The best way to explore Portugal‘s secret spots is arguably by car, and while driving, each detour and wrong turn can take you to another beautiful town or village. Regardless, Culture Trip suggests detailing a route first and using both GPS and a map to find your final destination (the map is a backup in case you lose your GPS signal). Pack a few pastéis de nata and hit the road for a trip that you’ll never forget – we’ll get you started with some ideas.
Begin in Porto and drive through the Douro Valley, the home of Portugal’s most popular wine region. From the vineyards to the Douro River, there is plenty to see, and the length of the trip will depend completely on the experience you’re seeking. Drive from Porto to Pinhão for the day and sample some delicious wine. Stop for lunch in a small, family-run restaurant and try the traditional food from the north.
Beautiful Vineyards in Douro Valley, Portugal | © portumen/Shutterstock
Turn off the popular highways and hit the path less traveled. Tras-os-Montes is easily the wildest and least visited region in the country where some of the oldest traditions are regularly practiced. It is a perfect destination for photo-taking and hiking, and the few travelers who have taken the time to explore its rocky mountainsides boast about everything from the friendliness of the locals to the cuisine and the customs. Why not expand upon your Douro Valley trip and continue on to the land “after the mountains”?
View through grapevines in Trás-os-Montes, Portugal | © Andie_Alpion/Shutterstock
Serra da Estrela
The Serra da Estrela is the highest mountain range in mainland Portugal and an excellent location to plan a weekend adventure. Spring, summer, and fall are all great times to visit, but winter is precarious since this is one of the only regions in Portugal that receives snow, so plan accordingly. One 2-3 day trip worth considering is from Seia to Guarda with stops at each major landmark (including the bread and cheese museums), the castles, and many stunning viewpoints.
Serra da Estrela, Portugal | © 1shostak/Shutterstock
Beach hopping down the Atlantic coast
Driving along the Atlantic coast and visiting each major beach is a no-brainer. Key towns to visit include Aveiro, Figueira da Foz, Nazaré, Peniche, Ericeira, and Lagos. Don’t forget to bring your surfboard and towel!
Nazaré Beach, Portugal | © Kapa1966/Shutterstock
One of the best day and weekend trips from Lisbon will take you to Sintra, the country’s most mesmerizing “fairytale” town. The lush, windy roads through the Sintra mountains are amazing by themselves, but are enhanced by the beautiful castles, palaces, and manor estates that have given this town its reputation as one of the most stunning in Europe. Take the coastal road and stop in Estoril and Cascais on the way unless you prefer hopping on the train at Rossio station in Lisbon.
Palacio da Pena, Sintra, Portugal | © Malachit/Shutterstock
Driving around Madeira Island is probably the most convenient way to get around, but it may also not be for the faint-hearted drivers of the world. The highways that curl around the mountains, through tunnels, and along the stunning coast also lead drivers to rural and narrow country roads. Don’t forget to pack your hiking gear, since Madeira is one of the top destinations for exploring on foot, too.
The beautiful island of São Miguel, like Madeira, can be driven around in one day, but where’s the fun in that? Take a few days to really get to know this beautiful Azorean island. From Sete Cidades to Furnas village and Nordeste’s green, rolling farmland, this destination is a treasure trove of phenomenal sights.
Lagoa do Fogo, a volcanic lake on Sao Miguel island, Azores | © ArjaKo’s/Shutterstock