Part 1 of our Portuguese adventurefrom the Douro Valley, touring the Atlantic coast, south to Algarve and beyond
We had our first delicious taster of Portugal in 2017 when we visited Lisbon for a mini-break; from that moment onwards, we were smitten. The following spring, we decided to discover more of Portugal on a 2-week road trip.
In this first instalment of our two-part Portuguese road trip itinerary, we journey from northern Portugal, touring the Douro Valley region. Then head west towards the Atlantic Ocean to Aveiro, venturing south passing golden beaches, onto Nazaré and Cascais.
It’s then off to the southernmost points on our route, Sagres and Lagos. However, the adventure isn’t over by a long chalk. Ensure you catch our second part of our 2-week road trip when we journey from Lagos, winding our way north to Porto.
How to get to Portugal
I would just like to add; I appreciate that not everyone is as mad as we are when venturing off on a road trip. We love to take our own car, leaving from our doorstep in the UK.
Therefore, we’ve added a couple of additional nights at either end for the overnight Brittany Ferry journey and also our cheeky couple nights in León in northern Spain.
So, within this itinerary, I’ve included the hop through Spain. If you wish to keep the road trip to 14-nights, pick up a rental car from Porto, Lisbon or Faro airports and set off on the circular route from your chosen destination.
The inspiration for our Portuguese road tripOne visit to Portugal is never enough
Our inspiration was clear; we wanted to dig deeper into Portugal’s rich history, which can be found within so many elements in this charming country. From its explorers on the Voyage of Discoveries, the ornate terraced sanctuaries climbing high into the sky, to its breath-taking rugged landscape.
The Landscape – Touring the Douro Valley in the northern region of Portugal and admiring the crashing waves against the ochre shores along the Atlantic Ocean coastline.
History & Culture – The ancient city of Guimarães the beautiful historic monasteries and the colourful canals in Aveiro.
The architecture – The magnificent Bom Jesus do Monte and explore the historic towns and cities for the eye-catching Azulejo glazed, ceramic tilework.
& Food and Drink – The delicious seafood, traditional bifanas and pregos and of course the tipple of Vinho-Verde and a glass of Port.
Bilbao, Spain to GuimarãesA hop through northern Spain
We’ve already completed our road trip checklist, so fully fuelled and Werther’s on-board, it’s tally-ho!
As mentioned, our road trip started in the UK, so, after the Brittany Ferry cruise through the Bay of Biscay watching the leaping dolphins escorting us south, we arrive in Bilbao.
Unfortunately, there’s no time for tapas as it’s quite a long journey to Guimarães. Jumping straight onto the motorway in Bilbao and we’re heading southwest.
See out tips on tolls and vignettes below; however, if you know you will be touring the Algarve, I suggest you set up your ‘EASYToll’ when entering Portugal on the A24 at the Chaves border. There are only four locations where this can be done.
Additional tolls in Portugal are ticketed, and you pay-as-you-go.
Arriving at Guimarães, our first stopover in Portugal, we check-in for our 2-night stay at Casa Dos Pombais.
The stroll into the small city of Guimarães is only around 10 minutes. We enjoy the rest of the day and evening getting our bearings around the attractive city.
Guimarães is an incredibly historic UNESCO city to explore; we were looking forward to returning the following afternoon after spending a full day discovering other sites in northern Portugal.
We have created a little YouTube video of Guimarães.
Why not subscribe to our YouTube channel and get the latest clips as we post them?
Places to visit in Guimarães & local cuisine
- Stroll amongst the medieval lanes and relax in the enchanting Largo da Oliveira and Praça de Santiago.
- Visit the Palace of the Dukes, the Castle of Guimarães, a medieval fortress built during the 10th century.
- The Nossa Senhora da Consolação e dos Santos Passos Church with its manicured garden laid at her feet
- Discover the tannery district and the old road to Porto, lined with historic houses with wooden balustrades and charming façades.
- Pork bifanas, steak prego and as we are in the Minho region, a glass of crisp Vinho Verde is required.
Where to stay in Guimarães
Our accommodation for the two nights in Guimarães was at the Casa Dos Pombais.
Casa Dos Pombais was a great find, hidden in its own little oasis behind trees and gates, and yes, it really has swans. Along with lovely gardens of orange trees and ponds.
You really feel like you are staying in a manor house, the owner was friendly, and our large room was very comfortable.
The ample free parking was suitable for even the larger car.
Casa Dos Pombais was about a 10-minute stroll into the historical UNESCO town and a lovely place to be based for a couple of nights to explore the region.
