It’s been long 12 years since I’ve visited Portugal (Madeira island to be exact). Despite having been to dozens of other countries, the thought of once visiting mainland Portugal has never left my mind so at some point in early 2022 I realized it was time to finally go there. After spending countless hours on planning and dreaming, the plan for a Lisbon and Algarve itinerary for 4 days was finally ready. Is 4 days enough in Portugal? I hope this guide will give you an answer.
The trip included direct flights, transfers, and hotel accommodations in Praia da Rocha for 7 nights. However, to make this plan more useful, I have narrowed it down to 4 days packed with adventure and discovering the main attractions and points of interest. If you would plan to come for a longer period, there are always extra fun things to do, which I’m going to list at the end of this itinerary.
How many days in Algarve Portugal?
When it comes to the length of stay in Algarve and southern Portugal, there is literally no limit. The southern coastline stretches from Cape St. Vincent, and ends at the border with Spain. It is packed with amazing bays, high cliffs, and caves, each of which is unique. You will never get bored exploring the endless beaches. However, if you are on a tight schedule, I would say that you could probably drive through the most famous spots in 1-2 days.
What to see in Portugal in 4 days – our proposed itinerary:
Day 1 – Portimao and Praia da Rocha
Day 2 – Algarve road trip: beaches & winery
Day 3 – Sintra
Day 4 – Lisbon
Optional trips – driving to Spain, surfing, sailing/kayaking.
Portimao and Praia da Rocha
Our trip started upon arrival at Faro airport, which is the biggest in the region and a gateway to southern Portugal resorts. The bus ride to Portimao took around 45 minutes on a highway. Our hotel Santa Catarina Algarve 4* was located in a shoreside town called Praia da Rocha. The hotel itself is very nice, the personnel was friendly, the food was delicious and some of the rooms are facing the ocean. We highly recommend it!
Portimao is a nearby town with a nice old part, a riverside promenade, and lots of small cafes. It is located very close to Praia da Rocha, the walk there takes around 30 minutes. After spending the day shopping and enjoying Portimao, it’s nice to relax in beachside restaurants in Praia da Rocha, take long walks on the beach among cliffs, or buy some souvenirs. One full day is enough to see most of these two small towns, so the next day we spent driving around the Algarve coast with a rental car.
Algarve road trip: beaches & winery
We started our second day in Algarve by picking up a rental car from the local Portimao agency. We were lucky to get a free upgrade, so instead of a small B-class car, we got a nice almost brand-new mini SUV Seat Arona. The rental price was 75€ per day, which is a bit expensive for Europe.
Our first destination was Algar Seco – famous rocks with boardwalks and caves. After taking some photos, we continued to Benagil – a small village famous for its cave with a natural skylight and a small beach inside it, which can only be entered via boats or stand-up paddleboards. I hiked to the top and took a few photos of the cave from above. The village also has a nice restaurant with beautiful scenic views. Most people who visit the village come here due to kayak or stand-up paddle trips to Benagil cave.
Our final destination in this part of Algarve was Praia da Coelha – a secret hidden beach with lots of seashells. This beach had the warmest water and was perfect for swimming in September when the water on most other beaches was already freezing cold! Although we didn’t even drive halfway through the coastline, if you only have one day to explore, this is where you would need to turn back and head west.
Quinta do Francês Winery
If wine is your drink of choice, I recommend hopping by this winery for a quick tasting session. This winery has a great location, a beautiful terrace, and a good selection. For a relatively reasonable price, you can taste their wine selection and purchase it if you like it. No need to prebook your visit, just hop in during opening hours.
Ponta da Piedade
As if you haven’t seen all the greatest cliffs, there is one more surprise waiting for you at Ponta da Piedade – probably the prettiest of them all! We recommend spending a little more time here, exploring the view and taking photos – this place is amazing!
To end the day with a stunning sunset, drive all the way to the Lighthouse of Cabo de São Vicente – the southwesternmost part of mainland Europe! With no obstruction from the west, this is truly the place to be when the sun sets! What a way to end this epic day and your mini road trip on Algarve coast.
Sintra day trip itinerary
Driving to Sintra is doable, but very exhausting, time-consuming, and probably more expensive than public transport. After investigating the topic „how to travel from Algarve to Lisbon“, we have decided to travel by local bus company Rede Expressos. If you purchase your tickets well in advance, you might be lucky to get them for as low as 5€ per trip one way (Portimao Bus Station to Lisbon Sete-Rios). Algarve – Lisbon bus trip is easy and comfortable and takes around 3,5 hours.
