Portugal is as fascinating as it is diverse. Towering mountains, a beautiful rocky coastline, deep gorges and valleys and ancient cities. The perfect way to discover the country is the flexibility of a self-drive. Starting in Porto in the north, spend two weeks weaving your way down to Faro in the southern Algarve.
Porto – Day 1-3
Start in the north of the country. After flying to Porto, pick up your hire car and drive down into the city. There are plenty of hotel choices for all budgets. The city’s historic centre has had World Heritage status since 1996 and doesn’t disappoint. Be sure to visit the Church of São Francisco to see the Gothic rose window, 17th century woodwork and the frescos. Palácio da Bolsa was built in the early 20th century and is one of the most beautiful buildings in the city.
Figueira da Foz – Day 4-5
Head south out of the city down the N109 to Figueira da Foz. The journey takes around two hours, but will undoubtable take longer due to pulling off the road and exploring the quiet rocky beaches. Figueira da Foz is located around half way between Porto and Lisbon and has a wide sandy beach that is worthy of day’s time.
Peniche or Ericeira – Day 6-7
Another hour or two down the coastline are the towns of Peniche or Ericeira. Both have nearby beaches with some of Europe’s finest rolling Atlantic swells. Ericeira is a World Surfing Reserve and often hosts the World Tour Championship. The best beach is Ribeira d’Ilhas, a mile or so north of the city. Spend more time on the beach and hit the waves. Both the towns have plenty of surf schools for beginners.
Lisbon – Day 8-10
Take the N247 inland and spend the afternoon at the historic World Heritage town of Sintra. This colourful historic town is home to some spectacular 19th century architecture set amidst the hills of the Serra de Sintra. Continue on to Lisbon to spend two full days exploring the capital. Be sure to visit the pretty district of Belém to see the tower and monastery and taste some Portuguese custard tarts at the Pastéis de Belém. Taking the Tram 28 is a great way to see the city without having to walk, but make sure you do so early in the morning as it can get very busy. For nightlife, you can’t beat the district of Bairro Alto where crowds spill out of the small bars onto the cobbled streets.
Sagres – Day 11-12
Next stop is the town of Sagres around 3 hours south of the capital and home to impressive Algarve landscapes. This isolated spot in the far south-western corner of the country is home to some fine beaches. If you haven’t surfed enough, Arrifana and Carrapateira a little way up the coast produce some large swells.
Faro – Days 13-15
Head east along the southern coast of Portugal to Faro. Be sure to make an afternoon stop in the town of Lagos along the way. The capital of the Algarve has held onto its district charm in a way that the resort towns nearby haven’t. Finish the tour of Portugal by exploring the plazas, marina, parks and historic old town of this attractive city. The city’s nightlife and strong theatre scene is kept alive by the large student population. Head to the airport on the last day to drop off your car hire and fly home.