If you have unlimited time, one of Europe's greatest pleasures is getting "lost" on the dusty plains of Alentejo or in the little hidden coves of the Algarve. It's fun to wander about Portugal at random, making new discoveries off the beaten path, finding enchanting towns you've never heard of or read about in a guidebook, places like Vila Real, the remote capital of Trás-os-Montes, Portugal's least explored province.
But few of us have such a generous amount of time in the speeded-up 21st century. Vacations are getting shorter, and a "lean-and-mean" schedule is called for if you want to experience the best of Portugal in a ridiculously short amount of time.
If you're such a time-pressed traveler, as most of us are, you may find "Portugal in 1 Week" or "Portugal in 2 Weeks" most helpful for skimming the highlights. If you've been to Portugal before, exploring such well-trodden tourist meccas as Lisbon and Sintra, you may want to discover a different area of the country this time. This is the southernmost province of Portugal, and it has much to discover. Many visitors who have gone to North Africa feel that the Algarve is the European version of that strip of Arabic land.
If you stick to the main highways, Portugal has fine and well-maintained roads. But when you wander off the beaten trail, you may find less than desirable driving conditions. At any rate, when driving in Portugal you'll encounter (hopefully not face-to-face) some of Europe's most reckless drivers. The country has an alarming vehicular accident rate, so be duly cautious and drive defensively. Many Europeans refer to the Portuguese as "cowboys of the road."
Portugal is blessed with a fast and efficient rail system to transport you to the highlights. Where the train ends, a bus is usually waiting to take you the rest of the way.
The itineraries that follow take you to some of the major attractions such as Lisbon but also direct you to more secluded villages such as the picture-postcard-perfect hamlet of Óbidos. The pace may be a bit breathless for some visitors, so skip a town or sight occasionally to have some chill-out time -- after all, you're on vacation.
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.