Lisbon to Porto

If this is your first trip to Portugal, this classic itinerary gives you a taste of the major cities of Lisbon and Porto, as well as the most fascinating stopovers along the way. As you drive north you'll see picturesque coastline, dramatic river valleys, and tree-covered mountains.

Fly in: Lisbon Airport, 7 km (4½ miles) north of the city center (LIS).

Fly out: Porto Airport, 11 km northwest of the city center (OPO).

Days 1–2: Lisbon

Put on your walking shoes and range across the seven hills of the Portuguese capital city. If your knees can't cope, hop on one of the vintage street trams that traverse the city or one of the funiculars that carry you up to more lofty neighborhoods. Mosteiro dos Jerónimos and Torre de Belém—both UNESCO World Heritage Sites—should be on your itinerary, as should museums like Museu Colecção Berardo and Museu Gulbenkian.

Day 3: Sintra

On your way north from Lisbon, stop for a day to see Sintra’s roster of fairy-tale palaces, castles, and romantic gardens, which together make it another UNESCO World Heritage Site. The leafy Serra de Sintra range is a lovely place for walks, and you could easily spend an extra day or more here.

Day 4: Mafra and Óbidos

After all that trudging, take it easy with a meandering drive through the fertile Estremadura region. On your way to the enchanting walled village of Óbidos, you'll pass Mafra, an otherwise unassuming town that is home to an ostentatious 18th-century palace, whose construction was financed by gold from Brazil. Famous for its cherry liquor and chocolate, Óbidos is a wonderful place to rest for a night after the hectic pace of touring Lisbon and its environs. You can even sleep in a castle-turned-pousada.

Day 5: Coimbra

Coimbra boasts heady architecture, a sophisticated shopping scene, and romantic squares and gardens. The place oozes history: Portugal's first king was born and buried here. It's a hilly city, so be prepared, but the center is reasonably compact and you should be able to cover all the main sights easily in a day. Kids will love the mini-monuments at Portugal dos Pequenitos, where the entire country has been shrunk to child-size proportions. Don't miss the quirky elevador—a combination of funicular, elevator, and walkway—or fado, the most characteristic of Portugal's folk music.

Day 6: Braga

The country's religious nerve center, Braga is an ecclesiastical heavyweight with a massive archbishop's palace at the center. A tiara of impressive religious buildings and sanctuaries encircles the town, including the extravagant Bom Jesus baroque pilgrim church, located 5 km (3 miles) to the east. Braga is a city for strolling. If you have the time, it's an easy day trip from Braga to medieval Guimarães with its lovely town center and magnificent palace of the dukes of Bragança.

Day 7: Viana do Castelo

A low-key Portuguese resort and the country's folkloric capital, this elegant seaside town has grandiose 16th-century buildings, superb restaurants, and sweeping beaches. Chug across the Rio Lima by ferry to the local strip of sand, stroll around the picturesque town center, and, if your timing permits, visit the bustling Friday market to pick up a few hand-embroidered linens as gifts for the folks back home.

Days 8–9: Porto

Portugal's second city and gateway to the north, Porto has a beguiling air of faded grandeur, with its peeling buildings and medieval tangle of riverfront streets. It's gaining in popularity as a city break destination, and has a lively nightlife scene as well as ample opportunities to sample port wine. Start by picking up a map at the tourist office and heading for the atmospheric Ribeira embankment, with its buildings strung with laundry and superb tascas, where you can tuck into fresh fish and admire the colorful lights of the impressive port lodges across the water. Some visitors might want to take a half-day boat trip up the Douro River, whose amazing terraced vineyards form another World Heritage Site.

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