From world-famous cities and isolated villages to vibrant beaches and spectacular National Parks, Portugal offers a vast array of visitor attractions and services. It occupies the wedge of ibéria with the Borders of Spain as well as the magnificent coastline with the Atlantic and Portugals location at this sunny corner of West-Europe lends it an exclusive appeal. The southern parts of the island are still popular vacation destinations with glorious sandy beaches and golf courses.
A round-up of the best places to visit in mainland Portugal – but we are sure there’s more to find!
If you are planning to visit Portugal any time soon – here are our top suggestions.
Lisbon – the Capital city
Lisbon, the capital city of Portugal, is renowned for its architectural beauty, charming narrow cobbled streets, and cultural significance in Western Europe. As one of the oldest towns globally, it holds a unique place in history. Originally, Guimarães served as the capital of the country, but in the mid-13th century, Lisbon took on the role of the Portuguese capital.
The main port in Portugal is the Port of Lisbon, located where the River Tagus and the Atlantic Ocean meet. It was a global maritime power during the 15th and 16th centuries. There are five major ports in Portugal, including Aveiro, the seaport of Douro, Leixões in the north, Lisbon, Setúbal, and Sines in the south. On a cruise, your ship will dock in Leixões Port, located in the Matosinhos District.
The Port of Setúbal has earned the prestigious designation of an ‘EcoPort’ from the European Sea Ports Organisation, a testament to its exceptional environmental standards. Portugal’s primary commodity exports encompass petroleum, tobacco, olive oil, copper ore, and pig meat. On the import side, the nation brings in machinery and transport commodities, chemicals, textiles, and agricultural products.
Lisbon city center is so full of history; it truly is one of Portugal’s best places to visit. Many independent restaurants and cafes line the streets, and you won’t be able to resist the sweet treats! Lisbon truly is one of the best places in Portugal. Read on for more places to visit in Portugal.
Natas (the most amazing custard tarts!)
Portugal’s delectable cakes have a rich history, with many of them originally crafted by monks and nuns. The renowned Pastel de Nata, for instance, traces its roots back to the Jerónimos Monastery in Belem, Lisbon, where the monks first devised its recipe. In 1834, with the closure of the monastery, the formula found new custodians in the owners of the Fábrica de Pastéis de Belém, established in 1837, ensuring the continuation of this delicious culinary tradition.
Pastel de Nata presents itself as a delightful fusion between a custard tart and a cake, boasting a crispy and flaky exterior that encapsulates a creamy and sweet interior. In Lisbon, ordering this delectable treat is as simple as asking for “um pastel de nata.” However, it’s worth noting that in various regions, it goes by different names. To savor one of these tasty pastries authentically, your best bet is to visit a local bakery. As you explore one of the best places in Portugal, treat yourself to the unique pleasure of Pastel de Nata—a culinary experience not to be missed.
The Trams of Lisbon
Here are some interesting facts about the historic trams of Lisbon.
Trams first appeared in Lisbon in 1873. They were called Carros Americanos and were first built in the United States.
It was on the 31st of August 1901, the first electric tram (Eléctricos) departed from Cais Sodré towards Algés.
Green and red trams are specifically for tourists. The green ones were recently added to the system in May 2015. Inside, the Cobrador had two roles: to validate the ticket and to get rid of the penduras, people who climbed the tram for a free ride.
Around Christmas, you might spot the Christmas Tram with Santa on the driver’s seat.
The Benagil Cave, also known as Algar de Benagil, stands out as one of the most renowned sea caves in the Algarve region of Portugal. As you explore this picturesque area, you’ll encounter captivating villages and breathtaking sea caves. The cave’s dome is particularly striking, adorned with vibrant rings and featuring a captivating blue opening at the top.
Accessing the Benagil Cave requires adventurous modes of transportation. You can choose to kayak, opt for a small boat tour, or even brave a swim to reach its enchanting interior. However, it’s important to exercise caution, as the ocean in this area can be rough, and even proficient swimmers should approach with care. The allure of Benagil Cave is undeniable, but safety should always be a top priority when embarking on such explorations.
Azores – a beautiful and unique Portuguese archipelago
Made up of nine different islands and situated far from Portugal’s coastal coast in the mid-Atlantic, the Azores might be the perfect place for anyone looking for adventure, but they are also a perfect place for those searching for beauty and wonder.
