The 12 best places to visit in Portugal
Very popular in recent years, Portugal is a country which has much to offer. Of course, you have to visit Lisbon, city of a thousand monuments which has a very special atmosphere created by the Fado music, the kindness of its inhabitants and the poetry of its architecture. Porto is the second stop off. You can enjoy a glass of wine along the banks of the Douro river and just contemplate its beauty. Travellers eager for wild open-spaces and stunning beaches will go southward to the Algarve region where the cliffs tower over a dreamlike coastal landscape. If you prefer hiking, the island of Madeira has luxurious vegetation and countless mountains. But why should you just solely focus on the most popular places in Portugal when the country is full of so many different wonders? Natural parks, like Serra da Estrela, Douro or Rio Formosa are perfect for an immersion in nature. Other jewels to be discovered, are for example the cities of Evora, Sintra, Braga, Obidos or the hilltop villages of Beiras. Finally, a trip to Portugal wouldn't be complete without going to the vineyards of the Alentejo region.
Our selection of must-see places
Madeira is an island in the Atlantic ocean, 900 kilometres away from the coasts of Portugal, and 600 kilometres from Morocco. Madeira is a real jewel truly worth seeing in a lifetime. Called "La petite Réunion", this island, blessed with a tropical climate, is full of breathtaking scenery. Its luxurious flora is a real open-air garden: bird of paradise, amaryllis, camellias, bougainvillea... Funchal, the capital, is an adorable city shaped like an amphitheatre on top of verdant hills. Its most famous attraction is the Botanical garden, with its huge variety of flowers and impressive plants. Also, visit the Cathedral of Sé, where you can learn about the history of the great discoveries by the Portuguese sailors depicted on the ceiling. There aren't a lot of places where you can swim in Madeira apart from the long fine sandy beach of Porto Santo. However, we recommend that you try the natural swimming ponds of Porto Moniz for a unique experience, black basalt coves filled with the clearest water that form natural ponds. The highest cliff in Europe is in Madeira, at Cabo Girão. However it's best not to suffer from vertigo as the highest point is at 580 meters. The glass walkways allow you to admire the different views of the Madeira coastline and the rocks on which the ocean frenetically crashes. For a total change of scenery, go hiking on the Pico do Arieiro, a mountain that culminates at 1810 metres. The panorama gradually reveals itself along the winding road leading to it, as you pass through clouds. The terrain is difficult, very rocky and almost lunar.
Bragua, or the "Portuguese Roma" as it is called. The city is located 50 miles north of Porto and is the third biggest city of the country. It attracts tourists because of its beautiful Baroque architecture and its many Religious sites, all different from one another. You can also just stroll around in the alleyways of the old town. The high point of your visit will be the Sanctuary of Bom Jesus do Monte, according to some legends, the Church's stairs leads to Heaven… Also, don't miss out on the Cathedral of Braga, the Gardens of Saint Barbara, the Roman baths or the Sanctuary of Sameiro.
The villages of Beiras
Situated in the heart of Portugal, the villages of Beiras are a destination you should definitely visit. Inland, clinging to the side of the mountain, these hamlets have managed to keep their authenticity. The regional capital, Coimbra, is also worth a visit, its university dates back to the 12th century and is listed as a UNESCO World Heritage site. The city overflows with treasures to be discovered: the panoramic view from the bell tower of the church, the library of Joanina or the monastery of Santa Cruz which has the tomb of the first Portuguese king. The student festivities of ‘Queimasdas Fitas’ are major moments of the year: you can see students singing and dancing to Fado music during the “Senada monumental’. The Medieval village of Monsanto was elected ‘the most Portuguese village of Portugal’, which says a lot about the traditional atmosphere! Monsanto is recognizable thanks to its peculiar rock formations that you can see at the corner of each street. For example, a gigantic rock which seems to be lying on a roof or a house which was once built between two giant masses of granite. It's a really unusual sight. Piódão is the most scenic of all Beiras villages. This mountain village looks like a crèche with its charming hovels arranged in the shape of an amphitheatre and lit up at night. Piódão has remained unspoilt and its Medieval alleyways built out of schist stones are a real pleasure to discover. Also worth a visit, the Fortified villages with their picturesque ramparts, Trancoso, Almeida, Idanha-a-Velha, or the Antiquity city of Conimbriga..
