10 Days in Portugal: How to Plan a Unique Trip from Porto to the Algarve

Coimbra University

10 Days in Portugal: How to Plan a Unique Trip from Porto to the Algarve

Beautiful cities, jaw-dropping beaches, and delicious food. Find out how to plan 10 days in Portugal, following a beautiful itinerary to discover the best in Portugal.

While I visited Spain several times, Portugal has long been on my radar, but for some reason I always postponed. I just came back from a journey from Porto to the Algarve, and my recurrent thought was “Oh Portugal, why did it take me so long to discover your beauty?”

As I prepared for my trip, I was undecided between a road trip or traveling across Portugal by train. I ended up preferring public transport. It’s usually cheaper when you’re a solo traveler, and more environmentally friendly.

A little more than one week is certainly not enough to get to know a country in-depth, but if you follow my 10-days itinerary, you’ll get to see the best of Portugal. If not all, a good portion of it.

Day 1 and 2: Porto and the Douro Valley

Perhaps it’s the Douro river flowing slowly, or the colorful crumbling old houses of the historic center, but in Porto, I got the sense of the Saudade. It’s hard to explain that state of melancholy and longing so profoundly rooted in the Portuguese and Brazilian culture. You just get to feel it.

Porto is a small city, but there’s a lot to do and see.

First Day – Discover the charming old city.

A UNESCO World Heritage Site since 1996, there’s no better way to discover Porto historic center than getting lost in the winding cobblestone alleys, lined with charming tiled old houses. Some of them are crumbling, and hanging laundry is ubiquitous. That’s a big part of Porto’s charm. It’s a small city with a big soul. And it brought back memories from Brazil, especially the colorful fading houses of Salvador de Bahia.

Portugal, Porto Historical Center

Aside from the endless picturesque corners, there are a few spots in Porto that are a must-see.

With its elegant buildings, Avenida dos Aliados reminds – albeit being short – of the French boulevards. Along the River Douro, the Ribeira is the most popular and crowded area of the city. Once a docking area, the Ribeira and its colorful houses are now bustling at any time of the day, with people strolling or having a drink or a bite at one of the many cafes and restaurants.

Porto Ribeira

The iron Don Luis I bridge spanning the Douro is another iconic landmark, and you’re likely to cross it to go tasting Porto in Vila Nova de Gaia, on the opposite bank.

If you’re passionate about contemporary architecture, you’ll love the Casa da Musica, designed by Dutch architect Rem Koolhaas.

To admire beautiful azulejos, the glazed ceramic tiles usually painted in blue, head to the cloister of the Sé Cathedral, the Igreja do Carmo and the nearby São Bento Station.

If you still have time, take a ride on tram N. 1 to Foz and then have a stroll along the beach.

Porto Casa d Musica

Porto Azulejos Sé Catedral

Second Day – The lush Douro Valley

With its steep terraced hills along the river, the Douro Valley is home to the Porto wine. This gorgeous landscape, with its longstanding winemaking tradition, became a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 2001 and is a fantastic day trip from Porto.

It’s quite complicated to visit this region by public transportation, so the best is to either hire a car and ride the narrow winding roads, or taking a day tour, including a river cruise and, of course, Porto wine tasting.

Day 3: Coimbra

Home to one of the oldest universities in the world, Coimbra is a little jewel.

Lovely steep alleys lead to the University, Coimbra’s heart, and soul. Over the centuries, the university grew and developed in a unique integrated fashion with the town, and for that reason, Coimbra became a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 2013.

Coimbra University

The University’s large central courtyard is impressive, and the view from atop the hill is lovely. Don’t miss to visit the Joanine Library. Built in the 18th century, the baroque Joanine library hosts over 200,000 rare books and is deemed to be one of the most beautiful in the world.

During the Academic Year, Coimbra is full of life. Students wrapped in their black cloaks all over the place, street performers, and a joyful atmosphere.

Coimbra University [2]

Coimbra Sé Nova Cathedral

Day 4 and 5: Lisbon

I thought that Porto was beautiful, but Lisbon took my breath away!

I could easily spend there a week, even longer, but two days in Lisbon are enough to at least get a taste of the best the city has to offer.

First day – Alfama, Chiado and Bairro Alto

I loved climbing up and down the streets of the Alfama, the old district which was only marginally affected by the 1755 earthquake. Most people ride the famous (and very touristy) Tram 28, but I preferred to explore the area strolling in the maze of winding alleys, taking a halt at one of the many miradouros, the esplanades overlooking the city and providing stunning views, especially at sunset.