Our recent new found love is Portugal, it is such a beautiful country. While planning our trip, I used the DK Eyewitness books. I find them extremely informative, easy to follow and the pictures and maps tempt you into discovering more.
We used a previous version of this book to plan our north to south Portuguese road trip, now you can grab the revised copy.
A day trip to Viana do Castelo, Ponte de Lima and Bom Jesus do MonteHistory in every footstep
While based in Guimarães, we wanted to discover the surrounding picturesque countryside and explore a couple of ancient northern Portuguese towns.
Our first stop was to the delightful riverside town of Viana do Castelo with its charming historic streets and welcoming squares. Ensure you head to the hilltop basilica, Sanctuary of Santa Luzia.
A short hop east, and we arrive in Ponte de Lima, an attractive town with a beautiful Roman Bridge spanning the Lima River.
Ponte de Lima is an incredibly ancient town and is one of the oldest settlements in Portugal. It was given its first charter in 1125.
One last stop before heading back to Guimarães for the evening is the UNESCO site of Bom Jesus do Monte, just near Braga.
It’s now the short hop back to Guimarães for the evening. It was Liberation Day in Portugal, so there was a lovely family atmosphere throughout the old town. Bands were playing, the streets were bustling and best of all, the sun was shining.
We have created a little YouTube video of our day, why not check it out?
Guimarães to Vila Real via Amarante, a tour through the Douro Valley and visit Casa MateusRows and rows of terraced, patchwork vineyards
Today is a full day en-route to Vila Real. If we drove directly, it would only be around 53 miles, but hey, this is a road trip; why would you want to do that? Let’s discover the Douro and beyond.
Our first stop is to the historic town of Amarante on the banks of the Tâmega River in the Minho region. Amarante is a delightful town with a charming rustic feel, small independent shops selling an eclectic mixture of items. You felt like you had stepped back in time.
The narrow streets weave their way up through the town; you pass tiny chapels and courtyards. Once you reach the top, you are greeted with a view across the Amarante rooftops, the picturesque stone Ponte São Gonçalo and the Renaissance monastery of São Gonçalo.
It’s now time to tour the beautiful Douro Valley amongst the terraced Port wine vineyards. The scenery here is spectacular; if you’re anything like us, you will keep parking up to admire the outstretched valley and countryside beyond.
You can meander along the base of the valley, hugging the banks of the Douro River as you go. Or head high through the twisting roads weaving amongst the winemaking towns climbing and descending, and admiring the stunning scenery as you go.
We spent a few hours touring the UNESCO Douro Valley; it was such a pleasure soaking up the breathtaking scenery; however, our next stop was Casa Mateus.
Yes, home to the classic rosé wine presented in a flask-shaped bottle. Although the wine doesn’t quite do justice to the ornate Baroque palace and gardens, it is beautiful.
It’s now onwards to our overnight stay for the evening Hotel Miracorgo in Vila Real. We enjoy the rest of the day and evening exploring the historic streets of Vila Real.
Again, we have created a little YouTube video of the trip.
Places to visit en-route to Vila Real
- Visit the picturesque and historic town of Amarante.
- Self-drive road trip around the Douro Valley and its charming wine-growing villages.
- Visit the Baroque palace of Casa Mateus.
- Stroll the lanes of Vila Real amongst the striking churches.
Where to stay in Vila Real
Our accommodation for the one night in Vila Real was at the Hotel Miracorgo.
Great location for the old town, and the hotel had fantastic views along the Corgo River. Hotel Miracorgo is reasonably large and very comfortable.
The free underground parking facilities were especially good for a larger vehicle.
Vila Real to Aveiro via Douro Valley and visit Shrine of Our Lady of Remedies in LamegoWe’re heading to the Atlantic Ocean
Another full day en-route to Aveiro, we can’t resist soaking up more of the Douro Valley scenery.
We head off bright and early as we want to visit some of the charming wine-growing villages dotted across the countryside of northern Portugal.
We plot a route visiting the sleepy village of Provesende, winding our way through Pinhão, Tabuaço, Armamar and then stopping off in the tranquil village of Salzedas.
Incredibly within the narrow cobble-stoned streets of Salzedas, stands the imposing Monastery of Santa Maria de Salzedas. Originally built during the 12th-century, some of which remains.
Hopping back in the car, we take the direct route to Aveiro on the Atlantic coast, picking up the A24 south and then A25 west. The ‘EasyToll’ that we purchased up earlier in the trip has come in handy again as Electronic Tolls were along this route.
