Portugal doesn’t get the love it deserves.
It makes sense. Portugal is right next to Spain, where travelers run with the bulls and go wild in Ibiza. It’s easily overshadowed.
But because Portugal is underrated, those who do take the time to explore the country don’t have to deal with annoying throngs of tourists.
Not to mention, this nation is affordable. Locals are friendly and the landscapes are breathtaking.
And the best part? Portugal has amazing weather for driving.
Whether you’re on a short vacation or living in Portugal on an exchange program or work assignment, you should try to see as much of the country as you can. And taking a road trip is the perfect way to do so.
Portuguese Phrases for Your Road Trip in Portugal
Let’s start with the basics.
Portugal is the ideal country for a road trip because roads are easy to understand and to drive. You’ll probably be able to interpret some road signs by using common sense, but Portuguese language skills are always handy.
Auto estradas (highways) can be public or privadas (private), so you’ll have to pay a portagem (toll). See, we’re already learning important road sign vocabulary!
Words You’ll See on the Road
Here are a few more words you’ll see all over Portugal:
- atenção (attention)
- bombeiros (fire service)
- sentido único (one-way)
- pare (stop)
- gasoleo (diesel)
- gasolina (gasoline)
- GPL (gas)
- itinerário principal (main road)
- lomba (bump)
- cartaxo (town begins/ends)
- acidente (accident)
- excepto transportes públicos (except public transportation)
- cargas e descargas (load and unload)
- supressão da berma (traffic detour)
- número de matrícula (license plate)
Portuguese Phrases You’ll Use on the Road
Once you’ve mastered those Portuguese road sign words, driving will be much easier. However, not everyone you meet will be able to speak English. What if you have a specific question?
Here are some basic phrases you should learn for your road trip:
- Onde posso comprar gasolina? (Where can I buy gasoline?)
- Meu carro quebrou. (My car broke down.)
- Onde é a estação de polícia? (Where’s the police station?)
- Eu tenho um pneu furado. (I have a flat tire.)
- Eu estive em um acidente. (I’ve been in an accident.)
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How to Prepare for Your Road Trip in Portugal
Invest in Your Portuguese Skills
Portuguese people are friendly, and plenty of young people can speak English well. The main communication issue occurs when you head to small towns and places that don’t cater to tourists.
Portuguese is spoken by more than 220 million people around the world. This is a great opportunity to learn this beautiful language.
If you want to head to Portugal already well prepared, there are plenty of online Portuguese courses around the web. Or try downloading an app to keep up with the language.
Choose Your Itinerary and Style
Beach towns, festivals, the orange colors of autumn, snow—because yes, there’s snow in Portugal!—you name it. You can have it all in Portugal. Just make sure to plan with the weather in mind.
Even though Portugal has mild temperatures most of the year, it can get pretty nippy in winter. When planning your Portugal road trip, make sure to consider the weather you’re going to face.
Do you want to dedicate your trip to finding the best beach? To seeing the quintessential snowy mountain views? If you know your priorities, your road trip will have a good direction. No pun intended!
GPS Apps Are Your Best Friends
Quick tip: As soon as you arrive in the European Union, make sure to get a SIM card. You can use the same SIM card all around the EU. Get one with plenty of data and download two apps that will be lifesavers during your Portugal road trip.
Keep in mind, these two are the bare minimum! There are numerous great apps you can download to make your trip as easy as possible.
Google Maps is a classic! It has good coverage in Portugal and makes it easy for you to follow the GPS.
Don’t forget to download the offline map for Portugal, as well. You know, just in case you get too excited about heading to hidden gems that have no internet connection. It might happen!
Waze works as a regular GPS and is handy when you’re driving anywhere in the world.
Waze provides you with voice directions, checks speed limits and sometimes even reports police controls. The app can be used as your main GPS.
Hit the Road, Jack! The Top 7 Places for Your Road Trip in Portugal
How Long Is This Road Trip?
This trip is around 500km (310 miles) long and takes about six hours driving.
I strongly advise you dedicate a minimum of seven days to this road trip. If you want to explore Lisbon and Porto in depth, add at least five more days.
You can follow this itinerary any time of year, mixing up cities and nature.
