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4 weeks in Portugal - advice sought

Thanks in advance for any advice the community can provide, as I have outlined an itinerary and hope to depart in the next 9 days to maximize good fall weather.

My draft itinerary includes:

Lisbon – 10 days
With such a wonderful city but also the opportunity for day trips without having to rent a car, seemed appropriate to spend more time based here.
Am I missing anything in this plan or are there reasons to be in a certain place on a certain day of the week?
Given the number of day trips, should I look for an apartment near the train station or can I stay anywhere and get there easily enough?

Sun Lisbon (arrive late morning)
Mon Lisbon
Tues Lisbon (Cascais day trip)
Wed Lisbon
Thurs Lisbon (Sintra day trip)
Fri Lisbon
Sat Lisbon (Obidos day trip)
Sun Lisbon
Mon Lisbon (Setubal day trip)
Tues Lisbon

Nazare – 2 days
Drive there in the morning, spend half to a full day there. Second day is for visiting Alcobaca, Fatima, and Batalha.

Coimbra – 2 days (Fri to Sun morning given university town)
Drive from Nazare to Tomar for morning and then on to Coimbra for 1.5 days (2 nights).

Duoro Valley – 3 days
Drive from Coimbra in a.m.
Question 1 – what is good base of operations for three days? Pinhao, Regua or Lamego?
Question 2 – why are hotels so pricey in early October? Any good suggestions to go with Q1?

Porto – 2 or 3 days
What do people recommend as a length of time there?

Also, if I choose to keep my car, are there garages (car park) or must I rely on my hotel?
Note: I to go from Porto to Santiago de Compostela (Spain) next.
Would it be easier and/or less expensive to leave the car in Porto, take the train to Santiago, and rent a different vehicle in Spain for that portion of the trip?

21 days in northern and central Spain, ending in Sevilla (subject of a different forum discussion)

Transport from Sevilla to Algarve region of Portugal
Question – leave car in Sevilla and take a bus or train to somewhere in Portugal? If so, where given next portion of my desired itinerary?

Algarve – 2 days
Salema – 1 day
Evora – 1 day
Lisbon – 1 day prior to departure

Question – can I get a PCR test for return to US (within 72 hours) outside of Lisbon?

Again, my thanks in advance for any suggestions and advice. Ira

Posted by
1048 posts

Buy Rick Steves PT guidebook and take his self-guided walking tours in Lisbon (and other places too), this way you won’t miss seeing anything. You can download an electronic version from his app.
Évora is also an easy day trip from Lisbon.

Posted by
1013 posts

Your idea to stay in Lisbon and do day trips is good, IMO.
Come to Cascais on Wednesday. The biggest Mercado of the week occurs on Wednesday and it’s a sight to see!
I’m assuming one of your days in Lisbon will be devoted to Belem. It should be. There is a full day of sights there.
If you are driving north, I would wait to visit Obidos on your way. You can see it in 2-3 hours.
In Lisbon, look for an apartment close to a metro stop, Cais do Sodré or Rossio train stations. The metro is easy and covers much of where you will want to go. Cais do Sodré is a good area for visiting Cascais and Belem. The Time Out Market is there and it has a lot of new restaurants and vacation rentals.
I’m not certain you can visit Alcobaca, Batalha and Fatima in one day. It will be a push.

I like Pinhao in the Douro, but Régua is bigger. Quinta de la Rosa in Pinhao is lovely and a bit cheaper. If you want to stay at a Quinta (which I recommend) they are always a bit pricey. But, staying in a working winery is a very fun experience. You might Google when they will be doing the ‘crush’ as the aroma of all those grapes being crushed is amazing.

I would do at least three days in Porto.

Going from Portugal to Spain or vise versa is not as easy as one would expect. I know the bus or driving is your best bet in the south. It’s possible to keep the car for the Spain portion of the trip. Just be prepared to pay dearly for parking in Porto. Or in the bigger cities in Spain.

I’m not a fan of Salema. With such a short time in the Algarve, stay in Lagos so you can visit the amazing rock formations.
If you are in the Algarve within your 72 hour window, you will have zero difficulty getting a PCR test. You are aware of the need for testing prior to checking into hotels, vacation rentals and restaurants on the weekends (without an EU Covid Certificate)? Testing is readily available country wide.
Enjoy your trip!

Posted by
4763 posts

Obidos is a 2 hour visit and doesn’t need a whole day, so see en route.

