Portugal is easily one of the most visited countries in Europe, thanks in large part to its affordability, ideal holiday weather and unrivaled attractions.
Located on the west coast of the Iberian Peninsula, Portugal’s geography ranges from lush farmland and medieval towns in its center, to beautiful vineyards and mountains in the north, to the stunning beaches of the Algarve in the south.
Portugal’s history and culture can be traced back to the 16th century, when the country was a major maritime empire; stuff everywhere.
Let’s explore the best attractions in Portugal:
Once the capital of Portugal, this quaint and charming town is a treasure trove of charming gardens, historical sites, fado music and a vibrant culture. Located near the Mondgo River in central Portugal, Coimbra is a breathtaking city with medieval churches and an intricate labyrinth of cobblestone streets. You will think you have traveled back in time. In fact, many consider Coimbra to be the most romantic city in the country. The town gets its dynamism and influence from the University of Coimbra. Founded in 1209, it is one of the oldest universities in Europe, and the whole city can be seen from the courtyard.
About halfway between Massachusetts and mainland Portugal, you’ll find the Azores. Made up of nine volcanic islands spread over hundreds of nautical miles, this archipelago is known for its thermal mineral springs, superb whale watching (rated as one of the top ten attractions on Earth) and charming seaside towns. Each island has its own unique identity, but they all have beautiful beaches and green landscapes. São Miguel Island, the “Green Island”, is the largest of the nine mountains, while Pico is home to Portugal’s highest mountain. If you are an adventurer, this is where you want to go. All water sports as well as cycling and horse riding can be found here; mainly in Vila Franca do Campo, the largest town in the Azores.
Nestled at the foot of the mountains of the same name, this beautiful town is so fantastic that UNESCO named the whole place a World Heritage Site. The name is a “cultural landscape” created specifically for Évora, which includes the natural beauty of the mountains as well as the town’s historical character. Évora is 2000 years old and full of Moorish courtyards, Renaissance fountains, Gothic turrets, medieval squares and labyrinthine side streets. Visit Praça do Giraldo, one of the main squares where open-air cafés serve tourists delicious coffee, but it was once the site of public executions. Don’t forget the Roman Baths and the Moorish “Jebola”.
Located by the Ria de Aveiro Lagoon, Aveiro (uh-vey-roo) is a lively city known as the “Venice of Portugal” for its picturesque humpback bridges, large bows and stunning canal network. In fact, the town is best explored by the moliceiro, a traditional boat that was once mainly used to harvest seaweed and is now converted for tourists. Indulge in relaxing beaches and delicious food to feel like royalty. Be sure to make time to visit the Church of San Goncarinho, the Cathedral of Averio, the Convent of Jesus and the many Art Nouveau buildings scattered around the town’s old center.
Just off the coast of Lisbon, at the foot of the Sintra Mountains and a day trip from the Portuguese capital, Sintra is simply breathtaking. Beautiful villas, royal residences, luscious green hills and fairytale castles define this beautiful town. The highlight is Palácio da Pena in Sintra, which has German influences and a mix of architectural styles. Once the summer home of the Portuguese royal family, the surrounding land is a nature lover’s dream come true – full of exotic flowers, plants and trees. You must also make time to visit the ancient ruins of the Moorish Castle, the incredible views from Sintra’s highest hill, and the subtropical gardens of the Monserrate Palace.
Porto is the origin of the Portuguese name. But locals will tell you it’s best known for a spirit called port. The busy city straddles the mountains overlooking the Douro River in northern Portugal. The historic center is a UNESCO World Heritage Site, where you will find the Ribeira, a wonderful pedestrian area with cafés, live music, street vendors and mouth-watering food. Porto, the second largest city, strikes a balance between business interests and romantic history. Take a sunset stroll along the Douro River with music wafting from the cafes to see if you don’t want to stay forever.
Óbidos is surrounded by several circles of medieval walls, with a Moorish castle at the centre, perched on top of a hill, with breathtaking views. The town’s main attractions are the historic center and its medieval castle, now the Pousada (government-owned hotel). The medieval atmosphere of this place makes you stroll as you meander through the curvy cobblestone streets. You will pass many vibrant little squares, small cafés and shops, as well as whitewashed private homes decorated with colourful flowers. Don’t miss Capela de São Martinho, Igreja Matriz de Santa Maria or Igreja do Senhor da Pedra. Enjoy the Ancient Music Festival in October and the International Chocolate Festival every March.
