Portugal - Semi Road Trip
Day 1: Brussels – Lisbon – Porto
Day 2: Porto
Day 3: Porto – Coimbra
Day 4: Coimbra – Silves
Day 5: Algarve
Day 6: Algarve
Day 7: Algarve – Lisbon
Day 8: Lisbon
Day 9: Lisbon – Brussels
When organizing the trip we doubted about the route. Most efficiently would have been flying to Porto, do our road trip towards Algarve and fly back from Faro. Looking into this, we noticed that a return flight is cheaper and also dropping off your car at another city is more expensive. Off course now we traveled more distance and consumed more time. If we had to do this again, we might change our mind, as the less we have to relocate, the better.
Day 1: Brussels – Lisbon – Porto
Starting with an early TAP flight taking off in Brussels at 6:20 we landed a little bit after 08:00 in Lisbon. We catch our Hertz car and were ready to hit the road around 09:20 to arrive in Porto around 12:30. It’s worth to register with Hertz and become (for free) a gold member. Like this you don’t have to queue at the counter where all renting companies are. Mostly it’s crowded and waiting time is long. As gold member you can directly go to the parking garage and your car will be ready.
The road from Lisbon to Porto is good and easy going. We had our toll device enabled in the rental car, so we could take the priority lanes and that makes it easy to pass. Now, it was not that crowded, so even if you have to queue, you would not loose too much time. We had parking for free due to our lodging hosts, so we can’t comment on that. We parked right in the center and for free.
The weather was not great and we had some drizzle. We kept the good mood as we can’t change it, nevertheless, it is annoying. Porto is a great, cozy and nice city. In the end we liked Porto way more than Lisbon. We could not enjoy terraces due too the weather, but we are sure we’ll go back one day for a city trip. We had listed a city walk with some nice sights, and we started our journey by visiting them. All is not far from the river and in fact, you can not miss thing easily. Just make sure you don’t miss the Chapel of Souls. A marvelous chapel which is covered by nice blue tiles.
In the evening we had diner in a nice restaurant called LSD Largo de Sao Domingos. The reviews we read were varying a lot, but we had a great evening. It started with doing effort to get us a table without reservation, continuous good service and marvelous food which was very nicely presented. So we would recommend this restaurant.
Porto se house We stayed in this apartment with a great location. It’s really in the city center and we even got free parking in front of the place. We had a very warm welcome of the host who provided us with some great dinner tips. The apartment has two double bedrooms and a single bedroom. Further there is a separate toilet and a bathroom with toilet and shower. The kitchen has all to prepare a light meal but we didn’t use it as Porto offers some great and affordable lunch/dinner options.
Day 2: Porto
In the morning we went for a breakfast around the corner where the locals meet. We got this place (Padeirinha Doce) recommended by our host. As the Portuguese are no breakfast people as we know in Belgium, this is as close you can get to coffee with pastries in the morning. Staff is friendly and once seated we were quickly served. By joining them to the desk we could show what we wanted.
After our breakfast we went visit the Douro valley. We decided to drive via Amarante and then towards Peso de Regua. We decided to take the highway to gain some time. We read from several people that the road close the river are time consuming and that you don’t really see the river. Only as of Peso de Regua you can drive really next to the river, towards Pinhao.
In Peso de Regua we free styled a bit with our car by following a sign to a viewpoint. We ended up in very narrow streets with incredible gradient. We were lucky to not came across somebody else. The view was good, but I don’t think we would do this again if we would know this all up front. The road of cobble stones was slippery due to some rain earlier and made it sometimes difficult to overcome the gradient. We decided to go back to the city center of Peso de Regua.
As we were out of the main tourist season a boat trip was not available. It would only depart as of 4 persons, or if us two would pay for 4 people. We passed. As the weather was not that great, we decided to visit the museum. We would not recommend the museum. The entrance price of 6 euro included a tasting, but that is a mini glass of Port. The museum itself it rather small and as we are not really museum people we only spent 45 min. Most of content is about making Port, in earlier days. Some nice videos and some pictures, but it stays a museum. Not really our thing.
We decided to travel further towards Pinhao by following the Douro river. Here you have some nice views on the grapes. Luckily the weather finally got better as well, which is an instant boost for the pictures. We rode constantly next to the river till we reached Pinhao. You cross a very small bridge and then you enter the city. Not much activity. We left the city via the other side going up in the mountains which brought us the below incredible view.
In the evening we went to the other side of the river, where you have all the Port wineries. We were planning to visit one, but at Sandeman the visit took over 2 hours and was quite expensive. We decided to skip the visit and taste some port on a terrace ourselves. We had some dinner in a tapas place, called Taberninha do Manel. We were seated on the second floor, got great service and great food. It has a cozy interior and we can recommend this place. It was affordable and there was a rich selection of home made desserts.
