Picture yourself strolling through cobblestone streets, relishing the aroma of freshly grilled sardines, and gazing upon a mesmerizing sunset over the Atlantic Ocean. Sounds nice but Portugal is way more than this! I have travelled through Portugal at least 10 times, exploring every region, diversity of this incredible and rich in history coastal country. Traveling by car allows you to explore the untouristic sites of the country, driving the coastal road I found stunning, completely empty beaches , hidden between cliff shores.
All of this is possible in Portugal — a gem hidden in plain sight on the Iberian Peninsula. This country boasts an alluring blend of vibrant culture, rich history, and stunning scenery that will undoubtedly captivate your heart.
From its sun-soaked coastal towns to its charming cities brimming with architectural wonders, Portugal offers a wide array of activities and experiences for every type of traveler. Whether you’re an adventure seeker, a history buff, or just someone who appreciates the finer things in life, this enchanting country is certain to leave a mark on your memory.
So if you’re ready to embark on an unforgettable journey filled with awe-inspiring sights, fascinating stories, and delectable cuisine, read on to discover the best things to do when you visit Portugal.
- Portugal boasts a vibrant culture, rich history, and stunning scenery.
- Key attractions include Lisbon’s historic sites, Porto’s wine-making culture, and Sintra’s fairy-tale palaces.
- Évora offers timeless historical and cultural experiences, while Madeira promises stunning landscapes and outdoor adventures.
- The Algarve region is perfect for beach lovers and adventure seekers with its pristine beaches and water sports (hovewer you must know it’s heavy touristic).
- The Douro Valley is renowned for its world-class wine production and picturesque vineyards.
- The Azores archipelago offers off-the-beaten-path experiences with untouched nature and adventure opportunities.
- Óbidos presents a picturesque medieval experience with well-preserved fortified walls and architecture.
- Portuguese cuisine, from Bacalhau to Pastel de Nata, offers a delightful fusion of flavors.
Lisbon: Portugal’s Captivating Capital
Lisbon, the capital city of Portugal, is teeming with life, history, and gorgeous places waiting for you to discover them.
Baixa district offers the best walking routes of Lisbon! It’s a downtown with Plaza de Commerciale and the glamurous Arc of Victory monument.
When visiting Lisbon, explore the iconic Alfama district, where narrow alleys snake through ancient houses adorned with colorful tiles. As you wander the streets, be sure to check out the majestic São Jorge Castle, which offers panoramic views of the city.
Afterward, make your way to Belém, a district steeped in maritime history. Here you will find the Jerónimos Monastery and the Torre de Belém (Belém Tower), both UNESCO World Heritage Sites. Don’t forget to taste the famous Pastéis de Belém — a delightful custard tart that has been enjoyed by locals for centuries.
For delicious spots & tips check my post on Best Walking Routes in Lisbon.
The greatest adventure is taking the famous TRAM 28 from Plaza Commerciale to Castle of Sao Jorge, located on the hills of Lisbon! For best prices and Lisbon Hills Tour by Tram 28 Route 24-Hour Ticket check below:
Porto: A Riverside Jewel
The coastal city of Porto is best known for its cobbled streets, fresh seafood, and picturesque riverside setting.
Stroll along the Douro River and cross the emblematic Dom Luís I Bridge to discover the captivating Gaia district, home to many renowned port wine cellars. Embark on a river cruise or indulge in a wine-tasting tour to fully appreciate Porto’s rich wine-making heritage.
For a dose of art and culture, visit the opulent Livraria Lello — one of the world’s most beautiful bookstores — or explore the contemporary exhibitions at Serralves Museum. Round off your day by feasting on Francesinha, Porto’s signature sandwich filled with an array of meats and smothered in a delicious beer sauce.
Sintra: Palaces and Enchanting Forests
A mere day trip from Lisbon, the small town of Sintra boasts magical palaces and lush forests that are straight out of a storybook.
Wander through the enchanting gardens of Quinta da Regaleira before ascending to the hilltop Pena Palace — an extravagant fusion of architectural styles that’s sure to leave you spellbound. Another must-see spot is the National Palace of Sintra, which sits right in the heart of the fairly-tale town.
For a more tranquil experience, venture into Sintra-Cascais Natural Park, where enchanting woodland trails lead to hidden gems such as the mystic Convento dos Capuchos and the dramatic cliffs of Cabo da Roca — Europe’s westernmost point.
