The 10 best places to visit in Portugal

If you are looking for the best places to visit in Portugal, you have many beautiful destinations to choose from. We traveled around the country for over two months and still haven’t visited all the beautiful places on our wish list. But we did manage to visit so many amazing places in Portugal! We visited fairytale palaces, vast vineyards, charming white-washed villages, historical monuments, bustling cities and impressive nature. To help you find the best places to visit in Portugal, we selected the top 10 must-see places in Portugal that you shouldn’t miss during your visit!

Ferragudo Portugal Algarve

The best places to visit in Portugal: 10 must-see places

#1 A city trip to Porto

We fell in love with Porto instantly and a three-night stay quickly turned into a week. Remarkably enough, this city is not packed with highlights and sights, but a visit mainly revolves around the typical Porto city vibe and the charming cityscape of the old town.

When visiting Porto you’ll get to wander around the beautiful city, enjoying the charming old town and tasting the local port and ‘pastel de nata’ pastries. Because the city is built from the riverbank against the hills, visitors are treated to the most beautiful views of the city from many viewpoints. Add to that the beautiful architecture and historic streets and you understand why Porto can easily entertain you for many days.

Highlights you don’t want to miss in Porto? Visit the famous bookshop Livraria Lello that is said to have inspired J.K. Rowling to write Harry Potter. In fact, this beautiful Art Nouveau-style bookshop is so popular that you have to buy a ticket to enter – although you get a discount for the same amount when you buy a book. Also, don’t miss out on walking across the stunning Dom Luis Bridge. The bridge spans the river Douro and takes you from the historic center to the quay where many port houses are located. You should definitely go there for a port tasting, which is one of the best things to do in Porto. The best time to walk across the bridge is during sunset. You’ll have the most amazing views from the bridge any time of the day, but during sunset your city view will turn gold!

Another great thing about Porto is the famous Portuguese blue and white azulejos tiles in Porto. Spotting azulejos is one of the best things to do in Porto. And it isn’t even that difficult, as many buildings in Porto are decorated with the well-known tiles. There are hardly any streets without azulejos-adorned buildings. Most churches and chapels are decorated with the typical local styles, but many monuments and residential houses as well. Highlights include the main hall of the São Bento Station, the cloister next to the Porto Cathedral and the side facade of the Capela Das Almas.

Porto Portugal

#2 The golden cliffs of the Algarve

The Algarve is known for its beautiful golden coasts. And not only because of the golden beaches, but because of the golden-orange rock cliffs that adorn the coastline of the Western Algarve! From the very tip of Sagres to Albufeira, the Portuguese south coast consists of a beautiful series of cliffs, beaches, rock arches, caves, villages and vistas. A visit to this special rocky coast should not be missed on a Portugal trip.

The best way to explore the Algarve’s orange cliffs? During a hike along the coast! We discovered four walking routes along the Algarve coast and found them all equally beautiful. The most famous hike in the Algarve is the Seven Hanging Valleys Trail. The trail of 6 kilometers takes you over a beautiful part of the rocky coast between the beaches Praia do Vale de Centeanes and Praia de Marinha. Especially the views at Praia de Marinha are breathtaking and you’ll see why this is often named one of the best beaches in the Algarve.

Less well known is the Trail of Headlands which is not far from its famous counterpart. This 6 kilometer hike runs all the way along the spectacular rock cliffs between the picturesque Ferragudo and beach town Carvoeiro. You pass the lighthouse of Ferragudo, large sinkholes where the sea water flows in under the rocks, the ancient lookout point Torre da Lapa and beautiful rock formations.

Also recommended is the Ponte da Piedade hike at Lagos, one of the best hikes in Lagos. The Ponte da Piedade is a beautiful stretch of rocky coast, which is one of the most famous sights of Lagos. The best way to visit this icon is by hiking from the village of Luz. Luz is a cute little town with a lovely sandy beach. From here you climb to the rock plateau Rocha Negra. It is a tough climb, but from the plateau you have a phenomenal view of the Praia da Luz and the rocky coast. The path then brings you from the Rocha Negra peak along the coast to Ponte da Piedade. 

The golden rocks of the Algarve end at Albufeira and just before ending there, the rock coast changes into a special moonscape of white and orange rock formations. This is where you can find the Falesia Beach Trail! You walk from the starting point towards the coastal village of Vilamoura, while enjoying views of the extensive Falésia Beach on your right the whole time. In several places you can also descend from the rocks to the beach, so be sure to bring your swimsuit to take a dip in the sea.

