My two week Portugal itinerary – self drive

My two week Portugal itinerary – self drive

This two week Portugal itinerary was the first  “real” vacation I undertook  other than trips to the  United States or across Canada and a 1-week jaunt to the Caribbean. 

So it goes to say that this is where my travel planning addiction was born.  I was going overseas for a full two weeks  and had decided on this small European country as my better half is Portuguese, born on Madeira Island, but left at  the age of 3 and hadn’t been back since.

So off we were to Europe for 2 weeks and it quickly became apparent to me that even this tiny little country was so rich in history, culture and diversity due to regional differences that  there was simply too many things to do in 3 months let alone 2 weeks.

So after deciding on the dates  it now came down to putting the trip together.  After buying a guide at the local bookstore I put it and the internet to good use and soon found out that I would do a self drive tour thereby allowing me the independence to see as many sights as possible.

The small country has a diversity of terrain from mountains to lush wetlands so driving would be long and difficult on most days but I finally decided that for me the must see sights of Portugal were:

  • Lisbon
  • Porto
  • Algarve
  • Madeira

I know that there are a ton of sights other than these 4 but I figured that these covered quite a large spectrum of the country from north to south and beyond, and I could throw in a few more destinations along the way and I would be all set.

So this is the actual two week Portugal itinerary I undertook and completed. Click on the links inside the overview for a further insight into each day’s activities with driving times, distances, GPS co-ordinates, photo’s es

Two week Portugal itinerary: Day to Day Schedule (hotel locations)

Day 1 – Arrive in Porto (from Toronto direct)

Day 2 – Porto

Day 3 – Coimbra

Day 4 – Elvas

Day 5 – Lisbon

Day 6 – Lisbon

Day 7 – Portimao

Day 8 – Portimao

Day 9 – Portimao

Day 10 – Lisbon

Day 11 – Funchal

Day 12 – Funchal

Day 13 – Lisbon

Day 14 – return home (Toronto direct)

two week portugal itinerary

Day to Day Overview (Schedule)

Day 1

  • Arrive Porto, check into hotel in old city center, sleep then explore the city.
  • *** we got a special surprise upon arriving that I still talk about to this day.