Nazare and Salema - neither are my favourites and IMO there are better bases.

Alcobaca and Batalha will fill a day. Fatima is the least interesting of the three.

On the way back, I would head to Tavira on the Algarve if you want chill time and good restaurants or Lagos if you want to see the cliffs. Drive up the Atlantic coast and head to the beach at Carrapateira for an up close look at the cliffs instead of taking the boat trip out of Lagos.

If you are driving in Portugal, you will need to work out how to pay for the toll roads. I have hired cars and taken them into Spain, but most providers charge extra for this, otherwise the insurance will be invalidated.

Posted by
8 posts

Thanks for your ideas, folks.

Kathryn, I have made some adjustments to my time in Lisbon, based on your idea for a Wednesday visit to Cascais. And yes, I had planned Belem but since it is in the city proper, didn't list it separately. I know if is essentially a "day trip." I looked at Quinta de la Rosa and it looks lovely and nicely low key. I also appreciate the idea for three days in Porto, notwithstanding the cost of parking. I am going to explore alternatives (a hotel with parking or dropping off the car and renting another one).

Jennifer, you said "Nazare and Salema - neither are my favourites and IMO there are better bases." While I appreciate you sharing your opinion, may I ask that you offer suggestions or alternatives? I want to benefit from the travels of others and maximize the trip.

Thanks, Ira

Posted by
64 posts

Ira,
you have a great base going here for a trip! For your northern part of the trip to Porto and Douro valley- did you ever consider just staying in Porto as a base and day tripping into the Douro valley? We enjoyed doing that as it allowed us to make our base on Porto. You can also take a river cruise into the Douro valley or take the train that way too. Lot's of options. As for why the hotels are pricey, I think it is still the end of the grape harvest in the valley. Late August when we were there they were just getting started. Be sure you really want to drive those roads around Douro- they will be memorable. ;o)

When we first got to Porto, we did a Tuk Tuk tour to get our bearings of the city- it was a great way to get an overview of the city.

I agree I think you should have 3 solid days in Porto, and even more in that part of the country. When we were there in August, we only had a couple days and it was not enough. We took an incredible walking food tour in Porto- happy to share a link if you are interested in that kind of thing.

There was also a fun little Harry Potter walking tour we did too exploring the JK Rowling connections to Porto.

You could also explore going up into Minho region where they make Vinho Verde wines. So so many good things to choose from!

Posted by
8 posts

Thanks, Amber, for your insights. I considered basing in Porto but think the charm of staying at a winery or in the environment outweighs the simplicity of one home base. As to the food tour, please do share as I thoroughly enjoy them and have discovered some amazing, out of the way places on them.

Posted by
24 posts

I was in Portugal this August and I really enjoyed Porto. We spent 4 nights there.

Since you are traveling to Santiago de Compostela, have you considered spending sometime in the Minho region? There's the towns of Braga, Guimarães, and my favorite Ponte de Lima. If nothing else, stop in Ponte de Lima on the way up for lunch. We used that town as a base for exploration and really enjoyed coming back and spending the evenings walking along the river bank. If you are interested in the Minho region, JulieDawnFox has some information about the towns. I find that the guidebooks tend not to cover North of Porto.

Posted by
4763 posts

I would either stay in Lagos at the western end of the Algarve or Tavira in the east. It’s much less windy in the eastern Algarve and if you are interested, the sea is much warmer. You will need a warm jumper or cardigan for evenings in the west. I have known it blow cutlery off a table! Lagos is a better base for the cliffs, the western coast (much less developed than the southern coast) and the Monchique hills.

Tavira retains the most character and is a beautiful setting on the river estuary, the two halves of the town being connected by the old Roman bridge (it’s not Roman but built in the 1600s). There are no cliffs at this end. It’s a good base to see Faro, Estoi (the Palace and Roman ruins) and the less developed towns towards the Spanish border such as Vila Real and Castro Marim (Moorish castle).

Instead of Nazare, I would stay in either Caldas da Rainha (traditional Portuguese tiles and a great market) or Sao Martinho on the coast. Nazare is a surfers hangout.

Unless you take the toll roads, getting about the Algarve takes time - usually at least 2 hours from Faro to Lagos as there is always some holdup. Get a car with a transponder for the tolls. Without the toll roads, Lagos to Lisbon is the best part of a day’s drive.

