There’s something about first arriving in a new country and falling in love with the first city you visit. Rookie mistake? It still happens to me. Some of my lifetime favorites though are Busan (Korea), Marseille (France), and Osaka (Japan). Something else they all have in common? Port cities! Which brings us to Porto, Portugal. Our first stop on our Portugal itinerary! With one week to travel, and a handful of cities and areas we wanted to visit – all without rushing from place to place every night – this itinerary is for driving one way from Porto to Lisbon. But could be done in reverse.
Previously, I had only visited the Azores briefly, which has a completely different vibe than mainland Portugal. Exploring Portugal has been on my “list” for a while. I snagged a ridiculous flight deal in November for $437 roundtrip from Portland to Madrid. That sealed the deal on spending a week exploring, before settling down in Valencia, Spain for a month.
1 Week Portugal Itinerary
Porto – 1-2 days (1-2 nights)
Coimbra – 1 day (1 night)
Central Coast (Oeste) – Nazaré & Óbidos – driving
Lisbon area & day trips – Cascais & Sintra – 1-2 days (1 night)
Lisbon – 2-3 days (3 nights)
One Day in Porto
Since our flight from North America was to Spain, we spent 3 days in Madrid, before taking a quick flight over to Porto. So you could of course do this itinerary in reverse, as well!
I fell in love with Porto immediately. I was so glad we didn’t bypass the city like so many travel sites and books had inadvertently “recommended” (by saying to only add it as Day 14 if you have 2 weeks etc.) Porto has the kind of windy streets that you could wander for hours (or years). Our lovely Airbnb host recommended her favorite port lodge across the river (Taylor’s), and away we went for the rest of the day – meandering the hilly streets of the city, trying port wine from the Douro Valley, and taking in our first truly sunny spring day.
Recommended time in Porto: 1-2 nights
On our second day in the country we set off for Coimbra – by car. As you can imagine, driving in Portugal is an adventure. We decided to skip the the new-fangled GPS in favor of the old fashioned way of navigating (stars and maps!). Portugal is kind of the birthplace of navigators (well by sea anyway). We made a few wrong turns along the way, but with nowhere to be it added to the adventure. I can imagine this would be a terrible strategy during the height of travel season in the summer though. Coimbra is one of Europe’s oldest college towns and definitely worth a day of your time if you have a week in Portugal.
Recommended time in Coimbra: 1 night
Nazaré and Óbidos
One of the reasons we decided to rent a car in Portugal was to have the option to see some of the little towns between the big city sights of Lisbon and Porto. You can reach most place by train or bus, but it was fun to be a bit more spontaneous about where to stop. We ended up not making as many stops from our idea list, and settled on Nazare – home of big waves, epic wind, and a quaint market where we found picnic supplies. Our second stop was Óbidos – a walled castle town that has seen the Romans, Moors, and finally Portugal as its occupiers.
Recommended time in Nazare & Obidos: day trip, spend night in Coimbra or Cascais.
After visiting the smaller towns in central Portugal, it felt quite different rolling into Cascais. What was once an old fishing village is most certainly a resort town, even if the Algarve gets more attention these days. In shoulder-season, it was a great budget place to spend the night and not hard to imagine the beaches covered with people come August.
Cascais & Sintra
We started the morning at Boca do Inferno (Portuguese for “Mouth of Hell”). Then we drove the coastal loop up to Cabo da Roca, the most western mainland point in Europe. We continued the loop into Sintra to visit the Pena palace and walk the garden grounds. This place is like Disneyland for castle buffs, and I’m glad we decided to just focus on one main sight.
Recommended time in Cascais & Sintra: 1-2 nights
We ended the day with a short, but suspenseful drive into Lisbon to return our rental car at the airport. After navigating the metro back into Lisbon, we settled in at our Airbnb flat and went out for a celebratory beer and sunset (yay! We didn’t crash the rental car!)
Our first full day in Lisbon, we spent walking up and down the streets of our neighborhood in Bairro Alto, around Chiado and down to Baixa. Don’t worry, we stopped at least every two hours for a cafe and pastel de nata (a custard tart pastry).
We continued our pastry and coffee routine the following day. Strolling the Alfama neighborhood in the afternoon, then doing a bit of shopping and having a deliciously expensive fresh seafood dinner up the street at Sea Me.
The last day in Portugal, we visited the seafaring part of Lisbon – Belem and spent a deal of time reading and learning more about Portugal’s history. Don’t worry, we took breaks for coffee, pastries, and sampling Portugal’s wine.
Recommended time in Lisbon: 2-3 nights
Our week in Portugal sped by, and we by no means did it justice with enough time. On my next visit, I want to explore the southern coast of Portugal, spend more time in Porto, and see more of the central region. One thing we did right within our short timeline was having the one night stays at the beginning of the trip, as it was nice to be able to “relax” at the end with three nights in Lisbon. I would recommend two nights in Porto though. I hope you found this quick itinerary for Portugal useful and let me know if you have any questions!
Have you been to Portugal? What were your favorite places?
This spring, I’m testing my annual “Live + Work Remotely” goal with an international experiment. Stay tuned for more updates about my time in Portugal and living in Valencia, Spain.
VinceFebruary 28, 2015 at 3:33 pm
Why you started your trip from Porto. We will land to and leave from Lisbon in the second week of March 2015. Any suggestion?
Is it a wise idea to rent a car and drive there? Thanks
poweredbytofuMarch 2, 2015 at 3:15 pm
Hi Vince, we started from Porto simply because it was a cheaper flight on the day we wanted from Madrid, and back out of Lisbon to Valencia. Renting a car is an adventure! I wouldn’t recommend driving in the cities (Porto or Lisbon), but renting for the smaller areas between was a fun way to see the country. We spent our first day sans-car in Porto, took the metro back to the airport on Day 2 to pick up our car and then headed out on the road. And when we got into Lisbon, we headed straight to the airport to drop off our car and then metro-ed back into the city for the remainder of our stay. Hope that helps!
NikkiJune 28, 2015 at 7:22 am
My partner and I are heading to Portugal in a few weeks and are looking at doing pretty much exactly what you have done. Arrive in Porto, make our way down to Lisbon and fly out of there. Which car rental did you use? I’m doing some research at the moment but because the drop off location is different to pick up, the prices Im getting seem rather expensive!
poweredbytofuJune 28, 2015 at 4:34 pm
Hi Nikki, fun! We had the car for 2 1/2 days, since we picked it up on the way out of Porto, and dropped off right when we got to Lisbon. It was about $50 from CardelMar and Sixt was just a tiny bit more. They did charge an extra fee (on-site when we picked up) for oneway rentals (I don’t remember exactly what it was somewhere between $50-100?). And we had tolls, but overall it was super fun to see a different side of Portugal!
ChristineApril 15, 2014 at 5:50 pm
Beautiful photos! I love Portugal! Caiscais and Porto were definite favorites. Although, after so much port tasting, I have a serious distaste for the stuff! Love your blog name, as well!
OliviaApril 16, 2014 at 7:41 am
Thanks Christine! Yes, I won’t be buying port anytime soon either. So sweet! Although there was one I tried that was a little less full-on sweet and would have been really good with cheese. Definitely a bigger fan of Portuguese wine.
email@example.comApril 10, 2014 at 7:32 am
I have not been to Portugal, but it’s on my list. After seeing these wonderful pictures, I can’t wait to get there someday.
OliviaApril 16, 2014 at 7:43 am
Thanks! We ended up finding flight deals to Madrid and there are so many low-cost carriers in Spain/Portugal so it made it easy to fly from Madrid>Porto and back out of Lisbon.