Cycle Touring in Portugal!
Updated: May 6, 2021
LISBON - COSTA DA CAPARICA - BELEM - CARCAVELOS - CASCAIS - GUINCHO - PARQUE NATUREL DE SINTRA-CASCAIS - SINTRA - ERICEIRA - SÃO PEDO DE CADEIRA - SANTA CRUZ - LOURINHA - PENICHE - OBIDOS - FOZ DO ARELHO - NAZARÉ - SÃO PEDO DE MOEL - FIGUEIRA DA FOZ
This summer Alexis and I decided to do a little cycle tour up the atlantic coast of Portugal. Our route was based on EuroVelo 1 but with a few destinations changed around based on accommodation availability and a couple of other towns we wanted to see. This was our first "touring" type of cycle trip so we didn't plan to do a whole lot of distance each day considering:
1. We have never cycled long distances with all of our luggage and heavier hybrid bikes before.
2. It's going to be HOT.
3. We will probably get lost a few times...
This is what our route looked like...
Total distance = ~300km.
Total ascent = ~2745m
Total times we went the wrong way.... let me get back to you on that one.
If you are thinking about doing a touring type cycle holiday I would definitely recommend it. It was so much fun and we got to see so much more of Portugal than we would have if we had just taken trains. When I say MORE, I don't mean we covered more distance and visited more cities. I mean that we got to cycle through or passed lots of traditional towns/villages, forests, orchards, national parks, hidden beaches, and meet some lovely local people. I think it was the little things like this that really made the trip so amazing!
Something we noticed when we were cycling through the smaller places was that even when somewhere seemed so quiet and like not much was going on, there are always lots of little family run Pastelarias around. These types of places were the best to eat in as they are always amazing value. A whole meal would only cost 3 euros (rather than over 10 euros in the more touristy places) and this would often include juice, coffee AND a cake too... whaat?!) I think often people think that by trying to save money when you are on holiday means that you will be missing out. Maybe that is the case for some people depending on what you like to do, but for us it meant we got to experience more of the real Portuguese culture other than just typical touristy things.
Ok, so before I end up just rambling on about random different parts of our trip I thought I would put in a little TOP TIPS list about useful things we learned/wished we thought about/found useful throughout our cycling trip. Then I'll talk about each section of our route in a bit more detail (if you last that long). So heres the top tips...
If I had to choose one tip that we found to be the most important/useful, I think it would be to UPDATE YOUR MAP. Although most of our trip was fairly easy enough to navigate, there were still quite a lot of times when having a map was really useful.
Most places were fairly well sign-posted but not necessarily for the best routes for cyclists. If you are just following the road signs for your destination, then it often just gives you the fastest option for cars: taking the motorway. So make sure you know the name of the road you want to stick to so you don't end up on a road you shouldn't be on or make a massive detour.
If you keep reading on (well done for making it this far!), then you'll see how these top tips were/would have been really useful throughout our trip.
Lisbon to Sintra
(Distance: 61km, Elevation: 716m )
We started our trip in Lisbon, renting our bikes from Bike Iberia in the centre of Lisbon. For 2 bikes for 1 week (including waterproof 40L panniers, tool kit, helmets, water bottles and bike pick up from our final destination), this cost us 450 euros.
Introducing top tip "RENT OUTSIDE THE CITY." Although the service we received from Bike Iberia was great; the people were really nice, they organised all of the things we needed for our trip and everything was ready for us to go when we arrived at the shop in the morning; the price was maybe a bit steep. We realised this when we cycled past a few other bike rental shops over the next few days which were over half the price. If money isn't an issue for you then i'd definitely recommend this service, but if you want to save money then i'd recommend renting bikes from somewhere outside of the main city. However, I don't know whether all other companies would offer the same pick up service, so that would be something to check.
We found the initial cycle from Lisbon and through Belem to be quite slow as you follow a cycle path that runs along beside the coast where it is very touristy. Having a bell on our bikes proved to be rather useful. Even though there are marked out lanes for cyclists and walkers, people don't really stick to it. It was in this initial part that I learned my lesson about the importance of top tip "BALANCE YOUR WEIGHT". Pretty early on in starting our cycle trip (literally about 3km in) I fell off my bike when attempting to mount a small kerb to follow the cycle path. I didn't really think about the impact of carrying extra weight at the back of your bike so I took the kerb at too much of an angle rather than head on, which imbalanced my bike and flung me off to the side. Luckily I wasn't moving very fast at all so I didn't fall off with too much force. I still hurt my shoulder a little and it was a bit stiff for a few days, but nothing too bad.
Although getting out of the main city of Lisbon was really slow, there are lots of nice historical sights to see along this initial part, so going super slow is nice to take in all the sights. Once we had passed Belem, it was much quicker and we continued along the cycle path to Algés. We then got to a road that seemed to just end as it looks like you aren't supposed to cycle on it as there are bollard things blocking off the route. There were no obvious signs that indicate that it is for or cyclists. Luckily two other cyclists went passed and joined that route so we just followed on. This path took us along towards a beach called "Praia de Carcavelos", where we stopped to have some lunch. Although this was only 15km into our ride, as I said, it takes a long time to get out of the city and passed all of the tourists. Also, making a few wrong turns adds a bit of time on too. When you are on the cycle path that you join at Algés, you arrive at a bridge that takes you off the cycle path, which rejoins the path just round a corner underneath another bridge. However, this is not very obvious and we ended up cycling up a road the wrong. It wasn't until the road went round a bend and we looked down and could see the cycle path we wanted to be on that we realised we were going the wrong way. So we cycled back the way we came and asked (top tip 'LEARN THE LINGO") two other Portuguese cyclists how to get onto the cycle path towards Carcavelos. They pointed us towards the little bridge, and we were back on our way.