Day 3: Porto – Coimbra
Leaving Porto early after a local breakfast we were heading towards Passadicos Do Paiva. It was quite a drive, it took us up to one hour and a half crossing small streets. You have two entrances for the board walk. We took Espiunca. We read the walk goes up in one direction, but that is exaggerated. We followed the river and near the end indeed it started to go up untill reaching the main stairs. There are a few hundreds of them and when you reach the top we advise you to stop and turn back. On the top you still can continue few hundred meters flat before going down stairs at the other side. Once down you can cross the street and continue following the river for another kilometer before you reach the parking lot of Areinho. There we returned and had to go up the stairs again to descend at the other side back to our car. We consider it a waste of time to continue once you survived the stairs. The views are not that beautiful. In the end we reached 17,5 km but we would not do it again. The whole walk took us about 3 hours 30 minutes, but we would advise you to take the walk in one direction and return by taxi. They are waiting at then entrance/exit, but we don’t know the price of that.
After our walk we continued our journey towards Coimbra. Once we checked in into the hotel we went to explore the city center. We did a city walk of approximately 5 km and I think we have seen all famous spots. Think about the cathedral, the university and so on. The old city center is not that bug but still very cozy. For dinner we used TripAdvisor and ended up in O Mimo. At that time the number one on TripAdvisor. It is a simple restaurant where you can eat good and very cheap. We were lucky to be early, as later on it became very busy. We think this restaurant is a victim of it’s own success. It was a mix between locals and tourists, but surely more people had the idea to search for a restaurant on TripAdvisor. At the end, when it was busy, the owner had difficulties to keep up. However, as we were early, we did not suffer. We had a great evening and were satisfied with the food served.
Hotel Vitoria: We slept in the renovated hotel Vitoria which is really in the city center. We arrange parking via the hotel which costs 5 euro overnight. Our room had all comfort and the renewed bathroom had a great shower. For this price and location we think you can’t beat this deal. In the morning there was a small breakfast buffet. According Portuguese norms this was quite decent, but don’t expect any typical intercontinental breakfast buffet.
Day 4: Coimbra – Silves
Early morning, after the breakfast we left for the Algarve, but first we planned to stop in Tomar, where we wanted to visit the Convent of Christ (official site). This is a small hour drive from Coimbra. Entrance fee is 6 hours but worth the money. I think we spend more than 2 hours wandering around in the monastery. We were early and it was still quiet over there. Later on it became more and more crowded. Each time we visit such an old building I’m astonished how they must have build this with the means of that time.
After visiting the Convent of Christ we visited the small city of Tomar (see below) and wanted to have some food. It’s really a nice small village. We decided to eat in O To where we had an extremely friendly welcome from the host. We selected a pasta and a chicken dish and they were very nice and correctly priced.
After the food we headed further towards Silves as it was still quite a distance to drive. We struggled a bit to find our bed and breakfast, but when you really read the instructions and don’t free style it’s easy to find. Once settled we moved towards Lagoa to grab some food. We selected the number 1 of TripAdvisor Tapas no Bucho. We can only confirm this place is marvelous. We typically went without reservation and as we were quite early we still manage to get a table. Friendly service, huge wine assortment, good tapas which we shared. The price is affordable and according to Belgium standards quite low. We really recommend this place.
Casa das Oliveiras: We stayed for 3 days in the bed and breakfast of Bill and Isa. The place is perfectly located to explore the Algarve. Although it’s located is a very silent area, it is not far from the beach and close to both Silves and Lagoa. The rooms are spacious and spotless clean. Breakfast is brought at the table and has everything what you need for a decent breakfast. The swimming pool is refreshing during the hot days, although might feel chilly at first when you go in the beginning of the season.They have a small kitchenette where you can keep your things cool and prepare a small snack.
Day 5: Algarve
Early day, after the breakfast we went to the beach called Praia da Marinha, which is according to the Michelin guide, one of the most emblematic and beautiful beaches of Portugal and also considered by Michelin Guide as one of the 10 most beautiful beaches in Europe (in 1998). There is a parking lot on top and then by a long stair you have the beach access. We were the first in the morning and really enjoyed the views. Once settled we started to enjoy the sun and the beach. After some while more and more people started to join us and by noon time the beach was rather full, but still fine enough. Nevertheless we decided to move on after 4 hours on the beach.
Once reached the parking lot again, it looks more than overfull. When we arrived there were 3 to 5 cars and now few hundreds. On top of the cliffs you can make a walk which leads to an astonished view of the arches. (view see above) We decided to grab some food and went to A Paleta in Lagoa. Rated good on TripAdvisor. It was really busy and crowded and according to us mainly locals were there. We had some salad and fresh fish. The dishes were sober but for that price we had a great lunch. After we enjoyed the pool of our B&B.
In the evening we went for dinner in Silves, we found a good rated restaurant Taberna Almedina where everything was expected. On the terrace we were served good food by friendly staff. The only small thing that was less good was that the food was served almost immediately after we got our aperitif. Something we saw more in Portugal, but which we are not used to in Belgium. There we take the time to have one (or more) aperitif before we start to eat. Nevertheless, we recommend this restaurant which is also just outside the center which makes it a little less busy.
