If you’re trying to figure out how to spend ten days in Portugal, a road trip is the best solution. You can go from Lisbon to Porto and see many of the major sights, plus plenty of hidden gems that make this country so amazing. This post will highlight several different options for where to stop during your time in Portugal.
While a road trip can be amazing, deciding where to stop can be a bit challenging. David and I recently spent 10 days driving through Portugal on our parents’ getaway trip for the year, so we’ve got a plethora of options for you.
Things to Know About This Itinerary
I’m going to outline a ten day road trip itinerary to help you plan your trip. This tour starts in Lisbon and continues through the country up to Porto. We are both big fans of getting a little off the beaten path to try and find the true soul of a place. While we want to see the main sights just like everyone else, we actually loathe overcrowded spots filled with instagrammers. You know, the ones that stand in line only to take a picture then immediately leave.
David and I also tend to favor small villages over large cities. So, we decided to skip Lisbon altogether in the essence of time. We knew we didn’t have enough time to devote to both Lisbon and Porto, so we chose Porto.
Since we made this road trip in July, we decided to skip the Algarve region. With summer being the most popular time to visit the Algarve, we opted to avoid the area altogether. This not only allowed us to avoid the crowds and surge pricing, but it also freed up a lot of time, as visiting that area would’ve added at least two to three more days.
If you have more than ten days to spend in Portugal, you could definitely add in some time in the Algarve, but I think there are plenty of beaches between Lisbon and Porto that are great as well.
Driving in Portugal
Driving in Portugal is extremely easy. We didn’t really have any issues at all during our entire road trip from Lisbon to Porto. Their road system is spectacular, thanks to a complex system of tolls. However, there are a few things to consider before going.
Things to Know About Renting a Car in Portugal
We used Sixt rental car because they had the best price when we looked online. We actually used them in Iceland a few years ago, and had no issues with them. We also used their driver service in Italy when we went with our kids, again with no issues. This time around was a little different, though.
David had read reviews about Sixt in Portugal being extremely nit-picky about scratches and bumps on the cars. However, once we arrived we also found another issue with them.
Now, I will say part of this falls on us as we accidentally booked the rental car for the wrong time. We booked it for noon, when we actually landed at 10 am. That said, we’ve often had flights arrive early and never had issues with a rental company like this before. By the time we got to the rental agency after customs, it was about an hour and half ahead of our rental time.
The guy informed us that they didn’t have ANY cars for us, but conveniently they had a few Audis, BMWs, and a Mercedes that we could upgrade to for an extra daily fee of about $60. He went on and on making a big deal about how he was cutting us a great deal.
Now, this may work for some people, but I’ve been to Europe enough to know that small, compact cars are the name of the game. I had a hard time believing that in Lisbon, the capital of Portugal, they had no compact economy cars left, but miraculously they would have some in exactly 90 minutes.
We also heard another salesman giving the same pitch to the guy next to us- who took it hook, line, and sinker. Now, had he told me, “Hey, it isn’t time yet, but I can get you in another car for x amount of dollars”, I probably would’ve considered it, but I’m not a fan of feeling like I’m being scammed.
Anyway, we ended up sitting at the airport for another 90 minutes, reading others’ reviews about the same issue. So don’t be like us. Double check your rental car time when booking, and make sure to take plenty of notes and pictures when you finally retrieve your car.
Thanks to their tolls I mentioned earlier, Portugal has fantastic roads. Their toll system has various charges for different roads. Also, there are too many toll roads to try to plan a route to avoid them.
The best thing to do is to take the electronic toll device option with your rental car. I believe most cost about 1-2 euro per day, capped at around 20 euro. This was completely worth it for us. We never once had to stop at a toll booth. We simply drove through, heard the beep, and kept on going.
Now, you can opt to prepay the tolls, but don’t do this. You will most likely end up paying a much higher amount. Once we got back, our rental company totaled everything and billed us for the amount, which came to about $10. That’s all! We couldn’t believe it when we got the bill. We were both expecting it to be around $50 or more, as we went through a lot of toll areas.
If you want more info on driving in Portugal, check out this article here.
Parking in Portugal is also fairly easy. Most places you will visit have tons of parking spaces, with the exception of Sintra. I’ve gone into detail about tips and parking issues in Sintra, which you can read on my full post.
One thing I would mention is to always keep some coins with you to pay for meters. Parking is inexpensive, but there were a few times we had to scramble to be able to pay the meter if we couldn’t find a free spot.
Directions and Getting Around
Figuring out how to navigate in a foreign country can seem somewhat daunting. Your best bet for figuring out how to get around on your Portugal road trip is Google maps.
