The 33 Best Destinations to Visit in Portugal

| Tim Roosjen / Unsplash
Nina Santos

Despite its boundless popularity, Portugal continues to be one of the best-value destinations in Europe. It has it all – a rich history, innovative art, stunning views and friendly, laid-back locals. Visiting has also become easier since TAP Portugal, the country’s main airline, has increased its stopover programme to five days. But which part of the country is right for you? Well, here’s our guide to the best destinations to visit in Portugal.

1. Lagos, for a charming getaway in the Algarve

Natural Feature

Quiet Baroque street in Lagos, Portugal
Vini Andrade / Unsplash

Framed by twin crescents of golden sand and set behind a cape of caramel-coloured cliffs, Lagos is quintessentially Algarve. But unlike many of the region’s towns it hasn’t lost its original charm. The old centre, which clusters around the boat-bobbing Bensafrim river, is filled with 18th-century townhouses and Baroque churches (rather than concrete condos), and the bars and restaurants that fill the higgledy-piggledy alleys behind the medieval castle still feel as local as they do touristy. It’s a great set-off point for booking tours of the Algarve, too, with plenty of boating, kayaking and off-roading experiences available.

2. Albufeira, for spectacular beaches

Natural Feature

Sandy beach in the sun in Albufeira, Portugal
Dahee Son / Unsplash

Twin bays separated by sea-arches, coves cut from crumbling cliffs, golden swathes of sand that seem to stretch for eternity, it’s no surprise that Albufeira draws the hordes. They cram the beaches and golf courses in high summer, but come in spring (when the surrounding hills bloom with wildflowers), or autumn (when the sea is still warm), and the whitewashed, Moorish village at its heart is as quiet as birdsong. When the beach gets too crowded, that’s when you join a boat tour to discover hidden caves and tiny beaches, and perhaps even spot a dolphin or two.

3. Faro, for its historic centre

Natural Feature

Colourful church in southern Portugal
KOBU Agency / Unsplash

Most visitors see the Algarve’s capital from the aeroplane or transfer bus, which means that despite its touristic location, the city remains resolutely Portuguese. With its cobbled streets the old centre feels medieval and is crammed with ancient buildings, including the 13th-century cathedral – its massive, fortified tower guards an interior glittering with beautiful azulejo tiles. There are wonderful beaches, too, cresting the wild Ilha do Farol to the south, where you’ll see more wading birds than tourists.

4. Funchal, for the best of Madeira

Natural Feature

Promenade in Funchal, the capital city of Madeira, Portugal
Monika Guzikowska / Unsplash

The narrow streets and leafy squares of Madeira’s capital clamber up a hill from the sparkling Atlantic. There are wonderful views at every turn, especially from the sub-tropical Monte Palace gardens and the hulking fortress that crowns the city. Columbus and Cristiano Ronaldo (who has his own museum) are former residents, and the city bursts with historical sights – the cathedral and Colégio church (with magnificent gilt interiors), opulent Quinta das Cruzes mansion and the bustling art deco Lavradores market.

5. Évora, for Roman history

Natural Feature

Diana-Temple in Evora, Portugal, Alentejo
Frank Nürnberger / Unsplash

The capital city of Portugal’s sweltering Alentejo rises up a hill – in whitewash and terracotta – to a magnificent ruined Roman temple. Ancient aqueducts bridge crumbling Moorish walls, narrow alleys ring with the peal of bells from an array of ancient churches (including St Francis, with its grisly chapel of human bones) and the city makes the perfect access point for the stone circles, vineyards and castle villages which litter Portugal’s forgotten interior. Be sure to book a walking tour with a local guide to get the full story on a truly historical city.

6. Madeira, for exotic island life

Natural Feature

An amazing view point on the PR1 trek between Pico do Areeiro and Pico do Ruvio in the volcanic mountains of Madeira.
Colin Watts / Unsplash

Exotic flowers, balmy climate and, OK, quite a hair-raising approach by plane: there’s something special about Portugal’s subtropical island offcut, 1,078km (670mi) southeast of the mainland in the Atlantic Ocean. Traditionally a winter retreat for older people seeking sunshine, it’s grown into the trendiest of Portuguese destinations – the capital, Funchal, offers one of the best New Year’s Eve parties in the world. Make sure to take the ferry to nearby Porto Santo Island, where you’ll find one of the most beautiful stretches of sand in Portugal. A visit at any time of year is worth your while.

