The west coast of Portugal is a fascinating part of the country and the best way to get around is on a road trip. The majority of the west coast is bookended by Lisbon in the south and Porto in the north.
While it is only just over 300 kilometres between Lisbon and Porto, we highly recommend hiring a car or a campervan and travelling slowly in between. You can of course fly between Lisbon and Porto, but to do so would mean missing the rugged coastline and beautiful beaches like Ericeira and Nazaré.
More reading >> Three-day itinerary for Lisbon
Having a vehicle also means being able to travel wherever you want, meaning you can also head further inland into the vineyards and rolling hills of the Douro Valley. There are lots of small towns along the way and great local markets that pop up on the side of the road.
Our eight-day road trip in Portugal started in Lisbon, making our way to Cascais and then Sintra, before heading north along the coast. We visited Coimbra, Aveiro, Lamego and the Douro Valley on the way to Porto.
We recommend staying for at least two days here. Here’s our itinerary for spending two days in Porto. If possible, spend a few extra days here after you’ve seen the city, as there are some amazing day trips from Porto.
The Douro River snakes its way through the rolling green hills, heavily terraced with the vines of this famous wine region. Surprisingly, however, the Douro Valley is one of the most unknown and underrated wine regions in the world.
UNESCO protected, this area has also become home to many riverboats that glide along the river, offering a peaceful journey for those onboard.
Love port? The Douro Valley is also where you will find some of the best port in the world. With easy access to the river, for centuries port producers sent their product to the appropriately named Porto, located on the Atlantic Ocean.
Port tasting in the Douro Valley
No journey to the Douro Valley is complete without sipping on some of the local favourites. Even if you aren’t a port fan (like me), it’s just something you’ve got to do. Find a “quinta”, an estate/winery and spend some time learning about how port is made, and of course, doing a tasting.
Many of the quintas occupy incredible spots on the hills, offering stunning views over the valley and the river. There’s no better place to perch than on the edge of a hill with a glass of the local drop in your hand. As you drive along the river, you’ll see large signs in the hills with the names of the quintas on them.
In the Douro Valley, you’ll find not only the well-known tawny version but there’s ruby, white and even rosé.
For a great tour, a range of products, a dining facility and amazing views, we recommend stopping by Quinta do Seixo. We chose this winery in particular as we wanted to try the Sandeman ports.
Kicking back in some comfortable lounge chairs, we sampled several wines from the Casa Ferreirinha range. Outside, the edge of the quinta’s property fell away to expose the terraced hills and a giant thunderstorm on approach. Inside, I took advantage of the floor to ceiling glass to watch the incoming storm whilst sipping on the port. The ruby port was quite a revelation.
Pinhão is a small, delightfully pretty town located on a bend in the Douro River, right in the middle of the wine region.
Pinhão Train Station
We came to Pinhão on a deliberate mission to see the train station. The walls of the train station are covered with the traditional tiles found in Portugal and Spain called azulejo tiles. Handpainted, they are at the heart of Portuguese culture and many are very old indeed.
At the entrance to the train station, there are several large murals depicting the Douro Valley. Dating back to 1937, these tiles are very important to the local history of Pinhão.
The entire train station is covered in murals. It’s quite a treat to see them all.
Theft of azulejos is commonplace in Portugal with a single tile fetching hundreds of Euros on the antique market. At the train station, security cameras operate over all the murals and the tiles are individually numbered in an effort to prevent such theft.
Buy local food in Pinhão
If you are looking for some traditional food, a visit to Qualifer – Quinta das Barrocas is an absolute must. Located on the main road into Pinhão and just a short stroll from the train station, it’s the best place to buy fresh local meats and smoked goods. It’s easy to miss so I’ve included a photo of the outside.
But, it’s so much more than that. For us, it was pure theatre with the owner putting on a terrific show for us, and supplying us with every kind of sample possible.
