If you are wondering whether or not to put Portugal on your list as the next place to visit, the answer is ‘Yes!’ Why? Portugal has it all – from beautiful beaches to an amazing interior to explore, unique heritage and traditions, and the lush evergreen mountains.
The country is undoubtedly one of the few places in the world where you get a lifetime experience that even money cannot value. Located in the southwestern part of Europe, this ancient country boasts a diverse culture and beautiful landscape.
As fascinating as Portugal is, you can only enjoy a memorable trip there if you have an excellent traveling plan. Do you know the best places to visit in Portugal? What is the best time to check-in? What should you expect? The answers to these questions are crucial.
This is why we have put together this expert guide to ensure that your next trip to Portugal comes off as your best ever. So, without wasting time, let’s take you through Portugal in words!
Top 12 Places to Visit in Portugal
The list of famous places in Portugal is long and inexhaustible. The search can be exhausting – this is why we have prepared this list of the top 12 places to visit in Portugal for you.
Tavira – a small but breathtaking Portuguese town
Also seating on the Algarve Coast of Portugal, Tavira is making this list for the obvious reasons. Rather than the high-rise resorts you may be used to, Tavira brings you a fascinating network of whitewashed townhouses, intricate streets, and squares planted with flowers. Tavira also plays hosts to several local restaurants and cafes that serve fresh local produce.
The Isle of Tavira is a massive 10-km long natural harbor that still houses the remnants of the medieval fort used by North African pirates. There are a couple of fine sandy beaches leading into the beautiful azure waters. The Praia de Tavira is the main beach.
You may want to visit Tavira during winter to avoid crowds. Either way, ensure that you make a stop at the famous UNESCO-listed Ria Formosa Natural Park.
Madeira – the pleasant Portuguese surprise
Madeira will surprise you in a pleasant way – it is more of a tropical Caribbean Island than a Southern Europe Island. Also called the Floating Garden of Atlantic, this oasis is renowned for its evergreen landscapes and flower gardens. Madeira represents a perfect blend of relaxation and history. The golden beaches are pleasing to the eyes and calming to the body.
When you are done exploring the Cathedral of Funchal, the caves of Sao Vincente, and the tree-lined Lido Promenade, proceed to the Northern laurel forest to check out the Laurissilva Forest and the Orchid Garden.
Conclude the day with a tasty evening meal at any local restaurant around.
Sintra – Home of Fairytale Royal Villas
Sitting magnificently amidst the pine-bounded hills of the Serra de Sintra, Sintra is one of the most colorful Portuguese towns you will ever visit. Despite the relatively smaller size, the highlights are numerous, including the pastel-colored villas and the former royal residences.
You can schedule your Lisbon and Sintra trips on the same day – both cities can be linked via road. Do not leave Sintra without checking out the big and busy Pena Palace, the Parque Natural de Sintra, and the Peninha Sanctuary. The same goes for the Castelo dos Mouros, and the Quinta de Regaleira. Overall, your trip to this fairytale hilltop town will be worth every minute and effort invested.
Faro and the Algarve – Blissful Interconnection
Popular for its fascinating rock formations and natural beaches, the Algarve is deservedly a highly sought-after Portuguese coastline. The climate in Algarve is great, and you will find it a pleasant place to stay except in the high season.
Interestingly, Faro is the most prominent city in the Algarve region, after all, it hosts the international airport. And this is why most tourists adopt Faro as their station from which they explore other parts of Southern Portugal
You will not find an actual beach in Faro. But with a water taxi or bus, you can easily get to one. This does not, in any way, take away from the fantastic port and the unique old town of Cidade Velha.
Lagos – An Algarve Wonder
Lagos is another of the several famous places in Portugal. This popular city is in the Algarve region of the country. The history is rich and the people are warm and amazing. You will be amazed at the fascinating and gorgeous coastlines and the relaxing beaches. It is even more fun if you are a lover of water sports and the sea. Just get on a boat and explore the grottos and sea caves of Ponta de Piedade. You can also try snorkeling or lounging in any of the free beaches.
