Where to go? What to do? Places to eat? We share our experience and insider tips for the most epic road trip across the coast of Portugal from Algarve to Lisbon. Pack your bags and get ready for an unforgettable experience.
Algarve, Portugal's southernmost region is a great place to start your road trip as you travel north along the western coast toward Lisbon. If you live in Europe, you'll find quick and affordable flights into Faro (FAO). We've seen direct flights from Frankfurt to Faro on RyanAir for less than 100EUR round, even in peak summer months. If you're flying into Lisbon, just follow this guide in reverse.
Along Algarve, you'll discover one small beach after the next. Views go on for days and the hikes are incredible. Along some of the smaller central and eastern Algarve region, you can find beaches with calm waters; perfect for an afternoon on a Kayak or SUP.
East of Faro you'll find one of the most beautiful beach towns in all of Algarve, Tavira. It straddles the Gilão River, and reaches the sea via lagoons of Ria Formosa Natural Park. Tavira Island is known for its long sandy beaches, and salt pans that attract wild birds. One of the more local spots is Ilha de Tavira, a small island with 11 kilometers of sandy beaches, small food stalls, bars and camping sites. It's a quiet place to enjoy your holiday for a day or two, with minimal international tourism. This area is also known for its nude beaches, so take caution if you're coming with children, or are uncomfortable with that sort of thing.
Algarve's amazing rugged coastline is full of sandy beaches, caves, cliffs and unique rock formations. The Benagil caves are one of the most beautiful caves in the world, and only accessible by boat, SUP, or Kayak. If you have an experienced guide, you can ask about cave diving. Be careful, because tides rise quickly in this area, and currents below the surface can be strong. But if the conditions are right, it will be an unforgettable experience. Always follow the safety recommendations of your guides when attempting any cave exploration. We were exploring the coast via SUP and while cave diving, got hit with an earthquake, that quickly changed the sea conditions. Super scary stuff!
Stay near Porches, Carvoeiro, or Albufeira. For luxury accommodations, considering getting a room at Vila Vita Parc. For budget friendly lodging, try out an Airbnb apartment near the beach.
After a day of hiking, kayaking, cave diving, and lounging around the beach, you have an endless list of restaurants to enjoy, with some of the freshest seafood you'll ever eat. We'd be remiss if we didn't mention Ocean, led by Austrian Executive Chef Hans Neuner and named Portugal's Chef of the Year 2009 & 2012. Two Michelin Stars, breathtaking views over the Atlantic, and an amazing tasting menu, makes this the perfect night if you're looking for a once in a lifetime find dining experience. Each course of I'd say 16-18 course/'snacks' has a story, and feels warmly familiar. It's an intimate venue, with maybe 12 tables at most. Reservations are hard to come by, so book early!
For normal, everyday meals, seafood, and great atmospheres, head to Armação de Pêra, a beautiful beach in central Algarve. Every Sunday, Praia Dourada has a beach party with a live DJ, and fresh made bottomless seafood Paella that is to die for! Their Tuna Poke bowls are also amazing. If you don't want to eat in the actual restaurant, they have daybeds on the beach where you can enjoy your food, drinks and chill.
Try the Xarém and Chocos com tinta at Chocos. It's absolutely amazing.
I was also surprised to learn about the delicious Portuguese wines and vineyards. Visit Rolha Wine Bar for a tasting and tapas.
The coast west of Lagos, leading up toward Sagres is one of the most unspoiled parts of Algarve thanks to the national park. Western Algarve is a surfer's paradise, where the coastline meets the fierce waters of the Atlantic. As you travel northwest up the coast, you can explore Parque Natural do Sudoeste Alentejano e Costa Vicentina. If surfing isn't your thing, you'll find the most incredible views along hiking trails that will leave you breathless. Also known as the ‘Trail of Tides’, the Pontal da Carrapateira trail along the Vicentine Coast is a good one to do for a leisurely hike with costal views. If you are getting in the water, be forewarned that this coast is rough, and can be dangerous for less experienced swimmers/surfers. Nevertheless, it's probably one of our favorite spots along Algarve, with lots of camping options as well.
Estoril-Cascais, & Sintra
As you make your way north toward Lisbon, consider staying in one of these beautiful resort and historic towns about 30-45 minutes driving from Lisbon's center.
Cascais is a charming marina town, that has a more developed, yet blissfully sleepy feeling about it. The main sights to take in include Boca do Inferno, Cresmina Beach, and Santa Marta Lighthouse. You'll definitely want a car around here because you can enjoy a beautiful, wild costal/mountain road trip to Sintra. If you dont have a car, and don't mind a beautiful walk, step outside of the center of Cascais. Driving or walking past Boca do Inferno will amaze you. This area is a surfers paradise, with lots of well maintained and protected dunes, that have boardwalks for exploring and hiking. You may get lucky to also catch the brave local fishermen hanging on the cliff edges, doing what they do best. It's a sight to behold, truly.
We found that after leaving the resorts in Algarve, we had a hard time finding traditional western breakfasts, with all the fixings (eggs, bacon, fruit, etc.). In Cascais, you'll enjoy snacking at Pauls. Although its a chain, they have a good location, great coffee and tasty pastries. It's also great for an afternoon coffee, too, siting in a beautiful square in the center of town adjacent to the beach. If you have a car, and want to venture into the neighborhoods of Estoril, have breakfast at Zenith Cafe. This was my favorite place in the Cascais area to eat breakfast, and they have eggs! They serve the best pastel de nata, a regional specialty made of custard, and warm gooey goodness! It's amazing, and something to savor while in the area.
If you're looking for good shopping, you will not find it in Cascais. Instead, head to Lisbon.
If you're thinking of overlooking Lisbon for the seaside experience, reconsider! We almost totally overlooked the center, and I'm so glad made our way into town. At a first glance, you'll notice a ton of Graffiti art all over the city. It's historic for sure, but has a touch of trendiness, that I was surprised to find. In the smallest streets, you'll find lively restaurants. And the next amazing restaurant is just around the corner. It's a hilly city, reminiscent of San Francisco. Bring your walking shoes, and be prepared to spend a lot of time on your feet.
Our favorite finds?
If you're not up for walking, pick up a street car taxi. For 20 euro, we enjoyed a 45 minute tour of the city. It was spontaneous, and you can just ask your driver to show you around their favorite spots.
An Epic Adventure
Overall, Portugal is an incredible adventure, for the elite foodies, and backpackers alike. It's still much cheaper than similar costal areas in Europe (Amalfi, Greek Islands, etc.). Everyone speaks great English, and its easy to get around. Overall, its a country rich in culture, history and amazing food!
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We are explorers.
Thrill Seekers. Foodies.