Portugal has become in recent years one of the most attractive places to visit in Europe and there are a myriad of reasons for this. Its fabulous wine regions, isolated islands, cool cities, charming towns, wild beaches, beautiful national parks, rich culture and history will make you want to stay more or revisit as soon as possible. But this sudden attention also means that Lisbon, Porto and Algarve are on everybody’s bucket lists and full of tourists. While they are spectacular places for first time visitors or city-breaks, I’d also recommend you to venture a little off-the-beaten path, to less touristy places and try the true taste of Portugal.
Check out our list of the best places to visit in Portugal and start planning your own adventure! I hope the map of Portugal below will make it easier for you to spot some interesting locations not far from the major hotspots.
25 Best Places To Visit In Portugal
1. Lisbon – a sunny capital and one of the best places to visit in Portugal
Being the capital of Portugal and its largest city, as well as a World Heritage site, Lisbon is an obvious place to start. It’s an amazing mix of old and new, starting with Moorish quarter Alfama and ending with the modern Parque das Nações in the east. Go on a walk through the narrow lanes of the capital’s diverse neighborhoods. You’ll find gothic cathedrals, local cafes, traditional shops, incredible street art, beautiful azulejos and lovely squares around every corner. Enjoy a tasty pastel de nata and try to hear the dramatic rhythms of fado.
READ ALSO: 35 THINGS TO DO IN LISBON IN THREE DAYS
Don’t just hop on the famous vintage tram 28, but explore also other routes and most importantly, walk, walk a lot. Lisbon is not exactly pedestrian friendly, as it was built on a series of hills. But this also translates into gorgeous viewpoints called miradouros and postcard-perfect panoramas. Lisbon will also reward you with beauty, charm and authenticity that you don’t find in many other European capitals.
Accommodation: Where to Stay in Lisbon?
2. Porto – Portugal’s charming second biggest city
Spread on the hills that overlook the Douro River, Porto is the second largest city in Portugal and an increasingly popular destination in Portugal. With its 14th century walls, medieval winding streets, colorful houses and medieval winding alleys, it’s easy to see why. The historic center is an UNESCO World Heritage Site. A few years ago Porto was on nobody’s radar. As our guide to Paiva said, you couldn’t see the tourists among the locals. Now, you can barely see the locals among the tourists, especially around the city center. But Porto has indeed a personality of its own and it would be a huge mistake to skip it.
Climb up the Clerigos Tower for the best views over the city. Find out where the author of Harry Potter took her inspiration from. Walk around the Ribeira riverfront, listen to some live music and watch the boats float past. Then, cross Luis bridge to Vila Nova de Gaia and enjoy a glass or more of port wine at the best centuries-old cellars. Finally, watch the most wonderful sunset in Porto from Jardim do Morro.
Accommodation: Where to Stay in Porto?
3. Coimbra – the romantic university city and one of the best places to visit in Portugal
Home to one of the oldest universities in Europe, that’s also an UNESCO World Heritage site, everything in Coimbra seems to revolve around students. The city is far less touristy than the previous two, but still full of history and culture. I’d dare to say it was my favorite city in Portugal, if I could stop thinking about the beautiful sunsets in Porto and Lisbon.
Coimbra has probably the most beautiful parks we’ve seen during our month in Portugal. Start with Penedo da Saudade, full of poems from former students, and continue with the peaceful oasis Jardim da Sereia and the botanical garden with a real bamboo forest. Many places in town are connected to love stories of former inhabitants, like Pedro and Ines bridge or the mysterious Quinta das Lágrimas. Other historical gems are Santa Cruz church, part of which was turned into a pretty cafe and Santa Clara-a-Velha Convent. As a city of students, in Coimbra evolved a different and unique form of fado, sang by groups of male students. Some songs were dedicated to girls, while others are about knowledge and life.
Accommodation: This is the hotel we stayed at in Coimbra for one night. It’s not the best looking one, but it’s central and the owner was more than willing to help us and accommodating when we got there very late because of a transport strike. We could also check out late.
4. Évora – a charming world heritage site town
As it’s close to Lisbon, located in Alentejo wine region and an Unesco World Heritage site, Évora attracts a pretty large number of tourists. Its history dates back more than 2000 years and the town flourished under Roman rule.
The main spots to see are the Cathedral of Évora, the largest medieval church in Portugal, the Temple of Diana and the Chapel of Bones. The last one displays exactly what the name says, the bones of over 5000 former residents moved there from the nearby cemeteries. An unusual and eerie place in Portugal, it was “decorated” by some monks that wanted to remind people the transience of life.
