For the independent client who doesn’t want to go on an escorted tour but still wants some guidance, this 10 day itinerary is perfect! I put together a suggested list of stops along the way, along with my favorite hotel recommendations and personal suggestions. This itinerary is best done with a rental car, although almost all items should be able to be duplicated with the good bus/train system. (Just contact me for modification suggestions!)
This fantastic itinerary only took me a few hours to put together because I used to live in Portugal. My insider knowledge and passion for sharing the fairytale, affordable, and fabulous country of Portugal helps me put together a trip that takes you beyond the rushed tourist traps and helps you dig deeper into the Portuguese culture, food, and sightseeing experience!
Day 1: Arrival from the USA – Stay in Sintra
Sintra, a magical fairytale town set in the mountains above Lisbon, is often a last-minute daytrip by tourists who then realize they should have been spending their whole vacation here. Instead, make Sintra your home base to explore over the next two days, and take the easy 40 minute train into Lisbon for a day-trip. Perhaps today you can visit: the town square, Pena Palace, and the stunning Quinta da Reguleira with its secret passageways and underground lakes.
HOTEL: HOTEL LAWRENCE, SINTRA
Day 2: Sintra continued.
Perhaps today you’ll visit the Moorish Castle and Monserrate Palace, or go exploring in the Sintra forest. The Capuchin Convent is also fascinating (it’s made out of cork). In other words, don’t worry about “assigning” activities to these days ahead of time – it will be obvious in Sintra what the different attractions are, especially if you get a tourism bus which does a loop of all the major sites. They have tourist offices there too to explain the different attractions.
Day 3: Daytrip to Lisbon
It’s an easy train ride down to the vibrant capital, Lisbon – less than 40 minutes. No tours are needed, but Portuguese food and desserts are so yummy that one of those “walking food tours” would be a great way to see the city and to imbibe…
This is normally what I do for first-time visitors to Lisbon with one busy day:
- Start at Tour de Belem, Monument of the Discoveries, and Monastery of the Jeronomos (this should take all morning) – they are all next to each other
- Take the public transportation back into the city centre, begin at the Praca Comercio, and then walk all the way up the Avenida da Liberdade to experience the main thoroughfare of the city with its restaurants, ritzy hotels, and fantastic shopping.
- After a bit, catch either a tram or a bus towards the castle Castelo de Sao Jorge (St George’s Castle). Don’t make the mistake of thinking you don’t mind walking up the whole way to the castle! It’s a bigger hill than you think. (Note: Uber is also popular if you’d like to take a quick car ride.) Lisbon is built on seven hills so keep that in mind! You can catch the right bus at the Praca Da Figueira which is on your way. There is also a new elevator to the castle, without the need for a bus.
After this busy day, you may want to stay in Lisbon and eat at one of the many outdoor restaurants in the beautiful squares, before making your way back to Sintra for your final night here.
Day 4: Cascais to Obidos
Check out of the Sintra hotel. Go to Cascais, a suburb of Lisbon. Here you’ll see how everyone slows down outside the hustle and bustle of the capital city. Enjoy the typical architecture, outdoor restaurants, and small beach fronts.
Be sure to visit the Boca d’Inferno (Mouth of Hell), which you can reach by walking or biking. It’s a cave formed by the pounding waves.
You can also go to Cabo da Roca, which is the Westernmost point in all of Europe. It’s a 25 minute bus ride from Cascais or you drive if you have the car.
After your day in the Cascais area, make your way to the walled medieval city of Obidos. The ONLY choice of lodging should be in the castle! I highly recommend the Cottage Suite, where I stayed.
Tip: the town itself has narrow and winding roads and the castle hotel is at the top. If you want to park your hotel at the bottom of the hotel and just go up and tell the hotel, they will run down and drive it up for you. 🙂
Obidos is more than just a walled city that the tourists visit for a few hours. You can walk the whole way around it on the ramparts, but you can also go for a little walk in the countryside surrounding it and discover windmills. The town is full of lovely shops that want to pass out samples of the ginga and ginginha, the special liquor that Obidos is famous for. Take the day here to explore and enjoy the lovely scenery.
