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Create the perfect Portugal Itinerary with these beautiful places and cities to visit.
Visiting Portugal seems to be on everyone’s radar lately and if it’s not on your list of top places to visit yet, you must add this marvellous destination to it now. The country boasts a rich history with loads of cultural sites, fabulous coastlines, succulent food and lets us not forget about the spectacular Douro Valley’s production of top wines.
While offering a multitude of holiday destinations to choose from, selecting which of the many beautiful places in Portugal to visit to include in your Portugal itinerary can be challenging. It goes without saying that Lisbon and Porto, the two biggest cities in the country are inevitable and should be included, but there are many underrated places to visit in Portugal, such as the charming town of Viana do Castelo in the North or the surf town of Sagres in the South.
In fact, one could take several weeks to explore the many Portugal sights, but to help you create your best Portugal itinerary, a collective made of fellow travel bloggers suggesting their top places to visit in Portugal has been put together in this article. These travel experts share with you their favourite spots where to eat, where to stay and what to do in the prettiest places in Portugal, find their ultimate recommendations to include in your exploration of the country.
How to get around in Portugal:
Providing diverse landscape from stunning beaches with dramatic cliffs in the South to the rolling hills of the Douro Valley in the North, there is no shortage of beautiful places in Portugal to explore. You have a few options for getting around in Portugal but if you plan to get off the beaten path renting a car is the most sensible one.
Roads and highways in Portugal are well maintained, the driving is done on the right side of the road with drivers on the left side of the car. In order to prevent a substantial drop-off surcharge when and if you rent a vehicle, you’ll need to make a loopback in your Portugal itinerary to your departure point, a feasible plan considering that you can drive the Porto to Lisbon distance in about 3-4 hours. If you prefer not driving, the train system is reliable and a cost-efficient way to explore the country. You can use a combination of trains and buses to cover many of the Portugal sights below.
Consult timetables and train fares: https://www.cp.pt/passageiros/en
Best Cities to Visit in Portugal
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Northern Portugal Cities to Visit
There is no shortage of beautiful places and cities to include in this part of the country, here are the top picks to visit.
VIANA DO CASTELO
Northern Portugal is like a world of its own.
It has a distinctively unique culture from the rest of Portugal, from the unique Northern Portugal wedding, traditional dress, to the dances and music. It is believed that the traditional Portuguese Fado originated here in the Minho region of Northern Portugal. One of the best places to experience Northern Portugal is the relatively unknown town of Viana do Castelo.
Some of the highlights of the town include the old town center in Praca da Republica and the Funicular de Santa Luzia. This incline railway will take you to the top of Monte de Santa Luzia to view the imposing landmark of Sanctuario de Santa Luzia.
The architectural style Church of Santa Luzia was inspired by the Sacre-Coeur in Paris. Narrow outdoor stone steps take you to the top of the church. The view of the town, as well as beyond to the River Limia and the Atlantic Ocean, is breathtaking. You can also visit the famous Praia do Cabedelo – a beach that is very popular in the summertime.
What to Eat:
Food-wise, you have to try the Caldo Verde – kale and potato soup of the Minho Province. Don’t miss the Pescada a Vianense – a delicacy of cod or other fish – baked in a mixture of potatoes, garlic, onion, and lemon juice. Head to A Moda Antiga or Taberna do Valentim to try some traditional Portuguese dishes.
Where to Stay:
There are a few unique places to stay in Viana do Castelo. For a romantic getaway, Casa Melo Alvim occupies a 16th-century mansion with much of its original décor. Or stay at the Flor de Sal boutique hotel for its sleek and modern design.
The Portugal city of Viana do Castelo is a recommendation from travel bloggers The RTW Guys
Braga is one of the prettiest cities I’ve been to in Portugal.
Originally the most important Roman city in northern Portugal, Braga celebrates its Roman heritage with a themed festival each May and hosts countless other events throughout the year. The city’s traditional architecture is largely Baroque, with a heavy dose of medieval.
The main shopping streets seem to be filled with flowers all year round but the jewel of the crown has to be the riot of colour that is the Santa Barbara Gardens, made even more magical with the stonework of the medieval Archbishop’s Palace as its backdrop.
While it’s possible to whizz around the highlights in a day, I’d recommend spending at least two days in Braga. Located in the heart of the Minho region, it’s a great base for exploring the surrounding countryside and other towns and cities and is only about an hour by train from Porto.
What to See:
Must see in the historical centre include the Cathedral – it’s worth paying the extra to visit the cloisters and side chapels.
I’d also recommend the Biscainhos Palace-Museum and Raio Palace if you like Portuguese tiles. A medieval tower now contains the city’s photography museum, which has ever-changing exhibitions. The most famous of Braga’s attractions is probably the Bom Jesus sanctuary, which is a hilltop complex surrounded by forest and parkland a few kilometres outside the city centre. The monumental staircase is immensely photo-worthy and the views are spectacular.
