The second edition of our alternative route that will take you to the unexplored side of Portugal.
About the author here
Portugal has been on the travel radar for some time now, but even so, the influx of new travelers keeps on increasing year after year. It seems that everyone’s jumping on the bandwagon and visiting our beautiful country like never before, even returning after some time for a second visit! While that is certainly helpful for a country deprived of the most sought raw materials (cork doesn’t count lol), it is happening so fast that it’s distorting the touristic experience, thus seriously disturbing the natural and pleasant way of touring around.
Fortunately, despite the small size, Portugal can boast a wide array of attractions and activities that suit every person’s taste and interests. That takes place in part, because of the substantial regional contrasts that even so, work together to form a strong sense of unity. So, even if the mainstream places will keep on being the mainstream places (with all the good and bad that comes along), there are always off-the-beaten-path places in Portugal to explore.
Luckily we’re here for you and to help you get around, because apart from a serious and well-reviewed tour business, we also enjoy providing travel recommendations! But first things first, you don’t want to bite off more than you can chew, so, if it’s the 1st time visiting or if you have no idea what you seek, we recommend that you read our first itinerary proposal and our Lisbon for dummies articles before jumping into this one. If on the other hand, you would like to get a taste of the unexplored side of Portugal, or you already scratched off the list Portugal’s main attractions, then this is the right article for you! Just be sure to read our first alternative itinerary before, so that you can compare both and decide what’s best for you!
Anyway, Elvis has left the building, as they say, it’s without further ado that we present you the alternative seven-day itinerary for Portugal vol 2:
Day 1 – “Oeste” region
If by any chance you just ran out of things to do in Lisbon and you would like to avoid a long drive for your next visit, then perhaps you could take a dip into the “Oeste” region some 40 minutes away. Directly translating into the West, the “Oeste” region is mostly famous for its seashore, amazing landscapes, and the bucolic aura wrapped around the mountain villages. The region is quite diverse so there’s plenty to check depending on your personal taste, the best way to explore it is to rent out a car, and wander through its seaside and mountain roads. The city of Óbidos will certainly pop out as a “must go” destination, but we must warn you about the “circus-like” atmosphere and the sheer number of travelers that wander through its narrow medieval streets, especially during high season.
Good for: Surfing, seafood, landscapes, and heritage.
Can’t miss: Mafra Convent, Ericeira village, The Royal Ice Factory in Montejunto, Óbidos, Alcobaça Monastery, giant waves of Nazaré (October through March), and of course great seafood!
Itinerary suggestion: Mafra Convent in the morning, lunch in Ericeira, road trip North to visit Óbidos and Nazaré (afternoon).
18th century Palace-Convent of Mafra
Day 2 – Tomar and around
When designing this itinerary, we thought about those that like us, crave for history and old heritage. As such, Tomar was one of the first cities that popped in our heads as a good basecamp to visit some of Portugal’s richest Gothic heritage. Feeding of the Nabão river, the historic city of Tomar is perhaps one of the most underestimated cities in Portugal. Strongly linked with the Portuguese Reconquista period and in particular, with the Knights Templar, Tomar was founded in 1160 by Gualdim Pais, the order’s grandmaster in Portugal. It’s a great place to get familiar with gothic architecture, our country’s medieval history and some pretty interesting Portuguese Jewish heritage.
Good for: History, Gothic architecture, Jewish heritage.
Can’t-miss: “Festa dos tabuleiros” festival (happens every 4 years), Castle and Convent of the order of Christ (UNESCO World Heritage Site), Church of Santa Maria do Olival, Synagogue of Tomar, Castle of Almourol, Village and monastery of Batalha (35min away), village and monastery of Alcobaça (roughly 50min drive). For nature, you can and should visit the river Zêzere and the quaint village of Dornes.
Itinerary suggestion: Almourol Castle and Tomar city center (morning), Convent of the order of Christ and Batalha monastery (afternoon).
Inside the Convent of the Order of Christ
Day 3 – Aveiro
Known in Portugal as the “Portuguese Venice”, the city of Aveiro was once one of the most important cities in the old kingdom, especially due to its role in salt production and cod-fishing. In the 16th century, a huge storm closed its access to the sea, only to get access again in the 19th century. Today, the city thrives due to the surrounding modern industries as well as the reputed University of Aveiro. It has its own vibe, unique in Portugal, and the most famous attraction is of course the “Ria de Aveiro” lagoon where the famous “moliceiros” boats once prospered. The best thing for you to do is just to walk around and perhaps get onboard one of the Moliceiros boats for a tour in the lagoon!
Good for: Nature, seafood, Art-nouveau architecture.
Can’t-miss: Ria de Aveiro lagoon, city center art-nouveau buildings, Vista Alegre porcelain museum, boating trip in the lagoon, parish church of Válega, the nearby city of Ovar. The region is also famous for its egg-based dessert that goes by the translated name of soft-eggs, be sure to try those!
