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Portugal is a must-visit location if you’re looking for breathtaking beaches, incredible culture, and some of the best food and wine in the world. Many people think of Italy, France, or Spain when considering sunny European destinations, but Portugal offers many of the same perks along with cheap travel costs and easy travel links.
What’s more, there are many amazing places to visit in Portugal. While Lisbon is the buzzing capital of the country, it also plays host to other unique and wondrous cities like Porto and Braga, along with some of the best beaches in Europe in the Algarve region, not to mention the Azores islands. Here are 10 of the best places to visit in Portugal and why.
TOP DESTINATIONS IN PORTUGAL:
Lisbon is the capital of Portugal and the beating heart of the country. Lisbon is known as a world hotspot for tourists and digital nomads thanks to its lively atmosphere, cheap costs of living, and wealth of amazing sights and fun activities. It’s also extremely well-connected with many major airports around the world offering incredibly cheap flights to Lisbon Airport.
There’s a lot to explore in Lisbon, from the historical sites and architecture of the Alfama to the nightlife of Bairro Alto and the upscale boutiques and bars of Principe Real. Be sure to check out the Oceanario Aquarium, Jerónimos Monastery, and São Jorge Castle. You should also try ginjinha, piri-piri chicken, and the famous pasteis de natas while you’re here. Lisbon is also perfectly located for day trips to Cascais, Sintra, and Evora.
For a much more in-depth guide on things to do in Lisbon, check out our travel guide right here.
A trip to Portugal isn’t complete without a visit to Sintra. Sintra is a resort town that features stunning beaches. More importantly, it’s a UNESCO World Heritage site as it plays host to many of the most beautiful castles and historical sites in Portugal. Many people visit Sintra as a day trip from Lisbon or Cascais, but you can spend days here exploring everything it has to offer.
Some of the best spots to visit in Sintra include the stunning Parque de Pena, Pena Palace, Monserrate Palace, Initiation Well, Moorish Castle, and Sintra National Palace. All of these sights and many others are well-connected thanks to a helpful bus system, but you can also explore the town on foot. Once you’re done with the historical sites, you should also check out the many parks, lakes, beaches, and viewpoints surrounding Sintra, including the famous Cabo da Roca.
Porto is another top tourist spot in Portugal that’s well worth visiting. If you’re looking for a city that has just as much to offer as Lisbon but with a more laid-back vibe and historic vibe, Porto is perfect for you. Porto is the home of Port wine and also a hotspot for authentic Portuguese cuisine, so make sure you take a food and wine tour while you’re here. The one we recommend here is one of the most highly-rated in the city, and you’ll get to eat like a local.
Some of the best sights in the city include the Clerigos Tower, Livraria Lello (which served as the inspiration for multiple locations in Harry Potter), Porto Cathedral, and Rua de Santa Catarina. You can also explore the city via cruise, tram, or even the Guindais Funicular. One fun way to see Porto is by bicycle. You can also take day trips to Guimaraes, Braga, and the Douro Valley (one of our favorite wine regions). Fun day trip options like exploring nature trails, waterfalls and small villages on a quad bike vehicle will leave you with some incredible memories.
If these recommended activities aren’t enough, here are 10 more authentic things to do when visiting Porto.
The Douro Valley is the quintessential wine region of Portugal. While there are many other high-quality wine-producing areas in the country, it’s the Douro that seems to continuously capture the imagination of the Winetraveler. In fact, it’s the oldest officially designated wine region in the world. Archeological has revealed evidence of wine production dating back to Roman times, and perhaps earlier.
This is a stunning landscape with grapevines spanning for miles along the Douro River, typically planted on steep hillside terraces. It’s well worth renting a car and driving from Porto, where you can either choose to visit any number of wineries in a self-guided fashion or hire one of several private guides. You can schedule a luxury, privately guided day trip, or even book a tour with a certified sommelier who will take you around the region.
There are a number of beautiful hotels that overlook the river valley, like the Six Senses Luxury Vineyard Resort, along with several restaurants you can spend an afternoon wining and dining on a patio. A couple of our favorites include DOC, Castas e Pratos (featuring a wine list with over 700 wines), and Cozinha da Clara.
If you’ve spent or are planning to spend time in Porto, it’s worth noting that the port houses you encounter in the city all produce their dessert wines from grapes grown in the Douro. But the Douro Valley doesn’t just grow grapes for port, it also makes some fantastic dry reds and whites. One of our particular favorite grape varieties from the region is Touriga Nacional. A grape that produces some luscious, full-bodied red wines. For white wines, keep your eyes peeled for Malvasia Fina, Rabigato, Viosinho and Gouveio.
Consider stops at some beautiful vineyards, including producers like Quinta da Pacheca (which also serves food), Quinta das Carvalhas and Quinta do Bomfim. For additional recommendations, don’t be afraid to ask us in the comment section of this article.
No matter where you go in the Algarve region of southern Portugal, you’ll be treated to world-class beaches, amazing food and wine, and some of the best sights in the entire country. However, for fans of nature trails, nightlife, and watersports, Lagos is arguably the best destination in the region.
The beaches in Lagos are surrounded by huge limestone cliffs, making them look incredible. You can spend your days swimming, surfing, wakeboarding, or just relaxing before heading into town to enjoy the beautiful whitewashed buildings and fresh seafood the town has to offer. Consider scheduling a boat trip to see the beaches and cliffs, or kayak into some of the caves. There are also plenty of walking trails through the beaches, cliffs, and viewpoints. You should also take a trip to Cabo de São Vicente, once believed to be the endpoint of the Western world.
