Lisbon to Porto Drive
Perfect Road Trip Itinerary through Central Portugal
If you want to plan the ultimate road trip from Lisbon to Porto no matter how many days you have for you Lisbon to Porto drive, check out our comprehensive Central Portugal itinerary, which covers the best places to visit in Central Portugal. This itinerary for Centro Portugal is customizable so feel free to adjust it according to your schedule and interests.
On our first visit to Portugal, we only had a taste of Lisbon and Porto but judging by the stunning views we saw from the train we took from Porto to Lisbon, we knew next time we were going to plan a proper road trip and drive from Lisbon to Porto through the beautiful Centro Portugal region.
When we first started planning our road trip from Lisbon to Porto, we thought about a 4-day itinerary, but we soon realized we needed more time since there were so many beautiful places in Central Portugal. From rugged beaches to historic towns, ancient monasteries, UNESCO sites, vibrant cities, hiking trails, wineries, and so much more, there are so many things to see and do in Central Portugal; you could easily spend a month road tripping around this region if you have the time.
After many adjustments, we planned a one-week itinerary for our Lisbon to Porto drive, but in retrospect, it wasn’t enough time. We’ve visited so many gorgeous places along the way we felt we just didn’t have enough time to see everything we wanted. The Central Portugal region is massive, with a myriad of landscapes and cultural highlights. Therefore, our updated Central Portugal itinerary is an overview of everything we’ve seen and loved, but we added many more suggestions for places and attractions we’d love to see on our next road trip in Portugal’s Centro region (and there will be one for sure). So, if you’re wondering what is there to see between Porto and Lisbon, keep on reading!
Table of Content
Is It Worth Driving from Lisbon to Porto
Porto is located about 315 kilometers north of Lisbon. It will take you about 3 hours to get from Lisbon to Porto via the highway without any stops along the way. Of course, you could also take a train. So why bother driving from Lisbon to Porto (or vice versa) when you could simply hop on a train and/or take day trips from Lisbon and Porto? Well, because there are so many unique places to visit on your Lisbon to Porto drive, day trips can’t cover it all.
In addition, many attractions that are relatively close to Lisbon and Porto can get quite overcrowded with day-trippers, especially during the holidays or the summer months. With a car, you’ll be able to have the place to yourself during the best hours of the day. Moreover, there are so many hidden gems in Central Portugal you can only get to with a car.
Central Portugal Highlights
Let’s talk about some of the highlights in Portugal’s Central region:
- Beautiful beaches – There are many beautiful beaches all over Portugal. However, generally speaking, the Algarve area can get very crowded, and along Central Portugal’s Silver Coast, there are still many hidden gems. In addition, there are river beaches in Central Portugal’s highlands.
- UNESCO and Historical Sites – The region of Centro Portugal is dotted with incredible historical sites that will take your breath away.
- Wine and Food – Everyone has heard about Portugal’s Douro Valley, but did you know Central Portugal is home to the oldest wine region in Portugal? One of our Central Portugal highlights was having a picnic in a vineyard, and don’t get us started about the dozens of regional sweets Central Portugal is known for.
- Hiking Trails and National Parks – From the hiking trails along the beautiful beaches of the Silver Coast to the secluded hiking trails of Central Portugal’s highlands, if you love hiking and cycling, you’d have plenty of trails to choose from.
- Royal Palaces and Groomed Gardens – From the royal courts of Sintra to Bussaco Palace and the beautiful gardens of Santar, you’ll find many magical places in Central Portugal.
Best Time to Visit Central Portugal
Generally speaking, Portugal has a Mediterranean climate which means hot summers and not-too-cold winters. However, Central Portugal has such a diverse landscape and topography, which means in the higher mountains, you’ll be able to escape the summer heat and even experience snow in the wintertime.
Portugal is a great road trip destination throughout the year, and it is possible to plan a road trip even during the winter months. Still, we always recommend visiting Portugal during the shoulder seasons. April to June is a great season to visit due to mild temperatures and beautiful blooming flowers fields. There are also many festivals in June. From September to October, you will experience pleasant weather, fewer crowds, and it’s also the wine harvest season.
Generally speaking, the summer months are always very hectic, but if you plan to spend a lot of time on the beach, this is the season for you. There are also lots of summer events.
You can check out the average temperature and rainy days by month in several regions and cities in Portugal.
Driving Tips for your Portugal Road Trip
We’ve found the roads in Portugal to be safe and easy to navigate. The highways are well maintained, there are clear signs, and there shouldn’t be a problem if you use a navigation app. However, there are several things to consider while renting a car.
- Car Rental Company – There are many car rental companies in Portugal. Compare prices online and also check with your local agent. Eventually, our local agent got us the best deal. Make sure to consider any additional fees such as additional drivers, insurance, a one-time fee for returning the car to another location (our road trip started and ended in Lisbon, so that wasn’t an issue).
- Car Size – The roads in some villages and historic neighborhoods are pretty narrow, so try to choose a medium-size car or plan ahead. In Coimbra, we followed Waze’s instructions and had to squeeze our car into a very narrow space.
- Toll Roads – There are many toll roads in Portugal (usually marked by ‘A’), which can add up. Usually, you can pay in the toll booths, but some of the new roads have no toll booths, and you must pay in the post office. The simplest solution is asking the rental company for an electronic device which means you’ll be able to use the “Via Verde” lane. You’ll be charged afterward by the credit card you provided to the rental company. If you have an electronic device, make sure to only drive through the Via Verde lane. Otherwise, you might be asked to pay a hefty amount since there’s no way to know your entry point to the highway.
- Navigation – There are clear signs, but it’s always best to use a GPS or Waze and have a road map on your mobile just in case there is bad reception.
- Driving – Some Portuguese drivers seem to ignore the speed limit and tend to ride your bumper on narrow roads. Just be careful and don’t let them stress you out.
- We always opt for the best possible insurance since we would rather be covered in case something happens.
