Portugal may be on the smaller side, but you wouldn’t know it looking at the variety of the list below: charming towns, bustling cities, rugged mountains, rolling valleys, pristine coastline, and lush jungle islands. Below is our top 12 things for travelers to experience in Portugal.
1. Visit the city of Porto
Porto is Portugal’s second largest city, famed for its export of fine port wine. With over six bridges connecting Porto to Vila Nova de Gaia on the other side, you really can’t mention one and not the other. Go to Porto and Gaia for an authentic Portuguese vibe, buildings covered in azulejos, a great food scene, beautiful beaches within a 10-minute ride, and amazing views from both sides of the river. The riverside Ribeira district is particularly lively, full of restaurants, shops, and plenty of people enjoying the atmosphere.
2. Take a road trip through Douro Valley
While you may be tempted to stay in enchanting Porto your whole trip, an excursion up through the Douro Valley is a must. Cruising up the Douro River used to be the only convenient way to reach the Valley, but a new tunnel opened in 2016 through the Serra do Marao mountains. Now driving through the world’s first officially designated wine region and staying for an extended visit is a much easier option. The impressive granite mountains are terraced with picture perfect vineyards and spotted with large wine estates.
3. Photograph the beautiful churches of Braga
Braga’s role as the religious capital of Portugal is made clear by the number of churches, chapels, and monasteries dotted throughout the town. In keeping with character, Braga decorates for Semana Santa (Holy Week) festivals with lights and flowers and hosts numerous processions. Don’t miss important religious sites including the Sé Cathedral, Antigo Paço Episcopal, and the hillside sanctuary Bom Jesus do Monte. As one of Portugal’s oldest cities, you can follow the architecture through the ages. Walk the charming narrow lanes for excellent examples of Roman, Gothic and Baroque styles.
4. Navigate the narrow streets of Lagos
Lagos is a charming little Portuguese town with a population of just a little more than 22,000 residents. It’s highly popular among tourists for its exceptional Atlantic coast, boasting tons of fascinating rock formations. Two of its beaches – Dona Ana and Camilo – are always included among the top beaches in the Algarve region. Its look-out point called Ponta da Piedade is an amalgam of grottos, cliffs and rock pillars offering an unforgettable scenery.
5. Explore the rocky village of Monsanto
This small, fortified village was named as the “most Portuguese village in Portugal” in 1938. Houses and streets in Monsanto are packed tightly and carved from the rocky cliffs and granite boulders that surround the town itself. Visiting the castle that overlooks Mosanto provides an excellent panorama of the flat plains below and the nearby mountains of the Serra de Estrela.
6. Fall in love with the charm of Monsaraz
Monsaraz is a charming village in Portugal and even now, this village still retains its historic and medieval atmosphere. Whitewashed houses which were established between the 16thand 17th century are dotted across the village’s main street, Rua Direita.
If you follow this street it will lead you to the main square, where a parish church housing beautiful gilded altars and painted pillars awaits to be Instagramed. It is also worth considering a little hike to visit the castle in the town. It offers great views across the Alqueva Dam and tasty olive groves. Yum!
7. Relax on the beach of Nazare
Dubbed as Portugal’s most famous fishing village, Nazare has always been attracting visitors because of its glorious beach and vibrant village life. You will be fascinated by the traditional costumes that are still worn by the locals today, with men having checked shirts and trousers while women wear several layers of petticoats that are ironed and starched with military precision.
8. Explore the beauty of Aveiro
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.
9. Instagram the Pena Palace
One of the most iconic Instagram spots in all of Portugal, and for good reason. This is a place where you absolutely must snap a quick photo during your travels.
10. Visit the Sintra mountains
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.
11. Go for a swim in Tavira
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.
12. Jerónimos Monastery
This is one of the most stunning gothic architecture in Lisbon! Amazing in photos but even more impressive in person!