Planning a trip to Portugal? We could not be more excited for you! Portugal completely blew us away and we can’t wait for you to fall in love with it as much as we did. Before we dive into all of the epic things to do in Portugal, let’s go over a few frequently asked questions that will help you get started on the right foot!
How much time do you need?
The answer to this question really depends on what you would like to do during your stay. If you are planning to see Lisbon, hit the beaches in the Algarve, and take a few tours, 7-10 days is enough. If you want to do all of that plus make your way up to Porto and visit islands like Madeira and São Miguel—which we highly recommend you do!—3 to 4 weeks would be ideal.
When should you go?
Portugal is an excellent travel destination year-round, but there are certain months that receive significantly warmer weather and/or fewer tourists.
April, May, September, and October are some of the best times to visit Portugal as far as the weather and crowds go.
June to August can get very hot, particularly in areas like Lisbon. Everyone heads to the Algarve during this time to enjoy the beaches, making it extremely busy.
November to March is certainly the chilliest time to visit, but Portugal still gets a good amount of sun. It can be a great time to explore the cities and inland areas while avoiding the crowds and prices of the high season.
There are options to suit every budget when it comes to accommodation in Portugal. From boojie all-inclusive hotels to Airbnbs or campervan rentals, finding a place to stay in this country is relatively easy.
In terms of hotels and Airbnbs, the earlier you book, the better! We stayed at hotels in Lisbon, Azores, and Madeira, and travelled the rest of the mainland in a campervan. For us, it was the perfect combination!
If you are wondering about this option, Portugal has far fewer rules about overnight parking than many other countries making van life very doable. We used the app Park4night and the website Portugal Easy Camp to locate free or inexpensive places to stay each night.
In our opinion, the best method of transportation in Portugal is by vehicle. While it is possible to explore the country by taxi, busses, or public transit, it will be in exchange for a huge amount of your time and flexibility.
The only situation in which you do not need to rent a vehicle is if you plan to spend the majority of your time in Lisbon, Porto, or at an all-inclusive resort in the Algarve. In these areas, you can walk or take public transit everywhere you need to go.
Driving in Portugal
Driving in Portugal is relatively easy, especially on toll roads and in rural areas. Lisbon can be tricky due to the complex over changes and the sheer volume of traffic, so we would suggest you have a good navigator or Google maps.
Despite the cost, toll roads are quick, well maintained, and well signed which makes travelling far distances easy and comfortable. If you want to save money and have plenty of time for your trip, you can avoid the toll roads by toggling this setting to “off” on Google earth. The non-toll roads are narrower, older, and usually consist of a round-about every few kilometres.
In general, if you have the budget, we would always recommend going for the toll roads. Some exceptions would be the coastal roads in the Algarve and the drive between Porto and the Douro Valley specifically for scenery.
To give you an idea of the cost, we spent a total of 130 EU on toll roads and we drove the entire country. During this time we spent approximately 350 EU on diesel fuel. Keep in mind, we were also driving a campervan, so the fuel cost would be much lower with a small car.
Now that we’ve got the housekeeping out of the way, let’s get into the fun stuff! Here is our list of 11 mind blowing things to do in Portugal.
Begin Your Journey in Lisbon
TIMELINE: 2-4 DAYS
For many people, when they think of Portugal, they think of Lisbon. Lisbon is the vibrant capital and one of our favourite cities in all of Europe. With its warm climate, rich history, mouth-watering food, and lively atmosphere, it is sure to blow you away.
Depending on what you’re interested in seeing and how quickly you like to travel, this wonderful city can be done in 2-4 days. Because of our desire to travel the entire mainland in two weeks, we settled for 2 days in Lisbon. It was jam-packed with sights, food, and culture, but very doable. This hilly, coastal metropolis boasts historic castles, fantastic viewpoints, and a welcoming charm.
If it is your first time visiting Lisbon, try to choose a hotel in the Alfama, Baixa, or Bairro Alto district. They all offer excellent accommodation within walking distance to the majority of the places you’ll want to go. This means that you will save time and money by not having to rent a vehicle or take taxis around the city.
Some of the top things to do here include: Saint George’s Castle, The Miradouro de Santa Luzia, LX Factory, The Arco da Rua Augusta, Pink Street, TimeOut Market, and Praça de São Paulo. You can learn more about all of these stops in Lisbon in our blog post.
