Breathtaking Places to Visit in Portugal Before You Die

Tour the Botanical Gardens in Madeira to see tropical and endemic plant species
Tour the Botanical Gardens in Madeira to see tropical and endemic plant species | © Nathaniel Noir / Alamy
Photo of Nina Santos
4 September 2021

There is something unique and fascinating for everyone to discover throughout Portugal. Featuring idyllic beaches, wild terrain and ancient history, here are some of the many stunning places in Portugal that shouldn’t be missed.

University of Coimbra, Coimbra

Botanical Garden, Library, University, Cathedral
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Law Faculty, Coimbra University, Beira Province, Portugal, Unesco World Heritage Site
© GM Photo Images / Alamy Stock Photo
Coimbra is one of the oldest and loveliest cities in Portugal, with historical buildings and a picture-perfect location along the Mondego River – and you can visit with Culture Trip on our specially curated small-group Portugal tour, led by our local insider. Its most captivating landmark is, without doubt, the public university. Built in the 13th century, it was first located in Lisbon and moved to its current spot by the 16th century. The University of Coimbra was listed as a Unesco World Heritage Site in 2013 and key spots to see on campus include the Royal Palace of Alcáçova, the baroque Joanina Library, the 18th-century botanical garden, and the University Tower.

Pena Palace, Sintra

Monastery, Park
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Aerial view of Pena Palace, a colourful Romanticist castle building on hilltop during a beautiful sunset, Sintra, Lisbon, Portugal. - 2FN07X2
© Michele Rinaldi / Alamy
Despite looking like it burst from the pages of a fairytale, Pena Palace really came from the imagination of King Ferdinand II, the German prince who married Portugal’s Queen Maria II. The palace was the fruit of a reconstruction effort to fix the abandoned 16th-century monastery, Our Lady of Pena. Romantic gardens with both native and exotic flora were included in the plans, as were walking paths and benches. While there, set aside time to visit one of the other palaces or the ancient Castle of the Moors.

The Coast, Sagres

Architectural Landmark, Natural Feature
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Surfers, Sagres - T4KT6M
© Alessandro Avondo / Alamy

Wild, remote and romantic, the coast around Sagres, in the southwesternmost corner of Portugal, is unlike any other part of the Algarve. Mainly visited by surfers and locals wanting to escape the tourist crowds, it emits an isolated feeling, especially during the cooler winter months. Visit Sagres for rest, relaxation and fresh seafood, but also to get up close and personal with a part of Portugal that witnessed a key moment in world history: the Age of Discoveries. Prince Henry the Navigator’s School for Navigation started in Sagres and the prince called this part of Portugal home until his death in 1460.

Sé Cathedral, Braga

Cathedral
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Braga, Portugal. Braga Cathedral aka Se de Braga, the oldest of all cathedrals in Portugal and a main Catholic worship place
© Sofia Pereira / StockPhotosArt - Churches / Alamy

Religious heritage is one of the standout features in Braga, as the oldest and one of the most important religious centres in Portugal. Not only is the oldest cathedral in the country here, but Braga is also the oldest city in Portugal. Visiting all of the churches would be quite an endeavour, but those to include in your sightseeing list are the Sé Cathedral, the Igreja da Misericordia de Braga, and the nearby Santuario de Bom Jesus do Monte.

City center, Angra do Heroísmo

Architectural Landmark
Map View
Portugal, Azores, Terceira Island, Angra do Heroismo, elevated view from Alto da Memoria park
© BIBIKOW Walter / Hemis / Alamy

All of the Azorean islands are beautiful, but Terceira may be home to the prettiest city in the archipelago. Brightened by buildings that have been painted blue, yellow and orange, and on the backdrop of a lush, green landscape, the centre of Angra do Heroísmo is a feast for the eyes. It is also a Unesco World Heritage Site for having been an essential port during the Age of Discoveries. When visiting, visit the Sé de Angra Cathedral, the Misericórdia Church, the Town Hall, the Castle of São João Baptista and Monte Brasil.

Funchal, Madeira

Natural Feature, Architectural Landmark
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Wicker Toboggan Sled Ride in Monte,Funchal, madeira. 100 year old tradition.
© David Clare / Alamy
The sunny capital of Madeira is a fantastic destination no matter the season and a one-stop shop for exploring the culture of the island. Nestled between the ocean and mountains, the city does not lack in outdoor activities and the mild, dry climate only helps. Browsing the fresh fish and exotic fruits at the markets is one fun thing to do during the day. At night, bars and clubs keep the city vibrant. While visiting Funchal, don’t miss the botanical gardens and be sure to book a toboggan ride down the hilly streets, pushed by men dressed in the traditional outfit: white shirt, white pants, a hat and rubber-soled shoes.

