Last updated on March 1st, 2018
From north to south and beyond – the ultimate itinerary for a Portugal road trip
I have said before how much I love road trips. The joy I get from driving a car and being able to stop along the way. Pull your car off a busy highway to gaze out towards an endless horizon, snap a picture, or have some food by the seaside. The freedom a road trip offers is priceless.
My latest trip, the Portugal road trip, involved hopping onto a plane and landing in Porto, Portugal. We stayed there for 3 nights and were pleasantly surprised by beautiful Porto. This post will highlight our itinerary and hopefully help you in planning your own road trip in Portugal. The planning that went into this trip allowed for an extension to cross over to Spain and explore most of the south coast and finish in Madrid. This will have to be a different post altogether, however.
Here is an overview of my recent Portugal Road Trip:
QUICK NAVIGATION FOR KEY SECTIONS OF THE ARTICLE
How to reach Portugal
It was much easier for me leaving from Greece to actually fly to Portugal first, rather than drive all the way there. Not to mention the cost of driving a car from your country to Portugal, (depending on where you are located). It was also much quicker flying there, allowing me to concentrate on what I set out to enjoy at the first place; the actual Portugal road trip.
I used Skyscanner* the unbiased and free, massive search engine. A leading global travel search site making it possible to book directly from millions of travel options. The best part is that it is entirely free for me, as a user, without having to pay any commissions to anyone. Using Skyscanner saved me many hours of painstaking research online that I would otherwise need to do undertake individually for each airline. Skyscanner can help you organise multi-stop flights as well, such as the one I booked.
Because I wanted to start this road trip from the north, in the city of Porto, I decided to take a different route. The reason for this was that there were no direct flights from Athens International Airport to Porto, (Lisbon was my only choice). Rather than fly to Lisbon and then travel to Porto, I chose to fly from Athens to London Gatwick UK, spend one night there at a B&B and take a direct flight with TAP Airways, (Portugal’s national airline carrier). This way, I also met up with my travel partner and we flew together to Porto.
I would advise you to actually start from Porto, and head south along the coast. Doing this would ensure that you have the chance to see a lot more places and hidden gems sprawled along the Duro Valley. You simply cannot take a road trip and exclude the gems of the north.
I was very pleased with my decision to start this 7 day Portugal road trip from the gem of the north – the city of Porto. Its relatively small size helped us adjust quickly. It is an ideal city for walking and discovering its unique architecture. There is also a great tram service, helping you to see most of the city much quicker. We found that a 3-night stay was ideal to start our trip; the first day to adjust, unwind from travelling and roam around the city for a few hours. The next 2 days were enough to explore the city in full.
Don’t let this quaint place fool you, however, it is actually the 2nd biggest city of Portugal. Look out for one of my next posts, dedicated to Porto.
We packed our Nissan Micra rental car and took a leisurely drive from Porto to Aveiro. This little gem is a largely undiscovered coastal town and certainly lived up to my expectations. It is considered the ‘Venice’ of Portugal due to its central canal and the colourful gondolas, (Moliceiros). The true highlight of this overnight stay was the visit of the oceanfront village of Costa Nova. A stunning beach with the rows of candy-striped, weatherboard houses. It is only a 12Km drive from the town of Aveiro and you should not head further south before you make a stop here.
We headed towards the coastal city of Peniche. This gave us a halfway stop on the long journey to Lisbon and added this charming coastal town to our itinerary.
The place is a surfers’ paradise with many international events taking place in ‘Playa Supertubos‘. Although we didn’t catch any of these events, (visited in late November), we got to see its big fortress, ‘Fortaleza de Peniche’ and the first of the ‘Land’s end’ points along this journey, ‘Cabo Carvoeiro’. This is the western-most point of Portugal, located at the end of this peninsula. Rugged hanging cliffs get smashed relentlessly by the strong Atlantic currents here, while the traditional lighthouse proudly stands witness to the big swells of this ocean. A pleasant 2 hour stop with some lunch, helped fuel the rest of the journey to Lisbon.
We arrived in Lisbon early in the evening. Just in time for checking into our hotel, parking our car and having a stroll around the neighbourhood to have some dinner and get acquainted with the area. Lisbon is an interesting city with some really famous monuments. Spending 2 nights in total was just enough for exploring most of the main sites. Depending on your schedule, an extra night here can make your Portugal road trip even more complete.
