Portugal’s mix of the medieval and the maritime makes it a superb place to visit. A turbulent history involving the Moors, Spain and Napoleon has left the interior scattered with walled towns topped by castles, while the pounding Atlantic has sculpted a coast of glorious sand beaches.
Comparatively short distances mean that you get full value for road trips here: less time behind the wheel means more time to absorb the atmosphere of the places you visit. Here are seven of Portugal’s best road trips.
Atlantic Coast surf trip
Get ready to ride the big ones on Portugal’s wild, wave-lashed west coast – an alluring mix of first-rate (and inexpensive) surf camps, gleaming white towns with authentic seafood restaurants, golden beaches fringed by dunes and pines, and memorable sunsets.
Begin in Praia do Guincho and end in the small surf town of Pedrógão (223km/139mi). There are plenty of small towns to explore for a day or two along the way, a few highlights include the popular beach town and surfer hotspot Peniche; the gorgeous swoop of sandy beach in Foz do Arelho and the big-wave town of Nazaré.
Douro Valley vineyard trails
The Douro is a little drop of heaven. This UNESCO World Heritage region is hands-down one of Portugal’s most evocative landscapes, with mile after swoon-worthy mile of vineyards spooling along the contours of its namesake river and marching up terraced hillsides. Go for the food, the fabulous wines, the palatial quintas (countryside villas), the medieval stone villages and the postcard views on almost every corner.
The road trip begins in the mazy, medieval lanes of Porto and ends in the breathtaking Douro Valley. The 358km-journey (222mi) truly encompasses the utter natural beauty Portugal has to offer. Stop at the picturesque terraced vineyards at Quinta do Crasto or sample the world’s best port in the rolling hillsides of Pinhão.
Just 4.5km (2.8mi) from Pinhão is the stunning Casal de Loivos where, from the miradouro (viewpoint), the uplifting vista reduces the Douro to postcard format, taking in the full sweep of its stone-walled terraced vineyards, stitched into the hillsides and fringing the sweeping contours of the valley, and the river scything through them.
Alentejo & Algarve beaches
Portugal’s southern coasts offer a Mediterranean ideal, with fragrances of pine, rosemary, wine and grilling fish drifting over some absolutely stunning beaches. Only this isn’t the Med, it’s the Atlantic, so add serious surfable waves, important maritime history and great wildlife-watching opportunities to the mix. This drive takes in some of the finest beaches in the region and explores the intriguing towns, which conserve their tight-knit Moorish street plans.
The 360km-trek (225mi) stretches from the whitewashed center of Vila Nova de Milfontes to the small and cobbled town of Cacela Velha and is dotted with one lovely beach after another. Highlights include Aljezur’s sandy paradise of Praia da Amoreira, the hulking and forbidding fortress – Fortaleza de Sagres – in Sagres and the vibrant and touristy town of Lagos.
The southern interior
This drive takes you from Portugal’s romantic capital and through landscapes softened by cork-oaks and pine. Hearty inland cuisine adds to the authentically Portuguese experience.
Begin this road trip in the capital of Lisbon and travel 720km (450mi) to the medieval town of Mértola. Along the way, venture off for a little adventure at Óbidos, a gorgeous historic center with cobblestoned streets and flower-bedecked, whitewashed houses livened up with dashes of vivid yellow and blue paint.
When you reach the town of Tomar, be sure to look up to admire the Knights of Templar’s magnificent Convento de Cristo. Delve into history at the beautifully preserved medieval town of Évora.
Portugal’s northwestern corner is made for road-tripping, with its trilogy of splendid medieval cities, spirit-lifting pilgrimage sites and dune-flanked Atlantic beaches. Brace yourself for rolling landscapes and cultural highs.
Begin this road trip in Guimarães – the Portuguese Kingdom (Afonso I of Portugal was born here in 1110) and a UNESCO World Heritage site which hides one of the most exquisitely preserved medieval centers in the country.
The road trip ends at Parque Nacional da Peneda-Gerês in Peneda, one of the park’s most stunning mountain villages and the serra’s namesake.
A few highlights on this 271km (135 mi) road trip include Braga, Portugal’s most devout city, and home to the country’s oldest cathedral dating back to 1070.
Viana do Castelo – Costa Verde’s biggest stunner – is a double shot of medieval center and gorgeous beaches while Ponte de Lima features the finest medieval bridge (the 31-arched Ponte Romana) in all of Portugal.
The Dão is off-the-beaten-track Portugal in a nutshell. Get ready to slow tour the country’s rural heartland, an enticing ensemble of vineyards, pine and eucalyptus woods, family-run wineries and whitewashed villages full of sleepy charisma. Cellar tours, manor house sleeps, hearty meals with beefy red wines and hikes in the wilds of the country’s highest peaks in Serra da Estrela all await. Wind down the window. Hear that? Silence.
Things kick off in the town of Santa Comba Dão, the start of the wine region and ends in the mountainous region of Seia. Along the 151 kilometers (94 mi), a bevy of quiet towns that specialize in wine beckon.
Carregal do Sal is home to Quinta de Cabriz, the headquarters of Dão Sul, one of the region’s foremost wine producers, where 38 hectares (94 acres) of vines fan out from an 18th-century manor house. Here you can stock up at the wine boutique, savor regional dishes expertly paired with wines in the restaurant, enjoy a tasting or hook onto a guided tour of the vineyards (no booking required, just turn up).
In Santar, visitors head to Paço dos Cunhas de Santar a 17th-century estate, where you can tour the vineyard before a tasting of its noble wines and olive oils, which go nicely with the seasonal, creative takes on regional cuisine in the contemporary restaurant.
Warm Sunlit Village
This wide-ranging trip takes in many Portuguese historic highlights, from the buzzing university town of Coimbra to stern borderland fortresses, intermingled with picturesque villages and the natural majesty of the Serra da Estrela.
The picturesque and lively university town of Coimbra is the starting point for this 770km (480mi) road trip which concludes in the historic national forest – Mata Nacional do Buçaco.
Cradled at the foot of the beautiful Vale do Zêzere, with high peaks and forest-draped slopes dominating the horizon in all directions, the mountain town of Manteigas enjoys a spectacular natural setting.
The stunning village of Monsanto towers high above the surrounding plains. A stroll through its steeply cobbled streets, lined with stone houses that seem to merge with the boulder-strewn landscape, is reason enough to come.
Viseu has a well-preserved historical centre that offers numerous enticements to pedestrians: cobbled streets, meandering alleys, leafy public gardens and a central square – Praça da República, aka the “Rossio” – graced with bright flowers and fountains.