Terrace lined with azulejos and sculpted columns, Palace hotel, Buçaco

10-Day Self Drive Portugal Itinerary: Discover Central Portugal

This bookable 10-day self-drive Portugal itinerary saves you having to do the time-consuming research required to plan and book your own trip to explore the best of Central Portugal.

You’ll see gardens, palaces, castles, monasteries, nature reserves, wineries, historical villages, UNESCO World Heritage Sites, mountains, pretty towns, river beaches, country walks, coastline and caves.

Map of key places for this itinerary on Google Maps

I’ve used my insider knowledge and experience to create a balanced, logical itinerary that makes the most of the time you have. It includes a blend of popular highlights and less well-known sights and activities that most visitors never see.

Follow the itinerary as it is, add your own ideas or talk to me about personalising it.

I’ve selected accommodation which offers great value for money and more personality than cookie-cutter chain hotels. If these options don’t suit you, choose from the nearby accommodation suggested by Booking.com or use Hotels Combined to find alternatives.

Notes and a request:

Some of the links are to my affiliate partners. If you book using them, the price is the same or less while I may receive a small commission. This is what enables me to spend my time working on itineraries like this for you so it’s an easy way to show your appreciation.

You will need a car for this itinerary. See my tips for hiring a car in Portugal and try AutoEurope to find the best deal.

Many museums and monuments are closed on Mondays and certain public holidays.

Ready to explore Central Portugal? Let’s go!

Day 1: Arrival, historical winery tour, exotic sculpture gardens, Óbidos

Collect your hire car from Lisbon Airport.

If you have all day, drive to Quinta do Gradil (approx 55 mins) for a tour of the winery established in the 18th century by the Marquis of Pombal, wine tasting and lunch.

An alternative winery would be Quinta da Sanguinhal (approx 45 mins from the airport) for a tour of a delightful winery and distillery established in the 19th century.

Head to Bacalhôa Buddah Eden (approx 10-15 mins from the winery). Allow 2-3 hours at least to explore the sculpture-filled gardens. There is a café/restaurant on site. Tip: Buy a bottle of Moscatel wine to take away. Open 9-6 daily. €4

Drive to the pretty medieval town of Óbidos (aprox 15 mins) for your overnight stay. Park outside the walls.

Book accommodation in or near Óbidos for 3 nights

Casa de Campo São Rafael: A small country house hotel with pool outside Óbidos

Casa da Eira Branca: A cosy guesthouse in the historical centre of Óbidos

Search Booking.com Search Hotels Combined

Book your hire car with AutoEurope


Day 2: Rocks, boats, fortresses and beaches

Drive to Peniche, a fishing town on a rocky headland (approx  25 mins).

If the time of year (May-Sept) and weather is right, consider visiting Berlenga Island nature reserve (it’s not for everyone so read this first).

Visit Peniche fortress, once used to hold political prisoners but now a museum, and the marina/fishing harbour. See the unusual rock formations near Cabo Carvoeiro.

Drive across the beach at Baleal (approx 15 mins from Peniche) and explore the pancake rocks. Have a drink or a simple fish meal at a beachside restaurant/café.

Drive back to Óbidos for the evening (approx 25 mins).

Accommodation as Day 1: Casa de Campo São Rafael or Casa da Eira Branca


Day 3: Market, ceramics, gardens, lagoon beach and medieval town

Drive to the attractive former spa town of Caldas da Rainha (15-20 mins).

Start the day at the fresh fruit and flowers market in Praça da República, aka Praça da Fruta. Try a pine nut necklace.

Visit a traditional grocery store, e.g. Mercearia Pena, which has been serving quality produce to local clients for over 100 years.

Walk through Dom Carlos I Park to get to the fascinating and quirky Museu da Cerâmica (closed Monday).

Drive to Foz do Arelho (approx 15 mins) to relax by the lagoon beach.

Return to Óbidos (20-25 mins) to explore the castle walls and architecture in daylight – see this article for more info.

Accommodation as Day 1: Casa de Campo São Rafael or Casa da Eira Branca


Day 4: Medieval monastery, country walk/caves

Check out and drive to Alcobaça (approx 30 mins) to visit the magnificent monastery where the beautifully carved tombs of legendary Portuguese lovers, Pedro and Inês lie.

