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First visit to Portugal

A friend and I are planning a trip to Portugal in September or October (our dates can be flexible so advice on which month would be better would be welcome!). We're both experienced travelers in our mid-60's, but this will be the first time either of us has been to Portugal. We're thinking of 8-10 days. I'd like to see Lisbon, Coimbra, and Porto (and from my reading, Sintra, Evora, and Cascais). I love architecture and design, the arts, local crafts, my friend is a photography buff, and she'd probably also enjoy a golf afternoon if that could be arranged (I'll be happy with a spa or a lounge chair by a pool for a few hours!). We were also discussing the possibility of going on to Salamanca and then Madrid, departing Madrid back to the States--does that make sense?

Is this too much/too little? How many nights in each place (would it make sense to limit hotels to Lisbon, Coimbra, and Porto and do day trips to the other towns)? is the driving relatively easy? Apartments/hotels/pousadas?

I don't want to run ourselves ragged, but I would like to get as much flavor of the country as possible. Thanks for any advice in helping me sort this out!

Posted by
4247 posts

To visit the cities in Portugal that you mentioned would take about a week. Suggest adding Obidos (between Lisbon and Porto).

Salamanaca will take one day to see. Salamanaca is great, we saw it in connection with a Douro River Cruise. Not sure the best transport from Porto to Salamanaca, check the train, perhaps there is a bus. You are probably looking a half a day to get there from Porto to Salamanaca. Madrid (as well as Toledo and Segovia) will take you five days or more to do well.

In 10 days you can do most of what you want. I know there are cheap flights from Porto to Madrid, but that would skip Salamanaca, still it would save time. You just need to prioritize what you want to see.

Posted by
409 posts

My initial response is based on your last paragraph, specifically running yourself ragged. 8-10 days in Portugal is short. You can spend a month and only scratch the surface. There is no mention in Rick's Portugal book of the Azores or Madeira islands, both hidden gems of Portugal and worthy of visiting on their own merit!

The guidebook options will dictate how many days/nights are warranted based on your likes.

I have been there in September and October...I like October better, not as hot and still great sight-seeing weather.

As a quick opinion, I think 3 days/nights Porto, 1 day/night Coimbra, one full day on the way to Lisbon visiting (Fatima 2 hours Alcobaça, 2 hours, Batalha 1 hour, Nazare/Sitio 2 hours, and finally Obidos 2 hours) and drop the car off in Lisbon. The rest of the time for Lisbon and surrounding area.

Good luck!

Posted by
16782 posts

The only train that runs from Portugal to Salamanca is an overnight train - the one that's continuing to San Sebastian, not the one that runs to Madrid. It departs from either Lisbon or Coimbra and arrives to Salamanca just before 5:00 a.m.

For this length of trip, you'll find plenty to do within Portugal. See Rick's sample intinerary.

Posted by
17017 posts

I disagree with the first response; different travel styles, I guess. I would not want to attempt Lisbon, Sintra, Evora, Cascais, Coimbra and Porto in a week. Yes, you could get to all of those cities/towns in that amount of time, but I'd feel as if I was constantly on my way somewhere else and wouldn't much enjoy myself. Lisbon is a city of some size, lots of good sights (Manueline architecture! Gulbenkian Museum!), and it is hilly. It takes time to enjoy it. Coimbra and Porto aren't tiny towns, either. And Sintra has a day's worth of sights.

Your trip is short (and definitely go for 10 days--or more, if possible). Don't forget that your first day probably won't be a very productive one due to sleep-deprivation and jetlag.

Moving between Portugal and Spain via public transportation is not easy. Although it is faster by car, you would almost certainly have to pick up and drop off the car in the same country to avoid a very high drop charge. That would mean extra driving to return to Portugal, which you don't have time for.

Salamanca is nice, though I wouldn't consider it one of Spain's top destinations. My quick Googling turned up one bus a day, taking 6-1/4 hours. The Sunday bus is a bit faster but departs Porto at 1:30 AM.

Madrid is worth several days just by itself if you like art, and it has a long list of stupendous day-trip destinations surrounding it--some of which are actually worth overnight stays. So I urge you to plan a separate trip to the Madrid area and really take advantage of all there is to see.

Portugal has plenty to keep you busy even if you can stretch your trip to 12 or 14 days. Since you mentioned markets, I offer these three websites. (Found by Googling; I can't personally vouch for this information.)

Best Markets in Portugal

The Best Markets in Lisbon

Come to Portugal (with flea-market dates)

Posted by
4029 posts

The transport links between Portugal and Spain are generally not great. Allow a full day for Sintra, Cascais and Coimbra each. Evora is 1-2 days and Lisbon is 2 full days minimum, ideally 3 and Porto is 1.5 days plua half a day to get there. None of these timings are a particularly relaxed pace and don't allow for golf afternoons.

I like late September, when the weather is still decent (usually) and there are no school children.