Lisbon and Around & Northern Delights Whether you race along the autostradas or prefer pottering along country roads or discovering the country by rail, traveling around Portugal can be a delight. Driving from Lisbon, in less than 3 hours you can be bronzing on a beach in the Algarve or sipping port in a riverside bar overlooking Porto.
Yet it would be a mistake to spend your holiday rushing from point to point. Portugal is a land that lends itself to taking things easy. If you’ve got a week, spend time exploring Lisbon, the historic and happening capital that is the heart of the country’s cultural life; take a relaxed ride out to nearby attractions, driving through forested hills or vine- and orchard-covered countryside to view World Heritage Sites within an hour or so of the city; chill on a beach, admire the view from a cliff-top lighthouse, or settle down to a seafood lunch.
If you’ve more time, or are on a return trip, move north to the great city of Porto, or to smaller but culturally rich cities such as Braga or Guimarães, the beautiful wine regions of the Douro and Minho, or the wild landscapes of Peneda-Gerês National Park. Or go south, passing through the Alentejo’s picturesque cities and villages, gastronomic temples, and landscapes redolent of the African savannah before reaching the Algarve’s beaches.
The following itineraries assume that you’ll be traveling by car outside the main cities. You can do most of it by train or bus, but it will take longer to get from place to place. Boa viagem!
LISBON & AROUND IN 1 WEEK
This tour will give you time to get an impression of the capital, from its medieval heart to futuristic new riverside districts, plus take in some of the surrounding area, reaching no less than six World Heritage Sites without spending more than an hour per day on the road.
Days 1, 2 & 3: Lisbon ★★★ Lisbon is the cultural highlight of Portugal. As the capital and biggest city, it is packed with cultural attractions, great restaurants, and exciting nightlife. It has a fabulous river-mouth location and maintains timeless traditions and a unique maritime heritage while reaching out to the world as a dynamic, cosmopolitan metropolis.
9am: Start by getting your bearings. The best place to do that is from
Castelo de São Jorge (St. George’s Castle). From the ramparts of this hilltop fortress you get stellar views over the city’s neighborhoods. The castle is the cradle of the city and traces its roots back to Roman, Arab, and Crusader times. Spend an hour up there checking out the view, soaking up the history, and relaxing in the gardens.
10am: Next, head down to the Alfama, a casbah-like ancient neighborhood tumbling down to the broad River Tagus. The warren of lanes is imbued with the plaintive sounds of fado music and the whiff of sardines on the grill. Take a couple of hours getting lost here, wandering into baroque churches like the splendid São Vicente de Fora, with its panels of azulejo tiles and rooftop views.
Noon: After admiring the view over Alfama’s rooftops from Portas do Sol square, walk downhill following the tram line, pausing for a quick look at the Sé, Lisbon’s fortress-like cathedral (p. ###) built in 1147, before reaching the downtown Baixa district. Rebuilt on a grid pattern after the devastation of a 1755 earthquake, this is the administrative and commercial heart of the city. Opening out onto the river is Praça do Comércio, one of Europe’s great city squares, surrounded by grand ministerial buildings linked by a triumphal archway. Running inland is Rua Augusta, a pedestrianized shopping street built in the harmonious 18th-century Pombaline style. Pause to take a picture of the Elevador de Santa Justa, a 19th-century iron elevator whisking shoppers uptown. Grab lunch at one of the restaurants popular with locals in the parallel street, Rua dos Correeiros.
2pm: Nearby is the busy Rossio square, the hub of the downtown bustle. From there, head uphill again to the Chiado district, an uptown, upscale shopping area that’s thrived since the 18th century, with its old-world stores, gilded theaters, and historic cafes, like A Brasileira, serving up shots of coffee (or something stronger) to artists and poets since 1905. Walk there up Rua do Carmo and Rua Garrett, which are steep but have some of the best shops.
4pm: Hopefully, you’ll be energized by that shot of coffee, so continue to climb. Head up Rua da Misericórdia to visit the Igreja de São Roque church. Spend an hour inside admiring one the city’s great baroque interiors and the attached museum.
5pm: Just behind the church is the Miradouro de São Pedro de Alcântara, a leafy viewpoint where you have another spectacular view of the city, this time looking across to the castle where you started the day. If you have the energy, walk uphill just a little bit farther to the Jardim do Príncipe Real, a garden surrounded by some of the city’s trendiest boutiques, bars, and restaurants. The Arabesque architecture of the 19thcentury Embaixada building may contain Europe’s coolest shopping mall.
7pm: Drag your shopping bags into the Pavilhão Chinês bar for a cocktail among the extraordinary collection of vintage bric-a-brac before dinner.
10am: Start the day at the Museu Nacional de Arte Antiga. You should spend a couple of hours here; it houses the country’s best collection of old masters. Take coffee in the riverside garden and cafe.
Noon: Head along the river to the Belém district, a UNESCO World Heritage Site packed with monuments and museums. After lunch at one of the riverside restaurants near the Monument to the Discoveries, stroll along the river to the Torre de Belém. The white tower has guarded the entrance to the city since 1514 and is its most recognizable symbol. Skip the queues lined up to visit the less-than-overwhelming interior.
2pm: Walking past the vast stone buildings of the Belém Cultural Center, head now to the Jerónimos Monastery, which dates to the early 1500s and is the most impressive church in the country, containing the tomb of explorer Vasco da Gama.
4pm: Time for refreshments. Next door to the monastery are the scrumptious, custard-filled tarts served at the Pastéis de Belém cafe, dating from 1837. You can beat the crowds lining up for takeout by taking yours at a table inside with coffee or tea.
