Portugal is one of the most picturesque, lively and safest European countries.
It's also been growing in popularity as a travel destination throughout the past few years. Portugal ranked #4 on Conde Nast Traveler's 2018 list "The 10 Safest Countries in the World," for example. Coastal cities Porto and Lisbon jumped several spots on Travel + Leisure magazine's 2018 "Top 15 Cities in Europe." Braga, northeast of Porto, also ranked #2 on best "Best Places to Travel in Europe 2019" by European Best Destinations.There's no better way to explore a new country than with some good, old-fashioned slow travel.
Renting a car and driving south along the coast from Porto to Lisbon to Faro will uncover countless hidden gems, including unforgettable seaside towns and spectacular local food.
Here's a rough itinerary for you to follow:
Here's a handy Google map you can utilize. We've made sure to also include some restaurants and sightseeing options per main city, plus Lisbon neighborhoods you should definitely check out when you're in the country's capital city.
This breathtaking coastal city in northern Portugal is becoming increasingly more popular, yet still retains a unique mystique and character inspired by its winding and hilly cobblestone streets, waterfront views, and Old World architecture.
Sip an Afternoon Tea or Coffee at Majestic Café
This ornately decorated cafe is where J.K. Rowling conjured Harry Potter. Built in 1921, it's a legendary meeting place for writers, philosophers, poets and dreamers, replete with mesmerizing wood carvings, chandeliers and mirrors. Its daily "Afternoon Tea" features tea, milk, coffee or hot chocolate with sandwiches and dessert. Tao bom! (So good!)
Soak in the Beauty of São Bento Train Station
Approximately 20,000 azulejo—tin-glazed, painted ceramic tiles—depict incredible scenes from throughout Portuguese history, from famous leaders and battles to the chronology of transportation. Its three-story, symmetrical, granite facade is just as spectacular, making this historical railway station a true work of living art.
Enjoy Port Wine
This sweet nectar exclusively from the Douro Valley in Portugal's northern provinces is shipped out across the globe from Porto. An afternoon trip to a wine cellar to sample its unforgettable flavor is truly a must.
This stunning coastal capital city was built on seven rolling hills, so get ready to work your legs when exploring. The second-oldest capital city in Europe behind Athens, Lisbon is vibrant and mysterious, with plenty of historical sites and hidden gems to uncover.
Get Lost in Alfama
Also called the Old Quarter, Alfama is characterized by narrow, winding medieval alleys and absolutely breathtaking views. Visit Castelo de São Jorge, Lisbon Cathedral, Fado museum, the National Pantheon, and so much more!
Have an Egg Tart at Pastéis de Belém
These happy, tasty little custard egg tarts, called pastel de nata, can be found all over Portugal, but this is its birthplace. Expect a long line outside, though don't be fooled: That's for take-out. Head inside and grab a table to experience these sublime treats and an assortment of pastries crafted from ancient secret recipes.
Take Part in a Food Tour
The second-best thing about eating mouthwatering deliciousness is learning about the dishes as you devour them. There are a variety of food tours throughout Portugal explaining the rich flavors and culture behind these culinary masterpieces.
The capital of Portugal's southern Algarve region, Faro is an oft-overlooked city that's home to so much more than just its international airport. A day trip is all you'll need to experience all its hidden treasure, so be sure to carve out enough time for a visit.
Pass Through the Arco da Vila
This neoclassical archway marks the site of an ancient entrance through the original Moorish wall to the city, and is a must-visit passageway to its renowned cobblestone streets and charming squares.
Visit the Chapel of Bones
First check out Igreja de Nossa Senhora do Carmo, a twin-towered Baroque church. Behind it you'll find the Capela dos Ossos, a chapel built from the bones and skulls of around 1,000 monks.
Soak in the Sun at Praia de Faro
The golden sand of this beach extends about three miles, and is located just past the airport. While there are busier areas dotted with hotels and bars, you can still find secluded nooks of this oceanic paradise.
Here are some additional sites to visit if you have the time:
From Porto to Lisbon
Aveiro: Known as the "Venice of Portugal," marvel at this city's art nouveau buildings and colorful, boat-filled canals. Venture to the charming beach town of Costa Nova to discover rainbow-hued cottages.
Nazaré: A global surf spot where professional surfers travel for big wave surfing, its also a renowned seaside resort home to an old fishing town, with plenty of character.
Peniche: One of the largest fishing ports in Portugal, it's also home to the Peniche Fort, a 16th century garrison-turned-military prison, that today houses the National Museum of Resistance and Freedom.
Sintra: A perfect day trip from Lisbon, this resort town is tucked into the foothills of the Sintra Mountains and famous for its extravagant palaces, such as the Romanticism-style Pena Palace, known for its stunning views.
From Lisbon to Faro
Sines: This Art Nouveau coastal port town is divided into two parts: upper and lower. The former features a hilltop castle, Castelo de Sines, along with bars and cafes. The latter is the Praia da Vasco da Gama, a natural cove that is home to the town's fishing port.
Porto Covo: A traditional Portuguese fishing village, this hidden gem is close to Sines and dotted with sandy coves and colorful cottages. It's a beach lover's dream.
Sagres: Located on the westernmost tip of Portugal, Sagres is perfect for adventurers looking to experience intense natural wonders. Whether you're looking to ride crashing waves, hike dramatic cliffs, or bask in the golden sun, Sagres will most certainly deliver.
Lagos: This historical town is a popular vacation destination, with a breathtaking coastline, buzzing nightlife, sprawling beaches, and plenty of restaurants.
Exploring Portugal is going to be one of those trips you never forget. We hope the above itinerary helps excite you for a truly extraordinary journey.