One of our favorite ways to see Portugal is by taking a road trip. The west coast is full of great stops, whether you want to see historical sights, important landmarks, interesting landscape, and of course, fabulous beaches. You can go during different seasons for varied experiences and go for a few hours or a few days depending on what you want to see and do. We’ll give you some of our favorite stops and suggestions for how to best enjoy each one.
We’ll begin about 40 minutes west of Lisbon. If you drive along the Estrada Marginal, you’ll get a preview of other beautiful seaside towns you might want to visit on a road trip along the Lisbon coast. There are plenty of reasons to visit Cascais, so we think it’s worth spending at least a couple of days exploring the downtown area as well as spots nearby. Museums, restaurants, shops, and great views are all around. In addition to spending time in Cascais, driving up the western coast offers stops that are good for just a few hours.
Boca Do Inferno
This is where the sea has carved away a cavelike grotto. When the tides are up, the water sprays a massive display. Boca do Inferno literally translates into “Mouth of Hell.” Surprisingly, we have seen brave fishermen standing on the high rocks near Boca, braving the elements. We suggest just watching from a distance.
Casa Da Guia
For a great view, eclectic shopping, and tasty bites, Casa da Guia is a local favorite. A former manor home, its grounds have been transformed into a wonderland of cute shops, great restaurants, and spectacular coastal views. We love hanging out for a drink at Palaphita Cascais, a cool Amazonian eco-lounge, or lunching at LOVit on great sandwiches or sushi. There’s plenty to see and do here, so plan on at least an hour or two to wander around even if you’re not staying for a meal.
To experience the wilder side of the west coast, stop in Guincho. This area is less developed than Cascais and has a breathtaking rugged coastline. The beach Praia do Guincho gets a lot of wind, making it a favorite spot for windsurfers. Even though the coastline may be rustic, dining can be the peak of elegance. Fortaleza Do Guincho is home to a five-star hotel and a Michelin-starred restaurant. If you want to experience the luxury without the higher price tag, grab a bite and beverage at the Spot, Fortaleza’s casual cafe. If the weather’s good you can sit outside on the terrace. If not, you can sit safely by huge windows that look out at the waves as they crash below. It’s a feast for all the senses and well worth a stop along the way.
3. Cabo Da Roca
A unique landmark on Portugal’s beautiful west coast is Cabo da Roca. This promontory is the westernmost part of Europe. When people thought the world was flat, this was considered one of the ends of the world. It gets super windy there, so be sure to come prepared. You’ll probably just want to take a look around, so consider it a brief stop. You can see a beautiful expanse of sea and a clifftop lighthouse that is one of the oldest in Portugal.
4. Praia Da Adraga
Praia da Adraga is a lovely beach with some unique geological features. There are interesting rock formations resulting from the sea carving out the solid cliffs. There’s a parking lot with limited spaces, and as there’s no public transportation to the beach, it’s good for hanging with locals and avoiding crowds. It’s also easy to access once you arrive because there are no cliffs to climb down to get onto the sand.
Praia Da Adraga Restaurant
For a real treat, seafood lovers will not want to miss Restaurante Adraga. This small eaterie sits right on the beach with a few outside tables and equally fabulous beach views inside. Established back in 1905, the family’s third generation still offers the freshest local ingredients and unforgettable views. It’s a little on the pricey side, and you’ll definitely need to call well in advance to get a reservation. But in our opinion, it’s worth it.
If you like the vibe of a surf mecca without the crowds, visit Ericeira in the off-season. It’s great fun in the peak season too, but you’ll have to brave the throng because it is one of the most popular cities for both surfing experts and students. This fun town has a laid-back vibe with just enough local Portuguese color to keep you aware of your surroundings. Ericeira is mostly flat and walkable, something many other parts of Portugal are not. The seafood is also a big draw. In fact, no less than superstar chef Gordon Ramsay popped in for a quiet dinner at Esplanada Furnas, where he gave his “five-star” endorsement and snapped a photo with the staff.