Each travel destination is unique, and we strongly encourage the visitor to learn the most about it, and we want to give you all of that information. Expect vineyards, spectacular scenery, fishing villages, and lush pastures.
São Miguel Island
Experience the magical island of São Miguel with the waterfalls of the Azores being one of the most enchanting features. To reach the waterfall, you’ll follow the PRC29SMI trail, which takes you along an old power plant pipeline.
This trail necessitates the use of sturdy shoes as it involves climbing stairs. A valuable tip for anyone embarking on this journey is to ensure a visit to the top of the waterfall. Along the way, you’ll encounter a small lookout point on your right, providing a unique vantage to appreciate the waterfall from above. Press on along this path, and you’ll eventually arrive at the tranquil water just before it cascades down, offering a serene and captivating view of the landscape.
The Batalha Monastery stands as one of Portugal’s most significant religious landmarks. Commissioned by King João as an expression of gratitude for the victorious outcome in the 1385 Battle of Aljubarrota, this Gothic masterpiece took over a century to complete. The grandeur of its design is truly remarkable. The primary portal, adorned with intricately carved arches and magnificent stone statues, embellishes the majority of the western wall, adding to the monastery’s overall architectural splendor.
The lower figures represent the Apostles, above them are angels, and at the pinnacle is a statue of Christ. You can visit the main church for free and revel in its high vaulted ceilings and original stained glass windows. However, you must attend the paid sections to experience the real magic of the monastery.
The Palacio da Pena is one of the most beautiful places in Sintra as well as one of the seven wonders of Portugal. It shares an array of Neo-Gothic, Neo-Manueline, Neo-Islamic, and Neo-Renaissance architectural styles and a prime example of 19th-century Romanticism. Initially, it was a monastery donated to the Order of Saint Jerome by Manuel I.
It was reduced to ruins after the Lisbon Earthquake. In the restoration of 1994, the original colors were restored outside the Palace. These colors included an old rose for the old monastery and an ocher for the New Palace. The work of the Pena Palace ended in the mid-1860s, although later interior decoration campaigns were carried out.
Porto and Douro – Northern Portugal
In northern Portugal, Porto and Douro emerge as two harmonious destinations, each offering the allure and enchantment of romantic settings. Porto, an ancient city that bestowed its name upon Portugal and is synonymous with Port wine, shares its charm with the Douro region. Nestled by the mouth of the River Douro, both Porto and Douro have earned the prestigious designation of World Heritage Sites since 1996. Visitors are captivated by the picturesque blend of traditional housing and imposing granite monuments that grace these locales. Don’t miss the opportunity to savor the local flavors in Porto, a city of considerable size situated in the northern part of the country.
This hilly city is one heck of a place to visit; think cobbled streets, fresh seafood, and copious amounts of port that’ll keep you sozzled all evening! On our last visit, I kept forgetting that port was much more alcoholic than ‘regular wines’. As you can imagine, an almighty hangover and bouts of feeling sorry for myself ensued.
Taking the tram towards the beaches or riding along the river is quite romantic. Take a stroll around the Museu de Arte Contemporânea de Serralves with its luscious park, or the new Casa da Música and the praised Metro do Porto. Visit the Museu do Douro, where you will see objects about the region while enjoying a drink.
The Douro River
The Douro River is a historically significant river of the Iberian Peninsula, creating a magnificent waterway for cruise ships. The Douro River cruises run from Porto, Portugal to Vega de Terron, Spain – a gorgeous place to spend some time! Most cruises are round trip from Porto. The most eminent structure on the river, the Dom Luis I Bridge, stretches to 951 feet long.
You get a variety of Portugal and Spain on Douro River Cruises, meaning excellent Paella from Spain and Port wines from Portugal, along with Flamenco dancers and Portuguese pingo (like espresso).
Let’s learn a little about the city of Porto!
Portugal got its name from the city of Porto (Portus Cale) before Lisbon was the capital of Portugal. The city is nicknamed Invicta because Porto was never conquered and even survived a siege.
The most typical dish in Porto is the Francesinha (Frency). It is composed of meat and sausages, cheese, and beer-tomato sauce. Porto’s most famous export is Port wine.
