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For a relatively small country, Portugal truly has it all. Beautiful valleys, mountains, and vineyards to the north. And beautiful waters and beaches to the south. While you can easily “rush” through the whole country, seeing a majority of it by skimming the surface, the true beauty is when you slow down and really lean into each city that you’re in. For this reason, I believe it’s best to see Portugal by car, and to break it up between the north and the south so that you truly get a taste of this magical country – thus the best Northern Portugal road trip itinerary you can find.
Before you start to plan your itinerary, make sure to read The Ultimate Portugal Travel Guide for information on currency, safety tips, language, and more!
How to Spend 8 Days in Portugal – A Northern Portugal Road Trip Itinerary
I spent two weeks in Northern Portugal, discovering hidden gems, fairytale towns, and eating my way through the country. I’ve cut out the things that I didn’t love, to share a more compact trip. One that can be done in eight days, without sacrificing the beauty of the country or feeling like you’re rushing.
HIGHLIGHTS OF NORTHERN PORTUGAL
- Douro Valley
If you’re a nurse reading this, this is part of my “8 Day Vacay” series! A travel series aimed at nurses who are looking to take 8 days off from the hospital (with no need to take PTO) and travel to destinations both near and far. For more information, read A Guide to the “8 Day Vacay” and How to Make the Most Out of Your “8 Day Vacay” and click here for more “8 Day Vacay” ideas
Renting a Car in Portugal
Before reading further and diving into your Northern Portugal road trip itinerary, let’s discuss renting a car in Portugal! For purposes of this itinerary, you’ll be arriving into Lisbon and will spend the first two days in the city. You don’t need a car in Lisbon, so I suggest picking up the car before leaving to Lisbon and heading to Porto to save money and the stress of driving around the city. (I prefer renting from Enterprise). For more details on exactly what you need to know about renting a car in Portugal (as an American), make sure to read this post.
Day 1 – Arrive in Lisbon
WHERE TO STAY IN LISBON
There are so many great, quaint neighborhoods in Lisbon. And depending on what you’re looking for, there are plenty of options from hotels to Airbnbs around the city. When I traveled to Lisbon, I stayed in two different Airbnbs, both which I would recommend.
- Tiles Apartment – By Mayoral – This Airbnb wasn’t my favorite in terms of design, but you truly can’t be the location! Right in the Alfama neighborhood, this is the perfect neighborhood if you’re looking for local charm, but you aren’t interested in crowds or noise. Alfama is a bit more sleepy than other parts of Lisbon, but it doesn’t lack character.
- Stylish 2 Bedroom Apartment in Historical Center – This Airbnb was a bit more commercial, but again, you can’t beat the location and the design was incredible! Located right across from Jardim de São Pedro de Alcântara, you’re near tons of great bars, restaurants, and historical sites. Plus this is a good option if you’re arriving early or leaving late and need to store your luggage as they have free storage spaces to use.
Upon arrival into Lisbon, I recommend taking the day slowly in order to get used to the time change. Check into your apartment/hotel, change into something clean, and head out to explore the city! Depending on your time of arrival, I recommend seeing Lisbon and learning about the culture and history of Portugal by participating in a free walking tour with Lisbon Chill Out, a tour that focuses on sustainability and seeing sites more off the beaten path and less touristy.
If you don’t have time to take a tour of Lisbon, then see the city yourself! You’ll want to make time to visit Miradouro de Sao Pedro de Alcantara, catch the sunset at Mirador de Graca, and learn about the city at the Museum of Lisbon. You’ll also want to check out the Santa Justa Elevator – but don’t wait in line to go up, it’s incredibly overrated and you can get up a different way for free.
For dining, check out Time Out Market if you want a variety of foods. Tapa Bucho if you want to sit down and indulge, and A Cevicheria if you’re craving seafood. For a nightcap I would consider Pavilhao Chines for cocktails, or Graca do Vinho and Casa da Praia Tapas & Wine Bar for wine.
Day 2 – Lisbon
On your second day in Lisbon, start your morning early with pastries and coffee at Casa Sao Miguel in the Alfama neighborhood. Spend your morning discovering the beauty of Alfama, getting lost in the narrow cobblestone streets and spending time in an area that feels more “off the beaten path”.
When you’re done in Alfama, make your way to the LX Factory located a few miles north of the city center. The LX Factory is a historical industrial complex that has an array of bars, restaurants, and boutique shops, it’s easy to spend a few hours here exploring a more unique area of Lisbon. While you’re at the LX Factory don’t miss the bookstore – Ler Devager – eating Latin American food at Ni Michi, or buying canned fish at Comur.
Before heading to dinner on your last night in Lisbon, once again head off the beaten path for rooftop drinks at Ferroviario. Here you’ll get great, affordable cocktails, ocean views, and a lively atmosphere.