Day 2

  • Explore the very old city of Oporto which literally means “the port”.
Day 3
  • Pick up our car early in the morning for my first European “road trip”.
  • Travel from Porto to Braga to see nearby Bom Jesus Sanctuary (a must include on any vacation to Northern Portugal).
  • A short distance away is Guimares, the birthplace of Portugal.
  • Head south for a long drive through the hilly terrain to Vila Real, home to the Mateus Palace.
  • Head south then make a slight diversion west and see the small city of Aveiro known as the “Venice of Portugal”.
  • Finish the day in the City of Coimbra, famed for its university and aqueduct.
Time and distances travelled (Google estimate, obviously doesn’t take into account terrain, traffic, construction, weather)
Porto Braga 55 Km 43 min
Braga Guimares 25 Km 24 min
Guimares Vila Real 86 Km 61 min
Vila Real Aveiro 170 Km 106 min
Aveiro Coimbra 62 Km 49 min
Total 398 Km 4 Hr 43 min
Day 4
  • Travel south to the nearby Roman ruins at Conimbriga.
  • Head back to the interior to see Castelo Branco.
  • Continuing further north-east to reach the spectacular village of Monsanto, voted “The most Portuguese village in Portugal” on numerous occasions.
  • Close by is the old walled village of Idanha-a-velha and its nearby intact Roman bridge.
  • Turn back south for the long journey through the hilly terrain to Portalegre and its nearby castle at Marvao.
  • Finish the day on the outskirts of the fortress city of Elvas.
Coimbra Condeixa-A-Nova 18 Km 21 min
Condeixa-A-Nova Castelo Branco 129 Km 90 min
Castelo Branco Monsanto 54 Km 54 min
Monsanto Idanha-a-Velha 14 Km 17 min
Idanha-a-Velha Portalegre 144 Km 107 min
Portalegre Elvas 18 Km 56 min
Total 417 Km 5 Hr 45 min
Day 5
  • Today is the day we reach Lisbon so we begin the day by heading in its direction and take in the nearby Fountain of Bicas in Borba.
  • Less than 5 minutes away is the Duke’s Palace at Vila Vicosa.
  • After finishing these sites relatively close to each other head to the small city of Evora about 2 hours away to see its Roman temples.
  • Travel west past Lisbon to see the must see sites at Sintra and Pena.
  • Close by is the National Palace at Quelez, another great attraction.
  • Turn back and head to Lisbon so as to arrive at our hotel in the city before dark.
Elvas Borba 29 Km 28 min
Borba Vila Vicosa 11 Km 12 min
Vila Vicosa Evora 70 Km 60 min
Evora Sintra 154 Km 104 min
Sintra Quelez 17 Km 16 min
Quelez Lisbon 16 Km 18 min
Total 297 Km 3 Hr 58 min
Day 6
  • Head north out of Lisbon to see the Palace at Mafra, “The palace that bankrupt the nation”.
  • Continue north to the medieval town of Obidos, “Portugal’s most romantic village”.
  • Close by are the UNESCO World Heritage Sight’s at Alcobaca and Batalha, 2 religious sights that are top notch attractions especially when combined with the nearby sacred destination of Fatima.
  • Head back towards Lisbon and visit another sight that for me was a definite must see sight on my Portuguese itinerary, Tomar, home of the Knights Templar.
  • Finish the day in Lisbon and see as many of the city’s attractions as possible.
Lisbon Mafra 40 Km 37 min
Mafra Obidos 70 Km 46 min
Obidos Alcobaca 41 Km 34 min
Alcobaca Batalha 24 Km 24 min
Batalha Fatima 21 Km 29 min
Fatima Tomar 39 Km 36 min
Tomar Lisboa 135 Km 92 min
Total 370 Km 4 Hr 58 min
Day 7
  • As we really haven’t had much time in Lisboa we decided to scratch off the minor attractions we had on our schedule today and instead see the major sights in the city including the Belem area attractions.
  • In the mid afternoon make the relatively easy journey south into the Algarve region and the small city of Portimao, set amongst some pretty beautiful beaches and stretches of coastline.
Lisbon Portimao 282 Km 158 min
Total 282 Km 2 Hr 38 min
Day 8
  • Explore the Algarve.
  • Drive along the coast through the towns of Aljezur and Vila do Bispo until reaching Sagres, famed for its fortress, school of navigation and Cape Vincent, the most southwest tip of Europe.
  • Continue along the coast to Lagos, a small town that has one of the countries most historically significant sights , the fort where the majority of the Portuguese slave trade was conducted. The town also boats a Palace, 5th century town walls and a nice beach.
  • Finish the night back in Portimao.
Portimao Aljezur 48 Km 42 min
Aljezur Vila do Bispo 35 Km 35 min
Vila do Bispo Sagres 8 Km 8 min
Sagres Lagos 32 Km 32 min
Lagos Portimao 29 Km 34 min
Total 152 Km 2 Hr 31 min
Day 9
  • Drive the Atlantic Ocean coast along the opposite direction from yesterday.
  • Visit the small town of Lagoa along the way to one of the Algarve’s main attractions, the small town of Albufeira. This former fishing village has arguably the best beach in the region and is surrounded by unbelievably scenic coastline.
  • Continue east to Castro Marim, almost at the border with Spain but sight of a National Park famous for its Flamingo populations and home to the “warmest” beaches in the country.
  • Head inland for a little bit to visit the beautiful little hilltop border town of Alcoutim.
  • Head back to the coast to visit the city of Faro, capital of the Algarve region.
  • Head back to Portimao to spend the rest of the day.
Portimao Lagoa 11 Km 16 min
Lagoa Albufeira 27 Km 28 min
Albufeira Castro Marim 92 Km 60 min
Castro Marim Alcoutim 37 Km 31 min
Alcoutim Faro 93 Km 67 min
Faro Portimao 71 Km 53 min
Total 331 Km 4 Hr 15 min
Day 10
  • Make the direct 2 ½ hour drive from Portimao to Lisbon’s Portela Airport , drop off the rental car and check in for our early afternoon flight to the island of Madeira.
  • Arrive in Madeira, check into the hotel and explore Funchal.
Portimao Lisbon 282 Km 158 min
Total 282 Km 2 Hr 38 min

Day 11

  • Take a tour to the interior of this mountainous tropical paradise, we also do a “must do activity when in Madeira”.

Day 12

  • Explore Funchal, capital of Madeira and learn more about its history changing ties with world famous explorer Christopher Columbus.

Day 13

  • Get up early to take a walk one last time through beautiful downtown Funchal before heading to the airport to make the short flight back to Lisbon.
  • Spend the rest of the day exploring old Lisbon.