Arriving at Aveiro mid/late afternoon, we check-in for our one-night stay at Hotel As Americas. After a quick freshen up, we head out to the vibrant streets and canals of Aveiro; we want to explore as much as we can in our one evening.
Aveiro is a city nestled within a lagoon along the west coast of Portugal. The main route through Aveiro is the Ria de Aveiro, sometimes referred to as “The Venice of Portugal”. You will see beautiful Art Nouveau architecture with the blue and white ceramic tiles so synonymous with Portugal.
Although what really brings the city alive is the flamboyant and captivating barcos moliceiros. The vibrant boats were once used to harvest seaweed.
Places to visit en-route to Aveiro & local cuisine
- Discover more of the Douro Valley, visiting wine-growing villages along the way.
- Visit Lamego and the Shrine of Our Lady of Remedies.
- Explore the colourful waterways and beautiful architecture through the Old Quarter of Aveiro.
- Seek out the little cabins selling Ovos Moles. These small local delicacies are bite-size sweets wrapped in rice paper, with a rich egg yolk and sugar filling.
Where to stay in Aveiro
Our accommodation for the one night in Aveiro was at the Hotel As Americas.
Hotel As Americas was a very pleasant, modern hotel with friendly, helpful staff.
It is slightly out of the centre than we would typically choose, but only about a 10–15-minute walk to the old town.
Underground parking was good, although a little bit of a squeeze for a larger car. Buffet breakfast was included and had a wide range of food.
Aveiro to Cascais via Costa Nova, the Atlantic coast, and the Estoril shorelineVisiting Nazaré & onto Alcobaça Monastery
Today is a full day en-route to Cascais, nestled on the Atlantic Ocean.
Our first stop is very close by as we cross the Aveiro Lagoon to Cost Nova, the home of the candy-striped cabins, just 7 miles away. Traditionally the palheiros cabins would have been used by the local fisherman for storing their fishing equipment. However, nowadays, they have become popular with tourists and are holiday chalets.
Journeying south along the small coastal roads of EM592/EM591-2 & CM591. We briefly join the A17, then head back to the coast of Praia da Vieira.
The golden sandy beaches at Praia da Vieira are so welcoming and stretch as far as the eye can see. Heading further south, we stop at Nazaré, as the views from the cliff-top along the shoreline are wonderful.
Never missing the opportunity to visit a UNESCO site, we take a slight detour inland to Alcobaça Monastery. This magnificent monastery is the largest church in Portugal and one of the first Gothic buildings in the country.
Jumping back onto the motorway to gain some time, we pick up the toll route. As we continue south on the N9, we turn onto the N247 to enjoy the scenery around Sintra and the Parque Natural de Sintra-Cascais.
Staying with the scenic route around the N247, we tour along the Estoril coastline, watching the crashing waves against the rugged rock face.
Places to visit en-route to Cascais
- Head across Aveiro Lagoon to see the colourful candy-striped cabins at Costa Nova.
- Tour south along the shoreline of the Atlantic Ocean coast.
- Enjoy the golden sandy beaches at Praia da Vieira and the rugged coastline at Nazaré.
- Visit the Alcobaça Monastery.
- Drive through the lush landscape around Sintra and tour the craggy shores of the Estoril coast.
- Discover the picturesque town of Cascais.
Where to stay in Cascais
Our accommodation for the one night in Cascais was at the Hotel Baia.
Hotel Baia is in a fantastic location in Cascais and overlooks the sea. The parking is underground in a public car park. However, they have allocated spaces for the hotel at a discounted charge.
This region appears to be popular with golfing tours.
Do you enjoy visiting UNESCO sites?
9 UNESCO Sites to visit in Portugal
Cascais to Lagos via Setúbal Peninsular, the Atlantic coast and SagresTouring through Parque Natural do Sudoeste Alentejano e Costa Vicentina
Of course, prior to leaving the Estoril region, we had to stop by the Circuito do Estoril. Gary is a big motor-racing fan, so whenever we are nearby a race circuit, we must stop by.
Back on the road again, we’re heading east towards Lisbon and then south across the Ponte 25 de Abril, with such incredible views. We’re skipping Lisbon on this trip, although it’s Lisbon that inspired us to embark on this adventure.
Journey south briefly to Sesimbra and through the wine region in the Setúbal Peninsular. We pick up the IC1 south as we want to keep to the quieter roads. At the junction, IP8 head west towards the N261, then south on the R261-5 along the coastline through Reserva Natural das Lagoas de Santo André e Sancha.