7. Porto, for foodies and port lovers

Historical Landmark

View of Porto and Luis Bridge from Vila Nova de Gaia, Portugal
Nick Karvounis / Unsplash

Don’t miss Portugal’s second city. Like the capital, Porto unfurls beside a major river and possesses its own old, colourful townscape. Love azulejo tiles? You’ll adore nosing around São Bento station, where walls are gleamingly surfaced with these beautiful ceramics, as far as the eye can see. The pleasure of Porto is its digestibility – a long weekend is easily enough time to saunter about its gardens, medieval palaces and cathedrals before thoughts turn to dinner. The cuisine is widely held to be the best in the country, and even the simple francesinha – a ham and steak sandwich baked with cheese – is ambrosial. Visited not least for its celebrated port, Porto is also your gateway to the Douro Valley, where vineyards race away in braided expanses, to the horizons and beyond. Book a food and wine tasting experience for the purest taste of Porto.

8. Lisbon, for chic neighbourhoods and top attractions

Historical Landmark

Iconic yellow tram travelling through Lisbon, Portugal
Aayush Gupta / Unsplash

It’s for good reason the capital sits at the top of a zillion must-visit lists: it is a seduction of the senses, whether you’re loving the custardy sweetness of pasteis de nata, the savoury salt-fish zing of bacalhau, or the beauty of the calçadas (traditional mosaic walkways). Lisbon remains one of the most affordable, tranquil capitals in Europe. By day, it draws you up steep and winding alleyways to phenomenal lookout points. By night, mouthwatering aromas and wistful, melodic vocals (known as fado) drift from intimate restaurants lining the cobbled labyrinths. In trendy Chiado, discover the oldest bookshop in the world. And in boho-chic Bairro Alto, prepare to down a few crisp, cold Sagres beers as the neighbourhood becomes livelier with each passing hour. Discover the tastiest spots in town on a foodie walking tour of the city.

9. Ericeira, for the best surfing

Natural Feature

The surfing paradise of Ericeira, Portugal
Sead Dedić / Unsplash
Surfing is as good as a religion in Portugal, and the little fishing village of Ericeira has acquired a near spiritual status among incurable wave-riders. North of Lisbon, it’s no trouble to get to – you can be there by bus in barely more than an hour, for a smattering of Euros – and while it’s not the closest beach town to the capital, it is certainly one of the busiest. If surfing isn’t how you roll, that’s not a problem: in Ericeira it has evolved into something of a spectator sport these days, with eager crowds admiring the athletic antics. Ericeira’s restaurants major in fresh, delicious seafood. Pick your table, load up on sardines and octopus salad and graze away the days until late-night escapades in Lisbon beckon you back.

10. Algarve, for a warm weather escape

Natural Feature

Rock formations along the coast of the Algarve, Portugal
Mélanie Arouk / Unsplash

The Algarve is one of the best places to go if you like your weather warm, your hiking adventurous and your beaches trendy. Portugal’s southernmost region is a postcard of whitewashed settlements, manicured golf courses and expensive, expansive resorts. Sure it’s touristy, but it’s also a place of escape, with tiny fishing villages and coves where jewel-bright waters are cradled by dramatic cliffs. Whether you like it or not, everyone speaks English – handy if you need directions and can’t muster a word of Portuguese. After all, the Algarve has long been synonymous with retired Brits abroad, hence the air-brushed feel around such places as Albufeira and Vilamoura. Don’t lose heart if you want to break away from the tourist crowds: there is much still relatively undiscovered, and tranquil towns include Sagres, Tavira and Aljezur, to name but a few.

11. Alentejo, for bone churches and top wine tasting

Cathedral, Museum, Natural Feature

Golden beach and azure waters in Alentejo, Portugal
Antonio Mendes / Unsplash
Escape the crowds by visiting the Alentejo region. Its capital city, Évora, has a mysterious character that makes it a perfect Halloween destination – don’t miss the Capela dos Ossos, or Chapel of Bones. Inside (and on) the walls of this 16th-century church are approximately 5,000 human skeletons. The Alentejo region is rich in historical sites, among them the Cathedral of Évora and the spindly white-stone Templo de Diana – generally considered to be one of the best-preserved Roman structures anywhere in the Iberian Peninsula. Alentejo is blessed with photogenic villages where you can enjoy nature, get stuck into proper Portuguese comfort food and swill down some seriously phenomenal wine. This is best done on a sumptuous vineyard tour, of course.

