Portugal is a country with something for everyone. From historic cities such as Porto and Coimbra to the rich cultural centre that is Lisbon, Portugal is crammed full of museums, monuments and stunning architecture. It is one of Europe’s oldest extant nations, an ancient kingdom defended by hilltop castles and dramatic walled towns. First-time visitors are usually struck by the friendliness of the people, the affordable food and wine, and the diversity of a country that is relatively easy to travel round in just a few days.
Its cities – notably Lisbon and Porto – amply showcase Portugal’s former role as a maritime superpower that ruled the waves from Brazil to East Asia, though it’s not all about history: the cities boast some of Europe’s best clubs and most adventurous modern architecture. Freshly baked bread, olives, cheese, red wine or crisp Vinho Verde (young wine), chargrilled fish, cataplana (seafood stew), smoked meats – the Portuguese have perfected the art of cooking simple, delicious meals. Sitting down to the table means experiencing the richness of Portugal’s bountiful coastline and fertile countryside.
Of course, you don’t have to sit; you can take your piping-hot pastel de nata (custard tart) standing up at an 1837 patisserie in Belém, or wander through scenic vineyards sipping the velvety ports of the Douro Valley. You can shop the produce-filled markets, or book a table in one of the country’s top dining rooms. Festivals pack Portugal’s calendar. Drink, dance and feast your way through all-night revelries like Lisbon’s Festa de Santo António or Porto’s Festa de São João. There are kick-up-your-heels country fairs in the hinterlands, and rock and world-music fests all along the coast. Any time of the year is right to hear the mournful music of fado in the Alfama, join the dance party in Bairro Alto or hit the bars in Porto, Coimbra and Lagos.
Top 10 Places to Visit in Portugal
1. Lisbon – Lisbon is the capital city of Portugal, stretching along the banks of the Tagus River very close to the Atlantic Ocean. In addition to this beautiful scenery around, Lisbon is nestled on seven steep hills and is one of the best destinations in Europe for enjoying warm and mild weather, alluring alleys, charming shops, Gothic cathedrals and architecture, impressive bridges, colourful houses and neighbourhoods, traditional fado music, a maze of atmospheric cobblestone streets, historic quarters, and so much more.
2. Algarve – The Algarve is definitely one of the best places to visit when in Portugal, mainly because it features a sunny and very pleasant Mediterranean climate, amazing beaches, charming little towns, historic sites, extra delicious and always fresh cuisine, affordable costs, and so much more. The Algarve is located in Portugal’s most southernmost region and is a stretch of land that is a feast for the eyes and your soul.
3. Óbidos – Located on a hilltop in western Portugal, Óbidos is nestled comfortably behind an ancient fortified wall and brings you back in time with its stunning old castle and medieval centre that add up to the overall feel that you are a host of a fairytale story. A maze of narrow, charming, cobbled streets will lead you to the main attractions in the town that is easy to navigate and explore. Inviting cafes, busy squares, and interesting shops await you behind every other corner of the town.
4. Sintra – Landed on a lush hilltop located in the Sintra Mountains on Portugal’s coast (and just a day-long trip from Lisbon), Sintra is what you envision when thinking of a fairytale kingdom. A number of atmospheric villas, royal retreats, castles and palaces such as the infamous Pena’s Palace that is reminiscent of the German’s Neuschwanstein, all this beauty is sprinkled on a lush and beautiful hill. Back in time Sintra used to run as a summer retreat resort for the royal family of Portugal and is nowadays a magnet for tourists and locals, who want to enjoy the beauty of nature and the architecture around.
5. Madeira – Madeira is also known as the “Floating Garden of the Atlantic” and there is no wonder where this description comes from because the island is this heavenly beautiful, fertile piece of land caressed by the Atlantic Ocean and located between Portugal and North Africa. Madeira is mostly popular for its lush landscapes, flower gardens, and delicious wines. Some of the attractions that are highly recommended to visit on Madeira include the Orchid Garden, the Laurissilva Forest with the world’s largest concentration of laurel, and Funchal, which is the capital and largest city of Madeira.
6. Porto – Porto is popular around the world for the production of wine but there is so much more to enjoy in the city. A busy and vibrant one, Porto is terraced along the lush hills overlooking the Douro River in northern Portugal. The Ribeira, an atmospheric pedestrian zone, is the beating heart of Porto and a place where you can enjoy the magnificent views to the river, a lot of charming cafes, restaurants, street vendors, and live music. Another popular attraction in Porto is the bridge Ponte Dom Luis linking the city with Vila Nova de Gaia.
7. Évora – Évora is a small town located in the Alentejo plate region of southern Portugal and it has a lot to offer to the visitor. With its huge tourist appeal, Evora is has a history dating back more than 2000 years and all the previous glory of the once flourishing town under a Roman control can be witnessed through the well-preserved Old Town and its more than 4000 historic structures dotted around. Another highlight in the town is the Cathedral of Évora that is one of the most important Gothic buildings in the country.
8. Aveiro – Located in Central Portugal on the Atlantic coast, Aveiro is a vibrant and charming city that is often called “the Venice of Portugal” because of its picturesque setting of canals connected by beautiful small bridges and filled with colourful gondolas and boats. Aveiro has it all with its many historic sites, beautiful beaches, and extra delicious and fresh food.
9. Azores – Composed on 9 volcanic islands in the Atlantic Ocean, the Archipelago of the Azores is located about 1500 km west of the capital. The Azores, despite requiring a bit more travelling and effort to reach to, definitely worth it as the archipelago is renowned for its world-class whale watching, charming seaside towns, and hot mineral springs. Each of the 9 islands has its own identity and charm.
10. Coimbra – Situated along the Mondego River in Central Portugal, Coimbra is an atmospheric and charming city that is a treasure trove of historic sites, architectural beauty, beautiful lush gardens, lively culture, and Portugal’s second style of fado music. Coimbra is centred around one of Europe’s oldest universities with one of the most beautiful university libraries in the world – the Joanina Library. Do not miss to visit the stunning Old Cathedral and the Gothic Monastery of Santa Clara-a-Velha, which contains the tomb of Queen Isabel.
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