Visit Portugal with a van
Portugal in a few words: parties, sun and surf …
Of course, these are only the 3 first words that came out from our mind, but Portugal is much more diversified than that! It’s just a good start!
Discover our trip in Portugal, colorful and full of flavors!
For your information, we decided not to drive to the extrem south and the wonderful beaches of the Algarve region. And this for 2 reasons:
- The main one: Spain and Portugal were not planned at the beggining. So, the more we wait to leave the South, and the colder it will be when we’ll arrive in northern Europe (eg Scandinavia).
- The 2nd: June is the most touristic season in Portugal and some local told us that the beaches of the Algarve are crowded at this time … we made our choice.
From Vigo, Spain to Porto, Potugal
A) Afife, beaches and surfing for miles
Sleeping spot: nature, no service (free)
Our arrival in Portugal: sun and waves! We find a small and calm spot next to the famous beaches of Afife, a dream. Very close to the sea, and quiet (nobody around). Amazing beaches for miles, good waves for surfing, almost too big. In any case a great spot to stay when landing in Portugal from Galicia, the north of Spain.
B) Gardens’ addicts, do not miss Ponte de Lima
We decide to visit Ponte de Lima. A charming and very clean town. Beautiful houses, and our first “azulejos“: painted tiles that decorate the walls of Portuguese traditional houses. As well as the bridge that makes its reputation, the “Ponte Romana” from the XIVth century which pass above the Lima Rio. The downtown area is very cute but must be said, quite touristy.
We decided to cross this famous bridge and visit the “Jardims Tématicos“. An exhibition of gardens that is renewed every year. 12 gardens are made by landscapers from different nationalities. A very nice visit, and the entrance is only 1 €, a symbolic value. Dogs are forbidden of course, Huaca had to stay at the entrance (in the shade of course).
Find more information about these Gardens
C) Prado, a quiet stop with the van
Sleeping spot: nature, no service (free)
If you are in a van and are looking for a place between Ponte de Lima and Guimaraes we recommend the banks of the Rio Cavado in Prado. We followed the signs “fishing” in town and found a great place close to the river. On a path grassed by the river and with very little passage. A little fishing and Huaca was free to run, perfect.
D) Guimaraes, our first castle
As explained below, we had not planned to spent time here. But in our misfortune, we made a fine stop. Guimaraes is a city that is worth a visit. You can get lost between the city center and the castle of Afonso Henriques. Our 1st castle but also the 1st kingdome of the 1st independant king of Portugal. It’s nice to walk from places to places and to discover terraces, music groups and other entertainment.
E) Parque Natural do Alvao, a beautiful panorama
We want to leave the coasts to immersed ourselves in the middle of nature. Mountain, waterfall, basins… we decide to go to the Parque do Alvao. The road is a little long and harsh, but it’s worth it. Just check it before, it’s not that easy to find the way as there are very few signs. Beautiful panorama of the waterfall and going up towards Varziguetto, you can go directly swim into the « Fisgas de Ermelo », great natural slides and pools. On the Varzigueto road, 2 paths lead to the basins, we took the 2nd one, shorter (600m instead of 1.5km). Great day in the heart of Portugal despite a big misaventure with Dandelion, our van.
F) And G) Porto, for architecture and Porto’s lovers
1 / Rua Marechal Gomez, close to the entrance of the Serralves museum, seems safe (free), but 1h from the city center.
2 / Parking (behind the Lidl near the Casa Da Musica), but not sure it is safe at night (free) – 40 mins from the city center.
After a first visit of 1 week in 2008, I had a very good souvenir. We were not disappointed even though Porto did not seem to be the most convenient place to visit when you have a van. We did not know where to park safely for free (or reasonable price), so we were quite far from the center. Indeed, it did not stop us from enjoying the city.
Its architecture (bridge, gardens, museums), coffee terraces, gastronomy … Crossing the other side of the Ribeira district and Rio Douro by the Ponte Dom Luis I to taste Porto wines in different famous warehouses (ex: Sandeman that you can’t miss, but there are so many more to discover !). Or getting lost in the Jardim do Palacio de Cristal and its Museo Romantico, visit the great Casa da Musica… in short, Porto remains Porto!
2 things regarding this 1st part:
- It did not really go that way. After having been towed for a mechanical problem at the Parque Natural do Alvao, we had a 2-day forced stop at the “marvelous” IBIS of Guimaraes while the van was in repair. We’re making fun about the Ibis, but there is nothing to say about it. Pet friendly and with all the comfort to work serenely.
- If we didn’t had this “damage”, we would have probably spent 2 days to make the wine road … and so surely good anecdotes to tell you. It will be for the next time, or in an another country!
From Porto to Lisbon
A) Figueira da Foz, a wish to surf
On our way to Coimbra, we stop in Figueira da Foz to find a surfing spot. Loads of wind and a very light swell is not a good equation for surfing. However, Romain find a bowl along the coast to have a little skating break. Friendly stop but nothing unforgettable for us. Large beach and nice seafront. Possibility to spend the night in a van at the end of the parking, but the wind was violent, so we preferred to keep going somewhere else.