Take a wander around the pretty historical centre and visit the wine museum and Museu Raul da Bernada for folk costumes.

Drive across the Aire and Candeeiros Natural Park to Grutas Mira de Aire (approx 45 mins) to visit the caves (wear non-slip shoes). Say hello to the cute black pigs before you leave.

If you feel up to it, choose a short, easy walk in the natural park.

Drive to the riverside university city of Coimbra (approx 1 hour 20 mins) where you will spend the night.

Book 5 nights accommodation in Coimbra (4 if staying in Lousã on Day 8)

Quinta das Lágrimas: Boutique historic hotel with strong links to Pedro and Inês

Hotel Oslo: Central modern hotel with free parking

Other options and more info: Where To Stay In Coimbra

Search Booking.com Search Hotels Combined

Day 5: Coimbra heritage and history

Leave the car alone for today and explore Coimbra on foot with or without the help of a guide.

Get 5% of GoWalks! tours with this code: JULIE5

Start in Alta (take the bus or a taxi), with the Botanical Gardens, University of Coimbra (allow a good couple of hours if you intend to visit the library and other ticketed areas as you’ll probably have to queue to buy a ticket – the library is worth paying for) and Museu Nacional Machado de Castro (worthy of another 2 hours, especially the Roman Cryptoporticus).

Wander down towards the old cathedral (Sé Velha) and pop inside to see the tiles and courtyard.

Continue down Rua Quebra Costas, stopping for petiscos (snacks) in one of the cafés along the way.

Fado ao Centro have excellent daily shows (1 hour) at 6pm but buy a ticket in advance.

Head towards the Mondego River for a stroll through the gardens.

Accommodation as Day 4: Quinta das LágrimasHotel Oslo or Where To Stay In Coimbra


Day 6: Palace, convent, woodland walks and views and spa

Drive to Buçaco (approx 40 mins) and spend the day walking in the gardens and surrounding forest. Contrast the neo-Manueline grandeur of the former royal palace and the austere Carmelite convent next to it (closed Mondays).

Drive up to Cruz Alta (approx 10 mins – you can walk if you enjoy hills!) for panoramic views.

If your budget permits, have lunch at the palace hotel, which will entitle you to see the splendid interior. If not, bring a picnic to eat in the forest or time your visit to incorporate one of the many local restaurants that specialise in leitão (suckling pig).

Relax with a facial, massage or couples body exfoliation in the spa town of Luso (approx 10 mins drive from Buçaco).

Return to Coimbra for the evening (30 mins).

Accommodation as Day 4: Quinta das LágrimasHotel Oslo or Where To Stay In Coimbra


Day 7: Downtown Coimbra, monastery, shops, art gallery and medieval tower

Another car-free day to explore Coimbra on foot.

If you’d like a guided tour, try GoWalks! (get 5% discount with this code: JULIE5)

Experience the colour, scents and bustle of the municipal market.

Wander down Rua da Sofia, also UNESCO Word Heritage. Take a look at the tiled panels at the Tribunal

Come back to Praça 8 de Maio and visit Santa Cruz church for its ceramics and have a coffee under the vaulted ceilings of the adjacent café.

Head down Rua da Moeda and back up Rua da Louça to owards Praça do Comércio with the beautiful Romanesque church.

Go up the steps by the big mural onto Rua Ferreira Borges to visit the art gallery, furniture and ceramic collections inside Edifico Chiado.

Head through the nearby Barbican Gate to visit the Nucleo da Cidade Muralha to find out more about the ancient walled city and see views from the medieval tower (go through the series of arches then bear left to find the entrance).

Cross the Santa Clara bridge to visit the Santa Clara-a-Velha Monastery and Museum, rescued from the Mondego River (the entrance is tricky to find, just off Rua Parreiras (see map)).

Relax in Galeria Café Bar or walk across the Pedro and Inês bridge and through the parks.

Accommodation as Day 4: Quinta das LágrimasHotel Oslo or Where To Stay In Coimbra


Day 8: Folk museum, medieval castle, river beach, sanctuary and hike to hillside schist village

Drive to Lousã (approx 35 mins). Don’t fancy driving today? GoWalks do a tour here with a 5% discount using this code: JULIE5

Visit the Museu Etnográfico Dr. Louzã Henriques full of traditional farming equipment, clothing and utensils for an insight into country living in rural Portugal.