- Always double check your rental agreement! We were rushed in time and didn’t bother to read the fine prints, just took the word of the clerk that said we signed for an extra charge of the electronic device for the highway tolls. It turns out that we were charged for extra insurance (which turned out to be a blessing) AND for an additional driver though we paid for two drivers in advance through our local agency. Lucky, we managed to prove it and got a refund.
- There’s no need to have a car in Porto and Lisbon, but if you are doing a circular route like we did, sometimes it is cheaper to keep the car with you instead of paying the fee for returning the car to another location.
- Always ask your hotels for parking possibilities, especially in busier towns like Aveiro or Coimbra.
Lisbon to Porto Road Trip Video
If you want a little taste of what Central Portugal has to offer, check out our Portugal Road Trip Travel Video! Don’t forget to like it on Youtube 🙂
How to Plan the Perfect Central Portugal Road Trip Itinerary
If you’re wondering what are the must-visit places on your way from Porto to Lisbon, you must do your research in advance and decide how many days you have and what you’d like to focus on. You can go for the nature-lovers route, cultural route, or even decide to go beach hopping or follow the wine route; there are plenty of attractions to choose from in Central Portugal.
We planned a 7-day itinerary for our Central Portugal road trip, but as we’ve mentioned before, you could easily plan a 2-week or 3-week road trip and never get bored. We will have more suggestions of how to adjust this Portugal road trip to suit your own travel needs in the end but in the meantime, let’s start talking about the best places to visit in Central Portugal.
Top Places to visit on Your Drive from Lisbon to Porto
Reasons to Visit Cascais
Initially, we planned on staying in Cascais for one or two nights but decided to skip it in favor of other cities in Central Portugal. Nevertheless, we’ve heard great things about Cascais, and there’s a significant advantage for staying here if you want to have a full day to explore Sintra. We headed straight to Sintra from Lisbon, which would have been fabulous if the car rental pick-up had gone smoothly. However, since it didn’t, we wasted precious time till we finally arrived at Sintra. If you have the time, you can opt for a one-night or two-night stay in Cascais. On the first day, you can explore the town and the nearby attractions and on the second day, visit Sintra.
Location and Driving Instructions
Cascais is located about 35-40 kilometers west of Lisbon. It will take you about 40 minutes to drive from Lisbon to Cascais via A37 / IC15.
Cascais is a lovely beach town with a few attractions and beautiful beaches. Here are some of the best things to do in Cascais:
- Explore the local beaches: Praia da Conceição, Praia da Duquesa and Praia da Poça.
- Visit Boca do Inferno – “the Mouth of Hell”, used to be an ancient cave but nowadays, all that remains is an archway through which the Atlantic waves crash on the shore.
- Stroll through Cascais historic center – What was once traditional fishermen’s houses was turned into cute shops, galleries and bars. If you want to learn more about the history and the mansions of Cascais, check out this FREE GUIDED TOUR!
- Cidadela Fortress and Art District – After visiting the ancient Cidadela fortress, continue to explore the galleries, murals, and sculptures of Cidadela Art District.
- Museum Quarter – Visit the various museums and various historical villas and palaces.
- Santa Maria Lighthouse – Check out Santa Marta Lighthouse and its small museum.
- Shop at Mercado de Vila – Come early to explore Cascais’ traditional indoor market (it closes by 2 pm). At the back of the market, you’ll find a beautiful azulejos wall that depicts the town’s history.
- Visit Cabo da Roca – The westernmost point of mainland Portugal (and mainland Europe) is less than 20 kilometers away from Cascais.
Where to eat in Cascais
If you’re looking for a great seafood restaurant, we’ve heard great things about O Pescador and Maria Pia. For healthy and delicious food we’d check Local Cascais which is located inside Mercado de Vila. You’ll find there a variety of healthy (and yummy) dishes and lots of vegan-friendly options. Finally, for a healthy treat try the local branch of Oakberry.
Where to Sleep in Cascais
There are a lot of options to choose from in Cascais. You can either stay at the town’s center or opt for a hotel within walking distance of the center but at a quieter area. These are our picks:
Check out all of the hotels in Cascais here
Reasons to Visit Sintra
Even if you choose to skip Cascais, you have to stop at Sintra on your road trip from Lisbon to Porto, at least for a few hours. Sintra’s historic center and its numerous palaces and historic villas are going to take your breath away. It’s like stepping into a movie set or a fairytale. There’s really no other place like Sintra and therefore, it was designated a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1995. Besides the unique palaces and villas, the Sintra-Cascais Nature Park offers various hiking and cycling trails and numerous beautiful viewpoints.
Location and driving instructions
From Lisbon: Sintra is located about 25-30 kilometers northwest of Lisbon. It will take you about 30 minutes to drive from Lisbon to Sintra via A37 / A16.
From Cascais: Sintra is located about 18 kilometers north of Cascais. It will take you about 20 minutes to arrive at Sintra from Cascais via A16.
There are many historic villas and magical palaces you can visit in Sintra, You can totally visit them on your own but if you want to deepen your knowledge, a guided tour is always a good idea.
The most famous Palace in Sintra must be the National Palace of Pena. Its famous red and yellow walls and towers are an Instagram sensation. Its history dates back to the 12th century. The Pena Palace is a UNESCO site and is also amongst the Seven Wonders of Portugal. It is known as one of the most impressive examples of 19th-century Romanticism in the world. You can either buy a ticket just for the outside compound and the park or a ticket which also includes the inner rooms of the palace.
Opening Hours: Park: 9:00 am – 7:00 pm | Palace: 9:30 am – 6:30 pm.
Tickets: Park: € 7.5 | Park and Palace: € 14 (check available discounts and buy your tickets in advance to skip the ticket line)
Pena Palace Importnat Tips Tip:
- Pena Palace is the most famous attraction in Sintra, so plan ahead. It’s better to arrive early in the morning or later in the afternoon.
- Buy your ticket online in advance on Sintra’s official website. The time slot on your ticket refers to the visit inside Pena Palace. If you want to visit a few other palaces, you’ll get a discount just before your payment.
