Visit Portugal: Road Trip Itinerary for Traveling North of Lisbon

Pena palace in Sintra, which is one possibility of a fabulous day trip from Lisbon

Pena palace in Sintra, which is one possibility of a fabulous day trip from Lisbon

Portugal is an ideal vacation destination. The country is full of gorgeous beaches along the rugged coastline, charming little towns seeped in history, grand churches, castles, and cathedrals making skylines, and there's even sunny weather nearly all year long! Are you thinking of traveling to Portugal and wondering what are some of the top recommended cities to visit? Let me tell you, that is a very hard question to answer! Having lived in Portugal for the past year and a half, visiting the biggest cities, as well as the nearby charming little villages, I've become furthermore enchanted by the country. Regardless, I've decided to put together this list to give some guidance to someone planning a trip to the magical country.

I recommend that you rent a car to explore beautiful Portugal on your own time and take in the surrounding. I've gone ahead and put together an itinerary for you to consider - one that will allow you to explore the best of the entire country! I've decided to split the itinerary between two regions of Portugal - North of Lisbon and South of Lisbon. This hub is about planning a road up North.

Cheapest Car Rental in Lisbon

Having searched high and low for the cheapest car rental available in Lisbon, I found interRent to be the cheapest car rental in Lisbon, Portugal. Their rates start at just 6.99 € (roughly $9.30 USD using today's exchange rate) per day and they are very conveniently located right outside the Santa Apolonia metro and railway station. I was able to secure the 6.99 € daily rate each time I rented from interRent and got to drive a Fiat!

Top 5 Cities to Visit in Central / North Portugal - Road Trip Itinerary

As you drive up north, you will need to take either Highway A1 or Highway A8. I prefer Highway A8 since that road winds its way right along the gorgeous coast. The major cities I recommend for you to visit on your road trip are:

  1. Lisbon - Lisbon, Lisboa in Portuguese is where your trip will most likely begin. You will need a couple of days to explore Lisbon and nearby fabulous towns.
  2. Obidos - Make your way up north by driving one hour to the lovely walled city of Obidos.
  3. Coimbra - Next, travel north about one hour (70 miles) to the medieval town of Coimbra.
  4. Aveiro - Following Coimbra, drive just about 40 miles up north to Aveiro, the town nicknamed the "Venice of Portugal".
  5. Porto - Finish off your road trip in Porto, Oporto in Portuguese - Portugal's 2nd largest city.

Lisbon Baixa

Lisbon: Days 1 - 4 (Suggest 4 days)

Any trip to Portugal needs to include the country's charming capital, Lisbon. The city is very walkable and to get to various attractions, you can either walk along the pretty cobble-stoned streets or take the iconic tram 28 to get to each attraction.

Start exploring Lisboa in the downtown area called Baixa. Make your way down to the Alfama neighborhood with its narrow, maze-like streets that will make you feel like you've taken a step back in time. As you walk, you will pass many attractions like the Elevator of Santa Justa, Se Cathedral, and the House of Spikes. There's a castle up on a hill that can be seen from many parts of the city - the Castle of Sao Jorge, which you should visit to get an amazing panoramic view of Lisbon and the Tejo river. There are many beautiful old churches and cathedrals, including the remains of Carmo on top of a hill that was party destroyed during the the devastating earthquake of 1755. There are a couple of miradouras - or viewpoints which offer fabulous views from atop hills. And there's a fun a vibrant nightlife in the Bairro Alto area of Lisbon.

Annual festivals and events that you should not miss in Lisbon include:

  • On June 12 - 30, join the festivities with locals as they celebrate St. Anthony's birthday by partying out in the streets and eating lots of grilled sardines!
  • Every Thursday night from June to September, watch the bullfights in Campo Pequeno.
  • In October, check out Feira de Outubro (October Fair) in Vila Franca de Xira for some crafts and Portuguese style running of the bulls.

Make time to leave central Lisbon and visit Belém, which is an important district that has many famous monuments and museums. Also spend a day in magical Sintra which has the beautiful Pena Palace, a Moorish castle whose wall you can walk along, and overall a great atmosphere. And you can't miss Cascais, a charming village just 40 minutes north of Lisbon which is best to explore either by foot or with a free bike rental that you can get at two locations. Also consider visiting the Cristo Rei statue for a unique view of Lisbon.

Obidos from Above

Obidos: Days 5 - 6 (Suggest 2 days)

Obidos is a walled medieval town that was once given as a wedding gift to Queen Isabel. Nowadays, the town is a gift to the eyes! Part of the town is within the castle walls and you can even walk the walls. As you approach Obidos on the highway, it's a beautiful sight up on top of a hill. Within the town, there's a clock tower, churches and a museum. You'll have to bring back some Obidos ginja with chocolate shot glasses as a souvenir for your friends and family missing out on your fabulous road trip!

