N2 Portugal road trip with passport and map

Portugal’s longest road, the N2, (or Nacional 2), runs from Chaves, just below the northern border of the country, all the way to Faro on the south coast. It’s one of only three roads in the world to cross the entire length of a country, the others being Route 66 in the USA, (the N2 is often refered to as the Portuguese Route 66) and Ruta 40 in Argentina. 

Built in 1945, the Estrada Nacional 2 (EN2) was once the main thoroughfare through the centre of Portugal, connecting typical villages, ancient towns and cities. Its 739 kilometres (453 miles) snake through an ever-changing landscape of mountains, plains, forests, cork oak plantations, vineyards, rocky highlands, verdant valleys and vast reservoirs.

N2 Portugal road trip outline map
N2 Portugal road trip outline map from the ‘Passport’

This is the best Portugal roadtrip to take if you really want to see the country’s diversity. 

The N2 road trip, also known as Rota Estrada Nacional 2, is as much about the journey itself as anything else. If you enjoy slow travel, getting off the beaten track and experiencing life in authentic towns and villages, far from crowds of tourists, you will love the N2. 

However, if you’re in a hurry to tick off the ‘must see sights’, or don’t enjoy driving on winding roads, the N2 is not the way to go. There are other road trips that would suit you better.

Julie in Chaves at Kilometre 0 of the Nacional 2 Portugal road trip
Julie in Chaves at Kilometre 0 of the Nacional 2 road trip

What to expect from my Estrada Nacional 2 road trip guide

I live not far from the most westerly point on this road, which is about a third of the way down, and over my 13 years of living and travelling in Portugal I’ve driven along all of the Nacional 2, albeit over the space of several trips. 

Having consulted a map of the N2 and researched places of interest, I can see that there are a handful of towns and sights that I would still like to visit, mostly in the Alentejo region, so I will make a point of stopping in them next time I’m headed south. 

However, if you are keen to hit the road, rather than keep you waiting until I’ve done this, I thought it would be helpful to share my experiences to date, and the research I’ve done into the places that I think look interesting. 

You can drive the route in either direction but for the purposes of this guide, I’ve started from Chaves and worked my way south, suggesting where it’s worth stopping to have a look around and where you might like to spend the night. I’ve indicated some towns and sights that merit a detour from the N2 if you have time and mentioned them at the relevant milestones.

I’ll also give you some practical tips for this amazing Portugal road trip.

How long do you need to drive Portugal’s Route 66?

The N2 has lots of bends, so be prepared for the journey to take considerably more time than it would on the motorways and main roads. This is a road trip for several days, depending on how many overnight stops you want to make and which towns, villages and areas of natural beauty you decide to explore.

I suggest you allow at least a week so that you can enjoy the off-the-beaten-track places you encounter and experience a very untouristy side of Portugal. If you like to take your time to wander around towns and visit museums or go on short hikes, you might be better off giving yourself 10 to 14 days. Bear in mind that you may need to factor in time for the return journey, although this would be much quicker on the motorways.

Planning and pacing

Start by reading about the possible places to visit along the route and decide which ones are of most interest to you then estimate how much time you’ll need. Factor in extra time for parking in towns and cities, getting your N2 Passport stamped (see Practicalities) and refreshment breaks.

Consider what pace works for you so that you don’t feel pressured and then pick a suitable overnight stop.

See my Road Trip Essentials guide for more practical trip planning tips.

Accommodations on the N2

You’ll find every type of accommodation on or near this road, from campsites to luxury palaces and resorts, although they are not necessarily evenly distributed.

As you work your way through this guide you’ll see that I’ve picked out some of the nicer accommodations in the towns and villages along the route – these range from guest houses and farm stays to boutique hotels and resorts.

Note that if you’re used to 5-star luxury, you may need to make a detour to find it or pace your overnight stops around the location of what you consider to be a suitable standard of accommodation that’s closer to the N2.  

FIND A PLACE TO STAY ON BOOKING.COM

Where to start your epic Nacional 2 Portugal road trip

If you intend to drive the full length of the N2, it makes sense to start at either end, i.e. Chaves in the north or Faro in the south. The painted milestones start at KM 0 in Chaves and the last one is KM 738 in Faro.

Porto is the closest airport to Chaves and tends to have more international flights so this might be the easiest option if you’re coming from overseas – see this article about current travel restrictions and safety precautions in Portugal.

It may be possible to fly between Porto and Faro so you could look into that if you need to get back to Porto after driving to the Algarve. Otherwise, the train between those cities takes anything between 6 and 7 hours.

There’s an airport in Faro, and a train line from Lisbon, which is Portugal’s biggest and busiest airport, so another option would be pick up a rental car in Faro and start driving north.

COMPARE CAR RENTAL PRICES AT RENTALCARS.COM

See my tips for renting a car in Portugal

N2 KM 0: Chaves

EN2 KM 0 milestone in Chaves
EN2 KM 0 milestone in Chaves
Roman bridge in Chaves, Portugal
Roman bridge in Chaves, Portugal

This beautiful little spa town has a charming historical centre with medieval buildings surrounding the castle area. The much-photographed KM 0 milestone is on a roundabout just across the Roman bridge that leads to the historical centre of Chaves.

