Portugal has quickly become one of the most popular destinations in Europe. The promise of exciting cities, a beautiful coastline filled with beaches, good food and wine, and reasonable prices is hard for any traveller to resist. But what if you are short on time? Is it worth it to do just one week in Portugal? As someone who has done it, absolutely! Here is my suggestion for a one week Portugal Itinerary.
Getting Around Portugal
There are two main options for getting around Portugal. The first is to rent a car which provides a lot of freedom and can actually save on travel time. However, it’s also more expensive and can be a hassle for those unfamiliar with driving abroad.
If that is the case, Portugal has a pretty good train system. Tickets can be purchased in advance online here. The farther in advance you book, the cheaper the price. The train stations are all in pretty central locations as well; within walking distance of the city centre or close to a metro or tram station. It’s an easy, and affordable, way to get around.
2 Days in Porto
Porto is a must when visiting Portugal. I know most people tend to highlight Lisbon, but Porto was my favourite stop. The beautiful tiled-buildings, colourful Ribiera, and of course the port cellars. Porto has a ton of charm that make it impossible not to fall in love with and while you could spend longer, 2 days in Porto is perfect.
Porto is best known for its port wine. Which is kind of funny since most of the area’s port cellars are not actually in Porto, but rather across the Douro river on the Gaia side. It’s an easy walk (or drive) across the bridge. It’s worth exploring as well, not just for the Port cellars but also because it offers beautiful views over to Porto. Don’t worry, 2 Days in Porto will give you plenty of time to experience both sides of the river.
What to see with 2 Days in Porto
Porto isn’t too big, and while it does have a public transit system, the best way to get around is by foot. It can be pretty hilly, so wear good walking shoes that offer some support and traction.
My top suggestions for 2 days in Porto include:
Dom Luís Bridge
Porto has several bridges, 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 great for photos and offers an easy way for both pedestrians and drivers to cross back and forth between Porto and Gaia. During the warmer months, you may even spot some local boys jumping off the bridge, similar to the bridge jumpers in Mostar.
Clérigos Church and the Torre dos Clérgios
A beautiful baroque church with a tall bell tower. Visitors can climb the tower for 5 euros, and will be rewarded with beautiful panoramic views across the city.
São Bento Train Station
A train station may be an odd recommendation, but when you walk inside and see the walls and ceiling covered in beautiful azulejos, the famous Portuguese tiles, you will be amazing. There are over 20,000 tiles in the train station which tell the story of Portugal’s history. It took 11 years for the tiles to be placed. It’s considered 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. Nicknamed the Harry Potter Bookstore, this beautiful book shop is ornately decorated with the focal point being a winding wooden staircase. JK Rowling is said to have visited this bookshop many times when she lived in the city, and it definitely resembles the staircase of Hogwarts in the Harry Potter movies.
Visitors do have to get tickets to enter. However, if you buy something the ticket money will be reimbursed towards your purchase.
Porto Walkers Tour
Free walking tours (the ones where you tip at the end) have become a popular way to explore many cities around the world, and Porto is no exception. However more than just a walking tour (although it’s a good one) the Porto Walkers Tour offers a unique perk that the others do not: a local dessert from a secret spot. The woman, who bakes desserts for top restaurants in the city, has an agreement with Porto Walkers and will sell those on the tour a slice of her delicious desserts out her window for a fraction of the price. It’s not somewhere you can go (or find) on your own.
Cais da Ribiera
The waterfront area of Porto is busy and filled with restaurants, shops, and crowds. But, it’s also a must-see. There’s a walkway by the water’s edge and it makes for a perfect spot to take photos.
Igrega do Carmo
Another of Porto’s beautiful churches. This one is quite younger than the other two on this list, however the highlight here is the blue and white azulejos that decorate one of the sides. The tiles tell the story of the Carmelite Order and Mount Carmel in Israel.
Eat a Francesinha
A Francesinha is Porto’s famous dish. It’s essentially a sandwich made with bread, ham, sausage, and steak then covered in melted cheese and served with an egg on top and french fries. I didn’t try one myself, but was told that it can easily be shared between two people.