The samples kept coming and so did the small tin mug of “tea”, which was really port. We went in to buy a few goodies to put in our campervan and ended up staying for an hour, talking to the locals and being entertained.
Take a river cruise in Pinhão
The river was made for taking a short cruise. Several cruise companies operate from the Pinhão port.
Locate the Pinhão Bridge
The local bridge is another of Gustave Eiffel’s magnificent ironwork creations and is worthy of a look.
Where to eat in Pinhão
For the best seat in the house, head to Xtreme Douro, a cafe/restaurant right on the river end. Escape from the summer heat by sitting underneath the shade of the trees on the outdoor deck.
Have a picnic. With the wonderful local food we bought from the butcher in Pinhão, what better to do with it than find a scenic spot and enjoy the food and the view.
How to get to the Douro Valley
The Douro Valley is the name of the region that is almost 900 kilometres long for starters! So, when we say “how do you get to the Douro Valley from Porto”, it’s not a one size fits all answer.
However, there are certain modes of transport that take you on a journey through the Douro Valley, and there are also some key towns in the Douro Valley worthy of a stop.
So, depending on whether you are doing a day trip from Porto to the Douro Valley, or staying longer, will heavily dictate how you might choose to travel there.
We totally recommend getting out into the Douro Valley by car. With winding roads making their way through the hills, you’ll be followed by the river and the vineyards through this majestic part of the country.
From Porto, take the A4 to Vila Real, then the N24. Taking Exit 13 will bring you onto the N323 which arrives in Pinhão. This is the fastest route.
If you have more time to explore, and even want to head down into Lamego, then your route should start on the A4, taking Exit 18 towards the N101 which later becomes the N108.
Around Juncal de Baixo, take the turn at the roundabout onto the N2 which becomes the N222. close to Pinhão there will be a turn to finish the trip on the N323.
Where to park in Pinhão
Pinhão is a very small town and driving large vehicles here can be a little tricky. There is some street parking along the main road and in the back streets, but they are mostly for small cars.
If you are driving a campervan or a motorhome, we recommend going to the Cais do Pinhão (the port area). Several boat and tour companies operate here and there is good hardstand parking available.
If you’ve always wanted to travel slowly along one of Europe’s waterways, travelling from Porto to the Douro Valley is a great chance to do so. Riverboats take visitors on a six-hour cruise into this beautiful area, directly from Porto.
Boats can be caught from the Vila Nova de Gaia’s pier in Porto, on the other side of the old town.
Trains operate from São Bento, the main train station in the centre of Porto. Train rides take about 3-5.5 hours to get to Pocinho, east of Pinhão. This is a ride for those who are not worried about time.
The track between Pinhão and Pocinho offers a chance to see some incredible Douro Valley scenery. There is only one train that runs directly to Pocinho from Porto daily.
Note: We don’t recommend catching a bus from Porto to the Douro Valley.
Pro tip: While you can drive to the Douro Valley in one day from Porto, it makes for a very long day, especially if you aren’t used to driving long distances or the winding roads. If you’d like to visit some wineries, take in the scenery and visit the restaurants, you just won’t have enough time in your day. Our tip is to stay overnight, or longer if your itinerary allows it.
The drawcard of Lamego is the Sanctuary of Nossa Senhora dos Remédios (Santuario Nossa Senhora dos Remedios). In this small town located south of the River Douro, this structure is the centrepiece. With its long staircase winding its way up the side of the hill, there’s no way you’d miss it.
We arrived in the late afternoon/early evening during summer, taking advantage of the cooler temperatures and fewer people. This 18th-century church is an important place for pilgrims and the annual festival in late August sees the town numbers swell.
It’s hard to describe how incredible this monument is unless you are standing at the bottom of the staircase. With 600 (or so) steps to the top, it’s both an inspiring walk and a good workout. Along the way, stop to take advantage of the ever-increasing view of the town’s skyline. It’s also a chance to catch your breath if you require it.
