Lisbon, Belem, Baixa, Belem Tower, Jeronimos Monastery, Alfama, Rossio, Lisbon Cathedral, Sintra, Nacional Palace of Sintra, Evora, Estremoz, Elvas, Marvao, Tomar,...
Dates are flexible and customizable for private departures.
Portugal’s history is a canvas of legends and icons. Its culture is a patchwork of distinctive styles, medieval walled cities, and fado music. Discover Templar Knights, villages crafted from marble, and cities adorned in blue tiles. This 11-day in-depth tour celebrates all the heritage, using art, architecture, and atmosphere to narrate a 2,000-year-long tale. It includes three nights each in Lisbon and Porto, plus four nights discovering the idiosyncratic wonders of the backcountry.
Lisbon – Warm Welcome to Lisbon
Lisbon is big on history and style. It is a city that wears its past with pride, the decimation caused by the 1755 earthquake replaced by a grand show of glory that was essential to regeneration. This is a city that arouses the senses, where almost every avenue brings a new sight and sound. You can hear the rumble of a tram beneath colorful townhouses, pots and pans clattering along cobbled alleyways, and the hum of chatter on open terraces. After being greeted at the airport and transferred to your hotel, the day is at your leisure. By staying in the Baixa district, you are central to everything, with many neighborhoods and attractions within walking distance, and even more along the tramcar routes.
Lisbon – History of Lisbon, as Told by Architecture
Contrasting architecture reveals Lisbon from different centuries. On a privately guided tour, you spend the day uncovering the rich tapestry of styles and designs that make the city so unique. Start in Baixa and Rossio where broad avenues are dominated by polished marble and Baroque embellishments. These two areas glisten beneath the morning sun, grandiose and glorious, as they reflect the classic style of the mid-18th century. Both were completely rebuilt following the 1755 earthquake, hence the feeling of space. Nearby Alfama is completely different, a twisting maze of cobblestone streets that survived the earthquake, where the buildings lean and lurch as if daring to collapse. From here, you hop on the tram to St George’s Castle, the old icon that has been warding off invaders for close to a millennium.
Discuss Lisbon’s history during lunch with your guide, then take a short tram journey out to Belem, the symbol of Portugal’s Age of Discoveries. Belem Tower and Jeronimos Monastery are timeless examples of the Manueline architectural style that is unique to Portugal. It is a style of manifold influence, Gothic decoration, Renaissance flourishes, Moorish legacy, and everything is sumptuously rich and lavish. Take note of the features because you will recognize them all over the country, a portal, a ghoul carved in stone, twisted ropes, and strange sea monsters climbing up the buildings. Complete the day with another piece of history, a pastel de nata (warm custard tart) from the 19th-century cafe that first made them.
Lisbon – The Palaces of Sintra and the Beauty of a Fado Music Performance
A different history comes alive in Sintra. You encounter the influence of the Moors from afar, with strange palaces shining amid thickly forested green hills. Rather than destroy the Moorish buildings, Portuguese royalty added their touches to existing castles and palaces, creating a unique blend of east, west, and Islamic Africa. Travel here relatively early in the morning, so you miss the crowds when touring two sublime palaces and the town so revered in Lord Byron’s poetry.
The afternoon is at your leisure, and the guide can recommend attractions of interest. The National Museum of Ancient Art is very intriguing. Into the evening, you feel the local culture come alive, enjoying a fado performance in a small Alfama tavern. Haunting voices echo off the walls, an acoustic bass guitar narrates a strange melody, and the plucking of another guitarist finds the sounds that hide between notes. Dinner is included and the performance extends for more than two hours, fado music narrating a star-crossed love story. Haunting and melancholic, it is an art form that lingers long in the memory.
Evora – Living the History in a World Heritage City
Skulls adorn the archways in Evora’s Chapel of Bones. Bones are packed together to create walls, with femurs and ribs protruding around the twin windows. Silence reigns, and you can almost hear the whispers emanating from the walls. Nearby is a vast Roman Temple, with Corinthian columns that rise above the old city. Centuries of history can be traced along the old walls, which rise to a viewpoint overlooking golden olive groves. This ancient Alentejo city is now a World Heritage Site, a carefully preserved marker of frontier life from the medieval era. You will take the train here from Lisbon, an 80-minute journey, then discover the city’s stories with a local guide. The private tour includes lunch, and by late afternoon, you have some free time to wander the lanes of history. This is a city that has rewards on every corner, and there is so much to uncover.