Annual festivals and events that you should not miss out on in Obidos include:

  • In July, a 10-day medieval festival called Mercado Medieval Fair.
  • In February, there is a two-week Chocolate Festival.

Close to Obidos, there are other places worth visiting such as Óbidos Lagoon, Fatima, Alcobaça, Batalha, and Leiria with its famous medieval castle. I recommend driving to all four and since they're so close to each other, you can do it in just one day but I recommend spreading the side-trips to three days.

Monastery of Batalha

Monastery of Batalha was built during the 14th Century to commemorate Portugal's victory over the Castilians at the battle of Aljubarrota. It is now a UNESCO site.

Monastery of Batalha was built during the 14th Century to commemorate Portugal's victory over the Castilians at the battle of Aljubarrota. It is now a UNESCO site.


Coimbra: Days 7 - 8 (Suggest 2 days)

Coimbra is the main city in Central Portugal and one that's enthralled in student life. It's a very walkable city and most attractions are located in Baixa, or downtown. Some of the top things to do in this medieval town are: walking up to the top of University Hill from the Mondego river for a magnificent view of the surroundings; checking out the University of Coimbra which is one of the oldest in Europe; seeing the botanical gardens and the multitude of churches and cathedrals; as well as stopping by a couple of museums. You will also have to listen to traditional fado music, which is sung by men in Coimbra (unlike in Lisbon, where it's performed mostly by women).

Student life is a big part of this town and there are two annual festivals that you have to check out if you're in Portugal when they're going on. During these festivals, students walk around in traditional clothing, sing songs, and there's a really festive air in Coimbra.

  • In July, Festa das Latas or Homecoming is one of the annual festivals; and the other is
  • In May, Queima das Fita or Burning of the Ribbons.

Side trips from Coimbra include doing wine tasting in this Dão region, which is considered some of the best the country has to offer. En route, you also have Serra da Estrela, Portugal's highest mountain.

The Aveiro train station has to be one the prettiest in the world!

By Andreas Trepte (Own work) [CC-BY-SA-2.5], via Wikimedia Commons

By Andreas Trepte (Own work) [CC-BY-SA-2.5], via Wikimedia Commons

By endless autumn [CC-BY-SA-2.0], via Wikimedia Commons

By endless autumn [CC-BY-SA-2.0], via Wikimedia Commons

Aveiro: Days 9 - 10 (Suggest 2 days)

Aveiro is called the "Venice of Portugal" and you won't be surprised why - there are canals throughout the city, bridges, and colorful boats similar to gandolas in Venice but here they're called moliceiros. There's a beautiful coast near Aveiro with gorgeous beaches such as Sao Jacinto, Barra and Costa Nova. Silver Coast is one of the most popular beaches in the area.

Porto: Days 12 - 14 (Suggest 3 days)

Porto, Oporto in Portuguese, is a fabulous city along the hills overlooking the Douro river. The historic center of Porto is a UNESCO World Heritage site and a good place to start exploring this area is in the Ribeira neighborhood. Things to do in Porto include taking a river cruise, taking a port wine tour in Vila Nova de Gaia (across the river), and just taking in the beautiful city and its many churches and old houses. Consider taking a day trip east to the Minho region of Portugal.

Festivals and events to check out in Porto include:

  • In June, the lively celebration of Festa de São João (St. John's Day) where the locals celebrate with lots of dancing, partying, and jumping over flames.
  • In July, there is a rock festival called Noites Ritual, where up-and-coming bands play live out in the streets.

As your road trip through Northern Portugal comes to an end, you can either drop off your rental car and take a train back to Lisbon or you can drive back, which will only take about three hours.

Quick poll about taking a road trip in Portugal

Road Trip Itinerary for Portugal

Questions & Answers

Question: Did you need an International Drivers permit (assuming you are from the US) to drive in Portugal?

Answer: No, I was able to use an American drivers license.

© 2012 Anna


Cooper Hunter from Brisbane, Queensland, Australia on September 02, 2019:

I love to visit beautiful Portugal, its one of my favorite destination. This Hub is much charming for me!

