A road trip in Portugal is what I wanted when I started my research. But there were many reviews and articles online warning against it. They said nobody follows rules and the drivers are rash. But we still went ahead and booked us a car! And I am here to tell you to do that same! DO NOT LISTEN TO THOSE PEOPLE! Driving was just fine there.
We wanted to experience the entire country and therefore planned for the cities, beaches and the villages. And we can safely say that Portugal is now right on top of our list of places. It was the most outrageously beautiful 14 days and here is what the itinerary looked like:
Day 1- Land in Lisbon. Stay at Lisbon
Day 2- Lisbon- See Alfama and Tower of Belem
Day 3- Lisbon- Visit Sintra and Coba de Roca
Day 4- Pick up the car and drive 2.5hrs to the Algarve region. Stay in Lagos
Day 5- Lagos- enjoy the beach, caves, rock formations.
Day 6- Lagos- enjoy the beach, caves, rock formations.
Day 7- Drive 1 hr to Baleeira, Sagres. Stay at Sagres
Day 8- Drive 1 hr to Arrifana beach. Drive for 1 hr and stay at Milfontes town.
Day 9- Drive for 2 hrs to Mafra then Nazare. Stay at Nazare.
Day 10- Nazare- Enjoy the beach and the big waves.
Day 11- Drive to Aveiro via Coimbra. Then to Porto. Give up the car. Stay at Porto.
Day 12- Porto- Do the free city walking tour. See Gaia and the wineries.
Day 13- Day trip to Braga- See Viana De Castelo. Stay at Porto
Day 14- Go to Lisbon by bus or train and fly back.
- Travel dates- 20th Sept to 3rd Oct 2018
- Weather- Bright and sunny at 30-35 degrees in most places. Sagres was cold and windy.
- Budget- INR 1.5 lacs or 1750 Euros per person all inclusive (Flight from Mumbai, car, hotel, food, drinks, visa, fuel, tips)
- Number of travelers- 2 adults.
- Do not say “gracias”. They hate that. It is “obrigado” (masculine) or “obrigada” (feminine)
COMMON TIPS FOR DRIVING AROUND IN PORTUGAL
- Left hand drive. International license is a must.
- Uber is easily available and is a lot cheaper than local taxis in the big cities.
- Avoid driving in cities because there is cheap public transport and Uber available.
- There are not too many speed guns on the highways- top speed limit 120km/h.
- Highways have tolls ranging from 0.5 EUROS to 2.5 EUROS but are worth it.
- Opt for Via Verde automatic toll machine in your car as it is very convenient.
- Drives are not as scenic as Italy or Scotland perhaps, but help you to explore the various offbeat beaches.
- Free parking was there in all the places outside of the big cities. But be careful of your bags and belongings.
- Google maps works just fine and will get you wherever you want to go!
- Overall, Portugal was very safe and people were very nice.
COMMON TIPS FOR FOOD AND ACCOMMODATION IN PORTUGAL
- Hostels in the cities are the best option. They are clean, well located and cheap.
- Hostels even have private suites with attached bath which are quite spacious.
- Big hotels are best avoided if you want a local feel and not waste money.
- Check in time is 3pm in most places. And check out is mostly 12 noon.
- Average meal cost- 20 Euros for two, without drinks.
- Very limited options for vegetarians throughout the country- mostly salads and sandwiches.
- Popular dishes are cod-fish and sardines. Pork, beef , chicken are also available in most places.
- Mainly 2 brands of beer- Sagres and Super bock. Not all places have it on tap.
- Wine is available everywhere and is the staple drink. Avg price is 3.5 Euros per glass.
- Water from the tap is potable across the country.
PLACES WE STAYED AT:
- Lisbon- Grapes & Bites Hostel– Private Suite with a terrace (4.5/5)
- Excellent location
- Great price
- Lovely room with terrace and a bathtub. Thin walls though.
- Lagos- Our House Guesthouse– Sea view room (3.5/5)
- A bit away from the main harbor- suitable only if you have a car
- Beach facing and quiet, clean property
- Nice room with glass bathroom walls
- Sagres- Memmo Baleeira– Street view room (4/5)
- A bit pricey but great location. Beach access.
