Want to see the full beauty of Portugal from bottom to top? Portugalonline.com’s Grand Driving Tour of Portugal self-drive package takes you on a full circuit of Portugal’s most famous regions for 12 days and eleven nights. Begin with a drive to the sun-drenched Algarve coast, reflecting Portugal’s seafarers of the past and beach-goers of the present. Continue to the countryside of the Alentejo and the charming towns of the Serra da Estrella Mountains. Top out in the unique Minho area before descending along the Atlantic coast to Lisbon, visiting fishing villages and historical treasures along the way. By day, you’ll experience the full array of Portugal’s unique regional cultures, cuisines and heritages and by night, you’ll stay at your choice of well-reviewed superior, standard or budget properties.
Day 1 - Arrive in Portugal
Pick up your car at the airport and drive to your hotel in Lisbon. Get a good night’s rest before beginning your road trip.
Day 2 - Journey South to Vilamoura
Lisbon to Silves & Vilamoura [301 km; 188 miles]
Collect your rental car, drive east across the Vasco de Gama Bridge and head south to the Algarve, the southernmost region of Portugal known for its sunny days, sparkling Mediterranean coast and fascinating history. Your first stop will be the hilltop town of Silves, overlooking the Arade River. The massive Silves Castle dates to the 8th century when the Moors first conquered Iberia and remains one of the best-preserved examples of Moorish architechture in Portugal. Silves passed in and out of Islamic control until 1242 when the Christian knights triumphed and turned the grand mosque into Silves Cathedral. Continue your southern trajectory and soon you will reach Vilamoura.
Day 3 - Tour the South-West Coast
Vilamoura to Sagres, Lagos and Faro (Albufeira and Faro) [249 km; 156 miles]
Wake with a full day of exploring the Algarve coast ahead of you. Drive to Sagres. Take in the dramatic view from the most southwestern point in Europe - Cape of São Vicente - a promontory that has been famous since Grecian times and has played a key role in naval history as the staging ground for many famous battles over the past thousand years. After Sagres stop in Lagos, perhaps to have lunch in the quaint downtown. Sample the local seafood. After Lagos, take your pick of Algarve destinations - the picturesque and happening beach town of Albufeira, the hidden beaches and bone chapel of Faro or both! – before returning to Vilamoura for the night.
Note: Alternatively you may want to begin the day in Faro and work your way west ending in Sagres.
Day 4 – Explore the Alentejo Countryside
Vilamoura to Evora [211 km;132 miles]
Bid adeus to the Algarve and begin your excursion north to the heart of Portugal. You’ll drive north into the Alentejo region, accounting for one-third of Portugal’s land but less than one-tenth of its people. You’ll cruise past wheat fields, olive groves, orchards, vineyards and cork oaks. The whitewashed towns of the southern plains will give way to walled hilltop villages nestled in rocky terrain. Ancient stone circles, dolmens, and menhirs in the area provide evidence of the depth of Portugal’s neolithic history. Your destination for the night is the walled city of Evora, a UNESCO World Heritage site perhaps most famous for its chapel of bones. As you walk Evora’s narrow streets, Roman, Moorish, Medieval and Renaissance architecture are testament to the city’s long and fascinating history – dating back to the pre-Christian era. Taste Evora’s locally-sourced gastronomical specialties tonight.
Day 5 – Visit Legendary Clifftop Villages
Evora to Estremoz & Marvao [123 km; 77 miles]
Gain elevation as you aim for Estremoz, a hilltop town overlooking groves of olive trees. Area quarries produce the second largest quantity of fine marble in the world and have supplied European artists and architects since Roman times. Continue up to the Spanish border and overnight in the 8th-century castle town of Marvao, perched on a cliff affording epic views.
Day 6 – Climb to Serra da Estrela Mountain Villages
Marvao to Castelo de Vide, Sortelha, Belmonte & Guarda [223 km; 140 miles]
Navigate winding beauty of Portugal’s highest mountains, the Serra da Estrela, as you drive north and visit charming villages along the way. Don’t miss the Roman spa town of Castelo de Vide and its maze-like old Jewish Quarter with whitewashed houses and pots of bright flowers. Up next is the gem-like 12th century village of Sortelha with fortifications offering panoramic views of the wild countryside. The largest community of Portuguese Jews – marranos – lives in nearby Belmonte but Pedro Álvares Cabral is this town’s favorite son. He discovered Brazil in 1500 and was the first explorer to reach four continents. Therefore much of Belmonte displays the subject of his family crest: goats. Continue to Guarda where you will spend the night.
