Portugal – Travel suggestions
It is possible to appreciate Portugal using only public transport, however, some of the most precious places only have one or two daily connections (or less) making time management difficult or forcing the use of taxis. Rent-a-car is the ideal solution, and the freedom it gives allows us to suggest a variety of programs, easy to follow exactly as suggested or to combine and adapt. Some examples:
1 – Mafra impresses above all for its grandeur. In a quick visit, enter the church. A visit to the palace adds 30 or 40 minutes, and is especially worth it for the library, at the end, which can only be seen from the entrance.
2 – In Sobreiro, the only thing worth visiting is the village of João Franco, a very interesting example of folk art in ceramics, depicting Portugal and its people. The visit is brief but can be delayed by long queues.
3 – Ericeira is a good place for a fish or seafood meal. It is worth visiting the historic center and the seaside.
4 – Óbidos, one of the 7 Wonders of Portugal (7WP), much visited, can be seen walking from the south entrance to the castle, and back, through different streets. It has good restaurants, and a traditional ginginha in a chocolate cup.
5 – Nazaré is the most beautiful and most traditional Portuguese beach. Many restaurants and diverse hotels make it a good option for an overnight stay, which in the months of July and August requires reservations, at inflated prices. The big waves put Portugal in the surfers map, but they don’t appear often.
6 – Alcobaça is worth visiting the 12th century monastery, a UNESCO World Heritage Site, and one of the 7WP. The monastery can be seen in an hour and, with time, a walk along the river can spend a few minutes in a pleasant way.
7 – Batalha has a monastery 200 years younger, but with a spectacular Gothic style, which earned it the same awards as Alcobaça. Don’t miss the Capelas Imperfeitas, with separate entrance and the same ticket.
8 – Leiria is beautiful, but touristically hampered by the dominant flow towards Fátima and Tomar. The castle is more beautiful seen from below, and the Rodrigues Lobo square area has character. It’s worth going to Leiria for lunch, at the gastronomy icon called Tromba Rija or at one of its strong competitors.
9 – Fátima is a very strong tourist center, almost mandatory even for non-believers. Visiting the shrine does not require a lot of time, and the many hotels on offer guarantee an easy and cheap overnight stay, outside of worship days, when it reveals a large and still village. If you have some time, it’s a good starting point for visiting one of the region’s many caves (Alvados, Santo António or Mira de Aire at the top).
10 – Tomar is almost a must visit, Unesco Heritage thanks to the castle and convent, but the city center and the park are very pleasant. With less offer than Fátima, it is a good alternative for an overnight stay, due to the greater animation and nightlife.
11 – Dornes is just an opportunity to, on the way, see and photograph a beautiful village excellently inserted in the reservoir of the Castelo de Bode dam.
12 – Conímbriga is the largest site of Roman remains in Portugal, well recovered, and with spectacular mosaics, a few minutes from Coimbra.
13 – Coimbra justifies many hours, and some planning of the visit given the steep slopes of the historic area. Parking in the upper zone and going down and returning by taxi is one solution, using the elevator is another. Despite the likely long queue, don’t miss the university library. Coimbra fado is a special event that I highly recommend.
14 – Bussaco is a magnificent park dominated by a palace that is a 5-star hotel. Walk a little along the marked trails, without descending too far. Returning to the car, descend for about 2 kilometers and stop to see the valley of ferns.
15 – Mealhada is very famous among the Portuguese for its suckling pig. If you like it, and you are there at lunchtime, enjoy it. Otherwise, go on.
16 – In Sangalhos there’s a strange museum at Caves Aliança, on a 1.30 hour guided tour ending with a champagne tasting. It’s worth it, and that’s all.
17 – Aveiro is known as the Portuguese Venice. Not to be missed is a moliceiro ride, a visit to the tomb of Santa Joana, and the soft eggs tasting.
18 – Visiting from Aveiro, a few minutes are enough to appreciate the exotic typical houses of Costa Nova. It’s a good place to have lunch.
19 – Porto justifies a specific plan depending on the preferences of each one, and always includes Gaia in that plan.
20 – Barcelos is not normally included in general plans of limited duration, but it is a beautiful city, which is well seen in passing.