- Excellent breakfast spread. Heated pool
- Lovely room with a bathtub
- Milfontes- Rural Moitra Mar– Superior room with terrace (3/5)
- Quiet little village hotel. With tennis court and swimming pool
- Not the best location but excellent food. Suitable for families
- Large room with a sit out but no air conditioning
- Nazare- Hotel Magic– Double Room (4/5)
- Quirky little hotel with parking. Close to the funicular station
- Not beach facing. But great location for the price
- Nice room with glass bathroom walls
- Porto- Airbnb- Ribeira Vintage Suite (4.5/5)
- Excellent location and price
- On the 2nd floor. No lift
- Cozy room with a balcony. No kitchenette
DAY 1-3: LISBON
The first thing that will get you by surprise in Lisbon is its narrow cobbled streets. I guarantee it. The way cars maneuver those turns is fascinating. It is a big city with an old world charm. The roads go up and down as the entire city is built on small hills. Most buildings have hand painted tiles on the outside walls, which is trademark Portugal. This is done to insulate the houses.
The famous trams of Lisbon are indeed a sight to see. They are the real celebrities on the streets. Then there are the innumerable monuments and old buildings that loom large everywhere. The most magnificent one being the Arco Da Rua Augusta.
The main areas to stay at are Barrio Alto or Chiado. These places have the best bars and restaurants in town that are open all night. And Rossio is the main metro station in Lisbon. However, the entire city can be covered on foot. Which to my mind is the best way to see it.
Alfama is a must visit. It is the oldest part of the city and is very colourful, creative and cultural. You can just walk around all day and not get bored. Each corner is an unreal experience. This part of the city has some of the most dramatic hand painted tiles on the walls giving the area a lot of character and personality. This area is also the best to try the local ham and also the local drink Ginja!
Every Tuesdays and Saturdays, there is a flea market called the Thief’s market that is set up, with shops selling local products and gifts. Beware of pick-pockets here. But the atmosphere is awesome and you will find good stuff to buy at great prices.
Tower of Belem is a short drive away and is a beautiful area to go to. One can take Bus 15 to get there. It drops you right in front of it. The Jeronimos monastery is another stunning building on the way to Belem. Don’t miss it. Both places close by 5pm.
Did you know that Lisbon has a bridge exactly like the Golden Gate, only higher? It is called 25th April- the day of their revolution. One gets a great view of the bridge from the Padroa dos Descrobrimentos.
Sintra is a 30 mins drive from Lisbon. It is on the western side. One can spend half a day exploring the palaces and castles there and go to Cabo Da Roca for some nice views of the ocean. Please be very careful of your bags here as it is a very popular tourist destination. You have hop on hop off buses and Ubers going there.
DAY 4-6: LAGOS
We are beach buffs and no place better than the Algarve for that. South of Portugal has some of the best beaches in the world. It is just a short 2.5hr drive away from Lisbon.
Lagos has the famous rock formations and caves that you see all over Instagram. Ponda Da Piedade, Benagil Caves and the Camilo Beach, are all in and around Lagos.
The Marina De Lagos is where most of the boats leave from. There is free parking available close to the marina. I would say that this is a good place to book a hotel at. We were booked 5mins away.
In Lagos you can book the small boats to go inside the caves (15-20 euros per person). Or even a yacht that takes you for a half day tour with lunch, beer, swimming and music (40-50 euros per person). We did both and we would do them again! It was a brand new experience and I would urge you all to book it. The dolphins also paid us a visit on the tour. We used viator.com to book. Kayaks are rented out on the beaches and not the marina. Needless to say, tides dictate the bookings of all these trips.
There is a stunning walkway on the cliffs, all along the coast, from where you get breath-taking views of the ocean and the rock formations. You can start your walk at the lighthouse or Farol, close to Camilo beach. It is pretty simple and easy. No strenuous trekking needed. Once again there is free parking available here.
Behind the main road of the Marina is a cute little street with bars and restaurants and shops. This is the old side with churches and cobbled streets. Find the shop called Poticho. It is a treasure!! You will thank me once you see it. And for all the Indian travelers, there are 2 Indian restaurants on this strip 🙂 You are welcome!
DAY 7: SAGRES
Sagres is a short 1hr drive from Lagos. It is at the south-west tip of Portugal. Known for its windy surfing conditions, this place can get a bit cold. We stayed at a wonderful location called Baleeira. It had some fabulous views of the bay that left us gaping. There is just one street in this town which has all the bars and restaurants. We loved this sleepy little place for its beauty and simplicity and local vibe.
The lighthouse in Sagres is a destination stop for the sunsets. Menacingly high cliffs make up the south-west coast of Portugal and it is best seen from here. People gather on the rocks every evening to soak in the setting sun. Oh! and don’t forget to try the fresh churros after. They are heavenly!