After Carcavelos, there isn't really a cycle path anymore so you have to join a busier road (N6), which you follow until you arrive at Cascais. Although the road conditions were really good, this road is really quite busy so if you are someone who really doesn't like cycling on busier roads and you are thinking of doing this trip then I would recommend getting the train from Lisbon to Cascais and starting your trip from there. You can also cycle along on the pavement, but it is cobbled and rather bumpy.
Once you arrive in Cascais you join a road called the N247 (this road will become your best friend because it is the road that you stick to for a large part of your trip. This road follows the coast, is much quieter and has good cycle lanes you can ride on taking you towards "Praia do Guincho". Prepare for the wind on this section!! Having sunglasses/cycling glasses is a lifesaver from preventing sand blowing into your eyes. Apparently this area is regularly reaaaaally windy because when we arrived at our hostel in Sintra the owner was like "oooooh ya ya ya very windy in Guincho oooh wowow", and the sand hits you pretty hard too. After Guincho you enter the Cascais-Sintra National Park, and this is where we changed the route a bit from what it says on the EuroVelo website as we wanted to visit Sintra. There are three options to get to Sintra after Guincho. Either you can stay on the coastal route on the N247, you cycle through the centre or you take the N9-1 around the right of the national park. We went for option 2, through the centre although initially we stayed on the N247, but it was just too windy to keep going this way and we had to turn back. I actually got pretty much blown right off my bike as I turned round a corner so the wind pretty much decided the route option we were going to take.
To enter the national park the centre of the national park you go up a reaaaaally steep cobbled street and then it is a fair climb for the next 15-20km or so and then undulating until the you arrive at the Castle at Sintra. Once you are aaaalmost in Sintra you will see a sign directing you to Sintra (via the castle up another steeper cobbled path which you can't turn back on so if you take this route you must commit to the bumpy climb) or you can stay on the road you are on and avoid this fairly short but brutally bumpy steep climb. Although despite not particularly enjoying grinding up the bumpy path at the end of a rather tough day of cycling, the tuktuk driver guys made it worth it and somewhat comical. "Sorry you can't turn back, it's dangerous to go back you must go up. Up THERE.. but don't worry it's only a mile of suffering and i'll probably pass you on the way up. Good luck..." Right enough, the tuktuk guy did catch up to us, but not till the top so he gave us a cheer! From the castle it was a well deserved roll down to our hostel through the old town of Sintra.
The hostel we stayed at was called
Casa Azul (The Blue House) and was run by such a lovely and enthusiastic man who must speak at least 5 languages and has a little chuckle to himself at the end of each sentence. Great wee man! If anything go and stay at this hostel to meet him, so funny. He also makes a great coffee and continental breakfast. The hostel is a really good location, just outside the centre of the old town of Sintra (10-15minute walk), there are market stalls and grocery shop just outside and it is nice and quiet to get a good nights sleep. Also, we had the view of the art museum from our window! Pretty cool! We went to eat dinner in the Old Town and I had a bean stew at a restaurant that the waiter thought he was a wee comedian. When he was serving our food he was like "sardines? yes you ordered the sardines! Here are your sardines... hehehehehe". And then a German family across from us ordered soup that comes in a MASSIVE bread bowl and the waiter is like "do you need any more bread for the table?" The family were like "excuse me?" Clearly not getting the joke and the waiter just walks away laughing haha.
Sintra to São Pedro de Cadeira
(Distance: 40km, Elevation: 421m )
Our second day was much easier than the first and much more straight forward to navigate. All we had to do was stick on the N247 the whole way to our next stop in Sâo Pedro de Cadeira. The route was pretty undulating but no really long climbing like the previous day. A few short climbs until you get to Ericeria and then its pretty easy from then.
This route involved my favourite lunch stop of the whole trip in a place called "Green is Good" in Ericeira. It was DELICIOUS.. I would honestly go back to Portugal to go to this place. And it was pretty good value for money (25 euro total) considering everything we got. We ordered the Brunch 2pax (2 x coffee, 2 x freshly made juices, pancakes, roasted veggies, salad, 4 x dips (Peanut butter, hummus, guac, honey), breads, yogurt topped with granola & fruit, scrambled egg and couscous.) Yummy yummy ! One day I will create my very own platter just like this.
The last few kms before our hostel was a nice roll down into the town of Sâo Pedro de Cadeira. We were enjoying the roll downhill so much we almost missed our hotel on the left as it appeared sooner than we were expecting. It was really quiet there, the kind of place that Portuguese people would go on their holidays. It was not a typical touristy place at all. Although surprisingly still lots of restaurants dotted around.
When we arrived at the Hotel we checked in and put all of our luggage into our room then cycled to the nearest beach. Cycling without all of your luggage is so much easier haha! To cycle to the beach we took an off road sandy track through some vineyards. It was very pretty, although I was surprised we didn't see any lizards or snakes jumping out at us. Glad we didn't have all of our luggage as cycling through sand is rather difficult haha. When we arrived at the beach it was a pretty amazing sight as you arrive at the top of MASSIVE cliffs where you then walk down a big steep hill to the beach. The beach was quiet, just with some local Portuguese people enjoying the sunshine. You couldn't really swim there though as the waves were massive and there were big spiky rocks everywhere. Very very pretty though!
WALK DOWN TO THE BEACH.