Skip to content

Road trip, Portugal edition: 5 ways to make the most of a drive between Lisbon and Porto

Oct. 16, 2021
7 min read
This post contains references to products from one or more of our advertisers. We may receive compensation when you click on links to those products. Terms apply to the offers listed on this page. For an explanation of our Advertising Policy, visit this page.

While I am no stranger to road trips, a European version, until now, has been foreign to me.

Earlier this year, I completed a 2,000-mile Southwest U.S. adventure in a Mustang. And growing up, my family would regularly make the drive between New Jersey and Florida.

But exploring Portugal's major cities – as well as its nooks and crannies – by car has always been on my to-do list. I was excited to recently go on my first European auto adventure, between Lisbon and Porto.

Sign up for our daily newsletter
(Photo by Chris Dong/The Points Guy.)

Related: The 10 most frequently asked questions about my visit to Portugal

Portugal has a fairly robust train network, but I wanted to do this trip on my own terms, free from train schedules. Plus, the pandemic has created a renaissance of sorts for the classic road trip as a safe, clean way to get back out in the world.

Here are five things you should know if you're planning a Portugal road trip, including my itinerary between the two cities.

For more TPG news delivered each morning to your inbox, sign up for our daily newsletter.

Don't cram too much into your itinerary

There are many options when it comes to a Portugal road trip.

Do you want to start in Lisbon and head south to the Algarve coast? Perhaps you want to begin in Porto and go north to the vineyards of the Douro Valley? Or like me, maybe you want to experience two of Portugal's biggest cities – Lisbon and Porto – and stop at a few notable sites along the way.

Whatever you choose, don't cram too much into your itinerary. I was guilty of this on my trip and ultimately had to cut out a couple of destinations while already en route.

One of the beaches at Cascais. (Photo by Chris Dong/The Points Guy.)

Looking at a map between Lisbon and Porto, you can take a slower seaside route or a faster highway alternative.

Since I only had a few days to cover the journey (in addition to reviewing hotels), I went with the major highway. But even then, I wanted to stop at several cities closer to Lisbon, and frankly, I planned too much. Don't make the same mistake I did.

Don't try to do a day trip to Cascais and Sintra on the same day

Cascais and Sintra are both worth a visit when you're in Lisbon. They're popular day trips from Portugal's capital and easily accessible by car or train.

Unfortunately, I made the rookie travel mistake of trying to cram in both locales on the same day. Cascais and Sintra are only 30 kilometers from Lisbon each, but not in the same direction. After a morning and early afternoon at the upscale beachside town of Cascais, I tried to visit Sintra and its medieval attractions later in the afternoon.

Due to traffic and a late start, we missed seeing Sintra's famed castle, Castelo dos Mouros, because it was closed by the time we arrived.

Avoid driving in Lisbon and Porto city centers

European cities weren't built with cars in mind – and updates to infrastructure and urban planning can only go so far.

Driving through the narrow streets of Lisbon was a bit harrowing. (Photo by Chris Dong/The Points Guy.)

While driving outside of the cities was a piece of cake, I would not recommend using your car in the main historic centers of Lisbon and Porto. Both areas are highly walkable, and you don't need a car when visiting either one.

I picked up my rental car on the last of three days in Lisbon before starting the journey north to Porto. The drive through the streets to my hotel was a bit harrowing, to say the least.

And the parking garage at the Moxy Lisbon City had the tightest space I've ever had the pleasure (or displeasure) of experiencing.

(Photo by Chris Dong/The Points Guy.)

Take day trips that are only easily accessible by car

Instead of taking the car out to go to Cascais or Sintra as a day trip from Lisbon, two spots easily accessible by public transportation, use your car to go to more off-the-beaten-path locations.

For instance, I visited Galapinhos Beach, about an hour south of Lisbon and part of Arrábida Natural Park. This is one of the most picturesque beaches in Portugal, and some locals even say it's better than the touristy Algarve.

I also made a stop in the sleepy seaside fishing village of Alcochete, about 40 minutes by car from the center of Lisbon.