There’s a fortress, which is now a Pousada hotel, and a delightful 2nd century Roman bridge over the River Tâmega. Allow a good 2-3 hours to explore Chaves, if not longer.

If you want to indulge in a treatment with the thermal spring waters at Termas de Chaves, you’ll need to book a treatment ahead of time. Note that it’s a more clinical than luxurious experience. For pampering, go to Vidago Palace instead (see below).

Where to stay in Chaves

The 4-star Forte de São Francisco is very conveniently located inside the old fortress.

A few kilometres outside Chaves is the charming manor house of Quinta do Souto.

N2 KM 15: Vidago

Vidago Palace Hotel front view
Vidago Palace Hotel front view

This little spa town is famous for its royal palace, which is now a luxury hotel and was the set for Portugal’s version of Downton Abbey.

Vidago Palace has a world-class spa, which makes use of the therapeutic waters that attracted the Portuguese nobility in droves in times gone by. You’d need to book a treatment in advance.

There’s also a golf course and walking trail around the village, where you’ll find several cafés and restaurants. 

Read about our experience of staying at Vidago Palace

Accommodation options in Vidago

5-star luxury at Vidago Palace Hotel

3-star Primavera Hotel

18th century manor house Solar de Oura

N2 KM 35, optional rest stop: Lagoa do Alvão

If you want to stretch your legs or simply enjoy lakeside views, make a slight detour to Parque de Lazer Lago do Alvão where you’ll find picnic tables and lakeside paths. It’s easier to get to if you’re heading south. From the north (we missed the turning on the way south and had to back track), be prepared to drive through some very narrow village streets.

Once you get there, there’s plenty of shade and picnic tables as well as a café.

N2 KM 41, optional detour: Pena de Aguiar Castle

View from Pena de Aguiar Castle, just off the N2 in Northern Portugal
View from Pena de Aguiar Castle, just off the N2 in Northern Portugal

Visit the ruins of 12th century Pena de Aguiar Castle for 360º views of the surrounding countryside. Note that you’ll have to climb the last couple of hundred metres on foot but it’s well worth it for the close encounters with gigantic boulders and the views. 

KM 61, optional detour: Casa de Mateus

Casa de Mateus
Casa de Mateus

If you like stately homes and gardens, or have ever heard of Mateus Rosé wine, you should make a point of visiting Casa de Mateus. I particularly enjoyed learning about the family history of this iconic Baroque palace and seeing some stunning works of art, including the famous marble sculpture of a sleeping woman in the lake and paintings by Giuseppe Arcimboldo

Guided visits of the palace and grounds take place according to a schedule so you should plan ahead if you don’t want to be waiting around for the next tour in your preferred language.

Alternatively, you can wander freely around the gardens (for a fee).

Tip: Parking is ridiculously expensive at €9.50 so check the nearby streets for free street parking spots before forking out for it.

KM 61: Vila Real

Colourful mural of the N2 in Vila Real
Colourful mural of the N2 in Vila Real
Vila Real Cathedral
Vila Real Cathedral

Vila Real as a destination is typically overshadowed by the amazing Douro wine region, which is definitely worth spending some time in (see below). That said, it’s a pleasant, non-touristy city with some interesting historical buildings and a pleasant atmosphere and plenty of shops and restaurants.

There’s a rather austere 15th century Gothic cathedral, also known as Igreja de São Domingos, which is a stark architectural contrast to Igreja da São Pedro, started in the 16th century but given the full Baroque treatment in the 18th century.

Another building of significance, this time not religious, is Casa Diogo Cão, the supposed birthplace of one of Portugal’s famous explorers in the 15th century.

When we visited in July 2020, the main avenue in the historical centre was undergoing roadworks and the market was closed for renovation.

You could stay overnight in Vila Real if you want the convenience of a city, or to spend some time exploring the mountains in the nearby Alvão Natural Park, but if you’re pushed for time, I would be inclined to drive a little further south and spend the night in the Douro Valley.

That said, the stone cottages and main house at Casa Agricola da Levada Eco Village, just outside the city centre are gorgeous and offer free parking.

SEE OTHER ACCOMMODATION OPTIONS IN VILA REAL

N2 KM 66-67: Bisalhães black pottery

Now recognised by UNESCO as intangible cultural heritage, this traditional form of pottery making is still active just outside Vila Real. If you’re luckier than we were, you might see some on display in the streets outside the workshops a couple of kms south of Vila Real. Otherwise, pop into the tourist information centre in Vila Real to see some examples.

Shortly after leaving Vila Real, you’ll be surrounded by the stunning hills and vineyards of the Douro wine region. Enjoy the views as you make your way towards the Douro River!

Douro vineyards viewed from the village of Cumieira
Douro vineyards viewed from the village of Cumieira on the N2

N2 KM 88-90: Peso da Régua

Peso da Régua and riverside path
Peso da Régua and riverside path

Peso da Régua itself is a functional town and, apart from its riverside location, is not the most attractive in the Douro Valley. However, if you simply want to stretch your legs, you can take a walk alongside the Douro River or across the footbridge.