Lisbon

From Alfama, head to the bohemian district of Chiado and take a break at the San Pedro Alcantara viewpoint, for another glimpse over Lisbon from a different perspective. Further above the Chiado, you’ll reach the Bairro Alto, with its charming worn-off houses and the laundry hanging off the windows. This is also one of the liveliest areas at night, with plenty of restaurants where you can also listen to Fado.

Second day – Belém and Baixa

Portugal played a crucial role in the world discoveries, and many explorers set sails from Belém.

The main landmarks, both UNESCO World Heritage Sites, are the Belém Tower and the Hieronymite Monastery,  whose church hosts Vasco de Gama’s tomb.

The Monument to the Discoveries was built in 1960 to celebrate the 500th anniversary of the death of Prince Henry The Navigator, who financed Portugal’s Discoveries. Shaped like a stylised caravel overlooking the ocean, I found it even more poignant than the Belém Tower.

Half day is enough to visit Belém, and after that, it’s time to visit the Baixa district. Rebuilt after the earthquake, it shows a different image of Lisbon. Straight streets built in a grid lined with elegant neoclassical buildings reminded me of other European cities. If you want to do some shopping, this is the area to go to. And the vast Praça do Comercio is another great spot at sunset.

Belém Tower

Belém, Monument to the Discoveries

Day 6 and 7: Sintra

Most people visit Sintra as a day trip from Lisbon. However, I decided to overnight, and I strongly suggest you do the same. Sintra is beautiful, and there’s a lot to do and see. It’s also very crowded, and spending the night allows you to enjoy Sintra in the evening and early in the morning before it gets packed with day tourists.

Perched on a steep hill and surrounded by beautiful verdant scenery, Sintra is another Portugal UNESCO World Heritage Site, and it’s easy to see why. Once the Summer residence of the royals and aristocracy, Sintra’s extravagant palaces and the lush gardens are utterly enthralling.

The colorful Pena Palace, atop a  rocky hill, is the most famous landmark, the one that everyone gets to visit. Unfortunately, I didn’t get to see much of its bright colors. The Pena Palace was wrapped in fog, making it less Disney-like and more fascinating. Be ready for long queues, unless you buy a ticket in advance. However, this won’t prevent you from facing the entrance queue. For that reason, you should head to the Pena Palace very early in the morning or in the late afternoon. 

Another magnificent, and crowded, palace, is the Quinta da Regaleira. The flamboyant building and the gardens are mesmerizing, and I enjoyed the Regaleira even more than the Pena Palace.

Sintra, Quinta da Regaleira

Take a step back in time and walk to the spellbinding Castelo do Mouros. The Moorish Castle dates back to the 8th century and is the oldest monument in Sintra. The views are said to be spectacular, although when I was there the caste was shrouded in a drizzle and a light fog. Rather than disappointing, the weather gave the castle a romantic aura.

Day 8, 9 and 10: The Algarve

I had often read and heard of the beauty of the Algarve and couldn’t wait to discover this region of southern Portugal. I did some research to find out where might be the best place to stay in the Algarve and ended up choosing Lagos. It was indeed a great choice and an excellent base to explore nearby stunning beaches and have a couple of rewarding day hikes.

Lagos Ponta de Piedade

The old town is charming. Whitewashed houses, lovely cafes with a few al fresco tables where I enjoyed breakfast with espresso and the delicious Pastel de Nata. The atmosphere is laid back, and it really felt like a holiday.

Lagos main attractions are the breathtaking beaches surrounded by steep cliffs. The most famous beaches are Praia Don Ana and Praia do Camilo, easy to reach with a short walk. A must-see in Lagos is Ponta de Pietade. It’s one of the most jaw-dropping coastal sceneries in Europe an area of outstanding beauty. There’s a beautiful and easy coastal path to admire the cliffs from above, and I suggest you also take a boat trip to see them from the sea and enter the grottoes.

Lagos

The Algarve is also very popular for surfing, as well as for hiking. I loved the Seven Hanging Valleys day hike, with its incredible views of the coast and the golden cliffs.

I ended my 10 days Portugal itinerary in Faro, from where I flew back to Milan. Faro is the Algarve airport, but it only provides connections within Europe. Beware that there are not always daily flights, so you have to schedule your Portugal trip accordingly.

How to plan your Portugal itinerary

Getting to Portugal

Lisbon Airport is the main hub, with flights from all over the world. There’s quite a good number of flights to/from Porto, although not as many. I usually search on Skyscanner and CheapOair for the best airfares. On both sites, you can search flights from multiple cities to check the prices for flights to Porto and from Lisbon.

Especially if you arrive from overseas, you may want to take advantage of a private transfer from Lisbon Airport or Porto Airport after a long flight. 

You can as well plan your 10 days itinerary in Portugal starting in Lisbon or Faro. In that cse, you’d visit the Algarve first and end your 10 days in Portugal in Porto.

