Driving from Porto to Lisbon, there are an incredible amount of beautiful places to see. Both inland and on the coast, I hadn’t accounted for how many towns we would want to stop at.
If I had to plan my 9 nights again I’d skip the Algarve altogether and spend my time exploring the north of the country. This website Portugal.com provides a pretty comprehensive itinerary. Until next time, here are my highlights from two days and one overnight of travel:
Please subscribe (on the right) for more posts!
3 THINGS YOU REALLY CANNOT MISS:
PENA PALACE | I absolutely LOVED this colourful castle in Sintra and could have happily stayed for a whole day, or better still overnight. The splendid yellow and red former monastery isn’t even visible from below.
Walk, trot or drive up to truly breath-taking panoramic views. I particularly enjoyed how sensitively the living quarters had been restored. Travellers can walk through almost every room from when the royal family last lived there.
COIMBRA | another utterly stunning Portuguese city, this time that a friendly Porto taxi driver insisted we visit. He wasn’t wrong. With limited time, we started at the magnificent Church of Santa Cruz then explored the pretty surrounding pedestrianised shopping streets.
On the same side of the Mondego River bend is the fabulous Coimbra University and Cathedral. The University is perched on the very top of a steep hill and boasts 12th and 18th century buildings. We got totally lost in the maze of beautiful cobbled streets that loop and wind around the hillside. Incredible.
WORLD SURFING RESERVES | the first WSR in Europe was dedicated to the coastline around Ericeira in 2011, and includes 7 separate surf spots. I am not interested in surfing (and the waves looked terrifying!) however the coastline is incredibly dramatic and rugged. Weather-beaten golden-yellow cliffs cascade down to jagged rocks and the pounding salty ocean. Definitely a more interesting drive than the motorway from Porto to Lisbon.
3 THINGS WORTH A SNOOP:
NAZARE | 116km north of Ericeira, lovely Nazare made for a good stop to break up the final drive time that day. More pretty cobbled back streets run in parallel down to the promenade, which has a slight English seaside-town feel to it.
The expansive beach of burnt yellow sand stretches as far as the eye can see in either direction. To the right a remarkable cliff face and look out point interrupts the view, accessible by driving or an inclinator.
Also check out: Nazare is the perfect spot for a drink in the setting sun between Porto to Lisbon. We opted for the distinctively yellow and white Ribamar Hotel but there are plenty of restaurant bars to choose from.
ERICEIRA | famed for its WSR recognition, Ericeira is also a lovely Portuguese town. We stayed for 1 night in a super cheap/ slightly creepy Airbnb en route from Porto to Lisbon. Ericeira is only small but it’s got atmosphere.
Walk along the sea wall and swim on the harbour beach if you can brave the cold. On Friday morning there was a little artisan market in the main square.
Also check out: enjoyed one of our best holiday meals at Marisqueira Mar a Vista.
PASTRIES | my, do the Portuguese love their pastries. I don’t understand how they’re not all fatter when the cakes taste this good. I’ve already expressed my obsession with Pastel de Nata (custard tart). Sintra is specifically famous for queijades (a smaller, crispier cupcake version of the tart) and traveisseiros (pillow shaped puff-pastry with almond cream centre). Tasty goodness.
Also check out: famous bakery Piriquita, open since 1862, sells all of the above.
3 THINGS TO STEER CLEAR:
AVIERO | nicknamed the Venice of Portugal, Aviero is a town of natural waterways, manmade canals and gimmicky gondola rides. As with every town in Portugal that we travelled in between Porto to Lisbon, it’s undeniably pretty but just a little bizarre. And not in a good way.
Also check out: I can highly recommend the seafood soup at Restaurante A Portuguesa.
HORSE AND CART | we took the mega-tourist option and caught a horse and cart ride up the hill from Sintra to Pena Palace. Granted, the horses seemed healthy and well cared for (although it still seems a bit mean). My main gripe is that for the price (a whopping €60 one-way) no one tells you the road doesn’t even go right to the top.
TOLLS AND FINES | nearly 2 weeks after returning the hired car (for Porto to Lisbon then Faro) I haven’t had the ‘final bill’ yet…. Cars come fitted with a toll metre and it felt like the little bugger was beeping every 50 miles or so.
We also got pulled over (and a fine) leaving Lisbon by an arsey policeman with nothing better to do than punish confused tourists. So be warned!
1 THING I WISH I’D DONE:
MONASTRIES | Portugal seemingly has a lot of gorgeous monasteries to visit, including the Monastery of Alcobaca and the Monastery of Batalha. Both are UNESCO World Heritage listed yet of totally different architectural styles. Located between Coimbra and Nazare.
AND KNOW THIS: The World Surfing Reserves program was launched in 2009 by NGO Save The Waves Coalition to protect global surf habitats. Other WSR locations include Malibu (Los Angeles), Manly-Freshwater (Sydney), Santa Cruz (California) and Huanchaco (Peru) with many more pending.