Our car came with a navigation system, but we didn’t know until we picked it up. It wasn’t advertised as such, and we didn’t expect it in an economy car. That said, I’ve never thought GPS systems work as well as Google maps.
We’ve had a few times overseas when trying to put a location into a GPS that went horribly wrong. The hardest part is always trying to figure out the native spelling to put in, instead of the English version you’ve memorized in your head. Google maps has never steered us wrong, even overseas, so this is how I recommend you find your way around.
Of course, you need internet for that. In the past, we’ve rented wireless hotspots with mixed results. This time, we just paid the $10 per day from our cellular company to have international data on one device. You can figure out what works best for you, but this was by far the easiest option.
Packing Considerations for Portugal
Portugal is hot. We heard and read this a lot. However, even during our July trip, I found myself cool or even cold on several occasions. This is especially true for this trip as you’ll be driving through wide range of elevations and topography during these ten days in Portugal, so the weather will vary.
Make sure to take a lightweight jacket or sweater, even in summer. Luckily, I threw one in last minute for the plane travel. I was so glad I had this when we were out at night.
I would also consider packing one pair of lightweight pants or jeans. It would’ve been nice to have the option on the cooler nights in the mountains. Make sure to check out our post on our packing process for how to pack like a pro!
Now for the fun part- Here is how to spend your ten days in Portugal by doing a road trip from Lisbon to Porto!
Days 1 – 2 of Your Road Trip from Lisbon to Porto : Sintra
After retrieving your rental car, get out of Lisbon and onto the road. Your road trip from Lisbon to Porto will have you stopping first in Sintra. You could go straight through in about 30-40 minutes, but the better option is to head toward the coast and make a few stops on your way.
Some options for stops between Lisbon and Sintra are:
Cascais is a beautiful seaside fishing village that once served as a summer retreat for the nobility. Today it is a resort town that attracts many local tourists. The large sandy beaches are a huge draw, along with the historic town center.
2. Cabo da Roca
Located at the westernmost point of continental Europe, a lighthouse marks the spot where a fort once stood. There isn’t much to see here besides the wide open ocean. There are, of course, lots of tour buses here, so make this a quick stop.
There are several options for beaches between Lisbon and Sintra. Some of our suggestions are as follows.
Praia da Guincho is a more secluded beach, known for large waves and untouched nature.
Praia da Adraga is another beautiful beach, but it is more crowded than Praia da Ursa due to its easy access and nearby facilities.
We drove by each of these, but opted to stop at Praia da Ursa, and ended up staying for a few hours. We actually loved it so much, we went back on day two! You’ll see a trail on the right, just about a quarter of a mile before you get to Cabo da Roca. There is no official car park, so just find a spot on the side of the road.
This beach is perfection in my book. The small sandy beach is surrounded by cliffs and enormous rock formations. It takes a bit of a hike to get to, so wear something besides sandals.
4. Azenhas do Mar
A whitewashed village built onto the edge of the cliff overlooking the ocean. This would be a great place to stop for lunch. After you finish, you could walk down to the water for a swim in one of the tide pools.
Where to Stay in Sintra: Chalet Saudade
After spending a few hours exploring the coastline, make your way into Sintra and get checked into your accommodations. From here, the afternoon is yours to explore. I would suggest visiting Quinta da Regaleira before finding a great spot for dinner. Day two will be reserved for visiting the Pena Palace and Moorish Castle. Check out our complete guide to Sintra to help you make the most of your time.
Things we wish we’d would’ve differently:
I wish we’d made ourselves stop in Cascais. We were exhausted from our flight, so we skipped Cascais after seeing how large it was. In hindsight, I wish we’d at least stopped because the historic center looks so beautiful.
Days 3 – 5 of Your Road Trip from Lisbon to Porto: Fátima Area
From Sintra, you’ll be driving toward Fátima on day three. There are several options for places to stop on your way. There isn’a huge rush today, so you could easily stay in Sintra until lunch. We decided to go ahead and get on the road to Fátima.
Some options for stops between Sintra and Fátima are:
This beach town is a surfer’s paradise, but there is plenty to see for the rest of us. Drive to the end of the peninsula toward Cabo Carvoeiro. Here you’ll find a lighthouse and views of the Atlantic Ocean. The rock formations and jagged coastline here are a sight to see.
We stopped a little before the lighthouse at a small pull off and walked along the edge, where we saw men spear fishing in the freezing water below. (Actually, I walked about twenty feet away from the edge because of my extreme fear of heights/edges). We also saw a man sitting on the edge of this towering cliff fishing with a rod and reel. I could barely watch, constantly imagining he would fall at any minute.
