options, pros/cons, and specific places to stay.

While there are many possible answers to this question, we think 99% of people should choose between the central and charming Chiado neighborhood, and the historic Alfama neighborhood, which is full of narrow cobblestone streets and amazing viewpoints. 

Chiado is more utilitarian – it’s well connected to the rest of Lisbon with its central location in the center of the city and a dedicated metro stop. There’s an endless number of places to eat and drink your heart out, and you’re going to be 5-10 minutes away from the best food and nightlife in the city (which we think are in Bairro Alto and Principe Real). 

Alfama is the most romantic part of the city. It’s the part of Lisbon where you’ll find narrow, pedestrian-only cobblestone streets, and it’s home to two of the best views of the city. There are a handful of hotels and guesthouses scattered throughout the neighborhood. 

We’d highly recommend avoiding staying in an Airbnb in Lisbon because of the impact it has had on housing prices, which have in turn forced locals out of the city and further out into the suburbs. Choose hotels, apart-hotels, guesthouses, and hostels instead. 

Planning Your Day Trip to Sintra

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Sintra is a great day trip from Lisbon, and is also the most common day trip that visitors take, which means you’re not going to be alone on the journey out there.

The main attraction here is Pena Palace, which is all the way at the top of the hill. Take the bus or a taxi to get there from the train station, it should be your first stop in Sintra. From there, work your way back down the hill. 

Pena Palace is essentially a summer home, built in the Sintra Mountains by King Ferdinand II. Originally, it was a monastery on the hill, but it was destroyed during the 1755 earthquake and sat there in disrepair for years.

Then, Ferdinand said “wouldn’t it be great to have a place to escape the oppressively hot Lisbon summers? Maybe a place on a hill, with nice views and a cool coastal breeze?” 

12 years later, the palace was finished. There are tons of other attractions to see in addition to Pena Palace, but you should keep in mind that you won’t be able to see them all on a day trip.

Focus on 2-3 (we have thoughts below on what those 2-3 should be, duh), and save some time for walking around the town of Sintra at the bottom of the hill. 

Planning on taking a day trip to Sintra? We have an entire guide dedicated to planning an amazing Lisbon to Sintra day trip , which has more detail than the section below.

wbjc trip to portugal

Getting to Sintra 

Sintra is an easy 45 minute train ride from Lisbon’s Rossio Station in Baixa. Getting to Rossio is pretty easy from basically anywhere in Lisbon, including Baixa, Chiado, and Alfama. 

The most important thing to know is that you will want to be on the first feasible train out to Sintra , which totally depends on how early you want to wake up. 

The train we chose left at 8:11 am, which we think is the perfect time because you’ll arrive in Sintra around 9:00 am, and most of the attractions open at 9:30 am, giving you about 30 minutes to get up the hill to Pena Palace to start your day and beat the rest of the visitors. 

What to Do in Sintra

Here’s the thing – there’s actually A LOT to do in Sintra. So much so, that you’re definitely not going to be able to comfortably fit it all into a single day, which is likely the amount of time you have. 

For context, we were on one of the first trains out to Sintra, and didn’t make it back to the city until somewhere around 3:00 or 4:00 pm. And we only really did a couple of the many tourist attractions in Sintra. We would suggest picking two or three things that you’re most interested in, and tackling those two plus the town of Sintra, which has some good places to eat and drink. 

We also obviously have an opinion on what you should focus your time on, and we think the two sites you should choose are Pena Palace and the Moorish Castle . Both offer different experiences – one is an opulent palace with fertile gardens, one is a replica of a former, you guessed it, Moorish Castle with spectacular views out over the ocean. 

If you want to add in a third sight, we’d recommend the Quinta da Regaleira . 

We’d do the two aforementioned sights before lunch, making your way down the hill as you go, having lunch in the town of Sintra, then doing the 10 minute walk out to the Quinta da Regaleira before heading back into town to catch the train back to Lisbon. 

Strap in, bring water and snacks, and prepare yourself for a full day affair. 

Here are some more details on the Pena Palace and Moorish Castle. 

Pena Palace

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There are two parts of the Pena Palace complex, and they require different tickets. There are the gardens, and then there’s the interior. We decided to skip the interior – we’ve seen plenty of opulent palaces over the course of our travels, maybe the rich dudes should have spent the money that they spent on their summer home on something, I don’t know, more useful?

We would recommend just getting a ticket for the grounds, and admiring the palace from the outside. Here’s how we’d spend your time: 

  • Start by exploring the gardens. When we arrived, the palace was fogged in and you could barely make out the bright yellow facade. If you find yourself in the same boat, fear not! It will likely burn off. Head out to the High Cross in the gardens, which is a nice view (if the fog happens to be gone – it wasn’t when we were there). In general, our favorite part of the gardens was the lakes area at the bottom of the hill. 
  • Then make the walk up to the palace. Admire the arches and tiles along the outside, and go up into the chapel, which is free. 
  • Walk the walls of the palace . There’s a short path around the palace walls, which you should save for last because it’s a great view out over Sintra and all the way to the coast, so you want it to be clear. 

More info here . 

Castelo dos Mouros

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Honestly, we were SO close to skipping this. But we were so glad we didn’t!

Walking along the reconstructed walls of this Moorish Castle from the 8th or 9th Century was the highlight of our time in Sintra, and the views are nothing short of spectacular. 

It was built when the were in control of the Iberian Peninsula, and then it was taken by the Christians in the 12th Century, and basically left in various levels of desertion ever since as tensions calmed and people no longer felt the need to live within the castle walls and started making their way downhill towards Sintra and proverbial greener pastures. 

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There are some historical sights to see along the way, but we’d focus your time on walking the walls from one end to the other, which involves some steps (which are actually kind of hard), and is basically a nonstop spectacular view from start to finish. Go counter-clockwise. 

More information here . 

Dive deeper into Lisbon with our other Lisbon travel guides:

  • 3 Days in Lisbon: Planning the Perfect Lisbon Itinerary
  • Where to Stay in Lisbon: Our Guide to 4 Amazing Places to Stay
  • Gluten Free Lisbon: A Complete Guide to Lisbon’s Best Gluten Free Restaurants
  • The Best Coffee in Lisbon: 9 Amazing Lisbon Coffee Shops to Add to Your List
  • Planning Your Lisbon to Sintra Day Trip: A Complete Guide

Days 7-10: The Algarve

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The Algarve is the area along Portugal’s southern coast, and it’s very, very different from the other cities and regions in the country.

It’s more Mediterranean, with incredible fresh fish and seafood, warm weather (too warm in the summer for us), and a gorgeous coastline full of golden sand beaches and coves of turquoise water.

It’s the perfect place to spend the last few days of your Portugal itinerary soaking up the sun and relaxing on the beach before returning home. 

Getting to the Algarve

There are three options for getting to the Algarve if you’re coming from Lisbon. We used Omio to compare (and usually, book) our trains and buses in Spain and Portugal.

It’s a better user experience (we occasionally ran into issues with our foreign credit cards being declined by the official train websites) and it’ll just cost you a small service fee (usually 1 Euro per ticket). 

First is the train . We love traveling by train in Europe, and there are intercity trains (those are the fast ones!) that will get you from Lisbon to Faro in 3 hours.

From there, you’ll have to connect with a regional train to get to places on the Algarve like Lagos or Carvoiero (spoiler: those are two places we’d recommend staying on the Algarve). Book your train tickets as far in advance as possible for lower prices. 

Second is the bus – we’d opt for FLIXBUS. The bus is slightly less comfortable, we think, but usually cheaper (especially if you’re booking close to the date of travel, when Intercity trains become more expensive).

There are also more direct options to more places on the Algarve (Lagos, in particular), versus the train to Faro and then connecting with a regional train from there. The bus is going to take about 3.5 hours, and cost somewhere around 6-10 Euros. 

Third is renting a car in Lisbon and driving, which takes about three hours or so. This is a particularly good option if you’re flying out of Lisbon to get back home.

If that’s the case, this is actually our top recommendation because it’ll make getting back to catch your flight a little more simple, and you won’t have to pay a one-way fee for dropping off the car in a different place than where you picked it up. 

Whichever way you choose, we’d opt for an early departure from Lisbon to get you to the Algarve for the afternoon. Click here to compare your different options on Omio . 

Do You Need a Car on the Algarve?

After traveling by train and bus for part of our trip to the Algarve, and then renting a car for the second part, we have a strong perspective that the best way to enjoy the Algarve is by renting a car.  

Sure, there is a regional train network that connects the major towns on the Algarve, but oftentimes the best beaches are going to be a bit outside of town, and a car makes it easier to get there. 

Having a car will also give you more flexibility, since trains aren’t that plentiful (they only come a few times a day) and it’s hard to figure out exactly when local and regional buses come (or if they come at all). 

We rented a car twice during our three month European adventure, once in Sicily , once on the Algarve.

Both times we used AutoEurope to compare prices with different rental companies and find the best rates, and booked a car through Europcar , which was a pleasant experience both times. We’d recommend both.

What to Do on the Algarve

You have three days on the Algarve, and we have a strong perspective on what you should do with those days based on our own experiences. 

Heads up: In this section, we’re going to give you a bit more of a day-by-day itinerary to help you organize your time. For more detail, head over to our Algarve itinerary , which has all the information you’ll need to make the most of your time on Portugal’s southern coast. 

Day 7: Lagos and Around

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On your first day, spend the day settling in and exploring the area around Lagos. There are three beaches in particular that we think are well worth your time. 