Albufeira is another one of the best places to stay in the Algarve. Especially if you choose to stay at a luxury resort like the Pine Cliffs Hotel. This resort town is catered to tourists, so you can find both affordable and opulent accommodations, cheap food, and incredible beaches nearby. You can also find plenty of amazing nightclubs, bars, and eateries, especially along the strip.
All of the beaches here are awesome whether you’re looking to swim, sunbathe, jetski, parasail, or even go water skiing, wakeboarding, or cave kayaking. You can also book a boat trip to explore the surroundings or even go whale and dolphin watching. Jeep safari excursions are widely available if you’d prefer to stay inland and take in the views.
Albufeira also offers shopping malls, a theme park, and some cool historical sites and museums.
Cascais offers the best of everything Portugal has to offer. Not only will you be right next to the beach in this sunny city, but it’s also right next to Lisbon and Sintra, meaning you can take in some of the best cultural sights of Portugal by day and relax on the beach by night.
The town also has a lot more to offer. For instance, the Museum Quarter is packed with awesome museums, galleries, and tourist attractions. Cascais also plays host to various events, exhibitions, and festivals throughout the year. It’s also surrounded by nature, so you can explore the nearby trails, beaches, or even head to a nearby golf course.
Braga is the third-largest city and a hotspot for history buffs. Braga is one of the oldest Christian cities in the world, and you’ll find some of the most stunning churches and cathedrals here like the Bom Jesus do Monte. You can also find incredible viewpoints that let you see over the entire city, such as the Miradouro do Picoto.
While Braga is a lot quieter than Lisbon, it’s still an excellent place to try some of Portugal’s best food, wine, and culture. The city also plays host to many cool events and festivals throughout the year. It’s also well-located for day trips. Porto is only 35 minutes away by train and you can also visit Guimaraes and the beautiful Peneda-Gerês National Park.
The Azores Islands are packed with breathtaking sights, great cuisine, and plenty of unforgettable experiences. Technically, the islands are an autonomous region of Portugal and have different entry requirements compared to the mainland. However, you can reach them via flights from Lisbon, Porto, or various other airports in Portugal and worldwide.
You might want to stay in Ponta Delgada and explore its amazing surroundings, including the incredible Boca do Inferno which gives you a viewpoint of lakes and volcanoes. You can also go whale watching and quad biking. Alternatively, stay on Terceira Island to explore hiking trails, volcano walks, and UNESCO World Heritage sites. Full-day guided day tours to many important sites and viewpoints are also available.
Cake, sweet wine and a balmy climate that never flirts with extremes made Madeira popular with a certain kind of vacationer. Portugal’s idyllic Atlantic island has been treasured by the British in particular, ever since that heady, rich wine first arrived in England in medieval times.
Travelers of a certain age headed west to Madeira in droves in the last century, lured by temperatures that were temperate all year round refreshing sea breezes.
The island’s identity is gradually changing. Madeira’s most recent claim to fame has been as the birthplace of footballer Cristiano Ronaldo, who is immortalized with a notoriously comical sculpture at Funchal airport. From a travel perspective, for decades Madeira was a secret that the retirees kept to themselves. In recent years budget airlines have opened up the island to a younger crowd, attracted by spectacular mountain scenery and a unique system of trails.
The levada irrigation channels provide around 1,400 miles of pathways around the peaks and valleys of Madeira, a lasting tribute to the ingenuity and daring of the engineers who built them. The steep and precipitous nature of some trails deters all but the bravest, but most of the network is accessible for anyone reasonably fit, with a head for heights.
In the north of the island, the Levada da Central da Ribeira da Janela is a particular highlight. It winds through eight tunnels and up steep hillsides, offering magnificent Atlantic vistas. The views are even more memorable from the trail along the cliffs at Arco de Sao Jorge, with the ocean crashing against the cliff face 800 feet below. The rugged coastline is desolate apart from a tiny fishing village and a few ruins.
Space and tranquility are never hard to find on Madeira. Although the toughest trails may involve encountering a surprising number of hardy German hikers, the mountains are still relatively free of crowds.
Instead, tourists throng to the delightful hamlet of Monte with its pretty church and attractive tropical gardens. It has a cable car linking it to the island capital Funchal, but the more enjoyable way to make the trip down the mountain is by wooden toboggan over cobbled paths, pulled by Monte locals in their embroidered jackets and straw hats. The ride down is more thrilling than comfortable, but remains a vital part of the Madeira experience.
Funchal is an attractive place, with the ornate buildings and tiled facades of Portugal’s provincial towns. It is mostly untouched by gastronomic fashion, although the island’s seafood dishes are rightly respected. Madeira’s culinary specialties have very similar names. Espada, the scabbard fish, is firm and fine-flavored, often served with fried banana. Espadarte is the dense and robust swordfish, occasionally served in a smoked variety. As an alternative to fish, espetada is a skewer of grilled beef, accompanied by fried maize, milho frito. It’s a dish that is very Madeiran, and yet with obvious South American and African elements.
It’s a reminder of Madeira’s key location on the old shipping routes between Europe, Africa and the Americas, a flavor of this historic island’s unique appeal.
Book the trip!
If you’re planning a trip to Portugal, make sure you include some of these amazing destinations in your itinerary. Whether you prefer the beautiful beaches of the Algarve, the lively culture of Lisbon and Porto, or the incredible cultural sites of places like Sintra and Braga, all of these places are worth visiting.
Of course, you might also want to consider some of Portugal’s other top destinations. Places like Tavira, Faro, Guimaraes, Portimao, Alcobaça, Nazaré (famous for its waves and world-class surfing) and Obidos are also worth checking out. Whichever destinations you choose to visit, you’re sure to find somewhere you love in this beautiful country.
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