Marvao – Marble Towns and Castles on Top of the World
Rugged and redolent, Alentejo is the most untouched of all Portugal’s regions. Modern development never really happened here, and some of the medieval destinations can feel like ghost towns where you hear your footsteps along the cobbles. Estremoz and Elvas are sublime examples, beautiful walled towns crafted from limestone and marble. The settings are dramatic, and the architectural style has an opulence that is unexpected in what were traditionally working-class settlements. Spend the day exploring the two towns with a local guide, then savor the most dramatic of all Portugal’s destinations. Marvao is perched on a high peak gazing out toward Spain, as cute and postcard-perfect as anywhere in Iberia. This is a full day of discovery, and most visitors are amazed at how superbly these marble and limestone towns have been preserved.
Coimbra – Legends of Portuguese History and Culture
Another day of exquisite tales from the past, starting with the legend of the Templar Knights in Tomar. A majestic castle leads you into the city and as you get closer, you uncover the details. Strange scenes are carved into the walls, mosaics and pillars fill the interior with symmetry, and you continue past the twisted figurines into the temple of the knights. Nearby Nazare has a different feel, an old fishing village with a spiritual past, and a colorful collection of boats draped across the sand. It is a great place to try local seafood before the day’s private tour continues north to Coimbra, where the university library rivals any in the world for old aesthetics. Now a World Heritage Site, it is an enduring mix of Baroque, Gothic and Manueline styles, held together by the harmony of building materials.
Porto – Immersed in the Tradition of Old-World Porto
Take the high-speed train to Porto, and Sao Bento Station provides a mesmerizing welcome. A ceramic mosaic covers the station interior, painting a scene of the reconquest. Many other blue mosaics are close by, down the hill in the World Heritage center of the city. You will be greeted by a guide, and spend the day absorbing Porto’s iconic experiences. Admire the design of buildings, like the Stock Exchange Palace, take a traditional boat across the river, tour one of the port cellars, and taste the difference between vintages. Then relax along the riverbank, surrounded by fresh smells and the beautiful facades of ancient buildings. Your hotel is in this old center, so you are within walking distance to the most emblematic of Porto’s architecture.
Porto – Day-Trip to the Historical Cities of the North: Braga and Guimaraes
Portugal’s green northern region is dotted with treasures. Braga is a city of majestic churches, where artistry is draped across the ceilings, and a mesmerizing staircase twists through varying stages of the Baroque style. Guimaraes is a seductive insight into the early part of the last millennia, where so much has survived from the 12th and 13th centuries. These are cities for walking slowly, where heritage breathes from the walls, and delightful art finds a place at many street corners. You will travel between the cities by train – Portugal’s rail network is excellent – and enjoy short walking tours with local guides. Like many stops on this itinerary, the guides’ insider knowledge helps you uncover more than the postcard sights. You will trace the storyline started by the first Portuguese king, taste the tradition at a 19th-century eatery, discuss medieval politics over an alfresco espresso, then return to Porto for a relaxed evening along the river.
Porto – A Relaxed Morning and an Afternoon Cruising Through the Douro Valley
A free morning gives you time to soak up Porto’s weekend style. Sip coffee on the balcony, listening to the traders walking towards the market. Take a stroll through the old maze, the somnolent pace making for convivial greetings on the streets. Stop at one of the kiosks, traditional and colorful cafes that provide an authentic local experience. Then inhale the smells coming from local kitchens and choose a terrace for a leisurely lunch. Porto has its own cuisine, and the weekend is when a variety of special pork dishes should be savored.
Continue the cultural heritage in the afternoon by boarding one of the wooden boats that has been cruising the Douro River for centuries. These were vessels that brought casks of grapes back from the vineyards. Today, they transport passengers, small boats that take a handful of visitors beneath Porto’s famous bridges. You will travel along a narrowing river, with villages and castles topping distant hills, and vineyards rising in steep terraces throughout the valley. It is a three-hour return journey with port tasting on board, another chance to taste the difference between tawny and ruby, as well as LBV and oak-aged vintage styles.
Obidos – Monasteries, Castles and a Walled Village
The monasteries of Alcobaca and Batalha provide Portugal’s easy comparison of Europe’s most misunderstood architectural style, Gothic. A rose window and a subtly embellished portal standout on the facade on the Alcobaca Monastery, early 13th-century design elements that show the gentle shift from the Romanesque style. Vast columns and tombs fill the interior, revealing a hint of Moorish influence and the same subtle move toward embellishment. In rich contrast, Batalha Monastery dates from the 15th century and the late Gothic period. Packed with extraordinary decoration and ostentatious details, Batalha reveals the style of architects who have long passed typical notions of flamboyance. These two monasteries are neatly situated on your route south towards Obidos, where you spend the afternoon amid the allure of a walled village and castle.
Lisbon – Departure
Obidos is serene and stylish, a charming village of painted houses and cobblestone streets. Everything is encased within the city walls, and most of the streets are too narrow for vehicles. It is atmospheric in the evening, but also a timeless place to wake up on your final night in Portugal. Spend the morning wandering the compact village, absorbing the atmosphere and history for one final time. Then it is less than a one-hour transfer to Lisbon’s international airport and your departing flight.
