Portugal

19 Places You Can’t Miss in Portugal

January 25, 2017

It only took one day to fall in love with Portugal. But, spending two months in this country really sealed the deal, and now it’s vying for the top spot as my absolute favorite country in Europe. Portugal may be on the smaller side, but you wouldn’t know it looking at the variety of the list below: charming towns, bustling cities, rugged mountains, rolling valleys, pristine coastline, and lush jungle islands. These are the nineteen best places to visit in Portugal.

For more of our posts on Portugal, click the link here.

Northern Portugal

The 19 Best Places to Visit in Portugal

1 Porto

Porto is Portugal’s second largest city, famed for its export of fine port wine. With over six bridges connecting Porto to Vila Nova de Gaia on the other side, you really can’t mention one and not the other. Go to Porto and Gaia for an authentic Portuguese vibe, buildings covered in azulejos, a great food scene, beautiful beaches within a 10 minute ride, and amazing views from both sides of the river. The riverside Ribeira district is particularly lively, full of restaurants, shops, and plenty of people enjoying the atmosphere.

For a 5 star view of Porto and the Douro River, stay in the luxury hotel The Yeatman in Vila Nova de Gaia. To be in the center of it all, stay near the Cais da Ribeira district in Porto.

The Douro Valley, Home of fine Port Wine | The 19 Best Places to Visit in Portugal

Creative Commons / mat’s eye

2 Douro Valley

While you may be tempted to stay in enchanting Porto your whole trip, an excursion up through the Douro Valley is a must. Cruising up the Douro River used to be the only convenient way to reach the Valley, but a new tunnel opened  in 2016 through the Serra do Marao mountains. Now driving through the world’s first officially designated wine region and staying for an extended visit is a much easier option. The impressive granite mountains are terraced with picture perfect vineyards and spotted with large wine estates.

You can stay in your own country house with a pool for less than $75 a night on Airbnb, or fully immerse yourself in the growing and wine-making experience by booking accommodation at a wine estate.

Braga | The 19 Best Places to Visit in Portugal

Creative Commons / António Amen

3 Braga

Braga’s role as the religious capital of Portugal is made clear by the number of churches, chapels and monasteries dotted throughout the town. In keeping with character, Braga decorates for Semana Santa (Holy Week) festivals with lights and flowers and hosts numerous processions. Don’t miss important religious sites including the Sé Cathedral, Antigo Paço Episcopal, and the hillside sanctuary Bom Jesus do Monte. As one of Portugal’s oldest cities, you can follow the architecture through the ages. Walk the charming narrow lanes for excellent examples of Roman, Gothic and Baroque styles. Despite its age, Braga’s old city center is filled with buzzing cafes and popular restaurants, and was even named the Europe Youth Capital in 2012.

Viana do Castelo | The 19 Best Places to Visit in Portugal

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4 Viana do Castelo

Viana do Castelo has been an important town since the Age of Discovery, when Portuguese explorers set sail down the Rio Lima estuary and off into the open ocean. Visit the medieval city center and stroll down leafy streets lined with Manueline palaces. It would be hard to miss the neo-Byzantine Santa Luzia Sanctuary, set high up on a hill behind the city. A picturesque wide sand dune beach, Praia do Cabedelo, is just a 10 minute drive away.

Peneda-Gerês National Park | The 19 Best Places to Visit in Portugal

Creative Commons / João Malho

5 Peneda-Gerês National Park

Portugal is checkered with so many colorful cities and pristine beaches that visitors often forget about the natural beauty on land. The country’s only national park covers three mountain ranges with plenty of hiking, flora, fauna, and birdwatching. You may see wild Garrano ponies roaming freely, walk an ancient Roman road, or wander through castles from the Megalithic period.