  • The first, Praia dos Estudantes , is one of the Algarve’s most famous beaches thanks to the Roman bridge that is visible from the beach. 
  • Next, stop by Praia do Pinhão , where you can pick up a coastal route up on the bluffs that takes you to the third beach on your tour-de-Lagos-beaches.
  • The last beach, Praia da Dona Ana , is also one of the most-visited beaches in the entire region. It’s a little cove, accessible from both ends, and the best views of the beach are from the bluffs on the eastern side (which is where you’ll find yourself if you follow the coastal trail). 

All three beaches would be a good spot to relax in the sun for a few hours. Make sure to bring sunscreen and plenty of water. You can walk to all of them, doing one big loop back to the center of Lagos. 

For seafood that’s about as fresh as it can be, head out to Restaurante Chico Zé for lunch, which is a 10 minute drive north of the center of Lagos.

It’s a family run, lunch-only establishment where there is almost always a line out the door during the high season (and sometimes during shoulder seasons). Don’t miss the grilled sardines, served with potatoes. 

An alternative closer to town would be Tasca Da Lota , which is within walking distance of the city center near the train station. It’s cash only. 

For sunset, drive out to Ponta da Piedade , which is a unique rock formation surrounded by sheer cliffs. It’s a spot that most of the boat tours leaving from Lagos stop at because there’s a series of cool sea caves and hidden grottos. 

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On foot, you can walk down the long set of stairs to get to the base of the cliffs – just remember that you’ll have to climb back up. Once you’ve done that, it’s also worth finding the trail that heads west from the parking lot and walking along the boardwalks for more amazing coastal views. 

On the way, stop by Praia do Camilo , a small, hidden beach accessible only by climbing down a long set of steep stairs (and, again, climbing back up when you’re done, of course).

Day 8: The Seven Hanging Valleys Trail

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On your second day, tackle what we think is the best hike on the Algarve – the Seven Hanging Valleys Trail . 

This hike, best done from east to west starting from Praia da Marinha to Praia do Vale de Centeanes , was one of our favorite experiences in Portugal. And we’re from coastal California, which we learned is very similar to the Algarve in terms of scenery, flora, and fauna.

The point is, it’s a great hike, and that’s coming from two people who have done countless hikes with similar views and scenery. 

First, an overview of the full out-and-back hike. 

  • Length : 7 miles / 11.4 km
  • Elevation Gain : 1,200 ft. / 365 meters
  • Season : Year round (more on this below)
  • Trail Type : Out and Back (we have ideas on alternate routes below)
  • Difficulty : Easy / Moderate
  • Trailhead Location : Either Praia da Marinha or Praia do Vale de Centeanes
  • Dog Friendly : Yes! 

If that sounds like too much for you, you have a few options in terms of shortening the hike. 

  • Option 1: The Full Hike, Round Trip – 7 miles / 1,200 feet of elevation gain (11.4 km / 365 m). Hike the entire trail out-and-back from Praia da Marinha to Praia do Vale de Centeanes, and then back the way you came. 
  • Option 2: The Full Hike, One Way – 3.5 miles / 600 feet of elevation gain (6 km / 180 m). Do the entire hike, but only one way. This requires using either taxis, Uber, or hitching a ride to get back to your car at the first trailhead (or finding a way to get there without a car). 
  • Option 3: Partial Hike, Out and Back – 3.3 miles / 600 feet of elevation gain (5.6 km / 180 m). Hike the section between Praia da Marinha and Praia do Carvalho, which in our opinion is the best part of the trail. You can continue on to the nice lighthouse – Farol de Alfanzina, for an additional 2 miles (3.2 km) added to your round-trip distance. 

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For more details, including which direction to go, where to park, what time of day to hike, and a detailed trail report, head over to our Seven Hanging Valleys Trail Guide .  

Finish your day at the ending point for the trail you hiked earlier in the day – Praia do Vale de Centeanes – which is a pretty spectacular place to watch the sunset.

You can either bring a blanket and set up shop on the beach, or head up onto the bluffs to the east of the beach, where there’s a point that juts out into the sea and has some benches overlooking the spectacular coastal landscape. 

Day 9: Sagres and the Western Algarve

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On your third day, head the opposite direction towards the Atlantic Ocean, where you’ll find a dramatic coastline that looks a little bit different than the one you’ve explored so far. Think towering limestone cliffs and dramatic drop offs with the churning sea below. 

This part of the Algarve, which is much quieter than the area around Lagos and to the east, reminds us a lot of Point Reyes National Seashore, which is a short drive from our home base in California. 

Start by driving all the way out to Farol do Cabo de São Vicente, the southwestern-most point in Europe, and making your way back east towards Lagos. 

  • Praia do Beliche ( here on Google Maps) was our favorite beach in the area, and the steps leading down to it are super steep (which is saying something in Europe, land of the unnecessarily steep steps).
  • The town of Sagres is a little sleepy, but it’s worth heading out to the Fortaleza de Sagres , which you’ll have to pay a few Euros to access, but the views from the point are worth it. It is going to be windy when you’re there – it almost always is. It’s also home to some of the best surfing in Europe if that’s something you’re into. We were there in the winter, so we took a hard pass on surfing lessons . 
  • Praia da Mareta ( here on Google Maps) and Praia do Martinhal ( here on Google Maps) are two nearby beaches we enjoyed. 

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After you’ve explored Sagres and the surrounding area, you can either head back to where you’re staying and do some more exploring, or head up the coast north along Portugal’s Atlantic coast to Praia da Arrifana , which is a different feeling than the Algarve. Or you could stop by the small fishing town of Salema on your way back to Lagos. 

Where to Stay in the Algarve

For this amount of time on the Algarve, we’d recommend choosing one home base and exploring from there. 

Keep in mind that this is the quick version. We have an entire guide dedicated to choosing exactly where to stay in the Algarve , so you should head over there if you want the details.

For the sake of convenience, we also think that place should be relatively central to give you the best access to both the eastern Algarve and its pristine white sand beaches, and the rocky, cliff-y (is that a word?) coastline of the western Algarve. 

We stayed in two separate places in the Algarve, and would recommend them both. Those two places are Lagos and Carvoeiro , and anywhere in between those two, which are a 35 minute drive apart, would be a perfect place to stay. 

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Lagos is more of a city, with a charming old town and plenty of bars, restaurants, and other amenities that you might be interested in.

If you’re looking to stay in the middle of a bustling city with lots of restaurant options and bars that are open until the early hours of the morning, Lagos is for you.

In Lagos, we stayed at the Salty Lodge , which is smack dab in the middle of the old town. We really enjoyed this place, and our room had a pretty spectacular view towards the ocean. If your room doesn’t, they also have a rooftop terrace with this view. 

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Rooms at the Salty Lodge are apartment-style, complete with stovetops and ovens for cooking. Though you’ll be within walking distance of about 25 different restaurants, if you’d rather do not cook on your trip to Portugal. 

Carvoiero has a more relaxed vibe. Sure, there’s a little area near the main beach that has a nice stretch of bars and restaurants, but the draw here is the unparalleled access to beautiful beaches and the laid back nature of the town. If you’re looking for a relaxing, quiet place to stay, we’d recommend Carvoeiro.

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In Carvoeiro, we stayed at Hello Villas , which turned out to be among the nicest places we stayed on our entire Portugal trip.

They’re spacious, quiet, and have everything you need to cook meals at home. Plus, they’re walking distance to town, though there’s a rather steep hill in between. 

Dive deeper into the Algarve with our other Algarve travel guides:

  • A Complete Guide to Planning an Algarve Road Trip (3-7 Days)
  • How to Hike the Seven Hanging Valleys Trail: Complete Trail Guide
  • Where to Stay on the Algarve: 5 Charming Towns to Use as a Home Base

What to Do with More Time in Portugal

If you’re lucky enough to find yourself with more than 10 days when you’re visiting Portugal, here are a few things that we’d add to your itinerary, along with how much time we’d allocate to each. 

  • Évora (1-2 Days) : A stop in Évora, a walled town in Portugal’s Alentejo region, known for its great food and wine, that has been designated a UNESCO World Heritage site. We were here for about 24 hours, and that was perfect. It’s just 90 minutes from Lisbon by train, but we’d recommend staying overnight if you can. 
  • Coimbra (1 Day) : A charming, riverfront town known for having the oldest university in Portugal. Students walking around with Harry Potter-style capes give the town a lively, fun vibe, though only when school is in session. We spent a night here between Lisbon and Porto and enjoyed walking up the hill from the river, though school wasn’t in session so the town was a little empty. 
  • Óbidos (1 Day) : Another good stop between Lisbon and Porto, this one is known for its intact medieval walls and castle, along with its charming narrow cobblestone streets. Plus, ginjinha, the sour cherry liqueur from Portugal, is served in a traditional chocolate cup here. 
  • More time on the Algarve (1-2 Days) : You could easily add a day or two on the Algarve and spend it going deeper, especially on the eastern Algarve. We loved Tavira, and heard good things about Olhão (though we didn’t personally make it there). 
  • Braga (1-2 Days) : Braga, way up in northern Portugal, is worth adding either as a day trip from Porto, or as an overnight destination on its own. We didn’t have time to fit it in (despite having almost a month in Portugal), but if we did, our first stop would have been Bom Jesus do Monte, a sanctuary on a hill with excellent views and architecture. 

