Despite sudden popularity as Europe’s new tourism darling, it is still possible to sidestep the tourist mill a little to discover some of Portugal’s most beautiful and historic countryside.
Located in south-central Portugal, covering nearly a third of Portugal’s landmass, the Alentejo accounts for less than 8% of Portugal’s population. It is in this mostly unpopulated countryside where you will find much of Portugal’s charm.
A place where kilometres of ancient aqueducts weave like dragons through the flourishing countryside and whitewashed villages spill from medieval castles that rise from the hilltops.
Spending time in Lisbon before visiting the Alentejo? We’ve got the Best Things to do in Lisbon to help you plan your itinerary for Portugal’s capital
4 Days in the Alentejo Portugal
We have put together this 4 day Alentejo and Évora itinerary based on self-drive.
Some of these destinations can be reached by train, bus or day tours from Lisbon. However, self-drive opens up some of the region’s more charming locations not easily reached by public transport.
We will include train, bus and tour options where reasonably available.
Driving in Portugal
Driving in Portugal is very easy. The entire country is well connected by a good highway system, even the secondary roads are usually in good condition so driving is relatively stress-free.
Some of the smaller country roads may be narrow and not so well maintained, but driving is never challenging.
Driving through the Alentejo is very picturesque which makes a self-drive itinerary so worthwhile.
Car Rental In Portugal
A small–midsize 4-door car is perfect for navigating some of the smaller towns. Don’t be tempted to rent a larger car. Tolls in Portugal can be quite expensive on certain roads, so this should be factored into your budget.
Best Time to Visit The Alentejo
Without a doubt, spring and autumn/fall are the best times to visit The Alentejo. The weather is beautiful and the landscapes are in full colour one way or the other.
That said, winter is also lovely as Portugal tends to experience relatively mild winters. On several occasions, we have enjoyed alfresco lunches in the sun during the winter months in the Alentejo.
We would suggest avoiding the months of July and August as summer temperatures can reach the high 30s’ ℃, and it is also when many Portuguese are on holiday. Strangely, these are also peak months for foreign tourists as well.
Day 1 Évora (2 Nights)
Lisbon to Évora: 137km | 1.5 hrs
The capital of the Alentejo, Évora, is the perfect base for exploring the Alentejo and a fabulous side trip from Lisbon.
There is so much to see in Évora and the surrounding area; two nights allows time to explore the city and sights close to the city without rushing. Aim to arrive in Évora mid-morning – Spend the rest of the day exploring the historic centre, visiting some of the city’s main attractions.
Some attractions close daily at lunchtime or early on certain days. Others, such as the roof of the Cathedral of Évora or the Capela dos Ossos (Chapel of the Bones), are often busy. You may wish to plan your visit for early the following morning – Évora is a very popular day trip from Lisbon, so it’s best to visit before the day trip tours arrive.
The historic centre of Évora is not very big and is very walkable. You shouldn’t have any problem seeing a lot in a short time, especially if you plan your visits to popular attractions.
What to See in Évora
The Roman Temple of Évora
The immaculate UNESCO listed city has five millennia of history magnificently on display within the medieval walls. The remains of the Roman temple of Diana tell us of an ancient civilisation dating back to Caesar in 57BC.
The Cathedral of Évora & Capela dos Ossos
Through the Corinthian columns, the spires of the 18th century Gothic Cathedral dominate the skyline. The Capela dos Ossos – a 16th-century chapel lined with thousands of human bones and skulls is a slightly grim reminder of our mortality but a fascinating spectre nonetheless.
Évora Historic Centre
Évora is brimming with authentic Portuguese charm and culture, as evident in the region’s celebrated gastronomical heritage. Anywhere you travel in the Alentejo, you will encounter the region’s enthusiasm for their exceptional local produce, and Évora is no exception.
Stroll the historic centre to discover ancient churches and stunning historical gardens where peacocks strut around a royal palace. Or walk the length of The Água da Prata Aqueduct. The famous Évora Aqueduct weaves its way through the countryside into the historic centre forming part of its structure.
