An enchantingly diverse country filled with gorgeous Mediterranean beaches, rolling hills, dramatic mountain scenery and a myriad charming towns, Portugal is brimming with beauty, both in its natural and urban spaces. Here we list 10 unmissable towns to visit in Portugal, each unique and beautiful in its own way.
Angra do Heroísmo is one of the principal settlements of the Azores, a group of nine volcanic islands located in the Atlantic Ocean almost 900 miles west of mainland Portugal. The surroundings are idyllic, with rolling green hills and pastures, dramatic cliffs, and the azure blue ocean for as far as the eye can see. Angra do Heroísmo is the oldest continuously settled town on the islands, and is filled with history and culture. The town is centered around the 18th-century Praça Velha, a large, handsome town square from which numerous streets and winding alleys branch off, leading to beautiful palaces, churches and forts.
Nicknamed the Venice of Portugal for its beautiful network of canals that wind their way through the city, Aveiro is at once unique and typically charming. Every street is lined with wonderful examples of Portuguese architecture, from idyllic white-washed Mediterranean houses to traditional azulejo façades made of glazed ceramic tiles painted in an astonishing variety of colours and patterns. The town is a perfect for those who love exploring, with small bridges, quaint courtyards and inviting beaches around every corner, waiting to be discovered. Central to the town is the Cathedral of Aveiro, a masterpiece of Portuguese Baroque architecture, and well worth a visit.
Home to one of Europe’s oldest universities, Coimbra has been one of Portugal’s key centers for arts and culture for over 500 years. Located on the picturesque banks of the Mondego River, the city cascades down the hillside towards the water, with each level revealing a new architectural treasure, from Renaissance and Baroque cathedrals to the Moorish-inspired palaces. The university is a key part of the fabric of the town: it is composed of richly decorated courtyards, college buildings dating back to the 16th century, and the Joanine library, an extraordinary blend of elegance and decadence, and a true bibliophile’s paradise.
Évora is a member of the Most Ancient European Towns network, and one glance at the town is enough to show why. The town is extraordinarily well-preserved, boasting remnants of the original medieval city walls, palaces dating from the 14th to the 17th centuries, and the beautiful remains of the Roman Temple of Évora, a 1st-century temple dedicated to the Emperor Augustus. Interspersed with the monumental remnants of Évora’s history are winding lanes and bustling streets lined with traditional, red-roofed, white-washed houses and peaceful groves of trees.
The historical city of Guimarães was awarded UNESCO World Heritage status both for its extraordinarily well-preserved architecture and history, and for the key role it has played throughout Portuguese history and in the formation of the Portuguese nation. Guimarães is striking for its numerous examples of buildings typifying architectural developments from the Middle Ages to the modern day: crumbling medieval archways intermingle with traditional 16th-century half-timbered houses and small Gothic chapels. Overlooking the town is the monumental Guimarães castle, a unique marriage of Romanesque and Gothic styles, and one of Portugal’s most impressive castles.
Located next to the Portuguese-Spanish border, Monsaraz is a charming hilltop village surrounded by its original medieval walls and miles of beautiful Portuguese countryside. The area has been settled since prehistoric times, evidenced by the unusual Megalithic monuments carved from rock. Today it bears the marks of the successive periods of history it has been through, from the fortifications built by the Knights Templar to the Moorish influence throughout the town’s architecture. The surrounding landscape is as picturesque as the town itself, with typical Mediterranean scenes of rolling hillsides, olive groves, and the sparkling river Guadiana which runs past the Spanish border.
A quaint hilltop town on the west coast of Portugal, Óbidos has developed over the years from a small Roman settlement into a beautiful, thriving town. The town is surrounded by its original medieval walls, and most visitors enter the town through the unique city gate, decorated with intricate tile work and painting. The town has largely retained an unspoiled, historic ambiance: cobbled streets wind past white-washed houses covered with sweet honeysuckle and colorful flowers, and lead up to the impressive Moorish castle which crowns the town.
The second-largest city in Portugal, Porto has retained its unique charm and fascinating culture despite its growing size. Colorful buildings jostle for space among baroque mansions and crumbling medieval churches, while underneath parts of the town lie the cellars which store the city’s most famous export: port wine. The historic city center was designated a UNESCO World Heritage Site thanks to its beautiful period buildings and winding narrow streets overlooking the picturesque river front, adding a touch of romance to the ancient city.
Nestled on the foothills of the Sintra mountains, on the edge of steep cliffs dropping down to the Atlantic Ocean, Sintra is a picturesque Portuguese town taken straight from a fairy tale. Despite its relatively small size, Sintra is home to numerous castles and palaces, lending the town a magical feel. The Castle of the Moors is grand and imposing, situated on the summit of the hill and composed of various turrets and battlements. The Pena National Palace is emblematic of the Romanticist revival that took place in Portugal in the 19th century, and is iconic for its colorful architecture and blend of Neo-Gothic, Neo-Renaissance and Neo-Islamic styles.
Located on Portugal’s famed Algarve coast, Tavira sets itself apart from the other seaside resorts thanks to its unspoilt architecture and deep historic roots which reveal themselves throughout the town. The town’s Moorish influence is abundant—from the traditional white-washed houses, iconic roofs and archways of the period, to the seven-arched Moorish bridge which links the two parts of the town. Tavira is also known for the stunning natural beauty which surrounds it, with soft, white sand beaches sloping gently down to the warm, clear waters of the Atlantic Ocean.