12. Sintra, for the best castles in the country

Botanical Garden, Building, Ruins, Natural Feature

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Poking up in the foothills of the eponymous mountain range, Sintra appears almost cartoonish at first sight, with its vividly coloured walls, its bottle-green gardens and its Disney-like crenelated castles. No wonder kids love it – and so many people day-trip out from Lisbon, 30km (19mi) or so to the southeast. You’ll need to stay overnight to take it all in, and you won’t regret investing 48 hours – or even more – in a hotel sojourn. From the romantic 19th-century Pena Palace to the medieval Castle of the Moors, this is a destination with all the fairytale appeal of Camelot or Westeros. So it comes as no surprise to learn that Hans Christian Andersen once lived in a house in the woods of Sintra. You may well stumble upon it as you bowl back downhill from the palatial sights. If you can’t commit to two days in Sintra then fear not, it is very day trip-able from Lisbon, so you can book plenty of guided tours that pick you up in the capital.

13. Óbidos, for a picture-perfect visit

Historical Landmark

Cobbled street in Óbidos, Portugal
Dennis Rochel / Unsplash
It doesn’t get much more magical than this: a stay in a city fully embraced by hulking castle walls. Charming, picturesque and romantic, Óbidos is the sort of place you need a camera for – it’ll make your Instagram account a million times more colourful. The beauty of the place lies in its trademark white houses framed in bright flowers, and its souvenir shops, happy to welcome, but not desperate for, tourist trade. Don’t miss a taste of Ginja de Óbidos, a lurid cherry liqueur sometimes served in tiny chocolate cups. Once offered as the wedding gift from Portuguese kings to their queens, the city has developed a reputation as one of the most romantic destinations in Portugal. If you’re a booklover, don’t miss a stay at the spectacular Literary Man Hotel.

14. Serra da Estrela, for outdoorsy nature lovers

Natural Feature

Man enjoying the epic valley views of Serra da Estrela, Unhais da Serra, Portugal
Francisco T Santos / Unsplash

Portugal isn’t all beaches, which brings us to Serra da Estrela, home to the highest mountain peak in continental Portugal (the highest being in Pico Island, the Azores). North of Lisbon, sharing its latitude with the Spanish capital, Madrid, it’s not the simplest destination to get to, but believe us, a visit more than repays the effort. This is Portugal for nature lovers and winter-sports enthusiasts: the remote mountain range of Serra da Estrela has plenty to see and do, and is a magnet for skiers in winter. Sparsely speckled with tiny villages, including one of the seven wonders of Portugal, the mountain feels deliciously remote, with the natural world the obvious attraction. But epicureans won’t be left in the lurch: the local homemade honey and creamy, pungent cheese are memorably delicious.

15. Coimbra, for the academics and library fans

Natural Feature

Whitewashed church in Coímbra, Portugal
José Francisco García Cuenca / Unsplash

In the very heart of Portugal is a city that attracts more visitors than most of the others put together. The reason? Coimbra is home to a significant number of Roman and medieval ruins and has further historical pedigree, having once served as the capital of the country. Among the most visited tourist attractions is the University, which is one of the oldest continually operating, degree-seeking institutions in the world. But Coimbra’s greatest claim to fame is its library; the Baroque-styled Biblioteca Joanina has been listed numerous times as one of the most beautiful libraries in the world.

16. São Miguel, for stunning natural scenery

Natural Feature

The,Blue,And,Green,Lakes,,Azores
Dov Fuchs / Shutterstock

Nearly halfway between the American and Portuguese coasts is the Azorean archipelago, each island as deserving of your holiday time as the next. The largest, São Miguel, is the easiest to reach by air, and is a wonderful rolling green oasis with plenty to absorb you for a few days. This is a thoroughly Azorean experience, helped by hiking trails, waterfalls and beautiful twin lakes called Lagoa das Sete Cidades. An absolute must-visit is the small village of Furnas: as the last word in volcanic power, here you’ll discover the natural, mineral-rich hot springs and calderas in the ground. This island is an adventure lovers dream, so bookable experiences range from off-roading to whale watching, canyoning or swimming with dolphins.

