Portugal is a perfect motorhome and campervan destination. This tiny country packs one hell of a punch; wild coastlines, lively buzzing cities, exquisite wines and one of the hardest languages in Europe to learn! If you’re planning on going to Portugal as you tour Europe in a motorhome, our Portugal tips on driving, camping and destinations are a must-read before your trip.
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Campervan & Motorhome Travel in Portugal
Campervan Hire Portugal
If you don’t own your own van, hiring a campervan and road tripping Portugal can be an awesome way to see this incredible country. Check out Indie Campers Portugal and Siesta Campers; expect to pay between £60-£70 per day (plus a security deposit) for a Fiat Ducato type camper kitted out with a kitchen with running water, a gas stove and small fridge.
On a per trip basis, you’ll spend less than you would staying in a hotel, but not much less. However, the freedom of the open road and deciding your own Portugal itinerary, where you visit and stay in a van will be priceless. Make sure to read our complete guide to hiring a campervan and motorhome rentals here.
Driving Motorhomes & Campervans in Portugal
Portuguese roads around cities and major towns are generally well maintained although it’s usually a different story in rural areas. Drivers in Portugal have a bad reputation, not always fairly so, although the proper use of roundabouts and indicators seems to elude most! Our driving in Portugal tips will help you stay safe in your van.
- You will require a green card to prove you have motorhome insurance cover when travelling in Europe.
- Your UK licence allows you to drive in all EU countries. If you only have a paper driving licence or a licence issued in Gibraltar, Guernsey, Jersey or the Isle of Man then you will need an International Driving Permit.
- You must also carry photographic proof of ID and a reflective jacket (for the driver and all passengers).
- It is recommended that you carry a warning triangle.
- It is forbidden to use a dash cam or radar detector. Check here for more information about driving in Portugal.
- When driving a motorhome in Portugal it is permitted to carry bicycles at the rear provided that they do not project beyond the width of the vehicle.
- You will see Portuguese drivers using mobile phones at the wheel frequently; bear in mind that this is actually illegal despite appearances to the contrary.
- If you are driving in a large town or city, particularly in a motorhome or campervan, then ‘helpers’ will wave you to spaces or car-parks in the hopes of getting a tip. Clearly you do not have to tip them unless you feel it’s deserved. When you are hot and stressed and trying to park, having someone waving at you and ‘helping’ is not always that helpful!
- Portugal has one low emission zone (LEZ) in Lisbon, which was introduced in the inner city centre in 2011. In 2012, a large area was added to the LEZ, which now comprises two sub-zones and currently covers 33% of the whole city. Click here for more information.
- Toll roads in Portugal are complicated! There are a number of different companies requiring different systems, with options to pay electronically or pre-pay. It is often not possible to pay as you go. This site provides a good explanation of them all. Having spent quite a bit of time touring in Portugal in our motorhome, and on a bike, we think the Toll Card system is the best option. This is a pre-paid card you can order online in advance and it works with all electronic toll roads in Portugal (which the EasyToll system doesn’t), meaning you’re covered on those roads and can pay by cash or card at the barrier for non-electronic toll roads. Where possible, avoid the tolls and take the scenic route when driving Portugal by van, you’ll have a much better experience!
If you’re looking for a ready-made tour of Portugal, then check out this perfect Portugal itinerary for 7-10 days.
Motorhome Stopovers in Portugal
Motorhome Aires in Portugal
- Motorhome aires in Portugal operate much like they do in France or Spain. They cannot be booked and operate on a first come first served basis.
- In Portugal you will find more commercial than municipal aires, although the latter are on the increase.
- Commercial aires operate in a similar way to a campsite so you can stay there for as long as you wish. You won’t find a swimming pool or other typical campsite facilities though. This is reflected in the price which is usually around €10-12 per night and there may be an extra charge for services such as electricity.
- Municipal aires are generally free and offer motorhome services. Don’t outstay your welcome, certainly no more than 2-3 nights.
- Nights in a camper in Portugal can be noisy. Not only are there often barking dogs but there are usually church bells too. The notion of stopping the bells overnight does not seem to have occurred to many village councils; take ear plugs if you’re a light sleeper.
Wild Camping for Motorhomes & Campervans in Portugal
Updated January 2021 to reflect a change in Portuguese legislation regarding motorhome and campervan wild camping.
Every year tens of thousands of motorhomes and camper vans visit the Algarve looking for winter sun. Many people prefer free parking and along the southern coast of the Algarve and the surf spots of the Atlantic, it can often feel like a camper van and motorhome car park next to the beach.
