5 Days Taking in the Best of Portugal
Updated: Sep 22, 2022
Road trip through 5 towns to explore Portugal's coastline, castles, and cities. Try local pastries, taste ports, and eat beach donuts!
Jump ahead to any day, click a link below: Day One: Porto Day Two: Sintra Day Three: Lisbon Day Four: Lagos Day Five: Faro Jump ahead to other planning tips, click a topic below: Itinerary Add-ons Lodging Advanced Bookings What to Wear and Pack What to Eat Where to Eat Shopping Getting around When to Go Other Tips
Day One Porto
We started this itinerary flying into Lisbon, but if you can get a flight directly to Porto it would save some driving time. It is a 3-hour drive from Lisbon to Porto. Porto is an idyllic walkable European town perfect for a day of wandering.
While walking around, stop inside the Porto Sao Bento railway station to see the 20th-century tiles lining the walls of the entrance.
Also, visit the 18th-century Clerigos Church and Tower and climb to the top of the tower to see views of Porto Old Town and the Douro River. It costs $6.50USD to go to the top of the tower, entering only the church is free. The renowned Livraria Lello bookstore is also in Porto. The Harry Potter library was supposedly inspired by its design and it is often ranked one of the most beautiful bookstores in the world. A friend had warned me that the crowds made visiting it not worth it though, so we skipped it. In the afternoon walk over the Dom Luis I Bridge and visit a few of the port distilleries on the other side of the river in Gaia. The distilleries are close to each other and walkable, so you can skip an organized port tour to save money. Sandeman and Cockburn’s are two of the most internationally renowned ports so their distilleries are worth a stop. Sandeman charges 12EU for an audio-guided tour and a couple of small glasses of port. Cockburn’s offers a tour, port tasting, and chocolate or cheese pairings for the port. Most of the distilleries close by late afternoon and some require reservations for a tour, so plan ahead.
In the evening, stay on the side of the river with the distilleries to watch the sunset over the river with Porto Old Town in the backdrop. We bought a sample pack of mini port bottles from Sandeman to enjoy while watching the sunset. Then have dinner at one of the restaurants recommended in the Where to Eat section.
Start early to drive three hours South from Porto to Sintra. When you arrive in Sintra, don’t try to park up the hill near the castles. The streets are narrow and packed with cars. We spent 20 minutes driving to look for spots near castle sites. Instead, we ended up parking on a side street slightly outside of town and then walked up. That’s what I would recommend. You could also park the car and then take a tuk-tuk to the castle sites if you want to save some walking.
Our first stop was the Palacio de Pena, a 19th-century romanticism castle. See the Booking Information section and make sure to buy tickets in advance. Our advance ticket was $16USD. We did not have to wait in line to enter the grounds with our pre-paid ticket, but we did have to wait in line for 30 minutes to tour the inside of the main castle. It was worth the wait to see the interior. The tile work, flooring, and furnishings have all been well maintained and they showcased how the castle was lived in. You could spend half a day at Palacio de Pena if you want to walk all of the grounds surrounding the castle. We only focused on the castle to allow time for other stops.
Next, walk from Palacio de Pena to Castelo dos Mouros. The walk in between the castles is a forested trail that feels like you are walking on a secret trail back in time. Castelo dos Mouros is a 9th-century Moors castle. The castle site now is outdoor ruins of the remains of the castle. On a clear day, there are views of Sintra and Palacio de Pena from the top. The advanced skip-the-line ticket for Castelo dos Mouros was $10USD.
For the last stop take a tuk-tuk ride to Quinta De La Regaleira. They will be lined up at the entrance of Castelo dos Mouros The tuk-tuk cost $15USD with a tip. It was a fun experience so you should try a tuk-tuk at least once while in Sintra.
Quinta De La Regaleira is a gothic palace and its main highlight is the expansive garden that surrounds the palace. It has lakes, grottos, secret passages, and caves to explore. Be sure to spend time exploring all of the grounds. Entry to Quinta De La Regaleira was $9USD per person.
After Quinta De La Regaleira we walked to Santo Bife Steakhouse for dinner. See Where to Eat for more information on it. Lodging options were limited in Sintra, so we drove an hour back to Lisbon to stay there for the night.
Your day in Lisbon should include lots of eating, especially pastries!
I would recommend renting a scooter or bike to easily, and inexpensively, explore Lisbon’s vast network of scooter/bike lanes.
There are a few main sites you should see:
Tram 28- The cable car system in Lisbon, take a short ride on it when you are tired of biking!
LX Factory- A fabric production plant from 1846 that has been converted into a commercial area full of cafes, art shops, and more.
Castelo de St. Jorge - I would recommend biking around this area, but not spending time going inside or seeing the castle. It is a less impressive castle than what you will have already seen in Porto.
Praça do Comércio- A public square with shops and eating options
Elevador Da Bica- A historic cable car that goes up a city hill. You can take a ride on it, or stop to see the car and take iconic Lisbon pictures along its route.
See Where to Eat for lunch and dinner options in Lisbon as well.