The robust nightlife in Lagos is another reason most tourists consider it a must-see. The best place to be after sunset is one of the top Lagos’ beaches, including the Pinhao Beach, the Praia Dona Ana, and the Praia do Camilo, among others.
The Azores – Europe’s Best Kept Secret
The Azores is a Portuguese archipelago sitting in the middle of the Atlantic Ocean and comprising nine volcanic islands. The uniqueness of the Azores region stems first from its geological formation and amplified by the rich fishing and farming culture by the locals.
While in the Azores, you can have quality fun with whale watching, swimming with dolphins, or tasting wine in Madalena on Pico Island. Take a trip to the Gruta das Torres Lava Cave – one of the thirty lava caves you will find in the Azores. The Gruta das Torres is 3350 meters long. You can also check out the Mount Pico, which is the highest mountain in the Azores region, sitting on Pico Island.
The adventure continues with hiking, cycling, and swimming in rock pools, thanks to the rugged landscape and dynamic scenery of these vast Islands.
Coimbra – Portugal’s Education Capital
Formerly the official capital, Coimbra is now regarded as the education capital of the country, thanks to the presence of the famous 1920-founded University of Coimbra. The ancient University deservedly dictates the town’s energy and influence. This is evident in the thousands of students swarming around in their unique black capes.
This quaint and charming city seats between Lisbon and Oporto in the north. It is close to the Mondego River and known for its network of cobbled streets and ancient churches. Interestingly, Coimbra is widely regarded as the most romantic city in Portugal. So, if you are with your significant half on your Portugal trip, you should definitely touch down in Coimbra,
Porto – The Home of Portuguese Wines
You will find many great things in Porto, but the top of the list is the port wine. Popularly called the gateway to the north, Porto is the second-largest city in Portugal. Enjoy some breathtaking views of the port cellars when you walk through the Cais da Ribeira riverfront. The perfect blend of ancient buildings and alleyways separated by the narrow streets is one of the most unique features of the famous Portuguese city.
The busy city of Porto is safe to explore. When the sun sets, the many restaurants, bars, and cafes in the riverfront area play host to tourists and locals seeking some quality local music complemented by the irresistible aroma of the grilled fish and local wines. You should also check the Harry Potter-themed Livraria Lello and the iconic Dom Luis I Bridge.
You can get into Porto from Galicia via train.
Evora – The Portuguese Beauty
Although there is something beautiful about all Portuguese cities on this list, Evora is clearly above par when it comes to comparison. The 2,000-year historic city of Evora is all shades of beauty. From the renaissance fountains to the Gothic doorways and turrets, the elegant Roman architectural masterpieces lying in the city are as fascinating as ever.
The city sits at the foot of the Evora Mountain range. It has been listed by UNESCO as a World Heritage Site, under the “cultural landscape” category. Evora plays host to the royal courts of King Joao III and King Manuel I. Treat yourself to the exciting local delicacies in the numerous open-air restaurants and cafes.
Lisbon – The Capital of Portugal
Apart from being Portugal’s capital, Lisbon doubles as the largest city in the country. So, it is not surprising that every visitor has Lisbon on their must-visit places. Sitting deep into the seven steep hills of Portugal, Lisbon is a balanced representation of Portugal. The enchanting Fado music is prominent in almost every corner of the colorful neighborhoods, as well as the fascinating valleys, and the quaint shops.
Lisbon’s old charm is clearly evident, as seen in the ancient Alfama district’s twisty alleyways, and the modern convenience is never absent, with several social infrastructures and amenities. Never leave Lisbon without takin a literal journey through history via a ride on the anciently-designed Tram 28.
Obidos – Home of the Medieval Fair
Do not expect much in terms of size when visiting Obidos – it is a small town. The streets are small but beautiful, laced with fascinating medieval remains, ancient churches, and countless bookshops. It is unsurprisingly the city of literature, according to UNESCO.
