The Coolest and Most Scenic Road Trips to Take in Portugal

The twisting roads of Madeira make the island one of the top driving spots in the country
The twisting roads of Madeira make the island one of the top driving spots in the country | © Jan Wlodarczyk / Alamy
Nina Santos

The best way to explore the lesser-known spots in Portugal is by car, each detour and wrong turn can take you to another beautiful town or village. Pack a few pastéis de nata and hit the road for a trip you’ll never forget – we’ll get you started with some of the best road trips in Portugal.

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Douro Valley

Begin in Porto and drive through the Douro Valley, the most popular wine region in Portugal. There is plenty to see and do here, and the length of the trip will depend on the experience you’re seeking. If you’re looking for a quick day trip, make the nearly two-hour drive from Porto to Pinhão to sample delicious wine (you might want to bring a designated driver for this one). Stop en route for lunch in a small, family-run restaurant to try the traditional food from the north.

Or you can enjoy a boat trip down the river and stay in a traditional quinta (county estate) as part of Culture Trip’s exclusive nine-day Portugal adventure, led by our Local Insider.

For a country escape from Porto, there’s nowhere more intoxicating than the beautiful vineyards of the Douro Valley


Turn off the popular highways and hit the path less travelled. Tras-os-Montes – literally Beyond the Mountains – is easily the wildest and least visited region in the country. It’s a scenic destination – ideal for photo taking and hiking – and the few travellers who have explored the rocky region fall in love with everything from the friendliness of the locals to the cuisine and the customs.

The Trás-os-Montes is one of the wilder, lesser visited driving spots in Portugal | © Andie_Alpion/Shutterstock

Serra da Estrela

The Serra da Estrela is the highest mountain range in mainland Portugal and an excellent location for a weekend adventure. Spring, summer and autumn are all great times to visit, but winter is precarious since this is one of the only regions in Portugal that receives snow – plan accordingly. One mini-break (two or three days) worth considering is from Seia to Guarda with stops at the Bread Museum and the medieval Folgosinho Castle.

The Serra da Estrela is the highest mountain range in mainland Portugal

Beach hopping down the Atlantic coast

Driving along the Atlantic coast and visiting each major beach is a no-brainer. Key towns to visit include Aveiro, Figueira da Foz, Nazaré, Peniche, Ericeira and Lagos. Don’t forget to bring your surfboard and towel.

Nazaré Beach is one of the top surfing spots in the world, home to giant waves


One of the best day and weekend trips from Lisbon will take you to Sintra, the most mesmerising fairytale town in the country. The lush, windy roads through the Sintra mountains are amazing by themselves, but are enhanced by the beautiful castles, palaces and manor estates that have given this town its reputation as one of the most stunning in Europe. Take the coastal road and stop in Estoril and Cascais on the way unless you prefer hopping on the train at Rossio station in Lisbon.

Palacio da Pena is a fairytale-like castle in Sintra


Driving around the main island of Madeira is probably the most convenient way to get around, but it’s not for the faint of heart. The highways that curl around the mountains, through tunnels and along the stunning coast, also lead drivers to rural and narrow country roads. Don’t forget to pack your hiking gear, since Madeira is one of the top destinations for exploring on foot, too.

While touring Madeira, climb Pico Ruivo, the highest peak on the island

São Miguel

The beautiful island of São Miguel, like Madeira, can be driven around in one day, but where’s the fun in that? Take a few days to get to know this beautiful Azorean island. From Sete Cidades to Furnas village and the green, rolling farmland of Nordeste, this destination is a treasure trove of phenomenal sights.

Take your time touring Sao Miguel to stop at beautiful locations such as Lagoa do Fogo, a volcanic lake
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