Where to Stay:
The best place to stay is the super-friendly and comfortable Domus 26 Guesthouse, just down the road from the cathedral.
See the rates for Domus 26 Guesthouse on Booking.com here.
The Portugal city of Braga is a recommendation from travel blogger Julie Dawn Fox in Portugal
The second biggest metropolis of the country, Porto is the gateway to Northern Portugal.
The heart of the city is alongside the Douro River where the Ribeira barrio, the most picturesque part of the city, is located. Enjoy a leisurely walk along the riverfront promenade, sit at the many cafés and restaurant terraces along it or simply cross the bridge to take in spectacular views of Porto from Nova Gaia. From there, visit the many port wine cellars and tour is cobblestones streets and old manor style houses.
Exploring Porto is uncovering a rich heritage going back to medieval times when the country was powerful and wealthy, a past and fortune apparent in the many gilded building’s interiors and intricate tile works adorning the many exterior facades. From river cruises, Port wine tasting or spotting Azulejos adorning the many old churches in the city, including Porto in your Portugal itinerary is a winning choice.
What to Eat:
Don’t leave the city without trying a Francesinha sandwich, a local creation that can easily serve two persons.
Where to Stay:
For a budget option, I can recommend the Yes Hostel, a central choice with clean facilities offering tours and activities, making it an ideal choice for solo travellers. Otherwise, the city you can choose the five-star Intercontinental for a luxurious stay.
The Portugal city of Porto is a recommendation from Marquestra
Coimbra is a beautiful town in Central Portugal, famous for its University.
While the town is lovely in its own right, with colourful houses perched together across Coimbra’s hilltops, the highlight for many is a tour of the university since it was added to the UNESCO World Heritage Site list in 2013.
To tour the university, first, stop by the ticket office to purchase a ticket and get assigned a tour time for the Joanine Library. Book lovers will delight when you see how detailed and intricate the old baroque library is and how delicate the books are. Make sure save time to drop by the Cathedral of Santa Cruz and the Royal Palace of Alacova, both of which are cited as specific criteria for the listing by UNESCO. Spare a few minutes to appreciate the beauty and river view from the Paco das Escolas Courtyard as well.
As with other important Portuguese universities, the students at Coimbra wear black capes, which makes it easy to spot the students from eager tourists. The gift shop has some fun souvenirs with drawings of the capes, although you can’t buy your own to take home with you.
Where to Eat:
Coimbra has many great restaurants to choose from, but I prefer heading downhill from the university and grabbing a bite where the students hang out to really get that extra bit of university town experience!
The Portugal city of Coimbra is a recommendation from travel blogger History Fan Girl
There is no dearth of fabulous places in Portugal but Fatima is that rare place that promises to make you slow down.
The Fatima pilgrimage is one of the great ones in Europe. Barely a few hours from Lisbon, the place is revered as the place where three little shepherd children saw a vision of Mother Mary in 1917. Ever since believers have flocked to this place to seek blessings. Indeed, arriving here is the lifetime ambition of many Catholics.
You can visit the Sanctuary of Fatima all roads in this city lead here, metaphorically at least. The scale of this sanctuary is something to behold as you find people of all ages praying fervently. Many of them will walk on their knees, some others will offer giant candles and there are readings from the Bible in different languages almost on the hour.
The Basilica de Nossa Senhora de Rosario is where you must first go to pay respects to the grave of two of the shepherd children and is also the place where they first saw Mother Mary and mistook her glow for a thunderstorm. A large modern crucifix on the other side signals the entry to a more recent basilica called the Basilica of the Holy Trinity with mod-con facilities where you can attend readings as per your schedule.
All in all, be prepared to spend at least a couple of hours to take in the entire place but I suggest you spend more time and attune yourself with the hordes of believers who can stir you up with their religiousness.
Where to Eat:
Once you’ve atoned for your sins, ensure you fill yourself up at Restaurant Arcos de Fatima, located at a stone’s throw from the sanctuary itself. Once done, you can return to Lisbon or choose to stay at the limited options available in Fatima.
The Portugal city of Fatima is a recommendation from travel blogger The Constant Traveller
Southern Portugal Cities to Visit
From the fairy-tale town of Sintra all the way to Algarve’s spectacular beaches, the southern part of the country delivers top holiday destinations to select from these top recommendations.
If you love fairy tales then you have to visit Sintra, a picturesque town located around 25 km from Lisbon.
One of the reasons we highly recommend a visit to Sintra is because it is like nowhere we have ever travelled to before. From the moment you arrive in this enchanting place, you are surrounded by so much beauty. On top of that, there are a number of palaces and manor houses just waiting to be explored. Due to its location and cooler climate, Sintra became a playground for the noble and elite of Portugal, who constructed opulent palaces and mansions, as well as some luscious gardens.