Quinta da Regaleira
This is another famous tourist attraction which includes a magnificent palace and chapel, surrounded by a park with lakes, caves, fountains, and wells. Besides the Palace itself, one of the most famous tourist attractions is the Initiation Well which looks like underground towers lined with spiral stairs. If you want to deepen your knowledge about Sintra and Quinta da Regaleira in particular, you might enjoy THIS TOUR where you’ll also get to go on 4X4 through the forests of Sintra-Cascais Natural Park.
Opening hours: 10:00 am – 6:30 pm (last entry 5:30 pm)
Tickets: € 10 (Check discounts and buy your tickets in advance to skip the line)
Castelo dos Mouros
The Moorish Castle is another one of Sintra’s most famous sites. It dates back to the 10th century, a period during which the Moors occupied the Iberian Peninsula. A walk on the winding walls of the Moorish Castle will provide stunning panoramic views over Sintra.
Opening time: 9:00 am – 6:30 pm
Ticket: € 8 (check available discounts and buy your tickets)
The park and Palace of Monserrate are some of the least crowded places in Sintra, but this Palace was probably one of our favorites thanks to its unique architecture, which combines Gothic, Indian and Moorish influences. To get to the palace itself you’ll have to go through its beautiful wild gardens.
Opening hours: Park: 9:00 am – 7:00 pm | Palace – 9:30 am – 6:30 pm
Tickets: € 8:00 (check available discounts and buy your tickets)
Sintra Photography Tour: If you want to explore Sintra’s landmarks with a professional photographer, you might be interested in this PHOTOGRAPHY TOUR which will help you take the best pictures you can in this gorgeous town!
How Many Days In Sintra Do You Need?
You should plan to spend at least half a day in Sintra if you wish to see at least two of the Palaces, but ideally, you’d better have one full day or even two days to enjoy the hiking and cycling trails and the nearby beaches. You can then also explore some of Sintra’s other landmarks, such as the National Palace of Sintra, the Chalet and Garden of the Countess of Edla, The Gardens and National Palace of Queluz, and many more.
Where to Stay in Sintra
Generally speaking, Sintra offers very unique accommodation options. There are only few hotels (small ones) and many B&B’s and guesthouses, some of them are located in historic mansions. Here are some of our top choices:
Photography Tip: If you have enough time, we suggest stopping at the viewpoint above the charming village of Azenhas do Mar located about 10 km. from Monserrate Palace. The best time is at sunset, of course, but try to stop here anytime during your drive from Lisbon to Porto if you are not in a hurry. Here’s the exact location of this viewpoint.
Reasons to Visit Ericeira
If you prefer less touristy towns and especially if you like surfing towns, you can skip Cascais in favor of Ericeira. Ericeira is a small fishing town and kind of a surfer’s paradise. You will find here lively night and foodie scenes, great beaches, and various accommodation choices. There are also many tourist attractions nearby.
Location and Driving Instructions
It’s up to you if you’d like to skip Cascais altogether and drive here straight from Lisbon or from Sintra or make an additional stop here after you’ve spent some time in Cascais.
From Lisbon: Ericeira is located about 50 kilometers northwest of Lisbon. It will take you about 45 minutes to drive from Lisbon to Ericeira via A21 + A8.
From Sintra: The drive from/to Sintra takes about 35 minutes via N247 or A21.
From Cascais: The drive from Cascais to Ericeira takes about 40 minutes via A21 + N9 or A21 + A9.
- Surfing – Go surfing or take surfing lessons.
- Enjoy the beaches – There are two main beaches in Ericeira (Praia dos Pescadores and Praia do Sul) and many other beautiful beaches nearby.
- Enjoy the foodie scene and nightlife.
- Explore the small old town and the fishing harbor.
- Visit Praça da República at Ericeira’s center, where you’ll find cafes, shops, and outdoor music performances during the summer months.
- Check out the view from the various miradouros: Miradouro Praia Sul, Miradouro de São Sebastião, Miradouro Ribeira d’Ilhas and Sala das Visitas Viewpoint
Day Trips from Ericeira
- Sintra – It will take you about 35 minutes to reach Sintra from Ericeira.
- Palacio de Mafra – Mafra Palace is located less than 10 kilometers from Ericeira. This impressive complex was built in the 18th century and was designated as a UNESCO site. It features a palace, a basilica, a convent, gardens, and even a hunting Park. For fees and opening hours, check their website.
Where to Eat
Where to Sleep
There are only a few hotels in Ericeira but there are plenty of B&B’s, guesthouses and apartments to choose from. Try and book ahead of time since many of the best places are booked months in advance. You and the Sea is an apartment hotel with great reviews. It is located closer to the beaches but a bit further away from the town’s center. The other hotel we recommend is Reserva FLH Hotels Ericeira which is located at the center and close to the beaches and is also a bit more budget friendly. Some of the best guesthouses include Ericeira Soul Guesthouse (minimum of 2 nights), Laneez Ericeira Surf House (a variety of room options including dormitory. There’s a minimum of 2 nights), Blue Buddha Beach Rooms & Suites (minimum of 2 nights) and Eco Soul Ericeira Guesthouse – Couples Only (minimum of 3 nights).
Check out all the accommodation choices in Ericeira
How Many Days in Ericeira Do You Need?
You can spend here a few hours or stay for two nights, depending on your schedule and interests. If you are not a beach person and not into surfing, we’d skip it altogether in favor of other exciting places in Central Portugal.
Peniche and Cabo Carvoeiro
Reasons to Visit Peniche
Peniche is located on a beautiful peninsula that provides some of the best viewpoints of the Silver Coast of Central Portugal. It is a sleepy little fishing village with some surfing beaches and a small historic center. Try to stop here for some stunning views on your way to Obidos.
Location and Driving Instructions
From Ericeira – Peniche is located about 60 kilometers north of Ericeira, and it will take you about 70 minutes to get there via N247 / A8.
From Sintra – It will take you about 75-90 minutes to get to Peniche from Sintra via A8 / A9.