- Trace the lines of Lisbon’s history with a private tour through the capital city where art and architecture narrate the story
- Feel the atmosphere of a Fado music performance, Portugal’s national art form best experienced in the old Lisbon district of Alfama
- Immerse yourself in the cities of the Old World, spending one night in 2,000-year-old Evora, and one in hilltop Marvao
- Celebrate the unique architecture of Portugal, with expertly guided stops at iconic sites like Batalha Monastery, the castle in Tomar, and Coimbra University
- Discover the many legends of the country’s history, including the Templar Knights and the mystique of Coimbra
- Travel through the forgotten dames of Portugal’s proud tradition, including the marble towns of Alentejo and the wonderful walled village of Obidos
- Relax in the beautiful World Heritage city of Porto, where three days offer plenty of time to soak up its style
- Explore the distinctive style of Northern Portugal, from the old cities of Braga and Guimaraes to the vineyards of the Douro Valley.
Every country’s history is rare and unusual. Portugal is more distinctive than most. From the order of the Templar Knights to Manueline architecture, and towns built from marble to ceramic mosaics that have survived the centuries. History and culture mingle seamlessly on this part of the Iberian Peninsula, and legendary tales are part of the storyline, whether at a palace in Sintra or a vineyard in the Douro Valley. Artistic forms provide a narrative in many destinations, like a fado performance in Lisbon’s Alfama district or the building style found in the Alentejo region. As you travel around Portugal on a handcrafted tour, you find that history and culture are not elements of the past, but immersive aspects of everyday life.
This is a country that lives and breathes tradition, a nation that makes heritage part of today. On this unique tour, you will follow the contrasting storylines, exploring the intrinsic link between Portuguese history and culture. Private guides aid the discovery, their expertise enabling you to uncover the contradiction that is so prevalent in every historical tale. Live performances allow you to experience traditional forms of culture, while the relatively relaxed pace gives plenty of time to feel what Portugal is all about.
Your 11-day route has been handcrafted to celebrate unique chapters in the country’s history and culture. It is also designed to mix leisurely time in the two major cities, Lisbon and Porto, with an expedition through the backcountry and the forgotten dames of Portugal’s past. You will travel with a number of different guides, their localized knowledge essential to your understanding. And you will experience culture through the everyday lives of the locals, each region having its own food, wine, ambiance, and art.
Lisbon is an easy starting point, a capital more relaxed than almost any other in Europe. Spend a day using art and architecture to trace the city’s history, then another day admiring the royal heritage and history of Sintra. A fado performance is an iconic expression of musical culture, perfect for completing your three days in the city. Over the next two days, you track the legends of the interior, living out the history in destinations like Evora, Elvas, Marvao, Tomar, Nazare, and Coimbra. You will journey to towns and villages that feel as though they have been untouched for centuries, particularly in the rural region of Alentejo.
Spend three nights in Porto, staying in the heart of a beautiful old city, with day excursions to the Douro Valley and the old northern cities of Braga and Guimaraes. Vineyards, cellars, ceramics, and churches, this northern Minho region is very different from Lisbon and Alentejo. The itinerary leaves time for a day along the coast, stopping at monasteries and walled villages on the edge of Europe. A final night in Obidos leaves you less than one hour from Lisbon for your departing flight.
$2,195 per person (excluding international flights)
Your Zicasso trip is fully customizable, and this sample itinerary is a starting place for your travel plans. Actual costs are dynamic, and your selection of accommodations and activities, your season of travel, and other such variables will bring this budget guideline up or down. Throughout your planning experience with your Zicasso specialist, your itinerary is designed around your budget. You can book your trip when you are satisfied with every detail. Planning your trip with a Zicasso travel specialist is a free service.
- In-country transportation
- Some or all activities and tours
- Expert trip planning
- 24x7 support during your trip
Your final trip cost will vary based on your selected accommodations, activities, meals, and other trip elements that you opt to include.
Reviews of Zicasso's Referral Service
4.93 stars based on 642 reviews
"His warmth and sense of humor shined through in our email...
Reviewed By Terry W.
"We didn't need to think about ground transportation or...
Reviewed By Tim Z.
"My wife and I were able to relax for 12 days and take in...
Reviewed By Chris G.
"[Our travel planner] customized our itinerary to fit our...
Reviewed By Srinivas G.
"We fit a lot in this trip thanks to the good planning."
Reviewed By Candi L.
"Filomena built an itinerary that perfectly suited our travel...
Reviewed By Patricia C.
Get Weekly Inspiration and Expert Advice on Travel
during the COVID and post-COVID era