Tucked in along the Atlantic Ocean at the very tip of the Iberian Peninsula, Portugal may well be Europe's greatest hidden gem with incredible history, breathtaking vistas, and only one-tenth the tourist crowds of its neighbor Spain. Discover the magic of this Mediterranean wonderland before the masses catch on to its charms with a road trip through the rolling hills in and around capital city of Lisbon.
Once inhabited by Romans and Moors, Lisbon still shows traces of its ancient past among the web of narrow alleyways woven throughout the Alfama district. No trip to Lisbon is complete without a ride on one of its iconic, colorful tram cars clattering up the lamplit streets, but most package tours in Portugal won't take you beyond the city limits. When you've had your fill of museum-gawking and late-night, urban fun, pick up a rental car in Portugal from one of Auto Europe's convenient locations and expand your Lisbon trip to a full-fledged Portugal road trip, exploring the tranquil woodlands and glittering coast in the capital city's own backyard.
This Lisbon road trip guide will take you on a full loop from Lisbon to Sintra, heading up through the central Estremadura region and along the steep coastal cliffs. After leaving the capital, travel north to historic Óbidos. Wander this medieval walled city at your leisure before moving on to coastal resort town Nazaré. Gorge yourself on fresh seafood - Portugal is especially famous for its cod - and tour the cobblestone-paved town's architectural masterpieces. Finish up your Portugal road trip in storybook-worthy Sintra, a hilltop town at the gateway to one of the country's stunning national parks.
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Seven million tourists come to Portugal each year, and nearly all of them choose to visit Lisbon - and for good reason. This capital city is overflowing with old-world charm, from its stunning historical landmarks to the sweetly sorrowful fado music pouring out of traditional restaurants and specialty clubs. You can learn all about the history of that old-fashioned working class genre at the Museu do Fado in the Alfama district, and crash listening parties at A Baîuca or Clube de Fado. Nearby, the Gothic Castelo de São Jorge and the terraced Largo das Portas do Sol provide breathtaking viewpoints for shutterbugs. Equally historic is the Belém neighborhood, where you can find the UNESCO World Heritage sites Mosteiro dos Jerónimos and the Torre de Belém. To explore these storied districts on a different set of wheels, rent a bicycle near Cais do Sodré from Bike Iberia, which has been adding an active component to Lisbon tours for over 15 years. Dive into the city's Roman history - literally - with a free tour of the underground tunnels at Núcleo Arqueológico. Art lovers will find themselves in an aesthetic heaven with 20th century Portugese pieces at the Centro de Arte Moderna, free admission to a surrealist, abstract, and pop art collection at Museu Colecção Berardo, and an epic assemblage of Eastern and Western masterpieces and antiquities at Museu Calouste Gulbenkian. Whatever your poison, be sure to make the most of your Lisbon trip with the Lisbon Card which grants the holder free or discounted admission to all major museums and monuments.
Portuguese cuisine is heavy on the seafood, and you can find plenty at Rosa dos Mares, named for the old maritime legend in which sailors and naval explorers found roses in the water, heralding their return to land. Dig into other traditional and affordable dishes at Santo António de Alfama, Restaurante 1º de Maio, and Zé Varunca. Most classical Portuguese restaurants like these will boast a good-value wine list and can recommend pairings. For a serious splurge, indulge in the gourmet menu and 18th century opulence of Tavares Rico or try the much lauded Belcanto. For dessert, the Belém district is particularly fond of pastries and custard tarts, which you can savor at Pasteis de Belém.
Cap off a day of sightseeing on your trip to Lisbon with a good night's sleep. Get the most bang for your buck at the modern, centrally located Radisson Blu. Catch a spectacular view of the Aqueduct and Monsanto Park from the sleekly furnished Corinthia Hotel. If a long day of museum-hopping just leaves you craving the lap of luxury, settle into the lush lodgings at Dom Pedro Palace or Avenida Palace. Social butterflies will love the arranged activities at the Alfama Patio Hostel, which organizes pub crawls and barbecues for its guests.
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Lisbon tours might show you the major sites of the city, but with the convenience of a rental car at your side, you can see far more of this magnificent country. Continue your road trip through central Portugal in medieval Óbidos, whose greatest attraction is its well-preserved architecture. Stretch your legs after the hour-long drive from Lisbon with a relaxing stroll through the walled city center, taking in the pristine whitewashed houses, magnificent castle skyline, and majestic stone pillories. Be sure to make a stop on your Óbidos tour at the exquisitely tiled Igreja de Santa Maria, where the future Alfonso V married his child bride Isabel in the 15th century. This charmingly simple Renaissance church isn't the only site of royal significance - the whole town was a wedding gift from Dom Dinis to Isabel of Aragon in 1282. Óbidos has also been popular with artists, like Josefa of Óbidos, whose work you can find in the Santa Maria and at the Museu Municipal. Outside the city center, you'll find the venerable Santuário do Senhor da Pedra, crafted in the Baroque style.
