How to discover Portugal by camper van
Take a moment to remove all the misconceptions you may have about Portugal and allow me to convince you that seeing this beautiful country by camper van is the only way to get an authentic Portuguese experience. Yes, the economy may survive off of cod, cork and Port, and in places like the Algarve; small towns are taken over by tourists holidaying with all-inclusive resort deals in the summer. But if you follow this guide and navigate away from the busy spots, you will find yourself experiencing a unique holiday you´ll remember for a lifetime and continue to recommend to friends again and again.
Find your camper van in Portugal
There are a large number of camper van companies operating in Portugal, so your options are endless. We chose a company run by a small group of locals and it was the best decision we made on the trip. Portugal By Van’s pick up location is in Lisbon and for a fee you can pick up your camper at a number of spots around the country. They offer three and four seater vans as well as a more premium option (you can check them out here: Portugal by van). For the two of us, the three seater was perfect; spacious enough and contained everything we could possibly need (running water, a cooker, BBQ, solar powered shower, all kitchen utensils, enough storage, electricity, power outlets, two chairs and a table and a fridge).
Find your route
We spent nine nights in our camper van, each in a different setting. It was magical. We only explored the bottom half of the country: Lisbon, down to the Alentejo Coast and then along the Algarve, however if time permitted, we would have explored the northern half of the country and the gorgeous mountains around Porto.
We parked the van a little outside of the city centre of Lisbon and ventured into the city for dinner and drinks.
Wanting to escape the crowds in the city, we jumped in our van and made our way over the magnificent bridge to Costa da Caparica. There is one very long sandy beach very popular with the surfers and plenty of places to park up for the night. As we were craving a shower and electricity to charge up our phones, we checked into the Orbitur caravan park which is situated right on the lovely beach.
Some beach time was definitely in order so we drove south to Sesimbra in the region of Setúbal for the day. Sesimbra is a very cute town on the beach right at the foot of the unmissable Arrábida National Park and popular for it’s seafood restaurants and nightlife. In the afternoon we made our way through the neighbouring national park and parked up on the side of the road right in front of the water between Praia dos Galapos and Praia da Figueirinha. The journey there was so beautiful and there are a number of look outs to stop at on the way. Soak in the spectacular view and incredibly turquoise waters.
We set our Google Maps so that it would avoid tolled roads and took the coastal roads instead to a beach town called Sines. A really typical charming Portuguese town with blue and white houses… and not much going on. It seems many have deserted their homes and left for the bigger cities. If you’re going to go past this town then I definitely recommend stopping for lunch or dinner at Adega de Sines. They have a very small menu but everything they do, they do very well. If you don’t speak the language, they will very happily bring you into the kitchen to show you what’s available to order. The people that run this eatery are all so sweet and welcoming, the chicken is the best I have ever tasted in Portugal and the prices are better than affordable! That evening we decided to pull up on the beach about 5min from Porto Covo. There are a number of roads that veer off N120-1 that are mostly deserted at night ensuring you complete privacy to the sound of the crushing waves.
In the morning we ventured to the town of Porto Covo for a coffee and of course a couple of pastel de natas. We spent a few hours at the beaches around there before taking the CM1072 road to beautiful Vila Nova de Milfontes. We stopped for lunch at Restaurante A Choupana, which is set in the perfect location right on a secluded beach- perfect for a sunset dinner. The town of Vila Nova de Milfontes has alot to offer. The area around the beaches has recently been updated and reconstructed to look a lot more welcoming to visitors. In the evening, we crossed the bridge and decided to pull up on the beach (close by Restaurante Oásis) and make it our home for the night. We built a fire, cooked some dinner and watched the sun go down.
We decided to get an early start and head down to the gorgeous Algarve! Our first stop was Lagos. A great place to base yourself if you’d like to explore the surrounding beaches and cliff walks. Lagos is a very charming town with a ton of restaurants and bars to keep you occupied in the evenings. The Algarve is a much busier coastline than the Alentejo and this means less places for you to randomly park up for the night. We decided to spend the night in the local caravan park: Camping Trindade- it’s nothing special but at least you’ll have electricity and a warm shower, plus it’s situated less than a 5 min walk to the beautiful and famous beaches. Lagos is a great spot to splash out for a nice meal; check out A Petisqueira or Taninos Wine and Kitchen.
After breakfast we drove up to the Farol da Ponta da Piedade look out- don’t miss it! It’s spectacular and a great photo opportunity. Afterwards we headed for one of our final beach days at Praia dos Três Irmãos. It’s really a beautiful area to spend the day. Take a walk through all the caves that connect the beaches; it’s really great to explore the area and bring back that sense of adventure as you wonder through the rocks. That evening we spent the night by a very cute town called Ferragudo. There’s a large unused patch of land on the banks of the river where many pull up to spend the night in their camper vans. Don’t forget to head into Ferragudo for dinner or for a refreshing gelato.
Our final day in the Algarve lead us to the famous Benagil Caves. We didn’t realise how crowded it would be so early on in the morning. I guess the secret is not that well kept! Parking is a bit of a nightmare there with a vehicle taller than a standard car, but we managed to find a spot a littler further up the hill off a dirt road. We headed straight for the coast which lead us to a magnificent walk along the headland all the way down to Praia de Benagil. The whole time I was eagerly awaiting to reach the Benagil Cave only to realise the beach was only accessible by boat or swimming! Once we reached Praia de Benagil, the cave is only a short swim around the corner. If you’re up for the swim, I highly recommend you do it because…when’s the next time you’ll be there? That evening we decided to check in to camp ground in Albufeira , which is definitely one of the best we had stayed in so far. The service was great and you couldn’t have expected anything more; their facilities ensure you’re completely comfortable.
After quickly checking out Albufeira (nothing special, don’t bother) and enjoying a coffee, we set off along the A2 highway towards Lisbon. Sadly our trip had come to an end, but not before one last hurrah in the gorgeous city. After about 2.5 hours we arrive back into the capital to a whopping €35 toll fare. While they’re of an excellent standard, we had heard that the highways could be quite expensive. This is why we decided to turn our Google maps to avoid tolls for the majority of the trip. Although you can usually pay cash, make sure you do your research on the toll system before you start driving.
The following morning we said goodbye to what was our home for the last nine days. It was a sad goodbye but we were looking forward to being in our own beds again soon.
With Portugal By Van we were able to have an unforgettable experience through a very spectacular part of the country I hope you all get to experience soon. Have you travelled by camper van before? Do you have some suggestions on must see places in Portugal? Leave a comment below, I would love to hear from you!
About the author
Hi, I’m Emily. Born in Sydney, made in the world. I’m addicted to traveling and love throwing myself into exciting and sometimes delicate situations and experiences to ensure I always come out with the best stories and make the most of my adventure. Currently I’m living in bustling Dusseldorf, Germany and can not wait to find out where the world will take me next! Follow my adventure on Instagram or Snapchat.