8. Funchal, Madrid
With a nickname like “The Floating Gardens of the Atlantic,” you know you’re having a fun and relaxing time. Madrid is an archipelago in the Atlantic Ocean between Porto and North Africa. It is one of the two autonomous regions of the country (along with the Azores) and is famous for its wines, must-see orchid gardens and Laurie Silva forest. Funchal, its capital and largest city, manages to balance modern growth with tradition. This is evident when you look at the well-preserved churches and museums in town. Funchal is a sunny city ideal for nature lovers to walk. When the sun goes down, those who enjoy a fun-filled nightlife will enjoy nightclubs, casinos and restaurants.
If you’re looking for sun, sand and sea, you’ll want to put the Algarve first in your life. Here’s a rundown of this stunning southern Portuguese town: stunning beaches, Mediterranean climate, 3,000 hours of sunshine per year, almost no rain, delicious food, affordable living costs, world-famous golf courses, scenic views Painted towns and rich history. Kind of not to love? Faro, the capital, has been little affected by the 18th century, while Sagres and Lagos date back to Roman times. You must visit the Fortaleza de Sagre, built in the 15th century and considered to be the seat of Prince Henry’s Nautical Academy, and Cape San Vicente, the holy place the Romans called the Promontorium Sacrum.
Portugal’s capital and largest city stretches along the banks of the Tagus River. Covering seven hills, Lisbon forms an incredible destination holiday filled with gothic cathedrals, unique neighborhoods, fantastic weather, crooked alleys and fun shopping, all culminating in Traditional fado music as your soundtrack wherever you go. Baixa in the center of Lisbon is the traditional center of life here. Baixa is where you will find old traditional shops – some of which have been handed down from generation to generation by artisans. Alfama is an old Moorish district, the oldest part of the city, famous for its rural architecture and the castle of St. George. Ride a vintage tram (the famous Tram 28) to visit all major attractions, gardens and historic districts.
The city is full of amazing features. The historic center is a UNESCO World Heritage Site and the city itself was the European Capital of Culture in 2012. Guimaraes is of special value to the Portuguese as the country’s roots began here during the Battle of Saint Mamed in 1128. Portugal’s first king, Afonso Henriques, was the victor and initiated the founding of this small but wonderful country. You must visit not only the medieval castle of the 10th century, but also the Ducal Palace – built in the 15th century, it is now a palace and a museum. On a relaxing afternoon, you can stroll down Santa Maria Street, the city’s most beautiful street.
This former fishing village is now a major holiday destination for domestic and foreign tourists. This is not surprising when you consider the white sand beaches, paragliders, jet skis and dolphin watching. Three great beaches to consider are Praia da Oura, Praia dos Pescadores (Fisherman’s Beach) and Praia do Peneco. If the crowds aren’t your thing, but you still want to spend time at the beach, there are smaller, more secluded beaches full of character that are perfect for families. When you need a break, head inland to visit the charming villages and excellent restaurants on offer. Oh, and don’t forget the incredible nightlife.
Considered the heart of the Algarve, Vilamoura has always been known for its stunning natural beauty, as well as sun and sand holidays. But tourism is booming these days, and it’s known for its luxurious spas, quality golf courses and a true foodie’s paradise. Vilamoura is a great place to relax and unwind. You can quickly escape the fast-paced nightlife of Faro and the best beaches in the Algarve. In fact, some of the best windsurfing in Portugal happens on the beaches closest to town. This is a must for seafood lovers and wine lovers. This is the perfect way to spend your time in Portugal.
This central Portuguese town is home to the Catholic shrine of Fatima, which is heavily influenced by its patron saint, the Virgin Mary. You can visit Capelinha das Apariçoes, where she allegedly appeared in 1917, as well as other holy sites such as the Igreja da Santíssima Trindade and the Golden Angels of the Basílica de Nossa Senhora do Rosário. More than 6 million people visit this sacred place every year, which now houses two massive churches on a stunning promenade in the heart of the town. Whatever your beliefs, Fatima is an impressive sight. This is an interesting look at some religious culture in Portugal.
The entire Algarve region is famous in Portugal, and the most famous destination in the Algarve is Faro. The capital feels more Portuguese than most resort towns, which is too bad because most people just pass by. There is so much to explore here, including the delightful sea, squares and parks, the historic town with its open-air cafés and wonderful walkways, the archaeological museum and the Renaissance cathedral known as the Bishop’s Palace. Student groups also make nightlife fun. The medieval neighborhood is superbly maintained and hidden, and you’ll find unique little museums, churches, and even a bone church. The Parque Natural da Ria Formasa lagoon is also nearby and is a great place to explore.
Where to stay: The best hotels in Portugal
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