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. We got a chance to visit the best places in central Portugal, and also discovered some hidden gems.
We have started in Lisbon after spending a week on the beautiful Portuguese island Madeira. If you want to discover Portugal more and find out about the nicest places in the center of the country, this article is going to be very helpful for you.
Things you should keep in mind when planning a road-trip in Portugal =>> (coming up)
Choosing a route: road-trip in central Portugal
Where to go and what to do in Portugal? I always recommend doing your research in advance. Being spontaneous is fun, but sometimes you can discover amazing things, browsing through travel blogs.
Portugal is a small country and it’s tempting to visit all the popular destination in one trip, but I recommend taking it slow and enjoying this wonderful country. Also, if you take your time and have a flexible plan, you can discover some places that are not on the popular lists yet. I also found that traveling during the low season is a great idea, because you avoid crowds and high prices!
I hope that me itinerary for the road-trip in central Portugal will inspire you to visit these beautiful places.
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. At the same time driving in Lisbon can be a hassle. That’s why I recommend 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, so try to get the rhythm of the city: relax with a nice espresso or a glass of amazing Portuguese wine and tapas. Take it slow and enjoy it!
First stop, planned: Sintra
Sintra is a must see. It was a residence of Portuguese Royals, and as all respectful Royals like to do, they have 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. Make sure you read my complete guide on visiting Sintra to plan your visit and understand how to get around there – I spent days putting it together, so I know it’s the best out there!
Second stop, spontaneous: Cabo de Roca
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
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
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
One day was enough, and it was a long and interesting day!
Fifth stop, spontaneous: Conímbriga
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
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 it!
My recommendation is to stay at least two days in Coimbra.
Seventh stop, spontaneous: Obidos
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
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? It depends on the season and if you like the beach. Maybe forever? :)
Ninth stop, planned: Peniche
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
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 recommendations for me? Let me know in the 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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