Évora: A Timeless Treasure of History and Culture
Situated in the heart of the Alentejo region, Évora is a city steeped in history and cultural significance. Its well-preserved medieval center is a UNESCO World Heritage Site that has managed to retain its distinctive charm throughout the centuries.
Begin your exploration at the ancient Roman Temple of Évora, also known as the Roman Temple of Diana, an impressive architectural relic that stands as a testament to the city’s rich past.
Stroll through Évora’s picturesque cobbled streets and squares, such as Praça do Giraldo, which boasts beautiful arcades and vibrant cafes. Delve deeper into the city’s history by visiting its intriguing museums, including the Museum of Évora and the Bones Chapel (Capela dos Ossos), a unique site adorned with human bones and skulls.
Óbidos: A Picturesque Medieval Experience
Óbidos, a charming town located just an hour’s drive north of Lisbon, is a true embodiment of medieval allure.
Enclosed within well-preserved fortified city walls, this enchanting destination transports visitors back in time with its cobblestone medieval streets, whitewashed houses adorned with vibrant flowers, and imposing castle.
Don’t shy away from wandering along the narrow streets and marvel at the architectural gems that abound, such as the Church of Santa Maria, which showcases a fascinating mix of Gothic, Renaissance, and Baroque styles.
For a truly immersive experience, climb the historic castle walls to admire panoramic views of the surrounding countryside or even stay overnight at the unique Pousada de Óbidos — a luxurious hotel housed within the medieval castle itself.
Whether you’re seeking a leisurely day trip from Lisbon or a romantic getaway steeped in history and charm, Óbidos promises an unforgettable medieval experience that will leave you longing for more.
Madeira: The Pearl of the Atlantic Ocean
This volcanic archipelago off the coast of North Africa is renowned for its stunning landscapes and mild climate.
You can kick-start your Madeiran adventure in Funchal, the island’s bustling capital full of popular tourist attractions. There, you can sample exotic fruits at Mercado dos Lavradores or explore the lush gardens of Monte Palace.
Even if you’re not religious, you can admire the sheer beauty of Funchal Cathedral, which may look quite plain on the outside but is absolutely stunning on the inside.
For outdoor enthusiasts, Madeira offers an abundance of activities, from whale watching and scuba diving to hiking along its famous levadas — ancient irrigation channels that snake through breathtaking mountain terrain. Make sure to traverse the rugged cliffs of Cabo Girão or conquer the towering peak of Pico Ruivo for unparalleled views of this island paradise.
Algarve: Beautiful Beaches and Coastal Escapades
If you’re looking for even more things to do in Portugal, you can visit Algarve.
Famed for its golden sands and crystal-clear waters, the Algarve region is a sun-seeker’s dream come true. Lounge on the idyllic beaches of the Portuguese coast, including Praia da Marinha and Praia da Falesia, or embark on a boat trip to explore the mesmerizing sea caves of Benagil.
Adrenaline junkies can try their hand at surfing in Sagres or kitesurfing in Alvor. History enthusiasts will also enjoy exploring the Moorish castle in Silves or strolling through the whitewashed streets of Tavira, a town teeming with Roman and Moorish influences.
Portugal’s National Parks: A Journey Through Breathtaking Natural Landscapes
When in Portugal, you don’t have to feel limited to visiting one quaint town after another, looking for the next popular tourist attraction.
Portugal is home to a diverse array of national parks and protected areas, offering visitors an opportunity to explore the country’s unique and captivating natural landscapes. From lush forests and towering mountains to dramatic coastlines and stunning rock formations, each park boasts its own spectacular scenery.
Nestled in the northwest corner of Portugal, Peneda-Gerês National Park is the country’s only officially designated national park.
This vast expanse of rugged terrain encompasses verdant valleys, rushing rivers, and soaring peaks that beckon hikers and nature enthusiasts alike. Discover its picturesque villages, ancient Roman roads, and stunning waterfalls as you traverse this breathtaking landscape.
Stretching along the Algarve’s eastern coastline, Ria Formosa Nature Park is a haven for birdwatchers and wildlife enthusiasts.
Its unique system of barrier islands, salt marshes, and lagoons provides a sanctuary for numerous bird species, including the rare purple swamphen. Explore this tranquil setting by boat or on foot as you uncover secluded beaches and serene trails.