Related Post: How to Make the Most of 2 Days in Lisbon, Portugal
Castle Hop in Sintra
TIMELINE: 1-2 DAYS
Straight out of a fairytale, Sintra is a charming little town that is home to several magnificent castles. Only about 30 minutes northwest of Lisbon, 1-2 days here is perfect for touring the area.
Though there are several monumental castles in Sintra, they are all incredibly unique. From the colourful walls of Palácio da Pena to the ornate detail of The Monserrate Palace, not one of these castles is the same.
The combination of the close proximity to Lisbon and the beauty of each of these structures means that Sintra is bustling with tourists most of the time. Despite the crowds, though, it is a must on your list of things to do in Portugal.
For more information, photos, and details on recommended itineraries and how to get there from Lisbon, visit the link below.
Related Post: The Most Spectacular Castles in Sintra & How to Visit Each One!
Catch a Sunset at Praia da Ursa
TIMELINE: HALF A DAY
Lonely Planet praises this beach as one of the most beautiful in the world, so how could you miss it? Only about 30 minutes west of Sintra, this is a great stop for sunset after a day of castle hopping.
Access to this beach is a bit tricky because the path is steep and made of pebbles. Make sure to bring good footwear! Trust me, you will not want to hike it in sandals. Once you arrive, though, you will be greeted by white sand, impressive rock formations, clear blue water, and a whole lot of beauty.
Witness The Worlds Biggest Waves in Nazaré
TIMELINE: 1-2 DAYS
Nazaré is a tiny seaside town known for having the biggest waves in the world. During the winter months, surfers from all over the globe come to ride waves over 70 feet tall! While the waves were pretty tame when we visited, we LOVED Nazaré!
From the adorable whitewashed houses and restaurants along the main beach to the daily markets and views from O Sitio—the top part of the town, you can drive or take the funicular there—we spent almost two whole days in this charming Portuguese village.
Explore The Azores Islands
TIMELINE: 4-10 DAYS
Many people visit Portugal without even thinking about the islands. In our opinion, that’s a huge mistake! The Azores islands, a 2.5-hour flight from Lisbon, are best described as a mix between Hawaii and Ireland.
Home to awe-inspiring viewpoints, natural hot springs, incredible waterfalls, and Europe’s only tea plantation, The Azores is unlike anywhere we have ever been.
If you decide to stop in the Azores, your first big decision will be which island(s) to visit. If you are short on time or aren’t sure where to start, our recommendation would be São Miguel.
This island is referred to by many as the most beautiful in the region and it has everything you could ever dream of to make your trip picture-perfect. It is the largest island in the chain and home to the international airport.
São Miguel is the perfect combination of easy to travel and off the beaten path. The entire island is landscaped, there are insane views around every corner, and it is rich in culture and history. If you are only visiting São Miguel, 4-6 days in plenty. If you are interested in exploring the other islands, you could easily spend 10+ days here.
Related Post: 15 Adventurous Things You Can’t Miss in São Miguel, Azores
Reach New Heights in Madeira
TIMELINE: 4-7 DAYS
Speaking of Portugal’s islands, Madeira is one of our new favourite travel destinations on the planet. Trust us… you don’t want to miss it!
A quick 90-minute flight from Lisbon will drop you off in a paradise unlike anywhere else in Europe. This lush, volcanic island is a little slice of heaven complete with massive waterfalls, black sand beaches, mind-blowing peaks, and historic charm.
While there are a ton of awesome activities to do around the island, hiking is our number one recommendation. The hikes in Madeira are diverse, unique, and absolutely jaw-dropping! If you would like to see the entire island and do some hiking, plan to spend 4-7 days in Madeira.
Related Post: 11 Epic Things to do in Madeira for Adventure Lovers!
Unwind in Costa Nova
TIMELINE: HALF A DAY
We found Costa Nova completely by accident, but it was one of the highlights of our road trip through Portugal. After being thoroughly disappointed by Aveiro—which is known as the Venice of Portugal, but has a total of 1 canal that is, in our opinion, a tourist trap— we set out to find a little beach to soak up some sun.
We were pleasantly surprised by Costa Nova’s serene white sand and colourful striped houses. There is a long boardwalk that runs along the coast and almost zero tourists. It’s absolutely heavenly.