But the best of Évora is the atmosphere, given by the white-washed houses, Moorish courtyards, medieval squares and the 16th century aqueduct. Even if it doesn’t meet its initial role anymore, it’s been fully integrated in the life of the modern town, with cozy cafes, attractive restaurants and quirky shops built right under its arches.
Accommodation: Where to Stay in Évora?
5. Aveiro, the only place in Portugal with water canals and Costa Nova, one of the locals’ favorite places in Portugal
Also known as the Venice of Portugal, Aveiro is a small town with colorful boats floating along canal waters. Don’t expect it to look like Venice too much, though. The nickname is more for publicity, but the town is still nice and worthy of a visit. One of the best things to do is ride a moliceiro, alias the gondolas of Aveiro, previously used to collect seaweed.
The architecture is also quite interesting, as it combines the typical Portuguese tiles with the decorative Art Nouveau style. In fact, the town, tiny as it is, has 28 buildings featuring this early 20th century decorative style that embellish the waterside and an Art-Nouveau Museum. Quite a pleasant mix. Aveiro also boasts a fish market designed by Eiffel, which is another must-see, in case you get there. Nearby, the rainbow-striped fisherman houses in Costa Nova are some of the locals’ favorites to spend their summer weekends. For us, it’s a trendy place to spend half a day at the beach and snap some colorful photos.
6. Faro, an often overlooked place to visit in the Algarve region of Portugal
Faro is the capital of Algarve and definitely one of the best places to visit in Portugal. However, many visitors skip it in favor of the most famous holiday resorts. We didn’t do it and we are really glad with our choice. Before getting to Coimbra, I thought this was the perfect city in the country, just the right mix of bustle and peace. At the same time, we deeply disliked Portimão as a basis for exploring the region. Anyway, there is no accounting for tastes.
Let’s get back to Faro! Stepping into the old town is like going back in time. The main site is the old cathedral. For a small fee, you can climb up the tower, visit the church, museum and a small bone chapel. The city has a small marina from which you can easily get to the islands in order to enjoy a day at the beach. Ria Formosa lagoon, also set nearby is a great place for exploration and bird-watching. Seafood and fish are fresh and tasty everywhere and the most traditional dish is cataplana.
7. Sintra, home to some of the prettiest castles and palaces in Portugal
Just 40 minutes away from Lisbon sits Sintra, the wonderland of Portugal, with historic castles and idyllic mansions that one could explore for days. The most known of them all is Pena Palace, set high up on a hill surrounded by exotic trees. If you’ve ever seen a photo of Sintra, it’s probably one of its red and yellow-painted walls. But there are many others.
Next door to Pena Palace spread the ruins of the 8th century Castle of the Moors. Even if very little is left out of the fortress, the views and the walk on the long walls are jaw-droppingly. In the town center, the most famous castle is Sintra Palace, with its twin iconic chimneys. Another quirky palace is Quinta da Regaleira with its mysterious initiation well, underground tunnels and masonic symbols. A little further away, Montserrate Palace is one of the most beautiful and underrated of the architectural jewels in Sintra. These are just a few of the castles and palaces in Sintra, but I hope more than enough to make you want to pay it a visit.
Accommodation: Where to Stay in Sintra?
8. Obidos – one of the prettiest places to visit in Portugal
The ancient walled town of Obidos is one of the most pretty towns in Portugal. Centuries ago, Queen Isabel fell in love with it and her husband decided to give it to her as a gift. To understand what enchanted her so much, you must visit it and see for yourself. Encircled by walls, with whitewashed houses and a medieval castle on one side, now turned into a hotel, Obidos transports its visitors directly into the era of ladies and knights. Its labyrinth of cobblestone alleys dotted with cafes and shops are a marvel to explore.
The vineyards around and isolation add even more to the picturesque of the location. The town is also an UNESCO recognized Creative City of Literature. One of the churches was converted into a library, as well as one of the cellars. But many other places have collections of books, to sell or just as decorations. The coolest and most unusual hotel that will transpose one instantly into the local ambiance, is the The Literary Man Óbidos Hotel.
9. Peniche – a historic town in Portugal surrounded by the sea
Very close to Obidos is Peniche, a tiny town set on a peninsula surrounded by the sea. Here’s set the seaside fort where Salazar used to detain political prisoners. This is also the main tourist attractions. However, the walled old town is nice and romantic. It also boasts gorgeous beaches perfect for water sports. Berlengas Islands Nature Reserve, just a boat ride away from Peniche, is one of the most beloved holiday destinations of the Portuguese people. When I asked our guide to Arouca about his favorite destinations in Portugal, this was the first one he mentioned.
