The distance is not far. The estimated driving time is three hours, or slightly less. Or you can make a few stops along the way and turn a short drive into an adventure.
If you have the time, you can get a flavour of southern Portugal. Here’s an itinerary for seeing a dazzling range of landscapes – cliffs, dunes, beaches, and unending plains of olive and cork trees, and vineyards. It starts and ends in Lisbon.
We recommend doing the coastline first. Head south along the unspoiled Alentejo coast, cross the Algarve, and finally work your way up north, back to Lisbon, along the interior of the Alentejo region. Hiring a car will give you control over your itinerary.
Here’s everything you need to know to plan a road trip in Portugal from Lisbon to the Algarve and back.
- Duration: 7 days
- Perfect for: Visitors who would like a flavour of the varied landscapes and beaches of the Algarve and Alentejo.
- Top Stops: Sesimbra, Tróia, Zambujeira do Mar, Sagres, Tavira, Mértola, Évora.
- Arrival Airport: Most people will fly into Lisbon Airport, spend one, two or three full days in Lisbon, and do this itinerary.
- Best Season: Any time of year, but ultimately spring (April to June) and early autumn (September to early October). Crowds are smaller, and the weather is likely to be still warm enough to venture to the beaches.
Day 1: Lisbon to Sesimbra
On the first day, cross the 25 April Bridge and exit to Sesimbra on A2. Make a detour to Cabo Espichel (N378, N377 & N379). The only buildings on the cape are the 18th-century Church of Nossa Senhora do Cabo flanked by empty pilgrims’ lodges and one of Portugal’s oldest lighthouses, built in 1790. Take a hike on the cape’s tall cliffs with outstanding ocean views.
Then follow the signs to Sesimbra (20 mins). Sesimbra is a fishing village and a popular resort among Portuguese families. It has white sand beaches, a pleasant town centre for a stroll, and a medieval castle, in ruins but offering panoramic views of the bay.
Sesimbra is also famous for its delicious fish and seafood – grilled swordfish and black scabbardfish are two of the specialties. Lobo do Mar (Av. dos Náufragos) on the road to the fishing port is one of the best seafood restaurants in Sesimbra.
Distance: 70 kilometres/44 miles
Drive Time: 1 hour 30 minutes
Day 2: Sesimbra to Tróia
It’s time to head east to Setúbal Peninsula and the beautiful Arrábida Natural Park. On your way there, make a quick stop in Azeitão (N379, 25 mins) to sample some regional products (cheese, tarts and wine). The village is small but has a few nice shops around Praça da República.
Then take a short drive to Arrábida (N379-1, 20 mins). Even if you’re not “hitting the beaches”, they are well worth visiting.
Portinho da Arrábida Beach is the first one. Take a hike before visiting Praia dos Galapinhos, probably one of the most beautiful beaches in Portugal. Finally, Praia da Figueirinha is your last beach in Arrábida. If by now you’re feeling peckish, there’s a café-restaurant where you can grab a bite.
Follow the coastline to Setúbal, a city with around 100 thousand residents. Take the ferry from Doca do Comércio (Avenida Jaime Rebelo) to Tróia Peninsula. Don’t be surprised to see dolphins, as they’re known to play in Setúbal bay.
Tróia ferries, operated by Atlantic Ferries, run daily at least every hour on the half-hour. The trip takes about 25 minutes. Car and driver pay €15.90 + €5.20 for each passenger.
Once you arrive in Tróia, take a short drive to Carrasqueira Pier in Comporta (N253-1 & N253, 20 mins). This is a unique structure on irregular wooden stilts built in the 1950s and 60s. The pier is still used today as dock by small fishing boats on low tide. You can walk on the wooden boards, take in the scenery and see the bird species of the Sado Estuary.
Distance: 70 kilometres/44 miles
Drive Time: 1 hour 30 minutes + 25 minutes ferry
Day 3: Tróia to Zambujeira do Mar
On day three, drive to Santo André Lagoon (N261), part of a Nature Reserve . There’s a wide stretch of sand with the Atlantic Ocean on one side and the calm waters of the lagoon on the other. Take a walk to enjoy the dunes and see the various species of birds. Santo André beach is also a popular surf spot, and the lagoon offers ideal windsurfing conditions.
Head south to Porto Covo (A26-1 & M1109). Be sure to turn right to road M1109, so as to enjoy the coastline and the beautiful beaches sheltered by sheer cliffs. Porto Covo is a small seaside town of whitewashed houses.