Rua Direita, Óbidos

Architectural Landmark
Map View
Rua Direita from the wall of Castelo de Obidos, Obidos Castle, Obidos, Leiria District, Pinhal Litoral, Portugal.
© agefotostock / Alamy

Rua Direita is the main road in Óbidos where you’ll find shops, restaurants and ginjinha bars. The name fittingly translates to “right street,” as it’s the path directly ahead after walking in through the fortified entrance to the city. After exploring everything that Rua Direita has to offer, walk around the castle walls – just be careful if you experience vertigo since much of the walk is narrow and without a protective barrier. Also, swing by the Literary Man Hotel, an 18th-century convent turned into a hotel for bookworms.

Ribeira District, Porto

Architectural Landmark
Map View
Ribeira Porto Portugal, view of the historic old town Ribeira district in the centre of Porto at sunrise, Portugal. J3J63Y
Ribeira Porto Portugal, view of the historic old town Ribeira district in the centre of Porto at sunrise, Portugal. | © Michael Brooks / Alamy

A World Heritage Site since 1996, the Ribeira District is the most iconic neighbourhood in Porto. Idyllically located on the Douro River, it has plenty to see and do, including views of the main bridges, boats, welcoming café terraces, landmarks that date back centuries, baroque architecture and thousands of years worth of history. Be sure to visit the Casa do Infante, once the customs office but better known as the birthplace of Prince Henry the Navigator, before making your way further into the city to A Pérola do Bolhão to buy souvenirs such as traditional food and wine.

Costa Nova, Aveiro

Architectural Landmark
Map View
Aveiro, Costa Nova Beach, Portugal
© Mehdi33300 / Alamy

As an art nouveau hub, Aveiro city centre looks like a painting come to life. But the most colourful area may arguably be the Costa Nova, a nearby beach characterised by rainbow-striped fisherman cottages. Easy to reach from the centre of Aveiro, the Costa Nova is a peaceful place to kick back, enjoy the coast and watch some surfers in action. There are also plenty of restaurants with incredible seafood.

Peneda-Gerês National Park

Park, Natural Feature, Forest
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Peneda-Geres National Park
© Sergey Peterman / Alamy Stock Photo
Practically all Portuguese locals are proud of Peneda-Gerês National Park. The only nationally protected park in the country and known as an excellent spot for hiking, bird watching and camping, the park is located in the green and lush Minho Region, home to the oldest part of Portugal (including Braga), beautiful vineyards and charming villages. The landscape takes in everything from river valleys to rocky peaks and to stunning flora and wild animals. Those who do visit should try to find the Roman path with distance markers dating back thousands of years.

Évora Center, Alentejo

Architectural Landmark
Map View
EVORA, PORTUGAL - JULY 15: Giraldo Square (Praca do Giraldo) is located in the city center on July 15, 2014 in Evora, Portugal
© Andrey Khrobostov / Alamy

The medieval centre of Évora is a playground of ancient landmarks and beautifully preserved architecture. The main square, Praça do Giraldo, is a popular area to sit and relax, where the café and restaurant terraces allow visitors to take in views of the gothic buildings, old palaces converted into public buildings, the 16th-century Church of Santo Antão, and an ornate 16th-century water fountain. Just a short walk from the central square, there’s the eerie yet beautiful Chapel of Bones, the Roman Temple, the Royal Palace, the 18th-century Cathedral of Évora, and the Museum of Évora.

Terra Nostra, Furnas

Park
Map View
Portugal, Azores, Sao Miguel Island, Furnas. Terra Nostra Garden, tree-lined path
© Danita Delimont / Alamy Stock Photo
The Terra Nostra garden in São Miguel Azores is considered one of the most alluring and exotic gardens in Europe, well-known for having plentiful plant life and a large, geothermal swimming pool and smaller geothermal hot tubs. Associated with an on-site hotel, the park has developed a reputation as a wellness retreat where people go to melt stress away. Open year-round from 10am to 6pm and accessible with a reasonable entrance fee, the park is an easy place to visit that should be included in all travel plans to São Miguel island.
These recommendations were updated on September 4, 2021 to keep your travel plans fresh.

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