If you only have a week to spend in Portugal, either because that’s all the time you can get away or you’re combining Portugal with Spain, take a look at our Portugal itinerary below.
Additional pictures can be found in our Portugal gallery. (Click Here)
We arrived in Lisbon mid-afternoon and took the red-line metro from the airport to the Oriente train station. We then caught our pre-booked high-speed train to Porto. We arrived in Porto about 2 1/2 hours later and took the metro to our rental apartment, where we would be staying for three nights.
On our first morning in Porto, we decided to do a free walking tour of the city with Porto Walkers. On the 2 ½ hour tour, we visited the São Bento railway station with its beautiful wall murals, walked past the shops and restaurants of Rua Santa Catarina, visited the historic Batalha Square and the famous Ponte de Dom Luis I bridge, and checked out the wonderful Ribeira waterfront.
After a nice lunch on a patio at one of the waterfront restaurants, we walked over the bridge to the town on the other side of the river, Vila Nova de Gaia, where all the port lodges are located. We first visited Kopke House where we enjoyed two port wines in the swanky upstairs tasting room that the staff had paired with delicious chocolates. We then bypassed the tour at the large, crowded Sandeman’s lodge in favour of a tour at a smaller, independent producer, Vasconcellos. This ended up being a great idea as we received a private, detailed tour of the lodge and got to taste several different ports in the tasting room.
We spent our second day in Porto strolling through the city at a slower pace and catching what we had missed the day before. We visited the Clerigos Church for good views of the city, walked through the fancy Sao Francisco church (it’s literally dripping in gold!) and adjacent museum, had a picnic lunch at the waterfront (there are great bakeries everywhere in the city – try the custard tarts!), visited the allegedly nicest McDonalds in the world (it has chandeliers, but we still didn’t want to eat there!), and explored the shopping streets at a leisurely pace.
If you have less time, you can knock off the second day in Porto. Another possibility is a day trip down the Duoro Valley to see more of the river and the port vineyards, but it would make for a very long day.
We took an early morning train from Porto to Lisbon, where we switched to a train going to Albufeira in the centre of the Algarve (south coast). The entire trip took about six hours. In Albufeira, we chose to stay at an apartment hotel, Solaqua, over our usual budget rental apartment or hostel. Solaqua gave us a large apartment with a balcony for an extremely cheap 35 euros a night, was self-catering (well-stocked kitchen), had free parking, and had several amenities (2 pools, gym, restaurant). We threw our backpacks in our room and ran back out to explore the old town of Albufeira (15 minute walk) and beachfront.
For additional information, please see our post on where to stay on the Algarve Coast (Click Here).
In the morning, we picked up our pre-booked rental car and drove about an hour east to the pretty small town of Tavira. We walked along the riverfront to the small square in the city centre where we stopped to take some pictures. We then walked to the old castle remains, where we climbed up to some of the remaining towers and took pictures of the nice view. We both found Tavira to be more attractive and undeveloped compared to Albufeira, albeit a tad sleepy. We stopped to have lunch on a patio overlooking the outdoor market stalls.
After lunch, we drove a half hour back west to Faro, the Algarve’s capital city. We were surprised at how authentically Portugese/non-touristy Faro is. We went for a walk along the waterfront, stopped to have a glass of wine on a patio, and then walked slowly through the Old Town streets. It was unfortunately a Saturday when we visited so we were unable to visit the cathedral, which has a chapel of bones.
The next day, we set out in the rental car to explore the western half of the Algarve. We drove just over an hour to the far southwestern point of Europe, Cape Saint Vincent (about 6km past the town of Sagres). This is a must-see for anyone visiting Portugal! Beautiful cliffs, deep blue ocean, pretty lighthouse – check the forecast and try to go on a clear day.
After walking around for a bit and taking some photos, we jumped in our car and headed back towards Sagres. We stopped at a lookout point to watch the brave surfers and walk through an old fort. After Sagres, we drove to a small town, Salema, which Rick Steves raves about. While it was a cute town, it was pretty dead in offseason (we were there in mid-April) so we soon headed off towards Lagos.
Lagos is wonderful. We spent about an hour walking along the waterfront to admire the beautiful beaches and rock formations, check out the small waterfront fort, and take pictures of the old city walls. Afterwards, we walked through the very pretty old town and sat on a patio for a late lunch (yummy tapas!). If we had a do-over of our Algarve trip, we would stay in Lagos – it’s a much nicer town than Albufeira and less overrun by drunken Brits. After returning to Albufeira, we walked through the “new strip” of the town, which is about 2km from the old town (and even more tacky and ugly!).
We took a train in the morning back to Lisbon. After a quick lunch, we ran out to meet up with the Sandeman’s free walking tour at 2pm. We had such a limited time in Lisbon so this 2 ½ hour tour was a good idea to get our bearings and catch the key sights. The highlight of the tour for us was getting to taste a popular local drink, ginja (basically a shot of sour cherry liqueur). The tour ended at the nice waterfront.
In the morning, we took a 40-minute regional train from Lisbon’s Rossio station to the fairytale town of Sintra. The train was crammed with tourists so it’s best to go early and have your train ticket purchased ahead of time to bypass the massive queue at the station (get a viagem card when you arrive in Lisbon).
When we arrived at the Sintra station, we decided to walk the 10-15 minutes to the historical centre (note there are also buses you can take from the station). On the walk to the old town, you’ll pass beautiful marble statues along the sidewalk and have nice views of parks and gardens below. The historic centre itself is a big square next to the Sintra National Palace an narrow tiled alleyways crammed with tourist shops and restaurants. Trevor enjoyed another taste of ginja as we walked through. We decided to get some exercise and walk uphill from the centre to the Mouros Castle and Pena National Palace.
After the long hike (which we enjoyed), we decided to grab a late lunch at a restaurant in the newer city centre closer to the station. This was a good idea as we ended up having a more traditional Portugese lunch for a reasonable price.
We returned to Lisbon on the train and got off the Oriente station. We visited the famous aquarium (not as good as Toronto’s in our opinion) and strolled around the nice waterfront. When we returned back to the Barrio district, we bought some pastries (custard tarts!) and ginja on the way back to our rental.