Portugal in recent years has become one of the most popular holiday destinations in Europe. And no wonder, as the local beautiful nature, interesting cities, beautiful coastline, beaches, good food and wine, and reasonable prices are hard for any traveler to resist. But what to do if you are short of time? Is it worth going to Portugal for just one week? As someone who has done it, I say: absolutely! Today I’ll tell you how to spend the best week of your life in Portugal.
How best to travel in Portugal
There are two main ways to get around Portugal. The first is to rent a car. Renting a car gives you more freedom and saves you a lot of traveling time. But renting a car can be expensive. Also if you have never driven in a foreign country you may be in for a lot of unpleasant surprises.
If you don’t want to or don’t know how to drive, that’s okay. Portugal has an excellent and affordable train system that connects the major cities. Tickets can be purchased in advance online. The earlier you book the tickets, the cheaper the price. All train stations are very conveniently located: a short walk from the city center or close to a subway station or streetcar stop.
One week in Portugal: planning an itinerary
Portugal is a small country, but even so, one week is very short. Nevertheless, even in such a short time you can see and do a lot. For one week in Portugal, I suggest the following itinerary:
- Day 1 – 2: Porto
- Day 3: Day tour of the Douro Valley
- Day 7: The Algarve
One week in Portugal: two days in Porto
If you ever decide to take a trip to Portugal, be sure to visit Porto. I know most people tend to make more time for Lisbon, but Porto has always been a favorite of mine. Beautifully tiled buildings, colorful riviera, and, of course, the port cellars. Porto has the kind of charm you can’t help but fall in love with, and while you could spend more time here, 2 days in Porto is perfect for those with only one week in Portugal.
Porto is best known for its port wine, which is pretty funny because the wine production facilities in the area are not in Porto itself, but across the Douro River. It doesn’t take long to walk (or drive) across the bridge. This place is worth visiting not only for the port wine cellars but also because of the beautiful view of Porto. Don’t worry, two days in Porto will give you enough time to get to know both sides of the river.
Porto is not a big city, and although it has a public transportation system, the best way to get around is on foot. Keep in mind, the city is built on hills, so pick good shoes for walking.
The best places you should visit in two days in Porto:
Ponte Luís I Bridge
There are several bridges in Porto, but this one is the most iconic. At one time it was the longest bridge of its kind in the world. Today, however, it’s a great place for photographs and a convenient way for pedestrians and drivers to cross the border between Porto and Gaia.
Igreja dos Clérigos and the Torre dos Clérigos Tower
Igreja dos Clérigos is a beautiful Baroque church with a high bell tower. Here, for only €5, you can climb the tower and enjoy a beautiful panoramic view of the city.
San Bentu Train Station
The train station may seem like an odd recommendation, but when you walk inside and see the walls and ceiling covered in beautiful azulejo, the famous Portuguese tiles, you will be amazed. There are more than 20,000 tiles in the station, on which the history of Portugal is briefly painted. It took 11 years to lay the tiles. It is said to be one of the most beautiful train stations in the world.
Livraria Lello has become one of the most famous bookstores in the world thanks to Harry Potter. It’s hard to describe its architecture in any way – you just have to see it for yourself. J.K. Rowling is said to have visited it many times when she lived in the city, and it resembles several locations from the movies and books about the young wizard.
Livrilla Lello is the most famous bookstore in the world because of Harry Potter.
To enter, visitors must obtain tickets. However, if you buy something, the money for the ticket will be refunded toward your purchase.
Walking tour of Porto
Free walking tours have become a popular way to explore many cities around the world, and Porto is no exception. But the Porto Walkers Tour is not just a walking tour (though a good one), but a unique benefit that others don’t have: a local dessert from a secret location. The woman who bakes desserts for the city’s best restaurants has an agreement with Porto Walkers and sells her delectable desserts to tour participants for a small price. It’s not a place you can go (or find) on your own.
Cais da Ribeira
Porto’s waterfront is a lively neighborhood filled with restaurants, stores, and crowds of people. But it’s also a must-see. There’s a walkway at the water’s edge, and it’s the perfect place to take a photo to remember the city.
Igrega do Carmo
Another of Porto’s most beautiful churches. This church is younger than the other two on this list, but its highlight is the blue and white azulejos that adorn one side. The tiles tell the story of the Carmelite order and Mount Carmel in Israel.