Porto, the home to one of the three biggest football teams in Portugal, Futebol Clube do Porto (FCP). Porto also hosts one of Europe’s largest street festivals, St John’s Festival. Porto really is one of the best places to visit in Portugal.
Are you ready to learn some fun facts about Aveiro?
Aveiro is known for bold Art Nouveau buildings, human-made canals, and ornate vessels.
Costa Nova Beach in Aveiro is a must for seafood lovers; crabs, goose barnacles, shrimp, and whelks from the lagoon can be prepared for you on the Cais dos Pescadores. The tourists often herald the town of Aveiro as being the Venice of Portugal.
The cityscape is crisscrossed by canals that you can navigate on painted gondola-style boats known as Moliceiros. The Romans were the first to recognize Aveiro as a harbor. The harbor is the best-sheltered harbor on the Iberian Peninsula western side. Aveiro’s prized monument is the Moistero de Jesus, built between the 15th and 17th centuries.
Portugal’s architectural landscape stands as a testament to its artistic evolution, reflecting the rich tapestry of cultural influences woven throughout its history. Just as various settlers, such as Romans, Suebians, related Germanic peoples, Visigoths, and Arabs, have left an indelible mark on the Portuguese territory, so too has their imprint shaped the distinct architectural style that defines the country. The interplay of diverse cultural influences has contributed to the unique and captivating architectural statement that Portugal proudly showcases.
Influence from the main European artistic centers, such as Romanesque, Gothic, Renaissance, Baroque, and Neoclassicism, are also present. Among the primary local manifestations of Portuguese architecture are the Manueline, the exuberant Portuguese version of late Gothic, and the Pombaline style that developed after the Great Lisbon earthquake of 1755.
Padrão dos Descobrimentos
The Monument to the Discoveries or Padrão dos Descobrimentos in Portuguese is a monument constructed in 1939 in honor of the Portuguese Discoveries of the golden XV and XVI centuries. It is also known as Monument to Navigators and designed by the Portuguese architect José Angelo Cottinelli Telmo.
This monument pays homage to the heroes of the Portuguese Discoveries, with each side adorned by sculptures depicting 33 notable figures. Notably, on the edge of the caravel stands a sculpture of Infante D. Henrique (Henry the Navigator), a central and influential figure in the Age of Discoveries. Accessible up to the 6th floor via either stairs or an elevator, visitors are encouraged to ascend to the highest point of the monument. From this vantage, one can relish in one of the most cherished panoramas overlooking Belém and the Tagus River, offering a breathtaking perspective of the surroundings.
Classic Portuguese Azulejos tiles
Tiles (called Azulejos) are everywhere in Portugal. They decorate walls of churches and monasteries, palaces, ordinary houses, park seats, fountains, shops, and train stations. Azulejos date back to the 13th century, and the word Azulejo stems from Arabic roots, meaning ‘small polished stone.’ King Manuel I was astonished by the Alhambra in Granada (Spain) and decided to have his Palace in Sintra decorated with the same vibrant ceramic tiles.
When visiting a church or cathedral in Portugal, many are decorated in Azulejos, depicting a style that started during the 16th century. Birds and leaves were frequently symbols used as decoration, possibly inspired by Asian fabrics. Famous sites known for their Azulejo art include the Sao Bento Railway Station in Porto, and the Buçaco Palace.
Portugal is a gorgeous country and home to some of the most beautiful and secluded beaches in the world. The country’s coastline stretches for over 1,000 kilometers, and is littered with sandy coves and rocky cliffs. From the picturesque Algarve region in the south to the wilds of the Atlantic Coast in the north, there are plenty of beaches to choose from.
Some of the most popular beaches in Portugal include Praia da Marinha in Lagoa, Costa da Caparica near Lisbon, and Dona Ana Beach in Lagos. Praia da Marinha is known for its dramatic cliffs and crystal-clear waters, while Costa da Caparica is a long sandy beach that is popular with locals and visitors alike. Dona Ana Beach is one of the most secluded beaches in Portugal, and features dramatic cliffs and crystal-clear waters.
Braga, located to the north, holds the distinction of being Portugal’s largest city. Renowned for its extensive history as both a religious and commercial hub, Braga’s historical center invites exploration into an 18th-century cityscape adorned with magnificent mansions, impressive cathedrals, and grand palaces. Amidst the imposing granite facades that characterize many of its buildings, the city surprises with several well-maintained gardens and parks.
