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The Perfect Holiday in Portugal

News Jun 25, 2024

Does any other nation tick all the holiday boxes quite like Portugal? The climate is idyllic: consistently sunny yet cooler than the sweltering Mediterranean. It’s wallet-friendly too, with a recent survey naming it Europe’s top value destination. The pace of life is delightfully slow, perfect for relaxation. Yet, if you're inclined to explore, Portugal offers a rich tapestry of history and culture, from Moorish fortresses to ancient dolmens, medieval hamlets to intricate monasteries. Despite this wealth, it remains somewhat undiscovered. Once promoted as “Europe’s best-kept secret,” it still feels like one.

How best to experience it?

After 23 years of exploring every nook and cranny of this country, here’s my ultimate two-week itinerary.

To truly immerse yourself in Portugal, journey from its northern tip to its southern shores. Drive through the lush, granite landscapes of the north, transitioning into central regions dotted with cork plantations and oak groves. Here, black pigs feast on acorns and storks nest on white-washed chimneys. Your journey concludes at the sun-drenched beaches and limestone cliffs of the Algarve, where you can savor local delicacies like scarlet prawns, clams with coriander and garlic, and just-spicy-enough chicken piri-piri.

Portuguese cuisine
Source: Wikipedia

Food is one of Portugal’s strengths, and its cuisine is vastly underrated. The coast is dominated by seafood, while inland regions offer artisanal cheeses, and livestock including cattle, pigs, and goats. Vineyards produce mineral-rich whites in the Douro and robust reds in the Alentejo.

There are unmissable cities too. Lisbon, Europe’s oldest capital after Athens, where the light from the wide River Tagus reflects off tiled facades and yellow trams clatter up cobbled streets. Porto, named Portus Cale by the Romans and famous for its namesake wine. Coimbra, birthplace of six kings and home to Portugal’s oldest university, where a sense of heritage flows down the River Mondego, fondly called the River of Poets.

This itinerary also leads you to small, white-washed, fortified towns like Óbidos, to wineries, hidden museums, and deep valleys where the only sound is the warm wind carrying the distant chime of sheep bells.

1. Guimarães

Day 1

Start in Minho, the nation’s birthplace. Fly into Porto and head north to Portugal’s greenest region, steeped in tradition visible in its festivals, folk costumes, and markets.

Weekend in Guimarães
Source: Hotel Guimaraes

In the south, Guimarães, chosen by King Afonso Henriques in 1139 as Portugal’s first capital, boasts a well-preserved medieval center. Explore the cobbled Rua de Santa Maria, lined with old townhouses, from the main square past the 15th-century Palace of the Dukes to the imposing Guimarães Castle.

Bed down in the Pousada Mosteiro Guimarães, a 12th-century Augustinian monastery turned hotel.

2. Ponte de Lima

Days 2 and 3

On the second day, visit the Iron Age settlement of Citania de Briteiros or continue to Braga, Portugal’s main religious city. Walk around Braga’s churches and grand houses, and don’t miss the Santuário do Bom Jesus do Monte.

Best places to stay in Ponte de Lima, Portugal
Source: The Hotel Guru

Stay at the charming Carmo’s Boutique Hotel in the countryside above Ponte de Lima, considered Portugal’s prettiest town. Explore the Peneda-Gerês National Park and visit Viana do Castelo’s Costume Museum.

In Ponte de Lima, dine at Petiscas and try bacalhau with cornbread. Visit the family-owned winery of Soalheiro for a wine tasting.

3. Porto

Days 4 and 5

Drive to Porto, staying at The Largo Hotel or The Yeatman Hotel. Visit São Bento railway station, the Bolsa Palace, and São Francisco church. Climb the Clérigos Church tower for stunning views. End the day with a cocktail at Flor and dinner at Cozinha das Flores.

Beautiful bed & breakfasts in Porto, charming guest houses and holiday  flats in Porto
Source: Secret Places

The next day, tour a port cellar in Vila Nova de Gaia and visit the World of Wine Museum. Dine at Mira Mira, with views across the river.

4. Douro Valley

Days 6 and 7

Stay in different places to shorten drives between wineries. Quinta Nova offers magnificent views, a tiny chapel, and a wine museum. Visit the Museu do Douro in Peso da Regua and dine at Castas & Pratos.

Three Days in Portugal's Douro Valley
Source: Travel + Leisure

Stay at Quinta Da Côrte, a winery with rooms designed by Pierre Yovanovitch. Visit Symington’s Bomfim winery and have lunch at Bomfim 1896.

5. The Beiras

Days 8 and 9

Stretching from the Spanish border to the sea, the Beiras region includes Aveiro with its canals and the former capital Coimbra.

Aveiro, Coimbra et les Beiras
Source: LusoBioNature

Visit the Serra da Estrela mountains, known for their cheese. See how sheep wool is used at the Burel Factory.

Overnight at Casa de São Lourenço. Visit the Museum of Bread before heading to Coimbra. Explore the university’s gilded library and have lunch at Restaurante Solar do Bacalhau.

Stay in Óbidos, a town enclosed in 14th-century walls. Try the local drink, ginja, in a chocolate cup.

6. Lisbon

Days 10 and 11

Spend the night at Palácio Príncipe Real in Lisbon. Start exploring from the Praça do Comércio, through Alfama to the Castelo de São Jorge. Dine at PRADO Restaurant.

The top foods to try in Lisbon
Source: Good Food

Visit Belem, linked to Portugal’s Age of Discovery. Explore the Torre de Belém and Mosteiro dos Jerónimos.

The next day, visit Sintra’s Palácio Nacional da Pena and Monserrate’s Park and Palace. Dine at Restaurante Azenhas do Mar and try a bottle from the Colares winery.

Enjoy dinner at Michelin-starred Cura in Lisbon.

7. Alentejo

Day 12

Head to Évora, a UNESCO World Heritage Site, and explore its Roman temple and artisan shops. Lunch at Restaurante Fialho and stay at Dá Licença in Estremoz.

Exploring Alentejo, the Ancient Heart of Portugal
Source: Insights Vacation

Visit the town of Vila Viçosa and its ducal palace.

8. The Algarve

Days 13, 14, and 15

Focus on the east and west of the Algarve. Explore the wild western Algarve and stay at Memmo Baleeira in Sagres. Visit Praia da Amoreira and Praia da Arrifana.

A Foreigner's Guide To Living in Algarve, Portugal
Source: Get Golden Visa

Take a tour with marine biologists from Mar Ilimitado and visit Silves castle. Dine at Morgado do Quintão winery.

Stay at Casas de Quintao de Cima and explore Tavira on your final day before heading to Faro for your flight home.


Oliver Hughes

Oliver has over 15 years of experience in travel journalism. He focuses on European travel, providing expert reviews of vacation rentals and cultural experiences across Europe.