Anna (author) from New York, NY on August 25, 2018:

Daniella, thanks for your post and email. I just responded to your email. They drive on the same side of the road in Portugal as in the US. Only the UK as far as I know, and former colonies have the driver seat on the right side.

danielladsouza on August 25, 2018:

Thank you Anna for this detailed post. Portugal is beautiful and has such a varied history. We are wanting to visit Fatima and Santarem. Can you share information about transportation from Lisbon to Fatima. As a tourist from the US, we are curious to know if there are travelers who have driven in Portugal (coming from countries that have right side driving).

deborah schreiber on April 12, 2018:

after 2 weeks investing all itineraries Im seeking help. HELP PLEASE!! we have 18 days in Portugal, booked Pestana Vintage Porto for 3 days, 2 days in coimbra, confused about the rest of our journey but fly out of Lisbon I would Greatly appreciated assistance. Unsure if we can drive of fly if necessary to the Algarve

Pt on December 18, 2017:

Hi Anna! I really enjoyed your post. Just a small correction: ''Porto'' in PT, "Oporto" for foreigneirs.

Mary Norton from Ontario, Canada on October 30, 2014:

We are going to drive in Portugal this December and just booked the Posadas in Obidos. We will also stay in Coimbra and from here visit some of the places where famous battles took place. Then, head to Seville, Córdoba and Granada to see the Moorish influence. We will not miss Sintra. My husband also wants to see Tomar. You have confirmed some of our plans. Thank you.

Peggy Woods from Houston, Texas on January 13, 2013:

Wow...getting an entire town as a wedding gift and one with a chocolate festival. Hope that Queen Isabel enjoyed Obidos! Really enjoyed your suggestions for visiting Lisbon and points north of it for a planned 2 week vacation. Sounds like a great schedule of places to see and things to do. I have never been to Portugal but will certainly keep this in mind should our vacation plans ever take us there. Up vote(s) and SHARING. Thanks!

Glen Nunes from Cape Cod, Massachusetts on April 07, 2012:

Another wonderful hub! Every time you write about Portugal it makes me want to go there even more! Nice pictures. Thanks for this great hub. Voted up.

Anna (author) from New York, NY on April 05, 2012:

Thanks, Alissa! I'm glad that you enjoyed the hub. Yes, all the festivals are a load of fun and it's awesome to visit different towns during the festival times. The sardines festival is soon approaching in Lisbon and I can't wait for that - lots of people grilling and just having a good time outside. It's a lot of fun!

Alissa Roberts from Normandy, TN on April 05, 2012:

Thanks for the virtual tour! Those pictures are amazing and all the different festivals sound like so much fun. If I ever win the lottery, road trip around Portugal will be one of the to-do things on my list. Great job - voted up!

Anna (author) from New York, NY on April 05, 2012:

Thanks, K9! I love that trolley, it's called Tram 28 and stops by all the major attractions in Lisbon. It's pretty iconic around here, it's like NYC's equivalent of the yellow cab.

India Arnold from Northern, California on April 04, 2012:

Very cool look at Portugal! Fantastic pictures leave a beautiful image. You make me want to take trip just to ride that cute yellow trolley!


Anna (author) from New York, NY on April 03, 2012:

Thanks so much, Cardelena! I'm very happy to hear that my hub has made you want to visit Portugal :) It is indeed an awesome travel destination with all the charming Portuguese cities.

cardelean from Michigan on April 03, 2012:

Wow! I guess I never knew that I wanted to visit Portugal until I read this hub. The pictures are amazing and your guide is invaluable. Well done!

Anna (author) from New York, NY on April 03, 2012:

Thank you, Teresa!

Teresa Coppens from Ontario, Canada on April 02, 2012:

Lovely article. The pictures are breath taking. I probably will never get to visit. I still have my parent's home countries to visit in England and the Netherlands and its so hard to find someone to look after the farm. But after retirement.....you never know. It does look beautiful!

Anna (author) from New York, NY on April 02, 2012:

Thanks a bunch, kalmiya! I hope that you will have the opportunity to visit Portugal one day.

kalmiya on April 02, 2012:

Thanks for the great photos of Lisbon and Portugal! I have had a wish to visit there in the past but have never been able to make it. You're lucky to be over in that part of the world.

Anna (author) from New York, NY on April 02, 2012:

Thank you, Sandra! I'm happy to know that you're planning on returning to Lisboa and glad that you plan on using my recommendations. I hope that you'll enjoy your trip and get to explore some of the surrounding areas as well.

Anna (author) from New York, NY on April 02, 2012:

Thanks so much, Allie! I'm happy to hear that my hub made you want to go back to Lisbon. I hope that you will also get to explore other charming towns in Portugal.

Sandra Busby from Tuscaloosa, Alabama, USA on April 02, 2012:

Lovely article on Portugal. I've only been once, but plan to return in May. I'll heed some of your suggestions for Lisbon. Thanks for SHARING.

alliemacb from Scotland on April 01, 2012:

Cool article. Lisbon is a beautiful city and you've definitely made me want to go back there some day

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