You could also visit the Douro Museum to find out about the fascinating history of this port wine producing area or take a short boat trip.

Despite its lack of inherent charm, Peso da Régua does make a good base for exploring as it has several good restaurants and nearby accommodations, ranging from 5-star luxury at the Six Senses to the novelty of sleeping in a wine barrel at Quinta da Pacheca.

See my Douro accommodation guide for more suggestions about accommodations near Peso da Régua.

Suggestion: I recommend spending a full day in the Douro wine region if possible, assuming you like wine, but don’t plan on driving anywhere after you’ve been wine tasting. Better to dump the car and walk to a nearby winery or use local taxis or a private tour to explore.

N2 KM 102-108: Lamego

Nossa Senhora dos Remédios Sanctuary, Lamego
Nossa Senhora dos Remédios Sanctuary, Lamego

Lamego is a far more attractive town than Régua so if you’re only going to stop in one Douro town on your N2 road trip, make it this one. I was impressed by the Museu de Lamego, which is housed in the former Bishop’s Palace and has some wonderful azulejos (hand-painted tiles) and other notable art works.

The town is most famous for its hilltop sanctuary, accessed via the monumental staircase (or a short drive). There are lots of picnic tables in the surrounding woods, too.

You could easily spend half a day in Lamego and there are plenty of restaurants and cafés along the main avenue and surrounds. It’s also a nice place to stay overnight.

Read more about what to do and where to stay in Lamego.

N2 KM 120: Bigorne

At 987 metres altitude, this tiny village is the highest on the Estrada Nacional 2, although it’s a ‘blink and you’ll miss it’ affair. 

N2 KM 134-136: Castro Daire

Azulejo panel in Castro Daire, Portugal
Azulejo panel in Castro Daire, Portugal

I’ve always had a bit of a soft spot for this small town. Castro Daire has no major sights that I’m aware of but if you’re not in a hurry it’s worth having a wander around the historical centre to see the interesting old buildings, and the decorative azulejo mural.

The views of the surrounding terraces and mountains are attractive too and there are a few cafés and simple restaurants.

If you want a lovely country cottage for a night or two, the nearby Quinta da Rabaçosa is a good option.

Optional but considerable detour from Castro Daire: Paiva Walkway

Paiva riverside boardwalk, Arouca, Portugal
Paiva riverside boardwalk, Arouca, Portugal

This award winning adventure trail is actually quite a trek from the N2 – allow at least an hour’s drive each way. But since you’re this close, if you want to walk across the world’s longest suspension bridge (due to open in October 2020), or simply stick to the already open 8 km boardwalk through the beautiful Paiva Valley, this might be as good a time as any to seize the opportunity.

You do need to plan ahead for the Passadiços do Paiva as there’s a daily limit on the number of people and you’ll need to buy a ticket in advance.

Get the information you need about the Paiva Boardwalk, including where to stay overnight.

N2 KM 144: Termas do Carvalhal

Note: At the time of writing, the N2 between Castro Daire and Termas do Carvalhal was closed so you may need to take an alternate route.

This area is renowned for its therapeutic waters so you might like to book a spa treatment at Termas do Carvalhal. My favourite treatment at Portuguese termas (spas) is the Duche de Jacto, which is where you get hosed down like a prisoner with warm water for a deep tissue massage.

Use this price list and Google Translate to see what else might tickle your fancy. You’d most likely be looking at the Bem Estar (well-being) menu rather than the multi-day treatments.

N2 KM 159: Almargem

Eiras, aka threshing areas, Almargem, Portugal
Eiras, aka threshing areas, Almargem, Portugal

While by no means a ‘must do’, Mike and I found a little picnic spot in the village of Almargem where we sat in the shade of an ancient oak tree overlooking a vast granite area dotted with grain stores (espigueiros) and stone barns that serves as the drying and threshing area for the village. This scenario reminded me of the villages in the Peneda-Gerês National Park, which is a whole other trip.

Look for brown signs for a Nucleo Museologico da Várzea and follow the road for about 300 metres to see this open space.

N2 KM 170-176: Viseu

Medieval buildings in Viseu, Portugal
Medieval buildings in Viseu, Portugal

The N2 leads you to the edge of Viseu’s historical centre so park up and allow a good couple of hours to wander around, if not longer. Viseu’s highlights include the cathedral and adjacent Grão Vasco Museum. Grão Vasco was one of Portugal’s greatest painters and his works are stunning, even after hundreds of years.

Allow time to hang out with the locals in Praça Dom Duarte and to wander around the traditional shopping street of Rua Direita while you’re there. There are plenty of restaurants and cafés in Viseu, as well as hotels, so it could be a good place to stop for the night.

Read more about what to do in Viseu.

My top hotel choices in Viseu would be the Pousada de Viseu, not just for the historical building but also the free parking, or Casa da Sé, although you’ll have to find street parking nearby if you stay here.

Practical tips: When you’re ready to leave Viseu, follow the signs towards the IP3 and then the N2 towards Fail.