In the western region of Portugal, the city of Obidos is famous for its magnificent fortified castle. It was founded in the 8th century by the Moors, the ramparts offer a superb view of the valley. There are also many Roman vestiges in Obidos. Stroll around in the alleyways where the facades of the typical white houses are covered with flowers and colourful paintings. Obidos is a small but vibrant city: craft shops, cafés and local markets greatly contribute to the lively atmosphere of Obidos. Many examples of Azulejos tiles can be admired in different churches.
The Natural Park of Douro
The Natural Park of Douro is one of the best in Portugal. It is the perfect place for bird-watching and to enjoy nature. You can watch endemic species such as Griffons, Royal eagles or Egyptian vultures. The 200 meter high cliffs are the framework of the banks of the Douro, which makes for magnificent scenery when you navigate on it. You will have a delightful viewpoint which allows you to take in the astounding surroundings. The small town of Mirando De Douro is also worth a visit, its inhabitants speak the Mirandese language, which is the second official language of the country.
The wine road of Alentejo
For all wine enthusiasts, the region of Alentejo is definitely for you. Apart from Porto and Madeira, other delicious varieties exist in Portugal, like Evora, Redondo, Portalegre... The Alentejo region is a beautiful rural area covering almost one-third of the country. The best way to discover it at your own pace is to rent a car. Apart from visiting wine cellars, you will also be able to discover the Natural Park of Serra de Sao Mamede, the Medieval village of Marvao or the city of Elvas, which is the most fortified of Europe.
Parque natural da Serra da Estrela
If you are a nature lover, the Natural Park of Serra da Estrela is a must-do. In the heart of Portugal, this protected area extends over 10000 acres. There, you will find the highest point of the country, the Torres (1993 meters). Beautiful hikes, on foot or with mountain bikes, will lead you along with the mountainous range, into thick forests and on the shore of crystal clear lakes and plateaus. If you are lucky enough, you will have the chance to meet some of the Fauna who live in the park: wolves, boars, foxes, eagles and even the Cão de Serra da Estrela, a local herding dog.
Evora is one of the most beautiful cities in Portugal. It is the second largest city and has the most Historical monuments after Lisbon. You feel good just from spending time here thanks to its very lively nightlife : the bars and restaurants stay open very late during the summer. When it comes to cultural activities, don't miss out on the Diana temple, the most preserved temple of all the Iberian peninsula, with its majestic colonnades. The aqueduct of the Agua de Prata or « Silver waters » is also really worth a visit: its beautiful arches are smoothly integrated within the dwellings. The Gothic architecture of Sé, the Cathedral of Evora, can be admired before climbing up the bell tower for a spectacular view of the area.
Only a 30-minute train ride from Lisbon, Sintra will transport you to another world where surprising palaces stand side by side with abandoned fortresses. The city is quite small but not less than ten extravagant monuments were built there during the 19th century, following the Romantic artistic movement. You don't want to miss out on the palace of Pena with its magnificent colours and extravagant dimensions. It is surrounded by a gigantic park with fountains and statues emerging from the woods. The Moorish castle is also a must-see with its spectacular view of Sintra. To plunge into an Oriental atmosphere, visit the Monserrate palace, which resembles a beautiful Emir mansion. The palace of Regaleira is also worth a visit to see its richly ornamented gardens where it is always pleasant to stroll around.
The Algarve region
The Algarve is the southernmost region of Portugal, is renowned for its mild climate and idyllic beaches. It's become very touristic over the past few years, therefore it's gotten a little bit too built-up , but you can still find small natural unspoilt surrounding areas as soon as you leave the seaside resorts.
Places to visit in the Algarve
The historic district of Ribeira, a UNESCO World Heritage Site, is the heart of Porto. Close to the river, it was here that the city's economic activity took place. Nowadays, it's a touristic district with its typical colourful facades that have made Porto so famous. It is nice to stroll through its small streets to reach the Douro where you can board for a cruise of 1 to 2 hours. You will pass under the famous Dom Luis I metal bridge designed by one of Gustave Eiffel's students which enables you to reach Vila Nova de Gaia on foot, by metro or by car. You will cross other bridges such as the one of Queen Maria Pia which was created for her by Gustave Eiffel, the Infanta bridge and the Arrabida bridge which is the closest to the sea. In the evening, the Ribeira quay bustles with life with its numerous restaurants, bars and sometimes improvised concerts.
Places to visit in Porto
Lisbon is a beautiful, multicultural and animated capital.
Places to visit in Lisbon