Getting around in Portugal

Renting a car gives you greater freedom, but beware of the issues and costs related to parking in Porto and Lisbon. 

Traveling by train in Portugal, as I did, is easy, but beware that from Lisbon to the Algarve there are only a few intercity trains per day, so you better buy your tickets and book your seats at least one day in advance.


Safety in Portugal

Portugal is a safe country, and women traveling solo have nothing to worry about (except applying the usual commons sense). People are very kind and friendly, and most of them speak decent English. I suggest, however, to get travel insurance, to cover any inconvenience.  We all hope this won’t happen, of course, but we might all have to face unexpected circumstances. I’ve been using World Nomads for years, and always was very happy with them.


How to visit Portugal main landmarks

Portugal is much more touristy than I expected. This means long queues to visit the main landmarks, especially in Porto, Lisbon, and Sintra.

To get the most of your time, I selected I few interesting tours to the main Portugal attractions

Porto – Douro Valley: A full day out to discover the beauty of the Douro Valley, taste wine and delicious food and float along the river in a typical boat.

Lisbon by Tuktuk: a 2 hours fun tour up and down the hills to discover the most beautiful and charming neighborhoods and find out more about Lisbon history with a guide.

Sintra, Cabo da Roca, and Cascais: a small group (max 8 people) full day tour to discover romantic Sintra, the beautiful Roca cape and lovely Cascais.

Lagos: 75-Minute Boat Cruise to Ponta da Piedade to see up close the dramatic cliffs and the grottos. 

Lagos: 2-Hour Kayak Cave Explorer Tour, to discover the beautiful beaches, marvel by the cliffs and enjoy nature. 

Check More Portugal Tours  


Where to stay in Porto

Hotel Moon & Sun Porto features midrange price modern rooms in the heart of the city.

Eurostars Porto Douro is set along the river, a 3-minutes walk from the Ribeira, and features bright modern rooms.

Infante Sagres is perfect for a romantic stay. A luxury, classic hotel in a beautiful historical building.

More accommodation in Porto

Where to stay in Coimbra

An excellent choice is the charming Sapientia Boutique Hotel, located in the old town and also featuring a terrace.

If you’re looking for a unique, romantic stay in Coimbra, you’ll love Hotel Quinta das Lagrimas. Set in a historical palace, it features a botanic garden, swimming pool, and a spa.

More accommodation in Coimbra

Where to stay in Lisbon

Mera Prime Gold is a charming design hotel located in between the Bairro Alto and Chiado, in an excellent position to explore Lisbon.

Located in the Baixa, close to the Metro station, Browns Boutique Hotel features charming rooms with stylish decorations.

The delightful Lisbon Wine Hotel is close to the Rossio station and São Jorge Castle and features beautiful modern, classy rooms.

More accommodation in Lisbon

Where to stay in Lagos

Hotel Marina Rio overlooks the marina and the promenade along the river and features modern, recently refurbished rooms and a lovely terrace.

Lagos Atlantic Hotel features modern rooms, an outdoor swimming pool, a garden, and free parking and is about 1.5 km from the Dona Ana and Camilo beaches.

The beautiful Lagos Avenida Hotel faces the marina and features stylish modern rooms and a rooftop terrace with sun chairs and a small swimming pool.

More accommodation in Lagos

 


This article contains affiliate links to services I have either personally tested or carefully selected. If you buy any of them, I get a small commission at no extra cost for you. 

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3 Comments
  • Stuart Forster
    Posted at 00:28h, 04 June Reply

    I love the photos you’ve chosen. They evoke memories of my time in Portugal. It’s a beautiful land to spend travel through.

    • Simon
      Posted at 12:51h, 06 June Reply

      Thank you, Stuart. Portugal is a very photogenic country and I have a lot more photos to edit and share. More stories and pictures to come soon.

  • Leyla Giray Alyanak
    Posted at 21:06h, 05 May Reply

    I too was a latecomer to Portugal – I grew up in Spain and the rivalry was always palpable… we simply ignored Portugal. What a shame! So I never visited until adulthood but I’ve made up for it since, by traveling from top to bottom. The first time was nearly 40 years ago – the Algarve was already popular but nothing like today. My real discovery was the North, which I simply didn’t know. How gorgeous it is, so beautiful that next year I hope to walk the part of the Camino that starts in Porto.

    On another point altogether, I’d like to recommend a small guest house in Sintra, São Miguel Guest House. It belongs to an artist whose son is a major antiques dealer – their house in northern Portugal is amazing and the guest house reflects their tremendous taste and hospitality.

    Even so, I feel I’ve barely scratched the surface and must return…

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