Depending which navigation system you’re using, the N2 might disappear for a stretch on the approach to Tondela – follow the N230 until you start seeing signs for EN2 Coimbra.

N2 KM 199-200: Tondela

Terras de Besteiros Museum, Tondela, Portugal
Terras de Besteiros Museum, Tondela, Portugal

This pleasant, no-frills small town, with views of the Caramulo Mountains, is on the Dão Ecopista, which is a walking and cycle track that used to be a train line. The surrounding countryside is lovely if you want to stretch your legs by following this trail for a while. 

The most impressive building in Tondela is probably the Baroque manor house, Solar Santa Ana, that now houses the Museu Terras de Besteiros. This museum covers the long history of this area, from the Iron Age to more recent times, including the former tuberculosis sanitoriums in the nearby Caramulo mountains and the traditional black pottery made in nearby Molelos.

FIND ACCOMMODATION IN TONDELA

N2 KM 211-213: Santa Comba Dão

Traditional cottages, Santa Comba Dão
Traditional cottages, Santa Comba Dão

I was pleasantly surprised, the first time I visited Santa Comba Dão, by the town’s obvious sense of civic pride. If you have time, it’s worth a short stop to wander around the historical centre where you’ll find a range of traditional buildings, from humble to imposing, as well as cafés and shops.

Park by the parish church (Igreja Matriz) and be sure to take a stroll beside the river that runs through the historical centre to Largo Município.

You may wish to spend the night at a nearby lakeside resort, in which case check out the apartments and villas at the 5-star Montebelo Aguieira Resort & Spa or the 4-star Quinta da Conchada.

Practical tip: The IP3 road was built over parts of the N2 and you’ll have to take the IP3 towards Coimbra as you leave Santa Comba Dão. My advice is to stay on the IP3 until Junction 11 for Porto da Raiva to avoid being directed down weird and pointless backroads that are not even the original N2 but have been signposted as such. 

N2 KM 236: Livraria do Mondego

As you head towards Penacova, you’ll notice some unusual stacked rock formations above the Mondego River. The book-like shape of them has earned them the nickname of The Mondego Bookshop (Livraria do Mondego). You can walk along the boardwalk or down under the bridge and alongside the river if you like, perhaps as far as the river beach mentioned below, which is a couple of kilometres.

Optional detour: Serra da Atalhada windmills

Stone windmills, Serra da Atalhada, Portugal. Photography by Julie Dawn Fox
Stone windmills, Serra da Atalhada, Portugal. Photography by Julie Dawn Fox

If the weather is amenable and you want to see amazing views from a string of windmills made from gorgeous stone, follow the signs to Miró and stay on this road until you see the brown signs for Serra da Atalhada. Keep going all the way to the top (not for the fainthearted or wary driver).

Optional detour: Penacova

View of Mondego River from Penacova
View of Mondego River from Penacova

You’ll have to leave the N2, cross the road bridge and follow the road as it winds up the hill to visit the town of Penacova but the views from the town centre are worth it. You may wish to enjoy them while having lunch at the glass-fronted Panorâmico Restaurant, or try an impossibly sweet local cake, called nevada (snowfall) at the café next to the pergolas.

N2 KM 238: Reconquinho River Beach

This river beach (you can just about see it in the above photo) is best in summer when it’s in full swing but it’s accessible all year round – note that the driveway down the side of the campsite is VERY steep but there is parking by the café.

N2 KM 242: Westernmost point of the N2

If you want somewhere to stay in this area, Casa nas Serras is a cosy rural B&B with garden, outdoor pool and lovely views a couple of kilometres before the next town.

N2 KM 248-251: Vila Nova de Poiares

Decorated goats in Jardim à Raça Poiarense, Vila Nova de Poiares
Decorated goats in Jardim à Raça Poiarense, Vila Nova de Poiares

Vila Nova de Poiares is the home of chanfana, a rich traditional Portuguese dish that you really ought to try, unless you don’t eat meat. Chanfana is a goat and red wine casserole, slow cooked in a wood oven inside a traditional black pottery dish. Most of the restaurants in Vila Nova de Poiares serve it, especially during chanfana week, which is mid to late January.

Vila Nova de Poiares also hosts several events throughout the year including Poiartes, an annual arts and crafts fair held in September, but not in 2020 thanks to the pandemic.

Painting of N2 Mural Vila Nova de Poiares
N2 Mural Vila Nova de Poiares

Optional detour: Piscinas da Fraga (seasonal)

In the summer months (usually June to mid September), you can cool off at the popular river-fed swimming pool complex in São Miguel de Poiares.

N2 KM 267: Canaveias river beach (seasonal)

This is one of my favourite local river beaches – it’s calm, has plenty of shade and a nice café, making it a pleasant place for a break.

N2 KM272-273: Góis and Peneda river beach 

Góis in winter
Góis in winter

Góis is a small but pretty town with a few cobbled streets spreading away from the main square with the parish church and an attractive water fountain. The N2 won’t take you into the town of Góis itself but you’ll need to head into the centre if you want to collect your passport stamp. There are several cafés and restaurants here, especially on the road that goes past the GNR (police station) and the school.