Established in the 10th century, Braga boasts the notable Sé Cathedral, a popular tourist attraction that symbolizes its historical significance as a bishopric and ecclesiastical center. The city retains its prominence as a major ecclesiastical hub in Portugal, drawing visitors with its rich heritage and a blend of architectural marvels from different eras.
The most beautiful destination on this map, Tavira, certainly possesses all of these picturesque features. This charming, laid back vibe small town neighborhood has a Roman bridge that connects both sides. The waterfront provides an exciting walk before or after exploring Tavira’s remaining historical treasures. Castle walls give spectacular views over Old City and its neighbor’s shoreline.
You can also explore Igreja Santa Do Castelo, the grand cathedral where warriors’ Knights are buried. The city also has an amazing museum, Ncleo Islamic. Highlighting this is an ancient and rare figure vase.
Vilamoura, often regarded as the heart of the Algarve, captivates visitors with its absorbing and natural beauty, making it a truly picturesque town. In recent times, tourism has flourished, turning Vilamoura into a sought-after destination celebrated for its opulent spas, world-class golf courses, and a haven for culinary enthusiasts. Vilamoura is a place where one can truly unwind and relax.
Situated in the Algarve, this region offers an abundance of pristine beaches, all within a short distance. Nearby shores host some of Portugal’s premier wind-surfing experiences. Vilamoura is especially enticing for food and wine enthusiasts, offering a delightful array of culinary experiences that make a visit to this vibrant town a truly rewarding endeavor.
One of the most popular tourist destinations in Portugal, Lagos soaks up the sunshine from the Algarve and is an ideal holiday destination for thousands of tourists. Lagos – formerly known for its stunning beach fronting both sides of its International Marina – is also a home of incredibly magical rocks and sandstone walls which rise above several rocky islands.
There is also a series of sea caves and strange-shaped cliffs. Alternatively, they are possible when visiting them during a relaxing sightseeing tour, among many watersport activities. It’s easy to spend a lot of time here with some of the Algarve’s best beautiful beaches. Enjoy many day trips to visit the caves, dolphin watching, or water sports. This really is an amazing place to visit in Portugal.
This former fishing village has transformed into a diverse destination attracting visitors from both domestic and international origins. The allure of white sandy beaches is complemented by a variety of recreational activities such as parasailing, jet skiing, dolphin watching, and diving. Notably, Praia da Oura and Praia dos Pescadors stand out as two excellent beaches to explore, each offering its unique charm. Secluded smaller beaches, radiating charm, provide an ideal setting for families seeking a more intimate experience.
Venturing beyond the coastline, taking a boat trip into the countryside reveals appealing villages, narrow streets, and a culinary scene featuring some of the finest restaurants in the region. And, as the day unfolds, don’t forget to immerse yourself in the vibrant nightlife, adding an extra layer to the multifaceted appeal of this once quaint fishing village.
Cascais – a pretty cosmopolitan coastal resort and a great place to visit in Portugal
Formerly a quiet fishing village, Cascais has evolved into a chic beach resort near Lisbon, renowned for its splendid beaches, sophisticated nightlife, and a range of water sports and adventurous activities that exude a cosmopolitan charm. Apart from being highly praised by artists and artisans for its breathtaking landscapes, the town boasts the Museum Conde de Castro Guimarães, housing remarkable artworks that continue to captivate visitors.
Adding to its allure is the stylish new marina, adorned with yachts that gleam in the sunlight, creating a picturesque scene. Cascais, with its blend of natural beauty, cultural richness, and upscale amenities, stands as a destination that seamlessly marries tradition with contemporary elegance.
What month is the best to go to Portugal?
The best time to visit Portugal is during the spring months (March-May) when Portugal is blooming and waking from winter. If it is autumn (between September and Oct. ), you will find things a little quieter but also still quite warm.
That’s our starter for the best places to visit in Portugal. If you would like to travel to Portugal for less and even travel for free, check out our travel club membership: http://www.thetravelclub.info
More about Portugal – Top Tips for your first amazing visit to Portugal: https://greatescapetravel.blog/top-tips-for-your-first-amazing-visit-to-portugal/
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