We left Lisbon having squeezed in some last minute sightseeing, (driving over the ‘Ponte 25 de Abril Bridge‘ and the great statue of ‘Cristo Rei‘). I’m happy that I got to see this magnificent statue. Climb up to the top and see the mesmerizing views over Lisbon, the Tagus River and the wondrous, San Francisco-style bridge. More of this bridge in my upcoming post dedicated to Lisbon.
We drove south for approximately 3 hours with the final destination of Faro for our overnight stay. We couldn’t miss out on stopping and exploring ‘Cabo de Sao Vicente’, in the municipality of Sagres, the ultimate ‘Land’s-End’ for me. The southwestern-most point of the European continent. We also stopped at ‘Sagres Fortress’, a 5-minute drive from Cabo de Sao Vicente. Make sure that you are there before 5 pm during winter so you can enter the actual fortress.
W arrived early evening in Faro, checked into our hotel and wandered outside for some cocktails and dinner. Faro was a pleasant little town which we enjoyed. Very easy to walk around and you will not need more than an overnight’s stay to discover it. This is where we also caught the bus to cross the border into Spain, Seville and began our road trip through Spain – but this will be another post altogether.
The illustration below shows the driving distances in Kilometres as well as the time it took us to drive from point A to point B. Please bear in mind that these are estimates and with an average speed of 120km/hour in highways. Indicated speed limits were kept in other, smaller roads that we took during our one week Portugal itinerary.
We always picked up our rental cars from Airports. You can find out in my other post on important tips for your next road trip why this is always a better idea.
1. Porto (Francisco Sá Carneiro Airport), to Aveiro – the ‘Venice’ of Portugal
2. Aveiro to Lisbon – via Peniche
3. Lisbon – to Cabo de Sao Vicente – Sagres
4. Cabo de Sao Vicente to Faro
Rental Car Companies for your Portugal Road Trip
There is so much choice when it comes to renting a car nowadays. I spent hours trying to search through rental car companies and read through so much small print. I ended up renting our car for the Portugal road trip through Booking.com website and doing a search under their ‘Rental Cars’ section. We finally booked with Avis through Booking.com since we also had several hotels booked through them.
Make sure that you read my post on 10 important tips you need for your next road trip to get some advice on what to look for when booking cars. For example, you need to be careful about insurance and how to book it so you can have a stress free experience during your road trip.
I encountered no problems whatsoever with getting the car through Booking.com and Avis. The Nissan Micra I drove for the next 850 km throughout Portugal, served us pretty well. It was fast enough and provided us with enough space for our luggage. We did have to store one of the big suitcases on the back passengers’ seat however since it would not fit in the boot, (not an issue though).
Nations Porto – Studios & Suites: check for availability and prices.
Pros: Clean and spacious rooms, (we had a studio on the 2nd floor). Fully equipped, very quiet. Polite and helpful staff. Central location and walking distance to Ribeira district, (Duro River), and Ponte Luis bridge. Good internet connection.
Cons: you had to climb up-hill to access the property, so don’t walk to it with your luggage, (not a big deal otherwise). If you choose to pay the supplement for breakfast, you need to walk to a nearby cafe every morning. It was full of character though and fun to observe the locals gathering there.
Click here to see a list of all hotels in Porto.
OC Salon Charm Hostel & Suites: check here for availability and prices.
Pros: don’t let the ‘Hostel’ bit fool you! Everyone raved about this establishment -and rightly so! Elegant and sparkling clean, spacious. Great breakfast included. Charming staff and lady owner. Good location within walking distance of everywhere.
Cons: I have to try really hard! No, none really!
Click here to see a list of all hotels in Aveiro.
Dom João Residencial: check here for availability and prices.
Pros: Nicely equipped rooms with balconies. Location was not bad. Breakfast room was the highlight of this hotel for me. Loved the conservatory extension for breakfast, which was equally good with many choices.
Cons: The front of the building looked a little on the shady side. Parking was across the street for a fee, but secure. The staff could have been more friendly and used a more personal approach. Not a deal breaker though – I would go again.
Click here to see a list of all hotels in Lisbon.
Aqua Ria Boutique Hotel: check here for availability and prices.
Pros: Nice hotel on a quiet pedestrian street just a breath away from the small marina in Faro. Spacious rooms very well equipped. Great bathroom and shower. Staff at reception were nice and friendly – good breakfast.
Cons: It was hard to locate the hotel even by GPS. We arrived there in the evening and made several circles around the pedestrian street. I had to ask locals and walk to it in order to locate it. Parking was an issue as I had to park several blocks over. It was free parking but not very clear and staff did not explain this clearly. I would still go for another visit though.
Click here to see a list of all hotels in Faro.