Góis’ main draw, however, is the Ceira River. In the summer, the area beside the old bridge is transformed with an outdoor café and imported sand to make a little island plus a walkway across the weir, aka Peneda river beach. I love it here, especially swimming upstream from the weir, which is a bit quieter. 

Out of season, it’s lovely just to walk beside the river. There are some other marked hiking trails around the village if you have plenty of time to explore – pick up leaflets from the tourist information centre.

If you want to spend the night in Góis, Casa Carvalhal has lovely views and a pool.

N2 KM 282 Optional detour: Pena schist village

Pena schist village near Góis
Pena schist village near Góis

I discovered the cute little village of Pena on a hike from Aigra Velha, another isolated village made of stone cottages. I like Pena because it’s relatively easy to drive to, has a river in the valley and faces a massive craggy limestone cliff.

You can even stay overnight at Casa do Neveiro, a cute stone cottage in the village.

Read more about schist villages in Portugal.

N2 KM 317-324: Pedrogão Grande

Note that the N2 takes you past the outskirts of Pedrogão Grande so if you want to see the attractive domed parish church and Devesa Gardens, or stop for a bite to eat in one of the many cafés and restaurants, you’ll need to follow the signs for the historical centre.

Tip: Pay close attention to your navigation system to stay on the N2 as you leave Pedrogão Grande otherwise you’ll end up on the IC8.

For accommodation, garden lovers may wish to consider Casa Aloes, a gorgeous cottage which is owned by Quinta das Mil Flores (Farm of a thousand flowers)

Optional detour: Lakeside café, picnic area and swimming pool

If you’d rather take a break at a more scenic spot, drive past Pedrogão Grande then look out for the brown praia fluvial sign on your left, just before the Cabril dam. We couldn’t see much in the way of a beach but there was a floating swimming pool at the end of the boat ramp and an outdoor café.

N2 KM 326: Cabril dam

Cabril dam and reservoir
Cabril dam and reservoir

You’ll have to drive over Cabril dam but it’s worth parking at the other side and walking back to the centre for the views downstream, and of the massive structure.

N2 KM 327: Miradouro Nossa Senhora da Confiança 

Look out for the sign to the hilltop miradouro (viewpoint) on your left (if driving south) and follow the road up the hill to the church.

There’s a rocky area with a cross that offers pretty amazing views or you walk down the hotel drive towards the restaurant for even more impressive ones. Sadly, the restaurant standard doesn’t appear to match the views and the 4-star Hotel da Montanha looks in need of a refurb.

N2 KM 328: Pedrogão Pequeno

This is another small village which has a walking trail leading down to the 17th century Phillipine bridge, which used to be the main crossing point of the Zêzere River.

Tip: I have tried this trail but, like so many others, it wasn’t particularly well-marked after the bridge and we ended up having to walk uphill on the main road. I would just turn around at the bridge and head back up the hill instead of trying to follow the trail.

N2 KM 341-345: Sertã

Carvalha bridge, Sertã
Carvalha bridge and Restaurante Ponte Velha, Sertã

Sertã is dear to us because of its beer festival, Provarte, which is held in the very attractive riverside park, Parque Novo (but not in 2020, unfortunately).

The park, and its charming 17th century Carvalha bridge are the main reasons for stopping in Sertã outside of the beer festival. We’ve also enjoyed cheap and cheerful meals at Restaurante Ponte Velha on a couple of occasions.

To the north of Parque Novo, there’s also a river beach with outdoor pools (seasonal).

If you want to stay overnight in Sertã, the best place is the 4-star Hotel Convento da Sertã, which is a converted convent overlooking the park, although there are several other options.

N2 KM 364: Geodesic centre of Portugal

Geodesic centre of Portugal
Geodesic centre of Portugal

A short drive uphill from the N2 brings you to a complex which offers 360º views of the surrounding area plus a small museum and picnic area.

Aside from the views, it’s worth getting tourist information at the museum if you’re interested in visiting any of the nearby river beaches or hiking trails.

Note: From here until you start the climb the Serra do Caldeirão (Alt 589m) at Almeixial in the Algarve, the N2 is relatively straight compared to the northern section.

N2 KM 365-367: Vila de Rei

Vila de Rei
Vila de Rei

Vila de Rei is another pleasant small town that you might like to stop in for a wander.

We were most impressed by the Municipal Museum, which has a remarkable ethnographic collection. Clothes, furniture, tools and household items are displayed in appropriate rooms of an old house, offering an insight into past lifestyles.

If you wish to spend the night here, take a look at the clean, comfortable Villa Boutique accommodations.

N2 KM 369 Optional detour: Água Formosa

Água Formosa schist village, central Portugal
Água Formosa schist village, central Portugal

Água Formosa means Beautiful Water and having strolled around this schist village and alongside the stream that runs through it, I can see why it got its name. 

N2 384-385: Sardoal 

This is actually a very slight detour from the N2 but Sardoal, also known as the Garden Village, looks pretty enough to merit a stop.