4:30pm: Finish your visit to Belém with a visit to the National Coach Museum, featuring one of the world’s greatest collections of Cinderella-style carriages.
10am: Time to get modern. After all that history, the Parque das Nações comes as a shock. Built to house the EXPO [’]98 World’s Fair, it’s a showcase of contemporary architecture spectacularly located on the broadest expanse of the River Tagus. The highlight here is the Oceanário, arguably the world’s paramount aquarium. A multistoried treasure trove devoted to ocean life; it features creatures from huge sharks circling the main tank to tiny iridescent jellyfish. You’ll need a whole morning to visit the aquarium and to stroll among the modern architecture.
2pm: After lunch, head back into town to the Calouste Gulbenkian Museum, an awe-inspiring collection of artworks—from 3,000- year-old Assyrian sculptures to French Impressionist masterpieces—all amassed by an Armenian oil magnate. The museum buildings are integrated into soothing landscaped gardens, and there’s a separate modern art museum.
4pm: Up the hill from the Gulbenkian complex, the top of Parque Eduardo VII provides yet another stunning viewpoint over the city, from which the world’s biggest Portuguese flag is flown. Walk down and you come to Avenida da Liberdade, the city’s swankiest boulevard, over 1km (2/3 mile) of leafy walkways, grand buildings, and luxury brands.
Day 4: Sintra ★★★
9am: Head out to Sintra. Packed with palaces, this little town in the thickly wooded hills west of Lisbon has for centuries been an escape from the summer heat for the capital’s elite. 11am: A hilltop fantasy built in the 19th-century Bavarian mode, Palácio da Pena was the dream of the German husband of Portugal’s Queen Maria II. The views are amazing. Spend a couple of hours visiting the palace and strolling the romantic gardens. 1pm: The whole Sintra area is a World Heritage Site. After lunch in the town, drive west through the lush semitropical vegetation dotted with aristocratic abodes. Pass through the charming little wine village of Colares until you reach Cabo da Roca, a blustery promontory that is Europe’s most westerly point.
3pm: If the weather is good, dip down to the beach of Praia da Adraga, enclosed between soaring cliffs, to soak up some rays.
5pm: Return to Sintra via the Parque e Palácio de Monserrate, a fairytale, Arabian-inspired palace surrounded by semitropical parkland that inspired Lord Byron and Hans Christian Andersen. Overnight in Sintra.
Day 5: Mafra ★★, Óbidos ★★★, Alcobaça ★★★ & Nazaré ★★
10am: It’s a 20-minute drive north from Sintra to Mafra, home to the vast palace and monastery built by King João V, using riches acquired from an 18th-century Brazilian gold rush. The sheer scale of it is mind- boggling. You’ll need a couple of hours to tour the inside, including the library, which holds 36,000 leather-bound books, some over 500 years old.
Noon: Next stop, Óbidos, 40 minutes farther north through the vineyards and apple and pear orchards of Portugal’s far west. Surrounded by high walls, this is one of the country’s best-preserved medieval towns. It’s filled with whitewashed houses, their doors and windows decked out in deep blue and yellow. Take lunch in the town.
3pm: From here, it’s a short hop to the Mosteiro de Alcobaça, founded in 1153 by Portugal’s first king, Afonso Henriques, in the unadorned Gothic style newly imported from France. Entering the interior is like stepping into the Middle Ages. The little town of Alcobaça is also renowned for its brightly colored chintz fabrics and the heavenly treats based on centuries-old convent recipes sold by Alcôa pastry shop.
6pm: Take an evening stroll around the clifftop heights of Nazaré, a picturesque fishing port 20 minutes to the west. Then finish the day with a hearty fish stew before overnighting in Nazaré.
Day 6: Batalha ★★★ & Tomar ★★★
9:30am: It’s a 30-minute drive from Nazaré to the monastery at Batalha, the first of two medieval UNESCO World Heritage Sites you’ll visit today. Executed in flamboyant Gothic style, Batalha was built in golden stone as a tribute to a Portuguese victory over invading Spaniards in 1385.
Noon: Another 40 minutes heading inland takes you to the pretty riverside town of Tomar. After lunch in one of the restaurants in the pretty downtown, head up to the Convento de Cristo, a fascinating complex of buildings dating back to the 12th century. It was once a stronghold of the Knights Templar. The architecture of the round church at the center was inspired by their crusading ventures to Jerusalem. Spend the night in Tomar.
Day 7: Coimbra ★★★
9am: Leave early to make the hour-long drive through thick forests of eucalyptus to the romantic city of Coimbra, where you’ll spend the day.
10am: You’ll need a couple of hours to visit Portugal’s oldest university, dating back to 1290, including the ceremonial rooms, jail for unruly students, and the magnificent baroque library.
Noon: Wander down the narrow old street of the upper town, taking care descending steep Rua Quebra Costas (backbreaker street), popping in for a look at the Romanesque cathedral. When you reach the busy Baixa commercial district, grab lunch at historic Café de Santa Cruz.
2pm: Move next door to the church bearing the same name as the cafe, then lose yourself in the maze of narrow streets making up the Baixa and enjoy an amble through the romantic gardens beside the River Mondego.
4pm: Uphill again, spend a couple of hours in one of Portugal’s best provincial museums, the Museu Machado de Castro. Be sure to explore the remains of the Roman city in the basement.
6pm: Catch an early-evening performance of Coimbra’s own amorous version of fado music at Fado ao Centro, where they’ll explain the music’s significance and serve a glass of port at the end.
Note: This information was accurate when it was published, but can change without notice. Please be sure to confirm all rates and details directly with the companies in question before planning your trip.