Although the average employee wishes for unlimited time off, the reality is that many people – well, North Americans like myself – only get two or three weeks of vacation per year.
This can be challenging when you have an ambitious travel bucket list. Thankfully, there are wonderful destinations, like Portugal, that can be comfortably explored in just seven days.
Portugal will steal your heart. Its picturesque cities, lovely coastline and incredible culinary history make traveling easy and enjoyable, while the diversity of things to do will make every day an adventure! I was lucky enough to visit Portugal for my honeymoon in 2016, and it will forever hold a special place in my heart.
By following this one week itinerary, hopefully Portugal will captivate you too!
Day 1: Lisbon
As the country’s capital, Lisbon is an obvious start to any Portugal itinerary. And its vibrancy and charm will quickly show you why its regularly voted one of the most interesting cities in the world.
Sightseeing is a common first introduction to the culture and history of Portugal – and Lisbon’s main sights are easy to see by foot. If you’re not much of a walker, the famous Tram 28 is an excellent way to spend an afternoon exploring Lisbon’s most iconic sights.
The streetcar will climb its way up the steep hills of the city center. At some points, you have to pull your arms in because it’s so close to buildings! Sights to see along the route include the Praca do Comercio (iconic square), Arco da Rua Augusta (commemorative arch), and Santa Justa elevator (well-known lift). You can hop on and off the tram, making it easy to stop when you see something interesting.
Lisbon is at the cutting edge of Portugal’s restaurant scene, so you’ll want to enjoy some delicious food. The most famous chef in Portugal right now is Jose Avillez whose casual Barrio do Avillez makes for a great lunch spot. You can sample lots of different foods at the newly revamped Ribiero Market near the waterfront; it turns into a bar at night so you can easily transition from dinner to drinks!
Day 2: Lisbon
For day two in Lisbon, start off with a trip to Belem, a nearby suburb, where you can try Portugal’s most famous dessert – pasteis (custard tarts). The place to try pasteis is the storied cafe Pasteis de Belem. There is almost always a line since most people order for takeout. An insider tip is to eat inside the restaurant which has incredibly fast service. These flaky, warm custard desserts are the stuff of dreams. Topped with cinnamon and powdered sugar, I can’t imagine a more decadent way to start your day!
After you’ve splurged on a few (or more!) pasteis, head to Alfama, the oldest neighborhood in Lisbon. You can easily wander around this area for hours without much of a real agenda. It is charming! Plan to explore Alfama by foot in the afternoon so you can be at the top of the hill for sunset from São Jorge Castle. Pick up DIY picnic supplies and wine for a romantic 360-degree panorama of Lisbon’s terracotta roofs and rolling topography.
Day 3: Sintra
Peppered with ornate mansions and majestic woodlands, it’s hard to imagine a more fairytale-like place than Sintra. Located only an hour west of Lisbon, the resort town is a fascinating study in creative architectural styles.
Start your day with a hike up the mountain that backdrops the city. This will lead you up a winding path, through the woods, and to lovely views. Once at the top, walk in the 11th-century ruins of the Castle of the Moors. This is the oldest sight in Sintra, and has beautiful views of the valley.
Just behind this castle is the endlessly ‘grammable Pena Palace. Built in the 19th century, you’ll immediately notice the colorful yellow and red exterior that has made the palace iconic. Wander around the interior to find unique artifacts and incredible mosaic tile-work.
Day 4: Coimbra
As you get ready to head north from Sintra, a natural next stop is Coimbra, a historic university town built on a dramatic hilltop. The old city is filled with historical sights, such as the Cathedral, Joanine Library, Santa Clara Monastery, and Clock Tower. Wander through the cobblestone streets – all of which ultimately lead to a view of the Mandego River Valley below.
On your way down, be sure to visit a Fado bar, like Hilario or A Capella, where you can listen to local tunes. Fado is the traditional folk music of Portugal and is defined by moody melodies and Portuguese guitar. What a unique traditional experience!
One of Portugal’s most proud traditions is Port wine, and nowhere is this more prevalent than in the Douro Valley. Home to the country’s most prestigious wineries and vineyards, the Douro Valley is a must-see on any tour of Portugal.
Although there are a few large-scale producers, most Port wine production is still done by small producers on quintas (country estates). Many of these offer guest houses, day tours, and tasting rooms so you can truly soak up the wine culture. The roadside Quinta do Tedo is charming and family-owned, while the larger Quinta Pacheca has an incredible garden patio for an afternoon of wine and a good book.
For a unique experience in the Douro Valley, ride the recently restored 19th-century steam train to or from Porto. With Port wine served on-board, you will learn about the history of the wine while being able to check out the stunning, mountainous terrain all around.
Day 6: Porto
Porto, the country’s second city, used to be viewed as just a gritty port city – but no longer. With a resurgence of trendy wine caves, unique street art and a reinvestment in the city center, its charm is captivating more and more people.
Porto is best explored on foot, starting on the river banks near Ponte Luis bridge. Called Ribeira, its old city is full of alleyways and mismatched houses leading up to the main cathedral. Ribeira is a photographer’s dream so have your camera ready as you meander.
Similar to Lisbon, Porto is great destination for food enthusiasts. There are sophisticated restaurants, cozy cafes, and more casual diners that all serve up incredible cuisine to hungry locals. The Yeatman or Cantinho do Avillez are both high-end dinner options, while more laid-back options include Baccalau or Stash.
Porto’s signature sandwich, the (meat-heavy) Francesinha, is a popular lunch option and there is nowhere better to try it than Cafe Santiago or Bufete Fase.
Be sure to make your way across the Ponte Luis bridge to the south bank in time for sunset. The golden hues light up the skyline of north Porto and this sight is best enjoyed from a rooftop wine bar on the riverbank. South Porto is also a hub for nightlife, so you can easily transition after the sun goes down.
Day 7: Porto
You’re probably feeling sad that your time in Portugal is coming to a close, so end your trip on a high note by exploring more of Porto! Track down the adorable Combi Coffee Truck to start your day with some coffee and a baked treat.
Once caffeinated, wander your way through some of Porto’s top-notch art museums and galleries. The Centro Português de Fotografia is located inside a former prison and offers free admission for visitors. Also, check out the converted warehouse space at Armazém, which is a mix of galleries, cafes and flea markets.
If you’re taking the train back to Lisbon, budget in a few extra minutes to admire the incredible azulejos (blue and white tiles) that cover the walls of the São Bento train station. It’s like a museum in itself and is, arguably, one of the prettiest train stations in the world.
Leave a little time for the world-famous bookstore, Livraria Lello. JK Rowling wrote several chapters of the first Harry Potter book here and you can imagine the inspiration she received from the wood-panel walls and ornately carved bookshelves!
As I hope you’ve now realized, Portugal’s cities, landscapes, culture and prices make it perfect for a one-week trip. Even though there is still much more to see and do after this itinerary, it’s a great start to exploring the country’s main highlights.
Ready to explore this incredible country? Check out Intrepid’s range of small group adventures in Portugal.
(Image credits from top to bottom: Intrepid Travel, Megan Arzbaecher, Intrepid Travel x2, Megan Arzbaecher x4, Intrepid Travel.)