Portugal

PORTUGAL ROAD TRIP: ITINERARY, PLANNING TIPS & COSTS

Crowded Algarve beach surrounded by turquoise water and cliffs, Portugal
The Algarve, Portugal

Planning an epic Portugal road trip? Filled with cobblestone-lined streets, wild surf beaches and as much pastel de nata as you can handle, Portugal is a road-trippers dream.

Whether you’re whizzing down the highways or navigating narrow alleyways the views along the way will be stunning. With rolling hills, medieval towns and dramatic coastline, Portugal’s landscape is as varied as it is breathtaking.

And the food! I hope you like seafood, because Portugal’s seafood is fresh and delicious. Make sure to try verde wine, and if you’ve got a sweet tooth you’re in luck; the pastel de nata and other baked goods in Portugal are amazing.

Have I convinced you? Read on to get tips on what to see, do, eat and budget to help you plan your perfect Portugal road trip.

WHEN TO GO TO PORTUGAL

The best time to visit the Algarve to avoid the hordes of crowds and scorching sun is the shoulder season of April to June or September to October. Still, Portugal actually isn’t as overwhelmed by mass tourism as a lot of Western Europe in summer so for the rest of the country July to August are still good options.

Castle of the Moors and dry countryside in background, Portugal
Castle of the Moors, Sintra

THINGS TO KNOW ABOUT RENTING A CAR IN PORTUGAL

We rented a car for our 3-week Portugal road trip. Despite reading numerous articles on Portuguese tailgaters and crazy drivers we never had any problems (except for when we drove down a tight alleyway, only to discover it was a dead-end and had to reverse out the same way…).

There are a few things you should know about renting a car in Portugal to make your road trip as smooth as possible. 

Firstly, most of the rental cars in Portugal are manuals. If you can’t drive manual (like me) a rental car might not be the best option as automatics are considerably more expensive. We used Auto Europe to search for the best deals and ended up booking through InterRent.

Portuguese roads and highways are easy to navigate but there are a lot of toll roads. We didn’t take much notice as we went and were shocked when the credit card bill came through at over €175 for 3 weeks.

So rental cars may not be the most cost-effective means of travel, but the freedom to stop off and explore castles, towns and beaches along the way meant for us it was well worth it.

PORTUGAL ROAD TRIP BUDGET

Accommodation
In 24 nights we spent €1041.40 on accommodation, working out at €43.40 per night or €21.70 each. We stayed in private rooms in hostels and guesthouses, and you could easily spend less if you were staying in a dorm room in a hostel.
Food
We found food to be reasonably priced and ate out for virtually every meal. Generally, dinner would cost between €10-€15 each and we would often have a glass of wine with our meals (you should too, the wine over there is cheap and delicious).
Activities
Entrance fees for churches, palaces, museums and other historical sites weren’t expensive. Pena Palace in Sintra is a must see, and cost €13.30 for the palace and the gardens, while tickets to the Convento de Cristo in Tomar are only €6. There are also a few free castles and sites to visit too.
Daily Budget
Portugal is a great country to visit on a backpacker’s budget (it surprised me how inexpensive it was). Your daily budget will vary a lot depending on your travel style but €50-€60 is a good suggested daily budget for Portugal.

PORTUGAL QUICK TIPS

Currency: Portugal is part of the EU and the offical currency in Portugal is the Euro (EUR). 1 USD is equivalent to roughly 0.92 EUR.

Language: Portuguese is the offical language in Portugal and is NOT the same as Spanish. Though many people will speak English in Portugal it pays to learn a few key phrases in Portuguese before you go.

Credit Cards & ATM’s: While most of the larger cities and tourist destinations will have ATM’s, some of the smallest towns and villages might not. It always pays to carry a small amount of cash with you in case.

Plugs: In Portugal the power plugs and sockets are type F (the standard European plug). The voltage is 230 V and the standard frequency is 50 Hz.

Safety: Portugal is overall a very safe country to visit, and is a great destination for solo female travellers. As always, be sensible and make sure to check your local travel advisory before you go.

Girl sits on rock wall overlooking terracotta roofs of village below
Sunset in Monsanto, Portugal

Portugal Road Trip: Where To Go & What To Do

Note: We spent 3 weeks in Portugal on our epic Portugal road trip. I know most people might not be lucky enough to be able to spend that long in Portugal, so at the end of this post I’ve given different itinerary options and ways you can change this itinerary.