N2 KM 402-404: Abrantes

Igreja de São Vicente, Abrantes
Igreja de São Vicente, Abrantes. Juntas / CC BY-SA (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/4.0)

Abrantes is one of those places I’ve always passed by on the way to somewhere else but it looks to be a reasonably attractive and interesting small city with a historical centre, a castle and a fortress so it should be worth a visit.

The church within the castle walls, Igreja de Santa Maria do Castelo, was started in the 13th century and added to in the 15th. It’s home to the Gothic tombs of the Almeida family. There’s also an attractive riverside park.

For accommodation, you could go for the modern 4-star comfort of Luna Hotel Turismo, overlooking the city or the complete opposite with the fairytale Quinta de Coalhos just outside Abrantes.

Optional detour: Almourol Castle

View along the River Tagus from the towers of Almourol castle, Portugal. Photography by Julie Dawn Fox
View along the River Tagus from the towers of Almourol castle

Built on a tiny island in the 12th century by Gualdim Pais, Grand Master of the Knights Templar, as part of the defence line during Portugal’s Reconquest, Almourol Castle offers great views down the River Tagus and can be reached by boat from the quayside.

It’s only a 20-minute drive from Abrantes but if the water level means you can’t walk to the island, you’ll need to allow a couple of hours so that you have time to take the boat and explore the reconstructed castle.

N2 KM 435: Ponte de Sor

Zona Ribeirinha de Ponte de Sor - Portugal (5961639327)

You’re now in the cork oak zone of the Alentejo region so if you stop in Ponte de Sor, look out for the mural referring to this crucial part of the local economy. Also of potential interest is the blue Arts & Culture Centre, which has several exhibition spaces, a small garden and a theatre.

There’s an easy 11 km circular walking trail if you fancy a short hike past some watermills. Start in Praça da República, near the municipal market. If you don’t have time/inclination for the full walk, just follow the route to the riverside park, walk around that and then return to the town centre once you reach the main road again.

For a clean, comfortable, modern hotel in the town centre, try Hotel Ponte Sor.

Otherwise, head a few kilometres south for a farm stay with outdoor pool at Quinta da Saudade.

Or, if you crave 5-star luxury, pampering and a selection of pools, you’ll find Lago Montargil Villas overlooking the reservoir in another few kilometres.

N2 KM 461: Montargil Dam

You might like to park up and walk across the dam. If you do, look out for an inscription by Salazar, Portugal’s infamous dictator.

N2 KM 476-479: Mora

Museu Interactivo do Megalitismo
Museu Interactivo do Megalitismo. Espaconetmora / CC BY-SA (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/4.0)

The village of Mora offers a chance to learn about the many megalithic monuments in this part of Portugal at the Museu Interactivo do Megalitismo. You’ll find it inside the former train station.

Also worth a look is the 16th Century Igreja da Misericordia and the 16th and 17th century parish church of Our Lady of Grace.

Optional detour (5 km): Parque Ecologico do Gamão

Depending on the season, you may wish to go for a dip at this river beach or simply enjoy a stroll along the 1.5 km boardwalk to enjoy the natural beauty.

N2 KM 488: Brotas

0 Igreja Matriz de Brotas IMG 2814
Santuario de Nossa Senhora das Brotas. Manuelvbotelho / CC BY-SA (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/4.0)

Famous for the blue and white painted Sanctuary of Our Lady of Brotas, which was an important pilgrimage site, this small village is also a possible overnight stop. Stay at Casas de Romaria.

While in Brotas, look out for the pointed rooftop of Torre das Águias, built in 1520 to house noblemen on their hunting parties.

N2 KM 518-521: Montemor-o-Novo

Ruins, Montemor-o-Novo castle, Alentejo, Portugal. Photography by Julie Dawn Fox
Ruins, Montemor-o-Novo castle, Alentejo, Portugal.

It’s definitely worth stopping here to take a stroll around the ruins of the castle and walled citadel, which date from the 13th and 17th centuries. The town of Montemor-o-Novo also has a rather splendid Manueline doorway on the 16th century Igreja da Misericórdia.

Also of note is the stunning blue and white painted 16th and 18th century Manueline-Mudejar architecture of the Ermida de Nossa Senhora da Visitação (Hermitage of Our Lady of the Visitiation).

Accommodation in Montemor-o-Novo

If you want to stay in the town, treat yourself to the Palacete da Real Companhia de Cacau (The Royal Cocoa Company Palace), especially if you like chocolate!

For a luxury rural stay, where you can drink wine, gaze at stars and relax in the spa, L’AND Vineyards is just 3 km from the centre.

N2 KM 532-534: Santiago do Escoural

If you like caves and are interested in prehistory, plan ahead and time your arrival in the village of Santiago do Escoural so that you can take a guided tour of the nearby caves, which were used as a sacred burial site.

We did this a few years ago and found it really interesting, especially as you start off in a small museum which has models that help you to understand the settlements and lifestyles of the people who lived there thousands of years ago.