All along the steps, you’ll also see the azulejos (painted tiles) and many fountains and statues.
If you can’t manage the stairs, don’t fear, there’s another way for you to still experience the view from the top, and inside the church. Take the turn off the main N2 road onto the CM1081. A road winds its way up the hill and there is a parking area at the top.
Drink the local sparkling wine
This region is home to a special kind of sparkling wine only found here. The brand Raposeira seems to have taken over as the name of this delicious beverage.
Where to eat and drink in Lamego
On the main street, drop-in to the Welcome Lounge and Cocktail Bar for a glass of sparkling. For a quick bite in town, head into the green strip in the middle of the main street to Beira-Lamego. Be sure to get a tasting plate of presunto, the local ham in Lamego. It’s similar to Parma ham or Proscuitto and is perfect with that glass of bubbles.
If you want somewhere really special however then A Presunteca de Lamego just off to the side of the bottom of the steps is the best spot in town.
There is an outdoor terrace and garden area with a view back over the town. Inside you can explore and buy from their range of wines and cured meat. In the twilight of a Portuguese summer, kicking back here with another glass of sparkling and a sharing platter of Presunto ham and cheese was a great end to the day.
How to get to Lamego
Lamego is located 130 kilometres east of Porto.
Getting to Lamego is really best done by car. Whilst train is possible, you can only go so far and then need to connect on a bus. It’s not really day trip material this way and I wouldn’t do it like this if I had longer.
The A4 runs east from Porto and takes a southern turn onto the A24 at Vila Real (Viseu/Chaves). Take exit 9 for N226 towards Tarouca/Lamego/M.ta da Beira
Parking in Lamego
There is an enormous public car park at the end of the main street that runs through the tree-lined town centre. It is immediately in front of the municipal pool and multi-use centre. During summer there is usually a fairground here too.
Parking is also possible at this carpark overnight.
Location: Av. Dr Alfredo Sousa (R. Dom Dinis)
Lamego Camping is also the official campground here.
Location: : EN2 – Lugar da Raposeira, 5101-909 Lamego
It seems just about every region in Europe has its own “Venice”. Find a city with canals running through it, and they will lay claim to being like the famous city in northern Italy.
Aveiro seems nicely placed to use this moniker. Located on the Atlantic coast of Portugal, the Aveiro Lagoon feeds a series of canals that dissect this small town.
Ride on a moliceiro
Yes, this is definitely a very touristy thing to do but sometimes you just have to do them. The moliceiros, the brightly painted boats that resemble Venetian gondolas, only larger, are ever-present on the waters of Aveiro.
Once used in the very important trade of seaweed harvesting, nowadays they are full of tourists taking a leisurely cruise around the town.
Moliceiro tours can be found in many locations along the canals, with the majority found along the Canal Central de Aveiro. R. João Mendonça is one of the most well-known tour operators here.
Pro tip: We jumped aboard a moliceiro in front of the Aveiro Fish Market. This area usually has fewer people waiting than those in the main canal.
- Check the language of the tour operator
- Wear a hat in summer, it gets very hot in the boat
- Tours last around 45 minutes
- If time is important, book online
- The canal is calm. You won’t get seasick
- The boats are perfectly safe
Moliceiro tour highlights
Art Nouveau buildings
Highlights of a tour include: seeing the many beautiful art-nouveau from the water, cruising under many of the bridges that cross the canal
The tour will take you under many bridges that cross the canals but the most well-known is the Carcavelos Bridge. Built in 1953, it provides a link to the salt pans.
Jerónimo Pereira Campos
The enormous red brick building built in the 20th century is one of the standouts along the canals.
Buy fresh seafood at the fish market
The Praça do Peixe is where locals come to stock up on fresh fish, shellfish and eel. If you want to see it at its most active be sure to get there early. There are also many gourmet food stores around Aveiro where you can buy tinned sardines and eel too.