Wild camping spots generally have no facilities and lots of campers have no toilets. This leads to human waste, rubbish and other waste being dumped inappropriately which in turn damages the environment. In some popular beach wild camping spots, toilet paper and faeces are often visible. After years of the authorities tolerating this behaviour, a new law has come into force, so if your question is “is wild camping in Portugal legal”, here is your answer.
- We do not condone anyone breaking the law, and whether you decide to take the risk or not is entirely your choice. Park4Night or another free app are good options to find the best wild camping spots which are authorised for motorhomes.
- Hanging out your washing, getting your awning out and leaving your step and chairs out overnight will absolutely ensure a visit from the GNR (National Republican Guard), even in authorised parking (where parking but not camping is allowed), who patrol frequently and in large numbers along the coasts.
- For the best chance of going unnoticed, head inland to remote spots away from crowded areas.
- Follow our general tips on wild camping to stay safe and have a great nights sleep.
Do you want to wild camp in your motorhome? Already wild camping in your motorhome? Then read on for top tips and advice about how to wild camp in a motorhome and get off the beaten track like an expert!
A new-comer to Portugal and a great alternative to wild camping, Portugal EasyCamp is similar to France Passion but operates in a slightly different way. You go online and buy a product before heading to the farm or vineyard where you can then stay for 24 hours. These vineyards (quintas) and farms (herdade) are in some of Portugal’s most beautiful and unspoilt places. Typically you will stay in a spot amongst vines, trees ad nature with the options of wine and olive oil tasting.
The scheme is growing rapidly and now has 48 farms and vineyards signed up and is certainly worth a try if you are heading to Portugal. We spent a few months in Portugal in 2020, you can read our review of Portugal EasyCamp here.
Motorhome Campsites in Portugal
- Portugal campervan campsites vary from very basic with limited facilities to 5* luxury with heated and indoor pools, tennis courts, spas and restaurants.
- ACSI is widely accepted when camping in Portugal, although you may find that the ACSI pitches (which are usually smaller and have less on-pitch facilities) are full when you arrive and you have to pay to upgrade to the next level. This is common on larger sites along the popular Algarve coast.
- If you want to camp long-term in a campervan in Portugal then booking well in advance is advisable, especially if you’re planning on visiting over the Christmas and New Year periods. Many sites offer stepped winter rates; the longer you stay the cheaper the per night cost is.
Top Portuguese Motorhome Destinations
Portugal is a fascinating country, from the historic north with it’s rich trading and fishing history, to the beaches and good life of the Algarve, Portugal’s most popular tourist destination. Portugal is well set up for motorhome travel, with free service points in many towns and villages. These are our favourite spots in Portugal, with a few tips about where to stay and what to do when you’re there.
Motorhome & Campervan Routes Portugal
Thanks Google Maps!
Ponte de Lima
Ponte de Lima is the oldest vila or chartered town in Portugal. Named after the fine medieval bridge (ponte) that passes over the Lima river, this northern Portuguese town holds a huge market, typical of this part of Portugal, every Monday on the riverbank. This is not a sanitised tourist market, but a full-on local growers, live chickens and rabbits in cages type of market. It’s a great stop if you’re heading south from Spain.
Like most Portuguese market places, the market place in Ponte de Lima is used for parking when it’s not a market. If you take your chances and decide to park overnight here, be mindful of signage. You don’t want to be woken in the morning with your van surrounded by traders and no way out!
Ideal for campervan travel, there is a service point just outside town and several spots where wild camping may still be possible. We stayed in this very peaceful car park beside the International Garden Festival grounds (which are beautiful in spring) for two nights and didn’t see another soul!
One of our favourite Portuguese cities, Porto is charming, intimate and bursting with life. A day in Porto is enough to get a flavour of this wonderful city, home to Port wine, trams and beguiling cobbled streets.
Stay at the excellent aire attached to the Gaia Biological Park. There are seven places in this gated and secure spot, with electricity and full services provided. It’s around 20 minutes by scooter into Porto city centre, or get a taxi for around €15, There is a bus from nearby into the Vila Nova de Gaia side of the city centre, Reception at the Bio Parque will be able to give you more info.
Passadiços do Paiva, Espiunca
Close to Porto, Passadiços do Paiva is a hike with a difference. A series of wooden walkways suspended from, and built along, the banks of the Paiva allow you to follow the stunning river from Espiunca to Arouca.
You can also start the hike at Arouca, but there is a large car park at Espiunca right on the river, with a great bar and restaurant, where you can stay overnight in your van. The hike is 8.7km each way, with a punishing 600 steps to be climbed (or descended) at Arouca. There are buses and taxis at each end if you want to hike one way. It costs €1 to use the passadicos, which you can pay on the day. Start early though, numbers are limited.
