If you’re looking for a long-distance cycle route steeped in history, culture and ancient tradition, it’s time to consider Portugal’s ‘Route 66’: the Portugal N2 cycle route.
National Road N2 offers some of the best road cycling in Portugal. It’s one of the most varied and best cycling routes in Europe. This 739-kilometre route traverses the length of the country, from its mountainous north in Trás-os-Montes, to the verdant valleys of the south in the Barrocal Algarve.
Portugal’s N2 road crosses four mountain ranges, 11 rivers, and 35 municipalities, with a menu of local gastronomical delights and world-famous wine to fuel your journey of rich Roman heritage.
Pedro Pedrosa, a keen cyclist and Portugal A2Z Walking and Biking Co-Founder, has got in-depth knowledge about Portugal’s cycling routes. Here, he shares his tips for how to cycle the N2 road, and why this life-affirming journey is one to add to the bucket list.
Sponsored by: Portugal A2Z Walking and Biking
Photo credit: Foge Comigo
1. Why cycle the N2 in Portugal?
Cycling the 739-kilometre N2 route is a unique way to discover the historic and diverse heartland of Portugal. It’s one of the only roads in the world that spans a whole country in its entirety. It runs through Portugal “end to end”, crossing the mountainous regions in the north and ends at the gorgeous beaches in the south.
Born from the foundations of ancient Roman Roads that once crossed the Iberian province of Lusitania, its ancient roots have earned it the title of the ‘most mythical road in the country’. It holds a treasure trove of history to unearth: Roman spas in Chaves, the 2,000 year old UNESCO World Heritage site of the Alto Duoro Wine Region and Faro’s ancient city walls to name only a few.
Add to that, beautiful landscapes with countless panoramic views, big climbs and rewarding, sweeping descents, plus plenty of bike lanes on the way – it really is one of the best long distance bike rides in Europe!
2. Give us a feel for what each day on an N2 bike trip is like.
Cycling the N2 can take between 5-12 days, depending on the distance you’d like to cover each day and how much time you want to spend exploring and how challenging you want your experience to be.
There are many things to explore and no two days are the same as the landscape is constantly changing. You’ll pass through cities, ancient villages and small towns, over some of the country’s most important rivers and five mountain ranges (while passing alongside five others).
On top of that you cycle through many wine production regions and 18 Protected Areas and sites integrated in the Natura 2000 Network, including a UNESCO World Heritage site in the Douro Valley.
Here’s a flavour of what to expect on our seven day self-guided N2 cycle route with A2Z Portugal (we also have six and eight day trips here):
Day 1: Arrive in Chaves
Most guests arrive by airplane in the enchanting city of Porto, famous for its delicious fortified port wine. There's then a transfer to Chaves. Guests usually spend the day discovering the thermal baths and Roman bridge of Trajan, fuelling up for tomorrow’s start.
Day 2: Cycling Chaves to Régua (90 kilometres)
Start your epic ride at the zero kilometre milestone, which is near the public park in Chaves.
Ride the mountain roads of the Trás-os-Montes region and into the stunning Douro Valley. This historic Alto Douro wine region is classed as a UNESCO World Heritage site, with over 2,000 years of history and twisted, contoured landscape.
Cross the Douro River and into the city of Peso da Régua for a stop at the Douro Museum, before conquering the Mezio summit at 1,000 metres of elevation.
Day 3: Cycling Régua to Tondela (108 kilometres)
Ride south to discover the historical towns of Lamego and Viseu, steeped in sacred art and religious architecture.
Stop at the cathedral and sample the delights of famous local sweets before leaving the vineyards behind and heading to Tondela, an ancient city in the Dão wine region. It would be rude not to sample the delicious wine as a reward for your efforts so far!
Day 4: Cycling Tondela to PedrógÃo Pequeno (122 kilometres)
Follow the Mondego River through the spectacular Lousā mountain range and be rewarded for two of the hardest climbs along the N2, with panoramic mountain views and rich biodiversity.
Spot deer and wild boar before passing through Pedrógāo Grande to the great lake of the Cabril Dam, one of the biggest dams in the country.