For a more detailed guide to Lisbon, don’t miss The Ultimate Guide to Visiting Lisbon
Day 3 – Porto
WHERE TO STAY IN PORTO
There are so many great options when booking a stay in Porto. I highly recommend searching around the historic center or the Ribeiria neighborhood by the Douro River.
I found this super cute Airbnb for an affordable price on Flores Street. It was a great stay and a great location.
Once you get your car in Lisbon, head north to Porto, which will take about three-hours. Upon arrival to Porto, head down to the riverfront (on the Porto side) for lunch along the water. While all of the restaurants looked appetizing, I enjoyed the food from Terra Nova. If you fancy a glass of wine after lunch, there’s a cute wine bar nearby – Wine Quay Bar – that sits above the street overlooking the river… a great place for people watching!
After you’ve finished with lunch, take some time to see the sights of Porto. Tour the Ribeira neighborhood, buy a book from Livraria Chamine da Mota (skip Livraria Lello), and tour the Bolsa Palace (I recommend purchasing tickets ahead of time).
For dinner, make a reservation ahead of time at Porta 4 – a small restaurant with only one chef and one waiter. The menu is small, but packed with flavor, and it’s an open kitchen concept so you can watch the chef cook your meal.
Day 4 – Porto
On your second day in Porto, head across the Ponte de Dom Luis 1 bridge to explore Vila Nova de Gaia. Vila Nova de Gaia is the “hub of the port industry” with port tasting rooms scattered throughout town and along the river. Here you’ll also find seafood restaurants, colorful homes, and beautiful streets. If you want to port taste, I recommend Quinta da Noval, and if you want to learn about port making, I recommend a tour at Cockburn’s. Walking further down the river – away from the bridge – you can also find many port tastings for €5, and while the port isn’t as good, the atmosphere is much livelier.
For lunch stop at Mercado Beira Rio where you can pick up delicious sandwiches from Piadina Mia and dessert from Brigadao.
Before the sunsets, take the gondola back up the hill (the cost is €6) to watch the sunset over the river at Jardim de Morro. Weather permitting there’s usually live music and a bar selling drinks from a small stand!
For a more detailed guide to Porto, don’t miss A Guide to Visiting Porto, Portugal
Day 5 – Douro Valley + Lamego
Located 1.5 hours east of Porto, you’ll find the famed Douro Valley – a wine lovers paradise; it’s a beautiful and serene place that should be on everyones bucket list. The Douro Valley is also characterized by the Douro river that cuts through, running from Spain and ending in Porto. This wine region dates back 2000 years ago when the Romans first began planting vines in the area. Today, there are 300 wine estates in the Douro Valley.
On this day, make sure to begin your morning early so that you can spend ample time in the beautiful Douro Valley before heading to Lamego for the night. Head straight to your first wine tasting at Quinta dos Murcas, the first property in the valley where terraced (or vertical) vines were planted in 1947. You can tour the property with a guide, learning all about the wine making techniques in the region, or just come for a tasting. While no reservation is required, if you want a guided tour of the property and to learn about wine making, a reservation is highly recommended.
After wine tasting at Quinta dos Murcas, head for lunch at Cantina de Ventozelo or DOC – Chef RUI PAULA. I highly recommend a reservation ahead of time as both restaurants are incredibly popular.
After finishing lunch, head to your final port tasting at Quinta do Panascal before making your way to Lamego for the night. Quinta do Panascal is a 200 year old property, that strictly makes and serves port wine. The scenery is absolutely breathtaking, nestled in the rolling hills of the valley, what feels like a world away from the rest of the Douro.
From Quinta do Panascal, it’s about a 30-40 minute drive southwest to the quaint town of Lamego.
For a more detailed guide to visiting the Douro Valley, don’t miss A Guide to Visiting the Douro Valley
WHERE TO STAY IN LAMEGO
For being such a small town, there’s a good number of hotels and Airbnbs to choose from. I lucked out with this super cute Airbnb – O Cantinho do Colégio – located right in the heart of town. I highly recommend it!
Lamego is a small, but beautiful town of 26,000+ residents in the Viseu District on the shores of the Balsemão River. It’s worth a visit to get away from the crowds, reset a bit, and slowly see the town. Having only a short time in Lamego, I suggest making it a priority to see Castelo de Lamego and the Santuario de Nossa Senhora dos Remédios.
For dinner, head to the laidback and authentic Portuguese restaurant – TaskaZita.
For a more detailed guide to visiting Lamego, don’t miss A Quick Guide to Lamego, Portugal
Day 6 – Coimbra
Before leaving Lamego, stop at Padaria Rina for pastries before continuing an hour and 45-minutes southwest to Coimbra. Located in central Portugal, Coimbra is the perfect city to stop for a day, and slow down on your way from the south to the north (or vice versa). Coimbra is a riverfront city, the former capital of Portugal, the fourth-largest city in Portugal, and it’s well known for its university, which attracts visitors from all over the world.
