We spent 10 weeks traveling through Portugal in our self-build motorhome
We drove through Portugal from north to south, trying to visit as many places as possible and stopping off at a few music festivals and visiting family along the way. We stayed in cities and out in the countryside but spent most of our time along the beautiful coastline. Here are a few of our highlights and tips for anyone thinking of visiting Portugal in a camper van:
1. Nature – We drove in to Portugal from the North entering at Peneda-Gerês National Park, we spent a night here and hiked up the mountain to find ruins, waterfalls and lots of wildlife. It was such an exciting feeling to drive through mountains and then be in a different country.
2. Van Life – We quickly found that we weren’t the only ones to be traveling through Portugal by van and ended up meeting lots of fellow travelers on our way through. Parking up with other vans certainly made us feel safe and more relaxed about things like having the doors open and chairs outside, also you start to get a feeling of community as you meet the neighbours and swap travel tips and useful information.
3. City Nightlife – We spent a big chunk of our time in Portugal staying in Lisbon where we were parked up for going on three weeks. This was amazing as we managed to park for free the whole time we were there and had a lot of fun being in the city.
4. Music Festivals – There’s an endless list of music festivals in Portugal and before leaving to go travelling we’d bought tickets for NOS Alive festival where we met up with some friends. The festival wasn’t in the usual format, there wasn’t any camping and it was in the city so it was a departure from what we’re used to – there were no campers covered in dirt and during the day you had time to do civilised sightseeing instead of getting drunk around a tent. We found a parking spot walking distance from the festival site and a short cycle to the centre of town, enjoying the best of both worlds.
5. Beaches – Portugal has around 600 miles of coast much of which is sandy beach. Many of Portugal’s beaches have been awarded the Blue Flag which means they meet high standards in terms of water quality, the environment, safety and services. There’s something for everyone on Portugal’s beaches, from long, quiet, almost empty stretches of sand and sea, to wavy surf havens to sheltered calm waters for swimming and snorkeling. We loved bobbing along the shores, swimming and looking for fish. It’s also great being by the beach when you’re in a van as the car parks are often free and whilst busy in the day, will start to clear out as soon as the sun starts going down. They also often have facilities like toilets and showers nearby.
6. More music festivals – We were so amazed by the range and quantity of music festivals happening across the country that we have to mention them twice. Lots of the festivals are free and as you drive through towns you often see posters and billboards advertising them, so keep your eyes peeled and you never know what gem you might find!
7. Cycling – We love getting out on our bikes so decided to bring ours with us for another way to explore new places. It’s also a way to have a full day out without needing to spend any money, great if you’re on a budget! There are some great dedicated cycle paths across Portugal and many of the big towns/cities have cycle networks running through them. One of the longer rides we did was on the EcoPista from Evora, a great ride along a disused railway.
8. Camping on the coast – As we said, there’s so much wonderful coast in Portugal where you’ll find not only beaches but also beautiful scenic walks along the cliffs, historic monuments and best of all lots of quiet empty space for a peaceful night’s camping.
9. Motorhome services – Portugal is probably one of the best countries to travel through in a motorhome as far as self-sufficiency is concerned. We found that pretty much wherever we were, we were never more than an hours drive from the nearest motorhome services area where you can fill up your water tank and empty your waste. We had to pay a couple of euros to use the services three times throughout our whole stay in Portugal but the rest of the time it was totally free.
10. Local fetes and fairs – We traveled through Portugal during July/August & September and whilst most people would advise against visiting during the height of summer when temperatures are soaring and most places are busy with holiday makers, we found that visiting during the summer season meant there was loads to do. As well as music festivals there are other fiestas and fairs happening all over the place. We really enjoyed the medieval fair in Silves which only costed a few euros per ticket.
11. Swimming in lakes and rivers – Driving around The Algarve in the van was a bit of a stressful experience. Most places were packed with people and cars and finding places to park for the night proved challenging. We got to the Algarve towards the end of August so temperatures were getting really high, meaning that being in the van with the door closed was almost unbearable. We drove around trying to find secluded places where we could comfortably camp and in the end concluded that the best places were around the barragems. Around Portugal’s barragems we found peace and quiet beside huge reservoirs which really helped us cool down.