Day 5: Cycling PedrÓgÃo Pequeno to Montargil (130 kilometres)
Follow the Zêzere River to leave the northern and central mountains of Portugal behind and enter the flatter Alentejo landscapes.
Discover the Gothic churches and former holiday place of the Portuguese Royal Family, before tracing the Tejo River to Montargil amongst tranquil countryside and whitewashed villages. You'll also notice the beautiful cork trees become part of the scenery and will form an ever-present part of the landscape until the end of the N2 ride.
Day 6: Cycling Montargil to Odivelas (Alentejo) (122 kilometres)
After a few days of mountains and undulations, now enjoy the flattest section of the N2 route, with kilometres of inviting, straight roads and easier terrain ahead.
Pay a visit to discover the wartime history of Montemor-o-Novo, with its ancient castle and several historical monuments.
Day 7: Cycling Odivelas to AlmodÔvar (70 kilometres)
Ride endless tranquil roads, with owls, red kites, common buzzards and storks for company. After passing through the mining village of Aljustrel you’ll reach the gorgeous plains of Castro Verde, with its natural grasslands and endangered ancient bird species, including the Iberian Imperial Eagle.
Day 8: Cycling AlmodÔvar to Faro (80 kilometres)
Take in the ever-changing landscape en route to the Algarve, with mountains to challenge you for one last time.
Climb the Caldeirão range amongst signs of ancestral rural lifestyle. Pass the iconic mountain pass of Barranco do Velho and lap up the kilometres and kilometres of pure beauty, rich heritage and gastronomic delights as you sail into Faro and its historic marina.
3. What's the best time of year to attempt Portugal’s end to end cycle ride?
Any time is a good time for the N2!
Winter is sunny and inviting in the south of Portugal, but you may encounter some rain in the north, particularly in the Tagus region.
In summer, temperatures in the north will be great but you'll need to prepare yourself for the heat of the south!
Early autumn and spring, might be a good mid ground, but these days there's no such thing as certainty when it comes to the weather. We suggest not worrying too much about finding "the perfect time" and just going for it!
4. How fit do you have to be to cycle the N2?
The total length of the N2 route is 739 kilometres, with some big mountain climbs in the north. A good level of fitness will make it much more enjoyable.
Whether you’re joining for one of our bike tours in Portugal, or doing a self guided trip, we always recommend physically preparing for the challenge beforehand so you can enjoy it to the fullest over a number of days or weeks.
On the N2, you’ll have to be able to endure some steep climbs, especially in the north, so our advice is to split your N2 experience by elevation gain instead of distance. Try to spend a few more days climbing in the north, then enjoy the flatter southern region as a reward.
We are always happy to tailor-make an itinerary for a customer, based on a 10 or 14 day trip. This allows customers to cycle lower distances each day and even cycle on hybrid bikes.
E-bikes are also a great option for those that are less fit. They're an excellent way of allowing families to all cycle together and making cycling trips more accessible. We're delighted to help with e-bike rental if this is something a customer is interested in.
5. What are the best cycling climbs of the N2?
The best cycling climbs of the N2 route in Portugal can be found in the mountain ranges of the north.
The longest and one of the hardest cycling climbs of the N2 route (+900m) starts just after Peso da Régua and extends for around 30 kilometres until reaching the highest point of the entire route, at Bigorne.
Other notable cycling climbs include the 48 kilometres section starting just after Penacova, from Louredo to Portela do Vento (+750m); the 8 kilometres section that ends at the geodesic mark just outside Vila de Rei (also known as "the midpoint of the N2 route"); and the 17 kilometres section that begins as you reach the Algarve (the southernmost region of Portugal) and ends at the Caldeirão range viewpoint.
6. Where are the flatter areas along the N2?
The flatter areas are found in the Alentejo region, known for its lowlands and pleasant landscapes. After crossing the bridge over the Tejo/Tagus River, as you reach Ponte de Sor the flatter section of the N2 route starts and extends for more than 100 kilometres, until you reach Almodôvar, the last municipality in the Alentejo region crossed by the N2.
After Abrantes and up to Almodovar, the stages are very rolling and with shorter and easier climbs.
7. What's your favourite part of the N2 cycling route - and why?
There are so many fascinating parts along this historic and beautiful road, it’s difficult to choose!