21 – Ponte de Lima is a small city, but with a magnificent historic center, which attracts many Portuguese. Of the foreigners, due to the time limit, only the Spaniards have a reasonable presence. For those who don’t need a lot of time in Porto, it’s a good day trip to have lunch with the traditional “Rojões com papas de sarrabulho”.
22 – Braga is a must visit, which can justify anything from a couple of hours to a full day, or more, especially if you include Gerês. The most common is to be visited together with Guimarães, on a day trip from Porto.
23 – Cradle of Portugal, UNESCO Heritage, Guimarães is a must see, whose essentials can be seen in a few hours.
24 – The beauty of Amarante is concentrated in the church of São Gonçalo and the bridge. It is a mandatory stop, which is completed in a short time.
25 – Casa de Mateus, close to Vila Real, is the city’s biggest attraction. Worth the stop, limited to the garden if time is short.
26 – Provesende is one of the prettiest and most accessible typical villages in the Douro. It is a detour of minutes, which you may or may not do.
27 – Pinhão is the “capital” of Port wine. It can be accessed by boat (an interesting cruise from Porto that lasts a day) or by car. In that case, you can take a local mini-cruise for one (I recommend!) or two hours. Visiting some farms is “mandatory” in any case.
28 – Lamego, the most beautiful town in the Port Wine Region, on the south bank of the Douro, is worth a visit that can be shortened to one or two hours. The access is made through the famous road N222.
29 – Viseu is a very progressive city, with a beautiful historic center.
30 – Seia is one of the accesses to Serra da Estrela. The Bread Museum is an interesting place to have lunch. Afterwards, access to the mountain can be done via Sabugueiro, or via Loriga.
31 – Loriga, which I visited many years ago (no photos) is now popular in Portugal for its modern river beach. It’s in my plans. If you choose this access, make a small detour to Lagoa Comprida and Covão do Corcho.
32 – Torre is the highest point in mainland Portugal, and the center of winter sports. Even without snow, the landscapes are breathtaking. The descent to the south side can be done through Manteigas, with an impressive zigzag of 10km, always with Manteigas “already there”, and access to the Poço do Inferno waterfall, or through Covilhã, with several excellent viewpoints, and the access to Covão de Ametade, a 30 minutes detour when descending.
33 – Covilhã is a historically industrial city, which a university gave new life. It is a good place to stay overnight in Serra da Estrela, and well placed for the continuation of the journey.
34 – A visit to the remote interior of Portugal must start in Belmonte, a historic town closely linked to the Judaism that is still present today.
35 – Sortelha is, for me, the most beautiful historic village in Portugal. Small, seen in minutes.
36 – Famous since it was declared “the most Portuguese village in Portugal”, Monsanto has invested in tourism without losing its character. It is a must-visit for anyone who dares to venture into the remote countryside.
37 – The spectacular views of Vila Velha de Ródão do not justify an express trip, but, being in the area, a detour is advised.
38 – Impressive view from below, welcoming view from above, Marvão is a pleasant and quick visit.
39 – UNESCO heritage, Elvas is a good option to close the interior border circuit. Take the opportunity to try traditional Alentejo cuisine, especially Dogfish Soup.
40 – Former royal residence, Vila Viçosa is an interesting stopover near Évora.
41 – Estremoz is a typical village on the outskirts of Évora, famous for its marble, easy to visit in a quick visit, before heading to the neighboring and similar Arraiolos. If you decide to visit just one of them, choose Arraiolos. The many quarries are visible at various points along the route.
42 – Arraiolos is another typical village on the outskirts of Évora, famous for its rugs, and also easy to visit in a quick visit. Be sure to go up to the castle and visit at least one of the carpet shops and/or the museum.
43 – Évora is the biggest tourist attraction in the southern half of Portugal, if we exclude the beaches of the Algarve. It justifies the trip and the overnight stay, if necessary.
44 – Monsaraz is a very interesting village, which has against it the fact that it implies a reasonable detour, and the use of longer access to the Algarve, the destination of most visitors. It is a matter of taste and priorities to decide whether to visit or not.
45 – If you went to Monsaraz, Beja is on the way. Not being one of the most touristic cities in Portugal, you can visit the castle and its surroundings, and have lunch, if necessary.