Guimarães | The 19 Best Places to Visit in Portugal

Creative Commons / CTHOE

6 Guimarães

You could call Guimarães the birthplace of Portugal: Alfonso Henriques, the first King of Portugal, was born in this medieval town. The old city center, with its narrow streets crammed with towers, cloisters, and stately mansions carefully preserved, is a UNESCO world heritage site.

 

Central Portugal

Candy colored beach houses in Aveiro | The 19 Best Places to Visit in Portugal

Creative Commons / Andreas Trepte

7 Aveiro

To call Aveiro the “Venice of Portugal” might be a bit of an overstatement, but this small port and fishing town packs a lot of charm in small, colorful packages. There are three canals to meander through on gondola-type boats, called barcos moliceiros. Even with such beautiful beaches, the candy-colored striped beach houses lining the sand grab your eye. The best part, this is still a very local town that doesn’t see a lot of tourists, so everything you see here is as it really is, and not just for show. Historic sites not to miss include the Aveiro Cathedral, Convento de Jesus and the São Gonçalinho Chapel.

The 19 Best Places to Visit in Portugal | Coimbra University, one of the oldest institutions in Europe

Creative Commons / Mgm105

8 Coimbra

Coimbra may be a medieval city, but it’s buzzing with young life thanks to its large student population. Situated on the Mondego River, this beautiful city is home to the University of Coimbra, one of the oldest universities in the world. Visit the 12th-century Romanesque cathedral Sé Velha, the Café Santa Cruz  for conventual cakes called crúzios, and the University’s richly decorated baroque library, Biblioteca Joanina. As you wander the ancient streets, you may hear Portugal’s second type of fado, often called student fado, drifting through an open window.

The 19 Best Places to Visit in Portugal | Nazaré, home of 100 foot waves

Creative Commons / Joao Martinho 

9 Nazaré

Nazaré is a tiny seaside town, surrounded by some of the best beaches in Portugal. The long and wide stretches of sand are packed with beachgoers in the summer, but winter weather transforms the ocean into a mecca for big wave surfers. And by big, I mean over 70 feet, with some rideable waves reaching over 100 feet. If you want to see what that looks like, check out the YouTube videos here.

 

The 19 Best Places to Visit in Portugal | Óbidos

Creative Commons / Andre Figueiredo

10 Óbidos

Entrance to this walled city is through Porta da Vila, an elaborately decorated main gate covered in traditional azulejos depicting the Passion of Christ. Once inside, freely explore the car-free cobbled streets, white-washed houses, and stop in at the 12th century Santa Maria Church. To get a view over the town, take the hour walk along the wall which completely encircles the city.

 

Lisbon area

The 19 Best Places to Visit in Portugal | Lisbon

11 Lisbon

As the capital, Lisbon is an obvious choice as one of the best places to visit in Portugal. Lisbon is The City of Seven Hills, the Queen of the Sea, and The City of Light. After traipsing up and down these hills for two months, I know Portugal’s capital is worthy of all of these titles. Lisbon is big, but each neighborhood feels like its own little city. Go to Alfama to get lost in a maze of tiny alleys and backstreets, Barrio Alto for nightlife, Príncipe Real for upscale shopping, and Belém to witness where the greatest explorers set sail. For more ideas on what to explore in each neighborhood, check out our ultimate Lisbon bucket list!

From each majestic miradouro, the city looks like a sea of red rooftops, tumbling down to the river Tagus. There’s something colorful to discover on each street, lined with azulejos covered facades. After a long day of discovery, tuck into to a meal of caldo verde and fish, or keep it simple with a bifana or prego. You’re never too far from a pastelaria, where you’ll find rows of sweet little egg tarts called pasteis de nata.

If you’re looking to minimize your walking, stay near the downtown area of Baixa-Chiado. The Alfama feels a bit filled with tourists to me, so I would stay on the other side of the hill in Mouraria to get the authentic old city vibe. One of my favorite neighborhoods in the city is Príncipe Real, where you’ll find plenty of great restaurants, bakeries, shopping, and lots of locals relaxing at the kiosks in Jardim do Príncipe Real.