If the weather is good, consider taking the time to visit the Berlengas Archipelago, a former fort and penal colony, now turned nature reserve. You’ll need to take a ferry or hire a local boat company to get there, and the rides are notorious for being choppy. Beware if you get seasick easily, which I do. We opted to skip this since the day was extremely overcast and drizzly when we visited.
There is also small water park in Peniche. If you have small kids with you, it may be worth a visit. There is also a nearby dinosaur exhibit that may be of interest.
This beautiful walled town is perfectly preserved and located right off of the interstate, making it an easy stop on your road trip from Lisbon to Porto.
Once you arrive at the edge of town, find a spot in one of the paid lots. There is a small fee, but a few different locals told us you don’t have to actually pay the fee. This is much like what we heard in Sintra. I’m not telling you to forgo the fee, just passing along what I was told.
Due to its ease of visiting, there are also many tour buses that frequent Obidós. Honestly, though, it won’t take much to get away from the crowds.
Walking into the charming village, you’ll feel like you’ve been taken back in time. Small streets meander up and down the hills, leading to various shops and restaurants. Once you escape the main thoroughfare, you’ll easily be the only one walking the tiny cobblestone alleyways.
Often you can walk the village walls, but they were under repair while we were there. There was a castle in the town, but it has now been converted into part of a hotel, which only guests have access to. Besides the main plaza and church, there aren’t any specific sights to see. Just spend some time wandering the town away from the hoards of people.
You’ll most likely end up here around lunch time, so plan to eat at JamonJamon. This local spot, located at the bottom of the town, far away from the crowds, was great. They have a small outdoor courtyard where the delicious food is served.
We split the black pork, which the server recommended. It was delicious and truly had a unique flavor unlike any pork I’ve ever tasted. I would also recommend trying their seafood curry if it is available when you visit. Most of the locals seemed to be eating it, so it must be great too.
Once you arrive in Fátima you can spend the next few days exploring this central area of Portugal. Fátima is a huge stop for Catholic tourists, mostly due to the famed sightings of the Virgin Mary by three local shepherd children in 1917.
Even if you aren’t Catholic, you should still make time to see the Sanctuary of Our Lady Fátima and the Basilica of the Holy Trinity, which share a large plaza. If interested, you can also go to visit the home of one of the shepherd children, Lucia. The house isn’t in its original state, but it has been furnished to give an idea of living conditions at the time.
Several options for great day trips are located nearby, one of which is Tomar. Plan to spend the better part of a day in Tomar visiting the sights, especially the Convent of Christ. On the way back from Tomar, be sure to make a quick stop at Almoroul Castle.
Other nearby options include Rua da Pia do Urso, an adorably preserved and restored town. This is perfectly located on the route near the Batalha Monastery. You could combine these with the Grutas Mira de Aire, one of the most impressive cave systems in Portugal.
Where to Stay in Fátima: Luz Charming Houses
Things we wish we would’ve known/ done differently:
Fátima, admittedly, was not our favorite place. We mostly chose to stay in Fátima due to the Luz Houses. We weren’t sold on any particular location in this area, but ultimately, the accommodations drew us in. You could choose to stay anywhere else in the central location, but we did like being close to everything we wanted to see.
We had planned to spend the afternoons by the pool, after sightseeing in the mornings. However, we failed to realize the elevation and weather patterns of this area. Often, the clouds will roll in during the night and stay during the day, being trapped by the surrounding mountains.
Sometimes the clouds burn off with the heat of the day. However, during our stay- with the exception of the first day- the clouds never ceased, leaving many days overcast and cool. Looking back, we could have easily seen and done everything we wanted to do in this area in about two days. We are very glad we chose to stay at the Luz Houses, though.
Many will recommend you go to Nazaré when in the area, but we will not. We drove to Nazaré and never even got out of our car. While the beach is large and looked pretty enough, the area is extremely overcrowded.
We don’t mind walking, but we were having a hard time finding a parking spot. I’m just not a fan of sitting on a flat beach will thousands of other people, and if you’re still reading, then I’m assuming you aren’t either. We would much rather enjoy a quiet, scenic beach on a rugged coastline. However, don’t take our word for it. If it is on your list, then by all means…go. It just wasn’t our favorite.
Days 6 – 7 of Your Road Trip from Lisbon to Porto: Douro Valley
On day six of your road trip through Portugal, you’ll be making your way to the Douro Valley. This is the premier wine region in Portugal. This area is very well known for its ports, but there are many other styles coming coming out of the region.