This Roman Catholic Church is one of the city’s oldest buildings. It’s a tall and imposing structure located in the oldest part of the city.
Most of the port cellars are located along the waterfront of the Gaia side of the Douro River. There are dozens to choose from but some popular choices include Cálem, Sandeman, and Grahams.
Douro River Trip
While there are a few nice viewing points around the city, a boat trip down the Douro River offers beautiful scenery and some great photo opportunities. Rides are about an hour long and cost about $15 euro. Sometimes these will also include a voucher for a free port tasting across on the Gaia side.
Palácio de Cristal
This glass and metal structure is a popular spot for locals and visitors to come and wander the gardens, though I loved it at sunset. While it’s not a typical sunset spot (the sun sets behind you where you can’t actually see). The view looking over Porto, Gaia, and the Douro River is beautiful. Especially as the light fades, the sky changes colour, and all the lights turn on and twinkle.
Where to Stay in Porto
When it comes to deciding where to stay in Porto my biggest suggestion is to choose a spot near some of the main attractions as listed above. That way you know you are in a central location.
When it comes to types of accommodation, Porto has everything from hostels to luxury hotels. I travelled solo through Portugal so chose to stay in hostels. Portugal has some amazing ones that are clean, central, and offer family-style dinners to make it easier to meet others. If that’s not your style, or you prefer something more private, there are a number of hotels varying in price as well. Here are some recommendations on where to stay in Portugal.
1 Day in the Douro Valley
The Douro Valley is easily accessible as a day trip from Porto, so keep your base there for the night but plan on spending the whole day exploring one of the most beautiful regions of the country.
There are a few options for seeing the Douro Valley. Most people will recommend that you rent a car and do it by yourself. It’s definitely a more freeing option, but not always ideal for those who don’t want to rent a car and drive. It’s also possible to take a train to one of the smaller towns and explore on your own. This will allow you to see the scenery and enjoy a river cruise, but you won’t be able to get into the hills to visit the different quintas (port or wine makers). The third option is to do a guided day trip to Douro Valley. This is what I did and I loved it. The tour included roundtrip transportation, a visit to two different quintas, lunch in a village, and a scenic boat trip.
I have to say, I think that the Douro Valley was the highlight of my one week in Portugal. So I highly recommend a visit. If you are looking for a day trip, try one of the following tours:
- Douro Valley Tour: Wine Tasting, River Cruise, and Lunch
- Douro Valley Half-Day Tour with Vineyard Vist
3 Days in Lisbon
The capital city of Portugal is teeming with beautiful sights, delicious restaurants, and tons of things to see and do. It’s much bigger and Porto, so you will probably want to make use of the metro or city trams occasionally but, of course, walking is the best way to explore. Again, bring proper walking shoes; it’s just as hilly and the roads and walkways can be incredibly slippery, especially when wet.
You could easily spend a week or so here, but 3 days in Lisbon is a good amount of time to experience the city and see the highlights.
What to see with 3 Days in Lisbon
I have huge list of all the things to do in Lisbon, but I’m just going to highlight a few of my favourites here. Part of the charm of Lisbon is exploring the streets and alleyways on your own and seeing what you discover. With that being said, don’t miss the following:
Visit St. George’s Castle
If you look from any of the miradouros (viewpoints) around Lisbon, the commanding Moorish building known as St. George’s Castle is impossible to miss. The imposing hilltop castle dates back to the second century and is fun to explore. Plus the views from the walls overlooking the city are pretty impressive.
Ride Tram 28
Lisbon’s trams are iconic, and no tram is more well-known that tram 28. This is, basically, the tourist tram and offers the best viewing route around the city. However, it can get incredibly crowded and uncomfortable. Your best bet is to go first thing in the morning, or later in the day to help avoid the crowds. Note: be wary of pickpockets!