We recommend lunch at Marquês Seafood Restaurant in the main square. Start with the petiscos (small portions of octopus salad and seafood). Try the sapateira recheada (stuffed stone crab as you’ve never tasted) and razor clam rice with fried cuttlefish.
Start the afternoon exploring Vila Nova de Milfontes (CM1072), a popular seaside resort among Portuguese families – packed in July and August. Strategically located, Vila Nova de Milfontes offers coastal and river beaches on either side of the mouth of the River Mira that flows into the Atlantic. The town centre is pleasant for a stroll.
Then drive to the lighthouse at Cabo Sardão (N393), built in the early 20th century. However, it’s not the lighthouse but the landscape and ocean views that make this slight detour well worth it.
End your day in Zambujeira do Mar, another popular seaside resort, with a meal at one of the town’s restaurants, or find O Sacas (Entrada da Barca) near the harbour. Order a portion of goose barnacles (percebes), one of the region’s specialties, and some wine, follow with a feijoada de búzios (whelk bean stew).
Distance: 125 kilometres/78 miles
Drive Time: 2 hours 30 minutes
Day 4: Zambujeira do Mar to Sagres
Day 4 offers the chance to further explore the Natural Park of Southwest Alentejo and the Vincentina Coast. There are various towns and beaches from Zambujeira do Mar to Sagres (N120 & N268). Choose a few stops on the way:
- Odeceixe: Driving along the course the River Seixe to its mouth, you’ll arrive at one of the most popular beaches in the region. Odeceixe Beach offers a large stretch of sand, combining sea and river in a beautiful setting.
- Aljezur: This is a quaint village halfway between Amoreira and Arrifana Beaches. Aljezur has typical whitewashed houses with colourful borders around the windows. The castle ramparts at the top of the hill are reminders of the Moorish occupation.
- Bordeira or Carrapateira Beach: One of the largest beaches in the Algarve, it offers a long stretch of sand surrounded by dunes. It’s an amazing spot for surfers to venture into into the cold open waters, though it may be a bit too windy for sunbathers.
- Vila do Bispo: This small, quiet town has narrow streets of whitewashed houses and an 18th-century church tower.
Sagres Fortress and St Vincent Cape are amazing places to see the sunset over the sea. The large fortress over a cliff is linked to Portugal’s naval discoveries. Built in 1904, the lighthouse only occasionally opens to visitors. You can walk around the forecourt area, and enjoy the views.
Distance: 100 kilometres/62 miles
Drive Time: 1 hour 40 minutes
Day 5: Sagres to Tavira
Day 5 offers the chance to explore the Algarve beaches. After leaving Sagres, follow to Ingrina and Zavial beaches, then go to Ponta da Piedade and onward to Camilo and Dona Ana beaches.
Afterwards, go east via N125 or A22 to Marinha Beach, one of Portugal’s most stunning beaches. It’s small and will be packed during the high season.
Head to Tavira and explore the town’s beautiful buildings, Roman bridge and the banks of the Gilão River. Drive to Cacela Velha, watch the sunset and enjoy Ria Formosa Natural Park. End your day with a meal at Ideal Restaurant (Rua Infante Dom Henrique 15) in Cabanas de Tavira.
Distance: 170 kilometres/106 miles
Drive Time: 2 hours 30 minutes
Day 6: Tavira to Mértola
A short drive to Castro Marim (N125, 30mins) marks the start of day 6. A castle on the top of a hill and a star-shaped fort on top of another offer outstanding views of the sea on one side and the hills on the other. The small whitewashed houses of Castro Marim are spread between the two.
Then head to Mina de São Domingos (IC27 & N265, 1h10). Located on the left bank of the Guadiana River, the former copper mine was explored from Roman times until the early 1960s. It has given way to industrial archaeology. The remains can be visited and the area is simultaneously beautiful and decadent, with the disused mining pit now filled with iron-tinged water.
For a swim, go instead to the village’s river beach, Tapada Grande. Stop to have lunch at Alentejo Restaurante (Rua Grande 3, Moreanes).
Then head to Pulo do Lobo (literally Wolf’s Leap), a waterfall standing at 35 metres high in a narrow gorge of the Guadiana River. It’s so called because, legend has it, only a wild animal when chased could leap over the gorge. Pulo do Lobo can be reached from either bank of the Guadiana River. The right bank will be closer if coming from São Domingos Copper Mine (N265, 30 mins).
Distance: 180 kilometres/112 miles
Drive Time: 2 hours 50 minutes
Day 7: Mértola to Évora
Drive to Évora and follow our Évora Tourist Guide, before returning to Lisbon.
Distance: 130 kilometres/81 miles
Drive Time: 1 hour 40 minutes