Visit the museums
Aveiro is flush with museums. Whilst we aren’t a big fan of most museums, we loved that here in Aveiro, one of them is housed in some magnificent art nouveau buildings.
Many of these buildings are now owned by the city and so they have taken the opportunity to showcase them by using them for their museums. Two of the main city museums are noted below.
Museum of the City of Aveiro (Museu da Cidade de Aveiro)
This museum is principally about the culture, history and traditions of Aveiro and the impact that fishing and salt production has had on it. There are also permanent exhibitions on display.
Location: R. João Mendonça 9/11, 3800-200 Aveiro
Art Nouveau Musuem (Museu de Arte Nova)
Thoughtfully located inside an art nouveau building, this museum celebrates this movement that started in Paris in style. You can learn more about this city’s beautiful art nouveau buildings or explore one of the many exhibitions on display.
Location: 3810-119, R. Dr. Barbosa de Magalhães 10, Aveiro
Museu Santa Joana
This is a religious musuem located right near the Aveiro Cathedral. Amongst other things inside are a selection of paintings, sculptures and jewels.
Location: Av. Santa Joana s / n, 3810-164 Aveiro, Portugal
Troncalhada Marine Ecomuseum
This museum, located out of the city centre is all about the city’s involvement and reliance on the salt production industry. Take a tour of the museum along with a visit to the salt pans.
Location: Canal das Pirâmides 3800 Aveiro
Stroll along the Calçada Portuguesa
These are the small stones that are placed together as though they were a piece of art, that make up the laneways of the Aveiro. Many of them are patterned, so as well as looking up as you explore this city, take a moment to also look down.
Where to eat in Aveiro
For a small town, there are many places to eat in Aveiro. If you come to Aveiro though, it’s almost a sin not to eat seafood of some kind. Given its proximity to the ocean, the seafood here is always fresh.
Fish, fish stews and the local speciality, the eel can be eaten here. It’s loved by locals so get in early if you don’t want to miss out.
Location: R. de José Rabumba 8, 3810-125 Aveiro, Portugal
A Nossa Casa
Tucked away in a back street, you’d miss this one if you didn’t know where to look.
Location: R. do Gravito 10, 3800-124 Aveiro, Portugal
This was our choice for lunch and it was a good one. Located on the first floor above the fish market, it has an excellent view along the canal in front.
Seafood features heavily here too but it was the market fish that we came for. Fresh fish of different varieties is loaded up on a trolley and brought out to each table.
From here, diners can choose the fish they want for their lunch.
Pro tip: Book ahead to ensure you get a table (and a table with a view) as it gets very busy. Note also that each fish is sold by its weight so if you are eating on a budget, be sure to ask about the weight and price/kg of the fish.
Location: Largo Praça Peixe 1, 3800-243 Aveiro, Portugal
How to get to around Aveiro
Aveiro is flat and therefore made for walking around and exploring the streets and along the main canals.
Taking a ride on a moliceiro is usually the transport of choice for most, however, you can hire a bike and ride along the canals too.
You can hire bikes for free in Aveiro. Here’s how you do it.
Buses are also available for getting around the city.
The Tuka-Tuka train is a kitsch way of exploring the city in comfort, but it’s perfect for families and covers a broad area of the town. Bookings can be made online.
Location: Largo do Rossio, 3800-198 Aveiro, Portugal
How to get to Aveiro
Aveiro is located approximately 76 kilometres south of Porto.
Getting to Aveiro from Porto is simple, with the A1 and A29 connecting both cities. The A1 offers a more express route, and notwithstanding any issues should take 45 minutes to one hour, one way.
The A1 from Porto heads in the direction of Lisbon in the south. On approach to Aveiro, the A1 will become the A25. The N235 runs into the city. There is a northern Aveiro exit and an Aveiro exit.
