Portugal is an amazing country with a beautiful coastline and some historic cities that demand to be explored. Most visits to Portugal are dominated by the two popular cities, but a tip from me; hire a car and enjoy a road trip from Lisbon to Porto and explore some hidden gems.
The distance between Lisbon and Porto is 314 km (195 miles) if you take the most direct route. This means the drive between the two cities can be completed in around 3 hours. However, my recommendation would be to go slow, get off the motorway, turn it into a road trip and enjoy a few must-stop spots along the way. If possible, add in a few overnight stops too.
- Peso Da Régua
The city where the road trip begins: Lisbon. The capital city of Portugal is a popular weekend trip when you’re based in Europe. Or it’s the start of your Portugal itinerary when you fly in from overseas. The city is famous for its colorful houses, amazing views across the hills and river and the bubbling nightlife and amazing food culture.
Sintra, a town full of historical estates and castles, surrounded by forest covered hills, is often viewed as a great day trip from Lisbon. While this is true, and somewhat doable, I wouldn’t recommend it. We always love a day trip from a metropolitan area to a smaller village. However, Sintra is often filled with day trippers, making it somewhat miserable if you’re one of them. Instead, I’d recommend a one or two night stay, so you can enjoy all of the palaces and surrounding areas.
Some sights to visit while in Sintra:
- Pena Palace
- Climb a hill and Visit the Castelo dos Mouros
- Hike to the old town of Sintra by taking the Villa Sassetti Trail
- Palácio de Quinta da Regaleira
- Make a Quick Stop at The Santuário da Peninha
- Convento dos Capuchos
- Palácio de Monserrate
- Spend an Afternoon at the Beaches Near Sintra
This beautiful walled town is perfectly preserved and located right off of the interstate, making it an easy stop on your road trip from Lisbon to Porto. Once you arrive at the edge of town, find a parking spot in one of the lots.
Walking into the charming village, you’ll feel like you’ve been taken back in time. Small streets meander up and down the hills, leading to various shops and restaurants. Once you escape the main thoroughfare, you’ll easily be the only one walking the tiny cobblestone alleyways.
The center of Portugal is full of unique surprises, romantic mysteries, and spellbinding history, and Tomar may be the most iconic destination for encompassing each of these amazing attributes. In this lovely, ancient town with it’s traditional Portuguese charm, you feel like you’re in a fairytale as you explore the beautiful cobbled streets. While it is a pretty quiet town, this fascinating place should definitely be a stop on your travels.
Spend a day surrounded by 12th-15th century architecture, which includes the medieval square. Visit the Convento de Cristo, and the other fortresses and churches that once served as residences and headquarters for the Knights Templar.
Lamego is an old Baroque village in the Douro region that is famous for making port wines. A tip: you’ll probably want to sample some while you’re here. Lamego is filled with history. Portugal’s first king, Afonso Henriques, ascended the throne here in the 12th century.
The king built the village’s primary church, the Se. Other wonderful sights in Lamego include a 12th century castle and a 13th century watchtower that guard the town from atop a hill. The inner town has a stone cistern left over from Arab rule. Santuário Nossa Senhora dos Remédios is the top attraction in Lamego. The sanctuary with it’s two bell towers sits above the town and is an absolute stunning sight.
Peso Da Régua
If you have a taste for port wine Peso da Régua, which is located in the Douro Valley, is a place you’ll love. This river town is a beautiful amphitheatre of high shale slopes with wine terraces cut from the rock.
Until the last century Peso da Régua was used as a location where barrels would be loaded onto wooden boats known as ‘rabelos’ and were shipped to Vila Nova de Gaia at the mouth of the Douro. This place is the base of the oldest demarcated wine region in the world, the Douro DOC, regulated since 1756. So when you visit this lovely place, don’t forget to spend some time wine tasting. I suggest making reservations at a few different wineries in the area, and consider booking a picnic at one for lunch.
The city where the road trip ends: Porto. This historic hillside city is a maze of steep and narrow cobbled streets, where you’ll encounter ornate plazas, churches, houses draped in tiled facades and it’s a small paradise for the wine lover and food enthusiast. Art is everywhere you turn here, whether in the form of architectural landmarks, anonymous street art strewn across crumbling medieval walls, or the distinctive hand-painted blue-and-white tiles (azulejos) seen in the metro or around town.
Some practical tips when you go on a road trip in Portugal
Driving in Portugal
Driving in Portugal is extremely easy. We didn’t really have any issues at all during our entire road trip from Lisbon to Porto. The road system is spectacular, thanks to a complex system of tolls.
Renting a car
We used Sixt rental car because they had the best offers when we looked online.
Parking in Portugal is fairly easy. Most places you will visit have tons of parking spaces, with the exception of Sintra.
One thing I would mention is to always keep some coins with you to pay for meters. Parking is inexpensive, but there were a few times we had to scramble to be able to pay the meter if we couldn’t find a free spot.
Directions and getting around
Figuring out how to navigate in a foreign country can seem somewhat daunting. Your best bet for figuring out how to get around on your Portugal road trip is Google maps.
Our car came with a navigation system, but we didn’t know until we picked it up. It wasn’t advertised and we didn’t expect it. So it’s always good to keep your Google maps app close.