What do you get when you combine medieval castles, cobblestone villages, golden beaches and bustling cities? You get the wonder that is Portugal. A popular holiday destination, Portugal is simply brimming with places to visit and things to do. Known for great food, delicious drinks and lively evenings, this does not even begin to brush the surface of all that Portugal has to offer. Check out our 10 best places to visit in Portugal and see which ones deserve to be stops on your trip.
When considering where to go in Portugal, the sub tropical island system of Madeira ranks high on the list. It has become one of the trendiest destinations in Portugal for hiking routes, a gorgeous seaside, exotic food and constant events to keep you entertained. There are numerous destinations within Madeira to choose from, but if you’re looking for a beach vacation then we cannot recommend Porto Santo enough! It has some of the most beautiful stretches of sand in Portugal, and is the ideal place to plant yourself with a good book. If you feel like stretching your legs whilst there, you can visit the house that once belonged to Christopher Columbus or the more modern Cristiano Ronaldo Museum - which is called Museu CR7. If your travelling group is all above 21, head over to the Madeira Wine Museum, and treat yourself to a glass of the delicious stuff after!
One of the lesser known places to see in Portugal, this Portuguese village will take you back in time. This village has barely changed over hundreds of years, and is a delightful gem free from the attack of tourists. It is built around, in and under huge boulders, making a delightful unique architecture. It has been dubbed the most “Portuguese town in Portugal” and hangs off a mountaintop. It is crowned by the remains of a Templar castle, which you can still visit today. The culture there is still strong, and you’ll be delighted by the traditional dishes and wine. It is a great stop for adventurers, as you’ll be able to hike and explore the mountains surrounding and walk throughout the cobbled streets of this museum that is a village.
Ericeira is where to go in Portugal for surfing, as it is a small fishing village with a big reputation for catching waves. Amateurs and experts alike flock here to enjoy surfing on the clear blue waters. Come and rent a board or bring your own, take a class at the famous surf schools if you think it will help! It is easy to reach from Lisbon, making it an ideal day trip or stop on your road trip. From the high cliffs that fringe the coast you’ll get an impeccable view of surfers and the beautiful waters. All that exercise will surely tire you out, so enjoy the delicious Portuguese seafood which Ericeira restaurants are famous for. Savour the freshly caught fish as you gaze at the sun setting over the waters… what a treat! The dramatic coastline is also ideal for hiking or cycling, and the town of Sintra is close enough for a day trip. We also recommend a day trip to Mafra Palace & Convent, where a guided tour is the best way to explore this wonder.
The capital of the Alentejo region, this beautiful area mixes a rich history with mysterious nature. The Alentejo region is often overlooked, but is an excellent getaway. It is home to charming vineyards, beautiful beaches and numerous UNESCO World Heritage Sites. In Évora you can explore the Capela dos Ossos, if you dare. Translated as the Chapel of Bones, this 16th century church is covered in approximately 5,000 human skeletons. If that isn’t quite your cup of tea, head to the Cathedral of Évora and the Roman Temple, which are both gorgeous sites to visit. Évora and the nearby villages are the ideal retreats into nature, where you can reflect on life whilst enjoying the comfort food and phenomenal wine - count me in!
A list of the best places to visit in Portugal is bare without a mention of the capital, for whilst we encourage exploring the lesser known, it is the capital and most visited city for a reason! Filled with calçadas (traditional mosaic walkways), even just walking these winding narrow streets will have you enchanted with this city. There are phenomenal lookout points dotted around, and ensure you take a stroll at night to truly appreciate the charm of Lisbon. In Chiado you’ll be able to see the trendiest district, which contains the oldest bookstore in the world. In the more boho-chic Bairro Alto, you’ll be set to enjoy the night until morning breaks. Lisbon is also renowned for its mouthwatering delights, such as the pastel de nata, which resembles custard tarts. If you don’t have much of a sweet tooth (or have gorged on too many of them by day 2 and need a break), go for some bacalhau with dinner. When you can finally put down your fork, it is time to explore some of the sites Lisbon has to offer. Witness the beauty of the Jerónimos Monastery, this Gothic monastery is a World Heritage site and hours of exploring it won’t be enough for you. A beautiful site set by the sea is the Belėm Tower, a historic medieval defensive tower. The gorgeous white stone walls contrast against the piercing blue waters and provide an amazing spot to gaze out from.