We recommend stopping here for the views or if you have more time, you can also explore the small port and historic center. Another option is to visit Peniche on a day trip from Obidos and then you’ll have more time to visit the beaches and perhaps even the Berlengas Islands. Here are the top attractions of Peniche:
- Peniche’s Historical Center and Port – Walk around the historical center, visit some churches, or have a bite to eat at the numerous restaurants.
- Check out the views from Cabo Carvoeiro – This beautiful cape has scenic views of the Atlantic Ocean. You can even spot the Berlengas Archipelago in the distance. Also, check the unique rock formations along its 25-meter cliffs.
- Discover the numerous miradouros along the peninsula – Although Cabo Carvoeiro is the most famous viewpoint, it’s not necessarily the most beautiful one. If you have more time, walk along the ‘Miradouro route‘ till you get to Miradouro com Vistas on the other side of the peninsula. It will take you about 40 minutes to walk from Miradouro De Remédios to Miradouro com Vistas. If you are short in time, just drive to Miradouro com Vistas and walk along the paths for beautiful vistas and photo opts.
- Visit Fortaleza de Peniche – The Peniche fortress has a unique structure and is located just near the harbor. The fortress structure blends beautifully with its natural surrounding, and inside, you’ll find the city museum, the Chapel of Santa Bárbara, and the Torre del Sentinel.
- Visit Baleal beach – Just north of Peniche, you’ll find this unique beach which is actually two beaches in one! They connect the tiny village of Baleal to the mainland.
- Take a day trip to the Berlengas archipelago – This group of small islands is located not too far from the coast of Peniche. The Berlengas islands were designated as a Biosphere Reserve by UNESCO in 2011. Some of the activities include beach hopping, hiking, birdwatching, diving, and more. If you want a guided tour with a visit to the caves and hiking the island with a guide, check out this Berlengas ISLAND TOUR. You can also enjoy snorkeling around the main island with this recommended SNORKELING TOUR. However, if you want to relax and take your time, just book your round-trip ticket on the ferry.
How Much Time in Peniche Do You Need?
We’d consider stopping here for a few hours, mainly for the beautiful viewpoints over the West Coast of Portugal. However, if you’d like to visit the Berlengas archipelago, you’d need more time.
Reasons to Visit Obidos
Obidos is one of Europe’s most well-preserved medieval towns, which means you have to stop here on your way from Lisbon to Porto . This charming walled city is located on a hill, not far from the Atlantic Ocean, and the view from its ancient walls is simply breathtaking. The whitewashed houses are decorated with strips of yellow and blue, potted plants, and bougainvillea. You’ll find many picture-perfect corners while strolling through Obidos’ cobbled streets. The town itself can get quite crowded in the middle of the day thanks to the day-trippers from Lisbon but in the early morning and late afternoon; you’ll have these charming cobbled streets (almost) all to yourself.
Location and Driving Instructions
From Sintra: Obidos is located about 100 kilometers north of Sintra. It will take you about an hour to drive from Sintra to Obidos via A8.
From Ericeira – Obidos is located about 90 kilometers north of Ericeira. It will take you about an hour to drive from Ericeira to Obidos via A8 / A21.
From Peniche – Obidos is located about 25 kilometers east of Peniche. It will take you about 30 minutes to drive from Peniche to Obidos via IP6.
Obidos is pretty tiny, but its location makes it the perfect place to explore some nearby attractions. Here are some of the best things to do in and around Obidos:
- Visit Obidos Castle at sunset and climb the walls – Obidos Castle was voted as one of ‘The Seven Wonders of Portugal’ and you can visit it any time of the day though it looks most beautiful illuminated by the golden rays of sunset. Both the walls and castle are open 24/7, and there is no entrance fee. Climbing the walls feels a bit dangerous so be careful, but the views are spectacular!
- Visit the churches and bookstores – There are 14 churches in Obidos and numerous bookstores.
- Stroll the picturesque streets of Obidos for many photo opportunities. Since Obidos is very popular with day-crowders from Lisbon, try and plan for an early stroll or do it later in the afternoon.
- Try the traditional Ginjinha – Obidos is famous for its local cherry liquor. You must try this sweet drink which is served in a tiny chocolate cup.
- Visit the Aqueduct of Obidos.
Important Tip: Many people skip Obidos lagoon and the nearby beaches. We recommend visiting the beautiful Foz do Arelho (it will take 20 minutes via N360), check out the viewpoint and the beach and drive back via Rua Eng. Luis de Paiva e Sousa along the Obidos Lagoon.
Day Trips from Obidos
- You can visit Peniche or the Berlengas archipelago on a day trip. For more information, check out our Peniche section above.
- Visit Alcobaça Monastery – This stunning medieval Monastery was built in the 12th century by the first Portuguese king, King Alfonso I. The complex features a church, various tombs of Kings and Queens, a cloister, a library and more. It was designated a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1989. Take the Alcobaça Monastery virtual tour to see how stunning it is! Tickets costs € 6, you can check out discounts and opening hours here. You have to stop for coffee and a sweet pastry at Pastelaria Alcoa just opposite the monastery. This famous pastry shop has so many traditional Portuguese sweets! You will also find a branch in Lisbon at Garrett street no. 37.
- Batalha Monastery – See our Batalha Monastery section below.
- Check out the beaches of Nazaré – Nazaré is famous amongst the surfer community thanks to the extremely high breaking waves. Several world records have been recorded here.
- Mira de Aire Caves – These 11-kilometers long caves were voted as one of the Seven Natural Wonders of Portugal. Inside the caves, you’ll find beautiful stalagmites and stalactites, some of which are about 150-million-year old! Out of the vast network of caves, the guided tours are limited to about 600 meters. If you love unique attractions, make sure to stop here on your way from Lisbon to Porto. Tickets cost about € 7 you. Check available discounts and the opening hours.
Important Tip: There are a few famous festivals in Obidos throughout the year. You can read more about them in our Obidos Guide (coming soon) but the most famous festivals must be Obidos Medieval Fair in July, and the Chocolate Festival in the Spring.
Where to Eat
Where to Sleep
There are many small guest houses and apartments around Obidos old town, we recommend choosing a place to stay that is close to one of the entrances of the old city but not inside the old town itself unless you don’t mind carrying your luggage through the cobbled streets.