These are just a few of Évoras main attractions; we’ve rounded up more things to do in Évora here for a two day itinerary.
Getting to Évora
Day 2: Évora and Surrounds
Spend the morning in Évora. Enjoy the beauty of the ancient city before the day tourists arrive. Take advantage of being the first at some of the more popular attractions – both the Cathedral of Évora & Capela dos Ossos open at 9.00 am. We recommend being first to the Chapel of the Bones.
Early afternoon, head a little out of town to some more fascinating attractions close to Évora city.
Évora to Almendres Cromlech: 17.5km | 28 min
Less than a half an hour drive from Évora is a mysterious megalithic site dating back to the 6th millennium BC in the clearing of a beautiful cork oak forest – Almendres Cromlech. The ring of granite stones is the most extensive set of organised menhirs in Portugal and among the largest in Europe.
If you decide not to have lunch in Évora, this is a beautiful area for a picnic. Before you leave Évora; grab some of the famous Alentejo cheese and black Iberian Presunto, fresh crusty bread, and maybe even a cheeky bottle of gorgeous Alentejo wine. There are lots of wonderful little Charcutarias – deli-style shops in Évora for this.
Find a shady cork tree to enjoy the culinary spoils of the region in the beautiful Alentejo countryside.
Almendres Cromlech to Arraiolos Castle: 29km | 37 min
Less than 40 minutes from Almendres Cromlech and 20 minutes from Évora is the town of Arraiolos. The town is known for a tradition of hand-embroidered rugs dating back to the 12th century.
It is also home to one of the few circular castles in the world. From the 14th century castle, you have commanding views of the Alentejo landscape over the white houses of the village of Arraiolos.
Wineries Near Évora
If you have time in the afternoon, there are some beautiful monasteries and wineries near Évora worth visiting. Convento da Cartuxa and the neighbouring Adega da Cartuxa (Cartuxa Winery) are only 5 minutes | 2km from Évora.
Cartuxa produces the famous Pera Manca red wine, considered one of the best wines in Portugal. It is possible to take a cellar tour or a food and wine tasting. Prices start at €27 pp. See here for details. Cartuxa also has a restaurant and wine bar in the historical centre near the cathedral.
Return to Évora for a final evening. We recommend seeing The Roman Temple of Évora by night if you haven’t already. Make sure you try some of Alentejo’s best culinary offerings at one of Évora’s many outstanding restaurants.
Two restaurants in Évora we enjoy are:
- Restaurant Botequim da Mouraria – R. da Mouraria 16A, 7000-585 Évora
- Tasquinha do Oliveira – R. Cândido dos Reis 45, 7000-524 Évora
Both serve exceptional home-style, typical Alentejo cuisine. Make sure you arrive right at opening time as both only seat 8-10 people and typically don’t take reservations. Botequim da Mouraria has been written up in guide books so will attract a crowd in the busy season. Once the restaurants are full, that is often the only service for the night. You may well see the closed sign being put up on the door not long after you have been seated.
Where to Stay in Évora
We prefer to stay within the walls of the historic centre in Évora. It gives you easy access to the best things to do in Évora, and because there is ample free parking nearby, just outside the walls.
We like to stay as Casa do Cobo – A very comfortable two-bedroom completely self-contained apartment in the historic centre. It is close to the Porta de Avis, so it is only a short walk from the free parking to the property. It is also very reasonably priced at around €55 per night. Check Availability here.
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Day 3: Évora, Monsaraz, Terena, Elvas
Évora to Monsaraz: 53km | 48 min
Leave Évora early morning and head towards Monsaraz. Make a stop en route at the beautiful Alqueva Lake. From here you have spectacular views of the town of Monsaraz and its castle on the hill.
Afterwards, make the short drive up the hill to explore Monsaraz and stop for coffee or lunch in one of the charming cafe’s or restaurants. You will find excellent local produce and dishes typical to the area.