The Douro Valley
The stunning Douro Valley follows the mighty river all the way from Porto to the eastern border with Spain. It’s a fantastic drive along the N222, especially in autumn when the colours of the vines are spectacular. Make sure to take the slight detour south to visit Lamego, home to the pilgrimage site of Nossa Senhora dos Remedios and its double flight of nearly 700 steps, recently judged worthy of UNESCO World Heritage Site status.
You’ll find lots of Portugal EasyCamp sites along the Douro and some great wild camping spots that are off the beaten path enough that you’re unlikely to be detected.
Cavao dos Conchos, Serra da Estrela
The fascinating Covao dos Conchos, high in the Serra da Estrela natural park in Portugal is called the ‘eye’ by locals. This incredible man-made hole is actually a spillway and well worth the short hike to get up close to the mesmerising spectacle, set deep in the rugged Portuguese mountains.
Portugal’s medieval capital city is a revelation. Rising above the wide Rio Mondego, Coimbra celebrates a rich history and is home to the country’s oldest university. The Moorish historic and stacked centre is perched on the river bank and has a majestic cathedral with lots of atmospheric alleys and squares to explore. Coimbra is known for live music, including the haunting Fado and guitarra, the Portuguese guitar, which you can hear in many of the bars and restaurants in the old town.
There is a dearth of campsites in Coimbra and not much on the wild camping front either. We stayed at Portela do Mondego, an old municipal site, which was actually not bad, despite it’s poor Park4Night reviews. You can walk into the centre of Coimbra in around half an hour from the campsite, a cycle ride will probably take 10-15 minutes.
Foz do Arelho
This west coast spot quickly became a favourite for us – the perfect place for kite-surfing and paddle boarding right from the van, with super little cafes and eateries just a ten minute walk and a great (if basic) aire on the lagoon.
You’re also 30 minutes from Nazare to the north if you fancy a spot of big wave surfing (but limited motorhome parking and access) and the same distance from Peniche to the south, and its incredible coastal rock formations. The beautiful walled city of Obidos, which has easy and convenient parking for large vehicles, is just 25 minutes away.
Foz do Arelho is separated from the sea by a large sandbar, which creates a huge saltwater lagoon. Close to the sea, the water is shallow and clear, further inland there are reeds and lots of bird life. It’s a perfect spot to spend a few days or weeks and the aire, which is basic and sadly not that attractive, is well priced and managed. If you can get a front row spot overlooking the water, you can ignore the slightly run-down buildings of what was a municipal campsite behind!
This larger than life national park is home to colourful fairy tale castles, whimsical villas and mysterious forests. The long time mountain playground of Portuguese royalty, Sintra is now one of the most popular tourist attractions in the country, and is conveniently close to Lisbon.
It’s not motorhome friendly though! The roads are narrow and there is no suitable parking for larger vehicles, although those in a VW size van would be ok. From Sintra town, you’ll need a tuk-tuk or other official transport to get to the interesting places such as Pena Palace and Quinta da Regaleira, where you’ll find the much-photographed Masonic initiation well.
We suggest staying at a nearby campsite (there are not many) such as Parque De Campismo Orbitur Guincho, and using it as a base to visit Sintra and Lisbon. You’re also on the doorstep of lively Cascais, one of Portugal’s top coastal resorts, and Cabo da Roca, continental Europe’s most westerly point.
If you don’t have a scooter or tow car to get around, Lisbon and Sintra are easily accessible by bus from Cascais, with Lisbon also being accessible by fast train in just an hour.
The Alqueva Dam
We loved the Alqueva Dam for its big landscape, tranquil feel, dark skies status and great roads. There are lots of good wild camping opportunities here, where you’re unlikely to be troubled by the GNR – this spot was one of our favourites.
We also spent a very quiet night in the parking field of the Dark Skies Observatory (with the owners permission) near the beautiful walled town of Monsaraz. On your way to the Alqueva from Lisbon, make sure to stop at Evora in the Alentejo Valley, another lovely Portuguese town with a top wine heritage and home to some excellent Portugal EasyCamp stops.
Zambujeira do Mar
Further south, on the wild Atlantic Coast is Zambujeira do Mar, in the Southwest Alentejo and Vicentina National Park. This is a perfect spot to explore this coast, where wild camping was so popular but is now definitely not possible.
With huge beaches, big seas and the fantastic Rota Vicentina walking route on the doorstep, Zambujeira is a great base for a few days. Stay at Camping Villa Mar and enjoy the small, family run sea-food restaurants, live music events in summer and splendid town beaches.
The Algarve is by far the most popular place for Portugal camping, for its year round climate, fabulous beaches and lively coastal resorts. Pre-Brexit, the Algarve was swamped with over 100,000 motorhomes every winter, now us Brits are unable to spend the whole winter there, the pressure on the region may lessen just a little.