  • Lisbon: 5 Nights
  • Tomar: 1 Night
  • Coimbra: 2 Nights
  • Porto: 3 Nights
  • Monsanto: 2 Nights
  • Marvao: 2 Nights
  • Evora: 2 Nights
  • Tavira: 3 Nights
  • Odeceixe: 3 Nights

Lisbon: 5 Nights

Unless you’re just heading to the Algarve for a week of sun and surf, your Portugal road trip will most likely begin in Lisbon.

Lisbon is a lively city filled with fado singers, ancient yellow trams, picturesque alleyways and viewpoints offering panoramic views. It’s worth spending 3 days here, or 4 days if you’re planning on visiting Sintra as a day trip.

While in Lisbon make sure to check out Castelo de Sao Jorge, attend a fado performance and ride the number 28 tram. Lisbon is also a great foodie city. Make sure to explore the colourful Mercado da Ribeira or get your pastel de nata fill at Pasteis de Belem.

Stay: We stayed in Norte Guest House and spent €44 per night for a basic private room with ensuite. Though the guesthouse itself was nothing special, it was in a perfect location right next to Praca de Figueira (and my favourite pastry shop in Lisbon).

Yellow tram makes its way up a hill, Lisbon
Colourful red, yellow and pink buildings with coloured bunting in front, Lisbon, Portugal
Lisbon, Portugal

Read More: The Ultimate 4-Day Lisbon Itinerary

Tomar: 1 Night

The next stop on your Portugal road trip is picturesque Tomar, so pick up your rental car and get on the road! Note: You won’t need a rental car in Lisbon, so it’s best to pick it up as you leave the city.

On the way to Tomar take a short detour to Almoural Castle, a picturesque castle perched dramatically on an island in the middle of the Tagus River. You can pay to take a boat trip across to the ruins.

In Tomar walk up the hill away from town to Convento de Cristo, Tomar’s main attraction and the mysterious former headquarters of the Knights Templar. What remains today is a fascinating blend of castle, cloisters, an aqueduct and chapel. You could easily spend a couple of hours here exploring the beautiful gardens and striking architecture. Tickets are €6.

While in Tomar make sure to check out Praca da Republica, Tomar’s main square. Pegoes Aqueduct is a little outside of town but is a fascinating (and deserted) ruin, and is another of Tomar’s top attractions.

Eat: Our guesthouse owner recommended Restaurante a Brasinha and it did not disappoint. From the crumbly cheeses to the beautifully prepared steaks and strong local wine everything was delicious. For something sweet stop at Estrelas de Tomar to try some convent-inspired baking such as ‘Kiss Me Quick’s’.

View looking down through trees of Tomar's main square, complete with church
Tomar's Convento de Cristo seen through convent window
Man sits on window seat overlooking garden outside, Tomar, Portugal

Coimbra: 2 Nights

From Tomar get back on the road and head to Coimbra.

A town as picturesque as it is steeped in history, Coimbra is home to one of the oldest universities in the world. The students who attend wear black cloaks said to have inspired Hogwart’s uniforms in Harry Potter, and the university itself is like something out of a magical world.

You can’t visit Coimbra and not check out the university. While there make sure to climb up the University Tower for incredible views of the town below. The Biblioteca Joanina is another highlight of any visit to Coimbra University. Built during the 18th century this Baroque library is a National Monument and one of the most gorgeous libraries I’ve ever seen.

For a relaxing afternoon spend a blissful few hours wandering Coimbra’s extensive Botanic Gardens. For something a bit quirky head to Portugal dos Pequenitos. A Lilliputian theme park filled with tiny Portuguese houses and monuments, the park is as much fun for adults as it is for kids. (Though you might not be able to fit in all the houses). Entrance to the park is €10.

Eat: Our dinner at Passeite Taberna do Azeite was one of the best meals we had in Portugal. The tapas-style dishes were tasty and the chocolate mousse drizzled with Portuguese olive oil was surprisingly delicious.

View from tower of river and town, Coimbra, Portugal
Man wearing black and backpack stands in miniature model, Coimbra
A giant in Coimbra?

Porto: 3 Nights

Ah, Porto. During my three days here I fell in love with this charming Portuguese city. In fact, if this blog ever takes off Porto is somewhere I could easily see myself living the digital nomad life.