Travelling by train is simple and quick, with the average ride taking 1 hour and 15 minutes. If you pay a little more, the express trains will get you there in around 45-50 minutes.
The trains depart from São Bento train station in the centre of Porto and arrive at Aveiro train station which is 1.1 kilometres out of the town.
The station is at the end of the main Av. Dr. Lourenço Peixinho , so you can take a leisurely walk into the main town area (if mobility isn’t an issue). Taxis are available.
Tickets may be purchased online here.
Buses operate less frequently than the efficient train service and take much longer with the average ride being around two hours.
Parking in Aveiro
There are many carparks in Aveiro but if you are driving a campervan or motorhome we recommend two car parks.
Parking Aveiro is a free public carpark with easy access for larger vehicles. It runs along the Canal de S. Roque Canal and several bridges provide access from one side of the canal to the other.
Location: Parque dos Remadores Olímpicos
There is a dedicated motorhome parking area for much larger vehicles at Parque autocaravanas Aveiro.
Location: R. do Dr. Bernardino Machado, Portugal
We loved Coimbra. There’s just something about this medieval university town that is so vibrant. A skyline of terracotta roofs, green parkland and a beautiful river only add to its charm.
Spend time soaking up the local culture in Rue Ferreira Borges
The tiled pavement sets the scene for the main shopping street where you will also find lots of cafes and restaurants. It’s the perfect place to pull up a chair outside and have a beer to watch the world go by.
Get lost in the backstreets
There is nothing straightforward about the design of the streets here and it’s easy to get lost (not lost) in the backstreets. We just followed our nose for hours here, taking left and right turns when and where we felt like it to walk all over the city.
It’s in these hidden areas off the main path where you can find amazing little spots to eat and get a glimpse of the life of a local. There are some beautiful buildings here too, many with an art-nouveau style.
Visit the Coimbra University
The University of Coimbra is the oldest university in Portugal, having commenced its life in Lisbon in 1290. Over the centuries, the university was relocated several times, until it finally came to rest in Coimbra in 1537.
It occupies one of the grandest locations in Coimbra, high on the top of the highest point in the city. The university is housed inside the former Royal Palace.
The university sits around a massive courtyard, Pátio das Escolas. When the university is operating, it serves as a conduit for students from each building and is usually full of people.
We highly recommend taking a tour of the university. Highlights include:
Capela de São Miguel – a 16th-century chapel with incredible tile work on the ceiling and a 3000 pipe organ.
Torre da Universidade – an 18th-century clock tower that is steeped in history at this important place of education. Climb this tower for an impressive view of the city skyline.
Note: This tower is quite narrow with winding steps. Only a limited number of people are allowed inside the tower at one time as people cannot pass when going up or down.
Prisão Acadêmica – it didn’t pay to be a naughty student back in the old days. The old jail sits underneath the library.
Biblioteca Joanina – libraries don’t normally excite me but seeing this is worth the tour alone. It is one of the world’s best libraries and has a collection of over 200,000 books, with many dating back to the 16th-18th centuries.
The library itself is made out of beautiful timber with gilded archways and tiled ceilings. Long ladders reach up to the upper levels, glass cabinets house the most precious of all books. It’s a sight to behold.
Unfortunately, photos are not allowed inside so I can’t show you any of its beauty. You’ll just have to take a tour yourself!
Buying tickets: There are two types of tickets. One ticket includes access to all the buildings and the museum, but not the tower. Another does not include access to the library but personally I have no idea why you would buy this. The ticket office is near the main iron gate entrance to the university. Tickets are bought for set starting times and for a limited number of people. For this reason, we suggest booking a tour online, ahead of time so that you know your time and don’t have to hang around if a tour is full when you want to go.
This is the tour we took that included the university buildings, the library and the prison. For those wanting a more comprehensive tour, this one starts in downtown Coimbra and includes the university. You can buy tickets to climb the tower at the main ticket office on the university grounds.