If you’d like to stay in an apartment check out Retiro do Castelo or Mood Lodging. Both are located just outside the walls and are beautifully designed. Casa Picva guesthouse is located perfectly near the entrance to the old town and the owner was really nice and gave us great tips about our Portugal road trip. There aren’t many hotels around Obidos but if you prefer hotels with modern design, you can check Obidos Aquae Ductus Suites. It is located next to Obidos Aqueduct, only a few minutes drive from the old town. For a special experience, you can also stay at Pousada Castelo de Obidos which is situated inside Obidos Castle.
Check out all of the place to stay in Obidos here
How Many Days in Obidos Do You Need?
If you only want to explore the walled city, half a day is more than enough. However, we wish we had two days here. This area has a lot to offer, and Obidos’ location is quite convenient to go on numerous day trips.
Reasons to Visit Batalha Monastery
The Mosteiro da Batalha (also known as Monastery of Santa Maria da Vitória) was built to commemorate the victory of the Portuguese over the Castilians at the battle of Aljubarrota. Its constriction started in 1386 and lasted till 1517. It was classified as a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1983. It is one of the most magnificent monasteries we’ve been to so make sure to stop here on your drive from Lisbon to Porto.
Location and Driving Instructions
Batalha Monastery is located about 60 kilometers north of Obidos. It will take you about 50 minutes to get to Batalha via A8.
Batalha Monastery Highlights
After seeing so many monasteries and churches during our time in Portugal, we thought nothing could surprise us anymore. Well, we were wrong. The minute we got closer to Batalha Monastery, we were mesmerized by its sheer size and stunning façade. We spent at least half an hour taking pictures and filming the exterior of the monastery. The interior of Batalha Monastery is just as beautiful. The architecture is a mix of Gothic and Manueline and other influences, which is understandable since several architects were involved in its design throughout its years of construction (over 100 years). The different structures and rooms of Batalha Monastery are stunning, but we were most impressed with the Royal Cloister and the Unfinished Chapel.
How Much Time in Batalha Monastery Do You Need
Plan for a visit of at least 2-3 hours, especially if you love taking photos.
- If you plan on visiting Batalha, Alcobaca and the Convent of Christ in Tomar, you can purchase a combined ticket for € 15.
- The entrance to the Unfinished Chapel is located at a different part of the monastery. It was one of our favorite parts, so make sure you don’t skip it.
Reasons to Visit Tomar
Tomar is another beautiful city in Central Portugal and kind of a hidden gem. Its history dates back to the 12th century when King Afonso Henriques gave these lands to the Knights Templar, who founded the Convento de Cristo. The town was built along the banks of the Nabão River, and it features a beautiful old town with several churches and historical monuments.
Location and Driving Instructions
Tomar is located northeast of Obidos, and it will take you about 75 minutes to get there via A8 + IC9. You can stop at Alcobaça Monastery and/or Batalha Monastery on your way to Tomar.
The main reason to visit Tomar is to see the Convento de Cristo and the castle, but there are other attractions in town.
- Convent of Christ and Tomar Castle – The complex of the convent and castle is a UNESCO World Heritage Site. The structure features Gothic, Manueline, and Renaissance architecture and is truly magnificent. Tickets are € 6. Check the discounts and opening hours.
- Explore Tomar’s old town – Wander the cobbled streets and look for hidden gems in the form of tiled buildings, decorated doorways, and photogenic corners. Make sure to stop at Republic Square (“Praça da Republica”).
- Explore the churches and ancient synagogue – Some of the churches you can visit include Igreja de São João Baptista, and Igreja de Santa Maria do Oliva. You can also visit the Tomar Synagogue, which also hosts the Abraham Zacuto Luso-Hebrew Museum.
- Visit Aqueduto dos Pegões – This 17th-century aqueduct was the source of water for the Convent of Christ. You can climb to the top of the aqueduct for stunning views of the area but do it at your own risk since there are no railings.
- Try the local sweets – If you have a sweet tooth, make sure to try the local sweet delicacies. Fatias de Tomar and Beija-me depressa. Fatias de Tomar are made from egg yolks and sugar, with a pudding-like consistency and flavored with cinnamon or lemon. They were originally made by the nuns in the Convent of Christ. Beija-me depressa (which means ‘kiss me quick’) are also made from eggs and sugar and dusted with icing sugar and are only sold at Casa Estrelas de Tomar.
- If you happen to visit Central Portugal in April, make sure to visit the Convento de Christo for its annual orange festival. During the festival, the oranges that are picked are turned into sweet delicacies and liquors.
- If you happen to visit Tomar in July, you might be able to experience the Festa dos Tabuleiros (Festival of the Trays), which takes place every four years and includes special decorations, processions, traditional outfits, flowers, and more.
Tomar Day Trips
- Mira de Aire Caves – see our Obidos Day Trips section above.
- Batalha Monastery – If you haven’t had a chance to see it on your way to Tomar, you can visit it on a day trip.
- Nazaré – See our Obidos Day Trips section.
Where to Sleep
Since Tomar is still off-the-beaten-path location in Central Portugal, there are fewer places to stay in the city compared to other cities in Portugal. We’d suggest booking as early as possible.
Reasons to Visit Coimbra
Coimbra (pronounced kow-eem-bruh) is the biggest city in Central Portugal, and most people come here to visit Coimbra University, the oldest university in Portugal and one of the oldest in Europe. You must stop here on your way from Lisbon to Porto, at least to see the university, but there are many other attractions to be found in and around Coimbra. Coimbra is located on a hill near the Mondego River, so there are beautiful viewpoints all over the city. Moreover, Coimbra has many historical monuments, religious sites, leafy parks, and a lively atmosphere thanks to its student population. It is also worth mentioning the unique Fado tradition created by the local students that is kept to this day. Coimbra was one of our favorite stops on our road trip from Lisbon to Porto, and we wished we had more time.
Location and Driving Instructions
From Tomar: Coimbra is located about 80 kilometers north of Tomar, and it will take you about 50 minutes to get there via A13.
