If you love long days in the sun with beautiful beaches and an amazing culture, then Portugal is the destination for you. Read our guide to find all you need to know to embark on a road trip of Portugal.

— Visited in July, 2019

Travelling in a van is the best way to undertake a Portugal road trip

In the summer of 2019, we were looking for a proper get-away halfway through July. Somewhere we wouldn’t spend copious amounts of time in transit and would have the free will to come and go as we pleased. Our goal was to take no concern of time and take in those sun rays while we absorbed a new country. There was no better option than a Portugal road trip!

Read on for… Portugal Road Trip – Our Complete Guide to the Coastline.

Portugal Hire Van

Before our trip, we did a lot of research to find a reliable van at a reasonable price. We couldn’t have found a better ride for our Portugal road trip than the – best described by its name – WonderVan. We were on a budget so it was basic, but it came with all the required cooking utensils and bedding. With just a quick stop at a nearby Decathlon to buy additional gas cylinders, we were ready to hit the road.

Either due to a slip in their advertising or a lack of requirement due to being booked out. Their private hire of the vans is not advertised on their website. We were very fortunate to come across them on a van-hire site. I recommend just sending through an email and get the adventure sorted!

The company is based 45-minutes out of Lisbon. You’ll have to catch a short train out towards Sintra, but the savings you make will be worth it. Plus it allows for a quick visit to Sintra before you start your Portugal road trip.

Portugal Road Trip Itinerary

Though I would 100% recommend jumping on in and hugging the coastline for your Portugal road trip. Here is a bit of a sequential list of our trip and the activities we did…

Day 1 (Sintra — Praia da Ursa — Ponte 25 de Abril — Praia do Meco)

After picking up the van near Sintra around lunch. We had the taste of salt on our lips and decided to ‘Vamos’ straight to the coastline towards a quaint little beach we had heard of called Praia Da Ursa. As our first pit-stop on our Portugal road trip, it did not disappoint! The walk down the rocky cliff side to the beach wouldn’t be recommended to anyone with walking impairment. However, I completed it in Birkenstocks so I also wouldn’t call it overly difficult.

After a couple of hours relaxing on the sand, we got back in our van and continued our Portugal road trip south. We followed the coastal route via Cascais towards Lisbon and passed by the developed coastal sites. For someone looking for a fancy hotel and beach combination, this would be ideal. But this wasn’t the case for us so we kept on moving until we hit Lisbon’s famous red suspension bridge – Ponte 25 de Abril. The longest suspension bridge in Europe and an incredible site. As it’s free to cross the bridge travelling from North to South, it was an experience we recommend!

Reaching the south side of the river, we headed straight towards Praia do Meco in the hope of finding a nice camping spot and an afternoon swim. We found an amazing campsite parched upon the high cliffs along a coastline which we had to ourselves. Venturing down a small passage to the beach. We had an afternoon dip and opened a bottle of sangria to celebrate our first evening in the van. Afterwards, we settled in, cooked some lovely hot-pot noodles and watched the first of many beautiful ocean sunsets we would experience on this trip.

Day 2 (Praia do Meco — Praia de Galapinhos — Porto Covo)

As the point of the trip was to take it slow. We woke up, cooked our breakfast, and went for a morning plunge in the ocean to start fresh. We packed up our things and then got on the road for only 15km before reaching Praia de Galapinhos. With the protected waters from the Western swells, it was time to grab the snorkel and have a swim around. Hidden away from the more popular beaches, this was a little gem. The tranquil warm waters were an absolute treat on the body. The only downside was having to pay for parking as it was peak season in July. Though fortunately, this was the only time we had to during our Portugal road trip.

After bathing for a few hours, we packed up and continued down the west coast heading for Porto Covo. After just under 2 hours of driving, we reached possibly the nicest drive we had in Portugal. The 10km stretch of road (M1109) following the coast on route to Porto Covo hugs the coastline as you pass a series of mystic caves and private beach pockets with clear white sands. With this along the entire stretch of coast, the choices were endless so we pulled up and investigated the net of caved systems. This coastline was the type of thing that had drawn us to plan a Portugal road tr in the first place. This coastline was the type of thing that had drawn us to plan a Portugal road trip in the first place. After investigating the fascinating area, we found a site just south of Porto Covo to settle in for the evening.

Day 3 (Porto Covo — Praia da Arrifana — Algarve — Lagos — Praia do Camilo)

Time for a surf day! As it had been a while since I stood on a board and as an Australian. It was a must for me whilst in Portugal. We identified Praia da Arrifana as our go-to surf spot. Unfortunately, the conditions were not the best. However, the experience and the location made it worthwhile. Venturing down the steep stone road along the cliff face to reach the beach itself was exhilarating enough, especially when it came to reverse parking the van! But then stepping onto that beach and seeing the sheer black cliffs up made it a memorable location. Despite the poor conditions and crowded waves. I still caught some tubes and the entire experience lived up to our expectations.