The 19 Best Places to Visit in Portugal | Pena Palace in Sintra

12 Sintra

The colorful hill town of Sintra boasts three palaces, an old Moorish Castle, a gothic mansion, and miles of forested hiking paths. A trip to Sintra is a chance to view man-made beauty in peaceful, garden settings. See here for our tips on making the most out of a visit to Sintra. While it’s a popular day trip from Lisbon, you need at least two days to visit all of the palaces and spend a bit of time in the town. If you’re limited to one day, our favorites are Pena Palace and Quinta da Regaleira.

The 19 Best Places to Visit in Portugal | Charming beach town of Cascais

13 Cascais

Just 45 minutes outside of Lisbon by train, Cascais became our easy weekend beach escape this last summer. The two beaches in town get extremely busy in the hotter months. After exploring the small city center with trendy boutiques and nice restaurants, take a walk or a bike ride outside the town to Boca do Inferno, a rock formation that is supposed to feature fierce waters. Even further up the coast is Praia do Guincho, a large sand dune beach with great surfing. Read all about our tips for visiting Cascais here, including where to rent free bikes!

 

The 19 Best Places to Visit in Portugal | Parque Natural da Arrábida

Creative Commons / Jcunha123

14 Parque Natural da Arrábida

If you think the Algarve is the only place to find golden beaches and bright blue waters, you probably haven’t seen Parque Natural da Arrábida, just an hour south of Lisbon. The Serra da Arrábida mountain ridge is lush and green with beautiful hiking trails, dropping off into chalk cliffs before the fine sand and the crystal clear sea. There’s a rich variety of Mediterranean plants, including pistachio, lavender and strawberry.

The 19 Best Places to Visit in Portugal | Évora

Creative Commons / Concierge.2C

15 Évora

To prove Portugal really has it all, we had to include one of the country’s most beautifully preserved medieval towns, Évora. The partially walled city center is a UNESCO world heritage site. You can easily walk between a Roman Temple from around the 2nd century, a chapel of bones, and majestic churches like the Sé Cathedral. Spend some time in the Moorish quarter to sample the flavors of the Alentejo region, including olives, sheep’s cheese, black pork, salt cod, wild mushrooms and asparagus.

 

The Algarve

The 19 Best Places to Visit in Portugal | Praia da Marinha in Portugal's Algarve

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16 Lagos

Portugal’s Algarve region features some of the finest beaches in Europe, and Lagos is a popular home base for holidaymakers and people looking for a party scene. Algarve beaches have the look and feel of the Mediterranean, but because it’s the Atlantic, there are spots for good surfing and watersports. The entire coastline is dotted with soft sand and stunning views, but don’t miss these picturesque spots:

  • Praia da Marinha – One of the  most popular photography spots in the Algarve (see above) for the limestone rock formations
  • Meia Praia – One of the largest and longest beaches in the Algarve, the soft sand curves around the bay over 4 km, so you’re sure to find a spot even on the busy summer days.
  • Praia da Dona Ana – Another beach surround by colorful cliffs, sparkling sand and blue waters. It’s within walking distance from Lagos, so this makes it a convenient if busy beach.
  • Praia de Odeceixe – This beach is one of the more sheltered beaches, so it’s a great option for families looking for safe swimming spots.

The 19 Best Places to Visit in Portugal | Tavira

Creative Commons / Jerom Bon

17 Tavira

If you’re not interested in the nightlife of Lagos, Tavira offers a more rustic and charming spot to  enjoy the relaxed vibe of the eastern Algarve.  There’s plenty to explore along the town’s cobbled streets, including over 20 Renaissance and Gothic churches, whitewashed mansions, and old Roman ruins. Nearby is the exceptional island beach of Ilha de Tavira.