My friend and I were probably the only tourists in the entire town and we enjoyed some of the freshest seafood all of Portugal has to offer.

Expect swanky amenities at highway rest areas

While on the road, you'll eventually have to fill up the tank (or recharge your batteries).

I was impressed with Portugal's rest areas along the major highways. They had a full suite of amenities, a variety of fresh dining options and best of all, clean bathrooms.

(Photo by Chris Dong/The Points Guy.)

And of course, it's not a complete road trip without some (thankfully minor) roadside issues. When my rental flashed a warning about low tire pressure, I had to make an extra stop at a rest area.

Not only was the air pump for the tire free, but the directions to do so were also clearly given in both Portuguese and English. That's a lifesaver for city dwellers like me who are, admittedly, uninformed about the world of cars.

(Photo by Chris Dong/The Points Guy.)

Mix historic city stops and nature

While this is more of a personal choice, my journey to Portugal was intended to be an ideal blend of city and nature.

Having Portuguese pastries in Coimbra. (Photo by Chris Dong/The Points Guy.)

And that's exactly what I did. I took advantage of having a car to see the country's oceanside beauty and immerse myself in lush forests and dramatic cliffs. I also experienced the medieval town of Coimbra, the metropolis of Lisbon and the impressive history of Porto.

My full itinerary

Cabo Raso Lighthouse, the westernmost point of continental Europe. (Photo by Chris Dong/The Points Guy.)

Related: How 2,000 miles, 4 national parks and a $10 rental car made me love the great American road trip

Here was my original plan:

Start: Lisbon (3 night stay)

  • Stop 1: Arrábida Natural Park (Galapinhos Beach)
  • Stop 2: Alcochete
  • Stop 3: Cascais
  • Stop 4: Cabo Raso Lighthouse
  • Stop 5: Sintra*

Hotel 2: Coimbra (2 nights)

  • Stop 6: Coimbra
  • Stop 7: Bucaco National Forest
  • Stop 8: Aveiro*

Hotel 3: Porto (3 nights)

  • End: Porto

*Due to timing, I missed out on most of my planned sightseeing in Sintra, and I had to cut a stop in Aveiro.

Bucaco National Forest. (Photo by Chris Dong/The Points Guy.)

Overall, I had an amazing eight-day drive in Portugal between Lisbon and Porto.

My itinerary is just one iteration of an endless number of possibilities for a Portuguese road trip. From rugged cliffs at the westernmost point of continental Europe (Cabo Raso Lighthouse) to perhaps the most beautiful forest in all of Portugal (Bucaco), there are myriad spots that you can see only by car.

Of course, the start and end points – Lisbon and Porto – were highlights in and of themselves.

You can't go wrong with a visit to Portugal.

Featured image by (Photo by Chris Dong/The Points Guy)
Editorial disclaimer: Opinions expressed here are the author’s alone, not those of any bank, credit card issuer, airline or hotel chain, and have not been reviewed, approved or otherwise endorsed by any of these entities.

TPG featured card

Best starter travel card
TPG Editor‘s Rating
Card Rating is based on the opinion of TPG‘s editors and is not influenced by the card issuer.
4 / 5
Go to review

Rewards

1 - 3X points
3XEarn 3 Points per $1 spent at Restaurants and Supermarkets
3XEarn 3 Points per $1 spent at Gas Stations, Air Travel and Hotels
1XEarn 1 Point per $1 spent on all other purchases

Intro offer

Earn 80,000 ThankYou® points60,000 points
For a limited time, earn 80,000 bonus ThankYou® Points after you spend $4,000 in purchases within the first 3 months of account opening

Annual Fee

$95

Recommended Credit

670-850
Excellent, Good
Credit ranges are a variation of FICO© Score 8, one of many types of credit scores lenders may use when considering your credit card application.