HOTEL: Pousada Castelo de Obidos
Day 5: Beaches and abbeys
Check out of the Obidos hotel and set off on a full day of sightseeing. Today visit:
- Nazare (beach town – NO SWIMMING but incredible waves- can have lunch on the beach or rent a bike)
- Overnight Coimbra.
Note: it may be worth seeing if there is a guided tour available on demand at the monasteries of Alcobaca and Batalha, there is a lot of interesting history. Yes, you can go inside by yourself but if you aren’t familiar with Portuguese history you will learn a lot from a guided tour of the churches. In Portugal, church and sea are bound up together and cannot be unlinked. The churches’ engravings and tombs will teach you about the seafaring conquests, the kings and queens, and the discoveries and contributions that Portugal has made to the world.
HOTEL: Quinta das Lagrimas, Coimbra
Day 6: Porto
Checkout of the Coimbra hotel, perhaps after a morning in the town center. The library at the old University is stunning! There is also a hop on hop off bus available. Drive to Porto, 2 hours away. Lots of activities in Porto so be sure not to arrive too late in the day! Porto is the “capital” of the North and has a very proud heritage. The historical center of Porto is very easy to walk everywhere and you can wander the old streets very happily for a few hours. Visit some of the stunning churches/cathedrals, or visit the famous bookstore Livraria Lello where JK Rowling used to buy coffee while writing Harry Potter.
On the other side of the river are the port wine companies and there are lots of wine activities possible if you are a wine enthusiast.
As referenced previously, the walking food tour I did of Porto was awesome. No need for dinner that day!
HOTEL: InterContinental Porto
Day 7: Exploring Porto and the Douro River Valley
If the weather is nice, take a half-day cruise down the Douro river – wine tasting etc. OR a small group trip to the vineyards in the valley, etc., with a small van or private driver. You could also drive yourself if you are driving. Note that the roads won’t have good river reviews, but they’ll have good mountain views as you get higher and can see the river from there. The Douro Valley is beautiful and it’s definitely worth a visit. It’s actually a UNESCO World Heritage site! Or you can take the train down the valley (it hugs the river) and visit some wineries or go for lunch. (If you are traveling in the colder months, here’s a trip report I wrote about taking the train down the Douro valley!)
There are also some private “yacht” companies that will cruise you up and down the Douro river, this is nicer as you can instruct them to go up further (into the better scenery ) Mateus Estate is very famous as it produces the Mateus port wine, but there are over 200 estates on the river.
Day 8: Braga and Guimaraes
Leave Porto – drive to Guimaraes and Braga – overnight in Braga area (note: this is also possible as a day trip from Porto). Or as suggested above, you can also overnight in Guimaraes. The two towns are in the same province and often combined in the same trips.
Guimaraes is known for being an exceptionally preserved medieval town. Portugal’s first King was born here so it is considered the birthplace of Portugal.
Braga, about 30 minutes away, is famous for its religious festivals, and the hillside church of Bom Jesus do Monte is a must-see (pictured below). It also has the oldest cathedral in Portugal, built in 1070.
HOTEL: Hotel Bracera Augusta in Braga or Pousada de Guimaraes
Day 9: Geres National Park
Visit Geres National Park (40 min from Braga area) – you could stay in Geres , too, all of these places are easy driving distance if you have an afternoon flight from Porto the next day. There’s an old royal hunting lodge there that you can stay at. Or at the end of the day, do the 2 hour trip back to the Porto area and stay near the airport for your flight the next day (may be easier).
For Geres – you should definitely consider either a walking tour or a driving tour guide that can help you decide what trails to go on and to maximize your time there. There are still Iberian wolves hiding there;)
Note: after publishing this article, I had the opportunity to go to Geres National Park myself! You can read about my experience here.
You can also ride horses or donkeys to explore the park.