17. Monsanto, for a mountainous retreat

Natural Feature

Monsanto, Portugal
Luis Silva / Unsplash

Here’s one for wannabe time travellers: Monsanto, near the Spanish border, has been known nationally as the most Portuguese village in Portugal since 1938, when the title was voted in. Occupying some challenging terrain, it derives its name from the 750m-high (2461ft) mountain about which it clusters, Mons Sanctus, and its fame stems from its unique looks. Like something from a children’s storybook, it was built to accommodate gigantic boulders already lying around, and its little granite homes appear in places to be almost squashed by them. Come to savour the atmosphere of an earlier century or era, wandering alleys barely wide enough for donkeys, let alone cars, and pass through little squares where elderly people chatter.

18. Peneda-Gerês National Park, for forest camping

Park, Natural Feature, Forest

High mountain waterfall at Peneda-Gerês National Park, Portugal
Micael Rodrigues / Unsplash
Located in Minho, a region known for its beauty, Peneda-Gerês National Park is an oak forest paradise containing within it a winding Roman road displaying ancient markers, bridges and waterfalls. Camping is allowed in specific parts as is swimming in some of the natural pools during the warmer months. This is an excellent option if you’re itching to stretch your hiking legs or dust off your bird-watching binoculars.

19. Guimarães, for royal Portuguese history

Church, Museum, Natural Feature, Historical Landmark

Guimarães, Portugal
Samuel Jerónimo / Unsplash
If you have a little time to spare, visit the country’s first capital, Guimarães. In the 12th century, Portugal’s first king, Afonso I, ruled from here, his birthplace. Since then the city has basked in its reputation as “the Birthplace of Portugal”. It’s an easy 50km (31mi) jaunt from Porto by car or bus, and you can visit the castle where the king and many other historical figures once resided. There are plenty of tours setting off from Porto, which often also include a visit to Braga.

20. Braga, for a vibrant and youthful city break

Building, Church, Monastery, Ruins, Natural Feature

Bom Jesus Do Monte, Braga, Portugal
Angela Compagnone / Unsplash
Tying together past and present is Portugal’s fourth-largest city. It has an upbeat, youthful population – labelled European Youth Capital in 2012, it’s a hit among students from the nearby University of Minho. Brimming with cafes, shops, restaurants and bars, the city is properly vibrant, but it’s also known for its sublime spiritual side. The unique cathedral is the oldest in the country, and just beyond town is the extraordinary Sanctuary of Bom Jesus do Monte. Find it on a hill in the woods, surrounded by gardens. If you’ve got the lung capacity you can climb the 116m (381ft) of stairs for a magnificent view at the top.

21. Viana do Castelo

Building, Church

Close to Spain on the complete opposite side of the country, in northwest Portugal, Viana do Castelo is a visually stunning city that’s an easy day trip from Porto and Vigo, Spain. While the majority of tourists are heading to Sintra for a fairytale experience, go to this northern city and see its palaces, monasteries, churches, and hilltop views that take in the sea. The architecture includes Baroque, Manueline, Renaissance, and Art Nouveau styles and influences. Viana do Castelo is also an excellent spot to buy jewelry and home to many shops specializing in Portugal’s gold filigree.

22. Sagres

Architectural Landmark, Natural Feature

Sagres, Portugal
Koen Speelman / Unsplash

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.

23. Angra do Heroísmo

Architectural Landmark

Blue and white building in Angra do Heroísmo, Azores, Portugal
Meg Pier / Unsplash

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.

24. Aveiro

Architectural Landmark

Aveiro, Portugal
Ricardo Resende / Unsplash

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.

25. Tomar

Cathedral, Church, Ruins, Synagogue

The Convent of Christ is a former Roman Catholic convent in Tomar, Portugal.
Jez Timms / Unsplash

Tomar is one of Portugal’s most underrated cities, which is really too bad considering its history and the breathtaking architecture all around it. The Convento do Cristo is one of its most beautiful landmarks. Also known as the Convent of the Knights Templar of Tomar, it was once their headquarters. This unique building has changed hands many times over the centuries and reflects various architectural styles from different periods, with a strong focus on Portugal’s manueline architectural style, also known as Portuguese late gothic.