The fairytale town of Sintra is an absolute must when in Lisbon. You can go on your own or join a tour. It’s impossible to see it all in a day but if you pick a couple of spots you can make a good full or half day trip out of it. I did a half-day trip to Sintra with the Wanderers Tours which I loved because it gave me lots of time to visit the Quinta da Regaleria which is what I was most interested to see. However, while I did enjoy it, the tour didn’t go to Pena Palace so if that is on your list, consider one of these tours:
Alfama is one of the best places to get lost in Lisbon. Winding alleys, staircases, and steep cobblestone streets surrounded by old houses and buildings. It’s one of the oldest parts of Portugal, and time is evidence, but there is a ton of charm.
Belem is only a short tram ride away from Lisbon, and has quite a few attractions to see. The reason most people go to Belem is for Pasteis de Belem which is believed to serve up the most delicious pasteis de nata (egg tarts) in the area. Along with the pastries, you should also visit Belem Tower, Jerónimos Monastery, and the Monument of Discoveries.
Listen to Fado in Bairro Alto
You can’t go to Lisbon and not listen to Fado at least once. It’s an important part of the city’s culture and if you are lucky enough to come across a good Fado singer, you will be amazed. Try Café Luso or Adega Machdo, both of which are in Bairro Alto.
Grab some food at the Time Out Market
This food hall is basically heaven for foodies. From wines to pastries to meals, you can find pretty much everything here. There’s a bunch of tables in the middle where you can eat, or you can take your food to go. It’s a great lunch or dinner stop, and most vendors have very affordable prices.
Where to Stay in Lisbon
As I mentioned above, Lisbon is a lot bigger than Porto, so there are more neighbourhoods and areas to choose from. The city centre is a good choice since everything is then easily accessible. I like the historic areas of Chiado and Baixa. Though keep in mind that Chiado is right beside Bairro Alto- the nightlife district, so it can get loud at night.
Lisbon offers all kinds of accommodation choices. Here are some recommendations on where to stay in Lisbon, depending on your budget and what you are looking for.
1 Day in the Algarve
Portugal’s Algarve is one of the most well-known areas of the country. Beautiful clifftop views, beaches, and hiking trails make it a popular destination in the warmer months. However, unless you are renting a car it can be really tricky to get around, which is why I’m recommending one day as a visit.
Faro has a large airport which is perfect for flying out of (or even catching a cheap flight back to Lisbon or Porto to catch your flight), however Faro is incredibly boring. I made the mistake of spending my day here and was very disappointed. You can base yourself in Faro for the night, but do yourself a favour and hop on a bus to Lagos to explore to really see the Algarve. It’s about 1.5-2 hours away by public transit, so it will make for a long day, but trust me when I say it has a lot more to explore than Faro.
The Algarve is about 4-5 hours by train from Lisbon, so your best bet is to catch an evening train on your final day in Lisbon so you arrive at night, then have the full next day to explore. If this seems like too much effort for one day, consider spending an extra day in Lisbon. It’s a big enough city that you can easily add on another day of sight-seeing, or visit some of its nearby beaches.
Portugal Packing Ideas
Portugal can be hot, even in the fall (I went in October and wore dresses and tank tops). So I definitely recommend layers. A few other suggestions include:
- A good reusable water bottle. The tap water is safe to drink so stay hydrated for free and bring your own bottle!
- If you are heading to the beach, don’t forget a towel! I suggest a microfibre towel that is lightweight and dries quickly.
- Sunscreen is a must, and if you are going to the beach please bring reef safe sunscreen. Normal sunscreen kills reefs and marine life, so do the ocean and solid and go with a reef-safe brand.
- Forget the flipflops and sandals, Portugal is FULL OF HILLS and trust me when I say those streets get super slippery. Running shoes or walking shoes with good treads are a must.
- Visiting shoulder or offseason? Bring a raincoat- a good waterproof one because it can be very rainy, especially in the north. (I love Columbia raincoats for this, they have options for men and women).
One week in Portugal may not seem like a lot of time, but you can do and see a lot in seven days. Portugal is a beautiful country, and I loved exploring it. If you use this one week Portugal itinerary as your guide, I bet you will love it too.