One place that always stands out with riders is the Douro Valley, which we ride through on day two of our seven day N2 cycling tour.
The winding Douro River, the verdant slopes of its valley, with small villages and vineyards in the twisted contours of the Alto Douro Wine Region with its UNESCO World Heritage status, make it a really spectacular place to ride.
Plus, the delicious local cuisine in this region is one of the most important treasures, with all of the typical dishes made with locally cultivated products.
Greenway Alongside the N2
Another favourite part of the N2 route is in the centre region, between Viseu and Santa Comba Dão (which also includes the district of Aveiro), where we take the option to divert off the N2 and cycle on a stunning greenway built on disused railway lines.
The Ecopista do Dão is 49 kilometres long and runs along the banks of the River Dão before leaving the river to take in views of the mountains and neighbouring vineyards.
It is an easy ride as the greenway is flat with no climbs, and is completely traffic free, so you can sit back and enjoy the views.
8. What is there to see along the N2 route?
You’ll experience the diversity, history and cultural heritage of an entire country when riding Portugal’s N2 route.
Discover the thermal baths and Roman bridge of Trajan in Chaves, the 2,000-year-old Douro Valley wine making region and its Museum, vineyards and fantastic food. There’s also the Cabril Dam in Pedrógão Grande, one of Portugal’s biggest dams, gothic churches and ancient castles.
Wildlife enthusiasts will also appreciate the chance to see endangered wildlife such as the Iberian Imperial eagle, in the gorgeous plains of Castro Verde, with its UNESCO Biosphere Reserve.
You’ll also discover the kindness from local communities who live and work along the N2 as they welcome you into their world.
It’s an unforgettable journey of discovery into the heartland of Portugal and you can never see everything at once, so we see many riders returning for more on our Portugal cycle tours.
9. Self-supported vS supported N2 trip?
After you’ve decided when to do your N2 cycling trip in Portugal (more on that above), the next question is how quickly you want to ride it (versus spend more time and really explore it).
After that, it’s time to consider whether a self-guided, guided or a supported tour is best for you.
Self-guided cycling in Portugal is ideal if you’re looking to be flexible and customise your N2 experience.
Our self-guided N2 cycling tour can be completed over six to eight days and features a loose daily itinerary with an N2 route map and destination accommodation for you to reach however you choose. We can also create custom trips that add more days and stops to the itinerary.
On a self-guided tour you manage your own time and can be flexible on your journey, choosing which places you’ll visit along the way.
Guided cycling tours in Portugal include a more structured daily itinerary, with guided activities discovering the ancient traditions, local myths, and unique stories that the N2 route has to offer.
A local guide with both professional training and exciting personal experiences will take you to some of must-see attractions on the route. As well as taking the pressure off the travel and planning process, guided cycling tours are also a great opportunity to meet other travellers and locals.
On our guided cycling tours, all equipment and meals are taken care of by the travel company team, so you can just ride your bike and enjoy the experience without any responsibilities.
If you would like to upgrade our self-guided N2 cycling tour into a supported or guided trip, please just get in touch.
Supported cycling tours are a hybrid of the self-guided and guided options.
You get the flexibility and customisation in planning your trip, but with support along the route from the travel company, with all the equipment and meals you need.
A perfect option for those looking for freedom to plan your own awesome trip, but the security of knowing all the logistics are taken care of.
Find out which tour is right for you on www.portugal-a2z.com
10. What is the N2 Passport?
The N2 passport is a pocket guide that’s used to collect stamps along the N2 route.
It’s a fun way to add something extra to your journey, bringing a host of new experiences and interactions with local businesses and communities in each of the 35 municipalities crossed by the N2 road.
It was created by the Association of Municipalities of the National Road Route 2 (AMREN2) and you can pick up your passport from a Tourist Information Centre to begin your extra adventure along the N2. The tourist office in Chaves can be found at Terreiro da Cavalaria if you’re starting your ride there.
It’s worth pointing out that in a few cases some of the destinations are up to 30 kilometres off the main N2 route, so you’ll be adding distance onto your ride to collect a stamp. However, the warm welcome of the people you’ll meet and extra experiences you’ll have on your epic ride will make it all the more worthwhile!
