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First time traveling to Portugal, and I have no idea where to start. Help!

Planning a trip to Portugal between April 25-May 18. We will most likely not use all that time, but it is available if needed. We picked Portugal on a whim, as normally we would go to Italy, but wanted something different. We love small towns and villages, but also enjoy the food and art available in larger cities. We prefer to use a car for the freedom, but are comfortable with trains as well. We love wine of all kinds, enjoy really good local foods, can be moved by beautiful art, but most of all love to interact with locals and really learn what life is like in their world. I like to have a plan in place, to avoid wasted time, but I am so ignorant of Portugal that I have no idea where to go, or what to see. Any suggested itineraries, small towns/villages to visit, great local restaurants to try, and wineries to visit?? I will be much appreciative of any help that you might send our way. Thanks you, I look forward to reading how you like to see Portugal!!

Posted by
3535 posts

It would help u a lot to have a guide book. Ricks book are excellent for itineraries and suggestions for restaurants, hotels and transportation. He is spot on for Portugal.
You have selected a wonderful place to visit and for a moderate cost.
It is one of my favorite countries and I am headind to Porto and Douro valley this May.

Posted by
423 posts

Rick's book is indeed a great resource for the areas it covers but it shortchanges the entire eastern and a lot of the central portion of the country, which have so many interesting and lovely things to see.

Check out "Julie Dawn Fox in Portugal" for ideas.
We spent 3 weeks traveling a loop from Lisbon by car in 2018. The variety of sights in Portugal is amazing.

Posted by
2500 posts

As a start, get a guidebook, do some research online and right now check out the itinerary for the Best of Portugal tour. Download the free app Rick Steves Audio Europe where there is a great section on Portugal and covers many interests and topics. My best meal in Portugal was at the 12 seat Botequim da Mouraria, R. da Mouraria 16A in Evora. Open for lunch and dinner, arrive early, doesn’t take reservations. In Porto is resto #2 Ristorante Abadia do Porto, R. do Atenue Comercial do Porto 22 - fantastic grilled octopus among other things.

Best experience on my trip was staying in the disused town of Castelo Rodrigo near the border with Spain. The Casa da Cisterna is a wonderful B&B and one of the owners offers trips at dusk to see the petroglyphs in the Coa National Park. If the park is closed, no worry. She has keys to the gate and educates you about how and why the area was settled and gives a fascinating explanation of the glyphs. A very unique and enjoyable adventure.

In Lisbon, do not miss the Gulbenkian Museum.

Posted by
30888 posts

Jeff,

As others have suggested, the best place to start research and planning is a good guidebook, and I would highly recommend the Rick Steves Portugal book. You may also find this helpful - https://www.ricksteves.com/europe/portugal .

You might get some hints on places to visit by having a look at the Itinerary of the Heart of Portugal tour. Given your desire to experience the local culture, foods and learn what life is like in their world, you might enjoy taking the tour. I've found that I learn far more about a country on a tour than when travelling on my own.

Posted by
13895 posts

Carolyn wrote a great trip report for the first part of her trip, which I used as a basis for the first part of mine, adjusting a little for personal preferences, like skipping the monoliths and avoiding one-nighters - I prefer to drive more and pack/unpack less. I am so grateful to her for her report, which got me to a part of the country totally ignored by RS, and some of the best days of my 3+ weeks in Portugal. You will find that May is a busy time in Portugal and it's a good idea to make room reservations in advance - like now. More than one place I wanted to book were full 3 months in advance. My trip began on May 14 and May seemed busier than June when I was booking.

I grouped my destinations into w/car and w/o car, which meant a little backtracking and a few omissions. I was limited in having to fly in/out of Lisbon. I started with 3N in Sintra, then went to Lisbon to rent a car for 10 days. Then I had about 10 days Porto/Aveiro/Coimbra/Lisbon. The train is easy, comfortable, fast and cheap.

Posted by
3936 posts

Rick isn’t “spot on” for Portugal, as much of the country isn’t mentioned and some of his recommendations such as Salema and Nazare don’t accord with what many posters here suggest!

Use the internet, not guidebooks, as this will be more up to date.

As a general rule, I would suggest at least a week for Lisbon, Cascais and Sintra, which can be covered by train. Then hire a car and see Evora, Obidos, Alcobaca, Batalha, Tomar, Santarem, Fatima, Coimbra and Aveiro on the way to Porto, which is another 10 days or so, but ideally 2 weeks. You need at least a full day in Porto plus a couple of days for the Douro valley. Alternatively, drive a loop and pick up some of these towns on the way to and from Porto.

If you want something more rural, head east into some of the National Parks or north into the Minho.

Posted by
568 posts

I would not rely solely on the internet. Buy some good guidebooks, such as Michelin Green guides, Rough Guides, and/or Lonely Planet. I have noticed that Rick’s books, not just on Portugal but other countries as well, leave out interesting and wonderful places.

Posted by
275 posts

Thanks all for the advice. We are trying to soak up as many travel guides and videos as possible. Do I understand that I may be pushing time needed to make reservations because of how busy it will be during the time we are planning to go?

Posted by
13895 posts

I used the RS, Lonely Planet and DK Eyewitness guide books for Portugal. All were helpful. I like DK because they give me enough of a sense of what there is in a place to determine if it sounds like a place I want to visit - the pix help too.

The sooner you can book rooms, the more choices you'll have. I wouldn't lose sleep, but I'd try to nail down an itinerary as quickly as possible.

Posted by
110 posts

No one guidebook will meet all needs. I have visited Portugal dozens of times, most recently a few weeks ago. I still find Rick's book good for major attractions in Lisbon and Porto, but not particularly useful for smaller towns. I have had good experiences with the Lonely Planet, and the Rough Guide. There are also good guide books for specific regions within Portugal.
In the cities, a car is more trouble than it is worth. Parking is quite difficult and expensive, and public transportation is quite good and not expensive.

Posted by
6 posts

I, too am trying to plan a 2-week trip and overwhelmed with information. We will be traveling in October---- keep the suggestions coming!!

Posted by
13895 posts

Norma - I'd start by reading the many informative posts on the Portugal forum over the last 2-3 years. Then when you have a basic plan, start a new thread with more info - when, how long, interests?

Posted by
627 posts

We rented an apartment (via Trivago) on Rua du Duque (near Rossio Station) for a week in October - kitchen, washing machine - with an excellent Fado club 50 meters down the lane and a 200 meter walk to a neighborhood grocery store. Approximately $85/night. Most similar rentals in this area are on upper floors (3rd - 5th) and most do not have elevators. Add that to the "hilly landscape" of Lisbon, and uphill & downhill become part of the adventure. There is a lot to do in Portugal...2 weeks...2 months.....it's a wonderful place. One recommendation - pick up your rental car as you leave Lisboa. Having the car, there will be more of a problem than a convenience - and Lisbon public transportation is very good. While in Lisbon, you might want to consider the "Lisboa Card" (available at the airport). This is a timed card that gains admission to a large number of sites in the greater Lisbon area, and it also includes most forms of public transportation - including the train to Sintra. I suggest checking the Lisboa Card website to determine its value for you - we found it very useful and a genuine bargain. Evora is a very nice city and worthy of at least one night - although several companies offer day trips from Lisbon to Evroa for around $85 per person. Congratulations on "picking Portugal on a whim". I think you will find it a delightful destination.

Posted by
568 posts

Norma, I agree with Chani that you should start your own thread. You will receive better responses geared towards your trip and your interests.