Arriving in Lisbon was like taking in a fresh, crisp breath. The cities are relaxing, yet lively. I spent days wandering the maze of cobblestone steps, little alleys, mom and pop shops. Every few hours were taking a break to stuff my face with a handful of famed custard tarts (Pastéis de Nata) before continuing to go out and explore. Which I assume is the reason I had to move down a notch on my belt.
After of enjoying the incredible sunsets, historic forts, seaside, and restaurants. I knew if I didn’t get out and explore the rest of Portugal then, they would have to pry me out of the city by force. Using Lisbon as my home base, I rented a car and hit the road in search what the rest of Portugal had to offer.
A couple of notes before we delve into the list.
1- Renting a car in Lisbon is very affordable. I found it even cheaper than the train.
2- If you are from outside the EU make sure you have an international driving License, Portugal is one of the few countries in Europe that make you show proof before renting a car.
These are 7 of my favorite road trips from Lisbon.
Sintra and Cascais
First, there is Sintra; this charming city holds medieval feel to it. Casually strolling down the stony streets, pale yellow, and faded orange buildings towered above me. To the side a group of old men sat laughing small game spread out on a table. I filed in with throngs of other tourists into bakery a friend recommended to me, to get my daily caffeine/ sugar rush.
I also found a few good lookouts in the city that offer sweeping views and panoramas of Sintra and the surrounding landscape.
The two major tourist attractions of Sintra are Pena Palace and the Morrish Fort. The fiery tower, vibrant yellow, and pale purple walls of the palace draw in you Palace sitting on a large forested hill pull you into this remarkable building.
The ramparts and towers of the old Morrish Fort are bathed in over a thousand years of historic. However, the major highlights were the unparalleled views of the forest and green plains you get from the cliffside.
I found Portugal off the beaten path, giving it a fresh of fresh air from the crowded tourist cities of western Europe. This can be seen the further south you go from Lisbon. There are miles and miles of pristine coastline, local villages, and rocky coves just begging to be explored.
These off the beaten path spots are so remote that many of them can only be reached by driving. In months are leaving Portugal I find my knee shaking, and hands twitching when I think how many places in Portugal are undiscovered by my fellow travelers, and still undiscovered by me.
The ambiance of Porto in intoxicating. Merchants, selling their wares, the stony streets and winding alleys of the Riverside district, large bridges span across the water, and densely packed colorful buildings make this city you must visit when traveling in Portugal.
The drive from Lisbon is also something road trippers won’t want to miss. The ride is only 3 – 4 hours. But you can easily spend a couple of days spending time on the coastline and in places like Ericeira, Peniche, and Caldas. The towns and beaches are worth the spending some extra time driving and exploring, and it is a major highlight of traveling Portugal.
The Douro Valley is an enchanted stretch of land shared by both Portugal and Spain. There are grand vistas from viewpoints, rushing waters, and untouched landscapes.
It is one of the most beautiful areas in the entire country, and that’s saying a lot for Portugal. The Douro Valley is a half day drive from Lisbon, and once there can spend your time exploring the landscape, visiting vineyards (this is where the famous port wine was born), or wandering through the small towns and villages.
It is worth spending a few days here if you have the time.
Our next road trip takes you away from the major roads into the off into paths less ventured. Tourist rarely sees this part in the northeast of the country, but hey, their loss is your gain.
There are stunning mountainsides that are home to same towns and villages that still practice a lot of Portugal old traditions and customs. The locals are friendly, the customs diverse rooted in the deep history of this country.
Serra da Estrela
I always its silly when people ask me if I am a beach, forest, or mountain guy. Why can’t I like all three? But I tend always to answer mountains (followed closely by woods).
The love the larger than life beauty of mountains, their jagged ranged stretching into the distance. The Serra da Estrela is the tallest mountain range in the country/ They are great to visit any time of the year, but it does get snow in the winter. It is a beautiful spot for a few day getaways from Lisbon.
These fantastic spots have quickly made Portugal one of my top countries to drive around in Europe. Lisbon is a great city to use as your home base. The country is cheap, traveler friendly, and full of life. If you are embarking on a road trip around Portugal, this list is a great place to start.