One of the largest artificial lakes in Europe, Alqueva is built on the River Guadiana and covers five Alentejo Municipalities. To the right of the lake, you have views of Juromenha, Alandroal, Terena, Monsaraz, and Portel castles. Mourão and Moura on the left bank provide spectacular viewpoints over the pristine lake.
Alqueva Dark Sky Reserve
Alqueva is also a UNESCO listed reservation for stargazing thanks to the absence of light pollution, low altitude and cloudless skies. It was the first site in the world to be certified as a “Starlight Tourism Destination” by the UNESCO supported Starlight Foundation, a conservation body for the night sky.
Public lighting is also minimised to enhance conditions for the ideal stargazing experience. Alqueva is the perfect place to relax, for watersports and hiking but mostly to enjoy the beauty of Alentejo life.
Looking down on the Spanish border, Monsaraz is one of the most beautiful villages in Portugal. While partly a museum village now, many say this is where you can still experience a taste of traditional Portugal.
A fortified settlement dating back to prehistoric times, Monsaraz was gifted to the Knights Templar as gratitude for their defeat of the Moors – their mark still evident in the 12th-century castle.
No matter which way you approach, Monsaraz is a glorious sight. But, from the village itself, you have the most stunning views of the Alentejo and Alqueva lake.
Monsaraz is a lovely place to stop for an early lunch or mid-morning snack. The restaurants in town are friendly and welcoming, and the locals are eager to share their knowledge of local produce and dishes.
Monsaraz to Terena: 29km | 30 min
On your way to Elvas, make a side stop at the beautiful tiny village of Terena. The town, also known as São Pedro de Terena is a typical rural Alentejo village in the municipality of Alandroal.
The village, thought to date back to 1262 played a vital role during medieval times forming part of the Guadiana defence line.
The town comprises of only a few streets characterised by the pretty Alentejo country houses and churches. At the end of the village, explore the ruins of the Castle de Terena listed as a national monument since 1946.
Terena to Elvas: 48km | 45 min
In the easternmost part of central Portugal on the border of Spain is the frontier fortress of Elvas, the biggest fortified city in Portugal and Europe. A prominent feature of the city is the 7 km long 16th-century Amoreira Aqueduct, built to enable the fortress to withstand lengthy sieges.
Arrive in Elvas mid-afternoon. In the warmer months, you will still have lots of time to explore the city before dark.
There is much to see within the walls of the fortified city of Elvas. The Castle of Elvas and the maze of Moorish streets that surround it, the Old Cathedral of Elvas and many fascinating museums to name a few. Although the forts surrounding Elvas are a big drawcard to the city.
Day 4: Elvas and Surrounding Forts
Take an early morning stroll around town and enjoy breakfast in one of the many typical snack bars or bakeries. It is always nice to enjoy any historic centre before the rush of the day begins.
Santa Luzia and Nossa Senhora da Graça Forts.
As part of the central defence, Elvas is surrounded by secondary forts and fortlets. The most fascinating are two star-shaped forts – Santa Luzia and the more complex Nossa Senhora da Graça Fort.
The Nossa Senhora da Graça Fort, the larger of the two, was of great strategic importance in the wars of the 1700s’ but later served as a military prison up until the late 1980s’.
Wind your way inwards and upwards through the many layers to the top of the central Governors house, for spectacular views from the roof. Nossa Senhora da Graça Fort is one of the most impressive and enjoyable forts you are bound to visit.
Elvas to Lisbon
Elvas to Lisbon: 211km | 2.10 hrs
Possible Stop in Estremoz
Estremoz to Lisbon: 171km | 1.45 hrs
In the afternoon, start your return to Lisbon. If time allows, finish your Alentejo itinerary with a stop in the city of Estremoz. Only 35 minutes from Elvas, it will only add half an hour of driving time on your return to Lisbon.
Estremoz is often called Ciudad Branca – The White City for the houses and monuments made from striking white marble quarried close to the town. The historic city lies within two defensive walls, the upper area was home to royalty during the 14th century and was where Queen Elizabeth of Aragon passed away.