When summer knocks, it is time for the famous Obidos Medieval Fair. This fair is not only fun but perfectly-themed to take you back to several centuries before now. Participants are dressed in medieval costumes, checking into the special traditional stalls created in the old boundary walls. You will also see people jousting on the horseback.
Obidos is accessible by bus from Lisbon at any time of the day for less than 10 Euros.
Guimaraes and History
Almost everything about Guimaraes is historic. The city played host to a historic battle dating as far back as 1128, between Afonso Henriques, Portugal’s first king, and the army of Teresa, his mother. Afonso won and that was the start of the foundation of Portugal as a kingdom.
Start by touring this medieval castle where this battle took place. Then proceed to the Ducal Palace – a 15th-century royal edifice that now serves as a museum. The Rua de Santa Maria is also the place to be – a narrow ancient city that could pass as the most beautiful Guimaraes street ever.
The city boasts of evident waves of modernity, including a cable car trip to a park where you can take in the breathtaking views of the entire city.
Should you hire a Portugal Tour Guide?
The use of a tour guide (or not) is a common dilemma faced by visitors when they visit Portugal. Portugal is a modern European city that should be easy to navigate, however, this is only plausible and logical on paper. The most popular places to visit in Portugal cannot be navigated easily, thus necessitating the need for a tour guide.
While you may consider being your own tour guide to cut costs, the issues that come with such decisions are usually disturbing. You can lose your way or spend more money and time than expected. What about the locals? Don’t they offer directions when asked? Of course, they do. They may even offer without you asking. However, such ‘courteous’ help comes with a price – you will be asked to pay.
Now that it is clear that money is involved either way, why not put your money where you get the greatest value? Hiring a tour guide in Portugal comes with a lot of benefits. First, they know the places very well and will get you there and back in the fastest possible time. They help you to communicate with locals, when necessary. A tour guide will also make your explorations easier, both for city and village tours, as well as visits to historical and monumental locations.
For best results, work with a Portuguese tour company with excellent track records. Such a company will offer you a guide, who will resume as soon as you land in Portugal. Street tour guides may be cheaper, but the risks are usually greater.
What are the must-see cities to visit in Portugal?
You will agree that no one can visit every city, town, or village in Portugal during a single tour. It is not advisable financially and health-wise. However, there are some Portuguese cities and towns you do not want to miss when next you check in the country. Here is a list of some of them:
- Vilamoura – another Algarve city with an absorbing innate beauty, ideal for sun and sand holidays. The luxurious spas, delicious delicacies, and the fine golfing resorts are must-see.
- Fatima – a tourist magnet that receives up to six million people annually. Ensure to explore the Sanctuary of Fatima, Capelinha das Apricoes – a place the Virgin Mary allegedly appeared in 1917, and the Igreja da Santissima Trimade
- Aveiro – is the “Venice of Portugal.” The city offers breathtaking views, thanks to the colorful boats and buildings. There are several waterfront restaurants waiting to serve you the best Portuguese delicacies.
- Sagres – is just 40 km away from Portimao. Visit Cape St. Vincent and other relaxing beaches in a taxi or bus and return in a day. Sagres promises a remarkable Portuguese experience at any time.
- Tomar – is just two hours from Lisbon. You can get in via train to explore the Knights Templar headquarters, the Castelo de Tomar, the Pegoes Aqueduct, and the Convent of Christ.
Preparing for your trip to Portugal
Still talking about preparation, let us take a look at what you should take along for your next trip to Portugal. Note that this list is not universal, you may add or remove based on personal preferences.
- Super comfy and flexible clothes that suits the season and time of travel.
- Sunscreen and sunglasses will help you protect your skin and eyes from the sun.
- Comfortable flip flops and hiking sandals/sneakers.
- Raincoat/Windbreaker for the Atlantic breezes.