Praia da Marinha Algarve

#3 The vineyards of the Douro Valley

From the Spanish border, the River Douro runs through the Portuguese landscape to reach the sea at Porto. Along part of the river are extensive vineyards, one of the most beautiful landscapes in Portugal! This beautiful wine region consists of sloping terraces of endless vineyards.

Pinhao is often mentioned as the highlight of the Douro Valley, although a visit to Pinhao is more about the environment than the village itself. If you don’t have your own transport, it’s a convenient base to visit the famous valley. There is a train station – with those typical Portuguese tiles ‘azulejos’ – and there are several great hotels in Pinhao.

The Douro Valley is all about the many, many vineyards in the valley. The main road near Pinhao goes right along the river and the rolling vineyards against the hills surrounding the river are a beautiful sight. We visited the valley in the fall, when the vineyards turn yellow, orange and red. It was a beautiful sight, especially during the ‘golden hour’ around sunset. Along the vineyards and the route are several viewpoints – search for ‘miradouro’ on Google Maps – for the best photo stops.

From Pinhao you can set aside at least a full day for a road trip along the Douro until you reach Porto, or spend a few days in the area around Pinhao enjoying one of the many wine farms in the region. In addition to wine and port tastings, many of these also offer camping spots or B&B rooms to complete your Douro experience. We loved staying for a few days at the Douro vineyards with our camper van. We enjoyed the free stays at both the vineyards of Quinta do Monte Travesso and Quinta da Pereira, where we were given a free tour and were allowed to use showers, bathroom and electricity.

Douro Valley Portugal

#4 A city trip to Lisbon

The beautiful capital of Portugal is a must on this list of Portuguese favourites. Lisbon is a wonderful city and we loved the relaxed atmosphere and beautiful streetscape. Lisbon is built on several hills, which gives the city its very own and typical character. Each hill has its own neighborhood with a different atmosphere.

Between those hills – or up the hills to save you a climb – old-fashioned trams run that have become icons of Lisbon. Tram 28 is nowadays even more frequented by tourists than used by locals. This tram line winds through the narrow streets of the old town, making a ride with this tram a kind of sightseeing tour.

Lisbon’s public transport also includes another attraction that is mainly used by tourists. That’s the special Santa Justa Elevator. This elevator takes you quickly from the new city center to the Bairro Alto district. But in addition to that convenience, it is above all a special experience to take this beautiful elevator with its special steel design. You have a phenomenal view over Lisbon from the top. A hilly city like Lisbon has many viewpoints like these, of course. One of the best things to do in Lisbon is to visit these viewpoints to enjoy the view. Our favorite was the Miradouro de Sao Pedro de Alcantara in a small park with a view over the whole city and the castle on the hill opposite.

Besides the many sights of Lisbon – from beautiful monasteries to the castle to the historic districts – visitors also flock to this city to relax and unwind. The city is full of nice terraces, trendy coffee shops, authentic restaurants and popular nightlife spots. Lisbon is a mecca for foodies! Allow at least two, if not three or four days, for Lisbon. Although you could easily enjoy yourself here for weeks.

Lisbon Portugal

#5 The palaces of Sintra

Not far from Lisbon is the fairytale town of Sintra. This special village in the mountains has many famous palaces to visit and together these palaces are on the UNESCO World Heritage List. Since Sintra is close to Lisbon, you can easily visit the palaces on a day trip. But if you want to visit several palaces, you’ll need more than just one day for that. One day should be enough to visit one or two palaces.

The most famous palace of Sintra is the yellow-red Palácio Nacional da Pena, or: the Pena Palace. It was once the summer palace of the Portuguese royal family. It is known for its iconic colors and diverse architectural styles. You will be surprised to see how brightly colored and decorated this unique palace is! The special location on a 450-meter-high hilltop is also very remarkable. The park surrounding the palace is just as grand and decadent as the palace itself and therefore definitely worth a visit.

On the same hill as the Palace of Pena is the Moorish Castle. The Castelo dos Mouros is a monumental sight with the looks of an old fortress, so it is less the extravagant fairytale castle you might expect to see in Sintra. The Moorish Castle mainly consists of its huge and monumental castle walls. They are 450 meters long and span a huge area.

