After booking our plane ticket, we were certain of one thing – we’d be exploring Portugal by car. We weren’t quite sure about which part, or if we should go from north to south entirely, but after some research and consideration we decided to cover the part between Porto and Lisbon. There were a couple of reasons that led to this decision, the first one being that the south (or the Algarve region) is the prime tourist spot – which means higher prices and more people during high season, something we like to avoid. Not that I wasn’t tempted by the beautiful beaches, but I figured we could find some interesting ones along the way too. The second was the driving distance: even though it’s doable to drive from north to south, we’d have to skip more things in between and we preferred a little more time to see everything. Since the flights to Porto and from Lisbon remained very affordable, our start and end point was easily picked. After booking our vehicle with Sunnycars we started thinking about the places that were worth a visit in between.
Porto & Foz do Douro
Since we had a car, we stayed a little outside the center of Porto, in an area called Foz do Douro. It’s located by the beach, and quite a relaxed place to start your trip. You can eat at one of the typical restaurants, visit the local mercado, rent a bike or have your first taste of the ocean. We specifically enjoyed our dinner at Treze %, a charming spot with more delicious food than your body can handle. To Porto, it’s only a ten minute drive and you can also opt to bike there by the waterside, which offers some lovely views. We had one day to explore Porto, and that’s enough to get a good first impression of this small city. Favorites here included the Livrario Lello, Igreja do Carmo, the amazing view from the Ponte de d. Louis (go up!) and walking around in the Ribeira area.
Stayed here for two nights – Tip: pack a sweater and long trousers for the rather chilly mornings and nights (sometimes it takes a while before the fog clears up)
Aricera (Douro region)
From Porto, it’s a bit of a drive to this next destination – but the views of the Douro valley are stunning enough to entertain you along the way. We picked Aricera as our base, a very small town with some charming hosts. You definitely need a car here to go to other places, but that would be the case anyway if you’re planning on seeing anything of this region. Pick one (or more) quintas to visit and enjoy the tour, wine & views. This place is all about living the relaxed life – with your only care in the world being which wine you’ll taste next.
Stayed here for three nights – Tip: It’s worth it to make a stop (which is what we did when we were driving to our next destination) or go to Lamego from here, if only to see and climb the beautiful sanctuary.
Aveiro & Costa Nova
We didn’t stay in the center of Aveiro, but picked a hotel in the region that served as a good base to visit several spots from here. We were close to praia de Mira and not far from the so-called “Venice of Portugal” – which I’ll admit, might be a bit of an overstatement. Not that I’ve ever been in Venice, but I imagine it would be rather hard to top and the canals of Aveiro didn’t quite do that trick for me. The rest of the center is certainly enough to make up for that fact, though. Beautiful buildings with an art nouveau touch, cute houses, a hip(ster) vibe and lots of spots to eat & drink are what you’ll find here. If you’re looking for a Portuguese dinner spot with a bit of a fancier and original twist, I would recommend going to O Bairro. From here, you’re also close to Costa Nova – famous for its striped houses, which is fun to see, but other than that it’s just another little beach town. At night, we’d often go to praia de Mira for dinner – which was more lively and charming than our hotel environment.
As mentioned before, Coimbra is a small, but vibrant university city. Be prepared for some uphill walking here, ’cause you’ll encounter quite a lot of steep streets. The university building is almost 500 years old, and is still impressively authentic and preserved up until today. Lots of students have the traditional wear (black capes), and when you visit Coimbra you’ll surely see some of them walking around in it. The university is a must to visit, and it’s quite impossible to skip the impressive library when you’re there (it’s actually not allowed to take pictures inside, but I got a few sneaky shots). Harry Potter fans will already know that J.K. Rowling lived in Portugal for a while, and both Livraria Lello in Porto and the library in Coimbra served as inspiration for the books.
Stayed here for one night – Tip: If you’re traveling further south, make sure to see the Convent of Christ in Tomar. Out of all the historic sites we saw, this one was the most impressive.
Ericeira & Sintra
Ericeira is one of the many beach towns Portugal has to offer, and it was my personal favorite out of the ones I’ve visited so far. The houses where white with blue details, the streets were charming and filled with flowers and there were plenty of fun spots to eat and drink. Definitely try Pinta for the burgers (cheap and super delicious) and Adega bar 1987 for tapas, cocktails and live music. Sintra is about half an hour from here, so it’s quite ideal as a base to visit. I’ll dedicate a separate post on Sintra later, to give you a more detailed idea on what to visit there.
Stayed here for three nights – Tip: Be aware of the fact that the water is cold, and mostly quite rough for a swim. You’ll be able to find some suitable swimming spots along the way, but this part of the coast line is mostly fun for surfers.
The capital managed to win me over pretty fast last year, and it remains a city to be loved. This time around, I have to admit I was more tired and not in full-on explore mode anymore (after all, we’d already done quite a bit of moving around) so I kind of just wandered around and showed some of my former favorites to my boyfriend. We did have time to go eat at the Mercado da Ribeira this time, which sort of reminded me of a smaller Chelsea Market. You can read my previous Lisbon guide here.
Stayed here for two nights – Tip: The Embaixada concept store remains a favorite. Not only is it a beautiful building, you can find all kinds of things here made by local artists – and they have a lovely garden outside where you can sit and enjoy a drink.