S2N Algarve to Lisbon

Overview: In early January 2005, my wife and I caught a ferry across the Rio Guadiana from Ayamonte in Spain. We were about nine months into a one-year trip that had already taken us around much of the French coast, down through eastern Spain and across Andalucia.

We arrived in Vila Real de Santo Antonio in Portugal – the start of our first ever visit to the country. We then spent about two months in Portugal, riding our Trek tandem and towing a Bob Yak trailer from the south eastern corner of the Algarve to the northern border with Galicia.

Approaching the border with the Algarve in January - the palm trees are a clue.
Approaching the border with the Algarve in January.

Despite seeming to be against the prevailing wind nearly the whole way, it was a wonderful journey that started our love affair with Portugal.

These pages – and the second half detailed under the Lisbon to Galicia pages – describe our route. We were navigating using a Michelin 1:400,000 map of the whole country. This was before Google Maps existed and – as we found out – it is extremely hard (if not nigh on impossible) to find decent maps in Portugal.

As a result, our route may not always be the best option. However, having subsequently lived in Portugal for several years, I’ve used this additional experience to suggest alternative and better options where appropriate. See the individual stages for details.

Nevertheless, this was still an excellent route overall and took in much of what makes Portugal special – diverse landscapes, a rich cultural heritage, charming people, fascinating historic towns and villages, sunshine, cobbled roads that shake your bicycle to bits, cheap (but decent) wine, etc, etc.

Stages: The first half of our route – begins at Ayamonte just inside Spain. The four stages detailed below took us across the Algarve, up through the Alentejo and back to the coast to get to Lisbon.

Stage 1: Ayamonte to Lagos – from the Spanish border via Tavira, Loule and Portimao*.

Stage 2: Lagos to Vila Nova de Milfontes– via Sagres, Odeceixe and Zambujeira do Mar.

Stage 3: Vila Nova to Evora – inland through the Alentejo to the ancient city of Evora.

Stage 4: Evora to Lisbon – back to the coast, up the wild Troia peninsula to Setubal and into Lisbon from the south.

The second part of our journey took us north from Lisbon to Sintra, Peniche, Coimbra, Aveiro, Arouca, Vila do Conde and Viana do Castelo – before crossing the border into Galicia in Spain. See Lisbon to Galicia for more.

Any questions about this route – ask away: pedalportugal@gmail.com

*Algarve Cycleway: There is an Ecovia Litoral that is supposed to provide a cycleway across the Algarve but I wouldn’t recommend it. See the Ayamonte to Lagos stage for more info.

16 thoughts on “S2N Algarve to Lisbon”

  1. Hi, I will be cycling from Faro to Porto this June.
    Should I be expecting head winds due to heading north? Is it easier to start in the north and head south?

    1. Hi there
      Sorry for the delay in replying. Yes, prevailing wind is from the north but that doesn’t mean it always blows in that direction! Also winds tend to be stronger in winter. Statistically, you are more likely to have a headwind going north. However, one advantage of going south to north is that you will tend to have the sun behind you – and the sun can be intense if you’re heading into it all day.

  2. Hi Huw! Great page, thanks for the effort! I’ll start my 6-months-trip through Europe beginning of April ’22 and I want to spend more or less the first month in Portugal. Faro – Peniche along the coast and then continue more inland before crossing to Spain somewhere (still reading through your routes; but I really want to see the Douro valley) and then on to the French West coast.
    I plan to start in the South as the weather is warmer there, but after reading a bit here on the page I’m a bit concerned about the wind. I’m on my own and full-on headwind most of the time is maybe a bit frustrating for the start of the trip 😉 Is it better inland? Or not so dramatic anyway? Thanks a lot for your estimation!
    Cheers, Eva

    1. Hi Eva
      Glad the website is giving you some inspiration!
      The headwind isn’t constant and strength varies. Prevailing wind is from the north but you can still get it from the south some days. I wouldn’t let it stop you going north.
      One big advantage of going north is not having to ride into the sun.
      However, what I would do is recommend a more inland route. To be honest – in my opinion – most of the coast between Vila Nova de Milfontes and Lisbon is pretty boring, With the exception of the Arrabida coast out from Setubal.
      Also, there is no actual coast road so you don’t see the sea very often. Plus the main road through this part is fairly narrow and can be busy.
      If you want to see the best scenery – and have quiet roads – do something like go up to Mertola and then across the Alentejo to Evora.
      My favourite riding in Portugal is mostly in the eastern half.
      The Douro valley is spectacular but I wouldn’t want to ride the end towards Porto as the roads are very narrow and busy in the valley bottom and you have huge hills either side. It’s equally spectacular further east – from Ponte Da Barca and up the Spanish border… just more difficult to get to!
      Have fun wherever you go.
      Cheers, Huw

  3. I rode this route on my own in September 2021 and can strongly recommend this to anyone interested in cycling. I’d like to share my experience and potentially give some tips to anyone thinking to ride the route.