Once you arrive in Lisbon, all you need to do is walk over from the bus station to the nearby train station (literally across the street) and catch a local direct train line to Sintra. The trains leave every 20 minutes, so don’t worry if you miss one, there is another one coming very soon. This train line is used by locals so you will get a chance to experience their everyday commute.
Is Sintra Portugal worth visiting?
Absolutely yes! Even if you only have half a day as we did. How to make the most of it? Well, as you may know, Sintra is an extremely hilly town, meaning there is a lot of climbing involved. The best way to reach the castles is by taking a local bus 434 which will take you to all major palaces, such as the National Palace of Pena and Castelo dos Mouros. The ticket for 24 hours is 11,50€.
Which castle to visit if you only have time for one?
That’s the question I was asking myself too. Well, if you really are after the iconic, most famous, and picture-perfect palace – then the National Palace of Pena is your obvious choice. While others are also very beautiful and unique, this one is the reason why Sintra is getting millions of tourists every year! The palace is a UNESCO World Heritage Site. It stands on the top of a hill and on a clear day it can be easily seen from Lisbon.
One thing to remember – once you enter the main gates, there is another 30 min hike uphill to reach the actual palace. In order to enter the palace itself (not the gardens), you would need to buy tickets in advance through their website (https://www.parquesdesintra.pt/en/plan-your-visit/new-tickets-pnp/) and book a time slot. Make sure to arrive early enough due to the high number of visitors there may be queues at the gates and for the small garden bus that takes you to the palace from the main gates. You may choose to hike up yourself, but it’s a steep hike that will take at least 30 minutes.
Impressions of Pena Palace and Sintra
To be honest, the palace itself didn’t impress me that much. If you have been to other major palaces across Europe (for example Orava castle in Slovakia), this one will hardly surprise you. It’s relatively modest and not that big in size. Much more impressive is the exterior and that’s what everyone is taking photos of.
If you are still up for it, consider visiting Torre da Regaleira or Sintra National Palace too. Sintra is a small town with lots of restaurants to spend a nice evening enjoying the food and views. For the overnight stay, we chose a small hotel right next to the railway station called Monte da Lua. A perfect little place for a quick nap before the next fantastic day in Lisbon!
Full-day Lisbon adventure
Can you see all of Lisbon in one day? Of course not! But, if you really need to squeeze it in a very short time frame, your best option is taking a half a day organized bus/walking tour with a guide. We met our guide in Lisbon city center around 10 AM in the morning and started our 4-hour tour of Lisbon. During the tour, we visited all major points of interest and learned about the history of this amazing town.
After the tour was over, we were dropped off at the city center and walked the main street Rua da Prata all the way to the ocean, enjoyed a tasty meal at one of the numerous outdoor cafes, and bought some souvenirs.
Lisbon has been a fantastic town and I am confident that I will return back one day to explore it in more detail, visit museums and just enjoy the vibe of the city. In addition to Sintra, there are some other nice day trips available, such as the seaside town Cascais, Cabo da Roca, or a train trip to Porto.
Other things to do in Algarve
I would recommend coming to Algarve for at least a week because there is so much more to do here in addition to listed above. Some of the activities are on my bucket list for next time. Here are some ideas:
Driving to Spain
If you have a day a two and have already seen most of the south coast, why not take a rental car all the way to Seville in Spain? The drive from Portimao is approximately 3 hours on a highway. You can make a day trip or stay overnight to explore more of that great city! Some things to remember – highways in Portugal have tolls! Also, you would need to purchase additional insurance if you leave the country. In our case it was 50€ extra, so we decided to drop the idea and focus on Portugal only.
Algarve coast is famous for its surfing spots. Even in Praia da Rocha, you can try surfing just off the beach. For some serious waves, local surf schools can take you to other beaches. Surfing is a big thing in Portugal, so if you are physically fit, this may be a fun way to spend a day learning a new skill.
Sailing and kayaking
If surfing sounds like too much fun, other water sports are also available in Algarve, such as boat trips and kayaking. Due to a high number of very cool caves, some of which can only be viewed from the water, such activities are highly popular and can be done by almost anyone. You will see many local tour companies selling this kind of trip.