But anyway, Porto is the next stop on your Portugal road trip itinerary, though it’s worth making a stop in Costa Nova do Prado on the way. An attractive coastal town known for its candy-striped beach houses, Costa Nova do Prado makes a great stop to break up the drive.

In Porto make sure to pay a visit to Clerigos Church. The Baroque church itself is beautiful, but the highlight is the stunning views of the city from the bell tower. It’s €3 to climb the tower.

Harry Potter fans will find a lot to love about Porto. Check out Livraria Lello, the famous bookshop that inspired Harry Potter’s Flourish and Blotts (although when I went I found it a little overrated), or have brunch at JK Rowling’s favourite Porto haunt, Majestic Café.

The colourful houses of Porto by the river, Portugal
Girl sits on stairs outside pale blue candy striped beach house, Portugal

Taste Porto Food Tour

A highlight of our time in Porto was a food tour with Taste Porto. We did the Downtown Food Tour and spent an enjoyable few hours tasting 10 different types of traditional Portuguese foods. I loved exploring the bustling Bolhao Market, and the sandwiches we tried at Flor dos Congregados were amazingly good. The Downtown Food Tour cost €65.

Eat: While in Porto you have to try francesinha, an exuberant Portuguese sandwich made with bread, wet-cured ham, Portuguese sausage, steak or roast beef and covered in melted cheese and a special tomato and beer sauce. Fair warning; go with an empty stomach. We tried our francesinha at Cervejaria Brasão Aliados.

Monsanto: 2 Nights

Next up on your epic Portugal road trip we’re escaping the cities and heading to tiny Monsanto.

Perched precariously atop a steep hill, Monsanto was once named the ‘Most Portuguese village in Portugal’, though you’ll never see another town quite like Monsanto. Built up around giant boulders that litter the hill, the boulders form walls, floors and even roofs of the town’s medieval cottages.

Besides the Templar castle ruins at the top of the hill there isn’t much to see or do here, but Monsanto is the perfect place to relax and soak in views of the stunning Portuguese countryside.

Stay: We stayed in the beautiful Casa do Miradouro and it was up there with some of the best accommodation of our trip. It was a little bit of a splurge on a backpacker’s budget but for €60 per night we had a whole apartment – complete with dreamy rooftop terrace and homemade baked goods – to ourselves.

Sunset over old stone church, Monsanto
Sunset in Monsanto

Marvao: 2 Nights

Was 2 nights not long enough to fully experience the laidback vibes of an ancient Portuguese village? You’re in luck, because the next stop on your Portugal road trip is the equally charming (if slightly more touristy) Marvao.

Marvao is the highest town in Portugal and the views looking out over the countryside (and neighbouring Spain in the distance) are breathtaking. Spend a day here wandering the town’s pretty alleyways, and make sure to check out the 13th century Marvao Castle.

Eat: There’s limited restaurant options in Marvao, and both nights of our stay we ended up at Varanda do Alentejo. One of the nights I had an average lamb dish, and the next the best grilled pork I’ve had in my life.

Marvao whitewashed church and buildings on hill, Portugal
Pink roses line the whitewashed streets of Marvao, Portugal
Sunset over the hills in Marvao with white building and path in foreground

Evora: 2 Nights

From Marvao get back in the car and make for Evora.

Capital of the Alentejo region, Evora is steeped in rich history. It’s also really hot. When we visited in July temperatures sat at around 36°C, though we were told by a local that it can reach 45°C. Too. Damn. Hot.

While in Evora check out the Roman Temple, also known as the Temple of Diana. (Although there’s no evidence to suggest that the temple was ever dedicated to the goddess). Believed to have been built in the 2nd or 3rd century the temple is in good condition and makes for a fascinating visit.

If you’re into the macabre make sure to head to Capela dos Ossos.  The Bone Chapel consists of the bones of over 1000 skeletons, and words carved above the entrance read “We bones, are here, waiting for yours.” Creepy, but interesting.

Creepy column of skulls in the Bone Cathedral, Evora
The Bone Chapel, Evora

A little outside of town

Almendres Cromlech is an ancient megalithic site filled with stone circles. It’s a captivating place to visit, though I don’t know if it quite lives up to the title of ‘the Stonehenge of Portugal’.

Want something special to do in Evora? I highly recommend an olive oil tour and tasting with Amor e Cego.