N2 KM 550-552: Alcácovas

This typical Alentejo village is famous for its cowbells, called chocalhos in Portuguese. In 2015, these handmade metal bells, which give off a wonderful soft clang, were classified by UNESCO as Intangible Cultural Heritage in need of urgent safeguarding as there are very few surviving craftspeople. 

There is a small museum dedicated to the craft on Rua da Esperança but opening times are limited.

Listen to the sound!

The closest accommodation option to Alcáçovas is Monte da Cabeça Gorda, which offers rooms and apartments on a rural estate on the edge of the village.

N2 KM 564-566: Torrão

As well as getting your passport stamped in Torrão, look out for the Manueline doorway of Igreja da Nossa Senhora da Assunção (Church of Our Lady of the Assumption) and, if you can get inside, the painted tiles depicting the story of the Virgin and St. John the Baptist in Igreja da Palma.

Nitrato do Chile billboard.
Nitrato do Chile billboard. TurismoenPortugal / CC BY

The vintage advertising panel for Nitrato do Chile, a natural fertiliser, is one of the few remaining tile billboards around.

N2 KM 580 Optional detour: Barragem de Odivelas

If you need to take a break at a scenic spot, head for the lakeside Zona da Lazer at the Odivelas reservoir. 

You could stay overnight at Hotel O Gato on the edge of Odivelas village, which has an outdoor pool and offers both apartments and rooms with views of the countryside. 

Or enjoy a truly rural stay at the nearby Monte das Palmeiras, which also has a pool and farm animals.

N2 KM 594-596: Ferreira do Alentejo

Capela-calvario-ferreira-alentejo
Capela da Santa Maria Magdalena. Garsd / CC BY-SA

If you stop in Ferreira do Alentejo, see if you can find the curious circular chapel which has stones sticking out of it, i.e. Capela da Santa Maria Magdalena. Also while in town, you might want to delve into 5,000 years of local history at the Municipal Museum.

For a lovely rural B&B just outside the village, with a seasonal outdoor pool, take a look at Monte da Floresta.

N2 KM 618-619: Aljustrel

Admire the views from the hilltop sanctuary of Ermida de Nossa Senhora do Castelo (Hermitage of Our Lady of the Castle). You may also want to see if the Aljustrel mines are visitable at the time you’ll be there – ask at the Tourist information centre while collecting your stamp, or arrange a guided tour in advance. 

Hotel Vila Aljustrel is a good option if you want to spend a night here and perhaps explore some of the nearby walking trails.

N2 KM 640-642: Castro Verde

CastroverdeFonteConcello
Castro Verde Fonte. Satna / CC BY-SA

If you’ve ever wanted to visit a Roman oil lamp museum, now’s your chance to visit the Museu da Lucerna!

Also of potential interest in Castro Verde are the 17th century Dutch tiles inside Capela da Nossa Senhora dos Remédios and the tile panel depicting the Battle of Ourique inside the Basilica Real de Castro Verde.

Just south of the town, and slightly off the EN2, you have a choice between two charming country house accommodations offering rooms and apartments: Monte da Ameixa or Herdade do Zambujal.

Optional detour of 43 km: Mértola

Kayaking at Mértola
Mértola, a medieval village in the southeastern Alentejo

If you’re willing to skip a small section of the N2 in order to visit a beautiful medieval village rising up from the Guadiana River, you could take the N123 to Mértola and then return to the N2 via the N267 to Almodôvar.

Read more about Mértola, including accommodation options.

N2 KM 661-663: Almodôvar

In the village of Almodôvar, you’ll find one of the oldest examples of European writing etched onto a stone in the Museu da Escrita do Sudoeste (Museum of Southwest Writing).

Another unusual museum is the Severo Portela Museum, named after a local artist, which has a fascinating collection dedicated to the local craft of shoemaking.

You might also like to visit the parish church of St Ildefonso, which has Tuscan columns.

N2 KM 686: Fonte da Seiceira and Ameixial

Fonte da seiceira- Ameixial
Fonte da seiceira, Ameixial. Joaocosta99amei / CC BY-SA

Here you’ll find picnic tables and an outdoor swimming spot (seasonal), making it a lovely spot to take a break from driving just before entering the Algarvian village of Ameixial, which has some cute cottages featuring fancy stonework.

From here, you’ll begin the winding climb over the last of the mountain ranges, Serra do Caldeirão.

N2 KM 696: Miradouro do Caldeirão

Stop at KM 696 to see the sweeping views from the highest point at 589 metres altitude.

N2 KM 718: Parque Fonte Ferrea

Parque Fonte Ferrea is another charming picnic spot with plenty of shade next to a stream if you fancy a break. Look out for the signpost.

N2 KM 720: Miradouro do Alto da Arroteia

Stop at this viewpoint for more great views – on a clear day, you can see the ocean.

N2 KM 721-723: São Brás de Alportel

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This little town was once a thriving hub during the heydays of the cork industry. You’ll see reference to this throughout the streets in the form of street art and the former grandeur evident in some of its buildings.

Visit the Costume Museum, housed in a small palace, to get an insight into the history of cork production in the Algarve. Of course, there are also several displays of traditional outfits worn by the lower and upper classes and a collection of carts and coaches in the garden.

