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A Base to Explore Portugal

I am hoping to travel to Portugal with 3 or 4 couples in October 2021. We would like to spend a week to ten days exploring the country and are looking for recommendations for a town or city in which to base ourselves. We are all in our late 50's and early 60's and interested in a variety of activities--history, exploring cities, day hiking, dining, cooking, wine. Not particularly interested in beaches. I'm sure we would like to spend time in Lisbon, Porto and the Duero Valley, and maybe Coimbra.

We would like to stay in one town or city, but could split the trip between two.

Any suggestions would be appreciated.

Posted by
18746 posts

As far as I'm concerned Lisbon is the #1 destination in Portugal. I could be happy spending a week there with perhaps two short day-trips (Sintra for sure). It sounds as if your preference is to cover more territory. You can burn a lot of time making repeated, lengthy daytrips, so my preference would be to split the time between Lisbon and another base--probably Porto or somewhere along the Duoro Valley.

Coimbra is a bit closer to Porto than Lisbon but would still mean at least 2-1/2 hours round-trip if treated as a day-trip. It might work better to stop there along the way, assuming there are luggage-storage facilities in the train station if that's the way you plan to travel. It's a bit risky to park a car all day somewhere with a trunk full of suitcases.

I hope you can manage the ten days, because a week isn't long at all after you allow for jetlag recovery time. I know I'm an unusually slow traveler (I'm retired, so my time is limited only by the 90-day Schengen limit), but when I hear "one week", I automatically think "one city".

Posted by
14267 posts

I'm trying to put this into perspective for you. Porto to Lisbon is about the same as Bethesda to Newark, with Coimbra relatively in the same position as Philadelphia.

You can see train schedules on the official site. Note that the main train station in Porto is Porto-Campanha and in Coimbra is Coimbra-B. You will want to take a taxi to/from the train stations to the town centers. The main train station in Lisbon is Oriente and is linked by metro to the historic areas. For any iteration of the trip you're talking about, a car (or 2?) would only make you miserable and waste a lot of your time and money.

If you can fly open-jaw, you could spend the bulk of your time in Lisbon with day trips and then Porto. If you have to fly R/T Lisbon, it may not be worthwhile to include both cities, since you'll lose too much time in travel, even if you have 10 days. If you don't have more than a week, I don't think it's worth it to add Porto - you'll lose the better part of a day just moving to a new location.

I had a car and spent 2 wonderful nights on the Douro River at a winery/inn, so I don't know how you'd get there, maybe an organized tour or a river cruise. An easier day trip than Coimbra is Aveiro, which I enjoyed, though perhaps not as interesting as Coimbra.

There are a lot more options for day trips from Lisbon and much more to see and do than in Porto - though I loved wandering in Porto more than in Lisbon.

I would agree, Portugal is too large to stay in one place and see everything you listed.
Lisbon and Porto seem to be the highlights for most people.

The highlight of my trip was a small B&B in the Douro valley. Couples from Europe explored the surroundings from there so if you decided to follow their lead you could do one of the major cities plus a country B&B. I took a local bus to tit and the owner arranged a taxi to take me to the train station on the way out. It was pretty reasonable.

Posted by
6517 posts

We had a least four bases in Portugal, Lisbon, Obidos( did not like this touristy town) Coimbra and Porto.

Posted by
3 posts

Thanks for the feedback. It’s helped me to frame the trip and set some expectations.

Posted by
215 posts

Great info Chani and acraven. I had my plans for July 2020 Portugal trip cancelled, but fingers are crossed for later this year. Your tips are helpful.