Best road trips in Portugal

Portugal’s mix of the medieval, the martial and the maritime makes it a superb place to visit.

A rich and turbulent history involving North Africa, Spain and Napoleon has left the interior scattered with walled towns topped by castles, while the pounding Atlantic has sculpted a coast of glorious sand beaches. Comparatively short distances mean that road trips are as compact as the country is varied, with less time behind the wheel bringing more time to soak up the atmosphere. Most of the top places to visit in the country are easily reachable by car.

So get ready to hit the road on these itineraries, seven of the best road trips in Portugal.

Hug the coast along the beaches of Alentejo and the Algarve

Vila Nova de Milfontes–Cacela Velha; 360 km (225 miles)

Portugal’s southern coasts offer a Mediterranean ideal, with fragrances of pine, rosemary, wine and grilling fish drifting over some absolutely stunning beaches. Only since this is the Atlantic rather than the sheltered sea, you can also count on seriously surfable waves, important maritime history and great wildlife-watching opportunities. This drive takes in some of the finest beaches in the region as well as intriguing towns that conserve their tight-knit, North African–inspired street plans. Highlights include Aljezur’s sandy paradise of Praia da Amoreira, the hulking and forbidding fortress of Fortaleza de Sagres and the vibrant, popular town of Lagos.  

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Surfer girl on cliff near ocean in Peniche, Portugal
Surfers will love Portugal’s wave-lashed western coast © furtaev / Getty Images

Feel waves of delight on an Atlantic Coast surf trip

Praia do Guincho to Praia do Pedrógão; 223km (139 miles)

If endless crashing surf sounds like your idea of heaven, you’ve come to the right country. Get ready to ride the big ones on Portugal’s wild, wave-lashed west coast – an alluring mix of first-rate (and inexpensive) surf camps, gleaming white towns with authentic seafood restaurants, golden beaches fringed by dunes and pines, and memorable sunsets.

Surfers and kitesurfers of all levels will be in their element on the sparkling Atlantic coast, while are plenty of small towns offer plenty to explore away from the shoreline. Highlights include the popular beach town and surfer hotspot Peniche, the gorgeous swoop of sandy beach in Foz do Arelho and the big-wave town of Nazaré.

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Female motorcyclist looks out onto a valley view on a serpentine road in the Douro Valley, Porto, Portugal
Terraced hillsides and the sparkling river make the Douro Valley one of Portugal’s most stunning regions © De Visu / Shutterstock

Get lost in the Douro Valley’s vineyard trails

Porto–Miranda do Douro; 358km (222 miles)

The Douro is a little drop of heaven. This Unesco World Heritage region offers one of Portugal’s most evocative landscapes, with mile after swoon-worthy mile of vineyards spooling along the contours of its namesake river and marching up terraced hillsides. Along seemingly every road, fabulous food, sumptuous wines, palatial quintas (countryside villas), medieval stone villages and postcard views beckon.

Stop at the picturesque terraced vineyards at Quinta do Crasto or sample the world’s best port in the rolling hillsides of Pinhão. Just 4.5km (2.8 miles) from Pinhão is the stunning Casal de Loivos and its miradouro (viewpoint). From here, the uplifting vista renders the Douro in postcard format, taking in the full sweep of its stone-walled terraced vineyards, stitched into the hillsides and fringing the sweeping contours of the valley, the river scything through it all.

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Smiling young woman with wireless earphones in the city on the go, Lisbon, Portugal
Start your tour of southern Portugal with a saunter through delightful Lisbon © Westend61 / Getty Images

Take in the medieval jewels of Portugal’s southern interior

Lisbon–Mértola; 720km (450 miles)

This drive takes you from Lisbon, Portugal’s romantic capital, through landscapes softened by cork oaks and pine. Hearty inland cuisine adds to the authenticity. Along the way, stop off for a little adventure at Óbidos, whose gorgeous historic center contains cobblestoned streets with flower-bedecked, whitewashed houses livened up with dashes of vivid yellow and blue paint. When you reach the town of Tomar, be sure to look up to admire the magnificent Convento de Cristo, built by the Knights Templar. Later on, delve into history at the beautifully preserved medieval town of Évora.  

Experience rolling landscapes and cultural highs along the Minho

Guimarães–Peneda; 217 km (135 miles) 

Portugal’s northwestern corner is made for road-tripping, with splendid medieval cities, spirit-lifting pilgrimage sites and dune-flanked Atlantic beaches. Begin this road trip in Guimarães, where Afonso I, Portugal’s first king, was born in 1110; this Unesco World Heritage site hides one of the most exquisitely preserved medieval centers in the country. The itinerary ends in the stunning mountain village of Peneda, in Parque Nacional da Peneda-Gerês. A highlight along the way is Braga, a center of Portuguese spirituality that’s home to the country’s oldest cathedral, which dates to 1070. The Costa Verde’s biggest stunner, Viana do Castelo offers a double shot of medieval center and gorgeous beaches, while Ponte de Lima features the finest medieval bridge (the 31-arched Ponte Romana) in all of Portugal.

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Go off the beaten track in the Dão

Santa Comba Dão–Seia; 151km (94 miles)

The Dão is off-the-beaten-track Portugal in a nutshell. The country’s rural heartland blends vineyards, pine and eucalyptus woods, family-run wineries and whitewashed villages full of sleepy charisma. Cellar tours, manor-house stays, hearty meals with beefy red wines and hikes in the wilds of the country’s highest peaks in Serra da Estrela all await. Carregal do Sal is home to Quinta de Cabriz, the headquarters of Dão Sul, one of the region’s foremost wine producers, where 38 hectares (94 acres) of vines fan out from an 18th-century manor house. Stock up at the wine boutique, savor regional dishes expertly paired with wines in the restaurant, enjoy a tasting or join a guided tour of the vineyards. In Santar, visitors head to Paço dos Cunhas de Santar, a 17th-century estate where you can tour the vineyard before a tasting of its noble wines and olive oils, all of which go nicely with the seasonal, creative takes on regional cuisine in the contemporary restaurant.

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An aerial view of a hairpin curve in a road by the Cântaro Magro granite mountain in Serra da Estrela, Portugal
On the drive through the majestic Serra da Estrela, you’ll see spectacular views of mountains such as the Cântaro Magro © Viagens e Caminhos / Shutterstock

Head into Portugal’s interior for highlands and history

Coimbra– Mata Nacional do Buçaco; 770km (480 miles)

This wide-ranging trip takes in many Portuguese historic highlights, from the buzzing university town of Coimbra to stern borderland fortresses, intermingled with picturesque villages and the natural majesty of the Serra da Estrela. Highlights along the journey include the mountain town of Manteigas, which enjoys a spectacular natural setting cradled at the foot of the beautiful Vale do Zêzere, where high peaks and forest-draped slopes dominate the horizon in all directions. The stunning village of Monsanto towers high above the surrounding plains. A stroll through its steep streets, lined with stone houses that seem to merge with the boulder-strewn landscape, is reason enough to make the drive. Viseu has a well-preserved historical center that offers numerous enticements: cobbled streets, meandering alleys, leafy public gardens and a central square – Praça da República (or the “Rossio”), which is graced with bright flowers and fountains.

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