If you decide to follow this route during the summer season, focus on some additional beachside cities along the way.
Lisbon – Cascais – Sintra – Óbidos – Douro – Coimbra – Porto
Tens cuidado (be careful): Lisbon might steal your heart.
Portugal’s capital is a gorgeous city, and each of its neighborhoods is worth exploring.
My favorite part of Lisbon is that you can always find a miradouro (view point) and see the city from above in multiple directions. Lisbon’s nickname is “the city of the seven hills” but believe me, there are many more than seven.
Wander around Alfama, the oldest neighborhood in Lisbon, and learn how people used to live back in the day.
Listen to some Fado. Establishments such as Clube de Fado and Parreirinha de Alfama are perfect places to take in local music with rowdy locals.
Grab a train or metro to visit Belém for a day. (Your handy-dandy Google Maps app will tell you which mode of transportation is faster that day!) And don’t forget to try the pastéis de nata (custard tart).
Cascais is only about 30 km (18.6 miles) away from Lisbon, but the two cities couldn’t be more different. Cascais is a beachside city where you can enjoy the Atlantic Ocean view and even swim if the weather allows it.
Cascais is an ideal destination any time of year. The town is easy to walk around, so stroll and enjoy the mansions and architecture.
If you’re beach hunting, head straight to Carcavelos, one of the region’s highlights. Personally, I recommend getting to Boca do Inferno to have a breathtaking view over the whole town.
Sintra is such a surreal and vibrant place that you might mix it up with a movie set. Check out the colorful facades, beautiful palaces on the hills and unique Portuguese tiles—the famous azulejos.
Sintra is also home to one of the most amazing places I’ve visited in my life, Quinta da Regaleira. This UNESCO World Heritage site consists of a palace, a chapel, multiple lakes, fountains and dozens of constructions unlike any place you’ve ever seen.
Óbidos is a tiny city you can explore in a single afternoon. But don’t dismiss this place just because it’s small.
Walk along the city walls, visit the castle and don’t forget to check out the town’s entrance, La Porta da Vila, to admire some more gorgeous Portuguese blue tiles.
Are you nature aficionado? Then you’ll love Lagoa de Óbidos (Óbidos Lagoon) and the Buddha Eden, the largest oriental garden in Europe.
Douro Valley is one of the most beautiful regions to drive around in Portugal.
After all, we can’t talk about Portugal without mentioning wine. Douro is world-famous for creating Port wine.
When you drive around Douro you’ll see incredible landscapes around the vineyards. Take your time there!
If you’re interested in the wine culture, head to Quinta do Panascal, one of the most popular wine producers of the region. You can walk around the vineyard, try their wines and, if you’re there during harvest season in September and October, learn a bit more about the wine-making process. Have a glass of wine or two. Or three.
Coimbra is known for having one of the oldest universities in the world. The University of Coimbra was established in 1290.
Coimbra used to be Portugal’s capital city, and it’s mind-blowing to see how everything’s still well preserved and eye-catching.
If you’re a bookworm or willing to become one for a day, you must head to Biblioteca Joanina (The Joanina Library), the Baroque-style campus library dating back to the 18th century.
Just like Lisbon, Porto is a city that might steal your heart.
Even though the area’s nature is incredible, you can spend days in Porto’s city center sightseeing and relaxing after such an exciting trip. Don’t forget to check out the Palácio da Bolsa (The Stock Exchange Palace), designed by six different architects.
Just so you can grasp how gorgeous Porto is, even the railway station is a touristic attraction. São Bento Railway Station is a delight for those who are crazy about geometric architecture.
By the time you reach Porto, you might be keeping an eye out for the most beautiful azulejos (tiles) you can find. This railway station might take the cake!
Which of these places are you most excited about?
The vineyards in Douro? The lagoon in Óbidos? Or maybe the Fado restaurants in Lisbon!
After taking a road trip around Portugal, your favorite part might just be the open road.
Debbie Corrano is a digital strategist and writer. She works remotely while traveling the world full-time with her two dogs. Over the past few years, Debbie has lived in more than 10 countries, learned a few languages and worked with dozens of agencies and brands.
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