Along with the Atlantic coast of Portugal, this was the most popular place for wild camping, and every beach car park used to resemble a motorhome site, with people flagrantly camping for months on end in every possible spot.
With the double whammy of Brexit and the clamp down on wild camping, Portugal van life on the Algarve may well change and offer more, and better quality aires and sites. It will remain a really popular place for winter motorhoming because of it’s wonderful winter climate.
Portugal is Europe’s oldest nations; proud, conservative and family orientated. Traditional Christian values are held strongly here; family and home is at the core of the social structure, coming before friendships and business loyalties.
- Do not make comparisons between Portugal and Spain! Portugal is proud to be a separate and distinct country with rich heritage; their identity as Portuguese is important. Portugal dislikes being overshadowed by their larger neighbours.
- Portuguese people speak quite rapidly and loudly; this does not signify anger or displeasure although it can be a little disconcerting at first to hear little old ladies yelling at each other in the street!
- Every town and village holds an annual Festa when all but the restaurants and bars close. These events are loud and colourful, usually with different themes around music, dancing, food or religion. Check out the calendar here and be sure to attend if you can, you will be made very welcome; just don’t expect to be able to buy a pint if milk or loaf of bread!
- Children are welcomed everywhere; there don’t seem to be issues with kids in bars and restaurants until late at night. This is testament to the importance of family life but perhaps a little frustrating if you’re out for a quiet or romantic meal.
- Not many older people in Portugal speak English, especially away from the coast. Learn at least olá (hello), tchau (goodbye), por favor (please) and obrigado/obrigada (thank you male/female). Whoever you’re conversing with will appreciate the effort.
- Time moves slowly in Portugal; people are happy to wait in line or be bound by red tape. The Portuguese appear endlessly patient and don’t stress about officialdom…try it, it feels great!
- In rural Portugal, many people keep dogs for security. Be prepared to be barked at by tied up or fenced off attack style dogs. It also means there will be barking at night, wherever you park your motorhome in Portugal. Get used to it and take ear plugs ‘cos you can’t escape it!
- There are also lots of stray dogs, generally well behaved but they poo anywhere and everywhere. Keep your eyes peeled when walking in built-up areas!
- Traditional markets are a way of life in Portugal, many people only ever shop at markets and you’ll find one in all the best cities in Portugal. The range of produce is huge and stalls range from those clearly professional sellers to farmers with one stool, a few chickens and some walnuts to sell. Buying local and seasonal is so different to the UK experience, it took us a while to get past wanting out of season fruit when we were living in a motorhome in Portugal, but we have really come to appreciate cooking with such fresh ingredients. Make sure you take cash and change and plenty of re-useable bags.
Food & Eating Out in Portugal
introduced hot chiles to Asia and tempura to Japan? Maybe not, but I’m sure you will have heard of Pasteis de Nata, the infamous custard tart which must be tried warm if at all possible.
- Coffee is HUGE in Portuguese food culture. Don’t expect though to find Costa or Starbucks here; macchiato and latte are unknown words, ask for anything ‘skinny’ and you’ll be laughed at. Coffee comes very strong, very hot and in a very small cup…usually for less than a euro and drunk in less than a minute.
- Salt cod or bacalhau is a Portuguese staple. It is stocked in all supermarkets and small food shops, stacked precariously high like pieces of white and grey corrugated cardboard and smelling pretty pungent (understatement!). Apparently there are 101 ways to cook salt cod, try it and eat like a local.
- Eat out at least once during your motorhome tour of Portugal. Try a tasca, a small affordable neighbourhood restaurant; you will be served local dishes cooked traditionally, such as suckling pig or grilled sardines.
- Portugal’s wines are fabulous, from the famous Port, to the fresh and crisp Vinho Verde and sweet Madeira, there is something to suit everyone. If you visit Porto, try a tour of a port wine lodge, finishing with a tasting. For our money, Ferreira is the best and has the added bonus of being the oldest house still in Portuguese ownership.
- Mealtimes start at around noon for lunch and 7pm for dinner, although this will be later in the cities.
- Once seated, you will be served entradas which usually consist consist of pao (bread), azeitonas (olives), tuna and sardine patés and butter. The cost is usually minimal, €1-2, similar to a cover charge. If you’re eating on a budget ask for the entrada to be removed and you should not be charged.
- Menus, especially in tascas, are simple; it is assumed you will understand that main courses are served all-inclusive with potatoes or rice and vegetables.
- If you order water it will be bottled and you will be asked if you prefer it fresca (cold) or natural (room temperature). The Portuguese prefer their water at room temperature, even on a hot summer’s day…who knew that about Portugal?