How to Spend the Most Perfect Week in Portugal

Carve out time on your Portugal trip to visit Aveiro, the art nouveau capital of Portugal
Carve out time on your Portugal trip to visit Aveiro, the art nouveau capital of Portugal | © Boelter / Alamy Stock Photo
Photo of Nina Santos
3 September 2021

Only have a week to explore Portugal? See as many sides of this beautiful country as possible by starting in the Algarve and making your way north to Porto. Although one week isn’t enough time to dig deep into the culture or head off the beaten track, it’ll give you a great first impression of this fantastic country. Here’s our ideal way to spend a – near – perfect week in Portugal.

Want to visit Portugal without having to plan your own itinerary? Consider joining Culture Trip’s specially curated nine-day Portugal tour, which includes Porto, the Douro Valley, Lisbon and plenty more – led by our local insider.

Days one and two: the Algarve

The two main international airports are in Lisbon and Porto – the third is in Faro, but consider entering the country through one of the first two and then catching a connecting flight to Faro. There are also trains and buses that head into the Algarve, but you may prefer flying to get there more quickly as flights from Lisbon take about 45 minutes.

In the Algarve, the coast is the shining star and the region is lined with beaches that look too beautiful to be true. Lagos, Albufeira, Portimão and Tavira are a few of the more popular city stops highlighted by spectacular beaches, seaside cafes and multi-toned cliffs. Stop at Camilo Beach, Benagil Cave, the Beach of Three Brothers (Praia dos Três Irmãos), and the lighthouse at Piedade Point. Renting a car is the easiest way to jump from one sight to the next.

While some visitors like to get in the water as soon as possible, you may prefer to enjoy the coast from afar. Trekking, surfing, sunbathing and kayaking are just a few of the popular activities on offer.

Another great spot in the Algarve is the Ria Formosa lagoon system and its islands – a natural treasure that’s listed as one of the Seven Natural Wonders in Portugal and located around the Faro coast. In the Ria Formosa, birdwatching is a unique treat; there are more than 200 bird species here.

Consider yourself a seafood connoisseur? The charming fishing villages in Portugal are filled with excellent restaurants offering freshly caught fish and seafood. The best seafood dish to try in the Algarve is the mixed seafood cataplana: steam-cooked fish and shellfish in a traditional copper pot.

The magnificent sea caves of Benagil can be reached by canoe or kayak | © robertharding / Alamy Stock Photo

Days three and four: Lisbon, Belém and Sintra

Drive or hop on a train and head north to Lisbon, the lively and artistic capital city of Portugal. After arriving and sampling your first pastel da nata, spend a few hours meandering through the winding streets of Alfama – the oldest neighbourhood in the city and the most popular spot to hear fado, Portugal’s magically melancholic traditional music.

For snapping photos and embracing panoramic views, visit the São Jorge Castle and a few local neighbourhood miradouros (viewpoints).

Where should you eat amid all that sightseeing? Finding a nice spot is sometimes as easy as closing your eyes and pointing – restaurants are everywhere. If you’re in the mood for something quick and budget-friendly, a popular suggestion is finding a cervejaria or churrasqueira and ordering frango assado: a Portuguese take on spicy grilled chicken. Or head to Cais do Sodré and choose one of the tascas or riverside cafés for a quick meal with a good view.

An afternoon in Lisbon is an excellent time to head to Belém, where it’s possible to tour magnificent heritage buildings. The Jeronimos Monastery, the Belém Tower, and the Discoveries Monument are three key landmarks not to miss.

No doubt, Sintra deserves a full day dedicated to it, so visit the day after arriving in Lisbon. The easiest way to get there is by train from Rossio Station – don’t forget to snap a few photos of the ornate entrance. The train ride lasts about an hour.

It’s best to visit Sintra with a plan and know which castles and palaces you want to see most. The Pena Palace, Quinta da Regaleira and Castle of the Moors are arguably the three most popular landmarks for first-time visitors.

The Castle of the Moors is one of the most popular landmarks to visit in Sintra | © Sean Hsu / Alamy Stock Photo

Day five: Coimbra or Aveiro

Make your way to Porto, but fit in enough time for one stop first. Two great locations to choose from are the historic riverside city of Coimbra, in central Portugal and home to the country’s oldest university, or the art nouveau capital of Portugal, Aveiro, a romantic city nicknamed the Venice of Portugal.

The riverside city of Coimbra sits on top of the Mondego River | © Allard Schager / Alamy Stock Photo

Days six and seven: Porto

Wrap up your trip in traditional Porto, home of delicious croissants, the francesinha calorie bomb, sweet port wine, crisp vinho verde and amazing landmarks that give the city a special personality.

By the end of a busy week-long voyage through this amazing country, it’s probably time for a little rest and relaxation – but first, be sure to visit the Ribeira District for a little more sightseeing. History buffs may like seeing the house where Henry the Navigator was born – called the Casa do Infante – and you can also check out some of the incredible displays of azulejo mosaics.

A few last-minute activities to fit in before saying adeus to Portugal include a wine tasting at one of the local wineries, walking along a nearby beach, taking in a spectacular view from a rooftop terrace and shopping in one of the local markets.

The historic Porto neighbourhood of Ribeira sits on the Douro River | © imageBROKER / Alamy Stock Photo

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