From Obidos: Coimbra is located about 140 kilometers north of Obidos, and it will take you about 90 minutes to get there via A8 + A1 / A17. You can stop at Alcobaça Monastery and/or Batalha Monastery on your way to Coimbra.
There are so many things to do in and around Coimbra but the first item on your bucket list should be a visit to Coimbra University.
- Explore the Coimbra University Compound – The oldest university in Portugal used to be a royal palace, and it’s a UNESCO World Heritage Site. There are several interesting parts to visit in the university compound, including Capela de São Miguel, the clock tower, and the stunning Biblioteca Joanina. Stepping into this ancient library with its golden decorations, thousands of books, and pained frescos, feels like entering into a magical world of one of Harry Potter’s films. It is something out of this world, including the fact that an actual bat colony resides inside its walls. Don’t worry, you won’t see the bats, but they are there to take care of the insects that might damage the ancient books. Note that it is forbidden to take pictures inside the library (we had special permits).
Tickets: € 12.5 or € 7 (without the library), + 2 euros to climb the clock tower (when it’s open – see the tip below).
For opening hours and tickets for self-guided visits and guided tours, check here.
Important Tip –You can visit the university by yourself, but you will gain so much more from taking a guided tour. You can book a tour through the university (only 1-2 times a day) or this guided tour (with more time slots). If you’d rather tour the compound by yourself, make sure to buy a ticket which includes a visit to the library (don’t skip it!), and since there are restrictions on visitations, you’ll need to schedule your visit in advance. We haven’t climbed the tower since it was closed at the time of our visit (Covid-19 measurements), but the view from the balcony of the Palace is absolutely spectacular.
- Wander around Coimbra’s old town – Coimbra’s historic center’s charming, cobbled streets are filled with restaurants, bars, and shops. Make sure to visit Praça do Comércio, where you’ll find the ancient São Tiago Church. Then, climb the stairs and look for Barbican Gate and the Almedina Gate and tower.
We always recommend taking a FREE GUIDED TOUR of the city if you have a chance!
- Go to a Fado show – Coimbra Fado style is different than the Fado in Lisbon. The local student community has created it, a tradition that is kept to this day. We were invited to a Fado Show in Fado ao Centro, and honestly, it was such a great experience! You can buy a ticket to their Fado show with a glass of port wine HERE.
- Visit the local gardens and parks
Day Trips from Coimbra
- Conímbriga Roman Ruins – The Roman city of Conímbriga is located about 20 kilometers south of Coimbra. It is one of the best-preserved Roman sites in Portugal, which history buffs will enjoy exploring. You can read more about it here.
- Bussaco Forest – It takes about 40 minutes by car to get to Mata Nacional do Buçaco. You can read more about it in our Bussaco Forest section below.
- Santar – It takes about an hour to get to the charming town of Santar. You can read more about it in our Santar section below.
- Figueira da Foz – If you fancy a day at the beach, there are many charming beaches around Figueira da Foz. You can also visit the local casino. It will take you about 50 minutes to get to Figueira da Foz from Coimbra.
Where to Eat
You’ll find a few great places for dinner with great food and atmosphere along R. de Fernandes Thomas. We had a lovely dinner at Fangas Mercearia & Bar. We loved the lively atmosphere, the outdoor and indoor setting and the food was delicious. Another place you can try is Refeitro da Baixa which used to be a ceramic factory and nowadays it’s an upscale restaurant with great food and kind of a rustic atmosphere. Finally Notes Bar and Kitchen Restaurante, serves delicious dishes for lunch or dinner. Check the opening hours for each restaurant since many of the restaurants has a day off and they are closed between lunch and dinner services.
Where to Sleep
We suggest staying at a hotel that is situated at or near the old town. It is important to have parking at or near the hotel. We stayed at Sapientia Boutique Hotel and we wish we’d have stayed there for a few more nights. The location is excellent, just near the university, the design is modern and chic, friendly stuff and an amazing rooftop balcony. Here are some more options for your stay in Coimbra:
How Many Days in Coimbra Do You Need
We’d suggest at least one full day, but ideally, you’d like to stay here for 1-2 nights or even more and go on day trips.
If you want to more tips and info about Coimbra – Stay tuned for our Coimbra Guide
Bussaco Forest and Palace
Reasons to Visit Bussaco Forest and Palace
If you love to get lost in magical forests with ancient fountains, you’d love Bussaco Forest. Not to mention you could also visit Bussaco Palace with its neo-Manueline decorations and its groomed gardens. Bussaco Forest is on UNESCO’s tentative list of natural World Heritage sites.
Location and Driving Instructions
Bussaco Forest is located about 35 kilometers north of Coimbra. It takes about 40 minutes to get to Bussaco Forest from Coimbra via A1 / IC2 / N336.
Bussaco Forest Highlights
Over the years, Mata Nacional do Buçaco has captured the imagination of many people, including José Saramago, the Nobel Prize winner in literature, who said: “You don’t describe Buçaco forest. The best thing is to lose yourself in it”. This magical forest was once home to the Carmelite Order, who built their homes, chapels, and various fountains in the forest. In the 19th century, the Bussaco Palace was built and used as a royal family retreat. Later, it was turned into a luxury hotel. Here are some of Bussaco Forest’s highlight:
- Get lost in the forest – Follow the hidden walkways and ancient stone paths and look for the old hermitage housings, fountains (especially the beautiful Fonte Fria fountain), and chapels.
- Admire the Manueline-gothic architecture of Bussaco Palace and take a stroll in its groomed gardens.
- Eat at the hotel’s fine dining restaurant.
- If fine dining is not for you, bring a picnic basket and find a beautiful spot to have lunch.
- Visit the unique Convento de Santa Cruz do Buçaco, located just near the Palace.
- For a unique experience, stay for a night at the luxurious Bussaco Palace.
How Much Time in Bussaco Forest Do You Need
We recommend at least 3 hours to explore the hidden gems of the forest in a leisurely pace.