Our personal favorite in Sintra is the remarkable palace Quinta da Regaleira. A wealthy Brazilian bought a large tract of land in 1892 and commissioned an architect to build him an extravagant palace and garden complex. The result is a palace park that feels like a theme park with a network of tunnels, paths, corridors, stairs and a special inverted tower. The tower is a well, where you descend via a spiral staircase to arrive at a tunnel. A unique experience!

Not far from this palace is the exotic Palacio de Monserrate. The palace has a Gothic style, mixed with Arab and Eastern influences. Although this palace has fewer visitors, it is actually one of the more beautiful palaces in Sintra. We were impressed by the many details and decorations, making the palace a kind of fairy tale from One Thousand and One Nights.

Though these palaces are spread over the hills and parks around Sintra, the Palacio Nacional de Sintra is located in the town itself. The palace does not look particularly fairytale-like and is mainly characterized by two special chimneys above the kitchens. The palace was once built as the comfortable counterpart to the defensive fortress Castelo dos Mouros. Later it was inhabited by Portuguese kings.

Palaces Sintra Portugal | Road Trip Destination

#6 The marble villages of the Alentejo

The most beautiful marble has been mined for centuries in the northeast of the Alentejo region in Portugal. It is called the ‘Zona dos Mármores’. Marble has been the main export product for the towns in this area for many years. With so much marble available, it was the easiest and cheapest building material in the area and locals used it for everything. Entire squares are covered with marble floor stones and entire buildings and palaces are constructed with marble of the highest quality.

The main villages in this marble region – Estremoz, Borba and Vila Viçosa – have used the marble for absolutely everything. From door frames and window frames to entire palaces and squares. We were told that the locals even ground the white marble to make paint to whiten their houses. That was cheaper and easier for the residents of this region than buying regular white paint.

Especially Estremoz and Vila Viçosa are worth a visit. Estremoz has the best-known and biggest marble quarries and Estremoz marble has been used all over Europe, especially in palaces and monumental buildings. The higher part of Estremoz has old streets and a beautiful white castle from the thirteenth century. It was built by the Portuguese king for his wife Isabel of Aragon and the high tower Torre das Tres Coroas is still one of the most emblematic buildings of the city. It is a hotel, Poussada de Rainha Santa Isabel, nowadays, but you can visit parts of it as a visitor.

You can visit an even more beautiful palace in Vila Viçosa. The town was once the royal seat of the Portuguese kings and that has left quite a few beautiful traces. Impressive is the huge Praça da Républica square with the Paço Ducal Palace, both made of marble. The Dukes of Bragança built the marble palace in the sixteenth century, so even before they had the Portuguese throne and ruled Portugal for centuries. A visit to the Marble Palace gives you an insight into the Portuguese royal history, but above all shows you the splendor of that age.

Estremoz Portugal

#7 The historic city of Évora

Évora might be one of our favourite destinations in Portugal and it’s only a 1,5-hour drive from Lisbon. It is the capital of the Alentejo, thus one of the bigger towns in this area. Lined with white-and-yellow houses, tiny cobblestoned streets, historic monuments, wide vistas, and atmospheric squares, it is the most beautiful town in the Alentejo. The city has its UNESCO World Heritage status for a reason.

The ancient cathedral is the crowning glory of Évora. The building was strategically built on top of a hill, so the high towers have always been – and still are – the highest point in the city. The two medieval church towers dominate the face of the church – one with a blue top and the other with several turrets – but it is the special dome that makes the cathedral so special. A big surprise is the narrow spiral staircase that takes you to the roof, where you can get a closer look at the towers and dome and have a phenomenal view over the city.

Others sights in Évora you don’t want to miss, are the eerie Capela dos Ossos bone chapel, the University of Évora lined with blue-and-white azulejos tiles, the eighteenth-century aqueduct outside the city and the Roman temple that stands next to the cathedral. Take your time not only to visit all the sights, but also to wander through the streets without purpose. The cobbled roads, the white houses with yellow stripes, the brightly colored flowers, the vistas and gates actually make the street scene the most beautiful attraction of Évora.

Evora Praca do Giraldo

#8 The UNESCO Monasteries of Portugal

The region between Porto and Lisbon is home to three special monasteries that are on the UNESCO World Heritage List. They are close to each other and you can conveniently visit all three with a combination ticket of € 15.