Dine on delectable, stylishly presented seafood dishes in a storybook setting at Pousada Castelo Óbidos, restaurant for the local pousada (see below). Restaurante Alcaide boasts a similarly royal locale and offers rustic Portuguese meals, like cod fritters with Serra cheese, chestnuts, and baked apple. Enjoy attentive service and a flavorful meal at O Caldeirao. For a dinner brimming with ambience, tuck into the intimate, stone-walled Petrarum Domus, which serves up traditional dishes, or share creative tapas among the medieval décor at Bar Arco da Cadeia.
Most Óbidos tours are simple day trips from Lisbon, but with a car rental from Auto Europe, you can join the rare ranks of overnight visitors to this medieval hamlet. There are plenty of lodging options where you can make the most of the town's history. Albergaria Rainha Santa Isabel is nestled inside the castle walls with wood paneled rooms, traditional azulejo tilework, and delightfully old-world views. For a more religious angle to your stay, enjoy the 19th-century convent setting at Estalagem do Convento. Literature lovers will get a kick out of catching some z's at novelist Graham Greene's former haunt, Pousada do Castelo, placed in a former 15th century castle with ornate architecture and décor. If historic digs aren't a must-have, save a little dough on the cozy, comfortable, boutique hotel Casas das Senhoras Rainhas, tucked away inside the city walls.
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Beachside Nazaré has everything you could want in a coastal resort, but average tours in Portugal may not take you so far deep into the central Estremadura region. There are ample sightseeing opportunities on these cobblestone streets. The Alcobaça neighborhood is home to the 12th century Mosteiro de Santa Maria de Alcobaça, an expansive time capsule of the Middle Ages. Manueline masterpiece Mosteiro de Santa Maria de Vitória offers a similarly tantalizing glimpse into medieval times. Beautiful as the town's monasteries are, its beaches are the real draw for travelers. Catch a little surf and sun, but be careful swimming - the waters beneath Nazaré's breathtaking cliffs are filled with dangerous currents. For a different kind of exercise, climb up to Sitio to get a postcard-worthy view over the bright village of closely knit fishermen's cottages. While you're on the clifftops, check out Ermida da Memória, where, according to local legend, the Virgin Mary saved a local dignitary from certain death. The miracle is depicted inside the nearby Nossa Senhora da Nazaré, where you can also find stunning Baroque belfries and 18th century tile-work. If you're still craving seaside fun, head a few miles south of town to Sao Martinho do Porto. The golden sands here are especially popular with families thanks to the safe, sheltered bay.
Situated on the Atlantic Ocean, it shouldn't be any surprise that Nazaré's gastronomic greats center on fresh seafood. Sample a little bit of everything with the arroz de marisco – teeming with crab, mussels, clams, and shrimp – at the family tavern A Restaurante A Tasquinha. With a little hunting, you can find the tucked away Rosa dos Ventos which serves fish in the traditional grilled style. Families will love sharing a tapas style meal filled with Portuguese flavor at Sitiado. Get funky with Mediterranean fusion dishes, like goat cheese balls with pumpkin jam, at Tosca Gastro Bar.
Stay close to the action at the conveniently located Hotel Mare, or relax in the eclectic tiled courtyard at quaint Vila Turística Conde Fidalgo. If luxury's not at the top of your list, you can find basic, clean accommodations at the modern Hotel Praia, or get stunning views from the tidy hostel Mar Bravo Hotel Restaurante or the clean, comfortable Hotel Miramar Sul.
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Your Portugal road trip ends in the Edenic hilltop town of Sintra. You'll feel like Alice in Wonderland at the Quinta da Regaleira, a neo-Manueline manor with labyrinthine gardens and intricate, artful décor spread throughout the villa. The Palacio Nacional de Sintra is just as fairy tale-esque a setting, with decidedly Moorish influences amid its traditional Renaissance-era ceramic tilework. Get another glimpse of Portugal's Moorish history at the Castelo dos Mouros. Catch a breath of fresh air in Parque de Pena - a few minutes in this exotic, 30-hectare woodland and you'll know you're not in the city anymore. Equally expansive is Monserrate Park, whose romantic gardens are sculpted in the 18th century English landscaping style and hide away subtropical trees, a small waterfall, and a ruined chapel. Haven't had enough time behind the wheel? Test your driving mettle on the hairpin curves of the roads leading into the Serra, where you'll find stunning coastal views and remote attractions. The 16th century Franciscan monastery Convento dos Capuchos, the spectacularly tiled chapel Peninha, and the lonely cliffside lighthouse Cabo da Roca all make great stops for the countryside traveler.
Relax after your ramblings about town at the old-fashioned Tulhas set in a former grain warehouse and particularly well-known for its bacalhau com natas. Nau Palatina serves up Portuguese food small plates-style with a little north African twist. If you're traveling with companions, try to tackle the massive steak portions at Moinho Iberico. Or, if Nazaré didn't quite satisfy your seafood cravings, dig into grilled fish and octopus at Restaurante da Adraga.
Ready to treat yourself at the end of your trip? Splurge on the ultra-luxurious Penha Longa. If you're sick of driving, you can find centrally located lodgings at the modern Tivoli Sintra. For a quieter, more remote place to bed down, head east of town to Residencial Sintra, a serene, family-run operation with great views of the Castelo dos Mouros (see above). For an added dose of history with your accommodations, try the 18th century Tivoli Palácio de Seteais, filled with period décor, or Lawrence's, said to be Portugal's oldest hotel.
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