11. Are there any books about cycling the N2?
You can find out more about cycling the N2 in this comprehensive travel guide, titled “Foge comigo”.
This book features detailed information about the N2 road and everything you can find along it. You can buy it via that link and also at some tourist offices and local establishments along the N2 (e.g. accommodation, restaurants and shops selling regional products).
A new, pocket-sized version for cyclists is due to be released with suggestions of quieter alternatives to some of the busier sections of the road.
12. What are your best tips for people cycling in Portugal/cycling the N2 for the first time?
Be prepared for different climate conditions and hot and cold weather. The ever-changing landscapes bring a host of different temperatures so being prepared will pay off in the long run (or ride)!
We are often asked "Is the N2 safe?".
We say, a (conditional) yes. Of course, no road is ever completely safe when it's an open road that anyone may use. In the case of the N2, it's also very long so there will always be some sections that are more busy than others. You need to take all the usual precautions - for example we recommend cycling safely, using lights in case of reduced visibility and wearing visible clothing.
But relatively speaking, the N2 is a pretty quiet road that we find our customers just love cycling.
Restaurants and places to stay
There are plenty of cycling friendly cafes and restaurants along the N2 route, and if you’re staying overnight along the route, many hotels have safe cycle storage.
Along the way when passing the cities, towns and villages there are plenty of bike shops with repair services. Of course, where customers travel with us we will also be on hand to help and advise if there are any mechanical problems!
If you're doing a DIY trip, research the bike shops along the route and make sure you know how to get to them if you need to take a pit stop en route.
There is a variety of regional sweet and savoury delicacies to choose from on this trip.
On the savoury side, Pastéis de Chaves - a puff-pastry semi-circle filled with veal - is a great way to start off the trip while you are in the north of Portugal. In Autumn, chestnuts are also a must.
Around Lamego, you can try the traditional Bôla - bread stuffed with charcuterie meats - or a variety of charcuterie and wines from the region.
Goatling is a seasonal dish that's typical in the last trimester of the year. Chanfana - prepared with goat and available all year - is traditional in the mountains of central Portugal.
River lamprey from the Mondego river is also a seasonal delicacy, available from February to April.
When talking about regional sweet treats, there is no town in Portugal that doesn’t have its specialty! On the N2, some you may find are Cristas de Galo and Pitos de Santa Luzia (around Vila Real), lemon and honey based candy from Régua (Rebuçados da Régua), Cornos de Penude (available in Penude in January), Bolo-podre (“rotten cake”) in Castro Daire, Viriatos in Viseu, Palha de Abrantes (in Abrantes) and a wide variety of conventual sweets in Lorvão.
Reaching Faro, small almond-based cakes with several shapes will allow you to end the trip on a sweet note!
Finally, it is very important to maintain a sustainable training routine, seeking out hills or varied terrain, attempting to simulate the type of riding you'll find on the N2. Build a good level of fitness to enjoy this tour to its fullest, and make sure you’re comfortable for consecutive big kilometre days.
13. What’s the best way for people to find out more about your Portugal cycling holidays?
About the company
A2Z Portugal was founded in 2006 and is passionate about bringing exceptional experiences to our clients. We offer you authentic experiences in the most exclusive places in Portugal taking you to the most historic and wild landscapes in the country.
Our main job is to give you an adventure holiday that goes beyond the destination. One that allows you to fully immerse yourself in Portuguese culture, connecting with locals and learning to live as they do. This is all possible while you´re cycling the N2 mythical road, where you´ll be able to explore the very best this country has to offer, from its natural landscapes to its delicious gastronomy and ancient traditions.
Our knowledgeable team of multilingual tour guides are committed to taking the stress out of long-distance cycle planning in Portugal.
We love to share all the information you need on restaurants, hotels and all the secret places only locals know about.
Because here, at Portugal A2Z, we won’t just design your perfect tour. We’ll create your dream vacation!
For more information on our trips and services visit our website: www.portugal-a2z.com and connect with us on social media.
A big thank you to Pedro from Portugal A2Z for sharing so much valuable information about this route. Another one for our bucket list!