WHERE TO STAY IN COIMBRA
I highly recommend checking into the boutique hotel – Pharmacia Guesthouse – when staying in Coimbra. It’s the perfect location to explore Coimbra, and a unique stay.
Once you arrive to Coimbra, see some of the main tourists attractions like the Monastery of Santa Cruz (Igreja de Santa Cruz), a church built in 1131 and where the first two kings of Portugal are buried. After visiting the church, make your way to the very impressive Coimbra Botanical Garden. The garden was founded in 1772 and is considered one the most beautiful gardens in all of Europe. You can find plants from all over the world and there are even interactive gardens you can tour.
Once the afternoon arrives, head to lunch at the delicious Fangas Maior located in the heart of the medieval part of town. (There’s also a Fangas Veg if you’re vegetarian). This restaurant is an incredible tapas restaurant with a few tables available outside. Once you’ve eaten, walk down the street to one of the main squares in town where you can grab an ice cream cone from Gelataria COSI, or a drink from one of the many bars, and listen to live music which often adorns the square. Nearby you’ll also notice a statue – Tricana de Coimbra, a bronze statue representing a woman who would have been serenaded by fado music.
Before night falls, make your way up one of the tallest hills in the city to see the impressive University of Coimbra – founded in 1290 – and library. (It’s rumored that parts of Harry Potter were inspired by Coimbra’s university and library). If you’re lucky, you might see students walking around in traditional dress – black clothing and long black robes.
For dinner, head off the beaten path to Refeitro da Baixa, hands down one of the very best restaurants I dined at in my two weeks in Portugal. The restaurant not only has an impressive wine list, but the interior is impeccably designed, and the food is more than memorable serving modern Portuguese dishes. (If you eat meat, don’t miss the steak tartare).
For a more detailed guide to visiting Coimbra, don’t miss How to Spend One Day in Coimbra, Portugal
Day 7 – Óbidos
Upon leaving Coimbra, make your way an 1.5 south to the fairytale town of Óbidos. Óbidos is a unique town, encased within the historic castle walls of Castelo de Óbidos, a medieval castle built by the Moors in 713. And with only 3,100 residents, you’re really able to discover the charm of Óbidos in just one day!
WHERE TO STAY IN ÓBIDOS
There are plenty of hotels, guesthouses, and Airbnbs that in town that can accompany you. Below you’ll find two suggestions, both very different, but you can’t go wrong with either choice.
- Óbidos Townhouse 2 – This Airbnb is located right outside of the castle walls, within walking distance of the historic town. The space is spacious if you’re traveling with friends or family, and there’s free parking if you’re arriving with a car.
- The Literary Man Óbidos Hotel – This unique boutique style hotel is also located right outside of the castle walls. The entire hotel is essentially a library, with 45,000 books on display. (Fun fact: Óbidos has been designated by UNESCO as a literary city).
As I mentioned earlier, Óbidos is quite small and is easy to see in one day. Start your day with coffee and pastel de nata from Nata, a coffee shop and bakery with some of the best Portuguese custard treats in the country. From Nata head to see the main square in town – Santa Maria Square. Walk the old castle walls, check out Mercado Biologico de Óbidos, a produce market and library in one. You’ll also want to get lunch and shop around at Casa da Buganvilia Óbidos Market (I highly suggest trying the marinated partridge with tomato jam and goat cheese).
For pre-dinner drinks make sure to stop in at Bar Ibn Errik Rex, a pub in the heart of Óbidos that takes you back in time with wood tables and memorabilia adorning the ceiling and walls. It’s the perfect place to grab a pint (or two) of Portuguese beer or Óbidos’s traditional drink – ginja. And for dinner make reservations ahead of time at A Nova Casa de Ramiro, a beautiful restaurant located just outside of the castle walls.
For a more detailed guide to visiting Óbidos , don’t miss A Guide to Visiting Óbidos – A Fairytale Town in Portugal
Day 8 – Depart from Lisbon
Unfortunately, your “8 Day Vacay” and your Northern Portugal road trip has come to an end. The drive from Óbidos to Lisbon is only about an hour south, but I’d make sure to give yourself plenty of time to fill up on gas, return your car, and get past security at the airport.
What You Need to Know About Portugal
- Language – Portuguese (but most people speak at least a little bit of English)
- Currency – Euro
- Visa – Americans do not need a visa to travel to Portugal
- Travel insurance – While not required, I highly suggest travel insurance when traveling in case anything were to go wrong. I travel with World Nomads and highly recommend it.
Northern Portugal is insanely diverse and beautiful. There’s so much to see and do in the north and it’s the perfect start to getting to know Portugal. As always, if you have any questions, leave a comment below!
If you’re planning a trip to Portugal, make sure to check out my Instagram page/highlight reel and search #ppinportugal or look for the highlight “Portugal” for a visual representation of the country and suggestions on things to see and do!