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Overwhelmed and looking for Portugal itinerary advice!

Overwhelmed and looking for Portugal itinerary advice!

Old Nov 15th, 2023, 12:11 PM
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Overwhelmed and looking for Portugal itinerary advice!

I will be traveling to Portugal during the latter half of December. I'm flying into Lisbon and will have a bunch of solo free days before meeting up with a friend. I'm saving most of the Lisbon activities/day trips (like Sintra) for when we meet up, so I'm looking for advice on where to go solo in the meantime. I've done some research and am so overwhelmed with how many incredible things there are to do in Portugal, so I'm turning to y'all for some advice!

If it helps, I'm an art historian who adores art, architecture, and museums. I also love beautiful natural scenery and just wandering around towns. I'm a vegetarian and am aware that I might have some trouble finding good food in smaller towns (though I'm willing to be a temporary pescatarian if needed). I'm thinking of sticking to the central and northern areas. I'm aware that it won't be warm and might be very rainy, though I'm not too worried since I'm coming from an area with much, much worse weather. I'm definitely planning to pack for rainy weather. Given that it's not tourist season, if any of these destinations aren't worth visiting at this time, please let me know!

Potential itinerary:

Day 1: Arrive in Lisbon in the early morning. Rest/explore.

Day 2: Rent a car and drive to Coimbra. Maybe stop in Tomar for lunch/a bit of exploring

Day 3: Coimbra

Day 4: Drive to the Douro Valley. Maybe stop in Aveiro for lunch/a bit of exploring

Day 5: Douro Valley

Day 6: Drive to Ponte de Lima

Day 7: Ponte de Lima

Day 8: Drive to Porto and return car. Maybe stop in Braga or Guimaraes on the way and then do the other as a day trip

Day 9: Porto

Day 10: Porto

Day 11: Train to Lisbon.

If this seems crazy ambitious, I'd love some advice on what to cut. I'm leaning towards cutting staying in Douro in favor of more time in Porto and instead booking an easily cancelable day tour there, pending OK weather.

Thanks for any help!
kalisteinberg1772 is offline  
Old Nov 15th, 2023, 03:46 PM
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I can't comment on all of these locations since I centered my own Portugal trip on Lisbon and Porto, but my initial impression is that you're moving around a lot, which is exhausting. Porto is a beautiful and interesting city that deserves several days. I would suggest basing yourself in Porto for about half of the time outlined. Spend several days focused solely on Porto and a few more on daytrips to other sites in the surrounding area. Others can comment on the appeal of the Douro Valley in December. Choose one other area to base yourself in before heading to Lisbon.

You may also want some solo days in Lisbon. I felt like every interesting building I saw in Lisbon and Belem was a museum, so if you adore museums there will likely be more to do than you'll have time for. (And let me put a strong plug in for the National Coach Museum - I still think about my visit there!)
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Old Nov 16th, 2023, 07:23 AM
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We only had time to visit Lisbon and Sintra when we were in Portugal so I can't comment on the other places. Regarding Lisbon, how many nights will you be there? We had 5 nights that included a daytrip to Sintra, and I wish we had an extra night in Lisbon. It's a wonderful city for walking and exploring and there are many interesting sites to visit. If you like museums, in addition to the National Coach Museum in Belem that memejs recommends, I also strongly recommend the Gulbenkian Museum which is amazing! The Gulbenkian consists of the Modern Collection and the Founders Collection, and both were extremely interesting.
https://gulbenkian.pt/museu/
We didn't have time to visit the Tile Museum but I know many people rave about it.
Be sure to wander around the Alfama district, the oldest neighborhood in Lisbon that wasn't destroyed by the earthquake in the 1700's. And take the elevator to the top of the Discoveries Monument for stunning views of the river and the Jeronimos Monastery. There weren't any lines when we were there in 2018.

