An alternative route from Lisbon that will take you to the most authentic places in Portugal. Warning: Number of touristic offerings will reduce significantly (No fancy restaurants allowed!).
We’ve said it before: 7 is a magical number. Funny enough, 7 is also the minimum number of days required to visit Portugal and get an idea of the country. We’ve already designed an itinerary with the “must see” attractions in mind. It’s an itinerary for the ones that really want to make sure that they see what they’re supposed to see, experience what they’re supposed to experience, taste what they’re supposed to taste. But what if you want to escape the obvious? What if you already visited the supposedly “must see” attraction such as Sintra or Porto? Or putting it simple: What if you simply don’t care about the overpopulated landmarks but you rather want to focus on getting the most authentic experience there is in Portugal?
Well, for those people, we’ve come up with an alternative itinerary that will definitely give you a general but accurate idea of what Portugal is all about. You won’t do the obvious or visit all of those must-see attractions that populate your friends’ Instagram account, but you will definitely feel like you’re experiencing something else that hasn’t been corrupted yet! Something that will be solely yours…
Just bear in mind that we haven’t considered travel time between places. So while from a time perspective this itinerary is possible, you would be rushing a bit since we’ve considered 7 different places for 7 consecutive days. Anyway, without further ado here’s our alternative 7-day itinerary:
Day 1 – Coimbra
You’ve had your fair share of historic heritage in Lisbon and Porto. They’re full of churches, palaces, castles, and convents. Or even if you haven’t been there, you’ve heard all about them and the long queues mandatory to visit them, only to get pushed around by hungry “wannabe” photographers with their expensive cameras. Don’t worry, there’s always Coimbra. Largely under the radar in the last few years, in terms of historical significance and beauty, it’s second only to Lisbon and Porto. It was the nation’s first capital and as such, retains some of the most prized Portuguese historical assets, for which the University of Coimbra is the best example.
Can’t-miss: A visit to the University of Coimbra (Be sure to visit the library), Monastery of Santa Cruz, Monastery of Santa Clara a Coimbra fado show / Tuna show, The burning of ribbons (1 week in May), the Roman town of “Conimbriga”, among many others.
Day 2 – Viana do Castelo and around
Some say Sintra is a tourist trap. We believe that the statement is an exaggeration, but we agree that Sintra can get pretty crowded, with the exception being during Winter time. That being said, you can swap Sintra for Viana do Castelo if you want to avoid getting sucked into the tourism void. While Sintra is unique with its Romantic-period estates and palaces, the truth is that most of Portugal’s riches are located in the North. Even if they’re not from the same period, you will definitely awe yourself with what you see. Additionally, it also holds the title of “Mecca of architecture” thanks to contributions from important names in contemporary Portuguese architecture. With the expected exception of family visits during the weekend, it’s quite empty throughout the week, even during Summer.
Can’t-miss: Feast of “Nossa Senhora da Agonia” in August, Be sure to visit some of its manors and estates (for instance: Palácio da Carreira & Palácio dos Condes de Aurora), the Basilica of the Sacred Heart of Jesus, filigree gold work (check some of the local shops), Romanic architecture (old cathedral in the city center, Caminha church, Bravães church, among many other fine examples).
Day 3 – Peneda-Gerês national park
If there’s a place that seems to be lost in time, it’s Peneda-Gerês. Some 1,5 hours North of Porto, Peneda-Gerês is the sole national park in Portugal and it’s arguably one of the most magical places in Portugal. Here, you have the chance to take long hikes through its mountains and get to know the most remarkable villages, crafts, and inhabitants. Don’t be surprised if you see a massive mountain goat wandering through the road or an old lady still carrying a heavy bundle of twigs just like in the XIX century, this is Geres, a place lost in time. This website is a great guide for your stay here.
Can’t-miss: Take long hikes, visit the castles of Castrol Laboreiro and Lindoso, check out the mountain villages (Soajo, Pitões das júnias, among many others), take a swim in many of its rivers, creeks, and waterfalls, blend into the traditions and customs of the people.
Day 4 – Douro Wine region
This is perhaps the most touristy place of the seven places presented here. Still, if you do it well, you can overcome some of the most common touristic pitfalls. Wine is of course mandatory. This being said, the most important thing you have to bear in mind is that while wine takes the “hero” role of the day, there are other things you can do not far from the Régua-Pinhão axis. In fact, the most overseen region of Portugal is not far: be sure to take a dip in the deep Trás-os-Montes region. You may take an extra day of your stay but it’s worthwhile.
Can’t-miss: A wine tour (there are many available), a boat trip from Pinhão to Régua, “Solar de Mateus” Palace and estate, Lamego village, taste the heavenly local cuisine (“Alheira” sausage, “Mirandesa” steak, “Transmontana” bean stew, among many other delicious dishes), multiple cycles and hikes in the local parks and mountains, some of the local rural villages (“Lamas de Olo” is a good example), among other attractions.
Day 5 – Serra da Estrela and around
We’ve already included this in a previous itinerary but we believe it can and should be present in this alternative itinerary as well. You can easily spend a day in “Serra da Estrela” National Park trekking and getting truly amazing footage. Even if you don’t want to spend a full day in Nature, you can easily take a short trip towards the nearby historic villages circuit. The region is great for adventurers that still want a dip into Portuguese history and heritage.
Can’t-miss: Serra da Estrela plateau, local cuisine (for which the cheese is the best-known export), historic villages circuit, city of Guarda.
Day 6 – Baixo Alentejo
Much like the region of “Trás os Montes”, the southern part of Alentejo is largely unvisited by most tourists, even Portuguese. As such, you can find some of the most genuine and authentic characters in this region. You simply can’t leave Portugal without visiting Alentejo’s dry golden plains and its traditional whitewashed villages. You have to get in touch with its charismatic people, its rich crafts and taste some of the best food Portugal has to offer. While Évora retains most of the region’s tourism, the most authentic and genuine Alentejo is located South.
Can’t-miss: A Cante Alentejano show (UNESCO cultural heritage – music form), a dinner with the locals in one of the local “tascas”, local gastronomy (Migas, Dogfish soup, village of Serpa, “Vale do Guadiana” National Park, scenic town of Mértola, abandoned “São Domingos” mines.
Day 7 – Costa Vicentina
An alternative travel itinerary couldn’t be complete without a beach day! And if you want an alternative beach day you have to stay away from South Algarve and heads West towards “Costa Vicentina”. Long are the days when “Costa Vicentina” (Vicentine Coast in English) was practically desert. Nowadays its Portugal’s Summer Mecca for surf lessons and as such lost its idyllic nature. Still, it’s as close as you can get to paradisiac beaches on the continent.
Can’t-miss: Saint Vincent cape, a dip in the Ocean (some beach options: Cordoama, Amado, Arrifana, Monte Clérigo, Odeceixe and Aivados), a surf lesson, Seafood (try gooseneck barnacles!), a road trip along the coast, a fishing trip
Authentic tours for authentic travelers