One of the best beaches here is called Beliche. However Sagres is popular mostly for surfing. One of the bars that I recommend in Baleeira, Sagres is Pau De Pita and the restaurant you must try is Batedor
DAY 8- ARRIFANA AND MILFONTES
I had a long list of beaches that I wanted to see along the way. Like Amado, Marcas etc. And we saw them all. But Arrifana turned out to be the most memorable. From the moment you park the car to the time you reach the beach, you are in awe of it’s beauty. There are moments when it reminds you of Cape Town. I wish we had stayed here one night. But we were booked at Milfontes to cover some distance before our drive to Nazare.
Milfontes is a small town which served as a mere pit stop for us after a long day of swimming and driving. We were booked in a village resort which was relaxing.
DAY 9-10: MAFRA AND NAZARE
Mafra is a pretty little Portuguese town that contains one of Europe’s largest and most extravagant palaces, the Palacio de Mafra. This vast complex includes a huge monastery, an ornate basilica and a library that contains over 36,000 ancient books and its own colony of bats!
Nazaré is a popular surfing destination because of its very high breaking waves that form due to the presence of the underwater Nazaré Canyon
It is said to be the largest canyon in Europe having the maximum depth of at least 5,000 meters and about 230 kms long. (Wikipedia)
Due to the height of the waves, numerous surfing records have been set at Nazaré. On November 8, 2017, German big wave specialist Sebastian Steudtner surfed an 80 ft wave. In the meantime, Portuguese surfer Hugo Vau surfed a potentially 35 m (115 ft) high wave, known as “the big mama”, on 19 January 2018; an achievement yet to be authenticated by the Guinness Book of Records.
While we were not there during the season of the big waves, we still got to witness some swells. I can only imagine how it is in November. Nazare is a stop you just have to make during your trip to Portugal. There is plenty to see and do here.
There is also a funicular built in 1889 that takes you to the top of the cliff where the lighthouse is. It is a very convenient way to get to the top and get a 270 degree view of the ocean. Cost- Roughly 3 Euros per person return.
DAY 11- AVEIRO AND COIMBRA
These are 2 very unique places to cross on the way to Porto. Coimbra, a riverfront city in central Portugal and the country’s former capital, is home to a preserved medieval old town and the historic University of Coimbra. In the city’s old town lies the 12th-century Romanesque cathedral Sé Velha.
Aveiro is a city on the west coast of Portugal set along a lagoon called Ria de Aveiro. It’s distinguished by its canals navigated by colorful boats (barcos moliceiros), traditionally used to harvest seaweed. Not far from its core, known for art nouveau buildings, is the Cathedral of Aveiro, with its prominent bell tower.
When in Aveiro, resist the temptation to get on those boats at 10 Euros per person. Instead see the town on green bicycles which are available for free. Ask anyone!
DAY 11-13: PORTO
Don’t ever make the mistake of seeing Porto before Lisbon. That would be disastrous. Because this place will take your breath away! Lisbon is just a trailer, Porto is the movie.
Much smaller than Lisbon, Porto has the delicate balance of a small touristy town with it’s old world charm intact. Everything here is artistic, including their train station.
The best way to see Porto is to walk. And there are these FREE walking tours conducted, where a guide takes you around for free and you just tip him/her what you want. I think that is a brilliant way to see the city. Instead of opting for a sight-seeing bus tour, I suggest walking if your legs permit. It can get a bit tiring with the uphill climb and the steps.
The main places to see are:
- Ponte Luiz I Bridge
- Livlaria Lello
- Palacio Da Bolsa
- Clerigos Church
- Sao Bento Station
- Praca Da Liberdade
- Paco Episcopal
- Mosteiro Da Serra do Pilar
There are vineyard tours and also the Duoro valley tour that is very popular here. But we wanted to explore the town as there was enough to see.
Please note: Most trains from Porto to Lisbon leave from Campanha Station and not Sao Bento. Take the train that has Lisbon Apolonia as the last stop and not Lisbon Oriente. The former is closer to the main city than the latter.
The one thing that I will take away from Portugal is the down to earth vibe. Everybody was so relaxed and chilled out. We never saw a very dressed up crowd anywhere. No hoity-toity folks like you find in France or Italy perhaps. The land had a very welcoming nature that made everyone feel at home. We are certain we will be back there someday!