As you prepare for your Portugal road trip of a lifetime, take note of a few housekeeping details. Portugal is one of the few countries that require all foreigners to have an international driver’s license. You will need to acquire this prior to your arrival, and your rental car agency will expect to see the permit. What about which side of the road you will be driving on? Thankfully it is the right side, just like it is here in the US. Before you go, make sure to read about the rules of the roads in Portugal, such as speed limits and emergency exits. Now that the basics are in order, it is time to plan out your road trip route. Here are some of the most sought-after destinations you can easily reach in a week or two when driving around Portugal.
Your Road Trip Guide to Portugal
Most international flights go through Lisbon, so your best bet is to start your journey in this big city on the West coast of Portugal. You are far more likely to get a rental car here where the population exceeds 500,000 than in some rural outpost. While in the coastal city of Lisbon, swing by the Sao Jorge Castle for your first Portuguese history lesson. These Moorish palace ruins date back to the 11th century and is only a few minutes drive from the city center.
Spend your first two days here in Lisbon so you can get your Portuguese bearings before setting out. If you are feeling like more history, the Mosteiro dos Jerónimos in Lisbon is a famous, and quite massive, UNESCO monastery. Home to the burial site of Vasco da Gama and an enchanting haunt through Portugal’s Gothic and Renaissance architecture, the monastery is situated in the popular Belem District. Ample Portuguese food and wine tours are available throughout the city. Add this to your time in Lisbon, as these tours offer travelers a true taste of both culinary delights and local culture.
After spending a few days in Lisbon head to Porto. You can either fly or drive, it’s up to you. Since we’re talking roadtrip if you drive you’ll travel 314km or about 3 hours. This is the farthest north your road trip will take you. Porto, Portugal, is the second largest city and a part of the Iberian Peninsula. This urban center is bustling with activity and offers a lot of do while you are here. Plan accordingly by deciding what you wish to see so you can use your days wisely (we recommend 2-3 nights here). A top pick here is a wine tasting. After all, Porto is an international exporter of port wine, which is named after the city. Indulge in a fine dining and wining experience while in your final city in Portugal to celebrate your vacation.
Now that you’ve explored two of Portugal’s largest cities it’s time to head south and step away from the tourist attractions. Cruise along for about 122 km, or an hours and a half, until you reach the big city of Coimbra. This is a must-see destination for anyone in Portugal. As the third largest municipal in the country, Coimbra is home to half a million people. This grants you an unlimited amount of things to do and sites to see here in the Centro region. Plan to spend at least two days here depending on what you want to do.
The city has roots in Roman times and has since become a major cultural center. Home to the University of Coimbra you will find a vibrant nightlife here geared at college students. Several of the city’s buildings are UNESCO sites and you’ll find ample architectural highlights including São Sebastião Aqueduct and Garden Arches, and the Palace of Sub-Ripas.
Now that you’ve explored the major cities of Portugal head off the beaten path to explore the spa town of Evora, your drive will be 300km or 3 hours. Time for some rest and relaxation after all your driving. Once you arrive in Evora, ranked the second most livability city in Portugal, check into a local spa in this medieval town. The Diana Spa, dedicated to the Roman goddess Diana, is a luxury spa resort. Here you can receive an authentic Turkish bath followed by some time in the sauna, jacuzzi and indoor and outdoor swimming pools. Rejuvenate your body and mind, after all you are on vacation!
Located in the Alentejo region of Southern Portugal is the hottest district capital in the entire country—Beja. To arrive here you will drive approximately 82 km, which is a jaunt of fewer than an hour. Beja is a city filled with history and culture. You’ll escape the tourist crowds and be surrounded by Roman architecture. Take time to walk through the city and explore the hidden gems like the Castelo de Beja and Pelourinho de Beja. We recommend spending a night or two here before heading south.
Once you hit Beja you will find yourself in authentic Portugal unadulterated by throngs of out of towners and tourists. Beja is a best-kept secret offering excellent local restaurants and guesthouses for a low budget price. And this city is old, like Julius Caesar old. When he chose Beja to be the capital of the Roman province of Lusitania in 48 BCE, Caesar called it Pax Julia. Check out the Moorish castle with a Gothic infusion at the top of the town hill, and explore the museum here. There is also a Roman arch still standing along with several more museums offering history and art throughout the centuries.
For the remainder of your trip, you get to go beachside in the Algarve. Head south for about 150km or a hour and 45 minutes. Your first stop? Parque Natural do Sudoeste Alentejano e Costa Vicentina aka the South West Alentejo and Vicentine Coast Natural Park. Stop off for a sandy stroll to stretch your legs, or go all in with a short jaunt up Cape St. Vincent’s lighthouse and epically jagged cliffs.
From here you could spend the evening in the historic village of Salema just a few more miles down the road. However, that is a huge tourist attraction, so if you are looking for something more off the beaten path, check out Tavira. This small town has fewer than 30,000 residents and a history of more than 3,000 years. Tavira is approximately 40 km west of the Faro District, a more popular locale in the Algarve. Nearly 40 churches including many 18th century structures give this town quite the character. Plus it puts you on the right path to your next destination on your Portugal road trip.
After your time in Algarve head north to Lisbon for your return flight to the US. You’ll drive 280km or about 3 hours so you might want to spend one last night in Lisbon before your flight home.
Hopefully, this Portugal road trip map will bring you plenty of Portuguese memories that will last you a lifetime. Make sure to leave a little freedom to stop off in those off the wall cities and towns you cross through on route to each of your planned destinations. These side adventures are often the best kept secrets of any travelers. Browse all regions of Portugal and learn more about their culture with our Insider’s Guide to Portgual.