10. Nazare – a pretty coastal town that attracts international surfers and backpackers
Nazare is a fishing town with rugged costal cliffs and beautiful beaches. But this seaside location has also gained international recognition due to its enormous waves reaching more than 30 meters. These are caused by an undersea canyon and you can find all about it at the small surf museum there. Although the monster waves only happen during a short period of time every year, Nazare is still one of the best destinations in Portugal year round. With a rich fishing tradition, dating back hundreds of years, it’s also home to fantastic seafood restaurants. Visitors can relax on its golden sands, check out some of the historical churches and chapels or take the funicular from the beach to the top of the cliffs.
11. Amarante – a pretty town in Portugal with indecent cakes
Amarante is one of the oldest towns in Portugal, dating back to the 12th century. Set in the middle of Minho wine region, the town is famous for its vinho verde. The locals have even an unique way of serving it, in small bowls instead of glasses, just like a soup. An attractive riverside town, at the foot of the mountains, it’s hard not to fall for its beauty.
The main sights of this medieval location is San Gonzalez bridge, rebuilt in the 18th century after the original one from the 13th century. One of the local sweet treats (traditionally very very hard to bite) and with a pretty indecent shape is related to a legend of this saint, that built the town and helped old ladies get married. But, of course, everything came at a price. Even if it’s a small countryside town, it’s also home to an one star Michelin restaurant. Amarante is one of the best day trips one could take from Porto.
12. Pinhao, a pretty town in Portugal and the center of Douro Valley
Due to its commercial importance after the Brittish gained a taste for port wine, Pinhão became the first modernized town in Douro Valley. It had electricity, phone lines and telegraph far before the other municipalities in the region. A railway to connect it with Porto was also built, as most of the wine produced here was meant for export. Spectacular scenery with rolling hills surrounds this small town and nothing compares to a peaceful boat cruise on the Douro. As you float past the best wineries, take a moment to enjoy the serenity and a glass of port.
13. Cascais – a cosmopolitan coastal resort and a great place to visit in Portugal
Just one hour west of Lisbon, Cascais is a chic coastal resort with idyllic beaches and a rugged coastline. It gained popularity in the 19th century, when King Louis I of Portugal chose it to be his summer retreat. The elegance of the town is a reminiscence of those golden times. Take a walk to explore the historic center and discover Boca do Inferno, a prelude for what you’d encounter in the Algarve region. The most sought beach is Praia do Tamariz. Another attraction in town is its beautiful marina with luxury yachts that shine in the bright sunlight.
14. Lagos – probably the most beautiful small town in Algarve
Lagos is a jewel of the Algarve region. It has everything a charming Portuguese town should, but also a stunning countryside and coastline that surrounds it. A short walk away from the center is Ponta de Piedade, a beautiful rock formation looking like a bridge nestled in the ocean. A great location to see the sunset at the Atlantic ocean is the lighthouse there.
The main historical attractions are the Municipal Museum and Church of St. Antonio. Other fun activities one can do in Lagos include kayaking tours, boat trips, snorkeling, stand-up paddle, rock climbing and many more. Lagos is a popular day trip from Faro, the capital of Algarve, or the other resorts in the region. But one could also spend one or two nights in it with no regret.
READ ALSO: BEST THINGS TO DO IN ALGARVE, PORTUGAL
15. Braga, one of best places to visit in Portugal
Portugal’s third-largest city is home to great restaurants, an university and historic sites. These would make a visit worth it by themselves. But Braga also has Roman ruins, pretty squares and an 18th century palace. However, the most famous tourist attraction stands just on its outskirts. Even UNESCO recognized its value as a world heritage site. Bom Jesus do Monte, as this is the church I’m talking about, is world-famous for its gorgeous baroque staircase which penitent pilgrims used to climb on their knees. The city center has a lively and youthful ambiance, thanks to the great number of students, full of cheap cafes, bars and restaurants. Braga is not only the religious center of Portugal, but also a modern city and one of the best places to visit in Portugal.
16. Guimaraes – home to an UNESCO listed old castle and one of the best places to visit in Portugal
A 10th century castle with panoramic views over the city and surroundings and its overall royal ambiance convinced UNESCO to recognize this place as a world heritage site. If this was enough for them, I think it should also make the cut for our bucket list. But just in case, let me add some more things.
