Driving in Portugal: A Trail of Two Cities

Landing in Faro, one of the closest European cities to the equator, it’s so warm that you can see the heat sizzling from the surface of the runway. In a nutshell, Portugal is a country-sized oasis that shares its tourism popularity, beautiful landscape and Latino atmosphere with neighbouring Spain. Still, it has a passionate identity of its own and only those with a heart for adventure can truly experience it all. The best way to get around Portugal is by car – there are trains and buses, but they are pretty unreliable (strikes) and take a long time. Book a rental car with air conditioning and you’re free to follow this guide to exploring Portugal in the most awesome way possible – cruising along its western coast.


You’re starting in Faro because you’re about to embark on a round trip, one which can be done within just two days, so this city will be your second-home for the remainder of your holiday and its location on the southernmost tip of Portugal’s mainland means it’s almost tropical – the perfect base for a driving holiday. Plus, you can get a quality deal from Holiday Autos on car hire at Faro Airport – 20% off for certain cars booked before October 31st – so, with a car fully equipped with air-con and enough cup holders to carry multiple thirst-quenching cans of lemonade, you’re set for the open road north.

Travel tales over coffee…

First, you need to stop off at Café Alianca, just 10 minutes from the airport – over 100 years old, this place is something special and if the architecture of the Jose Pedro da Silva building isn’t enough to convince you, the feeling of the fresh coffee washing down a traditional Spanish pastry will.

Heading out of the city…

Take the A22 westbound, away from the main highway and onto the open coastal road travelling north (N120).  This route is the best as you don’t lose any time and you can spend more time in the Old Town of Sines – the midway point between Faro and Lisbon. The roads in Sines are lined with palm trees and the battlements of the town castle, looking out into the Atlantic, provide the perfect setting for an early photo in your adventure album.

Two hours to the capital…

Now, you can link up to the A2 highway from here quite easily but it’s all about the shoreline drive, so stick to the N261 and head towards Cambado – the sheer size of the sun as it sets into the Atlantic on your left is worth the detour alone – this is why you picked up a car rental in Portugal. Quick tip: Make sure you take a right onto the N253 not the N253-1, when you have the choice. Basically, follow the signs for Motinha, then ignore Motinha altogether and follow the N253 through to the A2 … it’s not as complicated as it sounds and even if you do get lost, all those villages along the Estuario do Sado river are beautiful in their own right. Once you’re on the A2 (there’s an electronic toll by the way – if you don’t have the change, you can take a ticket and pay the euros at the post office when you get to Lisbon), it’s time to focus on the road… or take some more scenic diversions as you pass through Setubal – a city famed for its beaches and wine (best to stay off the latter when behind the wheel).


Entering the city via the Ponte Salazar suspension bridge, over the Tagus River, really lets you know you’ve arrived in the capital – all the raw Portuguese culture is behind you and in Lisbon, you’ll be welcomed with an array of travellers from all over the world, along with some passionate Lisbions too of course.

The traveler’s meal…

You can head into the touristy centre of town but the hostel-surfers in Europe will all agree that a bar like Pavilhão Chinês is what the real Lisbon is all about. Sit down in this quirky venue, decorated by what looks like a hoard of stolen merchandise from the capital’s Ancient Art Museum, and tuck in to the tapas here – the ridiculously well-dressed bar staff  are particularly proud of their dishes.

Stay a night or two…or five…

Now, you’ve seen Faro, you’ve seen Lisbon, and you’ve seen some mesmerising Portuguese trails along the way – now you have a choice:

  • Stock up on some Lisbion photo moments in a whistle-stop tour around the city (make sure you visit Jeronimo’s Monastery) and head back to sunny Faro the next day.
  • Take it slow and enjoy everything this traveller’s hub has to offer, both in the city and out on the suburbs (Sintra Cascais National Park is another Portuguese paradise only really reachable by car, on the outskirts of Lisbon).
  • Keep heading northbound along the coast to Porto, the second-largest city in the country and one of the best holiday locations in Europe.

Whatever you choose, you’re memory-making holiday in Portugal will only get better as it goes on – take advantage of the Holiday Autos special offers and book your car hire now – then you’re free to travel the entire country – the best bit has to be returning to Faro and knowing exactly where to pick up the best coffee, this time it will be you swapping the travel stories and travel tips with fresh road-trippers.

(photo credit: 1 – 2 – 3 – 4 – 5)

2 Responses to Driving in Portugal: A Trail of Two Cities

  1. Carla @ Coolmons Blog October 16, 2012 at 7:02 pm #

    I like your selection of pictures, nice post

  2. Orange smile October 19, 2012 at 6:51 pm #

    I have been once on a driving trip in Portugal, the most amzing thing for me to find was the quality of the highways – really smooth surface and curving bends. Its indeed a lot of fun to drive.
    Another thing to add: one of the best road is the one starting in Porto heading up in the hills alongside the Douro river. When you climb up to 800 meters, there will be a lot of nice panoramic views on the Porto area.