Get up high for a birds-eye view
We started our walk from Rue Ferreira Borges and passed through the Barbican Gate, one of the many parts of the medieval city walls that remain.
From here we wound our way up the hills, and the steps until we reached the university. Along the way, you’ll find a few areas that offer great views.
Walk through the parklands
Coimbra is a very green city. Located on the edge of the Mondego River, on the city side of town, is the Park Verde do Mondego and Parque da Cidade Manuel Braga. The Manuel Braga Park is especially beautiful with the large plane trees providing excellent shade when walking or sitting in the park.
Up on the hill near the university, the Jardim Botânico da Universidade de Coimbra is the premier garden in town, covering 13 hectares of land.
Walk across the Pedro e Inês Bridge
The multi-coloured glass Pedro e Inês Bridge links both sides of the city that is separated by the Mondego River. The footbridge is also a great way to access the Parque do Choupalinho.
Get involved in activities in Parque do Choupalinho
In summer, this park is abuzz with people enjoying the sunshine and taking part in activities, especially watersports.
Eat Pasteis de Nata
Do yourself a favour and pop in to Pastelaria Briosa to get your fix of Pasteis de Nata.
Location: 5 Largo da Portagem Coimbra
More reading >> Briosa features in our article on finding the best pasteis de nata in Portugal
How to get to Coimbra
Coimbra is lcoated 126 kilometres south of Porto.
Driving from Porto to Coimbra is an easy drive, especially if you take the most direct route via the E1. This is a toll road. Read this website for more information on how tolls work in Portugal.
There is an excellent train service running from Porto to Coimbra. There are two types of trains but both only take 1 hour – 1 hour 15 minutes. The frequency of these trains is also very good.
Tickets should be bought online to secure your seat as these trains are very popular.
Important: The trains for both Porto and Coimbra do not depart from the city centre. In Porto, the trains depart from Porto Campanhã not São Bento. This train station is accessible from São Bento via the metro network. In Coimbra, the train station is Coimbra B which is 2.5km from the centre. Another train can be caught to get into the city proper.
Rede Expressos is the regular bus service that runs from Porto to Coimbra. tickets can be bought online.
In Coimbra, the bus will arrive at the Terminal Rodoviario Coimbra bus station, about 1.6km from the main shopping street.
Parking in Coimbra
Coimbra is your usual small town with old infrastructure. Having a small car is easy enough to park but if you have a campervan or a motorhome, I wouldn’t take it into town.
There is an excellent parking space (free for overnight parking too) at Area Autocaravanas Coimbra.
Location: Parque do Choupalinho, Coimbra, Portugal
Other cities near Porto
Many will tell you that you can also do day trips from Porto to cities like Lisbon, Sintra and Nazare. Don’t be misled by this information. It is possible to drive to all of these locations from Porto in a day, but they will take a minimum of four to six hours return without traffic issues. This doesn’t allow any decent time to spend in these locations.
If you are planning on visiting any of these towns from Porto, we recommend staying at least one night.
- Porto to Lisbon – 313 km or approximately three hours
- Porto to Nazare – 214 km or approximately two hours
- Porto to Sintra – 331 km or approximately three hours
In addition to the towns mentioned in this article, the following are also good day trips from Porto.
- Braga – 54 km or approximately 45 minutes
- Amarante – 59 km or approximately 45 minutes
- Guimarães – 55 km or approximately 45 minutes
- Peneda-Gerês National Park – 107 km or approximately 70 minutes
Hiring a vehicle in Portugal
We wanted to take our time travelling along the west coast of Portugal. So, we did what we love best and hired a campervan for our Lisbon to Porto drive.
We hired a campervan from Indie Campers out of Lisbon and returned it to their depot in Porto which was just perfect. An alternative for one-way hire of a motorhome in Europe, we also recommend Anywhere Campers. You can get an online quote and book with them here.
More reading >> Our independent review of campervan hire in Portugal