Try the Francine
Francesinha is a famous dish from Porto. It’s basically a sandwich of bread, ham, sausage, and steak covered in melted cheese, with an egg on top and fries. I haven’t tried it myself, but I’m told it can easily be split into two.
This Roman Catholic church is one of the oldest buildings in the city. It is a tall and imposing structure located in the oldest part of the city.
Most port cellars are located along the Gaia waterfront on the banks of the Douro River. There are dozens to choose from, but some popular ones are Cálem, Sandeman, and Grahams.
While there are some beautiful viewpoints in the city, a boat trip on the Douro River offers beautiful scenery and some great photo angles. The walk lasts about an hour and is a great opportunity for you to relax and get to know the city at the same time.
This glass and metal structure is a popular spot with locals and visitors who come to wander the gardens, but I loved it for its beautiful view of the sunset. It may seem strange because the sun sets behind you where you can’t see it, but the view of Porto, Gaia, and the Douro River is beautiful. Especially when the light fades, the sky changes color, and all the lights come on and twinkle.
Where to stay in Porto
When it comes to where to stay in Porto, my top tip is to choose a place close to the main attractions listed above. That way you know you are in the center of the city.
As for the types of accommodations, Porto has everything from hostels to luxury hotels. I was traveling alone in Portugal, so I decided to stay in a hostel. Portugal has great hostels, clean, comfortable, and with a family dinner included. If that’s not your style or you prefer something more private, there are also plenty of hotels varying in price. Here are some recommendations for where to stay in Portugal.
Hostels: Oporto City Hostel, Yes! Porto Hostel, Pilot Design Hostel, and Bar.
Mid-range hotels: HF Ipanema Porto, Porto Antas Hotel, Mercure Porto Centro.
Luxury Hotels: Pestana Palacia do Freixo, Palacio Das Cardosas, Crowne Plaza Porto.
One week in Portugal: a day in the Douro Valley
The Douro Valley can easily be visited in a day from Porto, so stop there overnight, but keep in mind you’ll spend the whole day on your feet exploring one of the country’s most beautiful regions.
There are several options for how you can navigate the valley. Most people recommend renting a car and it is certainly the freer option. But what if you don’t drive? You can take the train to one of the smaller towns and explore on foot. This will allow you to admire the scenery and enjoy a river cruise, but you won’t be able to climb the hills to visit the various quintas (producers of port or wine). A third option is to take a day trip to the Douro Valley with a guide. That’s exactly what I did, and I enjoyed it. The tour included a round trip, a visit to two different quintas, lunch in a village, and a scenic boat ride.
Where to stay and what to see in the Douro Valley
Long the coasts are wine estates and hotels, ready to give shelter to everyone. Cruises are attractive because, throughout the journey, tourists also see beautiful bridges over the river and picturesque beaches. Helicopter rides are also popular – you can fly around the whole valley in one go and then have a drink.
The best way to appreciate the beauty of the valley is to climb the observation decks, which offer amazing views. Portuguese poet Miguel Torga called the local scenery a “geological poem.
From the site in the town of São Leonardo da Galafura, near Peso da Regua, all the beauty of the valley and the mountain can be seen.
The Quinta do Noval estate in the district of Pinhão, called the “showcase of the Douro”, rises on vine terraces divided by flights of steps. The views from here are simply breathtaking.
The Mirador in the Casal de Loivos is a real balcony overlooking the district of Pinhão, as well as the valley and the river at its bottom. This landscape has been recognized by the BBC as one of the six most beautiful landscapes in the world.
The landscape is a real balcony overlooking the Pinhão district and the valley and the river at the bottom of it.
San Salvador do Mundo is a sacred place a few kilometers from the town of São João da Pesqueira. From here you have a magnificent view of half of the Douro River.
The Quinta do Vali Meão vineyards are located on the gentle slope of the right bank of the Douro River. The panorama that opens up makes one think of the creation that has transformed the river banks into fertile soil for wine.
This concludes the first part of my week-long itinerary in Portugal. Next time, with MoveToCascais, we’ll head further south: straight through the capital, Lisbon, to the snowy white beaches of the Algarve.
This time we’ll take a trip south of the capital, Lisbon.