Itinerary suggestion: Aveiro city center and boat trip in the lagoon (morning), seafood lunch in Maré Cheia Restaurant, Vista Alegre museum and Ovar in the afternoon.
Day 4 – Trás os Montes outside River Douro
Rich in history and home to some of the most identifiable traditions in Portugal such as the charming dance of the “Pauliteiros de Miranda”, the remote “Trás-os-Montes” region is probably the least touristic destination in Portugal along with the “Beira interior” region. You won’t find many 5 star resorts (if any), but what it lacks in comfort, it makes up in warmth a unique cultural identity, for which the local dialect “Mirandês” is the finest example.
The main city and district capital is Bragança, at one point the cradle city of the Portuguese royal family, the house of Bragança. Here you can see some interesting remains of Romanic and gothic architecture, in particular the Domus Municipalis building (the only Romanesque civic building in Portugal). Despite the recently awarded Michelin star Restaurante G, most of the region’s cuisine is rooted in what the traditionally rural community could produce. Nowadays it has modernized substantially, but you’ll still be able to experience things of the past such as the century old Caretos de Podence celtic tradition that takes place in Carnival.
Good for: Gastronomy, Nature, local culture.
Can’t-miss: Bragança historic center (“Cidadela”), A “gaita mirandesa” bagpipe show, local rural communities, Montesinho natural park, Miranda do Douro and its “Pauliteiros de Miranda” folk dance, Solar Mateus in Vila Real. Food is big here and so are the portions! Be sure to try “Alheira” and “feijoada transmontana”.
Itinerary suggestion: Montesinho Natural Park (morning), lunch in Bragança historic center, Miranda do Douro (afternoon)
Day 5- Elvas and the remaining Alto Alentejo
Once more to the interior of the country! Although not officially a region, the portion of land that roughly includes the municipalities between Elvas in the South, Portalegre in the North, and Avis to the West is informally known as “Alto Alentejo”, literally meaning Northern part of the Alentejo region. Much like the Trás-os-Montes region, its charm lies not in the lavishness of its heritage, but on the ancient traditions that have been passed from generation to generation. These traditions take form in a multitude of things such as music, crafts and of course local gastronomy.
That being said, there’s one city, in particular, you should definitely visit, exactly for its heritage: the city of Elvas. A UNESCO World Heritage site since 2012, it’s particularly known for its military buildings and its role in the Restoration war that followed the Portuguese independence movement from Spain, started in 1640. Be sure to check it out!
Good for: History, culture, gastronomy.
Can’t-miss: Visit the quaint village of Nisa for its pottery crafts and cheese, Alter do Chão (famous for its Stud Farm), Elvas and its military buildings, a bullfight, megalithic heritage, Castelo de Vide, the festivals of “Festas do Povo” that take place in August in Campomaior.
Itinerary suggestion: Elvas historic center and military heritage (morning), Nisa and Castelo de Vide (Afternoon).
A fine example of pottery from Nisa
Day 6 – Tavira
Located in the Southeastern corner of the country, Tavira is clearly separated from Algarve’s mass tourism by avoiding some of the common tourism pitfalls, in particular the uncontrolled Real Estate development. It holds a strong combination of crystal clear beaches, amazing food, rich history, and strong cultural heritage, being quite quiet when compared to the rest of Algarve. Its location also proves useful for those that want to combine it with a visit to the nearby Andaluzia region in Spain.
Good for: Sea fishing, beach relaxation, seafood.
Can’t-miss: Ria Formosa lagoon, villages of Cacela Velha and Santa Luzia, local beaches. For a great seafood experience, be sure to attend some of the local festivities around the Ria Formosa lagoon, in particular, “Festa da Ria Formosa” in nearby Olhão and Faro.
Itinerary suggestion: boat tour in the lagoon plus Tavira city center (morning), lunch in Santa Luzia village, local beaches for relaxation (afternoon).
Ria Formosa lagoon with Tavira on the back
Day 7 – Sado River estuary & Serra da Arrábida Natural Park.
If you’re done visiting museums and historic buildings in your Portugal trip and want to get immersed in Nature, then perhaps the district of Setúbal is a good place to start, especially due to its proximity to Lisbon. The most famous attractions of the region, such as seeing Bottlenose dolphins, are mostly sea-related and lie in the estuary of the Sado River, and on the slopes of Arrábida Natural Park. However, if sea life and nature is not really your cup of tea, you can always visit the region’s famous wineries and try the local DOP cheese of Azeitão.
Good for: Beach relaxation, seafood, nature, wine, cheese.
Can’t-miss: Sesimbra, Arrábida Natural Park, Sado River tour, Cape Espichel, Azeitão cheese, Moscatel wine. Also, if you’re a beach lover be sure to check the (almost) deserted small beaches that abound.
Itinerary suggestion: Cabo espichel and Wine tour in Bacalhoa (morning), lunch in Sesimbra, Arrábida Natural Park and ferry/boat towards Troia (Afternoon).
Local fish market in Sesimbra
Authentic experiences for authentic travelers.