46 – Mértola is a town with a very rich history that is very present and visible, which adds to its beauty as a reason for a visit. If you didn’t have lunch in Beja, enjoy it.
47 – Albufeira is mentioned here because it is the main beach in the Algarve, the liveliest and with the biggest quantity of hotels. However, the alternatives are immense, for all price and quality levels. A visit to the Algarve justifies an autonomous plan, according to priorities and available time.
48 – There are several “Algarves” – inland (mountainous) and coastal, Barlavento west of Faro (cliffed, rocky), Sotavento east (flat, sandy). Tavira is the prettiest town in Sotavento, and one of the most traditional in the Algarve. It’s a good destination for a day trip.
49 – If you go to Tavira, be sure to stop at Olhão, one of the best examples of architecture in the Algarve, with its roof terraces. The fish market is better and much cheaper than the one in the neighboring capital.
50 – Faro, the capital, is a very busy port, with a pleasant old town. The beach is on an island a few kilometers away, and the Ria Formosa has its liveliest area in this area.
51 – Armação de Pera is a large and busy beach, predominantly for families. It is mentioned here for being the best starting point for the “obligatory” visit to the caves of Benagil and surroundings.
52 – Carvoeiro is a beautiful and small beach, next to the famous Benagil cave, which can be accessed by kayak from the beach. I do not recommend it because it is a permanent and huge mess, with difficult parking, and some less practical accesses. However, passing by, and stopping at the quieter Algar Seco is interesting.
53 – Portimão is the best place to eat grilled sardines in the Algarve, and one of the biggest cities, with some good beaches in the area. It is a permanence alternative, although it is not at the top of my choices. A visit to Praia da Rocha is a must.
54 – Lagos is the prettiest town in the Barlavento with good beaches and the unmissable Ponta da Piedade. I suggest a night in the city to experience its nightlife, and to shorten the trip along the west coast.
55 – Sagres is a historical reference, although the “Sagres School” actually appears to have been in Lagos. It is worth a visit for its impressive views, and its significance in European history.
56 – The journey back to Lisbon begins in Sagres, along the Costa Vicentina, a stretch of wild coastline, with wide, nearly empty beaches and spectacular headlands. Arrifana, after Carrapateira and Bordeira, is just one example of the many spots to stop and photograph.
57 – Odeceixe marks the border between the Algarve and Alentejo. It has a beautiful beach, shaped by a river, which you can visit… or not, depending on your time.
58 – With some similarities, but bigger and prettier than Odeceixe, Vila Nova de Milfontes is one of the most famous beaches on the Alentejo coast.
59 – Sines is another possible stop, with a castle overlooking a beach, in contrast to the heavily industrial air that surrounds it. Other possible stops on this route are Porto Covo, Melides or Comporta, a good alternative to stay if delayed.
60 – Tróia is a long sandy peninsula facing Setúbal. Exclusively devoted to tourism, today it has a quality hotel offer, and impeccably clean beaches. It’s a good option to stay overnight, but it’s always possible to take the ferry across to Setúbal and decide – Lisbon is less than an hour away.
61 – Setúbal is the entrance to the Arrábida natural park. Great views, beautiful beaches, sometimes difficult traffic.
62 – Sesimbra is the best beach in the Arrábida area, well served by restaurants where fish reigns supreme. The castle has stunning views.
63 – Viana do Castelo, the capital of the district, has as its high point the sanctuary of Santa Luzia, a copy of the Parisian Sacré-Coeur, and with breathtaking views.
64 – Cascais is the most “foreign” Portuguese town, as it is preferred by foreigners who decide to reside in Portugal, with the purchasing power to support the high prices. Among the various points of interest, Boca do Inferno and the fishermen’s beach and its surroundings can be highlighted. Very good beaches.
65 – Estoril is today a continuation of Cascais, with a historic casino, the most famous of Portugal.
66 – Carcavelos as a town is not of great tourist significance, but it is the biggest and best beach on the Lisbon coast. On the opposite side of the fort, Oeiras offers a marina and other good beaches.
67 – Queluz is the Portuguese “Versailles”. More modest, of course, but also interesting.
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