Soak Up The Culture in Porto
TIMELINE: 1-2 DAYS
Porto is a vibrant and charismatic coastal city located in northern Portugal. This colourful community lies along the stunning Douro River and offers visitors a taste of culture unparalleled anywhere else in the country.
I read a quote before visiting that really rang true as we strolled the cobblestone streets enjoying the live music, the smells of the local restaurants, and the evening breeze off the river.
“If Lisbon is the heart of Portugal, then Porto is the soul.”
Porto completely blew us away and it happened almost immediately. Even David— who is not typically much of a city guy— fell in love with this magical place. Everything from the food to the local people to the exquisite street art had a remarkably different feel than the rest of Portugal.
It’s hard to put into words, really, but there is something about the way the city makes you feel that stays with you long after you’re gone. If you are debating whether or not to make the trip up north, let me offer you some perspective.
We loved Lisbon. It was bustling with fantastic food, impressive shops, and incredible architecture. If given the choice to go back to only one city in Portugal, however, we would choose Porto every single time.
Some of the best things to see in Porto include The Dom Luis I Bridge, The Cais da Ribeira, The Monastery of Serra do Pilar, The Clérigos Tower, Bolsa Palace, and Porto Cathedral. For more information on things to do in Porto, check out this post and YouTube video.
Related Post: 8 Wonderful Things to do in Porto, Portugal
The Douro Valley
TIMELINE: 1-2 DAYS
The Douro Valley, a must-visit while you are in northern Portugal, is located about 1 hour east of Porto. It is a stunning wine region made up of rolling hills and scenic vineyards divided by the winding Douro River. If you don’t want to worry about driving, there are several day tours available from Porto. Most of them include wine and port tastings, lunch, and boat rides down the Douro River.
If you have a vehicle or a campervan, you can visit the Douro Valley on your own. Quinta do Monte Travesso, a beautiful vineyard in the region, will actually let you stay the night for free in your camper if you buy a bottle of their wine. They even offer warm showers, a restroom, and electricity. Some other great vineyards in the area include Sandeman, Quinta do Bomfim, Quinta do Pôpa, and Quinta da Roêda.
The Benagil Cave
TIMELINE: HALF A DAY
The Benagil Cave is located along the Algarve Coast, near the town of Carvoeiro. Only accessible by water, there are several tours that bring hundreds of people inside the cave each day. The remarkable natural landmark features two dome-shaped entry points and a skylightesque hole in the roof, which allows a great deal of light in. These unique features paired with the textured limestone rock and clear blue waves rolling in make it one of the most beautiful caves in the world, without a doubt.
With so much popularity, especially in recent years, it’s no surprise that the Benagil Cave can get extremely crowded. There are constant tours coming and going with lineups of people waiting for a 30-second window to snap that “perfect Instagram shot”.
I don’t know about you, but even the thought of that stresses me the heck out!
So what if I told you that we were able to get this magnificent place all to ourselves for not one but two whole hours? That we were able to experience the incredible natural wonder without boats and people and noise and distraction.
Sounds too good to be true, doesn’t it? Great news! In reality, it is not an overly difficult thing to do. It does however take a bit of planning and an early morning wake-up call. For more information, check out the blog post and YouTube video linked below!
Related Post: The Benagil Cave in Portugal: The Secret to Getting it All to Yourself!
TIMELINE: 5-10 DAYS
Buckle up folks because we have saved the best for last! The Algarve is an incredible piece of coastline along the country’s south shore. With several unique beaches, charming villages, fantastic restaurants, and legendary nightlife, this is one of the most popular things to do in Portugal.
Famous for dramatic limestone cliffs and white-sand beaches, the Algarve was one of our favourite places in all of Portugal. Although the Algarve can get busy, especially during peak travel times, it is 1000% worth a visit.
We would recommend anywhere between 5-10 days for exploring the coast depending on what you want to do and how fast you like to travel. We spent 5 full days surfing, beach hopping, and bumming around in our campervan which felt like the perfect amount of time.
Some of the best beaches include Praia da Marinha, Praia do Camilo, Praia dos Estudantes, Ponta de Piedade, Praia Dona Ana, Praia de Odeceixe, Praia dos Tres Irmaos, Praia de Carvoeiro, and the hike in beaches by Portimão. For more information and photos of each one, check out this blog post.