26. Douro Valley

Natural Feature

The rolling hills of Douro, lined with world class vineyards, baking in the Portuguese sun
Bruno Ferreira / Unsplash

The home of Portugal’s world-renowned port wine is definitely a location that the Portuguese locals are justifiably proud of, especially those from the northern part of the country. Covered in rolling hills and vineyards on either side of the Douro River, it is a sight to behold. While visiting, make a point of stopping into one of the many wineries and vineyards that offer tastings. There are plenty of Douro tours departing from Porto, too.

27. Pico

Natural Feature

Fields in Pico Island, Azores, Portugal
Kévin et Laurianne Langlais / Unsplash

Visitors may not know that Portugal’s highest mountain peak is located in the second-largest Azorean island of Pico. Sure, it’s more than a bit off the beaten path, and requires a plane and ferry to reach it, but that’s part of the adventure. Pico is an excellent place to enjoy water sports as well as hiking, and the island is home to unique vineyards growing in its volcanic soils. If you want to hike the mountain itself, we recommend booking a guided experience.

28. Matosinhos

Natural Feature

Aerial view of the beach at Matosinhos, Portugal
Pedro Menezes / Unsplash

As previously mentioned, Porto is certainly a city not to miss but instead of staying around the Ribeira district (where most of the tourists are sure to be), why not stick closer to Matosinhos? Conveniently connected to Porto by metro, it’s easy to reach, plus it’s a top beach in the area. Mealtimes may be among the busiest hours in Matosinhos since the main streets are lined with seafood restaurants, but in this case, a crowd denotes a good thing. Matosinhos also borders Porto’s city park to one side, the largest urban park in the entire country, and it has no shortage of beautiful heritage to explore. You can book surf lessons here, or opt for a guided cycle ride from Porto all the way to the beach.

Alcacer do Sal

Whether you like nature or history, Alcacer do Sal is an excellent destination and, other than in-the-know locals, this ancient town is easily overlooked by tourists. Benefiting from its location partially surrounding the Sado Estuary, top activities include dolphin watching and birding. The aged and winding roads through traditional neighborhoods date back to the Moorish occupation and the town’s 6th-century castle offers unparalleled views (both are perfect for taking stunning Instagram photos), plus the castle has a hotel inside!

Southwest Alentejo and Vicentine Coast Natural Park

Stretching from the Alentejo region to the Algarve, all along the coast, the natural park is a wildly rugged retreat dotted with traditional fishing villages, therefore a super place to get away. Most visitors head over for the surf, but the area is also perfect for birding, nature photography, enjoying a bit of botany, and devouring locally caught seafood.

Castro Marim

Just because you want to avoid crowds doesn’t mean you should avoid the Algarve, and the far eastern corner is another “off-the-beaten-path” jewel perfect for families seeking beach time and more opportunities “lost” in natural parks. Visit the local castle and church if cultural heritage and architecture interest you, while walking through the winding medieval streets may make you think about times long gone.

Flores Island

Without a doubt, visiting the Azores is a must, but why not skip São Miguel and Terceira and head to one of the furthest islands from mainland Portugal? Flores, named for the abundance of flowers on the island (mostly hydrangeas), is a green paradise sparkling with an incredible number of waterfalls, sandbanks, seaside cliffs, and caves. Like on the other islands, hiking, mountain biking, and water sports are among the top activities, plus thrill-seekers usually prefer Flores for canyoning. Flores is certainly one of Culture Trip’s picks for top Portuguese islands.

Bragança

Remotely located and far from signs of modern city life, Bragança in the Tras-os-Montes region is one of the least likely destinations for travelers visiting Portugal to see but, perhaps, it should be one of the first. In this region, some of the country’s oldest traditions still hold strong, and it is home to ancient landmarks dating back to different time periods. The locals, who have great pride in their “terra” (a way of denoting their ancestral land), are friendly and like to stop and chat while about their routines. Bragança, the region’s capital, offers stunning historic landmarks, plenty of restaurants cooking traditional delicious yet rustic dishes, and an easy jumping point for exploring more of the area.
Still not sure what to do in Portugal? Read our guide to the most stunning seaside towns, or – if history is more your thing – see our rundown of the most beautiful castles. And if you need somewhere to stay, let Culture Trip be your guide. We’ve unearthed the top places to stay in Portugal, from the best boutique hotels in Lisbon (don’t forget to try pastéis de nata while you’re there) to the most incredible hotels in the Alentejo wine region.

Alex Robinson contributed additional reporting to this article.

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