The Islands

The 19 Best Places to Visit in Portugal | Lush green isles of the Azores

Creative Commons / Abspires40

18 Azores

Far out in the middle of the Atlantic, the Azores are an archipelago made up of 9 volcanic islands. Each island is different, but all offer an amazing setting for outdoor activities like hiking, swimming, snorkeling and diving, boating and biking. The largest island, São Miguel, is known as “The Green Island,” with unparalled views and natural beauty. On Graciosa, find a vaulted cave over an underground lake, the tallest mountain in Portugal on Pico, and the Ribeira Grande Waterfall in Flores.

The 19 Best Places to Visit in Portugal Madeira

Creative Commons /  ismoshaft

19 Madeira

Madeira is the main island of another small island group in the Atlantic. Madeira is all about the mountains, made of volcanic soil where just about anything grows. The island offers plenty of hiking through its verdant landscape, including Verada do Areeiro, a trek between Madeira’s two highest peeks. Another fun experience is a walk along the exterior of a mountain next the levada, or irrigation system. We first learned about Madeira as home of the malasada, a small yeast doughnut that is popular in Hawaii. We quickly discovered there is a lot more to the island’s impressive culinary scene. Head to a local market to find a huge variety of exotic produce, try the local bread bolo de caco, or an espetada, a grilled skewer of meat, bay leaves, and garlic.


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30 Comments

  • Reply Birthe (from Wandering the World) January 28, 2017 at 2:15 am

    We’ve only been to Lisbon and Sintra, but have planned a trip to the Algarve in September this year. Lisbon was lovely, and the pastei de nata delicious, so we’re looking forward to exploring the Algarve! We’ll only be there for a week, but that’s better than not going. 😉 A road trip through Europe is on our bucket list though, so hopefully we’ll pass through Portugal again someday!

    • Reply nomanbefore January 29, 2017 at 3:34 pm

      That’s awesome you guys are already planning a trip back! For us, Portugal was a place we knew we wanted to return right when we got there. I’m sure you’ll be able to soak up a lot of sun in the Algarve in September!

  • Reply Lieselot De Brauwer March 15, 2017 at 9:14 pm

    Beautiful pictures! I love Portugal. Thanks for sharing your tips!

    • Reply nomanbefore March 15, 2017 at 10:28 pm

      Thank you!

  • Reply Natalie Anastasia March 15, 2017 at 9:45 pm

    My gosh there is so much to see in Portugal… it looks so colorful and picturesque. The Algarve looks like pure magic! Sign me up 🙂

    • Reply nomanbefore March 15, 2017 at 10:27 pm

      There really is so much in one country! And yes, so colorful!

  • Reply Alaska March 16, 2017 at 2:19 am

    You make me want to visit Algarve and Braga so badly! Gorgeous photos all around, and because I’ve been watching some vlogs that featured Portugal lately, this was a nice throwback to that and reinforces the beauty of this country. Obrigado!

    • Reply nomanbefore March 16, 2017 at 12:53 pm

      With so many beautiful and colorful places, it’s really hard to choose where to next!

  • Reply TravellingDany March 16, 2017 at 2:22 am

    The Douro Valley looks like my thing!I would’ve never guessed it’t Portugal, not what I expected entirely! And Peneda-Geres N.P. looks almost like Ireland, did you notice?

    • Reply nomanbefore March 16, 2017 at 12:50 pm

      The Douro Valley is stunning; vineyards everywhere. The park does remind me a bit of the Dingle Peninsula in Ireland!

  • Reply Lauren March 16, 2017 at 5:30 am

    The photos are absolutely stunning! I so want to go to Portugal to go and discover bachalau! Great descriptions on each of the cities by the way, you can get carried away with imagination with posts like these!

    • Reply nomanbefore March 16, 2017 at 12:55 pm

      Portugal has a lot of great food! Bacalhau wasn’t my favorite, but there’s so much delicious fish and way too many amazing pastries to choose from.

