Disclaimer: Thank you Portugal By Van for hosting us as your guests. The thoughts and opinions expressed here are entirely our own.
The greatest part of a Road Trip isn’t arriving at your destination. It’s all the wild stuff that happens along the way.” - Emma Chase
There is no better way to see a country than to traverse it by car - it may take longer than a flight but the road gives you more flavor than an airline meal ever could. We spent a week in Portugal driving from Lisbon to the Algarve Coast and saw more of this nation’s diversity and charm than we ever even imagined possible!
Now for those of you who do not know, Portugal is a nation famous for its beautiful beaches, opulent port wines, and delicious desserts, but it has so much more to offer its visitors than just that; with mountainous northern landscapes carpeted by vineyards that give way to southern rolling plains, the scenery here will intoxicate you with allure and charm.
We usually suggest starting your trip in the country's capital - in this particular case, that would be the beautiful, historical, and delicious Lisboa. Lisbon is a city steeped in history, culture, and food. From the archival neighborhoods to the world famous yellow trams and gourmet local markets, this capital is filled with various architectural, social, and culinary styles sure to satisfy all of your travel desires. Once you've had your Lisbon fix, we strongly urge you to rent a camper van and explore the Algarve Coast using our four day itinerary. Below, you can find a comprehensive guide on all you need to know before you go - to ensure your road trip is the best it can possibly be!
ALGARVE COAST - DAY 1
Stop 1: Portugal By Van - A great road trip starts with a great camper and Portugal By Van has got you covered! We picked up their "four seat van" which came with every amenity possible: a full kitchen including a sink, stove and fridge, a 120 liter water tank, a dining table, USB plugs to charge electronics, two beds, and even a shower. Pickup is super easy, only a quick 10 minute ride from the airport; upon arrival the staff will provide you with a thorough van demonstration, covering every possible detail before departure so you are confident and comfortable before setting off on your Portugal Camper Adventure!
Stop 2: Lidl - One of the best things about driving a van - besides how cool you look doing it - is the ability to stop when and where you want, whenever you want. So we highly suggest you stock up on food before getting to all the wonderful festivities we have planned for you. Our favorite place for groceries is Lidl, a german supermarket chain known across Portugal for having good food at great prices. Here you can stock up on all the essentials before starting your road trip.
Stop 3: Farol Cabo Sardão - Today is all about driving South and enjoying the exquisite coast. What better start than Farol Cabo Sardão, a lighthouse overlooking a gorgeous cliff with unique geological features and drastic views? With the dazzling Atlantic ocean hugging the rugged coastline, this place is the perfect spot to stop for lunch, stretch your legs, and settle into the warm inviting, Portuguese weather.
Stop 4: Beach Zambujeira do Mar - Next up, a beach with a vertical twist! Zambujeira do Mar is a quaint village overlooking the shore... atop a 30 meter (90 foot) sheer cliff. Park in the village, then walk towards the shore. Be sure to take in the views from both the top and bottom of this rock face. We promise it's worth it!
Stop 5: Lighthouse of Cabo de São Vicente - This is hands down, the best place for sunsets in all of Portugal, but make sure to check sunset times in advance so you can arrive early to snag a great spot. If you have time, prep dinner prior and bring with as you enjoy the sunset while having dinner with a view!
Stop 6: Parque de Campismo Orbitur Sagres - A long day of exploration should end with a good night's rest, so finding reliable camping is key. This campground has everything you’d need and more: flat spaces, paid showers, clean bathrooms, drinking water, and electric outlets if you need that last minute charge! This place is the perfect spot to relax and rejuvenate for your next days adventure.
Day 1 Algarve Map
ALGARVE COAST - DAY 2
Stop 1: Praia do Amado - Kickstart day two with a surf session at one of the greatest competition beaches in the world! Here you can rent equipment or book surf lessons directly from the sand, but for those of you who prefer to stay dry, help yourself to the beach bar for fruity drinks and marvelous views.
Stop 2: Arrifana Beach - Here you'll find another beautiful beach with an excellent surf spot and enticing beach bar. While it sounds a lot like Praia do Amado, it looks completely different and is most definitely worth a visit. Make sure to park up top to avoid crowds and tight, winding roads; save yourself the stress so you can savor more time on the sand.
Stops 3, 4, & 5: Crazy Beaches! - If you can't already tell, today is all about beach hopping the Algarve Coast. We have three beaches in mind, all close enough to walk, so you can maximize your time being outside of the van vs inside. First up is Farol da Ponta da Piedade, known by many for its panoramic views of the jagged coastline and rocky outcroppings. From there, head to Praia do Camilo, one of the most iconic beaches of the Algarve. Here you'll experience translucent blue waters, striking rock formations, caves, stairs and tunnels set amongst wind swept sandstone. This place is truly a photographer's haven. After that, make your way towards Praia Dona Ana, a beautifully scenic beach acclaimed for its colorful rocks, golden beaches and calm waters. These three beaches are some of the best the Algarve has to offer, so we've made sure you don't miss a beat.
Stops 6 & 7: Next up, Lagos & More Beaches! - You can see the common theme today continues: beaches on beaches on beaches. Before embarking on your next set of sandy locations, we highly suggest you park your camper on the edge of Lagos city. The streets are incredibly narrow, and not designed for a van of your size (we tried and it was highly stressful) so avoid the city center and park outside the main gates for peace of mind. Once parked, embark on a self guided tour of Lagos. This charming seaside town is filled with trendy restaurants, cool cafes and hipster surf shops. For lunch, treat yourself to one of the many world class eateries found here; and once your bellies are full with spirits high, meander to Praia da Batata. This particular beach is famous for its 17th century fort, where you can explore the hand-carved tunnels set amidst the sandstone. These passages are full of sea life: think mussels, anemones, and colorful seaweed. One of the tunnels even takes you to a secluded beach called Praia dos Estudantes, a small sandy front sheltered by sandstone rock formations and a cute stone bridge where many come to snag their insta-famous photo.