Located perfectly in the center of Portugal, Coimbra attracts more visitors than most other cities in Portugal. And it is clear why so many holidaymakers are attracted to it. Coimbra is home to a high number of Roman and medieval ruins. It is a prime historical center, having once served as the capital of the entire country. Make a trip to the University of Coimbra, which is one of the oldest continually-operating, degree-seeking institutions in the world. It is also a UNESCO World Heritage Site and provides an amazing view of the city. Another claim to fame is the Coimbra library, as the Baroque-styled Biblioteca Joanina is considered to be one of the most beautiful libraries in the world. There are also modern buildings worth visiting, such as the Ines Footbridge.
Porto is Portugal’s second largest city, and is often compared to the capital. Both are characterized by old, colourful buildings spread across hilly streets and situated beside major rivers. But the two destinations are actually quite the opposite in many ways. Porto is considered to be more of a cultural hub, and is the perfect place for explorers who like to keep busy during their holidays. Make sure to visit the São Bento railway station, which is covered in a tremendous mosaic of azulejos tiles, transforming the walls into breathtaking works of art. You’ll be able to fill your days with exploring the countless gardens, medieval palaces and cathedrals. All this walking will get you hungry, so you’ll be able to fill up on the francesinha, which Porto is home to. This monster of an open sandwich contains pork sausage, meat, ham, cheese, a fried egg and is all drenched in rich beer sauce. The region is also famous for Port wine, and the stretches of vineyard go as far as the eye can see. Take a stroll around these and reward yourself with a glass of the good stuff - or two!
#8 Peneda-Gerês National Park
This is Portugal's only national park, and after visiting it you’ll realise it needs no others. Located in Minho, a region renowned for its beauty, this National Park offers diverse landscapes. From oak forests to waterfalls, you’ll be dazzled by the sights. Follow the winding Roman road with ancient markers, and search for the natural pools which allow swimming during the warmer months. Camping is allowed in specific parts of the park, so set up camp for a few nights and enjoy quality time in these wonderful outdoors. This is another great place for a hike, and is also an amazing spot for bird watching!
Tavira is one of the best places to see in Portugal for those who desire tranquility and a lack of tourists. A delightful fishing town, situated in the calmer eastern Algarve, Tavira has managed to evade succumbing to mass tourism. It continues to retain its distinctive character and charm, with its beautiful white buildings and cobbled streets near empty for your exploration. Tavira was an important fortified town during the North African Moors era in the 9th century, and then later became a bustling port. Explore the ancient walls and dance the night away in the small plazas. Plan in a day minimum at the gorgeous beaches Tavira has to offer, the most popular of which are the Playa Verde and the Praia de Tavira. If you visit Praia do Barril, make sure to try some of the tuna which the area is renowned for.
If you’re a fan of fairy tales, then Sintra is exactly where to go in Portugal. For Hans Christian Andersen, the most famous author of children’s fairy tales, once lived in a house in Sintra’s woods. Visitors can still stumble upon it while trekking downhill from the city. It is clear why the renowned author chose Sintra, as the city is a living fairytale with no shortage of inspiration. From the romantic 19th century Pena Palace to the medieval Castle of the Moors, it is all too beautiful to exist out of the imagination, yet it does! Sintra is located approximately 30 kilometers from Lisbon, making it the perfect day trip if you’re short on time. However, we recommend taking at least two days here to properly take in the candy coloured castles and cobbled streets.
So many places, so little time! So why are you wasting more of it? Get booking, get packing and get going. Consider getting a motorhome to make this a road trip, the only way to see as many places as possible and truly delight in the wonders Portugal has to offer. Enjoy this magnificent country!