Guimarães has a special value for the Portuguese people as it’s considered that this was the place where the country’s roots were set, during the Battle of São Mamede in 1128. The first king of Portugal won and decided to found this beautiful country. Next to the castle, which is pretty much in ruins, but still has spectacular views, there’s the Grand Dukes of Braganza Palace built in the 15th century. This was now turned into a museum, which is the most visited tourist attraction in the north part of the country. Rua de Santa Maria, in the old town, is one of the most beautiful streets in town, but the city hall square is even more charming.
17. Parque Natural da Ria Formosa
Algarve doesn’t only have wonderful beaches and a rigged coastline, but also one of Portugal’s natural wonders, the Parque Natural da Ria Formosa. This is a protected habitat consisting out of marshland, shallow water lagoons, saltpans and sand dune islands set just next to Faro. In fact, one of the best things one can to in Faro is to go on a small group boat tour of this beautiful spot. The land park is crisscrossed by a series of trails which allow visitors to admire the abundance of flora and fauna. Some of the rare species one can spot here are the purple gallinule, flamingo, egret, heron, fishing eagle and spoonbills. It’s indeed a fantastic way to spend a tranquil afternoon.
18. The Algarve Coast and Benagil Caves – the sunseekers’ favorite and one of the best places to visit in Portugal
There are many beautiful beaches in Portugal, but the ones in Algarve are definitely some of the best. Located along Portugal’s south coast, at the Atlantic shore, these region is considered by many the ultimate summer destination with top beaches, striking rocky cliffs and scenic landscapes. But even if you prefer going off-season to avoid the crowds, there are still plenty of things to do in Algarve.
Take a day trip to explore some of the dramatic cliffs or a boat ride to some of the most spectacular caves and grottos. Benagil cave is the most popular one, due to its roof hole that lets the light in, but there are many more. Besides, even without entering any cave, the rugged coastline is a marvel to look at from the sea.
Even in winter the weather is mild enough to allow one to explore and discover, not only the beaches and unique rock formations, but also cork forests, Roman ruins and historic tiny towns where you can get to know the true Portugal hospitality and culture. It also offers some of the best golf opportunities in the country. Did I mention the tasty cuisine? Traditionally it consists mostly of fresh seafood, fish, fruit, almonds and carob beans. Some of the dishes tourists will only find in this part of Portugal.
Accommodation: Where to Stay in Algarve?
19. Berlenga Islands
The Berlengas Islands are not quite as famous as the Azores or Madeira. But they are close to the mainland and one of the favorite destinations in Portugal of the locals. In order to get to them, one first has to reach Peniche and take a boat ride from there. These rocky islands, dramatic and barren, are considered a natural reserve. As a result, one can only spend the night in Berlenga Grande. Here’s also the highlight of the islands, the St. John the Baptist fort sitting on a small rocky outcrop. But there’s not much to do there during the night. A day trip might be best. During the day, be prepared to go hiking, snorkeling, birdwatching or swimming in picturesque caves and grottos.
20. Douro Valley – the most scenic wine region in Portugal
A trip to the north of Portugal would be incomplete without a tour of the Douro valley. The Douro river, once a wild and turbulent river, was tamed by the construction of 8 dams and now is the perfect place for a peaceful ride on a rabelo boat that one can take from Pinhao. From its tranquil waters, you’ll be able to admire the rolling hills full of vineyards and almond trees. This area supplied for centuries the grapes for the best port wines that brought Portugal international recognition. Carrying port from farms to the mouth of the river was the initial purpose of the old rabelo boats.
You’ll see the names of the major companies in Porto proudly displayed on the surrounding hills. If you happen to be there in autumn, don’t miss the opportunity to visit one of the colorful vineyards. Actually, fall season or not, visiting one of the vineyards is still a must, in order to find out more about the history of port, wine production and taste it right there, where it was born. The entire landscape east of Porto is an UNESCO World Heritage site as one of the oldest wine regions in the world. While one can take in the views from the train that crosses Douro Valley, I’d recommend a tour, that will also take care of the visits to the farms and the boat ride for you.
This being said, take into consideration that port wine has nothing to do with wine except its name. If you really want to taste some great and real wines, buy a plane ticket to Moldavia and visit one of the best cellars there, Milestii Mici or Cricova.