What to Do with Less Time in Portugal

If you have less than 10 days in Portugal, you’re going to have to choose between the Lisbon / Porto corridor OR the Algarve. It’s just not possible to do Lisbon, Porto, and the Algarve in less than 10 days. 

We’d recommend the Lisbon / Porto corridor for most people , which is the more culturally interesting place where you’ll find great food, wine, and historical places to learn more about Portugal’s history. You can easily spend anywhere from 5-9 days on this part of Portugal alone (honestly, you could spend months and not see it all). 

If you want a beach vacation , well, then the Algarve is probably your best bet.

7 Days in Portugal

With 7 days in Portugal, we’d focus on the corridor between Lisbon and Porto and spend 2-3 days in each with time for day trips into the surrounding areas. There’s a high-speed train connecting the two cities, so you can either fly in and out of the same city, or fly into Lisbon and out of Porto (or vice versa) – whichever is cheaper. 

You definitely shouldn’t rent a car for this version of the itinerary. It’ll be more of a pain than anything if you’re using Porto and Lisbon as home bases for exploring the surrounding areas. 

The good news is that everything in this 7 day Portugal itinerary is also in the more detailed itinerary above, so you’ll be able to use the information above to plan your trip. 

Here’s what that 7 day itinerary could look like. It depends on where you’re flying in and out of – this assumes into Porto and out of Lisbon, but it totally works if you’re flying into Lisbon, or even if you’re flying in and out of Lisbon or Porto. 

  • Day 1 : Arrive in Porto
  • Day 6: Day Trip to Sintra
  • Day 7 : Lisbon + Fly Home

5 Days in Portugal

With 5 days, you have a few options. We’re going to give you three of our top picks, but of course there’s a nearly unlimited combination of different ways to tackle your visit to Portugal. 

You can do a shorter version of the 7 day Portugal itinerary we covered above, which could look something like this: 

  • Day 3 : Travel to Lisbon (as early as possible)
  • Day 4 : Lisbon 

The downside of that option is that you don’t have time to fit in day trips from either place. Which leads us to a second option, which involves focusing your entire time on Lisbon . 

  • Day 1 : Arrive in Lisbon
  • Day 2 : Lisbon
  • Day 3 : Day Trip to Sintra
  • Day 4 : Lisbon or Another Day Trip (Cascais or Óbidos)
  • Day 5 : Lisbon and fly home

Last, but not least, is to spend 5 days on the Algarve. This involves either flying in and out of Faro and renting a car there, or flying in and out of Lisbon and renting a car from there. Here’s what that could look like. For more detail, check out our Algarve itinerary . 

  • Day 1 : Arrive in Faro + Travel to Lagos / Carvoiero
  • Day 2 : Lagos + Surrounding Beaches
  • Day 3 : The Western Algarve (Sagres + Praia do Beliche)
  • Day 4 : Hike the Seven Hanging Valleys Trail
  • Day 5 : The Eastern Algarve (Faro + Tavira) + Travel Home

wbjc trip to portugal

Planning a trip to Portugal?  

Here are our other Portugal travel guides to help you plan an incredible trip (even if you have to eat gluten free!).

If there’s no link below, it means we’re still working on it – long, in-depth guides take time! We’re working on it, though, we promise.

  • 10 Days in Portugal: Planning the Perfect Portugal Itinerary
  • 25 Incredible Things to Do in Lisbon: A Complete Guide
  • One Day in Lisbon: The Best of Lisbon in 24 Hours
  • 3 Days in Porto: Planning the Perfect Porto Itinerary
  • One Day in Porto: How to See the Best of Porto in a Day
  • Where to Stay in Porto, Portugal: The 3 Best Places to Stay

The Algarve:

  • Where to Stay in the Algarve: 5 Charming Towns to Use as a Home Base

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Matt is the founder and main writer behind Wheatless Wanderlust, which he started back in 2018 as a way to share his gluten free travel guides with his fellow Celiac travelers.

Since then, Matt and his wife Alysha have visited 18 national parks, spent three months in Europe and six weeks in Colombia, and have explored every corner of the Pacific Northwest, which is where Matt grew up.

He writes super detailed guides to the places they visit, bringing together personal experience and historical context to help YOU plan an amazing trip.

44 Comments

We have completed 2 weeks of our 4 week stay in Lisbon and the information shared here has been extremely helpful for us. We also made a day trip to Fatima and spent a few days in Porto and Lourdes (France). Lourdes was unusually cold 0 C (31 F) and because of that there were no crowds at all. We are from Michigan, so the cold weather didn’t matter much to us :). Porto is amazing and a must visit if you come to Portugal. We are staying in an ABB near Alameda metro station and we love it here – everything is within walking distance and my wife and I love walking. We easily do about 16-20K steps everyday! Uber is everywhere and very affordable and because of that, we haven’t tried the metro yet. Cafes and restaurants are everywhere and very good quality at a reasonable price.

Thanks a LOT to Matt and Alysha for documenting your experience which helped us a lot in our planning!

Thanks for the kind words, Joe! Glad you found our experiences helpful – that’s what we’re here for!

I am planning to visit Portugal for a 10 day trip starting April 11. Given this time of the year, does it make sense to visit Algarve? Is it possible to include Madeira by replacing Algarve for such a short trip?

Hey there! We were in the Algarve in early December, and it was lovely. It was warm – but not blazing hot – and the crowds were nonexistent. In April, it’ll be warmer and busier, but still worth a visit we’d say. However, if you want to do Madeira instead, just swap it in for the Algarve (it might get a little more complicated in terms of flights). However, we would say that it’s a lot of traveling to try to do Madeira (you essentially lose two full half days to flights).

I was reading some blogs and found yours to be the most detailed, precise and resourceful. So thank you for the efforts! I’ve heard a lot about Madeira Islands in Portugal, do you recommend visiting the islands in a 10day itinerary ? it is called the Hawaii of Portugal and I wanted to check if it worth visiting in a short span of time ?

Hey there! I would say that it’s a little far to try to do in 10 days, but if you wanted to squeeze it in, we’d essentially swap Madeira for the Algarve (you might have to move things around to accommodate the flights e.g. start in Lisbon, fly to Madeira and back, train up to Porto to finish). It depends on the logistics!

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Vacations in Portugal

Vacations in Portugal

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  • There are loads of types of vacations in Portugal and the cost will depend on what type of trip you’re taking and for how long you’d like to stay. Here are the latest prices for a 3 night trip for 2 travelers: Top vacation $407; Family vacation $378; Romantic vacation $462; Luxury vacation $432; Budget vacation $288.

Why should you book a vacation package to Portugal?

Portugal's main tourist areas include Lisbon, Porto, Madeira, and the Algarve, where you can balance a bustling city nightlife with relaxing beach days.

When should you book a vacation package to Portugal?

The warm, dry, coastal weather in late summer paired with the culture of hospitality and service of the locals makes it the perfect season to book your Portuguese getaway. This is also the festival season in southwestern Europe, with lots of activities to keep you entertained, including the Nos Primaveras Sound and Boom festivals.

Where should you stay in Portugal during your vacation?

For any vacation type in portugal:.

Quinta da Casa Branca is located within a dreamy botanical garden close to the Portuguese island of Madeira with it's sweeping views of the archipelago. Located 22km outside of the city center, the easiest way to reach Quinta da Casa Branca is by rental car.

The Altis Grand Hotel offers spacious modern accommodation and 19 business meeting rooms in the heart of downtown Lisbon within walking distance of the famous Liberty Avenue. The hotel's airport shuttles are available when you book your Portugal vacation package online for a streamlined travel experience.

For family vacations in Portugal:

Corinthia Hotel in Lisbon is a 5 star hotel that offers family rooms, a heated indoor swimming pool, serene gardens, and a comprehensive restaurant on-site. A rental car is the best transport option from Lisbon Portela Airport to satisfy your family's diverse needs.

Let your children roam free and explore paradise at the Pestana Village Garden Resort near Madeira which is embedded within 5,000 meters of perfectly manicured gardens and a series of outdoor swimming pools. This location will require a rental car which you can pick up from Cristiano Ronaldo Madeira International Airport.

For romantic vacations in Portugal:

Hotel Eva is a private 5 star hotel in the Algarve region of Portugal which offers spa services, a health club, and long nature walks to bring back the romance during your next visit. Faro International Airport is the closest transportation hub, with pre-arranged shuttles available for transfers from Hotel Eva.

Hotel Lisboa Plaza is the best boutique hotel in the capital city of Lisbon with easy access to the local train station for further travel within Portugal. Vacation packages may include free airport shuttle transfer to Lisbon International Airport.

For luxury vacations in Portugal:

Ria Park Hotel and Spa located in Ria Formosa Natural Park is considered the best beach hotel in the Algarve region of Southern Portugal. Sunline airport transfers will take you from Faro International Airport to Ria Park Hotel in approximately 30 minutes.

Porto Palacio Congress Hotel & Spa is a 5 star hotel in northwestern Porto which features spa facilities, a fitness center, and an on-site bar with tasteful modern décor. Porto International Airport is just 15 kilometers away and easily accessible via hotel shuttle.

For budget vacations in Portugal:

Madeira Panoramico Hotel allows you to save money without sacrificing quality with outdoor pools, sweeping views of the Atlantic ocean, and comprehensive spa packages. It's located on the western slope of the amphitheater of Funchal. Spend your hotel savings and splurge on a rental car from Faro International Airport for the flexibility to change your itinerary when travelling around Madeira.

