It’s one of the most common questions we’re asked, and one of the most common questions I see posted across forums. What’s the best place to stop between Lisbon and Porto? As two of the major and perhaps most popular cities in Portugal, Lisbon and Porto are high on the lists of places to visit. They’re also unique and offer travellers something different, so much so that often these two cities are the focal points of visits to Portugal. I’d say the most common itinerary we see is Lisbon with side trips to Sintra, and Cascais, followed by a trip north to Porto with a side trip to the Douro Valley.However, that leaves an unanswered question for the middle. Where should you stop between Lisbon and Porto?
The Centro Region between Porto and Lisbon
This area is called the Centro Region, and it’s an area that stretches north from the Lisbon metropolitan area, all the way to a town that borders Porto called Espinho. It then stretches inland all the way to the Spanish border in the east. It accounts for roughly a third of the area of continental Portugal yet is often missed from your typical guidebooks. This guide won’t be about the whole region of Central Portugal, we’ll save that for another time, but we’ll focus on the region of central Portugal that most travellers will need to pass through to get from Porto to Lisbon, or vice versa.
Why should you stop between Lisbon and Porto?
This area dense in historic towns, fortifications, ruins, religious monuments, and a staggering four UNESCO World Heritage sites. It’s a historic agricultural area with vineyards, orchards and fertile farmlands, which leads to its very own gastronomical heritage. We love this area so much, that we often recommend spending days exploring here, and not just passing through. However, we’ll stick to the brief and try to answer where is the best place to stop!
Where is the best place to Stop between Porto and Lisbon?
It’s not an easy question to answer, and in reality, it comes down to several things. How long do you have to spend on stops, and what are your interests. Follow up questions are typically what have you seen already, and what else are you planning to see in Portugal? We’ll break some of the most popular options down to help you decide!
Óbidos – Portugal’s Prettiest Walled Village
First up Óbidos, it’s one of the most popular day trips from Lisbon so there’s a high chance you’ve seen, and heard all about it already. Maybe you already did a day trip between the two places. For those that haven’t been introduced, Óbidos is a charming walled village around an hour north of Lisbon. It is firmly on the tourist route, and during the busy season can lose any sense of ‘village life’, that said it is still a charming place to explore if you’re willing to step off the main streets.
Óbidos is great for people that want a short stop, and for people that haven’t seen historic or walled villages in Portugal. However, if you’re planning on exploring further then in our opinion you can see better examples of walled villages elsewhere like Monsaraz in the Alentejo!
Alcobaça – A Real Portuguese Town with an Impressive Secret
Alcobaça is 30 minutes north of Óbidos or 120km north of Lisbon. It’s named after the meeting point of two rivers, the Rio Alcoa and the Rio Baça. The town itself is steeped in Portuguese history and hosts the renowned UNESCO World Heritage Site – the Monastery of Alcobaça. However, the monastery is not the only part of the town worth visiting and you’ll find lots more to explore.
Alcobaça can also be great for people that want a short stop, you can spend a couple of hours exploring the monastery and move on. Ticking off one of Portugal’s impressive world heritage sites. However, it’s easy to spend a full day exploring, learning about the region’s fertile lands, and farming heritage. A trip to its quirky wine museum really completes the experience, before a hearty dinner in one of its many traditional tascas.
Batalha – Explore the Origins of Portugal
Batalha, named after ‘battle’ is a town rich in history, and deeply connected to Portugal. It’s not far off the half way point between Porto and Lisbon, so it’s a convenient stopping point. What can you see and do in Batalha? Well once again, it’s UNESCO world heritage site monastery is the focal point of any visit. This grand monastery was the Portuguese Monarchy’s main building project for over two centuries. Representing the architectural transition from Gothic to Manueline, and although never finished, would influence Portuguese architecture for generations. Batalha might only be a small town, but it packs a strong historical punch. Anyone interested in history or architecture should place this town and its UNESCO heritage site high on your list of places to visit while in Portugal!
Tomar – Historic Home of the Knights Templar
Tomar is a wonderful riverside town located around two hours north of Lisbon. It’s a town that manages to blend small town charm with a whole lot of history, including one of Portugal’s most famous UNESCO heritage sites. If you’re looking for a break from the hectic sites in Lisbon, Sintra and even Cascais, then Tomar might just be for you. Being just slightly off the beaten track means that you can actually slow down and enjoy the town and its sites.