Most people do a day trip to Sintra from Lisbon, but if you can, you should try to spend at least 2 days here.
Some of the highlights include the Palácio Nacional da Pena which looks like a grown-up version of a Disney castle with its bright colours and bold design. The palace was commissioned in 1842 by King Ferdinand II who wanted it to be reflective of a scene from an opera. The result was the grandiose palace you see today. Another must-see is the National Palace of Sintra, a historic museum that was one of the most loved palaces by Portuguese nobility.
One of our favourite sights though has to be the Quinta da Regaleira, a gothic style mansion and estate.
It was built in 1904 by a very well to do Portuguese businessman, and after changing ownership over the years, the government reclaimed it as a national monument in 1997. The house itself is extravagant with gargoyles and ornate features, but the most unusual thing about the property has to be the Initiation Well in the gardens. The well was built to signify the initiation ceremony of the Knights Templar and is a must see when visiting. It is also worth exploring Sintra’s historical centre, with its cobbled streets and winding alleyways.
What to Eat
There are a number of cafés and restaurants serving traditional Portuguese food as well as Ginjinha, a sour cherry liquor often served in an edible chocolate shot glass.
The Portugal city of Sintra is a recommendation from travel bloggers Wanderlust & Life
The pretty and elegant lady of Portugal.
With its beautiful architecture, world-class restaurants and miradors offering spectacular views, Lisbon as all the charming elements to seduce travellers and is the most popular base to start a Portugal itinerary. Most of the city was rebuilt after suffering a devastating earthquake in 1755, the rebuilt gives the capital city a fresh and vibrant feel, mixed with historic elegance with quaint cobblestones streets inviting you for a bout of exploration at every corner.
Built on many hilltops, you can catch one of the many trams up but the most iconic one is Tram 28, making its way up extremely curvy and narrow streets. Meander down through its boutique-lined streets and admire the many Azulejos facades before sitting down at one of the terraces in the plazas for a chilled glass of Portuguese wine or go bar hopping in Barrio Alto are just a few of the things you can enjoy in Lisboa.
Exploring the Alfama district, the old area of town which was not as affected by the destructive seism, will offer a glimpse of the medieval Portuguese heritage. Said to be the home of Fado, a lyrical soul-wrenching type of music, Lisbon is also the best place to catch the unique experience with over 40 Fado houses to choose from.
Where to Eat
Foodies will love the Time Out Market, an extraordinary venue offering Portuguese top producers food stalls to enjoy the many delicacies.
Where to Stay
You can find from budget to luxurious lodging options in the Alfama and Baixa barrios which would make a perfect central base to explore Lisbon.
The Portugal city of Lisbon is a recommendation from Marquestra
With a history dating back over 5,000 years, the Portuguese town of Evora is a must visit while exploring Portugal.
The medieval town is vibrant and charming and ancient monuments sit alongside more recent additions to Evora’s landscape.
Evora features on the UNESCO World Heritage list and The Roman Temple of Diana, standing in the historic centre of the city, is incredible to see: it is Evora’s most famous attraction alongside the stunning Cathedral of Evora and the Church of Loios. We were fascinated by our visit to the Chapel of Bones, known locally as Capela dos Ossos, where the interior walls are covered with human skulls and bones. Other highlights included Evora’s aqueduct and city walls, a vineyard visit and a trip to the nearby Neolithic stone formations at Almendres Cromlech.
Evora is a fantastic spot for food lovers and is known for its comforting Alentejo cuisine. The main square, Praca do Giraldo, is filled with restaurants and cafes, and we loved dining al fresco while indulging in local food and wine.
What to Eat
The local specialty of black pork is one of Evora’s most famous dishes and the Alentejo bread is another must-try dish. The region is famous for producing world class wines and there are countless delicious wines to sample with every meal.
Where to Stay
Two nights is the perfect amount of time to explore Evora. We stayed in the Convento do Espinheiro, a great luxury option surrounded by serene gardens and located close to the city walls.
See the latest rates for Convento do Espinheiro on Booking.com here
The Portugal city of Évora is a recommendation from travel blogger Show Them the Globe
South of Lisbon, the town of Sines is located at the tip of Cabo de Sines, in the lively Alentejo region of Portugal.
Formerly, its economy and lifestyle depended mainly on fishing, which is still perfectly reflected in its colours, its culture, and its unique charm.
If you are doing a road trip through the Alentejo region and you put Sines on your itinerary, here are a few monuments and buildings you should visit: the village castle, the church of Sao Salvador, the municipal archaeological museum, the church of the Holy Spirit, the cultural center Emmerico Nunes, the Chapel of Mercy, and the famous Fort of Revelim. Finally, at its base, sheltered by a breakwater, there is a beautiful fishing port.