Hotel Turim Europa offers a free breakfast with your stay in downtown Lisbon and has access to the nearby Turim Lisboa Hotel facilities, including outdoor pools. For added savings, consider taking the metro from Lisbon International Airport to arrive at the Hotel Turim Europa at the "Parque" stop.

Where to stay in Portugal

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TravelAwaits

Our mission is to serve the 50+ traveler who's ready to cross a few items off their bucket list.

5 Things I Wish I Had Known Before Visiting Portugal

wbjc trip to portugal

  • Destinations

Portugal is a very forgiving country in that the ambience of the people and culture is friendly and relaxed. People are open and willing to help, especially in hotels and shops, and there are plenty of tourist information centers in the larger cities. You will also find many people, especially in more metropolitan areas, who speak English.

The climate, although colder and rainier in the north, is basically Mediterranean, which means many days of sunshine and thus lots of opportunities to explore without sheltering under an umbrella or wearing a heavy coat. Dressing in layers is the best way to ensure that you are dressed for warm days and cooler nights.

In every city that we visited during our 5 weeks, we enjoyed the many restaurants and cafes with outdoor seating. It’s an enjoyable way to spend a couple of hours immersed in the scene around you. The Portuguese take their lunch hours seriously and do not rush through their meals. There are very few fast-food restaurants because most work environments include ample time for an afternoon break.

I have traveled extensively and there have been times that I wished that I had known certain things about where I was going ahead of time. Traveling with a little knowledge leaves one better prepared to deal with the unexpected and to plan ahead for the things to be expected. Using the internet and social media has made traveling easier, but it is always useful to hear some tips from a person who has travel experience in the place you plan to visit.

Here are five things I wish I had known about before we traveled to Portugal.

A highway running along the coastline of Portugal

1. Car Rentals

Portugal is a country blessed with an excellent transportation system, especially within and between the larger cities. If you have specific destinations in your travel plans, the train and bus system is extensive and reasonably priced, and you may buy your tickets ahead of time online. However, there are many lovely spots in Portugal less accessible by public transport, and you may choose to rent a car. We rented a car in Lisbon, and it was relatively straightforward.

What I didn’t know ahead of time is that most rental cars have manual transmission. If you are not familiar with driving a manual car, then practicing before you go is a good idea, especially since the cities we visited use roundabouts as the method to get from one part of town to another, and sometimes you need to shift gears quickly. When you rent your car, ask for a transponder, which allows you to pay the highway tolls without stopping. Your credit card will be charged automatically. It makes getting from one place to another so much easier when you don’t have to deal with stopping in front of a gate and taking a ticket. Make sure that you get in the lanes painted green and marked “via verde.”

There is a basic car insurance in Portugal that is mandatory and will be included in the price of your rental.

Pro Tip: Make sure you take both a credit card and debit card if you plan to rent a car. You will pay more for a rental car if you pay with a debit card.

A bustling street in Lisbon

2. Getting Around In Cities

We spent time in Lisbon, Porto, Guimaraes, and Coimbra and we did a good deal of walking to various places we wanted to see, such as castles, museums, monasteries, Moorish neighborhoods, parks riverfronts, and churches. 

The streets of many cities are a combination of different kinds of pavement, but many sidewalks, especially in Lisbon are made of small diamond-shaped tiles. They are often uneven and worn smooth, thus you should wear shoes that have good tread — the going can be slippery and a bit hazardous, especially after rain. If you need to get from one end of a city to another or want a guided tour, there are many “hop-on-hop-off” type buses, especially in Lisbon and Porto.

In the smaller towns such as Obidos, the narrow streets are lined with cobblestone, and often a few stones are loose, so be aware of where you step. Cars and taxis move very fast in cities, often even when a light has turned green for a go-ahead to walk, there are taxis coming through that ignore this. Don’t assume cars are going to stop.

It is easy to flag down a taxi, especially in Lisbon, Coimbra, and Porto because they are everywhere. The drivers signal that they are available with a green light on the roof of the cab. If you prefer, there are digital companies like Uber and Bolt as well.

3. Health And COVID

I would recommend a few things when it comes to medical issues that might arise in Portugal. First, make sure you have plenty of your necessary medications before you travel. Although there are plenty of pharmacies even in smaller towns, refilling a prescription is a bit of a hassle. I had to call my pharmacy in the states and have the pharmacist talk to the pharmacist in Portugal.

In addition to the above, I wish I had researched how the medical system in Portugal operates. My husband and I contracted COVID and had to stay for an extra 12 days in the country. I needed to see a doctor and was not sure how to go about this. I received help at a pharmacy and was able to make an appointment at a private hospital in Lisbon. Hotel managers in the larger cities may have helpful information as well. Do the research before you leave by accessing websites like this one .

Bring medical insurance and health records, especially if you have a chronic health condition. Expect to pay for services.

Pro Tip: Make certain about your own health insurance before you leave. Ask if they cover any medical expenses incurred on your trip. It’s a good idea to go to the State Department’s website for information on Portugal and medical issues.

Grilled sardines and chicken in Algarve, Portugal

The Portuguese love to eat and take their time when they do, so don’t expect speedy service when you dine out. In some of the more tourist-frequented parts of Lisbon, expect to be approached by waiters motioning for you to sit at the tables set out along narrow streets where cars are not allowed. Some outdoor cafes that cater to tourists have familiar foods such as pizza, hamburgers, and hot dogs, but the more traditional Portuguese menus feature dishes with fish and meat as the main part of the meal. The portions served in restaurants are large, so you may consider sharing dishes, and this way you get more variety in your meal.

If you are vegetarian or vegan, you may find it a bit challenging to enjoy a variety of foods, but almost every menu we perused during our 5-week stay had some vegetarian choices, especially in cities such as Porto, Coimbra, and Lisbon.

If you stay at an Airbnb and have a kitchen, there are small and large grocery stores and some specialty markets that carry produce, wine, fresh meat, and fish. There are plenty of pastry shops as well.

Humberto Delgado International Airport

5. Airports

Portugal has three international airports: Lisbon, Faro, and Porto. My husband and I flew into Lisbon from Paris and thus did not have to go through customs again in Portugal. Lisbon’s airport is extremely busy, and it was difficult to find an airport map that named the terminals and check-in areas by airlines.

Expect long lines at the airport. I had a few quick questions that I wanted to ask at the tourist information center, but the line was extremely long. If you plan to get a taxi to your hotel from the Lisbon airport, you will find the place cabs park outside the terminal. People wait in line for taxis, which pull into designated parking spots. The taxi drivers will gesture to the next person in line. 

If you plan to return to the U.S. from Lisbon, be aware that there is a passport checkpoint after a security check, and the queues are long. Also, the airport is arranged in such a manner that you are forced to go through duty-free shopping zones before security. We nearly missed our flight because there were far too few attendants checking people through.

When we left the country to return to the States, it took 90 minutes before we emerged from these areas to find our gate. I would strongly recommend arriving no less than 3 hours before your flight, perhaps even 4 if you plan to travel during the summer months. English is widely spoken in the airports, and most signs are in English as well as Portuguese, but Terminal 2 — where all passengers depart from — is a giant hangar and is confusing.

Pro Tip: Whichever airport you decide to fly into or from, I recommend studying the airport map online before you fly and plan to arrive 3 hours ahead of your flight.

For more on Portugal , check out these articles:

  • 5 Reasons You’ll Fall In Love With This 300-Year-Old Vineyard Hotel In Portugal
  • Our 9 Favorite Stops On A Road Trip Along Portugal’s Beautiful West Coast
  • Living In Portugal, We’ve Tasted Cheeses We Never Knew Existed, Here Are Our 11 Favorites

Image of Amy Brewster

Although she enjoys cities with museums, culture, and food, her favorite adventures are found in the natural world. She has kayaked among bat rays and dolphins, encountered gray whales, hiked among bighorn sheep, and snorkeled with tropical fish. She is a volunteer naturalist at Elkhorn Slough National Estuarine Research Reserve and Anza-Borrego Desert State Park.

wbjc trip to portugal

bePortugal

Top 20 Portugal Travel Tips Every Visitor Should Know

Travelling to Portugal is exciting and intriguing because the culture and the language might not be what you are used to.

Here you will find the 20 most useful tips for planning your trip to Portugal.

I’ll give you tips on moving around the country or the city, what to do and what to eat, staying safe and what to do when you have to sadly leave the country.

Top 20 Portugal travel tips

Do's and Don'ts when visiting Portugal

When and where to go

1. avoid july and august.

Due to Portugal’s mild climate and proximity to the ocean, the summer vacation season is by far the most popular among travellers. You can clearly witness this in July and August, especially in Lisbon and in the Algarve, as the city centres get packed to the point that it is almost impossible to pass through the narrow Portuguese sidewalks (“calçadas”).

A good time to travel to Portugal is around May, June, September and October, when the sun is not excessively hot, but the weather is warm enough to go to the beach or simply visit the historical sites without overheating.

Moreover, the amount of tourists will be significantly lower and you will be able to enjoy the sights without having to queue up for ages.

queue Belem tower Lisbon

2. Book accommodation and flights in advance

Partially due to the previously discussed reasons, but also due to the size of the main attraction points, such as Lisbon, Porto and the Algarve, the number of accommodation options is rather limited compared to the amount of visitors, especially during the peak season.

Therefore, we highly recommend you to arrange a place as much in advance as possible. You will also save money by booking a rare and affordable find which is usually occupied throughout the year.

The same go for long-distance transport and international flights to Portugal .