Reasons to Visit Santar
Santar village is located at the heart of the Dão Wine region. The main reason to visit this picturesque and quiet village is to visit Santar Vila Jardim and the numerous vineyards in the area. Santar Vila Jardim is a unique project initiated by local noble families who decided to showcase the village’s traditions and history by unifying the historic gardens and noble houses. As a result, the once walled gardens are now open to the public to explore. On the tour you will also visit some of the old manors and learn about the heritage and traditions of Santar village.
Location and Driving Instructions
Santar Village is located about 90 kilometers northeast of Coimbra. It takes about 75 minutes to get to Santar from Coimbra via IP3.
- The main reason to come here is to visit the beautiful Santar Vila Jardim. Check out the different tour options and prices. Please make sure to book your ticket in advance.
- Wine Tasting – The Santar Vila Jardim project includes vineyards, so you can go wine tasting as part of the tour. You could also try one of the local vineyards, such as Adegas da Casa de Santar.
- Try one of the best restaurants in the area, Paço Dos Cunhas De Santar. This fine-dining restaurant is set at a renovated old winery and is surrounded by beautiful scenery. Unfortunately, it was closed at the time of our visit (don’t come on Mondays), so the owner organized a delicious picnic in the middle of the vineyard for us.
- Stay at the luxurious Six Senses Spa Hotel – During our visit we’ve found out that Six Senses is about to open a hotel next to Santar Vila Jardim. It should be opened sometime in 2022.
How Much Time to Spend in Santar
At least half a day to explore the gardens and go wine tasting, but you could easily spend a relaxing weekend and explore the area.
From Santar you can either go to Aveiro or to Serra da Estrela. If you plan to continue to the Duoro Valley, you’d better continue straight to Lamego from Serra da Estrela or visit Aveiro and then continue to Porto and the Douro Valley.
Serra da Estrela
Reasons to Visit Serra da Estrela
Serra da Estrela is a picturesque mountain range in Central Portugal where you’ll find many hiking trails, historic villages, rivers, lakes, glacial valleys, and even snow in the wintertime. Unfortunately, not many tourists visit this national park which is a shame. There are endless hidden gems to be found, from stunning viewpoints to historical villages, and the landscape is quite extraordinary. Nature and hiking lovers must include this national park in their Lisbon to Porto road trip itinerary.
Location and Driving Instructions
Serra de Estrela is the name of the mountain range and national park, and there are several places you can stay there. We stayed in Manteigas.
Serra de Estrela is located northeast of Coimbra. It will take you about 2 hours to get to Manteigas from Coimbra.
Serra de Estrela is located southeast of Santar. It will take you about 75 minutes to get to Manteigas from Santar.
Practical tip – Some of the roads in Serra da Estrela are not for the faint-hearted. The roads can be very narrow with very sharp turns, so be very careful, especially in wintertime.
Serra da Estrela Highlights
Serra da Estrela is the perfect place to relax for a few days or go hiking, rock climbing, and cycling. In addition, you can explore the numerous historic villages which are beautifully preserved. Here are the main highlights of the area:
- Go hiking and cycling – There are many trails around Serra da Estrela that will lead you to scenic spots, quiet lakes, and stunning viewpoints. Here are some recommendations for the top hiking trails and cycling trails in the area.
- Look for the most beautiful viewpoints – If you’d rather take your car from one scenic spot to the other, there are many stunning viewpoints around the area such as Miradouro O Coração, Miradouro do Fragão do Corvom, Miradouro da Catarina and many more.
- In summer you can visit some of the lakes and river beaches of Serra da Estrela. Two of the most famous ones are Praia Fluvial de Loriga and Praia fluvial de Lapa dos Dinheiros.
- There are a few historical villages you can visit, such as Sortelha, Belmonte, or Linhares da Beira.
- Visit the local Burel factory and buy unique wool products – If your love arts and crafts, this is a must, especially when you hear the inspiring story behind the revival of this longtime local tradition. Burel’s wool products and art pieces are famous all around the world, and they have shops in Lisbon and Porto.
- Stay at a luxury hotel – There are two luxury boutique hotels in the area of Manteigas, and they are located at the best spots for stunning views. Check out our where to sleep section.
What to Eat
Serra da Estrela has its unique delicacies. If you visit the area you should try the local sheep cheese (which is sold all over Portugal) and cottage cheese (requeijao), Other local delicacies include blood sausages and lamb and goat dishes. Many of the dishes and local drinks are made with local herbs. From alcoholic drinks such as zimbrada grapa or licor serran to desserts and rice (arroz de carqueija), honey, and the traditional rye and sourdough bread.
Where to Sleep
The Serra da Estrela region is pretty large with mountain terrain and lots of narrow and curvy roads. The location of the hotel you choose should be relatively close to the major attractions you’d like to see.
How Many Days in Serra da Estrela Do You Need
We recommend staying here for at least two nights to experience what the national park has to offer. Nevertheless, you can easily stay here for five days and go hiking and cycling, explore the different villages and lakes and just relax.
Reasons to Visit Aveiro
Aveiro is a charming town that is located on the Ria de Aveiro lagoon. Aveiro is also known as “the Venice of Portugal” thanks to the dozens of canals that crisscross the town. Other than canals and moliceiros, the traditional colorful boats you’ll see everywhere, Aveiro is famous for its stunning Art Nouveau architecture and Ovos Moles, traditional sweets whose shapes follow a nautical theme.
Location and Driving Instructions
From Coimbra: Aveiro is located about 65 kilometers northwest of Coimbra. It will take you about 50 minutes to get to Aveiro from Coimbra via A1.
From Porto: Aveiro is located about 80 kilometers south of Porto. It will take you about 50 minutes to get to Aveiro from Porto via A1 / A29.
Aveiro is a charming town that until a few years ago, not many people have heard about. However, in recent years more and more tourists have been visiting Aveiro, not just on day trips but spending a few days exploring the area. Here are some of the things you can do in and around Aveiro.
- Take a moliceiro tour – Riding on one of the traditional colorful boats is a must, a bit cheesy, but still, you have to do it. The rides typically last about 45-60 minutes and cost € 12-15.