Day 14

  • Get up early to explore the area around our hotel before hopping in a taxi to make the trip to the airport.
  • Catch an afternoon flight back to Toronto. That’s it, vacation over!

Totals: 2529 Km, 31 Hours 26 min

Disclaimer: I know, I know, I call this 2 week self drive Portugal itinerary but I’m only actually driving 8 days. So what, it’s a 2 week vacation in total so big deal.

For a complete day to day summary of this trip, click on the above links for each day and you’ll be taken to pages full of useful information with accompanying photos to hopefully help make planning your vacation to Portugal much easier.

There are other suggested itineraries HERE based on your tastes, likes and time you have to travel. As far as my above completed itinerary I of course missed lots of planned destinations but at the same time felt sometimes too rushed in my attempts to see “everything”.

In the end I think I hit it just about right with the mix of historic, religious, beach and city.

What I liked about my self drive vacation in Portugal

  • Highways are perfect. Little traffic and well maintained although not always with the best signage.
  • Being independent allowed my to see sights not otherwise possible if traveling by public transportations or cabs etc. Maybe a group tour with an agency would be able to compete with this schedule but I doubt it given how groups of people have to go to the washroom, eat, enter attractions together etc.
  • The countryside is magnificent
  • Seeing the obvious difference between North Portugal, South Portugal and one of its outlying island provinces.

What I didn’t like about my self drive vacation in Portugal

  • Sometimes fell behind my “schedule” feeling rushed
  • Language barrier (thank god Angie speaks Portuguese and can communicate, I would have been lost alone)
  • Highway tolls. With that perfection comes a cost.
  • Drive as little as possible in Lisbon itself
  • Not enough time in Lisbon

Is it hard to do a self drive tour in Portugal ?

  • This was my first trip to Europe and I was a little apprehensive at first mainly worrying about signage and traffic as I am very comfortable with my driving skills and have no problem with a standard transmission having driven one for over 10 years..
  • As it was it was fairly easy to undertake this trip as far as driving is concerned because I was accompanied by Angie, who could somewhat break the language barrier and at least understood “straight ahead” as many times the signage was inadequate. I should mention however that this issue was really only a problem in the north of the country.
  • I would say that if you speak no Portuguese whatsoever like myself this was a hard trip when I undertook it, With the advent of smart phones with Google Maps and GPS I don’t think it would be as much of an issue nowadays. I think the trip would be much easier to accomplish today.
  • The main highways themselves were much better than back home here in Canada. Less traffic and higher tolls I guess but they were absolutely perfectly maintained . Most times, when away from the cities, they are 2 or 3 lanes in each direction and you’re the only car on the road.
  • In Lisbon itself traffic is pretty heavy and a lot of its streets are one way with no u turns or switchbacks for long distances. Off the main streets roads are narrow, crammed full of parked vehicles and on many occasions very steep.

If I were ranking it on a difficulty scale of 1 -10 with 10 being the hardest I would say this self drive vacation in Portugal would be a 4

Things you need to know before undertaking a self drive tour in Portugal ?

  • Bring lots of cash for the tolls and a credit card acceptable in Europe as some toll stations do not accept cash.
  • Gas is also expensive.
  • You must be able to drive a standard transmission car as automatic transmissions are almost non existent in Europe and for that matter, most of the world.
  • Some Portuguese, especially for the people of the north.
  • Drinking and driving is not acceptable and is against the law.
  • Don’t rely on Google Maps driving times estimates alone. Many times just terrain can double and triple estimated driving times, let alone construction and accidents etc.
  • Driving at night, especially in the countryside is not recommended as the roads are narrower and winding with no lights and oh yeah, did I mention, poor signage.

Places I would like to have seen ?

  • Porto Santo Island
  • Azores
  • Santiago de Compostela in nearby Spain
  • Elvas – we only stopped on the outskirts to sleep and never saw the city or fortress at all

This was my first overseas driving experience but it certainly hasn’t been my last. I have completed an epic 16 day Mayan Discovery Tour and had quite the rental car experience in Italy.

The above itinerary highlighted my interests which I’m sure that while many may be the same, we still will differ somewhat. I also usually allow myself to be in certain places for photography purposes at sunrise or sunset, this may or may not be of concern to you. Hopefully it is. That being said I’ve put together a few best of and Top 10 kind of pages, check them below.

25 Must see places in Portugal

two-week-portugal-itinerary-self-drive

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