Momondo , the travel comparison website, offers an insight tool that indicates the cheapest periods to travel to Lisbon (or any other worldwide destination), how many days in advance you should book and what’s the best day of the week to travel.

The website is available in several languages and from different destinations by changing the settings on the bottom right corner of the page.

3. Ask for a ventilator (fan) in the summer and a heater in the winter

While this might seem like an obvious add-on for any tourist accommodation, don’t take this for granted when visiting Portugal! Most of the houses were built to stay cool in the summer and keep the heat in the winter, therefore it’s not customary to have central heating or air-conditioning installed in most buildings.

Usually modern hotels will include this service, though if you’re staying in a rented apartment it is best to double-check with the landlords if air-conditioning or a ventilator are provided during the hot months and a heater is available during the winter months. This way you will avoid unpleasant stays in overly hot or cold apartments!

4. There is more to Portugal than Lisbon

We know, we know… Lisbon is highly spoken of on many media channels and strongly recommended by almost anyone who visits it. However, it is not the only great place that Portugal has to offer.

Other very worthwhile destinations in the north of Portugal are:

  • Guimarães ;
  • Vila Real ;
  • Bragança ; and

For the south, you should try:

  • Costa Vicentina; and

And of course not forgetting the stunning archipelagos of Madeira and the Azores in the Atlantic Ocean.

Since these alternatives are usually smaller cities compared to Lisbon, you could opt for organising a multi-city trip with one day stays, rather than spending an entire week in the same place.

Continental Portugal is well-connected with smooth highways as well as long-distance train and bus routes.

However, there are some hard to reach places such as Gerês and Costa Vicentina, for which we suggest renting a car or a van .

The same goes for the archipelagos, which do not have a well developed public transport system, though would require at least three days for visiting.

Azores Portugal

5. If you still decide to go to Lisbon…

…then be prepared for massive amounts of people in the city centre and the tourist attractions especially in the warmer months and peak season. Lisbon is definitely a must-visit place in Portugal and in recent years it has gone through a lot of changes due to increased tourism, which has also contributed greatly to the local economy.

However, the streets and houses weren’t built to host such large crowds, so you will very likely find yourself queuing just to cross the street.

How do you escape the tourist crowds?

Here are some not so well-known areas where you can enjoy the same cultural spirit of Lisbon.

Start from the area called Avenidas Novas with its wide avenues and neoclassical architecture style until you reach Fundação Calouste Gulbenkian , where you can enjoy a beautiful garden and fascinating art galleries; continue walking westbound until you reach the top of the vast Parque Eduardo VII, from where you can admire an endless viewpoint across the city, the river and Almada .

Then take the yellow (“amarela”) Metro line from Marquês de Pombal to Rato and walk up to Jardim da Estrela, a lovely oasis in the middle of old Lisbon, and then go to the nearby Basílica da Estrela, one of the most beautiful churches in Lisbon.

The next stop is the lookout (“miradouro”) at Panorâmico de Monsanto, a restaurant built in the 1960s on top of a large green hill, then abandoned due to bankruptcy and recently reopened to the public. We recommend taking a taxi up there, the view is really worth it.

When you head back down, finish off the day by visiting the Palácio Nacional da Ajuda , which stands at the foot of the hill and is the former residence of the Portuguese royal family.

Bonus tip for the tireless ones is the Museu Nacional do Azulejo , also known as the National Tile Museum. It is surprisingly one of the most interesting and beautiful museums in Lisbon, which tells the story of the traditional Portuguese tiles, their production and style over the centuries.

Getting around the country or the cities

6. rent a car if you’re planning a multi-city trip.

This tip is partially related to visiting more than just Lisbon, but it’s also valid if you want to want to organise a road trip across continental Portugal.

Those who live here will know that having a car can unlock many hidden gems that would otherwise be hard to reach with public transport.

Some of the suggested routes are:

A southbound journey along the coast from Lisbon all the way until the Algarve .

A city-hopping trip among the northern Portugal cities like the ones mentioned in tip number four.

A tour through one of the several natural parks, such as:

  • Parque Nacional Peneda-Gerês ;
  • Parque Natural do Douro Internacional;
  • Parque Natural da Serra da Estrela ;
  • Parque Natural da Serra de S. Mamede; and
  • Parque Natural do Vale do Guadiana.

Visiting a vineyard for a day in the Setúbal, Alentejo or Douro region. You may need to find a designated driver for this trip if you plan to taste some of the sumptuous Portuguese wines .

You can easily rent a car directly from any Portuguese airport, however there are some restrictions which you can check in our article:  Car Rentals in Portugal: Expert Advice to Save You Time and Money

Geres waterfall Portugal

7. Get a rechargeable Metro card if in Lisbon or Porto

If you’re visiting Lisbon or Porto, which happen to be the only two cities in Portugal with a Metro system, we highly advise that you to use local public transport to move around the city rather than driving a car, as traffic can get pretty intense and finding parking may turn into an Odyssey.

The main advantage of the rechargeable Metro card is that you can use the same one on the Metro, local trains, buses, trams and even the ferry in Lisbon.

The disadvantage is that you can only charge it in specific authorised points, such as newspaper kiosks and Metro stations.

However, if you know someone in Portugal, they can charge your card at a Multibanco machine or for Lisbon’s Viva cards, they can charge it at home via the  Viva website.

So make sure to top it up with some extra cash or simply pick the daily pass. Just keep in mind that you can use only one card per person and ticket controls are rather frequent.

In Lisbon, it is worth buying a  7 Colinas or a Viva Viagem  card, which can be bought in any Metro station. The reusable 7 Colinas card can be purchased for one or five days. Both of these cards are valid for a whole year so hang on to it if you are planning on coming back to Lisbon. Each trip is about Є1.45 by using these cards and an average price per day would be about Є3.15.

8. Relax and learn how to be patient

This might sounds strange to some of you, but it actually is a very important tip: be patient and do not put other people in a rush. Portuguese people like to take things easy (especially in the countryside) and do not have an elaborate concept of doing things in a fast manner, which might be irritating for some people at first.

Instead try to embrace the slow pace of the Portuguese culture and use it as an excuse to unwind from the fast city life rhythm.

You’ll find yourself slowly strolling through the streets while embracing the magical light of Portugal, spending three hours at the restaurant finishing off a delicious meal with a glass of Port wine or a brandy (“aguardente”), or simply enjoying an espresso at a viewpoint while gazing into the horizon.

One thing is guaranteed: going back to work will be very, very hard upon your return.

9. Pack comfortable shoes

We previously mentioned the sidewalks in Portugal (“calçada portuguêsa”), so here’s a little tip related to it: it’s not the most friendly type of pavement, so pack your sneakers and leave your high heels at home.

Pavements in Portugal are usually made of small square cobblestones. The streets are covered in beautiful mosaic patterns symbolising the elements of nature and history of the country.

This type of construction has the purpose of being highly resistant to direct sunlight and heat, however, they get extremely slippery when wet or just on a steep hill.

We recommend you watch your step and wear your most comfortable pair of shoes while in Portugal.

10. Be careful of the strong sun

This tip is especially directed to the fair skinned traveller, like myself, who easily burn in the sun. Be prepared: the Portuguese sun can be very strong even in the winter!

So if you’re one of those who become red as lobsters after five minutes in direct sunlight, we suggest to stay in the shadows, use sunscreen with protection 50+ in the summer, and wear a hat and sunglasses especially if you’re spending the entire day out.

You can usually buy sunscreen at any pharmacy, supermarket or night shop, however a flask of 200 ml can cost more than €10, so it might be better to bring some from home in your checked in luggage.

Cascais beach Portugal

What to do and what to eat

11. museums are free on the first sunday of the month.

Many Portuguese cities have great museums with unique collections of art from ancient history to modern art. We recommend you to check their schedules beforehand as they’re often closed on Mondays and stop admitting visitors between 5 and 7pm.

What’s good to know is that many of them are free on the first Sunday of the month, though you should still check this information per museum as they do have exceptions.

For visitors to Lisbon, you might like:  Top 15 Museums in Lisbon: For Lovers of History and Art

12. Avoid the tourist trap restaurants

This is particularly true for bigger tourist destinations, such as Lisbon, Porto and the Algarve, however with the increasing amount of visitors, you can notice the prices rising in many parts of Portugal.

How do you recognise a tourist trap restaurant?

They will usually have a very insistent host who will chase you down the street just to get you to eat at their restaurant, they will have a poorly translated menu with pictures of the food hanging at the door and completely inflated prices for drinks and side dishes or no prices displayed at all.

If you’re not sure whether the restaurant that you want to go is a tourist trap or not, always ask the price of anything that you order or is brought to your table and thoroughly check the bill at the end of the meal.

Tourists traps are easily spotted in the city centres and crowded streets and squares.

13. Couverts are not for free

As a continuation to the previous tip, you should know that the bread, cheese and olives waiting for you at the table at not for free. Ever!

If you decide to touch any of it, it counts as a consumption, so if you don’t want to pay for them, kindly ask the waiter to take them back. Some restaurants will count the couvert per person, so make sure to check the prices on the menu in case you can’t keep your hands away from these tasty little appetisers.

couverts Portugal

14. Tascas are a lifestyle

Tasca is a Portuguese word for “tavern” or “bar” which is very specific to our country due its distinguishing traits. For example, a Tasca is usually a small family run business with a grumpy, yet charming older lady as the cook and a seemingly rude but caring husband running the front bar.

The type of food you can expect is what a Portuguese person eats at their grandmother’s house in a small setting that resembles a living room.