Why We Chose It

The Citi Premier’s 3 points per dollar spent across a wide range of popular categories is one of the more lucrative offerings in the world of points and miles. The Citi Premier comes with a $95 annual fee and is currently offering a solid sign up bonus of 80,000 points after you spend $4,000 on purchases within the first three months. It also has some valuable transfer partners to make the most of your rewards. Add in access to Citi Entertainment plus a $100 hotel credit for any single-stay hotel booking that exceeds $500 or more, excluding taxes and fees, booked through the Citi travel website, there are few reasons why the Citi Premier should not be in every traveler’s wallet.

Pros

  • Earns 3x points on restaurants, supermarkets, gas stations, air travel and hotels.
  • $100 annual hotel savings benefit (on single hotel stay bookings of $500 or more, excluding taxes and fees, booked through thankyou.com)
  • Points transfer to 16 airline programs, from JetBlue to Virgin Atlantic.
  • World Elite Mastercard benefits, extended warranty, damage and theft protection.

Cons

  • $95 annual fee
  • Lacks travel protections that other travel rewards cards come with
  • For a limited time, earn 80,000 bonus ThankYou® Points after you spend $4,000 in purchases within the first 3 months of account opening
  • Earn 3 Points per $1 spent at Restaurants and Supermarkets
  • Earn 3 Points per $1 spent at Gas Stations, Air Travel and Hotels
  • Earn 1 Point per $1 spent on all other purchases
  • Annual Hotel Savings Benefit
  • 80,000 Points are redeemable for $800 in gift cards when redeemed at thankyou.com
  • No expiration and no limit to the amount of points you can earn with this card
  • No Foreign Transaction Fees on purchases
Best starter travel card
TPG Editor‘s Rating
Card Rating is based on the opinion of TPG‘s editors and is not influenced by the card issuer.
4 / 5
Go to review

Rewards Rate

3XEarn 3 Points per $1 spent at Restaurants and Supermarkets
3XEarn 3 Points per $1 spent at Gas Stations, Air Travel and Hotels
1XEarn 1 Point per $1 spent on all other purchases
  • Intro Offer
    For a limited time, earn 80,000 bonus ThankYou® Points after you spend $4,000 in purchases within the first 3 months of account opening

    Earn 80,000 ThankYou® points
    60,000 points
  • Annual Fee

    $95
  • Recommended Credit
    Credit ranges are a variation of FICO© Score 8, one of many types of credit scores lenders may use when considering your credit card application.

    670-850
    Excellent, Good

Why We Chose It

The Citi Premier’s 3 points per dollar spent across a wide range of popular categories is one of the more lucrative offerings in the world of points and miles. The Citi Premier comes with a $95 annual fee and is currently offering a solid sign up bonus of 80,000 points after you spend $4,000 on purchases within the first three months. It also has some valuable transfer partners to make the most of your rewards. Add in access to Citi Entertainment plus a $100 hotel credit for any single-stay hotel booking that exceeds $500 or more, excluding taxes and fees, booked through the Citi travel website, there are few reasons why the Citi Premier should not be in every traveler’s wallet.

Pros

  • Earns 3x points on restaurants, supermarkets, gas stations, air travel and hotels.
  • $100 annual hotel savings benefit (on single hotel stay bookings of $500 or more, excluding taxes and fees, booked through thankyou.com)
  • Points transfer to 16 airline programs, from JetBlue to Virgin Atlantic.
  • World Elite Mastercard benefits, extended warranty, damage and theft protection.

Cons

  • $95 annual fee
  • Lacks travel protections that other travel rewards cards come with
  • For a limited time, earn 80,000 bonus ThankYou® Points after you spend $4,000 in purchases within the first 3 months of account opening
  • Earn 3 Points per $1 spent at Restaurants and Supermarkets
  • Earn 3 Points per $1 spent at Gas Stations, Air Travel and Hotels
  • Earn 1 Point per $1 spent on all other purchases
  • Annual Hotel Savings Benefit
  • 80,000 Points are redeemable for $800 in gift cards when redeemed at thankyou.com
  • No expiration and no limit to the amount of points you can earn with this card
  • No Foreign Transaction Fees on purchases