If you have the time, I recommend spending at least one night in Sintra rather than visiting as a daytrip from Lisbon. I wish we had time to spend a night or two in Sintra. There are lots of castles, etc. to visit.
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Old Nov 16th, 2023, 08:30 AM
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It does seem a bit ambitious. I didn't visit all of these places so cannot comment on all but if you are planning to drive from Lisbon to Coimbra, you will pass by Batalha and I would recommend touring the monastery as the architecture is pretty impressive. Also when we did a day tour to Sintra, our tour also included Cascais and a stop at the monument to the westernmost part of continental Europe. Cascais does have several buildings by well-known contemporary architects so you might want to check that out.
Enjoyed an afternoon stop at Aviero incuding a canal boat ride on a hot day to see the residential architecture along the canal. We did enjoy our stop in Guimares as the architecture to me seemed to be almost Flemish or Northern European and reminded us of Rouen actually. We had planned a day trip to both Guimaries and Braga from Porto but it was very foggy drive up in the mountains north of Porto and actually missed the turn-off to Braga but that was okay as it gave us more time to explore Guimares. We did have friends who overnighted there as part of a larger trip north of Porto in which they drove through the Douro Valley as well.
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Old Nov 16th, 2023, 08:49 AM
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I'd look at doing this by train or bus
start with rome2rio to get the basic plan sorted
then book a majority with cp.pt and take guidance from seat16.com

You will find it easier, warmer, cheaper and more pleasant plus you can drink
vegetarian... certainly possible but small towns will be an issue. There are vegetarian APPs that can help
bilboburgler is offline  
Old Nov 16th, 2023, 08:50 AM
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You do not need to drive all the way to Ponte de Lima to get a sense of Portuguese architecture. There is a lot to see between Lisbon and Porto. Tomar will probably require more than a lunch stop.


The university in Coimbra is worth taking a tour


as is the town itself


For modern architecture, Fatima's new basilica is impressive


and there is Obidos, Alcobaça, Nazaré.

I do not think that a drive up the Douro is worthwhile in the middle of winter. And Aveiro is a coastal town, not on the Douro river.

Michael is offline  
Old Nov 16th, 2023, 09:41 AM
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This seems to me far too ambitious, especially in December when daylight hours are quite short. In summer perhaps but not in late December and when you may have several rainy days in the north.
I've visited all of the places on your proposed itinerary many times but not on the same trip.

As Michael says you will probably want more time in Tomar than just a short stop between Lisbon and Coimbra.
Several Fodorites recently have spent an overnight or several nights in Tomar to use as a base to visit one or several of the following, again, picking and choosing according to interests: Alcobaça, Batalha, the aqueduct of Pegōes, the Templars' castle of Almoural on an island, accessible by boat, Obidos (for a quick morning visit before bus tours arrive).

Day 4 just isn't feasible in December, driving from Coimbra with a short stop in Aveiro all the way to the Douro. And driving on the very narrow and sinuous (and infamous) route N22 is not easy for the initiated and especially not in waning light hours or the dark.
And you will only have one day for touring, and the driving up to some of the quintas, port wine estates (if those are in your plans) can be very challenging, as those who have done it know.

The drive from Régua in the Douro to Guimarães is feasible and easy, about 90 minutes, (I've done it), but going all the way north to Ponte de Lima will take about 2 hours, or more if you depart from Pinhão.

Going from Ponte de Lima you could stop in Guimarães before reaching Porto but not in both Guimarães and Braga. If you want to visit both, you would have to do one from Porto short changing a bit your time in this great city.

Many Fodorites recently have spent 3 nights in Porto, as it was one of their favorite cities (and one of mine).

Many, such as KarenWoo, have spent 5 nights in Lisbon and could have spent more time, with an overnight or two in Sintra due to the immense crowds in Sintra these days. It's really not feasible at all these days to visit all 5 Sintra monuments in one day trip and difficult to do 3, especially if you include a drive around the coast stopping at Cabo da Roca and Cascais, which takes up monument touring time. So you need to pick and choose.

Just some thoughts...
Maribel is offline  
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