To get an idea of what it must have been like to have worked on the road you can now visit Casa Memoria EN2. It’s a house where the road workers responsible for keeping a section of the road lived, keeping it spotless and safeguarding the lives of those who passed by. There you’ll find ancient documents, tools and the testimonies of the men who built and maintained the Estrada Nacional 2.

Now that you’re in the Algarve, you should try some of the regional cakes, such as the decorative marzipan sweets or my favourite, the três delicias cake, which is layers of locally-grown figs, carob and almond paste.

Marzipan hedgehog and traditional Agarve sweets, São Bras de Alportel, Algarve, Portugal. Photography by Julie Dawn Fox
Marzipan hedgehog and traditional Agarve sweets

A gorgeous place to stay nearby is the Farmhouse of the Palms, although there are other accommodation options in and around São Brás de Alportel if that doesn’t suit you for some reason.

N2 KM 729: Estoi

Roman temple, medieval farmhouse and botanical garden at Milreu, Agarve
Roman temple, medieval farmhouse and botanical garden at Milreu, Agarve

There are two key places to visit in the small village of Estoi.

One is the Pousada Palácio de Estoi, which is a palace-turned-luxury hotel so unless you’re staying there, you’ll only be able to visit some of the public areas. The gardens have beautiful tile panels.

The other sight is a complete contrast, i.e. the Roman ruins of Milreu. You’ll find a few mosaics here and, underneath the medieval farmhouse, you can see parts of the original Roman villa.

N2 KM 738: Faro

The last milestone on this classic road across the length of Portugal is in the middle of Avenida Calouste Gulbenkian in the city of Faro. As you can imagine, it’s a popular photo spot! It’s also usually covered in stickers from the various motorcycle clubs that have completed this adventurous Portugal road trip.

738 Marco

Once you’re in Faro, at the end of your epic journey, give yourselves time to explore the city – it’s one of my favourite places in the Algarve and is full of history and attractive spots. 

Restaurants in Vila Adentro, the old part of Faro
Restaurants in Vila Adentro, the old part of Faro

Read about things to do in Faro plus where to stay.

Practical tips for driving the Estrada Nacional 2

Road trip essentials

Unless you’re renting a car, make sure you check your tyres and brakes, as well as the usual oil and water checks before setting off – you do not want them to let you down on the many curves in the road. 

See all my practical tips for planning a road trip in Portugal.

Driving in Portugal

On roads like the N2, be prepared for tail huggers, people not using indicators and roundabouts. My article about the things to be aware of when driving in Portugal is worth reading if you’re not used to driving abroad. 

Car sickness

As I mentioned before, the N2 has lots of bends so if you often get car sick, either choose a different road trip altogether or come prepared with motion sickness tablets.

Navigation on the N2

It can be quite tricky at times to know whether or not you are actually on the N2, especially on your way through and out of towns. Even if you tell your GPS navigation system to ignore toll roads and motorways, it will still try to find short cuts and faster roads that can take you off track.

I found the best way to navigate with GPS is to watch the screen so you can see where you are, and how to stay on the N2. This works in Google Maps or on your car’s SatNav but you really need a driver and a separate navigator.

It’s a good idea to have a paper Portugal road map with you so that you can see which towns and villages to head towards but note that even at a scale of 2.5 km per centimetre, not all villages will be mentioned. It can be handy to give you a sense of the bigger picture though.

If you’re already in Portugal, look in Bertrand bookstores or FNAC stores for regional maps that have decent scale.

What you need to know about the N2 passport

Since branding and marketing the N2 as the Portuguese route 66, the powers that be have created a yellow booklet (passport) that you can get stamped in each of the 35 municipalities through which you will travel.

You can pick up an N2 passport from the tourist information office (posto de turismo / loja interativo de turismo) in Chaves or Faro, depending on which direction you’re travelling in. Within it, you’ll find details of the locations within the municipality where you can get it stamped to prove you passed through.

The most likely candidates will be tourist information centres, Town Halls (Câmara Municipal), some museums, fire stations (Quartel dos Bombeiros) and even petrol stations (bombas de gasolina) along the N2. Note that many will be closed at weekends and on public holidays.

Important note: This ‘passport’ may be a little confusing in terms of navigation. In some municipalities, you will drive through the respective main town or city while in others, you simply skirt the outer perimiter of the municipal district.

Visiting the towns named at the top of the page for each district could take you 30 kms or more off track, e.g. São Pedro do Sul, Coruche and Alcácer do Sal. Pay closer attention to the locations where you can get your passport stamped – these are the destinations to aim for to keep you on the N2.

Tourist information

Many of the places where you can get your N2 passport stamped are tourist information centres so ask for extra information about what to see nearby. It’s also a good idea to check the current status of walks and river beaches.

There is also an interactive map with places of potential interest on the N2 website.

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1 Comment

  1. Fascinating read, Julie. We’ve driven a fair bit of the N2 but there are many places in the north I’d like to get to, and I had no idea it had its own website. 🙂 🙂 It’s a beautiful place, ‘our’ Portugal, isn’t it?

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