21. Peneda-Gerês National Park
The only national park in Portugal, Peneda-Gerês National Park includes mountains, forests, emerald lakes, waterfalls and secluded villages frozen in time. It is an excellent place to check out the wildlife in the Iberic peninsula, as well as traditional granite houses and centuries old castles. Some of the local species you might spot here are the Iberian wolf, ibex and wild boar. Be also prepared for a rewarding bird-watching session and try to identify part of the 15 different species of bats. Even if you’re not lucky enough, the vast park is also home to scenic peaks, wild streams, steamy thermal springs and flower-covered meadows. The best way to experience the natural landscape is on foot, but you can also take a 4×4 tour if you don’t have much time at your disposal. Camping is also allowed in specific parts, as well as swimming in some of the natural pools.
22. Serra da Estrela and the Schist Villages – a scenic natural reserve and one of the best places to visit in Portugal
Serra da Estrela is home to 27 cute villages made out of a traditional stone called schist. Go on a thrilling drive to discover them or a relaxing hike. The most famous ones are Talasnal, Casal Novo, Linhares, Valezim, Aigra Velha, Aigra Nova, Comareira and Pena. These are also Portugal’s highest mountains. Thus there is no lack of scenic rugged cliffs. Serra de Estrella is probably the best place in Portugal for outdoor adventures. In this range, one will also stumble upon Portugal’s only ski slope. But don’t get over excited about it, as Portugal has the shortest ski season in Europe.
Also called the star mountains, Serra da Estrella rise up to 1993 meters above see level, but the maximum height in continental Portugal got to 2000 m when a tower was put on top of the highest peak. Along the roads, one will also come across the Serra da Estrela sheepdog, a breed unique to Portugal. The mountains are home to the delicious and creamy Serra cheese, a delicacy on sale in the local villages. However, not all trails are well signposted. So it’s be best to go together with a local guide.
23. Paiva walkways and Arouca footbridge
Paiva walkways and Arouca suspended footbridge are located just outside Arouca, 80 km away from Porto. The 8 km path is a bit challenging, but will reward one with outstanding beauty, a peaceful woodland, tumbling waterfalls and pristine gorges. It’s now accessible for almost everyone, as a wooden boardwalk was build along the trail that meanders through the UNESCO Arouca geopark. There are quite a few stairs on the way. Thus, it will still test one’s physical state. The trek takes around 2.5 hours to complete. If you decide to do it, remember to pack some snacks, a hat, sunscreen and plenty of water. At the start of the path, one can also cross Arouca suspended footbridge, the newest attraction in the area. This is the longest pedestrian suspension bridge in the world. While crossing it, enjoy the breathtaking view over the valley and Aguieiras waterfall.
There’s no public transport to the bridge and pathway. If you don’t have a car, you could join a small group tour from Porto, as we did. The guide took care of the tickets, transport and an awesome traditional lunch. Of course, he also gave us a lot of useful information about the area and much more.
24. Madeira – one of the best places to visit in Portugal
The “Floating Garden of the Atlantic” is located just between Portugal and Northern Africa. Along with Azores it’s an autonomous region in Portugal. It’s popular for its wines, beautiful Orchid Garden and unspoilt landscape. Funchal, the capital of the archipelago, is a delicios mix of modern and tradition. In April and May the Madeira Flower Festival takes place and Funchal organizes its annual Flower Parade. Dancers, singers, performers of all ages dressed in beautiful, bright flower costumes, overwhelming amounts of exotic flowers, beautiful colors and great atmosphere – this is what you can expect. When the sun goes down, those that love a fun-filled nightlife will appreciate the nightclubs, casinos, and restaurants. It’s grown into one of the trendiest Portuguese destinations and it is easy to see why.
Accommodation: Top Madeira Accommodations
25. The Azores Islands – an unique and beautiful archipelago in Portugal
The Azores is a remote archipelago, far away from the bustle on the continent. But it is still one of the best places to visit in Portugal. Visitors can enjoy full days of exploring the great outdoors, surfing and sunshine in the middle of the Atlantic Ocean. Like nowhere else in Portugal, the villages here are set among tea plantations and volcanic lakes. One can also get close to friendly dolphins and whales on one of the many tours organized by local agencies. Snorkeling and diving are also popular activities that allow one to admire the beauty of the seabed and sealife around the islands. Thermal pools are dotted around and you can relax while your dinner is cooked in a traditional pot buried for hours. Finish off with a refreshing dip in Lagoa do Fogo, a lake in a volcanic lagoon.
Accommodation: Where to stay in the Azores?
So, here you have it, a list of the most beautiful destinations in Portugal in order to start planning your trip. We would never encourage you to skip Lisbon or Porto, as they are the quintessence of Portugal, but I do suggest that you add some of the less known spots in Portugal to your itinerary. They might surprise you and become some of the best places you have ever visited in Portugal or even Europe.
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