After ticking off my must-do activity. It was time for us to head into the crowds and experience the famous Algarve. We decided to head to the well-known town of Lagos for lunch. With us avoiding cities on this section of our trip we got a simple pizza on the outskirts of town and then headed for our main attraction, Praia do Camilo. Everyone along our trip had told us about the differences between the open, wild Pacific Ocean beaches and Algarve, with the water being calm, crystal clear and warm like a bath as you head south.

They were not wrong. With the bright orange rocks, the intriguing cave features and the calm turquoise waters, this place was paradise. This particular beach was famous for being exceptionally tiny. Fighting over a space on the sand was a genuine issue. But once you had your spot, it was well worth the anticipation.

The algarve coast is a must visit location when venturing on a Portugal road trip

After indulging in our little piece of 2-by-1 metre paradise of sand and exploring the surrounding cave formations for the entire afternoon. We ventured off out of town to find our place for the night at Praia do Carvalho. With this being the Algarve, our private open campsites turned into crowded first-in-best-dressed van spots. What we may have gained in scenery and paradise during the day, was lost to the lack of privacy during the evenings. But I guess that’s expected during peak season and a small price to pay for such a spectacular venue.

Day 4 (Praia do Carvalho — Algar de Benegil — Praia da Masquita — Praia da Falesia)

The next day we were venturing to see one of the prides of the Algarve, Algar de Benagil. Arriving early as we knew it would get busy as the day went on. We parked up on the cliff parking lot and walked down to Praia de Benagil. We hired a kayak for €20, got in the water, and started the 10-minute paddle to the famous cave. Fortunately, as we were up early, the cave was reasonably quiet and we paddled on in through the gigantic arch-way and beheld the light shining through the gazing eye in the ceiling. Often the build-up expectations around these well-known spots overshadow the experience itself. But with it being quiet, the sheer size of the cave, the two golden archways, and the sunbeam coming through the roof. It genuinely was a sight to behold. We hung around and tried to take some happy snaps for 20 minutes. During that time we were bombarded with tour boats which really did diminish the scene we had experienced just earlier. Do a hot tip: get there early and kayak!

With plenty of time left. We then ventured out of the cave and continued paddling to the west until we reached Praia da Mesquita. This was where the magic of the area really showed. With fewer crowds due to an inability for tour boats to get close to the rocks and most kayakers staying around Benagil; we found ourselves kayaking through our own sequence of archways with tranquil blue waters. This was where the true money shot was!

After a splendid morning of kayaking, we decided the main beach was too busy and packed with speed boats. So we returned to our van and drove along the coast to Praia da Falesia. With our expectations of Portugal’s beaches already aesthetically pleased, the diversity of the beach landscape managed to flourish yet again. A steep red cliff contrasted against the colourful beach umbrellas scattered across the pink sand. It was an impressive sight to behold. A short stroll up the beach away from the crowds and we found a spot to enjoy the calm warm waters to ourselves. One thing we know now is just how spoilt Portugal is for beaches, and that’s coming from an Aussie!

After soaking up the sun all afternoon and treating ourselves to a late seafood lunch in the nearby town. We ventured off towards our spot for the night at Praia de Arrifes. Parked up looking over the beach, this was our last night in the Algarve. We watched the sunset on these two gigantic natural rock sculptures out in the ocean and looked back over our last couple of days in the Algarve. It’s obvious why this region attracts so many people, it holds all the Portuguese charm and aesthetic.

Day 5 (Praia de Arrifes — Nazare — Peniche)

Feeling refreshed after driving very small distances over the last days and having achieved our goal to relax and take in the rays during our Portugal road trip; we decided it was time to head north and make it a driving day. We got up for an early morning dip in the ocean before making the 5-hour drive to the world-famous surf spot Nazare. Visiting Nazare, specifically during a huge swell, was high on my bucket list. The adrenaline and confidence these surfers have to tackle the massive waves here is absolutely baffling. Unfortunately for us… the sea was flat as a pancake. I didn’t even get the opportunity to say I had caught 1-footers at Nazare *shaka*. But it was still worth the visit to see the famous lighthouse and the boards that have tackled these waves. It was also interesting to learn about the science of how these beasty waves develop from an underwater canyon. Leaving Nazare we went and found a camping spot for the evening on the outer cliffs around Peniche.

Nazare lighthouse is a must visit location when venturing on a Portugal road trip

Day 6 (Peniche — Berlenga Islands — Obidos — Praia da Aguda)

Island time and a change in transport for our Portugal road trip! The Berlenga Islands had caught our eye while scrolling through the internet for Portugal’s best-kept secrets. Intrigued by the pirate stories and the barren living conditions of fishermen, we wanted to witness the mysterious place for ourselves. You can visit the Berlenga Islands from May till September and there are only two crossings a day with a limited amount of people allowed on the island. Here’s another hot tip: don’t be like us and buy your boat tickets in advance, online or at the port.