It’s south all the way now, keeping to the Atlantic Ocean coast on the N120-1. We spot Calla lilies growing wild, storks nesting and even cactus growing, oh for the sunshine.
Touring through the beautiful scenery along the N393 and the M502 is a delight. We then reach Parque Natural do Sudoeste Alentejano e Costa Vicentina and continue down the N120 and effortlessly weave onto the N268 south all the way to Sagres.
We reach our furthest southwesterly point in Portugal of Sagres. You can stand on the coastline look west, and the next landfall would be America; how incredible is that. The rugged shores with spray scattering in the air from the crashing waves are mesmerising to watch.
Jumping onto the N125 east, our next stop is Lagos. We arrive late afternoon and check-in to our apartment for our two-night stay at The Captain's Nest by Seewest.
Places to visit in and en-route to Lagos
- If you’re motor-racing fans, you may want to visit Circuito do Estoril.
- Tour through the wine region in the Setúbal Peninsular.
- Journey through the Reserva Natural das Lagoas de Santo André e Sancha and Parque Natural do Sudoeste Alentejano e Costa Vicentina.
- Enjoy the breath-taking views on the Sagres shoreline.
- The iconic view of Ponta do Piedade.
- Visit the Mercado de Escravos (Slave Market Museum).
- Ponta da Bandeira Fort
- Explore the lively town of Lagos.
Where to stay in Lagos
Our accommodation for the two nights in Lagos was in an apartment, The Captain's Nest by Seewest.
Captain's Nest is a wonderfully spacious apartment; it was lovely and bright and had a large balcony that overlooked the Marina.
It's about a 10–15-minute walk into the old town, and you are in bustling Lagos.
We chose this apartment for the private parking, which had an allocated space underground, and it had its own washing machine, not communal.
Day trip along the Algarve coast, from Tavira in the east to Ponta do PiedadeVisiting coves, beaches, and caves
Gary and I are not really the sitting-on-a-beach type of people. So, for our full day in the Algarve, we chose to head east to Tavira via the A22 motorway and tour back leisurely, visiting coves, caves and beaches along the coast.
Firstly, in my naivety, I didn’t realise how built up and touristy the Algarve was, so there isn’t actually a coastal route; you need to dip in and out of locations along the way.
Although saying that there are some incredible views along the Algarve shoreline, you just need to pick and choose.
It’s around 72 miles (115km) to Tavira on the A22; as mentioned, ensure you have an ‘EASYToll’ as there are plenty of Electronic Tolls along this route. You don’t want a hefty fine.
After spending a couple of hours in the historic town of Tavira, we start our unhurried east to west journey back to Lagos, mainly hopping on and off the N125.
Our second stop was to the golden sandy beach of Quarteira near Faro; it was lovely to feel the sand between my toes.
We heard about the beautiful bay of Praia de Benagil, and it certainly didn’t disappoint; it was stunning. We continued to stroll along the cliff top path and came upon an incredibly huge hole in the ground, which opened out to be a cave below, be careful where you tread.
Our final stop prior to heading back to Lagos was Ponta da Piedade, one of the most iconic and scenic ocean views in the Algarve.
I understand why people love exploring this region; the landscape and the welcoming opal seas are spectacular.
So, there you go
Our itinerary for a road trip in Portugal, exploring the four corners
Tolls and vignettes and more
Spain – No tolls from Bilbao to the Portuguese border.
Portugal – Some of Portugal’s tolls are ticketed, and you pay-as-you-go.
Additionally, there are various highways and motorways that require an ‘Electronic Toll’. I strongly advise you purchase an ‘EASYToll’ if you know you are touring the Algarve. It is necessary for the A22 along the south coast.
There are only four locations to purchase one across Portugal. If you do not have an ‘EASYToll’ set up, you will be fined, and you may not even realise that you have entered the ‘Electronic Toll’ zone.
So, I suggest you either pick up an EASYToll at the four designated locations (A28, A24, A25 and A22) they look like vending machines. Or alternatively, sign up for this service via the Portugal Tolls website for peace of mind really. Here you can enter your specific details for the 30-day pass.
-Our total mileage for the trip from north to south was around 1,360 miles (2,188km), give or take, as there were a few detours and wanderings.
- The total trip returning north again is around 2,558 miles (4,117km) – Keep in mind we are adding a couple of days to head north to Bilbao in Spain.
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