Praia fluvial de Palheiros e Zorro, a break near Coimbra
Sleeping spot: nature, toilets / showers / water (free)
Rua do Rio 13, 3030 Coimbra, Portugal
We arrive around 5 pm. Great sun, and quite a lot of people (Sunday) that leaves at the end of the day. The place is very nice. Grassed car park, small fluvial beach (dogs not allowed), a bar/restaurant on the waterfront (toilets and showers available during bar opening hours).
A little further, a rocky beach (OK for the dogs) and a small wooden bridge that leads to the other side of the shore. Fishing spots also, even if we did not catch anything! As well as the departure of a 7km walk along the rio with the possibility of crossing foxes and other animals. Long story short, a spot we really liked!
C) Grutas da Moeda, Portugal seen from below
On the way to Nazaré, we decide to make a detour to visit the Grutas da Moeda (near Batalha and Fatima, cities renowned for their magnificent monasteries). The entrance is 6 € / person, but we liked it very much. Our guide, very nice, has to explain everything in 3 different languages … This is a cave of 350m long and 45m deep, with stalactites and stalagmites and blue or green water basins. Beautiful and fun, the tour ends with the tasting of the alcohol of Moeda in the caves shop. Very good (could be like a Porto wine but very clear pink) and no pressure to buy the bottle.
Know more on the Moeda caves
D) Nazaré, the Mecca of the Surf
Sleeping spot: nature without service (free), normally no camping here but tolerated if discreet
Arrival in Nazare, the Mecca of the big surfing waves of Portugal … and not only. We go to the end of the cliff where is situated the well knowned lighthouse (1 € entrance but prohibited to dogs). Then, we go down to the Praia del Norte, where the records of the biggest waves ever surfed in the world are established (the actual record is holded by the french surfer Benjamin Sanchis with a 33m wave !).
On the way, the N Bar with a beautiful view of the sea. After a hard bodyboard session (very powerful waves even if we were far from 20m), we spent the night in our van facing the sea with the waves’ sound in the background. The center of the old town is cute (but very touristic), cathedral, restaurants recognized for seafood …
E) Supertubos and Consolasao, the waves of Peniche
This part of the Portuguese coast is really famous for surfing, so we were not going to deprive ourselves of it. After Nazare, let’s go to Peniche with Supertubos and Consolasao ‘s waves. We find here more surfers than in Nazaré (surf more accessible). Beautiful waterfront, multi-level waves, several surf schools and as a bonus the European stand up paddle competition. After testing the waves, we end the day with a Superbock (local beer) and a sandwich in a beach bar in front of the spot.
F) Lourinha, a haven of peace and… dinosaurs
Sleeping spot: nature / drainage / water (free)
We’re messing around, but apparently Lourinha is known for its dinosaurs museum, but we can not tell you anything more about that. We did not have the heart to test it! On the other hand, we found a spot where to sleep with our van which is worth the detour. Large grassed area facing the sea close to the beach. Already 3 campervans, but there is so much space that it is not annoying. A little windy, as everywhere but good spot, with the possibility of draining and recharging in water. We try to fish in the small stream between us and the beach, without success.
G) Cascais, still and always beautiful beaches
Sleeping spot: closed parking super view 2 € the day / shower (1 or 2 €)
On our way to Lisbon, we stop at Cascais near Sintra. No waves that deserve to go into the water (14 ° C) when you are used to surf in Reunion Island’s ocean (warmer temperature about 25-28 ° C). Nevertheless, some temerous surfers went surfing from 8 to 10pm.
But great spot to spend the end of the day and night in a van. At the top of a cliff, beautiful view of the surf spot, and downhill, beautiful stroll along the beach. And above all, OK for the dogs!
H) Lisbon, a very lively city!
Sleeping spot: night clubs’s car park, no services (free)
Av. 24 de Julho 118, 1200-109 Lisbon, Portugal
We heard a lot about Lisbon but we thought it could not be funnier than Porto. Well, we changed our mind. We spent 3 days-3 nights there, parked only 10mins by foot from the city center. Discovering the city by foot is very nice (except the 2 or 3 ultra tourist streets of the center).
Life is there at every street corner and people are open.
And we decided to make it a separate article on our travel blog: 5 must do in Lisbon!
You’re looking for new tunes? Discover our new musical playlist special Portugal on our Youtube.
Read our articles on our roadtrip in Spain.
Traveling with a dog in Portugal
Portugal was, we must admit it, less pet friendly than the north of Spain. So we always tried to find outdoors sleeping spots to let her run. And during the day we bring her with us to walk around the city. So we were able to enjoy Portugal without too many constraints for us or either for Huaca, our dog.
The beaches are almost all prohibited for pets, especially during summer. Fortunately our little dog is very calm and discreet, so we did bring her and hide her from the sun (ex: The cage of Decathlon is perfect to hide a dog, in the shade)!