Stop 8: Gomba, Pastelaria Do Melhor Bolo De Café - All this beach hopping is bound to make you hungry for dinner! How do cheap, delicious, crispy chicken sandwiches sound followed by warm Pastel de Natas pastries for dessert ? If that sounds enticing, we've got just the spot for you! Pastelaria Do Melhor Bolo De Café is run by locals for the locals, so dining here not only supports the local community but also gives you an inside look into Portuguese culture and cuisine.
Stop 9: Camping Praia de Armação de Pêra - After concluding yet another fun filled day, make your way to Praia de Armação de Pêra camp for a warm shower, a chance to unwind and of course rest - before setting off for another big day!
Day 2 Algarve Map
ALGARVE COAST - DAY 3
Stop 1: Benagil Beach and Caves - Today's first pit stop is Benagil Cave; one of the most famous sea caves in the entire world! Why you may ask? Well, the Benagil Sea Cave is an incredibly unique natural landscape to say the least. Its domed sandstone amber walls enclose an intimate beach with a round skylight ceiling. Much larger than one would think, this massive cave contains several arched openings that are only accessible by boat (you can also swim or stand up paddle for those of you willing to brave the open seas). Travel Tip: If you want the cave all to yourself, we suggest renting a Stand Up Paddle board at sunrise to avoid the hordes of boat tours that begin to arrive in the early morning/afternoon. You can of course also swim, but that's up to you and your skill level. If you prefer not to get wet (like us), you can safely enjoy the sea cave from above, staying nice and dry as you marvel at the site of this geological anomaly.
Stop 2: Carvalho Beach - Next stop, Carvalho Beach; a hidden gem to the Algarve. This beach is accessible by a staircase carved through two sandstone cliffs. Once you've reached the bottom you'll be rewarded with dramatic landscapes and scenic views of the Algarve coastline. This is also one of the best beaches for snorkeling and cliff jumping for anyone wanting an additional thrill. Parking is free, available via a dirt track at the summit of the hill, conveniently overlooking the beach below.
Stop 3: Praia da Marinha - And now, time for something completely different! Praia da Marinha is the quintessential Algarve cove, containing two natural arches surrounded by crystal clear turquoise waters and rock formations dusted with orange, this beach is an iconic addition to the Algarve coast. We found this to be the perfect place to lay out and explore using the series of small paths and mostly-stable bridges carved into the hillside.
Stop 4: Camping Praia de Armação de Pêra - Home, sweet home! Rest up at this campsite before a long day of driving for day four. Or if you like to end your trips with a bang, party the night away drinking Ginjinha, a traditional Portuguese liqueur made with cherry-like ginja berries fermented in brandy. Either way, with this schedule you'll be sleeping like a rock!
Day 3 Algarve Map
ALGARVE COAST - DAY 4
Today, you have two options:
The reasonable, sane decision to drive back to Lisbon, fill up on gas, and return your camper to Portugal By Van or...
Spice things up and drive an extra 5 hours for a unique, once-in-a-lifetime culinary experience only food lovers can come to appreciate.
Option 1: Leisurely Return to Lisbon and Drop Off Your Portugal By Van Camper - This 2 ½ hour drive (with tolls) will take you straight back to Lisbon and give you plenty of time to explore the city or head directly to the airport depending on where your next destination may be. The map below also provides a gas stop close to the Portugal By Van location to make refueling as easy as can be before your final return.
Option 2: Let Your Stomach Lead the Way and Enjoy Even More of the Portuguese Countryside
Stop 1: Restaurante Vidal Ferreira - How often do you eat a dish that truly blows you away? A dish that is not only flavorful but genuinely surprising? How about a dish you still talk about months later? Get ready for the ultimate trip for your taste buds at Restaurante Vidal Ferreira. Using a centuries-old family recipe, here guests can dine on perfectly roasted piglet for a unique dining experience. The cooking process remains a family secret but the end result is remarkable: tender, fall-off-the-bone meat paired with ultra crispy skin seasoned to perfection with black pepper and orange slices. The drive may be long and their opening hours may be erratic (open from 12:30-3:30pm so we advise reserving a table online in advance to ensure seating), but the meal is worth every kilometer driven, and has become a staple for all future Portugal trips to come.
Stop 2: Batalha Monastery - A perfect example of Portugal’s long history of ornate religious buildings, this monastery dates back to the medieval ages, taking over 150 years to build. This is a quick stop on your drive back to Lisbon, so be sure to go inside briefly and admire the stunning, hand-carved details and Gothic architectural features. It's worth it!
Stop 3: Gas & Portugal By Van - Fill up your gas tank, sweep the floor, and check one last time that you’ve grabbed all your goodies, before returning your camper to Portugal By Van.
Day 4 Algarve Map
Now for some of you, after those fun-filled four days of exploration, you may find yourself in one of two camps: ready for a hotel or itching for more van life! If you’re craving a comfy bed, Lisbon & Porto have got you covered. However, if you fancy another bout of camper cruising (like us) and are wondering where to go next, we've got you covered for another incredible camper van itinerary; as they say, life is either a daring adventure or nothing at all, so why not make the most of it and do what you love with the people who matter most while experiencing our sensational world along the way.