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THE BEST THINGS TO DO IN PORTUGAL - A TRAVEL ITINERARY
Touring Europe by car is, simply, the best way to travel. It allows you to learn about new cultures and communities from the inside out. Portugal is rapidly emerging as one of the hottest destinations in Europe for North American travelers. The US Dollar is strong there, and in Portugal, you can take in breathtaking historic landmarks and points of interest for a fraction of the cost of some nearby countries.
On this road trip from Lisbon, you’ll discover some of the best things to do in Portugal, starting in its capital city, and discovering historic landmarks, castles, and ancient cities while driving the immensely beautiful Portuguese countryside.
1. THINGS TO DO IN LISBON: EXPLORE THE CITY UPON ARRIVAL
The city of Lisbon is a dynamic, thriving cultural mecca, and offers many historic landmarks, restaurants, and museums which rival those found in any city in Europe. This road trip from Lisbon itinerary begins with a day (or more if you choose) in Lisbon. Pick up your car rental at Portela LIS airport upon arrival, and make your way to your hotel to check-in. Depending upon when you arrive, you can either get caught up on your rest right away, or you can explore the city by car or on foot before dining at one of Lisbon’s fabulous restaurants.
While there is plenty to see and do in Lisbon, we recommend visiting Jeronimos Monastery, a UNESCO world heritage site. This gothic monastery offers a glimpse into the history of Lisbon and visitors will marvel at the craftsmanship which was possible when the monastery construction began in 1501.
Padrao dos Descobrimentos is a stunning monument on the coast which honors Portugal’s many famous maritime explorers. It’s a great place to visit and is an excellent point to take your first photos in Lisbon and post them to Facebook and Instagram to make family and friends back home insanely jealous of the first leg of your adventure!
At the end of your day dine at Belcanto or Cervejaria Ramiro – top-rated restaurants which offer the opportunity to enjoy delicious traditional Portuguese cuisine. Fresh seafood recommended!
POPULAR LISBON RENTAL CAR LOCATIONS
• Lisbon Airport Car Rental
• Lisbon Gare Do Oriente Car Rental
NEXT STOP: 1 HOUR
2. EXPLORING LISBON AREA CASTLES
The second day of your Portugal getaway keeps Lisbon as your home base and offers the opportunity to drive your Lisbon car rental to three fabulous historic castles in the area.
Belem Tower is one of the most popular points of interest in Lisbon, and it’s a must-see stop on any trip to this fantastic city. This UNESCO site played a significant role in Portuguese maritime discoveries, and it’s a striking structure right on the water at the mouth of the Tagus river, making it the ceremonial gateway to Lisbon. While visiting Belem Tower it will be easy to imagine old ships passing this historic structure from the 16th century, allowing you to connect with the city’s history in a unique way. It’s very moving.
Next make your way to Castelo dos Mouros, the “Castle of the Moors.” With a view of Lisbon’s coast, this hilltop medieval castle is found 25km northwest of Lisbon proper. From Belem Tower, the Castelo dos Mouros will transport you back in time, as this castle was built during the 8th and 9th centuries by Moors before being taken by Christian forces in 1147 when Lisbon fell.
Finally, jump ahead in history to Pena Palace (Palacio da Pena), a 19th-century ode to Romanticism. This UNESCO site is named as one of the seven wonders of Portugal and will be an amazing backdrop to epic photos you’ll want to frame the moment you get home.
From Pena Palace, return to Lisbon and enjoy a dinner on the coast before resting for the next day’s adventures!
NEXT STOP: 3 HOURS & 48 MINUTES
3. NORTHBOUND TO PORTO
Rise early on day three and plan to find a local eatery for breakfast near your first destination: Castelo de Obidos, due-north from Lisbon on the A8. It’s about an hour’s drive, and you can keep a lookout for a café along the route, which leaves room for spontaneity and a unique pit-stop on this road trip that’s all your own.
Castelo de Obidos (pictured above) is a well-preserved medieval castle in the municipality of Obidos, and we think it’s especially fitting to explore this fortified settlement first thing in the morning when the city is just beginning to stir. It’s a great place to stretch your legs and explore the castle and city before continuing north along the Portuguese coast.
From Castelo de Obidos, continue north via the A17 toward Porto. This drive will offer you amazing views of the coast, and the rolling Portuguese hillsides. It’s just over 2 hours to Porto by car, and there are numerous well-reviewed restaurants in Porto where you can enjoy lunch and a glass of wine overlooking the ocean. While in Porto check in to your hotel where you’ll spend the night, then zip north on the E1 for your final stop of the day: Guimaraes Castle.
On the return trip to your hotel, you can stop in at a local winery to taste some of the best Portuguese wines available, before selecting a 4 or 5-star restaurant to cap-off an amazing day on the road!
NEXT STOP: 2 HOURS & 37 MINUTES
4. HEAD SOUTH TO CONTINUE YOUR TOUR OF PORTUGAL’S CASTLES
Rise early and fuel-up in Porto with a hearty breakfast at a café along the banks of the Douro River before heading south to the Convent of Christ along the A13. The Convento de Cristo is a stunning monastery in the civil parish of Tomar, a 2-hour drive south from Porto. The Roman Catholic structure dates to 1118 and is an amazing site to explore by foot after you park your Portuguese rental car.
From the Convent, zip a few miles southeast to Almourol Castle, a stunning landmark on a small island set in the middle of the serene Tagus River. Considered one of Portugal’s landmarks which is most emblematic of the Knights Templar, Almourol Castle offers a unique glimpse of the history of central Portugal, and serves as a stunning backdrop for photographs that will make you long to return to Portugal once your trip is at an end.
We recommend finding a bistro in the area where you can enjoy a casual lunch before continuing to your hotel in Gaviao.
NEXT STOP: 3 HOURS & 46 MINUTES
5. YOUR FINAL DAY OF CASTLES & TOURING PORTUGAL BY CAR
Day 5 of your driving tour of the best things to do in Portugal begins in Gaviao, where you’ll explore the Castle of Belver, which overlooks the Tagus River. Constructed during the middle ages, this is an amazing site to explore by foot, and allows you to really get a workout in preparation for the next leg of your trip. If you’re traveling with children, they’ll love navigating the ancient walls and looking down from the hilltop on the surrounding Portuguese landscape.
From Belver Castle, head south to Evoramonte Castle (pictured above) in Estremoz, a structure which dates to 1160. Located in the beautiful Alentejo region of Portugal, this final castle on your Portugal road trip from Lisbon offers the opportunity to reflect on the varied and evolving history of Portugal as a nation – its maritime ties and the rule of Moors and Christians – before enjoying a stunning 2-hour drive west on the A6 to return to Lisbon.