Posted by
2265 posts

Ira, while I love Lisbon, ten days does seem a bit much to me. I myself loved Sintra, there are various major sites there, each of which merits half a day, I think. I stayed two nights in Sintra, wish I had a third. If you do go to Sintra as a day trip, in the days before the pandemic, I heard that Monday was the most crowded day, since the museums in Lisbon are closed Mondays, so that’s when more people take day trips or day tours to Sintra. Don’t know if tourism is up or down these days, maybe changing that situation.
Also, there are a bunch of places to visit to the north of Porto, including Guimaraes, birthplace of Portugal. I also took an excellent long day tour from Porto called something like “Tras Os Montes and Northern Douro Valley”, to a much less-visited rural area. Included visits to a couple small family wineries and other sites, loved it!

Posted by
4889 posts

We love Portugal. We aren't beach people, so we skipped the Algarve. Northern Portugal is amazing.
Porto a must see. We did a week long Douro River cruise. The river valley is amazing.

Posted by
8 posts

Folks all, again my thanks for sharing your ideas and insights. Been very informative and helpful.

Gail, I looked deeper into the Minho region and am adding one day for further exploration there.

Jennifer, thanks for heads up about Nazare. I reoriented my trip to visit Peniche and Obidos on the way to Caldas da Rainha and then visit Nazare, Alcobaca and Batalha another day.

2 more questions for the community's input, please:
1. If I spend 2 days (one overnight) in Sintra, do I need a car to visit the sights?
2. Thinking of adding 3 days to visit the Madeira. Any suggestions for doing so?

Again, my thanks to everyone.
Ira

Posted by
18916 posts

Madeira is lovely. I wouldn't go for just 3 days. I'd want 5 or more in order to have time for some levada walks to see the gorgeous countryside (with terraced fields and sometimes sea views). If you are satisfied just to see Funchal and do some bus-riding to places like Curral das Freiras, I suppose 3 full days would make the side-trip worthwhile for some travelers. Personally, I hate having to deal with airports in the middle of a trip, so there's really nowhere I'd be willing to fly for just 3 days.

Is there a possibility of starting or ending the trip in Madeira, with just a connection to a transatlantic flight (probably via Lisbon or London, I'd guess)?

Posted by
64 posts

Hi Ira,
I would say you do not need a car for Sintra. There is a a bus (434) that does a big loop to all the sights in Sintra. Moorish castle, Pena palace, and a number of other stops. I would take the bus- as they are very narrow windy roads up there. I think two days up there is a good thought as it gives more time.

If you google 434 bus line Sintra or Hop on Hop off Sintra you can see some good results that give more details on the routes.

Also, pretty please share what you end up doing in Minho. I would like to go to that region someday, and would love some perspective on it.

Posted by
8 posts

All, again my thanks for your assistance in my trip planning. Made some adjustments based on feedback seen here and the resulting further research done.

acraven, thanks for the idea of travel to the island and the amount of time one should spend there. As I am accustomed to "fall weather," any reason why I shouldn't end my trip there the first week of November? Presents less of a distraction to middle of the trip and allows me t be in Northern Spain a little earlier on. I see that the number of rainy days increases on the island in November but...no intention of going in the water so going hiking, seeing sites, etc in a fleece (and rain gear as needed) sounds ideal to me.
Other have thoughts on weather there?

Amber, et al, I look forward to sharing trip reports with this community.

Posted by
18916 posts

Both my trips to Madeira fell in June, I believe, and I've actually never been in Europe later than October 13, so I can only give you an opinion based on climate data. Madeira is very close to the equator, so the temperature doesn't vary that much from month to month. According to the chart in Funchal's Wikipedia entry, the difference between the average highs for January and August is only 12 degrees F. The average low temperatures follow the same pattern. Furthermore, there's only about a 10-degree difference between the average high and the average low each month.

Although Madeira is small, there's considerable variation in elevation, which I think contributes to the rainfall. I was surprised to see the very low average summertime rainfall reported in the Wikipedia chart, because I encountered a fair amount of rain on both my trips when, statistically, one would have expected virtually none. Another caveat is that the Wikipedia weather statistics cover a period of time that cuts off in 2010. Things have gotten wackier since then in many areas; I don't know about Madeira in particular.

Since you are planning a shoulder-season trip, I'd encourage you to do some checking of actual, historical, day-by-day weather data on timeanddate.com. For most places you can find data for the last ten years. I find it a lot more helpful than just looking at monthly averages, which hide extremes.