My Road Trip in central Portugal

Road trip in Portugal

Road-trip is a great way to explore any country. It’s awesome to be independent from train or bus schedules. It also means that you can actually change your route as spontaneous as you want. My first ever road-trip was in Portugal, and it was amazing. Of course, we had a plan, but having a car gave us freedom and ability to be flexible. If you ever want to do a road-trip in Portugal, you need to read this article!

We spent a bit more than two weeks in Portugal. The first six days we were on amazing island Madeira. It was magical! I also wrote a post about the most amazing things to do on Madeira

We have been traveling in the end of October, which is off the season, and it was great. It was a little bit cold for spending the whole day in the ocean, mainly because of the wind, but I was able to swim and sunbathe. The main advantage was that we totally avoided touristic crowds on the streets, in restaurants, sightseeing spots and on the beaches. 

Read about our route =>>

Things you should keep in mind when planning a road-trip in Portugal =>> (coming up)

Choosing a route: road-trip in central Portugal

Portugal, mosaic

We have never been in Portugal before, so the preparation for our trip started with extensive research. What to see? Which way to go? Which places to choose for a stop over? The only thing we knew is that our starting point would be Lisbon, because we flew to Madeira and back from the capital. We also knew, of course, how much time we had, and since we were on the road for a bit more than a week, we had to make a choice, which way to go. After doing our research and changing our mind for about hundred times, we decided that we would go for central Portugal. 

Hint: Portugal is a small country, and it is rather tempting to plan a road-trip from Faro to Porto. I do not recommend it, unless you have four weeks for that. Portugal is not only warm and delicious country, it has great culture and extremely interesting history. If you really want to experience it, take your time. 

As I said before, the best thing about a road-trip is that you are free to change your plans and routes. Some of our stops we planned in advance and at some places we just stopped spontaneously. 

Beginning: Lisbon

Lisbon Portugal

If like us you start in Lisbon and want to see the city before departing, I recommend to take three to four days to explore it. The public transportation system of Lisbon is very easy to understand and can bring you anywhere you want to go. That’s why I would advise you to rent a car on a day when you want to depart for your trip. 

Lisbon is a beautiful city, full of life and fun! There is a lot to see and explore, but try to get the rhythm of the city: relax with a nice espresso or a glas of amazing Portuguese wine and tapas. Enjoy it!

My blog post about what you can do in Lisbon is coming soon.

First stop, planned: Sintra

Sintra Monserrat

Sintra is a must see. This town is the reason, why there are no royal palaces in Lisbon. Sintra was a residence of Portuguese Royals, and as all respectful Royals like to do, they have all built themselves nice palaces. Everything that you find in Sintra is amazing: beautiful buildings, green parks, that will help to stay cool on a hot day, and a lot of history. We had only one day, and it was not enough. My recommendation: take two days for Sintra.

You can buy a ticket and combine price for visiting several sites. My favorite one is Monserrate Estate, and even though it belonged to a merchant and not to kings, it is one of the most charming buildings I have ever seen.

For those who love history — don’t miss the Moorish Castle, or its ruins to be precise. It dates back to 11th century and makes you wonder, how the hell did they manage to build all that on the top of the hill!

Second stop, spontaneous: Cabo de Roca

Cabo da Roca, Portugal, the most western point of Europe

Driving out of Sintra I saw a sign: Cabo da Roca. I immediately remembered that it was the most Western point of the whole European continent! I wanted to visit it before, but my trip planner (aka my husband) was worried that we won’t have enough time to get to the next stop, where we planned to stay for a night. But at the moment when we saw the road sign, we knew we had to see the place! Rocks, powerful ocean and sky of an unbelievable color — this is Cabo da Roca. It’s a 20-minutes ride from Sintra and is really worth it. Couple of hours and you've seen it all.

Third stop, planned: Santarem

Santarem, Portugal

Why Santarem? We were looking for a place to stay overnight and Santarem was just the right location. At first we just wanted to eat, go to sleep and drive further the next morning. Instead, we ended up at a great food festival and had so much fun! 

The city itself is nice and very old. We walked through Santarem and we loved the beauty of this provincial Portuguese city. Gardens with fruit trees, houses covered with traditional tiles and calmness. There is a cool view-point in Santarem, behind Jardim das Portas do Sol. If you happen to be in the city, check the view to the river!

