From the big waves of Nazaré to the sublime palaces of Sintra and the colorful tiles of Porto, Portugal is one of the most beautiful countries in Europe.
Portugal has so much to offer that choosing a single destination can sometimes be challenging. I definitely relate to your struggles, as I needed to go through them before each trip to Portugal...
But don't worry! After spending time in many areas of Portugal, I have more insight into fellow travelers. That's why I made a list of the best places to visit in Portugal so you'll have an easier time planning your trip than I did initially.
Whether you are planning a massive backpacking trip across Europe or looking to tour just around Portugal, I have plenty of options!
My 7 Favourite Locations You Should Visit in Portugal
The obvious place to go when you travel to Portugal is Lisbon. It's a beautiful capital city with views of the water, delicious food, and attractions for everyone! I love food and historical art, so I enjoyed the best Portuguese egg tarts in a tucked-away cafe and walked through Lisbon Cathedral, where I admired the amazing architecture.
But there are so many other places to see in Portugal. Whether you're trying to see the canals in the "Venice of Portugal" or the most beautiful beaches in the Azores, you'll find the vacation you're looking for in this European hotspot.
I've listed many places I've visited and loved and combined them with those I missed. I've researched all the spots in Portugal I haven't seen yet and can tell you they're high on my bucket list!
Let's jump right in...
Madeira is a beautiful archipelago in the Atlantic Ocean and is actually part of Portugal. Known as the "Garden of the Atlantic," this subtropical paradise offers breathtaking landscapes, lush gardens, volcanic craters, and a rich cultural heritage.
Madeira is famous for its unique botanical gardens, Levada walks, and world-renowned Madeira wine. The island's diverse topography makes it a haven for nature enthusiasts and adventure seekers.
I would recommend setting time aside for exploring the local cuisine, including Madeira's famous wine, relaxing on the beach, and even whale or dolphin watching!
One place in the Madeira region that you should put on your list is Monte. This is a charming parish located in the hills above Funchal, Monte is a must-visit area for tourists already in Madeira.
While you're in Monte, stop by these attractions:
- Monte Palace Tropical Garden: Explore the beautiful tropical and oriental gardens, filled with exotic plants and Koi-filled ponds.
- Toboggan Ride: Experience the traditional wicker toboggan ride, where local drivers guide you down steep, winding roads to Funchal thrillingly and uniquely.
- Levada Walks: Take part in guided walks along the Levadas (irrigation channels) that wind through Madeira's lush landscapes, including several that start or pass through Monte.
Madeira offers something for every traveler, from thrilling adventures to peaceful nature escapes. Its blend of natural beauty, cultural richness, and delightful culinary experiences make it a perfect holiday destination.
Whether exploring the vibrant gardens of Monte or tasting the local gastronomic delights, a trip to Madeira will stay with you for life.
I mentioned the Venice of Portugal already, and this district along Portugal's coastline is an area you won't want to miss.
This is a great place to go if you want a taste of traditional Portuguese culture but with more! You'll also find it offers you picturesque landscapes and modern innovation.
Its unique combination of natural beauty, architectural charm, and culinary delights make it an appealing destination for many travelers.
Things to Do in Aveiro
It's not known as the Venice of Portugal for nothing! There are beautiful canals to see, and you can take a ride in one of the traditional boats called "moliceiros". They're similar to Venice's gondolas but unique enough that the experience is worth it.
Other fun activities in Aveiro include relaxing or taking surf lessons at Costa Nova Beach, going to the Salt Pans to try salt harvesting, or renting a bike to ride along the coastline and bird watch!
As a self-proclaimed foodie, I must mention Aveiro's local sweet treat, Portuguese Soft Egg! In Portuguese, it's called "Ovos Moles," made from egg yolks and sugar, often beautifully wrapped in shapes inspired by nautical themes. You should find this delicacy while you're visiting.
Sintra is a little town located a few kilometers west of Lisbon. You can easily reach Sintra within an hour using public transport from Lisbon.
Most tourists come to this destination for a day trip to visit the famous Pena Palace and then return to Lisbon. But Sintra is a gorgeous city that deserves more than half a day!
What to Do in Sintra
Sintra is in a fantastic area with many palaces and castles.
Apart from the Pena Palace, you can visit the Castle of the Moors, or "Castelo dos Mouros" in Portuguese. It's a massive fortified castle founded by the Moors, dating back to the 10th century.
