Who could say no to living life on the road every now and again? We’d find it hard to decline. So if you’re thinking about what to do on your next holiday in the sun, consider planning a few road trips in – you won’t regret it. With over 500 miles of dramatic coastline to explore, as well as national parks and rustic villages to visit, there are oodles of options. Cruise down the south coast with the sound of the waves and the smell of the sea breeze. Or drive along the twisting roads of the mainland, past lush vineyards and up into the rocky mountains. Whatever scenic route you’d like to take, it’s bound to be an unforgettable one. Read on to discover our round-up of the dreamiest road trips in Portugal.
- Drive around the Douro Valley
- An afternoon in the Algarve
- Say hello to Sintra
- Moments in Madeira
- Make mine a Minho
We’re starting with a bang. The Douro Valley is the oldest demarcated wine region in the world and is recognised as a UNESCO World Heritage site, so it’d be a crime to leave this one off the list of the top road trips in Portugal. It’s probably best to have a designated driver with you in this instance, as it’s definitely a route for those that appreciate an alcoholic beverage or two. The journey begins in Porto – the ideal place to pick up a pastel de nata for the road – and most of the drive is alongside the Douro River towards the pretty town of Pinhão. The town is surrounded by stunning scenery which is best appreciated on one of the local boat tours, plus there’s a handful of restaurants, shops, wineries and vineyards to explore. All in all, this scenic drive will take around two-and-a-half hours from Porto and there are lots of different places to stop off en route if you fancy a bite to eat (or another glass of really great wine).
This is perhaps one of the most popular road trip routes in Portugal – largely because of the beautiful beaches and stunning coastline in this southern part of the country. It’s also a great choice if you’re staying in Faro – the capital of the Algarve – as that’s where the fun begins. From here, drive west along the coast to the charming town of Lagos where you’re likely to stay for an hour or so, exploring the picturesque harbor, stunning beaches and the charming old town. After absorbing the atmosphere here, continue west to Sagres – the westernmost point of Europe – and soak in the stunning views from Cape St. Vincent lighthouse. There are plenty of small fishing villages en route too if you fancy some fresh seafood overlooking the crystal-clear waters of the Atlantic.
Picture a fairytale town, add a colorful palace and a sprinkle of sunshine, and there you have it – Sintra. It’s without a doubt one of the most beautiful places in Portugal (if not Europe) and it’s not hard to believe when you see its grand and lavish villas, tenth-century castles and pine forests. Wander around the manicured gardens of the Quinta da Regaleira or pretend to be royalty in the Palacio da Pena. Or simply sit and soak up the breathtaking views from the Sanctuary of Peninha in the Serra de Sintra National Park. If you’re coming from Lisbon, start the engine and take the coastal road so you can visit the charming towns of Estoril and Cascais en route. If you don’t want to make any stops, then it’ll take less than an hour to reach Sintra by car. Up for more of a drive? Begin the journey in Porto and cruise down the coast to Sintra in around three hours.
If you’re into volcanic landscapes, rugged coastlines and some incredible hiking trails, then Madeira is for you. It also happens to be a great place for a road trip and a popular option that you can easily do in an afternoon is from Funchal to Encumeada. Begin by driving along the coast to Camara de Lobos, a charming fishing village best known for its beautiful bay and colorful boats. After taking a few snaps, continue to Cabo Girao for some stunning panoramic views of the ocean from one of the highest sea cliffs in the world. When you’ve caught your breath, drive to Ribeira Brava for some lunch in the picturesque town or a swim at the beach. If you’ve still got the time and energy, finish up your adventure at the mountain village of Encumeada and head to the viewpoint that’s situated at an altitude of 3,300ft for some more – you guessed it – superb panoramic views.
Ready for a cultural exploration (with a glass of Vinho Verde in hand)? Then a road trip around the Minho region in northern Portugal is the one. We’re talking a perfect combination of culture, history, wine, and amazing landscapes – what more could you want? Starting from Porto, take a short drive north to the Minho region where you'll find beautiful vineyards and a scattering of charming towns. Both Guimaraes and Braga are worth a visit if pottering around the winding streets of medieval towns is your thing. There are lots of religious buildings and impressive monuments to discover here too, as well as some delicious local food and wine to try.
Header Image: Olivier Romano