By Rick Steves
So much to see, so little time. How to choose? To help you get started, I've listed my top picks for where to go in Portugal, my plan for your best two-week trip, and tips on when to go.
Depending on the length of your trip, assuming you’re using public transportation, and taking geographic proximity into account, here are my recommended priorities.
- 3 days: Lisbon, Sintra
- 6 days, add: The Algarve (Salema and Tavira)
- 9 days, add: Évora, Nazaré
- 11 days, add: Sights near Nazaré, Coimbra
- 14 days, add: Porto, Douro Valley
Portugal’s Best Two-Week Trip (by Car)
Day 1: Arrive in Lisbon (sleep in Lisbon)
Day 2: Lisbon (sleep in Lisbon)
Day 3: More time in Lisbon, or side-trip to Sintra by train; pick up car and drive to Salema in evening (sleep in Salema)
Day 4: Salema (sleep in Salema)
Day 5: Salema, side-trip to Cape Sagres (sleep in Salema)
Day 6: To Tavira via Lagos (sleep in Tavira)
Day 7: To Évora (sleep in Évora)
Day 8: More time in Évora, then to Nazaré via Óbidos in the afternoon (sleep in Nazaré)
Day 9: Nazaré (sleep in Nazaré)
Day 10: Near Nazaré (Alcobaça, Batalha, and Fátima), continue to (sleep in Coimbra)
Day 11: Coimbra (sleep in Coimbra)
Day 12: To Douro Valley (sleep in Douro Valley)
Day 13: Douro Valley, end in Porto (could drop off car; sleep in Porto)
Day 14: Porto (sleep in Porto)
Day 15: Drive or take the train back to Lisbon; or drive north to Santiago, Spain
Notes: Try to avoid being in Lisbon (or Porto) on a Monday, when many major sights are closed (including Lisbon’s Gulbenkian Museum, Museum of Ancient Art, National Tile Museum, and Fado Museum, as well as Belém’s Monastery of Jerónimos, Coach Museum, Maritime Museum, Monument to the Discoveries — except open daily May–Sept, and Belém Tower). If you end up in Lisbon on a Monday, take a walking tour, a trolley ride, any of my self-guided neighborhood walks, or a side-trip to Sintra, where the major sights are open.
Lisbon is worth an extra day if you like big cities. But if you’re a beach lover, leave Lisbon early and drive to Salema.
If, after touring Portugal, you’re continuing to the Spanish destinations of Salamanca or Madrid, it’s better to visit Porto and the Douro Valley before Coimbra.
By Train and Bus
While this itinerary is designed to be done by car, it can also be done by train and bus. If you’re taking public transportation, stay three nights in Lisbon and catch a bus to Salema on the morning of the fourth day. Skip Tavira. From the Algarve, take the bus to Évora (via Lagos) and spend a day and night, then take a bus to Nazaré (there’s no direct service, so you have to go via Lisbon). See the sights near Nazaré by bus, using Nazaré as your home base. Take the bus to Coimbra. Catch the bus or train to Porto, and using Porto as a home base, see the Douro Valley on a combination boat/train tour (or, with extra time, spend the night).
When to Go
In peak season, May through September, sightseeing attractions are wide open. While it’s not nearly as hot in Portugal as it is in Spain (except in the Alentejo region), an air-conditioned room is worth the splurge in summer. Book ahead if your stay coincides with a holiday or festival.
Spring and fall offer the best combination of good weather, light crowds, long days, and plenty of tourist and cultural activities. In the off-season, roughly October through April, expect shorter hours, more lunchtime breaks at sights, and fewer activities. Confirm your sightseeing plans locally, especially when traveling off-season.