We had minimal information on how to get there apart from having to take a boat from the port of Peniche. We got to the port at 9 am to buy a ferry ticket to the island. It turned out we were extremely lucky as the tour operators had two spots left and scurried us up the port and onto a boat. Unfortunately, we were those people that got a dirty look by everyone in the boat thinking we had held them up as they had clearly been there for a while. Anyway, we couldn’t have timed it better so we were chuffed. The sea was reasonably rough and it made for a fun ride as we had taken one of the speed boats. Jumping over the sizable waves and copping spray from all angles, the ride itself was worth the trip! Arriving absolutely drenched from the journey but with a gigantic smile on our face. We arrived at the view of a picturesque little fishing port with turquoise shallow waters.

We took up the offer from one of the small fishing boats to have a tour around the island. The boat took us through some caves to experience the crystal blue waters and along the bottom of the cliff edge which surrounds the island. The boat ride provided a completely different perspective highlighting the sheer lack of access to the island with every edge predominately being a cliff. As a grand finale, the captain brought us around to Forte de Sao Joao Baptista. A 17th-century fortress set out in the ocean accessible only by an arched stone bridge – the true wonder of the island. The heritage site is now a hotel which you can stay at. But as we had our van we decided to only visit for the day.

Due to the limited number of people allowed on the island at one time. We only had 3 hours to adventure around the island before having to hop on the boat back to the mainland. However, the island is quite small so this gave us plenty of time to explore and capture some magnificent photos of the fortress, the extraordinary cliff edges and the baby seagulls. We were very lucky to be here during the nesting period when thousands of adult and baby seagulls were everywhere. Some of the older chicks were even trying to fly for the first time.

We got back to the mainland just after lunch. Being in a fishing town we treated ourselves to some battered fresh fish for lunch before driving over to the town of Obidos. As we hadn’t really been around dressed up large crowds since being in Lisbon before we started the road trip. We were shocked by the crowds gathered at the tiny village. The medieval town from the 700s, of course, featuring towering walls, castle grounds and romantic cobblestone roads, used to be home to the queens of Portugal from the 1200s. We happened to have dropped by on the opening night of the yearly medieval festival (last two weeks of July). With knights kitted up for battle, ladies with long flowing dresses and the occasional prisoner in a medieval pillory, it was like stepping back in time. Surrounded by the positive energy of the event and the sweetness of the local Ginjinha – a cherry-like liquor served in a chocolate shot glass, delicious! It was impossible to ignore the beauty of the city when you turned into the smaller corridors. With its colourful buildings and cobblestone roads, there was a true charm to this place. Unfortunately, the tickets to the event were sold out. So we took in the atmosphere before the main event occurred in the castle and then set off to spend our last sunset in the van on a cliff near Praia da Aguda.

Day 7 (Praia da Aguda — Sintra)

With it being our last day. We spent the morning by the sea and said farewell to the ocean of Portugal. There was a car wash nearby to the drop-off point, so we cleaned the beauty off before bringing her back to the starting point near Sintra. Thus concluded, our magnificent 7-day road trip along the coast of Portugal.

Taking in the sunset during our van trip road trip of Portugal

Where To Park The Van In Portugal

We received a tip from the van provider to download the app ‘park4night’ available on both the Apple and Google store. Since then we have used this application on every single one of our road trips! It’s user-uploaded meaning you get personal experiences of parking spots all around the world: from paid camping spots with facilities, free spots with facilities or just a place to pull up with no worries in the world. Road trips and vans being popular with the locals in Portugal. This app was full of locations all across the country and we never felt like we were parked anywhere we shouldn’t be.

Portugal Road Trip Tips

  • Stay off motorways! If you are road tripping you’re not there to go fast – you’ll miss all the sites travelling on the motorway and you’ll also build up a large toll bill.
  • It’s FREE to travel across the Ponte 25 de Abril from North to South (ie. Leaving the city of Lisbon), so this is a must-do when heading south.
  • Eat a thousand Pasteis de Nata – Portuguese Tarts – they are delicious!
  • McDonald’s will become your go-to stop on the trip but not for food! With most campervans not including a bathroom, finding amenities is an important task. Fortunately, McDonald’s are spread out over the country making it a perfect loo stop when the need is high.
  • Along with McDonald’s, every petrol station we stopped at had an accessible toilet. A lot of the time you would have to ask for the key at the service desk. But this generally meant that the facilities were kept in good condition.
  • Get out of the Algarve! While it is beautiful, a big part of road tripping is taking the path less travelled. By doing so, you are likely to find beauty in the tranquillity that can be found along the less travelled coast of Portugal. Plus some beaches which are hidden gems.
  • Unless you are staying at proper campsites with facilities, prepare to have salty ocean dips as showers. Rinse-off showers on beaches are not a thing in Portugal.

Our Portugal Road Trip Video

We made a video of our Portugal road trip! We hope it can inspire you and provide the last bit of motivation needed to book a flight and rent that van. Hope you enjoyed reading our itinerary and the video to follow.

Thanks For Reading

Thank you for reading our blog post, we hope it gave you that little motivation to book your next adventure!

Any questions then let us know in the comments below or contact us via the contact page. Want to keep up with our adventures? Then follow us on our Instagram.