Serra da Estrela
Home to mainland Portugal’s highest peak, Torre, Serra da Estrela Natural Park offers a dramatic landscape of rugged mountains, glacial valleys, and crystal-clear lakes.
Hike along its well-marked trails to admire panoramic vistas or partake in winter sports at its popular ski resort. Don’t forget to savor the region’s delicious Queijo da Serra — a creamy sheep’s cheese that has become a Portuguese gastronomic symbol.
Douro Valley: Wine Country Wonders
Nestled in central Portugal, the Douro Valley is a UNESCO World Heritage Site celebrated for its terraced vineyards and world-class wine production. Embark on a scenic train journey along the Douro River or join a guided wine tour to sample the region’s renowned port and vinho verde.
For a unique experience, consider staying at a traditional Quinta (wine estate), where you can immerse yourself in the valley’s rich viticulture while enjoying breathtaking views of the surrounding landscape.
Azores: Pristine Nature and Adventure Awaits
Comprised of nine volcanic islands in the North Atlantic, the Azores archipelago offers a truly off-the-beaten-path experience for nature lovers and adventure enthusiasts alike. Trek through the lush vegetation of Terra Nostra Park on São Miguel Island, or marvel at the vibrant flora that adorns Sete Cidades’ twin crater lakes.
Dive into the azure waters to swim with dolphins or embark on a whale-watching tour to catch glimpses of majestic cetaceans. For those seeking an adrenaline rush, go canyoning through the islands’ rugged terrain or scale the imposing peak of Mount Pico — Portugal’s highest mountain.
Savoring Portugal: Delectable Food and Drinks to Indulge In
Portuguese cuisine is a delightful fusion of Mediterranean flavors, fresh seafood, and hearty comfort food that is sure to tantalize your taste buds. With an array of mouthwatering dishes and beverages, savoring the culinary delights of Portugal is an essential part of any visit to this enchanting country.
- Bacalhau (salted cod). Often referred to as the national dish, bacalhau is featured in over 1,000 recipes, including Bacalhau à Brás and Bacalhau com Natas.
- Grilled sardines. A summertime favorite, enjoy freshly grilled sardines at local seaside eateries or during Lisbon’s lively festivals.
- Arroz de Marisco (seafood rice). This savory seafood rice dish is brimming with prawns, crab, and clams, showcasing Portugal’s rich coastal cuisine.
- Petiscos (Portuguese tapas). Share small plates of Azeitão cheese, spicy chouriço sausages, or crispy rissois de camarão with friends over drinks.
- Pastel de Nata (egg tart). Indulge in this famous sweet treat featuring creamy egg custard in a flaky pastry crust, dusted with cinnamon and powdered sugar.
- Caldo Verde (green soup). Taste this traditional Portuguese soup made with kale, potatoes, and chouriço sausage — perfect for a hearty meal.
- Polvo à Lagareiro (octopus with olive oil and garlic). Savor tender octopus cooked with olive oil and garlic, typically served with boiled potatoes.
- Queijo da Serra (mountain cheese). Enjoy this creamy sheep’s cheese from the Serra da Estrela region as part of a delicious petiscos spread or on its own.
- Vinho Verde (green wine). Sip on this refreshing, slightly effervescent wine produced in the Minho region of Portugal.
- Port Wine. Sample Portugal’s world-renowned fortified wine from the Douro Valley, available in a variety of styles such as Tawny, Ruby, and Vintage.
- Ginjinha (cherry liqueur). Experience a unique Portuguese tradition by sipping this sweet cherry liqueur, often served in small chocolate cups.
- Bica (espresso). Complete your culinary journey with a strong Portuguese bica, best enjoyed alongside a delicious Pastéis de Nata.
Fall for Portual!
Portugal is a treasure trove of diverse experiences, offering a blend of vibrant culture, rich history, and stunning natural beauty.
From the historic splendors of Lisbon and Porto to the captivating landscapes of the Azores and Madeira, every corner of this country promises unique adventures. Its cuisine, characterized by an enticing fusion of flavors, is a treat for all food enthusiasts.
No matter your travel style, there are plenty of things to do in Portugal. Whether you’re drawn to its sun-kissed beaches, ancient architectural marvels, verdant national parks, world-class wineries, or bustling city life, Portugal offers countless memories to create and stories to tell.
This Iberian gem is a must-visit destination that leaves an indelible imprint on your heart and mind.