How to Spend the Best 5 Days in Portugal

The Sintra National Palace is one of the many wonderful experiences you'll have on your time spent here in Portugal
The Sintra National Palace is one of the many wonderful experiences you'll have on your time spent here in Portugal | ©  Sean Pavone / Alamy Stock Photo
Photo of Nina Santos
4 September 2021

Beautiful and interesting, yet slow-paced and relaxed, Portugal is a place where new experiences are always around the corner. To help you prepare for your trip, here is a five-day travel itinerary to help you make the most of your time in Portugal.

Want to sit back and let someone else do all the planning for you? Join our specially curated nine-day Northern Portugal adventure.

Day one: Lisbon

There’s a strong probability that you’ll arrive in the capital of Portugal and it’s a great spot to begin your adventure. After getting through the airport and dropping your bags off at your hotel, don your best sneakers and get ready for some urban hiking.

The first order of business: coffee and a snack. No matter if it’s 7am or 10am – or later – the local way to start the day is with a coffee and bread or pastry from a neighbourhood café or pastelaria. Of course, it’s recommended that you get your hands on an iconic pastel de nata as soon as possible, but don’t let that stop you from eyeballing the other fantastic pastries that are likely on display – the Portuguese love their pastries – and choose one that catches your attention.

After fueling up, hit the cobbled roads and explore. Baixa, Alfama and Bairro Alto are three popular neighborhoods in Lisbon that should be first on the list. Jumping on the Tram 28 will offer you a bumpy – and truly Portuguese – ride past many of the most iconic sights, plus it will help you avoid climbing some of the steep hills. Chances are that the sun will be in the forecast – Lisbon is one of Europe’s sunniest capitals – so take advantage of it. Go for a walk along the Tagus River, perhaps stopping now and then to cool down with a juice, cocktail, or Portuguese beer.

A Portugese tram running through the city of Lisbon | © Sean Pavone / Alamy Stock Photo

Lisbon has developed a reputation as a foodie hotspot and there is no shortage of fantastic restaurants – whatever your diet and tastes. Our suggestion, however, is to find a restaurant with fado so that you can listen to Portugal’s beautiful melancholic music while you’re eating. While walking through Alfama, you’re sure to pass plenty of restaurants with tempting menus by the entrance and bold signs exclaiming, “Fado Hoje!” which translates as “fado today”. If you’re stuck for choice, here are some of the most popular venues – including restaurants – to make choosing one among the many even easier.

At night, enjoy a view from a rooftop bar and reminisce about the great first day you just had.

Early evening in the city of Lisbon, Portugal, seen from Miradouro Sao Pedro de Alcantara | © Magdalena Paluchowska / Alamy Stock Photo

Day two: Belém and Cascais

First thing in the morning,head to Praça da Figueira or Cais do Sodré. Here you’ll find the bus that goes to Belém, a district full of Unesco World Heritage Sites. Not only does visiting early mean fewer tourists and shorter lines, but it’s a lovely time of day to be by the river where you’ll see some of Lisbon’s iconic landmarks – like the Jerónimos Monastery and Belém Tower. There are also many museums and garden paths, and Belém is home to Lisbon’s famous Pastéis de Belém, located next door to the monastery.

Enjoy traditional pastéis de nata at the historical Pastéis de Belém cafe in Lisbon | © Stefano Politi Markovina / Alamy Stock Photo

A scenic train ride along the coast will carry you from Belém to Cascais, where you’ll be able to eat lunch by the sea. Make a beeline straight to one of the beach shacks for a quick bite and a view. Known as one of Portugal’s most popular resort towns, Cascais is an excellent spot to enjoy a range of activities, from cycling to shopping and museums.

To catch an amazing sunset in Cascais, visit the Boca do Inferno – “Mouth of Hell” in English – where you’ll find seaside cliffs surrounding a cave.

The last train heads back to Cais do Sodré at around 11 pm, giving you plenty of time to explore the area.

The sun sets over the Atlantic Ocean at Boca do Inferno caves near Cascais, Portugal | © Dave Porter / Alamy Stock Photo

Day three: Sintra

If you only have a week or less in Portugal, try to make Sintra a priority and dedicate one full day to visiting as much of it as possible. Take a bus from the town centre to the Castelo dos Mouros – a medieval stone castle perched on one of the area’s hilltops. The views extend for miles all around and even take in the Pena Palace, perhaps the next landmark that should be on your list.

Sintra is a town full of castles and palaces – each one worth seeing – but make time to visit the town centre. Sit in a café and sample the local sweets, like travesseiros: a must-try if you like almonds.

A historical old town with a Moorish castle on the hill in Portugal | © Andrew Duke / Alamy Stock Photo

Day four: Porto

Whether to take the train or fly to Porto from Lisbon depends completely on you – but the train only takes three hours, costs €2.50 (£2.13) one-way in second class, and is a great way to see the countryside while relaxing for a bit. Catch the train from either Santa Apolónia or Oriente Station and enjoy the ride all the way to Porto’s Campanha station.

From there, exit the station and walk towards the Ribeira district or change lines and take a second train to the São Bento Station – a beautiful landmark with its wall-covered azulejo mosaics. São Bento Station is also a convenient jumping off point for sightseeing in the middle of downtown.

The Sao Bento Railway Station located in Porto, Portugal | © imageBROKER / Alamy Stock Photo

If you’re a bookworm, don’t miss the Livraria Lello & Irmão – easily the most famous bookstore in Portugal and just a five-minute walk from São Bento Station. Try Porto’s local gastronomy by choosing lunch from one of the many fantastic restaurants. Climb up to the top of the Clérigos Tower for a bird’s-eye view of the city and snap a photo from the Dom Luís Bridge. And don’t forget to walk along the Ribeira, stopping now and then for a coffee, drink or a bite to eat.

When in Porto, drink port wine – and next-door neighbor Vila Nova da Gaia is perhaps the best place in the entire country to try this local favorite sweet wine. The local cellars offer tours and tastings, usually lasting somewhere between one and two hours. After whetting your appetite with port, it’s a good time for dinner – and there are many restaurants serving traditional Portuguese dishes for you to enjoy.

Scenic views of the historic old town of Porto at sunrise in Portugal | © Michael Brooks / Alamy Stock Photo

Day five: explore somewhere new

From Porto, there are many unique towns where you can plan a day trip. Which should you choose? Take your pick. Braga, known as one of Portugal’s most spiritual towns – perhaps tied with Fátima – is covered in beautifully aged churches and monasteries.

Aveiro is known as the “Venice of Portugal” and, as its nickname hints, it’s intersected with canals filled with long, colorful, gondola-like boats.

Lastly, Viana do Castelo is another charming town filled with palaces and monasteries, and then there is the Douro Valley, where the vineyards and rolling green hills entice travelers looking to wind down their trip at a slower pace.

The famous landmark of Braga, the Bom Jesus do Monte church in Portugal | © Ana Flašker / Alamy Stock Photo

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