Fourth stop, planned: Tomar

Convent of Christ, a monastery of Templar Knights, Tomar

Tomar is famous for Convent of Christ, a monastery of Templar Knights and is included in UNESCO Heritage List. The complex of buildings is huge. And if I say huge, I mean HUGE! The dimensions are amazing. It is a beautiful and impressive place. 100% worth a visit.

If you decide to go there, take a guided tour or an audio-guide. The history of the place and events connected to it are breathtaking. It’s like watching an action movie in your head, while being there.

One day was enough, and it was a long and interesting day!

Fifth stop, spontaneous: Conímbriga

Conimbriga, ruins of Roman city

We were driving to Coimbra when Martin suddenly said: “Hey, there are some ruins of Roman city nearby not far away from here. Shall we go there?” Hell, yeah, I love spontaneous! Conimbriga is open-air museum and archeological site. It is amazing how much they managed to dig out and preserve. You can see Roman mosaics and can even imagine parts of the city. It's a great experience!

Sixth stop, planned: Coimbra

University of Coimbra, Portugal

Coimbra is a famous student city in Portugal. It’s narrow streets and shabby student houses are full of hilarious and legendary stories! Every corner has something to share, so don’t miss this stories. A great way to learn about these legends and Coimbra’s student stories is to take a walking tour with a local guide. I highly recommend to do it!

My recommendation is to stay at least two days in Coimbra.

Seventh stop, spontaneous: Obidos

Obidos, Portugal, medieval town

I did not have this town on my bucket list when I planned my trip to Portugal. That is why I want to make sure that YOU visit Obidos, when in Portugal. It is a small medieval town behind the city wall, preserved as it was 500 years ago. It is beautiful! Actually, this city is the reason to visit Portugal. 

Make sure to try famous cherry liquor, unless you are driving, of course. They serve it in chocolate cups for €1 almost on every corner. Another funny facts: Obidos is full of relaxed cats. They are everywhere and it feels like you are on their territory. It’s really hard to stop taking pictures of them :)

 Eighth stop, planned: Nazare

Beach of Nazare, Portugal

Nazare is famous for its beaches and is a magnet for surfers from all over the world. There is a season for so-called monster waves, so daredevils from all over the world come there to try and conquer them.  I've seen waves there — they are huge and look super dangerous. Don't think they were monster waves though!

Apart from that the ocean is strong and blue and the sand is nice and warm — if you are into this, Nazare is your destination! There are a lot of nice beaches all around the town and you can choose how wild you can go.  

How long to stay? depends on the season and if you like beach. Maybe forever? :)

Ninth stop, planned: Peniche

Peniche, Portugal

Peniche is an old coast town with a fortress. It also has a lot of golf fields and is filled with people during the season. We were there out of season and the town was empty. Even some of the restaurants were just closed town, because they wouldn’t get enough clients… But, hey, no tourist crowds means almost the whole city is just for us! 

It got colder by the end of our trip, and we had a crazy romantic experience of walking barefoot on an empty beach on a rainy day with ocean and crazy waves. It was an unforgettable day.

Tenth stop, spontaneous: Torres Vedras

Torres Vedras, Portugal, narrow streets

We drove back to Lisbon to take a flight back home the next day. We still had a lot of time, so when we saw a sign “Spa”, we decided to treat ourselves a relaxed day. Well, long story short: we didn’t find a spa after an hour of driving around. Instead, we ended up in a cute town called Torres Vedras and we loved this spontaneous stop. 

If you happen to drive by, or want to plan a stay over there, make sure you go up to the old church to have a spectacular view. 

End of the trip: back to Lisbon

If we know that we need to fly early the next day, we like to stay in hotels really close to the airport. Two advantages: really easy to catch a plane next day and you can watch planes take off and land the night before. Who doesn’t like plane spotting? :)

Portugal is a beautiful country, so it actually doesn't matter, which part of it you want to explore — you will love it. I am definitely planning to come back to see the North (Porto), as well as the South! If you are planning a road-trip in Portugal, I hope this article gave you some inspiration and ideas. Have you been in Portugal and have recommendation for me? Let me know in comments!


About the author


Hi, I am Maria, blogger and founder of Globalmary.com.

I was born and grew up in Russia, studied in Sweden and now live in Hamburg, my most favorite city in Germany. I travel a lot and write about places I've been to. I share my best travel tips and experience about what it means to live a global life!

 

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