Planning Your Trip to Portugal
It's possible to devote a long weekend to the food and culture in Lisbon or Porto, both excellent introductions to Portugal, but you’ll get far more out of a slightly longer and less hurried trip: with a minimum of 5 days, you can combine city tours with day trips out to beaches, vineyards, and palace-topped towns with UNESCO World Heritage status.
A week is a great starting point for a more intimate discovery of the country, as you’ll be able to factor in a couple of days to head south to the Atlantic coast or plan a road trip to the lesser-explored hinterland and mountains.
Any longer and you can easily tour the country from top to toe—it’s around a six-hour drive from Braga in the north, say, to Faro in the Algarve in the south. If you’re lucky enough to have a full two-week vacation here, Portugal and its islands (Madeira and the Azores) really are your oyster, and you can even consider adding time in Spain for a multi-country trip.
Portugal in 5-6 Days
With 5 to 6 days in Portugal, it’s best to keep a fairly narrow focus and home in on one of the major cities, perhaps setting a day or two aside for day trips to the surrounding coast and countryside.
A natural starting point is the country’s charismatic capital, Lisbon, which spreads across seven hills and sits astride the Tagus River. The city’s crowing glory Moorish castle, the alley-woven Alfama with its riveting miradouros (viewpoints) and the UNESCO-listed Jerónimos Monastery, a shining example of Manueline architecture, should be high on your wish list.
But allow time, too, to simply wander the backstreets and plazas, take a rickety vintage tram ride (28E gives a great overview of the historic center), and enjoy some phenomenal food and nightlife. Time permitting, you can tag on a trip to Sintra, say, with its clutch of fantastical palaces tucked among lushly wooded hills, or the wave-lashed Atlantic beaches of Ericeira, Peniche and Nazaré that surfers rave about.
Or make northern Porto your base for a brilliant mix of medieval history, happening nightlife, art and culture on the banks of the mighty Douro River. Porto’s food scene is one of the country’s most exciting, and is naturally complemented by a port wine tasting in one of the traditional lodges that march up the slopes of the Vila Nova de Gaia neighborhood.
From Porto, hire a car or take the train for the short trip into the Douro Valley, hands-down one of Europe’s most beautiful wine regions, with its steeply terraced vineyards following the contours of the cliffs and rustic quintas (wine estates) opening their doors for tours, tastings and often lunch and dinner. Staying overnight here is a delight.
For inspiration, check out our 5-day Explore Porto, Lisbon & Sintra itinerary.
Portugal in 7-8 Days
With a full week on your hands, you’ll have a satisfying amount of time to explore Portugal and ease up the pace a little.
After a few days of cultural exploration in Lisbon and Porto, you’ll be itching to strike out towards the coast or countryside for a breath of fresh air and a more relaxed, uncrowded vibe. But be wary of trying to squeeze in too much: it’s best to opt for just one or two places and have ample time to do them justice.
If you’re craving some beach time (or are a keen surfer), the Atlantic coast is a must. From Lisbon, it’s little over a two-hour drive south to the Algarve, where glorious cliff-backed bays of golden sand and prettily whitewashed, castle-topped towns like Lagos await (check out our week-long city-beach combo in this 7-day itinerary).
On your journey south, you could also spend a day or two in the quietly beautiful Alentejo, where farm-to-fork dining, country rambles and a stay at a family-run agriturismo (farm stays) gives you a true taste of rural Portuguese life. While here, you won’t want to miss highlights like Évora, an exquisitely preserved, UNESCO World Heritage medieval town, with a fortress-like cathedral and Roman remains. See our 7-day itinerary of the south for inspiration.
Portugal in 9-12 Days
In nine to 12 days, you can expect to see a generous chunk of all that Portugal has to offer, from its most sensational cities to sublime vineyards and beaches, on a north-to-south trip.
This Lisbon, Porto and the Algarve tour kicks off in the riverside capital of Lisbon with a gourmet food tour followed by a spin of the historic highlights (from the monumental Praça do Comércio square to the enigmatic Gothic ruins of Carmo convent).
From here, it's just a short hop over to Unesco-listed Sintra, where a fantastical collection of castles and palaces spread romantically across lushly wooded hills, before heading beyond to the wild Atlantic coast and Cabo da Roca, Portugal's westernmost point. The itinerary then swings north to Tomar, HQ of the legendary Knights Templar, en route to historic Porto, before a day trip into the beautiful Douro Valley for port wine tastings among the vines and a boat ride along the river.
You'll round out in the Algarve down south, exploring the pretty old town of seafaring Lagos, ringed by 16th-century walls, before hitting some of lovely cliff-backed, gold-sand beaches right on its doorstep.
If you fancy going it alone at a more relaxed pace, the self-drive tour is the ultimate Portugal road trip. After ticking off the big-hitters in Lisbon, and day tripping to Sintra's palaces and appealing Atlantic coast towns like Cascais and Estoril, you'll drive on north. Castle-topped Óbidos is a natural stop-off, with its intact ring walls and charming, alley-woven center to explore.
Next up, Porto wows with the likes of the medieval Ribeira district on the banks of the Douro River, and Vila Nova de Gaia's historic port wine lodgings offering tours and tastings. Excellent day trips abound, whether you're keen to make the pilgrimage to deeply spiritual Braga or hit the hiking trails in the mountainous Peneda-Gerês National Park.
Cruising on south, you'll be impressed by the immaculately preserved walled medieval city of Évora, a Unesco World Heritage site, which is the gateway to Portugal's rural Alentejo region, where you can relax over home-cooked meals and local wines at gloriously remote farms.
Portugal in 2 Weeks
Having two weeks to devote to Portugal will really enable you to slip under the skin of the country, perhaps combining a north-to-south tour with a visit to neighboring Spain. Or you can tie in your visit with a trip to the islands. Madeira is a fabulous choice: lush, mountainous and volcanic, with black-sand beaches lashed by the Atlantic, hiking trails following the levada irrigation channels, and wine lodges offering tastings of the island's namesake dessert wine.
A short flight away in the mid-Atlantic are the Azores, a cluster of islands with volcanoes to climb, subtropical gardens, lava formations and crater lakes to explore, and excellent whale watching opportunities. Here are some itinerary ideas to help you get the most out of your trip.
This epic 14-day itinerary makes a loop of Portugal's cultural highs and outdoor wonders, with a terrific mix of free time, tours and scenic drives. You'll begin by getting a fantastic insight into the food and history of capital, Lisbon, before heading west to the surf-lashed coastal town of Nazaré and the mighty monastery of Santa Maria de Alcobaça, founded in 1153 by Afonso Henriques, first king of Portugal.
Edging north brings you to Coimbra, with its delightful medieval center and the country's oldest university, and vibrant, riverside Porto where a phenomenal drive takes you deep into the vine-draped Douro Valley, one of the world's most beautiful wine regions, for tastings and tours. Moving on south takes you to Unesco-listed Évora, a wonderfully laid-back walled city, with alleys to stroll and Roman ruins to admire.
From here, strike out into the Alentejo for peaceful farmstays, country walks, and season-driven home cooking. The ideal wind-down after this adventure is a couple of days in the Algarve, using Salema in the Costa Vincentina Natural Park as your base. This tranquil former fishing village has remained incredibly low-key, with a half-mile-long sweep of golden sand and easy access to nearby coves, cliffs, and marshland.
Other memorable 14-day itineraries include the Ultimate Portugal Tour and a two-week trip that combines the very best of Portugal with several days on Madeira. Or check out the 15-day Highlights of Spain & Portugal and 21-day Porto, Lisbon, the Algarve & Sevilla itineraries for an incredible twin country trip.