- Admire the Art Nouveau buildings – There are 28 Art Nouveau buildings in Aveiro. You can plan your own walking tour to check out some of the best Art Nouveau buildings. You can also visit Aveiro’s Art Nouveau Museum. BTW, Aveiro looks totally different at night time. If you want to check out the best spots of Aveiro in the moonlight, this NIGHT TOUR is perfect for you!
- Ovos Moles and other traditional sweets – The famous Ovos Moles are made from egg yolks and sugar with an outside shell made from rice paper or wheat flour. They come in many shapes, such as seashells, clams, fish, and more. Aveiro is also known for some other sweets like Raivas de Aveiro, which are less sweet and really addictive. The best place to try the local sweets is Confeitaria Peixinho.
- Visit Costa Nova – What used to be a sleepy fishing village is now an Instagram sensation thanks to the charming striped houses.
- Try the local seafood – It doesn’t get any fresher than this. There are excellent fish restaurants in the center of Aveiro and Costa Nova.
Where to Eat
We had a lovely dinner at Marina by Luís Lavrador, a seafood restaurant just outside of Aveiro. We especially loved the beautiful setting near the marina and the food was delicious. You can also try Fama by Luis Lavrador which is located in Aveiro. Both restaurants combine Mediterranean and Portuguese flavors.
Where to Sleep
You can either stay at Aveiro or choose a hotel that is situated outside of town at one of the nearby towns. We were invited to stay at Montebelo Vista Alegre Ílhavo Hotel in Ílhavo (a 10-minute drive from Aveiro center). We loved the quiet location and the amazing view from our room which was looking over one of the canals. You can also choose to stay at Costa Nova (a 10-minute car drive from Aveiro) if you want to be closer to the beach. Another beach town is Torreira but it will take you about 40 minutes to get to Aveiro by car.
Check out all of the hotels in Aveiro here
How Many Days in Aveiro Do You Need
Aveiro is pretty small, and you can see it in a day. However, the area is really charming, so if you want to take it easy and see more of the area like the sand dunes of the São Jacinto Dunes Natural Reserve, or just relax on the beach, stay here for a weekend.
Suggested Itineraries to Plan the Best Lisbon to Porto Road Trip
Depending on your interests and the time you have, we can suggest several routes.
5-Day Lisbon to Porto Road Trip Itinerary
A 5-day itinerary will be really fast-paced, but you will be able to see some of the main attractions in Central Portugal.
Cascais or Ericeira (1 night) – Sintra – Obidos (1 night) – Batalha or Alcobaca – Coimbra (1 night) – Santar or Bussaco – Aveiro (1 night).
Itinerary notes: Following this itinerary means you’ll get a taste of everything. If you’d like a bit more hiking and national parks, we’d skip Aveiro in favor of Arouca Unesco Global Geopark.
7-Day Road Trip Itinerary
You can either add two nights in Serra da Estrela or a night in Tomar or follow the same 5-day suggested itinerary but spend more time in Coimbra, Obidos, or Aveiro and travel at a slower pace while taking day trips.
10-Day Road Trip Itinerary
Suggested Itinerary for Beach Lovers
For beach lovers, pick at least two locations on the Silver Coast (Ericeira, Nazare, Figueira da Foz, or any other beach town) where you can spend four nights. But make sure to visit Sintra, Obidos, Coimbra and Aveiro.
Suggested Itinerary for Hiking and Cycling Fans
Start with a few days around Cascais and Sintra. You can visit Sintra and hike from Cabo da Roca to Azenhas do Mar or choose any of the other hiking and cycling trails detailed here. Then continue to Obidos for one night and Coimbra for one night and choose either Serra da Estrela or Arouca Unesco Global Geopark for a few more hiking adventures.
Suggested Itinerary for History and Culture Lovers
Start with 1-2 nights in Cascais and Sintra. Then we’ll make the effort of spending 1-2 nights in Obidos, Tomar, and Coimbra. Spend the rest of your stay in Aveiro and either Serra da Estrela or Arouca Unesco Global Geopark. Both of these national parks offer a chance to immerse yourself in nature but are also dotted by various historic villages. You must also stop at Alcobaca and Batalha along the way.
Suggested Itinerary for Food and Wine Lovers
You can choose your itinerary from our above suggestions but make sure to spend some time in Santar and other wineries along Central Portugal’s wine regions. Here are some wine route recommendations for you. Aveiro is also an excellent destination for foodies thanks to its local sweets and excellent restaurants.
Two Weeks in Central Portugal
Anyone who has two weeks for his road trip is extremely lucky. You can spend a few nights at all of the suggested locations. You can then take day trips to all of the attractions we’ve mentioned and do it at a leisurely pace.
Three Weeks in Central Portugal
If you have three weeks for your Lisbon to Porto road trip, you can stop at all of the suggested locations and even add some more stops to your road trip itinerary. For example, both Leiria and Viseu are off-the-beaten-path cities in Central Portugal with some hidden gems. You will also have some time to explore the Silver Coast and visit both Serra da Estrela and Arouca Unesco Global Geopark. Another interesting place that is worth considering is Barrocal Park which is located not far from Coimbra and was awarded the Architecture MasterPrize a few years ago. Just next to it you’ll find Castelo Branco where you’ll find the Bishop’s Palace Garden and fascinating museums
More Resources to Help You Plan Your Trip To Portugal
First of all you should definitely check out Central Portugal Highlights on our Instagram account. There is also our Youtube channel for video content. Here are some more detailed guides to help you plan your Portugal trips:
- Ultimate Guide to A Weekend in Porto
- How to Spend 3 Days in Lisbon
- Things to Do in Obidos Portugal
- Discover Monsaraz – One of Portugal’s Hidden Gems
- Ultimate Guide to Sintra
- Portugal Foodie Guide
- What To Do In Aveiro – Art, Food, Nature & Photography
Disclaimer – This post was written in collaboration with Central Portugal’s Board of Tourism. Regardless, all the opinions that are expressed in this guide are our own.
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