Day 7 – Walk the Medieval Towns of the Foothills
Guarda to Viseu, Lamego, Vila Real & Amarante [270 km; 170 miles]
Wake in the ancient city of Guarda (meaning “protector”) in the Beira Alta region of the Serra da Estrela, home to many castles and walled cities crowning the hills overlooking the border with Spain. Continue to Viseu, a crossroads since the Roman occupation of the Iberian Peninsula, and home to the Dão wine-growing region. Drive to the Catholic pilgrimage town of Lamego to see Nossa Senhora dos Remédios. Cross the Douro River at Peso da Regua to Vila Real for a visit to Casa de Mateus, an exquisite 18th century Baroque manor house. Head west to the Romanesque town of Amarante on the Tâmega River where St. Gonçalo arrived in the 12th century and the locals battled Napoleon’s army in 1763. Overnight here (Package A) or continue to Guimarães (Package B).
Day 8 – Experience the Unique Region of Minho
Guimaraes to Braga, Viana do Castelo & Porto [160 km; 100 miles]
Begin a remarkable day in Guimaraes, also known as Cidade Berço (“The Cradle City”) because it played a critical role in the formation of today’s Portugal: Henry of Burgundy named the town the administrative seat of the County of Portugal in the 1000s, the nation’s first proclaimed king was born here in 1109, and the area’s Battle of São Mamede in 1128 led to the establishment of the Kingdom of Portugal. In fact, Guimarães’ Castelo de Sao Miguel (St. Michael’s Castle) church appears on the Portuguese national coat of arms. Continue your historic expedition of the Minho region in Braga, visiting the Archbishop’s Palace and the chapel where Henry of Burgundy is buried. Just to the east of Braga, is Bom Jesus do Monte, a spectacular Christian pilgrimage site with an extraordinary Baroque staircase cascading 381 feet down a hillside. Another option is to visit Ponte de Lima and continue to coastal Viana do Castelo, where you can park and explore the winding streets on foot. Drive on to Porto where you’ll stay the night. (A superior hotel package is available at the Pestana Porto Vintage’s Superior Plaza room for the 2 nights.)
Day 9 – Enjoy a Full Day in Porto
Take a break from the car to explore the colorful streets of Porto. Situated on the north bank of the Douro River and close to the ocean, Porto has a storied history with tales of Romans, Moors, crusaders, overseas colonies and gastronomical achievements. On the south bank of the river is Vila Nova de Gaia, home to the Port Wine Lodges where the town’s namesake Port wines are aged and bottled. Many of them are open for touring and tasting. Don’t miss a meal here: Porto is renown for its unique and mouth-watering food and drink.
Day 10 – Cruise the Central Coast to Coimbra
Porto to Aveiro, Buçaco Forest & Coimbra [160 km; 100 miles]
Hug the coast as you drive south, making your first stop in Aveiro. Known as the “Venice of Portugal,” Aveiro is a city of canals, seaweed-collecting boats and the famous Vista Alegre china factory. Move on to the Buçaco Forest for an amble along the arboretum’s trails that were laid out by monks centuries ago. In the middle of the forest, you will come upon a unique hotel, The Buçaco Palace, once a convent and then a royal hunting lodge. Continue to Coimbra, home to one of Europe’s oldest universities founded in 1290. Its historic buildings – including a Baroque clock tower, a tile-covered chapel and the beautiful Joanine Library - dominate the town’s hilltop. The ancient city center is home to Roman ruins, Romanesque cathedrals and the old maze-like streets of the Moorish quarter. Stay the night in this historical center. (A superior hotel package is available at the Quinta das Lagrimas hotel’s to Palacio/Spa room.)
Day 11 – Follow the Faithful near Fatima
Coimbra to Conimbriga, Fatima, Batalha, Alcobaca, Nazare, Obidos & Lisbon [279 km; 175 miles]
Depart Coimbra for your last day on the road as you head for the Lisbon area. You’ll head south on the A1 motorway and stop at Conímbriga to see the excavation of a large and prosperous Roman town – one of Portugal’s largest and most complete archeological sites. Continue to Fatima, one of the Catholic world’s greatest pilgrimage sites, drawing hundreds of thousands of followers each year. Nearby is an exquisite 15th century masterpiece of Portuguese Gothic “Manueline” architecture, the Monastery of Batalha. It has been certified a UNESCO World Heritage site, as has the Monastery of Alcobaça, which you will visit next. This monastery is Portugal’s largest and its architecture is completely different from that of Batalha. Drive along the Costa de Prata (“Silver Coast”) to Nazaré to walk the wide golden beaches, catch a glimpse of the massive waves, and sample some of Portugal’s best seafood in this coastal resort and fishing town. Your last stop before Lisbon should be Obidos, the charming walled village with classic whitewashed houses and cobblestone streets. It will be another hour’s drive on the A8 motorway from Obidos to Lisbon before you return your car rental and overnight in Lisbon.
Day 12 – Departure back home or Extend Your Adventure
Wake in Lisbon and make a last drive to the airport for your return home. Alternatively, contact Portugal.com to extend your holiday with more time in Lisbon, a trip to the Algarve, or a longer jaunt elsewhere in the region.