Options for stops between Fátima and the Douro Valley
This restored mountain town is everything you imagine- timbered buildings hugging small cobblestoned pedestrian paths, with scenic views over the valley below. If you’re interested, I would definitely plan to do some hiking in the area. There are several marked trails nearby, some of which lead to other neighboring mountain towns.
If you’re a Harry Potter fan, then make sure to stop in Coimbra. You’ll probably see college students, dressed in the uniforms that inspired those at Hogwarts, doing Fado in the streets. Even if you’re not, you’ll still love this hillside town. Grab a parking spot in the Parque Verde at the bottom of town.
Centered around the historic Coimbra University, this city is just the right size for seeing in an afternoon. You could definitely choose to stay here for a night or two, with plenty to see and do around the city. However, you’ll need to see the highlights in a day so you can enjoy the Douro Valley.
The oldest part of the university is housed in a former palace, which you can tour. Buy a combo ticket at the ticket office in a building just to the left of the palace entrance. You’ll want to make sure to visit the Biblioteca Joanina. The library visit is amazing, and completely worth a wait if the next time isn’t for an hour or two.
The Douro Valley
The Douro Valley itself is much more beautiful than I imagined. Even though we’d done extensive research and seen multiple photos of the landscape, I still wasn’t expecting to be taken aback by its beauty. The hills along the river are much taller than I imagined. The topography is unreal.
Spend an hour or so exploring the town of Pinhão. Consider taking a river cruise, which you can easily arrange in town down by the docks. There are a few companies to choose from, with options ranging from one to two hours. Between the several companies, there is a boat leaving about every 30 minutes.
Plan to spend some time wine tasting. I suggest making reservations at a few different wineries in the area, and consider booking a picnic at one for lunch. We booked a tour and picnic at Quinta da Pôpa, which I would highly recommend. The tour was extremely informational, without being boring. After the tasting, we were then given our picnic basket full of delicious goodies and a bottle of wine. We were free to choose from several spots to enjoy our picnic.
Where to Stay in the Douro Valley: Quinta da Côrte
While the nearby Six Senses is all the rage, I would highly recommend staying near Pinhão, as this is the heart of the wine tasting area in the Douro Valley. We chose to stay at Quinta da Côrte, which was truly amazing.
You can tell they put a lot of thought into incorporating the old farmhouse and grounds into the mid-century modern design concept.
The rooms aren’t overly large or indulgent, but there are little touches like monogrammed towels and linen sheets put this place above some others. You aren’t here to stay in the room, though. The grounds and the views are worth every penny of this still very well priced accommodation. I can only imagine what this same lodging would cost in another location like Tuscany or Napa Valley.
Make sure to do yourself a favor and build in some downtime. The pool at Quinta da Côrte is phenomenal. We spent some time both afternoons relaxing and enjoying the views, while sipping on their newly released white wine.
Things we wish we would’ve known:
If you plan to visit several wineries, make sure to make reservations with the river in mind. There is only one river crossing in Pinhão, with the next located about 30 minutes away. So try to plan your visits with the least amount of river crossings.
There are several tour companies in the area offering wine tastings, but we easily made our own plans. We very much like to be on our own time. Many wineries require reservations for visits, so plan ahead. However, several will allow you to come in for a tasting without a reservation. You just may not get a full tour.
The Douro is hot, almost 15° C (60°F) warmer than in Coimbra! While we were there temps easily reached over 100°F. Plan accordingly while packing.
Days 8 – 10 of Your Road Trip from Lisbon to Porto: Porto
Get an early start after breakfast, and start the journey to Porto, making sure to drive via the N222. You’ll wind through the hills along the river for about 30 minutes with spectacular views. Afterward, you can get onto the interstate and make your way to the rental car return in Porto.
Spend your last two days in enjoying the sights and sounds of Porto, making sure to enjoy a sunset or two from Gaia. Visit all of the beautiful churches, walk through the Mercado do Bolhão, and take a food tour. Porto is such a fun and vibrant city, with amazing food and architecture. There is enough to keep you going for two days, without the hustle and bustle feel of typical large city.
Because maps are always helpful in visualizing your route….
Now you’ve got a great place to start in planning your own ten days in Portugal. While our itinerary had us doing our road trip from Lisbon to Porto, you could easily do this itinerary in reverse.
Overall, we absolutely loved Portugal….much more than we thought we would, honestly. Driving from Lisbon to Porto ended up being a great way to see so much of the country! We loved seeing some of the lesser traveled areas. I think our favorite area was the Douro, so don’t just plan it as a day trip.
This is a beast of an article with a lot of information, so make sure to pin it for later.