Fatima – The Catholic Centre of Portugal
Roughly in between Tomar and Batalha is the small town of Fátima. It’s most widely known for its religious significance and as a pilgrimage site for Catholics all over the world. To give a little bit of background, the town is named after a legendary Arab princess who converted to Christianity and is said to have lived in a nearby village area sometime during the 8th century. However, it would get worldwide religious attention for stories of apparitions of the Virgin Mary that were witnessed by three shepherd’s children in 1917. To this day it remains an area of immense significance to Catholics. Despite this, with its myriad of churches and chapels, many of them modern, makes it hard to recommend Fátima to people who don’t have an interest in Catholicism. Most other visitors are typically underwhelmed.
Nazare – A Traditional Seaside Resort
During winter, Nazaré has established itself as a surf mecca with record breaking waves, during summer it’s a firmly Portuguese coastal resort based around an incredible beach. If you’ve not yet visited the stunning Portuguese coast, or experienced fresh sea food, then we really recommend visiting Nazaré! It’s not all about the beach, you’ll also find a traditional Portuguese heart. With both several cultural sites exploring Portuguese fishing heritage, clothing heritage, and of course religious heritage in its sanctuary.
Coimbra – Portugal’s University City
Coimbra is the largest city in the Centro region of Portugal, and also home to the fourth UNESCO World Heritage site that makes this list! Coimbra is a city that dates to Roman times and has played a significant role in shaping Portugal’s history and culture over the centuries. Coimbra’s university was founded in 1290 and is one of the oldest in Europe, and the student heart of the city plays a large role in the culture and traditions across Coimbra today. Coimbra boasts a thriving arts, music, and cultural scene, as well as some rich gastronomical heritage in many of its cafes, bars, and restaurants. The city and its university earned its place on the UNESCO world heritage list by being an outstanding example of a Portuguese university city which kept its historic architecture, ceremonial and cultural traditions alive.
Conimbriga Ruins – Portugal’s Roman History Displayed
You’ll find hints of Roman history in many places across Portugal, but perhaps nowhere is this more evident and on display than at the Ruins of Conimbriga (Ruínas de Conimbriga). These ruins are around 20 minutes outside of Coimbra and just off one of the main routes north to south of Portugal (A1). Coninbriga is widely regarded as one of the best preserved Roman archaeological sites on the Iberian Peninsula and is a must stop if you’re at all interested in Roman history, or Portugal’s early origins.
At its peak its estimated it housed around 10,000 people and much of it is in excellent condition. Some of its most famous parts are the near perfectly preserved mosaic floors that depict animals, hunting scenes, and mythological stories – the minotaur’s head being one of the most pictured. On site is also an excellently curated museum housing many of the architectural finds piecing together the story of the settlement.
Aveiro – Portugal’s Canal City
Heading back towards the coastline is Aveiro, Portugal’s canal city and its beach resort Costa Nova do Prado. Aveiro is a picturesque coastal city and well known for its charming canals, colourfully designed boats, and its historic architecture. It has a small network of canals, where visitors can take a ride on one of the traditional moliceiros. With those canals, colourful boats, and rides, visitors are often quick to call this the Venice of Portugal, a title it really does not need. Aveiro stands on its own and is also home to many cultural and artistic attractions, including museums, galleries, and theatres, as well as a thriving food scene that celebrates the region’s seafood and sweets.
How do you Decide Where to Stop between Porto and Lisbon?
As you can tell, this Centro region of Portugal is dense in historic towns, monuments and natural beauty, and it’s hard to definitively say which is the best place to stop! It’s why we sometimes recommend people take several days exploring these towns and sites! But if you’re short on time, how do you decide?
It’s simply down to what you’d like to see most! If you’re trip to Lisbon and Porto doesn’t include the coast, then you’ll be wowed by Nazaré and its surrounding coastline. It’s a beautiful break from the hectic cities and a great place to get some beach time. However, if your trip to Portugal takes in the incredible Algarve? You may want to set your sights elsewhere! Like the path that’s known as the ‘World Heritage Route’, a trip between the towns of Tomar, Alcobaça and Batalha and their incredible UNESCO sites, Christ’s Convent, Alcobaça Monastery, and Batalha Monastery. It ultimately comes down to what you’d like to see and how much time you have to spend here!
Let us know in the comments your favourite places to visit between Lisbon and Porto!