Day 6: Algarve
Learned by our experience of yesterday we left very early for another beach. We went to Albandeira beach which is rather small and quiet. On the main part you have a larger part to the left and a smaller part to the right. From the right side you can go through a cave to yet another beach where you can see a cool arch, but be sure to do this before 13:00 (when we were there) as then the tides make it impossible to cross it. I’ll not post a picture here, so you can explore it yourself 🙂
In the afternoon we went to the Kartodromo Internacional do Algarve were we drove a regular and a race kart. If you like karts, this is the place to be. The regular karts can get a speed of approximately 70 km/h and the race karts go approximately 120 km/h, but off course it depends on your racing skills if you can reach that. I drive karts many years and have a bit of experience and I can not tell how much I enjoyed this. It’s a must do. The regular karts are priced normally for the adventure, but the race karts are quite expensive. Nevertheless, for a kart fan this is a sensational feeling to drive 120 km/h. For the race karts you have to give a 200 euro deposit but they have this all nicely organised.
Later in the afternoon we went to Praia de Benagil beach from where we visited the famous cave via a rented SUP board. We had a double board and that is rather a challenge. A kayak would be way easier, but we survived it. As we did not reserve anything up front we were already glad to be able to visit the cave. It is an incredible place. We saw few people swim, but in June, with the cold water we really discourage this. During our trip an older lady had to hang on our board because she was suffering. Make sure you don’t miss it when you are in the Algarve. you could do a guided boat trip, but that is only half the fun according to us. Then you can only explore the cave from within a boat. Now we could go on the beach and wandering a bit around.
In the evening we went on advise of our hosts for dinner to the Cafe Ingles which is located near the castle. It has nothing to do with it’s name. It’s a regular restaurant with a big terrace under the trees. As usual in Portugal we had great and friendly staff, excellent food and an very acceptable bill. If you eat here, make sure you have some space for a dessert which you can pick from their counter. Next to some ice cream they have several fresh cakes which were delicious.
Day 7: Algarve – Lisbon
After breakfast we headed towards Lisbon which is an 2h30 min drive. Before entering the city we drove up to the hill and visited Cristo Rei. This is a great stop on nice days. The view is astonishing and you get feeling to be in both San Francisco and Rio at the same time. You have also a great view on the city itself. From here we transferred on the bridge into the city center. We advise to do this outside rush hours which is already busy enough.
We started by visiting the city by heading the city part named Alfama. We enjoyed
Trendy Romantic Getaway loft (AirBnb) In Lisbon we selected this loft as it’s location was right in the center, about 50 meter from the Figueira Square. Be aware there is no elevator which means you have to carry your bags up to the 4th floor. This might be a drawback for some people. The space has everything you need, but we only used half of it as we were not much time in the loft. It’s nice that the loft has airco during the warm days.
We parked in Estacionamento do Chao do Loureiro which is one of the cheapest ones in Lisbon. It was 20 euro per 24 hours. We dropped our luggage with the car to the loft and then parked over there. I don’t want to scare you, but the entrance is kinda tricky. You have to go up a slope and then turn in a narrow entrance. If you are less good than an average driver, I would not recommend this parking. Once in there it’s spacious and easy to exit.
Day 8: Lisbon
We started the day with some pastries and coffee around the corner in Pastelaria Casa Chinesa. They had some great ones which custard inside! From there we walked to the river and alongside the river up to the train station Cais do Sodré where we took the train towards Belem. When you buy tickets at the machine make sure to start a session per person. Normally you can buy multiple tickets for multiple persons as such machines but according to us it was not clear and we ended with 4 rides on 1 ticket. So we had to buy a second ticket with 2 rides on it. We could go change at the counter, but there was a huge queue, so we decided to leave it as this. After 3 stops (I think) you reach Belem. We walked through the park towards the Jeronimos Monastery where we saw an insane queue to enter the monastery. We were strongly in doubt to visit, but as we skipped already Sintra for this reason, it was a hard choice. While looking at the great building we googled it a bit and found that you could buy tickets for the monastery in the museum next doors. There was no queue at all and with our ticket we could pass the entire line. So instead of waiting for over 1 hour to enter, it took us about 45 seconds. Again a big thank you to the person who posted this online.
Before heading back we treated ourselves on the famous Pasteis de Belem. Here as well a huge queue to order the pasteis, but as you can have an eat in as well, we went to the seated area and there we were served quite fast. They are delicious! You have to taste them! Really, eat them here! After finishing our sweets we headed back to Lisbon by train. Goes smooth and easy.
Once back in Lisbon we continued to explore the parts we missed so far. With any tour guide you should manage to visit the most famous spots. There are too many to list them here so you can either follow a walk from your tour guide or just wander around the city and see where it brings you. Lisbon is a very nice city but to our feeling it’s too crowded. Just as we preferred Madrid above Barcelona we would recommend Porto above Lisbon.
Day 9: Lisbon – Brussels
We got up early in the morning to prepare to go to the airport. If you want to score breakfast before you leave, keep in mind that all pastry shops only open at 08:00. The trip from the center to the airport is not that long, and that early traffic was till OK. It took us about 30 minutes to get there. The airport is small so don’t bother to go early to explore it too much. We dropped our luggage and went for the plane to head back to Belgium.