Our visit to the Monastery of Tomar – or in full the Convento de Cristo – took us to one of the most special places in Portugal. We were deeply impressed by the size of the monastery-church-castle complex, the special architectural styles and the beautiful details. We had never seen a building like this before and even after an hour of wandering, we kept walking into yet another new part of the monastery. And another one. The highlight is the central church – the ‘Charola’ – which is also different from what you are used to. It is a round church – or rather 16-sided – with a round altar in the heart with arches, paintings and decorations.

The Monastery of Alcobaça is a beautiful ensemble of monasteries, churches and courtyards in an exuberant architectural style. The monastery is known for the tragic love story of the Portuguese crown prince and his great love. They had an affair – as the prince was already married – and had four children. But when the crown prince’s wife died and he could finally marry his great love, his father the king had her murdered. When the crown prince became king, he had his beloved crowned queen posthumously as king. And he had an extravagant funerary monument built for her in the church of Alcobaça. The church of the complex is free to visit, but the monastery is the best part of Alcobaça. It was once one of the richest monasteries in the country. A fish pond for fresh fish had been built in the enormous kitchen and a river for fresh water flowed through the monastery.

The fairytale Monastery of Batalha was built in honor of the victory of what would later become the first king of Portugal. Construction of the monastery began as early as 1386, a year after that successful battle, but then took two centuries and was never actually completed. The monastery complex was built by seven kings and each king wanted to leave his own mark. The monastery therefore has a mix of different architectural styles and is beautiful to visit.

Monastery Alcobaça Portugal

#9 The Ria Formosa Natural Park

You can find one of the best places to visit in Portugal in the area between the coastal towns of Faro and Tavira. While the coast in the west of the Algarve consists of orange cliffs and picturesque bays with sandy beaches, east of Faro you will find a maze of water, islands and peninsulas. It is a beautiful nature reserve, the Ria Formosa Natural Park. It is one of the highlights of Portugal, even chosen by the Portuguese as one of the seven natural wonders of Portugal.

The lagoon has five major islands – Ilha da Barreta, Ilha da Culatra, Ilha da Armona, Ilha de Tavira and Ilha de Cabanas – as well as two more peninsulas. The islands are very close to the coast, creating a unique mudflat area. You can visit the islands by ferry from Faro, but it is also a great option to enjoy the nature park from the water. Explore the Ria Formosa with a catamaran tour along the islands. Or book a sailing trip and sail for two hours on a private sailboat or go on a kayak trip in the nature reserve!

Or how about a short hike? Just west of Faro – near the international airport and Praia da Faro – you’ll find one of the most beautiful and visited parts of the Ria Formosa. Two popular hiking trails run here, the Ludo Trail and the São Lourenço Trail. The trails run through the lagoon, with the Ludo Trail focusing on the saltwater marshes and the São Lourenço Trail running between trees and along the golf courses. We liked the Ludo trails the most. It is a lovely walk along a swampy and wetland landscape with many water birds. In the two times we visited this part of the Ria Formosa, we saw flamingos in several places. The route runs along a salt production area with salt flats, pink lakes and huge mountains of white salt. It is a very photogenic and unique part of the nature park.

Ludo Trail in Ria Formosa Portugal (8)

#10 Castle town Óbidos

When a town is so beautiful that a king gifts it to his queen as a present, you know you can’t miss this place on your Portugal trip. The medieval town of Óbidos is one of the most beautiful places in Portugal and is full of picturesque streets, photogenic vistas, white houses with yellow or blue stripes, cheerful flowers and cobbled avenues.

Visiting Óbidos feels like traveling back to the Middle Ages. In fact, in July the village is really transformed into a medieval town for its annual medieval festival. If you want to visit the village during this festival, make sure to book a place to stay months in advance.

The highlight of Óbidos is the ancient city wall. Completed in 1527, the walls became the city’s main defense. In many cities only parts of the city wall are still standing, but the walls have been very well preserved in Óbidos. Including viewpoints, battlements, stairs and city gates! One of the best things to do in Óbidos is a walk around the town on top of the city walls. You can go up in a number of places, the easiest of which is right at the main gate of the city.

Wandering through the streets should also be on your Óbidos schedule. The old town is located within the old city walls. Although it is a maze of streets you don’t have to worry about getting lost because of its small size. The narrow main street is hard to miss, as it clearly runs from the main gate to the castle gate. This is where most of the shops and restaurants are.

Tip: also visit the unique Bacalhoa Buddha Eden near Óbidos, a sculpture garden park with huge Buddha statues and many modern works of art.

Obidos sunset

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