    As a difference to the proposed route on this site, I rode from north to south and shortened the route in the north by taking a train from Lisbon to Setubal. I returned to Lisbon by train from Faro, so the section between Faro and the Spanish border was left out.

    It was genuinely confusing how you were allowed to ride in your own peace. In particular stages 1, 3 and 4 have sections of several hours where there are only a few villages and very little other traffic. The traffic behaviour of person cars may not have been as smooth as in Spain, but it was still tolerable. The heavy traffic drivers were really considerate and passed me very safely without exception.

    The weather was very nice for cycling: with the exception of one cloudy morning, the weather was always sunny and the temperature just over 20 degrees. The headwind from the north helped mainly on some single road sections in stage 2.

    I ride a lot of road bikes, which is why I chose to ride for pretty long days. I rode all four stages as proposed excluding the exceptions mentioned above, i.e. 120-180 km per day. My average ride speed was about 25 km/h, but I would recommend slightly shorter kilometres per day for this speed.

    I stayed at Old Evora Hostel, Hotel MS Milfontes Beach, Hostel on the Hills and Alte Hotel. Old Evora Hostel had hard beds, but otherwise I can recommend all of these. A safe place to store a bike was found in all places.

    The opening hours provided by Google Maps should not be over-relied on the road. In the countryside, cash is king, Portuguese is king and siesta is king. Stop to eat and drink a hour too early rather than late, as it can be a really long trip to the next village and at worst all the places may be closed there. Knowing some simple Portuguese, or potentially Spanish or French, helps a lot, as I found several places in the countryside where nobody could English.

    With all due respect to the stunning postcard landscapes of the West Coast, I personally liked more of the inland undulating landscapes with their empty roads. On the coast, you have to deviate from the route to see the scenery.

    Hopefully these ideas will be useful for anyone considering the route!

  4. Hi, I have started planning my trip in Portugal. I just heard about road N2 which connects the South and North of the country. Any thoughts about using that road? Is March too cold for camping? mid-March? I am planning to start in Sotuh (Faro) – because there would be warmer weather at the start of the trip. What about prevailing winds? Is there any pattern? Thanks.

    1. Hi Egils
      Unfortunately the prevailing wind is normally from the north! But it does vary and it will be a lot warmer in the south in March.
      The N2 is a good road for cycling in most parts. There are a few busy sections but not too bad. You can also find smaller roads parallel in some places. Riding the N2 would give you a wonderful flavour of Portugal!
      March can be okay for camping in the south but it will be colder further north. Depends on how fast you will be riding! I have been camping in Northern Portugal in April and had ice on my tent.
      Good luck , Huw

  5. HI , My fiance and I are looking to cycle through Europe, starting in Libson. We want to go down the coast and over to Spain. We plan to leave in the end of March. We want to camp, workaway, wwoof, couchsurf, anything to save money while traveling. Any advice? Weather conditions? Camping? Routes? Look forward to hearing back!!!!

    1. Wow! Where do I start…I’ve done Wwoofing and HelpEx while travelling, plus camping.
      Routes? Well it depends on so many things – what you want to see, what you don’t want to see, whether you like hills, beaches, towns or what.
      Happy to give some advice but I’d need something more specific to go on. Can I suggest you do a bit of research on the website and then come back to me with questions – contact pedalportugal@gmail.com

    2. Hi Michelle, if you don’t already know it check out Warmshowers.org : it’s basically couchsurfing but for cycle tourists…Wonderful comunity!
      Enjoy beautiful Portugal and if you pass by North Italy drop a line for hospitality 🙂

    1. Hi Chris
      Sorry for not replying sooner – been off on a 4-week cycle trip around eastern Europe.
      Hard to give specific advice without knowing more about your plans. Email me if you have detailed questions.
      However, one thing I would definitely advise is having either a smartphone or some other access to online maps – the printed ones are very limited and won’t show you all the minor roads.
      November might be a bit damp, particularly on the coast and in the northern half. I’d maybe suggest doing a circuit of the southern half of the country if you want warmer, dryer conditions.
      Cheers, Huw

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