Portugal’s west coast is the perfect location for a week-long road trip. Incredible gastronomy, medieval UNESCO sites, picturesque beaches, and cool cities, mean that every day brings something new and exciting.
The Atlantic Coast, on the west of Portugal, is often ignored by sun-seeking tourists who prefer the Algarve in the South. However, a trip from north to south offers culture, adventure, beauty, as well as sun.
Portugal is a very manageable size and there’s no better way of exploring the country than by car. This 7-day itinerary will take you along some of the country’s most scenic routes and through some amazing places including Porto and Lisbon, Portugal's two biggest cities.
Day 1: Porto
What better place to start than Porto, the home of port and the stunning, historical district of Ribeira. Though it’s smaller than Lisbon, there’s an incredible amount to see and it has its own unique, magical charm.
The 12th-century cathedral is a national monument. Some of the most stunning features include the chapel frescoes, the Gothic cloister, the Teixeira Lopes sculpture, and the medieval portrait of Our Lady of Vandoma (the patron saint of Porto).
Porto Wine Cellars
Visitors can go on guided tours through Porto’s famed port wine cellars. You learn about different varieties of the drink, the production methods, and you get to sample the port. There’s also a very interesting museum on the subject.
Crystal Palace Gardens
These exotic gardens are a paradise of waterways, sculptures, walkways, and lines of trees and plants. You can also enjoy some of the best views of the famous Douro River.
Day 2: Aveiro
Porto to Aveiro takes just under an hour. Take the A1 out of Porto and then the A29, as it hugs the coastline, offering some spectacular views.
Aveiro is a maritime city which is renowned for its beautiful Art Nouveau houses and its network of canals. Visitors can get around the city on special boats known as ‘moliceiros’.
Mosteiro de Jesus
The fascinating convent was completed in the 17th century. It was made famous by the princess of Portugal, Joanna, who turned her back on a life of luxury and spent her life at the convent. Her tomb, as well as the nave and apse of the church, worth the visit.
The canals are the soul and essence of the city and deserve to be explored. There are numerous branches to discover and they allow you to see the city’s stunning architecture.
Praia da Barra
Just 10km from Aveiro, the gorgeous beaches are where the cities lagoon reach the sea. Rolling waves make it ideal for surfing and the sand dunes and walkways make it perfect for a stroll.
Day 3: Bussaco and Coimbra
The hour drive from Aveiro to Bussaco takes you into the enchanting national park of Bussaco. The park is classified as a National Monument of Portugal. The dense forest is centuries old and the area famous amongst botanists and nature lovers. Some of the trees are enormous and home a wide range of wildlife.
If you leave early enough you can park the car and enjoy a morning hike through the forest and still have enough time to see the sites in Coimbra. Alternatively, you can simply enjoy the views Bussaco has to offer during the drive and continue on to Coimbra.
Coimbra, the medieval capital of Portugal, is just another 40 minutes further than the park. It is the site of the country’s oldest and most reputable university and is known for its atmospheric, historical center. Set on the bank of the Mondego River, it’s a stunning location to spend a day or afternoon.
University of Coimbra
The 16th-century site is a big tourist draw. It has hundreds of years of history to showcase and the tower offers spectacular views of the city. The magnificent Sala dos Capelos, the vast ceremonial hall, is also very impressive.
Museu Nacional de Machado de Castro
The fantastic museum is built over the Roman forum and the ruins can still be seen. The range and quality of the exhibitions are also superb. The Gothic sculptures are particularly stunning.
Day 4: Batalha
Coimbra to Batalha is a straightforward hour drive which takes you past some pretty smaller towns and villages. Batalha is a small town set in the hills of the Leiria area. The monastery, a UNESCO World Heritage site, is the standout attraction.
Monastery of Batalha
The monastery offers magnificent examples of art and architecture. The church’s arches, vaults, and columns are a treat for anyone who appreciates medieval design and you can see wonderful examples of late-Gothic masterpieces.
The award-winning municipal museum takes you through a fascinating journey through history. The engaging exhibitions cover the history of religion, prehistory, the Roman era, and much more.
Day 5: Sintra
From Batalha to Sintra, you can take the N242 for a scenic drive which takes 1 hour 30 minutes. Sintra is one of the major highlights of this itinerary, it offers magical castles, historical fortifications, beautiful hilltops, as well as sun, sea, and sand.
The Pena Palace
The Pena Palace is straight out of a fairytale. The iconic landmark has multi-colored towers and sits on top of a mountain. It was built during the 19th century for King Fernando II and remains a huge tourist draw.
The Castle of the Moors
The Castle of the Moors is located high up in the Sintra mountains and dates back to the 9th century. It is a fantastic site to hike around as you can see the castle and enjoy some fantastic views. It was built and used by the Moors who occupied much of Portugal in the medieval era.
Day 6 and 7: Lisbon
The final stretch of driving is 45 minutes to Lisbon. Portugal’s alluring, hilly capital is worth spending a couple of days in as there is so much to see. It’s worth exploring setting time aside to wander around the neighborhoods of Belem, Baixa and Alfama and to just soak up the atmosphere.
The 15th-century monastery is a UNESCO World Heritage site and was built to commemorate Vasco da Gama's 'discovery' of India. The most popular part is the intricate Gothic chapel. If you are there over the weekend you can attend a mass and see the church in its full glory.
St George’s Castle
St George’s Castle, the most visible landmark of Lisbon, tells a 2,000-year story as it was built by the Romans and regularly developed by subsequent rulers. The castle’s battlements provide fantastic views of the Baixa district and the Rio Tejo.
Mercado da Ribeira
Lisbon’s most famous food market has two distinct parts. There is the downstairs, which has a mouthwatering selection of fresh fruit and vegetables, and the upstairs section which has food stalls where you can but delicious snacks such as custard tarts and seafood.
Bairro Alto is the most popular tourist district of Lisbon. It is packed with lively bars, modern cafes, and restaurants but the most special thing about the area is its unique, vibrant atmosphere which always delivers.