Our tour around the small family-owned olive groves was a surprising highlight of our stay. I wouldn’t call myself an olive oil connoisseur but Amor e Cego’s smooth Galega olive oil was incredibly tasty drizzled across fresh bread. We paid João for the tour by purchasing four bottles of olive oil to take home to New Zealand.

Man wearing striped singlet and cap rests on balcony overlooking Evora
Evora, Portugal

Tavira: 3 Nights

You’ve probably heard of Portugal’s Algarve. Well get excited friend, because Tavira is the next stop on your Portugal road trip.

Tavira is a pretty coastal town straddling the Gilao River and is filled with colourful buildings and bright flowers. While by no means a hidden gem, Tavira very much felt like a local’s holiday destination and wasn’t swarming with pasty tourists – a big bonus in my book!

From Tavira’s town centre catch a ferry to Praia de Tavira, the region’s most popular beach. Much of the beach is organised and a short walk away you’ll find a number of restaurants. Spend an afternoon relaxing on the expanse of golden sand, and go for quick dips in the chilly Atlantic Ocean.

A short drive from Tavira, Cacela Velha makes for a great day trip, with another stunning beach to relax on. You can either walk across or pay a local boat a small fee to ferry you across to the sandy island.

Yellow flowers overhang the wall in Tavira
Crowded beach in the Algarve, Portugal
Man wearing striped singlet and cap overlooks white sand beach and ocean, Tavira
Cacela Velha Beach, Tavira

Odeceixe: 3 Nights

We’ve arrived at the last stop on your Portugal road trip itinerary; Odeceixe.

If I can give you a piece of advice here, friend, it’s this; when Google Maps tells you to turn down a tight alleyway on the way into town, don’t. It’s a dead-end, and you’ll have to reverse back out through said tight alleyway while desperately trying not to scrape the sides of the rental car. Not exactly how we wanted to end our Portugal adventure.

That said, Odeceixe is a great place to explore. It’s known as a surfing destination as the nearby Praia de Odeceixe Mar has some good waves (apparently; I’m not a surfer).

There’s not much to do in the town itself but I do recommend spending an evening wandering the cobbled streets. Make your way up to the windmill at the top of the hill for gorgeous views of the whitewashed walls and terracotta roofs below.

Head to the beach

Praia de Odeceixe Mar is located about 3.5kms outside of town. During the summer a road-train runs between them but if you can I’d recommend walking. It’s about a 45 minute walk and the views are stunning. The beach itself is rugged with freezing cold water but it’s a great place to spend a day lazing about.

For something more active you could rent a kayak and paddle up the Ribeira de Seixe. There’s a rental company located on the beach and they charge €25 for a 2-hour hire.

Eat: As a well-known tourist destination Odeceixe has a fair few restaurants. Café Luna is a nice little café serving vegetarian food and good breakfasts. Surprisingly, the best meal we had in Odeceixe was at Dong Jing, a Chinese/Japanese restaurant. The small plates were cheap and quick and the food was great.

Man walks along dry grass path, Odeceixe, Portugal
White windmill at sunset in Odeceixe, Portugal

What If I Only Have Two Weeks in Portugal?

Only have two weeks in Portugal? Don’t worry, that’s definitely still enough time to plan an epic Portugal road trip! I recommend adapting your itinerary to the following:

  • Lisbon (with Sintra day trip): 4 Nights
  • Coimbra: 2 Nights
  • Porto: 3 Nights
  • Monsanto: 2 Nights
  • Tavira & The Algarve: 3 Nights

How About a 1-Week Portugal Road Trip Itinerary?

One week in Portugal isn’t enough time to see everything, but you’ll still be able to get a taste of what Portugal has to offer. I recommend sticking to two or three main cities, and if cities aren’t your thing cut Porto out and spend more time in the Algarve:

  • Porto: 2 Nights
  • Lisbon: 3 Nights
  • The Algarve: 2 Nights (or spend more time here and cut Porto)
Brown stone castle perches on a small river island, Portugal
Almoural Castle, Portugal

Portugal should be your next road trip destination!

Ah, Portugal. To date Portugal has been one of my favourite countries to explore; in fact, I was kind of surprised by how much I loved it. With rugged beaches, charming ancient towns, great cheese, and as many pastel de nata as you can handle, this underrated gem of a country should absolutely be on your travel bucket list. Use this guide as a jumping off, get in your rental car, and get exploring!

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Portugal Road Trip
Portugal Road Trip

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