  • Reply Felicia Broccolo March 16, 2017 at 7:03 am

    Portugal looks amazing!! I love your photos, especially the one of the waves! I need to visit Portugal, thanks for sharing!

    • Reply nomanbefore March 16, 2017 at 12:55 pm

      The hardest part is where to first?!

  • Reply neha March 16, 2017 at 10:15 am

    All these are amazing places. I guess when I make my plans to visit Portugal, i should keep aside considerable amount of time as I won’t want to miss any of these. I love the Douro Valley pattern, the architecture of Viana do Castelo the colorful central portugal and Sintra. I like all the others too

    • Reply nomanbefore March 16, 2017 at 12:56 pm

      It really is so hard to narrow it down, so many stunning places!

  • Reply Gone with a whim March 16, 2017 at 7:53 pm

    I am no longer confused about which country I should visit this summer. Fantastic photos and guide, I can’t WAIT to go to Portugal. Thanks for the inspiration girl and I’ll be following your adventures around the world now <3

    • Reply nomanbefore March 16, 2017 at 8:43 pm

      Yes! Go to Portugal! You won’t regret it.

  • Reply Rimsha March 16, 2017 at 11:06 pm

    You’ve curated some beautiful photos! And I love the detailed guide you’ve drawn up. Portugal has always been on my list but after reading your post it has moved up the list quite a bit 🙂

    • Reply nomanbefore March 17, 2017 at 7:28 am

      Hi Rimsha, thanks for stopping by! Hope you can go soon!

  • Reply Steph March 19, 2017 at 8:30 am

    Great spots. Portugal is such an underrated country!

    • Reply Kelly Barcus March 19, 2017 at 12:48 pm

      Hey Steph, thanks for stopping by! I totally agree, so I’m glad I made that first trip so I could come back to explore more!

  • Reply Paige April 12, 2017 at 7:34 pm

    I really appreciate your post! The pictures are beautiful, and captions succinct. Reading this made me want to go to every location mentioned!
    My friend and I are travelling to Portugal for 2 weeks this summer. If you only had 2 weeks to explore Portugal, where would you go?

    • Reply nomanbefore April 12, 2017 at 9:49 pm

      Hey Paige! Haha, I hope we didn’t make it more difficult. If only you could fit all these places into two weeks! Since you’re going in summer, I wouldn’t miss the Algarve. You could spend forever wandering every amazing street in Lisbon, but I would spend at least a few days there, plus the day trips to Cascais and Sintra. I would then head up to Porto and pick a place or two to stop in between. I think it just depends on what you’re looking to see – history, small towns, more beaches…You really can’t go wrong anywhere. Safe travels, I’m sure it will be an unforgettable trip!

  • Reply Lia April 16, 2017 at 11:17 pm

    Thank you so much for this post! I’ve been trying to figure out a two week itinerary for Portugal and this is going to be a great help!

    • Reply nomanbefore April 16, 2017 at 11:24 pm

      Hey Lia, so glad you found it helpful! We loved pretty much everything about Portugal: the people, the cities, the scenery, the food. It’s hard to go wrong with whatever you plan. Have a great trip!

  • Reply Alexandra | Hortense Travel April 21, 2017 at 6:41 am

    I loved the article, I totally agree with you. All these are what I also recommend to my clients and love visiting myself 🙂

    • Reply nomanbefore April 21, 2017 at 8:52 am

      That’s great to hear, Alexandra. There are so many incredible spots in Portugal, it’s hard to narrow it down!

  • Reply Rute Rodrigues June 18, 2017 at 2:37 am

    I’m portuguese and I’m from Coimbra. Portugal is absolutely beautiful, I’m in love with my country! Everyone should visit Portugal at least one day in life. Thank you so much for this post Love from Portugal

    • Reply Kelly Barcus June 19, 2017 at 10:21 pm

      Hi Rute! I’m in love with your country too, and completely agree that everyone should visit! 🙂

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