What and Where to Eat
Going South of Sines you will find the beaches of São Torpes and Porto Covo, where you can eat the fresh catches of the day in the tiny Sacas restaurant.
Sines is a land that will invite you to enjoy the best that the sea can offer: a fabulous gastronomy based on seafood, wonderful boat trips, the possibility of numerous water sports, quiet walks along extensive sandy beaches and an incredible history.
It is said that the famous Portuguese explorer Vasco da Gama was born here. In fact, it is possible to visit its home there too. Enjoy!
The Portugal city of Sines is a recommendation from travel blogger A World of Travel
This tiny sleepy town is at the “end of the world” on the extreme southwestern corner of Europe.
There’s nothing but the massive Atlantic before you, which makes for the perfect surfing conditions. Sagres is surrounded by some of the country’s best surf spots like Amado, Tonel, and Beliche. Sagres is a great base for exploring the Algarve as everything is within an hour and a half but you’ll need your own car to properly explore as public transport isn’t very extensive.
One of the best things to do in the area is exploring all of the coastal hiking routes. Praia do Telheiro is the closest one to Sagres, although, again, if you have your own car, you can do any of them (and they really are worth doing!) I’ve spent around six months on and off in the area, so how long you actually stay totally depends on what you’d like to do. Surfers stay weeks while the average tourist may just spend a day or two.
Where and What to Eat
While in Sagres, it would be a crying shame not to eat at Carlos’. Ordering the octopus and rice just may very well change your life, you haven’t had proper octopus until you’ve tried it here!
The Portugal city of Sagres is a recommendation from travel blogger Where in World is Nina
Although Faro is the Algarve’s capital city, and the city that’s closest to Faro Airport, it tends to get overlooked by most visitors to the Algarve in favour of coastal resort towns like Albufeira, Lagos, and Carvoeiro.
Ironically, despite being the largest town on the Algarve, Faro is actually somewhat of a hidden gem.
And, in a part of Portugal where hidden gems can be few and far between, that makes Faro definitely worthy of a visit. The main reason that Faro hasn’t taken off in the same way as other towns on the Algarve is that its nearest beaches aren’t walkable from the city centre.
That doesn’t mean the beaches are inaccessible, though: They’re just not as easily accessible as those in other parts of the Algarve. A regular bus (#16) runs to Praia de Faro, the nearest beach to the city centre and it’s obviously easily accessible by car as well. As well as Praia de Faro, there are a handful of other beaches nearby as well including Praia de Farol and the beaches on Ilha da Deserta island.
There’s plenty to see and do in Faro itself as well, including cultural attractions like Faro Cathedral and the very spooky Capela de Ossos as well as nearby attractions like the Ria Formosa, the islands just off, and nearby towns like Olhão and Tavira.
Popular Faro events and festivals throughout the year include the Festival of International Music, which usually runs from March to October, as well as the International Bikers Rally, the Alameda Beer Festival, and the Ria Formosa Food Festival, all of which take place in July. Folkfaro, Southern Portugal’s biggest folklore festival, takes place in September along with the Festival F music festival, while Faro’s biggest and oldest festival, Feira de Santa Iria, takes place in October.
If you’re planning on visiting Portugal, don’t leave without taking the time to visit Faro.
The Portugal city of Faro is a recommendation from travel blogger The Portugalist
Tavira is another of Algarve’s hidden gems.
Located in eastern Algarve, it’s the perfect choice for off-the-beaten-path travellers looking for calm and authenticity.
Travelling the extra miles to the Algarve Sotavento (leeward) means not only fewer tourists but also some of the best beaches in the region, unspoiled nature, and genuine local life. I’d recommend staying at least 3 or 4 days to truly experience Tavira, or even longer if you have more time and are looking to unwind and relax.
Some of the best things to do in Tavira are:
– strolling around its picturesque old town, considered by many as the most beautiful town in the Algarve;
– getting the ferry to Tavira Island and soaking up the beauty of Ria Formosa Nature Reserve;
– watching the time go by on a secluded beach, like Praia da Terra Estreita or Praia do Barril;
– visiting the old fishermen villages of Santa Luzia and Cabanas.
What to Eat
And then, of course, there’s the seafood. Make sure to head to Marisqueira Fialho for the best clams and oysters and the most stunning view of Ria Formosa Natural Park. Tavira is also known for its tuna and octopus, which are the basis of many traditional local dishes worth trying, like estupeta de atum and salada de polvo.
Where to Stay
The Portugal city of Tavira is a recommendation from travel blogger The Yogi Wanderer
Have you been to Portugal?
Please share your experiences, comments or questions below…
Please share your experiences, comments or questions below…