Another recognisable element of a Tasca are the incredibly cheap prices. In Lisbon you can easily find a Tasca with a lunch menu for €7 including a main dish, a drink and a coffee!

While in Porto and other cities, the price can get as low as €5.

Disclaimer: if you’re not a meat or fish lover, then you’re probably going to have to settle with an omelette or a salad!

15. Vegetarians be careful!

As mentioned in the last point, unfortunately there aren’t that many options when it comes to vegetarian (not to mention vegan) food. While this type of cuisine is gradually evolving more and more in the bigger cities, don’t expect to find any vegetarian options in the countryside or small towns.

Moreover, be sure to ask for the ingredients of any dish that you order, because even vegetable soups are sometimes made with “chouriço”, a traditional Portuguese sausage used to give flavour.

Great vegetarian and vegan options can be found in the supermarket/cafeteria chain “Celeiro” in the main cities.

For more on vegan food, you might like:  Being Vegan in Lisbon, Your Plant-based Food Guide for Portugal’s Capital

16. Enjoy the fresh fish and seafood

If you’re ok eating fish and seafood , don’t miss the chance to try them in Portugal! It’s the paradise for foodies thanks to the ample choice of products freshly delivered on the day even to the smallest Lisbon restaurants .

The most commonly known dish is “Bacalhau à Brás”, made from shredded salted cod, which is ironically imported from Norway yet considered to be the national Portuguese dish eaten throughout the year and especially on Christmas Eve.

Other options include:

  • Creamy seafood risotto, usually made with the catch of the day such as shrimps and varieties of fish;
  • Orata or bream, known in Portuguese as “dourada”; and
  • Snook, called “robalo” by the locals.

If you happen to be in Lisbon around June, you must try grilled sardines, the symbol of the city and typically consumed on a piece of bread during the Popular Saints festivals (“Festas dos Santos Populares”).

Staying safe in Portugal

17. beware of pickpockets.

This is strongly notable in Lisbon, but can also happen elsewhere, that pickpockets are wherever the tourist goes. In order to avoid unpleasant situations, make sure you do not put any valuables in the pockets of your pants or jacket, avoid using open handbags, and keep an eye on your backpack.

Pickpockets in Portugal are not likely to be aggressive, but in case you catch one during the act, the best thing to do is not to fight them and simply call for help.

In the unfortunate event of losing a valuable belonging, immediately go to the local police. In some cases they might be able to retrieve a stolen wallet with your documents inside (though it will be cashless).

18. Parking helpers expect money

So you decided to rent a car in the city and now you’re on the Odyssey of finding a parking spot.

First of all, we wish you the best of luck!

Secondly, be careful of the people who volunteer to help you park. They are expecting money in return for their kind gesture. Unless you really can’t find any other place where to park, our personal advice is to give them some coins to avoid any bad reaction from their side, such as a scratched car or a broken window.

When you are leaving Portugal

19. avoid long queues at the airports.

It’s the end of your stay and you’re already starting to miss your vacation in Portugal. Oh, how much “saudade”!

Be prepared though, the airport controls are still ahead. Many flights connecting to the Lisbon , Porto and Faro airports are operated by low-fare airlines, which means they’re located in small and not so efficient terminals.

If you’re travelling during the high season, make sure to arrive at the airport at least three hours in advance as the queues for the security check in might be extremely long.

It often happens that visitors do miss their flight because of this and you definitely don’t want to be one of them (unless you’re subconsciously trying to remain in the county, in which case we totally get you).

check in Porto airport

20. The best souvenirs are cheese, wine and olive oil

Forget about fridge magnets and bottle openers, the best souvenirs you can bring back home are food and drinks!

We strongly recommend you to spend a little extra on the checked-in luggage and go crazy on your food shopping in a local market, rather than buying the same products at the airport for double the price.

Make sure, though, that the cheese is vacuum packed as it can be confiscated at the security check. Portugal produces great creamy and curated cheeses. A must-try is Queijo da Serra and Queijo da Ilha, both commonly available in the supermarkets.

Bonus tip: Learn some survival Portuguese

You’ll be positively surprised at the level of English the younger generations of Portuguese people speak. In fact, TV shows in Portugal are not dubbed and therefore their English language education starts at an early age, so you’ll have no problem communicating with the locals.

However, they will really appreciate it if you could say at least a few words in their language as it shows an effort of understanding the Portuguese culture.

Here are some useful words and sentences for your stay in Portugal:

Hello = Olá Good morning = Bom dia Good afternoon = Boa tarde Good evening/night = Boa noite How are you? = Tudo bem? Goodbye = Adeus or Tchau! See you later = Até já Thank you = Obrigado if you are a man or Obrigada if you are a woman You’re welcome = De nada Help me = Ajuda-me Please = Por favor Sorry = Desculpe Excuse me/Pardon me (to ask to pass by someone) = Com licença I don’t speak Portuguese well = Eu não falo bem português I don’t understand = Eu não percebo Do you speak English? = Fala inglês? How much is it? = Quanto custa? Where is…? = Onde é…? Today = Hoje Tomorrow = Amanhã Yes = Sim No = Não One = Um for a masculine object and Uma for a feminine object Two= Dois for masculine objects and Duas for feminine objects Three = Três Breakfast = Pequeno-almoço Lunch = Almoço Dinner = Jantar The bill please = A conta por favor

If you would like to learn a few more Portuguese phrases, check out:  Learning Essential Phrases in Portuguese for Your Visit to Portugal

Portugal is a top European destination

Portugal has become one of the most popular European destinations in the last years thanks to its favourable climate, affordable prices and timeless beauty. With over 23 million visitors in 2017, the main cities have quickly started to adapt for welcoming an increasing amounts of travellers.

That’s it for the 20 tips of travelling in Portugal! We truly hope that you will find them useful and enjoy your stay in this beautiful country.

Did this article help you plan for your trip to Portugal? Let us know in the comments below if you have any more tips for fellow readers.

Be sure to catch all the latest tips and advice from bePortugal for your visit to Portugal by subscribing to our FREE newsletter .

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We3Travel

Everything you Need to know when Planning a Trip to Portugal (2024)

Portugal has so much to offer as a destination — beautiful landscapes, vibrant cities, interesting culture, delicious food and wine, and friendly people. And best of all, it is affordable compared to other popular European destinations! Planning a trip to Portugal isn’t hard, but if you want to scratch below the surface, you will want to read these Portugal travel tips first.

I fell in love during my first trip to Portugal , but it wasn’t until I recently had the opportunity to spend a few weeks traveling through the country that Portugal really got under my skin and I developed a deeper appreciation for this special country.

waves crashing around rock formations off the coast of Lagos, Portugal

Read on for my Portugal travel tips about getting to Portugal , when to visit Portugal , how long to stay in Portugal , and Portugal travel tips , and get started planning your dream trip.

If you aren’t sure where you want to go in Portugal, I have put together four sample one-week Portugal itineraries that you can choose from.

If you would rather have someone else plan your trip and put together an amazing journey through Portugal with unique experiences, I’d highly recommend working with my partner EPIC Travel . EPIC will consult with you and then create a custom Portugal itinerary, designed especially for your interests.

Just mention that you read about them on We3Travel to receive a free VIP welcome gift or upgrade on arrival. (As a partner I will receive a small commission if you book a trip through EPIC Travel but I’ve traveled with EPIC twice and can’t recommend them highly enough!)

Getting to Portugal

wbjc trip to portugal

Note: This post may contain affiliate links. If you click a link and make a purchase, I may receive a small commission. All opinions are my own.

Tap Airlines , Portugal’s flagship carrier, offers direct flights to Lisbon or Porto from many US cities including Boston, Newark, Washington D.C., Miami, Chicago, and San Francisco. Known as being an inexpensive option for flying to Europe, TAP Airlines really maximizes its free stopover program to encourage visitors to spend time in Portugal. When you book a stopover with TAP Airlines, you can stay from one to five nights in either Porto or Lisbon for no additional charge.

After flying TAP twice (note: my flights were complimentary as part of a media trip), I find them on par with other national carriers such as Aer Lingus or the old Alitalia. As part of the Star Alliance, you can also bid on upgrades or use miles to upgrade to Executive class or EconomyXtra. EconomyXtra seats offer spacious legroom and a generous recline, while Executive class seats deliver a full lay-flat bed for comfortable transatlantic flights. (See a full review of TAP Airlines Executive class .)

When to Visit Portugal

woman walking on a beach at sunset

The best times to go to Portugal really depends on the region(s) you plan on visiting, but in general, the shoulder seasons of May-June and September-October are going to be ideal . April and November are known to be rainy throughout the country and while winter temperatures in Portugal aren’t frigid (usually in the 40s and 50s), you will enjoy more time outside during those shoulder season months.