The fishing town of Peniche is also the home of Portugal’s delicate, decorative bobbin lace. There’s a local museum dedicated to the craft, and the annual International Bobbin Lace Show garners visitors from around the world. There are plenty of attractions like forts, museums, and churches to explore. Peniche also hosts many sporting tournaments and championships in everything from beach volleyball to kayak surfing.
Berlengas Natural Reserve
Of special interest to birdwatchers and nature lovers is the Berlengas Archipelago, a small group of islands just off the cape of Peniche. This rich ecosystem hosts many birds, including several endangered seabird species. The area was given the UNESCO classification as World Biosphere Reserve, signifying its importance. You can visit Berlenga by boat ride and enjoy birdwatching, exploring caves, SUP, canoeing, and a variety of other activities.
Those in search of the 100-foot wave have learned that the beachy town of Nazaré is the place where it can be found. Guinness has certified that the largest wave ever surfed was 86 feet in Nazaré. The previous record was in Nazaré too. People come to watch extreme surfers in the winter when the waves are at their height.
But, for those who seek tamer activities, the other side of the point in Nazaré offers a fun and lively town with lots of shops and restaurants along with a huge swath of sandy beach for beach volleyball, swimming, and sunbathing. The strip along the beach is full of places to get fresh seafood at a good price. We had lunch at Adega Oceano, which conveniently has a hotel above it in case you decide you’d like to spend the night beside the sea.
Often called the Venice of Portugal, Aveiro is a favorite stop for us along Portugal’s beautiful west coast. The town itself is inviting and fun, with its colorful moliceiro boats that resemble gondolas dotting the central canal that runs through the town. You can take a ride along the canals and see the city from a waterway view. Like many places in Portugal, Aveiro also has its own special sweet. In this case, Ovos Moles de Aveiro are paper-thin wafers in various shapes stuffed with a creamy egg and sugar filling. A walk through the city also delights with many tiled buildings and art nouveau architecture and an Art Nouveau Museum. Aveiro also hosts the University of Aveiro, adding the diversity and energy usually associated with college towns. And, of course, there’s plenty of wonderful food, including seafood, to enjoy in this lagoon city by the sea.
Just about a 10-minute drive from Aveiro is the lovely beach town of Costa Nova. We think both are must-visit stops. In this little beach town, you can see the fun houses which were once small fisherman homes painted in alternating white and colored stripes. Many of the homes have been expanded and restored, making the beach residences a fun sight to see.
Though there are many places to continue north on a road trip along Portugal’s beautiful west coast, we’ll end our road trip moving a little bit inland at Porto. Portugal’s second-largest city after Lisbon, it is also arguably one of the most picturesque. There is so much to see in Porto; we’d recommend allowing yourself at least a few days to explore and enjoy it.
Sao Bento train station is a masterpiece of Portugal’s blue and white azulejo tiles. The Majestic Café offers coffee or tea and treats in a stunning Belle Epoque building. It’s easy to marvel at Livraria Lello, with its red-carpeted staircase and author heads peeking out of the shelves. No wonder it inspired author J.K. Rowling in creating Hogwarts for the Harry Potter universe when she lived in the city. Amazing food and wine are everywhere and those with hearty appetites will want to try a Francesinha, the largest meaty sandwich we’ve ever tried.
Vila Nova De Gaia
Across the bridge from Porto, Vila Nova de Gaia is a must for port wine lovers as it is the hub of the industry. All the major producers are present with tours and tastings readily available. For a unique Portuguese wine experience, the new WOW (World of Wine) is like an amusement park for oenophiles. The Yeatman Hotel is an absolute luxury experience that will make any visit memorable and unique. The view across the river creates an impression that will last a lifetime.
Whether you’re going for just a few hours or you want to take a few days on Portugal’s beautiful west coast, check out some of our favorite stops on a road trip of your own.