- Swimwear for water adventures.
- A sizable bag to keep pickpockets away.
- Personal items like medications, gadgets, charger lock for your gadgets, and a notepad.
If you are planning to do some sleep over outdoors, bring a tent and sleeping bag for the night.
Spending in Portugal
You will need cash for almost all your expenses during your trip to Portugal. The acceptable currency in Morocco is the Euros. You may spend up to 100 Euros daily, depending on where you go and where you buy. Cashless transactions are possible but only in a few places.
How should you dress in Portugal?
You can wear any outfit that covers you appropriately and makes you comfortable. There are no restrictions on dressing or appearance for both locals and visitors in Portugal.
Best souvenirs for your Portugal trip
You will find several supermarkets as well as local shops in almost every Portuguese city. The options can be overwhelming during such times, so here is a shopping list to help out.
- Buy Portuguese wines, after all, Portugal is the best port wine producer in the world.
- Get some cork products, including wallets, shoes, and umbrellas.
- Azulejos are fine Portuguese tiles and unique pieces of Portuguese culture.
- Embroidery and Pottery are perfect home accessories.
- Rooster of Barcelos –unofficial Portuguese national symbol.
- Cheese made in Portugal is excellent, including the Queijo Sao Jorge found in the Azores Island of Sao Jorge.
- Soaps like the Claus Porto, Castelbel, and Arch Brito are locally made but with elite packaging.
Fun Activities and things to see in Portugal
Add some more fun to your Portugal trip by trying out different fun and exciting activities. If you are not sure of where and how to start, here is a list:
- Listen to some exciting live Fado music in atmospheric bars and clubs.
- Attend traditional festivals for quality entertainment, including dancing, drinking, and feasting.
- Go golfing on any popular championship golf courses near you.
- Saddle up on a horse in any riding center close to you, especially on the beaches.
- Go for a wine tour in Douro valley’s fascinating vineyards and picturesque river.
- Be a motorsports spectator at Estoril racetrack holding close to Lisbon on the Atlantic coast of Portugal.
- Explore the fascinating Alfama district.
Best Time to Visit Portugal
Although Portugal is clearly a warm country, some of the regions are wetter and hotter than others. Expect the whole place to be windy and rainy during winter and autumn. However, the spring and summer come with even higher temperatures (35-40 degrees), between May to October.
Foods and Drinks in Portugal
Your trip is not all about what to see in Portugal. How about what to eat and drink in Portugal? This is what we will be discussing here.
Although relatively unpopular, Portuguese delicacies are fantastic. Seafood is the base of most common recipes. However, there are special delicacies like the Pastels de Nata – custard-filled tarts, Acorda de mariscos – a shrimp stew prepared in a bread bowl, and the Lulas recheadas a lisbonese – a Lisbon special delicacy made of stuffed squid.
There are a couple of native drinks in Portugal. Start with Port – the most popular tipple in Portugal. You can also try the Beirao and Ginja and Aguardente (made from sugarcane). Top wines include the Vinho Verde, Vinho do Dao and Vinho da Bairrada. These drinks are only available to persons aged 18 and above.
Getting Around in Portugal
While the aviation industry in Portugal is thriving in the bigger cities, you are better off driving between the mainland cities. Portugal is relatively small, so take advantage of the routes linking the main cities and towns along the coast. You can either hire a car, take a taxi, or move around on a bike. You can also use the rail services, thanks to a hue regional, inter-regional, and suburban train network.
What is not to love about Portugal? Absolutely nothing! You will be taken positively aback by the beautiful, warm climate, as well as the green mountains, breathtaking beaches, and the ever-green mountains. If you are yet to visit Portugal, it is high time you did that and you will be surprised to discover what you have been missing all this time. Your holiday in Portugal is bound to be all shades of awesome, once you make good use of the information provided in this article.
So, why not get your airline ticket and book a seat to Portugal for your next vacation?