The cities of Lisbon and Porto are always going to be busy, especially during the summer and holiday breaks. But let’s talk about some of the other regions:

  • Douro Valley , and northern Portugal : late August through October are ideal in the north. Wine harvest typically runs from late August to late September, although when we were there in early October a few vineyards were still harvesting and it was a great time to visit to see the grape stomping in action.
  • Interior Alentejo: this dry region gets extremely hot in the summer, with temperature soaring above 40-45 degrees Celsius (above 100 degrees Fahrenheit.) The ideal time to visit would be in September or early October during the wine harvest when the temperatures are perfect for spending time outside or relaxing by the pool. May and June would also be pleasant, but July and August sound a bit unbearable to spend much time outside of the pool or air conditioning, and climate change is only making this more extreme. It also makes temperatures a bit less predictable. When I visited in October, the temperatures were in the high 70s or low to mid-80s, although this is unusually warm.
  • Coastal Alentejo: if you want to enjoy the beach, you should visit between May and October. While the beaches will be more crowded with locals coming down from Lisbon, just walk a few minutes down the beach and you will have plenty of space to enjoy this area’s gorgeous wide sand.
  • Algarve: the Algarve is really hopping in the summer when the tourists flock to the coast, but it really can be enjoyable year-round. You may not be swimming in the winter, but you can enjoy hiking the cliffs and exploring the caves and coastline. Plus the towns might be a little quieter during the off-season.
  • Azores: the ideal time to visit the Azores is May-July, when the hydrangeas are in full bloom and the islands are bursting with color and lush greens. It will also be the most crowded. But luckily, the Gulf Stream keeps the waters around the islands fairly warm year round. No matter what time of year that you visit, the weather in the islands is very temperamental and can change at a moment’s notice so it is best to be prepared for sun, rain, wind, and fog — all in one day!

How Long to Spend in Portugal

Douro River Valley with terraced vineyards and mountains

Portugal is actually a fairly small country, not even as large as Indiana. But don’t underestimate how much time you need to properly explore the country! I hear so many people talking about doing Spain and Portugal in one trip. Well, I can tell you that I have spent two weeks in Spain and altogether three weeks in Portugal and I have not come close to seeing everything that I’d like to see in either country.

If you can spare the time, I’d recommend spending at least two weeks in Portugal and exploring three to four regions in each trip. I have created four different, one-week Portugal itineraries in a separate post, but some possible 10-14 day itinerary ideas are:

  • Porto (3 days) + Douro (2-3 days) + Lisbon (3 days) + Sintra (1 day trip) + Cascais or Comporta (3 days)
  • Lisbon (3-5 days with day trips) + Algarve (5 days)
  • Porto (3 days) + Alentejo (5-7 days) + Lisbon (3-4 days)
  • Azores: São Miguel (5 days) + Pico (3 -4 days with day trip to São Jorge) + Terceira (3 days)

Planning a Trip to Portugal

Rainbow over green cliffs in Sao Miguel

Planning a basic trip to Portugal isn’t hard, there is a lot of information available to help you decide where to stay and things to do in Lisbon , Sintra , Porto , and Cascais. However, if you want to venture beyond the ordinary, you may want some help planning your trip. Full disclosure, my recent trip to Portugal was hosted by Epic Travel and its travel partners so that I could experience an EPIC Portugal itinerary.

EPIC Travel is a boutique agency that specializes in travel to Portugal and Morocco. Its travel planners live in-country and have close relationships with hotels, guides, drivers, and tour operators on the ground. EPIC specializes in planning custom itineraries for clients that want to journey deeper and enjoy adventure and cultural experiences along the way.

In my experience working with EPIC both in Portugal and when I hired them to help me plan my Morocco trip , there are a wealth of reasons to work with an agency like EPIC to plan your trip to Portugal, including:

  • Unique experiences — EPIC can arrange experiences that you couldn’t even think up on your own because you didn’t know they existed. These are sourced through close relationships on the ground and taking the time to really understand culture and engage with locals. Examples include cork trekking, bridge climbing, private tram tours with chef’s tasting menus, personalized farm visits and cooking classes, and so much more.
  • Boutique, upscale and luxury hotels — EPIC goes out of its way to find interesting hotels that offer high touch customer service instead of going with the typical offerings you find on tour itineraries. And more than that, they can perfectly match individual travelers with an appropriate hotel based on travel style and budget. Because EPIC stays in close touch with hotel management, they can also pair you with the best room type and have sought out hotels that offer great amenities for families including villas with kitchens and children’s activities.
  • High-touch service — the EPIC team works closely with clients to design a custom itinerary based on your travel tastes and interests. They are also on-hand to help adjust on the fly or handle any problems that arise. They even went so far as to greet us upon arrival at our hotel and arrange our COVID tests for the Azores.
  • Save tons of time — Could you find these unique experiences and hotels on your own? Maybe with enough digging. But why spend hours and hours researching and still not be sure if you are making the right choices. It is so much of a time and mental energy savings to work with an expert. And not someone who is just outsourcing it to a third-party, but someone with direct relationships in your destination.

If you would like help planning and booking your trip to Portugal, please reach out to EPIC Travel and let them know that you read about them on WE3TRAVEL and you will receive a VIP Welcome Gift as a thank you!

Money & Language Matters

Sunset on the hills of Alentejo dotted with cork trees

Traveling through Portugal is really quite easy, especially as an American. English is very widely spoken, although learning to say Bom Dia (good morning) and obrigado/obrigada ( thank you in Portuguese ) is a good idea [note: Duolingo only supports Brazilian Portuguese and the languages have a lot of differences.]

It is also a fairly cashless economy, with most restaurants and shops accepting Visa and Mastercard with a tap and pay chip, and many supporting Apple Pay. Just make sure you are using a credit card that doesn’t charge international transaction fees and contact your bank in advance to let them know about any international travel so they don’t block your transactions for fear of fraud (unless you have a travel card that doesn’t require this.)

However, you will find the few holdouts so it pays to either get some Euro from your local bank (be sure to order it at least a week ahead of your trip) or take some money out of an ATM (watch out for ATMs that charge high fees) when you arrive. Not all banks/ATMs will accept cards from other banks so it might be worth it to exchange some money before you arrive in the country for small purchases and tips (always request small bills.)

Before you go, be sure to check out my post on how much a trip to Portugal costs . In recent years, hotel and other expenses in Portugal have begun to creep up, so you have to search a little further for deals.

Tipping at restaurants isn’t customary and if you do leave a gratuity, it should be a small amount using just a few coins you have on hand. I always think it is a good idea to tip guides that provide great service, and those are usually happily accepted.

Food Matters

Picnic table set with glasses and plates and hats on the benches set in a vineyard in Alentejo

The food in Portugal varies from high-end, fine dining with Michelin-starred chefs to casual tabernas serving up inexpensive, authentic dishes. Some dishes you will see frequently include:

  • Pastéis de bacalhau – salt cod fritters or croquettes
  • Pastel de nata (or Belem) – classic egg custard tarts
  • Caldo verde – kale or cabbage soup (often served as a starter)
  • Sardines – typically grilled
  • Fresh seafood – from shrimp in garlic butter to seafood rice to sea bass, monk fish, and octopus
  • Bifana – the typical beef or pork sandwich
  • Francesinha – sausage sandwich slathered in cheese and gravy found in Porto
  • Piri piri chicken – roasted or grilled with spices from Mozambique
  • Iberian black pig – acorn-fed and similar to Spanish jamon iberico but served both cured and as a grilled tenderloin
  • Orange juice – don’t miss out on trying some of Portugal’s excellent oranges and other fruits
  • Local honey – when you see local honey on the breakfast buffet, make sure to enjoy some!

Eating out in Portugal can be very affordable compared to other countries. If you are eating at a casual taberna, you can often get a full meal for under 10 euros, 15 with a glass of wine to go with it. One thing to look out for is the “couvert” which is typically a small basket of bread and dish of olives brought to the table at the beginning of the meal. This is sometimes listed on the menu and needs to be ordered, but other times it is brought automatically (but that doesn’t mean it is free.) If you don’t want it, or don’t want to pay for it, just turn it away.

Getting Around

Yellow tram 143 in Porto

Getting from place to place in Portugal isn’t hard and in most cases, it is easy to self-drive throughout the country on a well-established highway system. I say that with a few caveats!

  • Do not attempt to drive in Lisbon or central Porto unless you are an experienced city driver and you have a place to park at your hotel
  • Portuguese drivers can be quite aggressive and like to tailgate and don’t necessarily stay within the lines
  • Driving through small towns can be a little nerve-wracking as the streets are extremely narrow (and often one-way so you will want a good navigation system)
  • There are a lot of roundabouts/rotaries so make sure you are comfortable with how to enter and exit

I would also very highly recommend hiring a driver or taking a tour when visiting vineyards. Not only do you not want to drink and drive, but some can be a bit tricky to find. Also, some of the roads in the Douro Valley, especially on the north side of the river are gravel, narrow, and closely grip the edge of the cliffs.

You can also fly from Lisbon to Porto or the Algarve, but honestly, the drive isn’t that long so I find it is easier to just drive. If you fly into one city you can pick up a rental car (if from outside of the EU you may need an International Driver’s Permit, check with your rental car company) outside of the city and drop it off outside of the city on the return. Uber is fairly easy to find in the cities and trams are also available for getting around town (although often full because they are popular with tourists.)

Packing for Portugal

Woman standing in front of yellow and blue tile wall in Lisbon

Choosing what to pack for Portugal will vary depending on when and where you are going, but there are a few items you need to put on your packing list:

  • Comfortable, non-slip shoes : the tile sidewalks are lovely but they are worn smooth and slippery, especially on the many hills in Porto and Lisbon and even more so when it rains;
  • Travel umbrella and rain coat: speaking of rain, you can expect to encounter some, especially if visiting the northern part of the country or between October and April;
  • Sunscreen, sunglasses and a hat: when the sun does come out, it can be strong, even in October! Be prepared with a good sunscreen and a hat if you will be spending a lot of time outside;
  • Bug spray or lotion: if you are visiting the Alentejo region, especially around farms or rice fields, you will encounter some flies and mosquitos, so best to be prepared;
  • Travel-safe bag: Lisbon is known to have pickpockets, especially around crowded squares and scenic overlooks. Don’t lose your valuables, carry a bag that offers theft-protection. I bring my Travelon locking sling bag with anti-theft and anti-slash features.
  • Motion sickness meds or bands: if you are driving through the Douro Valley or the winding roads in the Azores, you will want to be prepared if you suffer from motion sickness.