Then follow the brown signs to Nossa Senhora da Piedade sanctuary and park by the castle.

Walk around the outside of the castle before walking down to the river (in summer this is a popular river beach). Walk past the restaurant to visit the sanctuary. Go up the stone steps to the chapel at the very top of the hill for the best views.

If you’re walking to the schist village of Talasnal, follow the signs that lead uphill from this complex. Take a picnic or check to see if Ti Lena is open – book a table if it is.

Alternatively, you can drive to Talasnal or nearby Cerdeira, both of which involve very steep windy roads. Candal schist village is easier to get to and has a café. More about schist villages here.

If you are not hiking and want to add more to the day, drive on to Góis (30 mins from Lousã) for a choice of riverside bathing spots in summer and a small but attractive village centre.

Return to Coimbra for your last night or stay in Lousã.

Accommodation as above or the Palace Hotel in Lousã


Day 9: Lakeside village, Templar Knights castle and convent, matchbox museum

Set off for the pretty lakeside village of Dornes (approx 55 mins) in the Zêzere Valley, which dates back to the 12th century. Visit the church and the 12th century Templar Tower.

If you fancy a boat trip on the Castelo de Bode Reservoir, book ahead.

Drive to the charming riverside town of Tomar (approx 35 mins).

Unless you fancy the walk up the uneven cobbled path to the Convent of Christ, the Headquarters of the Templar Knights back in the 14th century, drive up to the car park.

Allow some time to explore the historical centre, including Praça da Republica, where you’ll find a beautiful Manueline doorway on St. John the Baptist’s Church. Rua Serpa Pinto leads to the River. Bear left to visit the park. The small but interesting Matchbox Museum is near the train station (Av. General Bernado Faria. Open daily 10-5) so you may prefer to drive there if you’re tired.

Spend the night in Tomar. Alternatively, you could just drive straight to the airport (approx 1.5 hours) and cut out Day 10.

Book 1 night in Tomar

Hotel dos Templários: Great 4-star riverside hotel with pool and spa

Thomar Story: Bright, modern guesthouse in a renovated townhouse

Search Booking.com Search Hotels Combined

Day 10: Horses, Gothic architecture and park with views

Note: Golegã and Santarém are not strictly speaking in Central Portugal but make pleasant stops on the way back to Lisbon.

Drive to Golegã, Portugal’s horsiest town (approx 25 mins). The National Horse Fair is held here each November.

Stroll around the village centre and visit the parish church to admire its Manueline architecture.

The frilliest house ever, Casa-Estúdio Carlos Relvas, is also a photography museum.

Drive through the agricultural landscape to the self-proclaimed Gothic Capital of Portugal, Santarém (approx 40 mins). See Santarém Tourist Map.

The tile panels on the Municipal Market merit inspection. My favourite spot is the Portas do Sol Gardens, which offers fantastic views of the Tagus River and is bordered by medieval walls.

Check out Praça Sá da Bandeira to see local life going on around the imposing Mannerist Church of Our Lady of Conception, the city cathedral. Santarém’s most spectacular example of Gothic architecture is Igreja da Graça’s gorgeous rose window and pointed arched doorway.

Drive to the airport (40-50 mins) to return your hire car.

If you are not travelling home today, stay overnight in Lisbon.

See: Where to stay in Lisbon. Best areas and hotels in the city centre

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10-Day Self Drive DIY Portugal Itinerary. Discover Central Portugal
DIY Portugal Itinerary. Book the bits you like and discover Central Portugal

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4 Comments

  1. Thanks Julie for these great suggestions! We’re talking about taking a road trip through the center of Portugal in late March from South to North and are just starting to rough out an itinerary and places to stop. I’ve Pinterested this post and will definitely use your affiliate links when we book. So many places to explore in our new adopted country – the hard part is deciding what comes first! Anita

    1. Author

      Thanks for your support, Anita. I know what you mean about narrowing down the choices – it’s the hardest part of travel planning for me, too. Let me know if you have any questions and if you’re coming my way, get in touch.

  2. I am Portuguese but I must confess I loved this travel guide as I still do not know in depth some of these places! Great article 😉

    1. Author

      Hi Ester! I’m very happy to hear that, especially coming from a Portuguese person.

Over to you. Please share your thoughts in a comment.