Start early again and drive three hours South from Lisbon to Lagos. Once you arrive, I'd recommend parking at a public parking garage in town and then walking to Praia da Batata Beach. The beach has a medieval castle that you can visit, Castelo de Lagos and multiple options for kayaking and paddle boarding the Algarve coast. We rented a mix of kayaks and paddle boards from Kai Nui SUP & Kayak Lagos Algarve. They are located directly on the beach and don’t require reservations. We chose to explore on our own without a guided tour, and that’s what I would recommend. It is less expensive and easier to maneuver in and out of caves and grottos without being part of a larger group. You’ll know the spots to kayak over to from the crowds with the tours. You can also take your kayak and stop and sunbathe or have a snack at more remote beaches you’ll pass along the way. Some beaches seemed to be party beaches and others were more quiet and secluded. We spent three hours kayaking and paddle boarding but could’ve spent more time if we rested at a beach longer. Kayak and paddle board rentals cost 15 EURO for the first hour and then the cost goes down for additional hours.
After kayaking grab a drink and snack at Batata Beach Bar (see Where to Eat) and enjoy the beach for a while.
You can stay the night in the Lagos area or in Faro, an hour drive East. We stayed in Faro and had a relaxing beachside dinner at Wax Restobar (see Where to Eat).
Enjoy a beachside breakfast at Wax Restobar and spend the morning on the Faro beach. Lookout for beach donuts here too! (See What to Eat).
In the afternoon drive into Faro and explore a quaint, historical beachside town. Be sure to see the Arco da Vila, the archway that is the entrance to Old Town. There are many al fresco dining options in town and cute boutiques for shopping as well.
We combined this trip with Seville, Spain and took the 3-hour bus ride from Faro to Seville.
Build an Itinerary with a Portugal Stop We traveled in Portugal as an add-on to a trip to Seville, Spain. The itinerary intentionally ends closer to the Spanish border so that we could easily bus to Seville. It could be added to any European itinerary though, or Morocco.
Lodging Recommendations for Portugal We stayed in Airbnbs for this whole trip to make our own breakfasts, do laundry, and afford better views and space to spread out within our budget. Along the Southern coast, for Faro and Lagos, Airbnb options will be limited in the summer high season though. You may have to consider a resort or hotel option in those locations, if you want to be close to the beach.
Advanced Booking Advice for Portugal If you travel in the summer, which is their high season, you should book your rental car in advance as well as tickets to the castles in Porto. Bookings for jump-the-line tickets to the castle are easy to buy online at Get Your Guide. You do not need to reserve kayaks in advance in Lagos.
What to Wear And Pack for a Portugal Trip
Read My Packing List for more recommendations on specific gear. What to Wear
Comfortable walking shoes
Hiking sandals or water shoes for kayaking. They will make it easier to get on and off at beaches.
A comfortable swimsuit for kayaking or paddle boarding.
What to Pack
A daypack for exploring castles in Sintra and biking around Lisbon
What to Eat while in Portugal
Pastel de Nata- A Portuguese custard tart. It is the food item Portugal is most famous for and it lives up to its reputation.
Croissants- These are not technically Portuguese, but they were delicious throughout our trip.
Bola de berlim- “Beach donuts” is what I referred to these as. They are a flakey fried dough pastry with various fillings, jam, custard, or chocolate. Try them all!
Bifana-A marinated pork cutlet sandwich on a bread roll.
Ginjinha- A Portuguese liquor made of sour cherries, look out for it in Lisbon restaurants and bars.
Where to Eat while in Portugal
Brasao Cervejaria- A casual brewpub option with traditional Portuguese food and pub food. It has a meat-centric menu. They are known for serving the traditional Portuguese dish, francesinha.
Pedro Limao- A modern take on Portuguese cuisine with artfully plated food in a simple setting.
Time Out Market- Lisbon had the first Time Out Market in the world. Its concept is to offer the best of the cities dining in one place. There are multiple vendors that you can order food from to have a meal with bites from various restaurants.
Tapisco-It offers Portuguese shared plates in a casual setting.
Mini Bar- It is located inside the São Luiz Municipal Theater and is a modern gastronomic restaurant experience with a tasting menu option.
Mex Cais LX- A casual Mexican restaurant located in the LX Factory. Try their burritos!
Santo Bife Steakhouse-A small family-owned restaurant. You can order your meat with a choice of sauce and then it is served with vegetables and herbs grown from their backyard. They have simple but high-quality food and outstanding service.
Batata Beach Bar-A casual beachside spot for an afternoon mojito or snack.
Wax RestoBar- This beachside restaurant has a fun modern beachside vibe and is an option for breakfast, lunch, dinner, or just drinks or ice cream. The staff is friendly and the beanbags and comfy seating create an atmosphere where you feel welcome chilling there all night. We ate here twice because we liked it so much. They have a well-rounded menu with healthier juices and salads, burgers and sandwiches, and many local Portuguese dishes.
Shopping Tips for Portugal
Portugal is the world’s leading exporter of cork, so there are various cork home goods and accessories (trivets, jewelry, purses, wallets, shoes, etc) that you can buy. There were many small shops throughout the streets of Porto with a wide souvenir selection. We also bought drawings from a street artist in Porto.
Getting Around in Portugal
To follow this itinerary you will need to rent a car. Try to rent a small, compact car. The streets in Porto and Sintra are winding and narrow. Parking and driving will both be difficult with a van or larger SUV. In Lisbon, Ubers are available and there are public bike and scooter rentals available throughout the city. Simply download the appropriate app to use them.
When to go to Portugal If you want to explore the beaches on the Algarve coast similar to this itinerary, then summer is the best time to visit Portugal. It is their high season though, so beaches and sites will be crowded and lodging will be more expensive. Spring and fall would work well if beaches won’t be part of your itinerary.
Other Tips for a Portugal Trip
We were able to find someone that could speak rough English at most points throughout the trip.
Credit cards are widely accepted so you shouldn’t need much cash.