Visiting Portugal? You may also be interested in….

  • How much does a trip to Portugal cost?
  • 1 week Portugal itinerary
  • 3 Days in Lisbon itinerary
  • Self-guided  walking tour of Porto
  • Tips for  visiting the Azores
  • Things to do on São Miguel
  • Best family hotels in Portugal

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Planning a trip to Portugal

Tamara Gruber is the Founder and Publisher of We3Travel. A former marketing executive and travel advisor, Tamara is an award-winning travel writer and recognized expert in family travel, named the Media Member of the Year for 2023 by the Family Travel Association. Tamara is a member of SATW, the Adventure Travel Trade Association, and the Family Travel Association. She is also the publisher of YourTimetoFly and the co-host of the Vacation Mavens travel podcast.

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Publish Date: November 26, 2023

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The 11 best places to visit in Portugal

Regis St. Louis

Nov 17, 2023 • 7 min read

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From the viewpoints of Lisbon to the beaches of the Algarve, here are the best places to go in Portugal © Gabriel Mello / Getty Images

Lisbon and Porto may get a lot of love, but there's so much more to Portugal than its captivating historic cities.

From  golden beaches  and mountainous peaks to lush river valleys, every region has its own diverse highlights across this small Iberian nation.

Finding the best places to go here depends largely on your own interests. If you’re after sun-kissed beaches and aquatic adventures, head to the Algarve ; for historic architecture-filled towns with a rich, traditional dining scene , aim for Évora. Start planning your itinerary now with our 11 favorite places to visit in Portugal.

Best for nightlife

Seven iconic hills overlook  Lisbon 's postcard-perfect panorama of cobbled alleyways, white-domed cathedrals and grand civic squares – a captivating scene crafted over centuries.

The Portuguese capital is packed with things to do , from browsing galleries (including the Museu Nacional do Azulejo with its trove of ceramic tiles) and exploring castles (such as the hilltop  Castelo de São Jorge ) to satisfying your sweet tooth with the city's incredible  pastéis de nata  (custard tarts).

By night, Lisbon’s party people take over, filling old-school drinking dens, brassy jazz clubs and open-all-night clubs that burst into life once the sun goes down.

Planning tip: Lisbon has an emerging craft beer scene that you can experience at the city's breweries and bars .

2. Douro Valley 

Best place to drink wine 

One of Portugal’s most beautiful areas lies just east of Porto. Here, the meandering Rio Douro flows past towering hillsides covered by the steeply terraced vineyards that make up Europe’s oldest demarcated wine region. Whether you come by boat, train or car to the Douro Valley , you’ll be rewarded with astonishing views at every turn, especially as you near the lovely village of Pinhão in the heart of the region. 

Planning tip:  Many travelers dash in on a quick day trip, but to make the most of the region, spend the night at one of the vineyard-surrounded guesthouses in the area, such as Quinta Nova or the Casa Cimeira .

An aerial view of the medieval houses, wall and tower of Obidos, Portugal. The street is filled with crowds of people.

Best hilltop village

Wandering the tangle of ancient streets in the historic town of  Óbidos is enchanting at any time of year, but come during one of its festivals and you're in for a special treat. Whether you fancy the idea of a mock-up jousting match at a medieval fair or delving into the written word at Folio – Portugal's biggest international literature festival – you couldn’t ask for a better backdrop.

Best for a fantastical escape

Less than an hour by train from the capital Lisbon,  Sintra feels like another world. It's a great day trip away from the city hubbub. Like a setting from a fairy tale, this historic hillside township is sprinkled with stone-walled taverns and lorded over by a  multicolored palace .

Forested hillsides form the backdrop to this storybook setting, with imposing castles, mystical gardens, strange mansions and centuries-old monasteries hidden among the trees. The fog that sweeps in by night adds another layer of mystery.

Planning tip:  Chilly evenings are best spent by the fire in one of Sintra’s many charming B&Bs.

5. Setúbal Peninsula 

Best for wild, cliff-backed beaches

South of Lisbon, the Setúbal Peninsula has long been the weekend playground of Lisboetas (Lisbon residents). A ferry ride, followed by a short bus or bicycle ride, takes you to the Costa da Caparica, a seemingly endless beachfront that gets wilder and less crowded the further south you go. If you want a surf lesson, some downtime on the sands, or a meal overlooking the lapping waves, this is the place to come. 

If you’re seeking a bit more solitude, head down to the Parque Natural da Arrábida at the southern end of the peninsula. Here, you'll find cliffs covered with thick vegetation, picturesque coves and beaches such as Praia do Portinho da Arrábida, with fine sand, azure waters, and the ruins of an ancient site that dates back to Roman times. 

Street view of the Historic Centre of Evora, Portugal. The street is narrow and lined by stalls, selling their wares outside.

Best for historical architecture 

The heart of the Alentejo region, Évora is one of Portugal’s most beautifully preserved medieval towns, and it's an enchanting place to spend a couple of days. Inside the 14th-century walls, narrow, winding lanes lead to striking monuments, including an elaborate medieval cathedral, Roman ruins and a picturesque town square.

But this isn't a musty museum piece – Évora is also a lively university town, and its many restaurants serve up some excellent, hearty Alentejan cuisine.

Best for urban exploring 

It would be hard to dream up a more romantic city than  Porto . Portugal’s second-largest urban center is laced with narrow pedestrian lanes, baroque churches and cafe-dotted plazas, leading the eye down to the Douro River and its landmark bridges. Needless to say, there's no shortage of  great experiences here . Start in the  Ribeira district – a UNESCO World Heritage Site – then cross the bridge to explore centuries-old port wineries in  Vila Nova de Gaia , where you can sip the world’s best port. 

You can also learn about Porto’s history (both the drink and the city) and other facets of Portuguese identity at the World of Wine , a sprawling complex of museums, restaurants and bars overlooking the city. Though Porto is defined by its air of dignified history, modern architecture, cosmopolitan dining, vibrant nightlife and artistic activity are injecting new life into the city.

8. The Minho 

Best for traditional villages and wilderness trails 

The Portuguese have a special fondness for the Minho , a verdant region of vineyard-covered valleys, mountainous wilds, isolated beaches and picturesque river towns that seem little changed by time. The gateway to the region is Braga , a city with Roman ruins, a fabled medieval cathedral , and tranquil flower-trimmed plazas sprinkled with outdoor cafes and restaurants. 

Further north, you’ll find Parque Nacional da Peneda-Gerês , a vast, rugged wilderness of dramatic peaks, meandering streams and frozen-in-time stone villages. Dozens of hiking trails crisscross the reserve, taking walkers past old Roman roads, castle ruins or sparkling waterfalls.

Planning tip:  If you're here in summer, cool down in the idyllic swimming holes – these are among the best places to be in Portugal during the hot weather.

Tourist woman enjoying a traditional meal and drinks in an outdoor terrace on a little street of Coimbra in Portugal,

Best for a student vibe

Portugal’s most atmospheric college town,  Coimbra , rises steeply from the Rio Mondego, and its handsome medieval quarter houses one of Europe’s oldest universities. Students roam the narrow streets clad in black capes, while the sound of fado (Portugal’s soulful traditional style of music) drifts through the Moorish town gates towards the stained-glass windows of the historic  Café Santa Cruz .

Planning tip:  Grown-ups may well appreciate the town’s student-driven nightlife and the medieval lanes of the steeply stacked historic center. Visitors with younger kids can keep busy at Portugal dos Pequenitos , a theme park with miniature versions of Portuguese monuments.

10. Parque Natural da Serra da Estrela 

Best for hiking and alpine activities in winter

The Serra da Estrela – Portugal’s  highest mountain range – is the place to come for rugged scenery, outdoor adventures, and glimpses of a vanishing traditional way of life. Hikers can choose from an expansive network of high-country trails with stupendous vistas, and the region's fascinating mountain villages make perfect bases for outdoor adventures.

At the country’s highest point – the summit of Torre, artificially pushed to 2000m (6561ft) by the addition of a not-so-subtle stone monument – you can slalom down Portugal’s only ski slope. Oh, and did we mention the furry sheepdog puppies that frolic by the roadside? You’ll long to take one home.

A young girl gazes down from a cliff towards a sandy beach filled with people and families enjoying the coastline

11. The Algarve

Best for a relaxing family holiday

Sunseekers have much to celebrate in Portugal. Along the south coast, the Algarve is famed for its gorgeous and varied coastline – you can either join the crowds on the people-packed sands at major resorts or find seaside peace on dramatic wild beaches backed by wind-carved cliffs. Days are spent playing in the waves, taking long oceanfront strolls, or surfing some of Europe's most memorable breaks. 

The Algarve is also one of the best places in Portugal for kids . You’ll find family-friendly beaches, water parks and plenty of outdoor adventures (from boating to hidden sea caves to exploring undeveloped islands).

Planning tip:  There’s never a bad time to visit this region, with its 300 days of sunshine each year, though you’ll find the best prices and thinnest crowds in winter. 

This article was first published June 2021 and updated November 2023

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