You can also book a visit to the Initiation Well used for ceremonial purposes in ancient times.
All these locations are within walking distance, but public transport is also available. If you're going as a group, no one can complain about too much exercise!
Some other attractions in the area include Villa Sassetti, Quinta da Regaleira, and Chalet of the Countess of Edla.
The city of Sintra in itself is also worth visiting. Sintra is located inside the Sintra-Cascais Natural Park and is surrounded by stunning nature.
On top of the castles, colorful houses and a relaxed vibe typical of small towns characterize this city. And you won't feel too bad about the prices! Sintra's prices are way lower than in Lisbon, and I suggest you spend a few days here during your trip to Portugal.
If you decide to book a hotel here, enjoy a fresh beer or a glass of Porto wine at the Legendary Café. This café is in Alfredo da Costa 8, surrounded by exciting local vibes. Prices are ridiculously cheap, and the food and the drinks are delicious.
Algarve is known for having the best beaches in Portugal. This region is located in the southwest of Portugal, and plenty of foreigners enjoy life here.
What to See in Algarve
Cities such as Lagos and Faro are vibrant and international. These cities are the perfect destination for international backpackers, as people worldwide come here in the summer. For this reason, visitors who don't speak a word of Portuguese will still manage to have a great social life.
Algarve is mainly known for its gorgeous beaches. If the primary goal of your holiday is to relax at sea with a cocktail in your hand, book a ticket right away!
Lagos has several small sandy beaches surrounded by high cliffs and connected through short tunnels dug into the rock.
You can also explore one of the many other stunning beaches in the Algarve region. For instance, Praia da Fuseta, close to Faro, and Praia de Marinha, about 15 minutes by car from Armação de Pêra.
Porto is one of the best places to visit in Portugal. Porto is the perfect destination for people who want to spend a holiday in an international city full of life and tourist attractions.
Spots to Visit in Porto
You can start your trip by strolling on Cais de Ribeira, the most famous street in the city. Cais de Ribeira, located on Porto's riverside, is ideal for an afternoon stroll.
You can admire the colorful houses on your right, see the many boats navigating the Douro River, and take a picture at the iconic Luís I Bridge. Here you'll also find plenty of small restaurants and cafès. That's where I spent a lot of my time!
And after all of the food and good drinks, I'd recommend heading toward the Church of São Francisco. This church was completed in 1425 and is the last Gothic monument in the city.
Porto is also home to several other churches worth visiting. For instance, Igreja de Santo António dos Congregados and Igreja do Carmo.
In the afternoon, you can head into one of the many restaurants in the city to enjoy a glass of Porto, a sweet wine typical of this area.
Before the sun sets, make sure to reach the Jardim do Morro on the other side of the river. From here, you'll have the most stunning view of Porto, and you can take a breathtaking picture of the sunset.
2. Serra da Estrela Natural Park
Serra da Estrela Natural Park is in Portugal's most prominent mountain chain. You cannot miss this area if you love outdoor activities and nature.
Visiting Serra da Estrela
Serra da Estrela has an area of 2216 km2 and is characterized by many different landscapes.
This natural park has stunning snowy mountains, waterfalls, lakes, and forests. And if you like wildlife, you're in luck! Serra da Estrela is home to several mammals, such as otters, wolves, genets, foxes, and boars.
The park has several walking trails and is thus an excellent destination for hikers. Thanks to the many activities that visitors can do in the park, outdoor lovers will love Serra da Estrela. Here you will get the chance to try climbing, mountain biking, and hiking.
Just remember that it's important to have essential hiking gear and know what to pack for a day of hiking.
1. The Azores
The Azores are 9 volcanic islands in the North Atlantic Ocean, offering a unique blend of natural wonders and vibrant local culture.
Some people call this the "Hawaii" of Europe, and after spending 2 weeks vacationing here, I agree entirely! You'll get lost in the relaxed way of life, the quaint towns, and the breathtaking sights everywhere you look.
What You Should Do in the Azores
These islands are a paradise for nature lovers, characterized by lush green landscapes, dramatic cliffs, bubbling hot springs, and sparkling azure crater lakes.
Marine life is abundant here, with dolphins, whales, and various fish species inhabiting the surrounding waters.
The Azores offer many outdoor activities, catering to both adventure seekers and those looking to relax and enjoy the breathtaking scenery. Here you'll be able to do things like whale watching, scuba diving, biking, and even paragliding.
And if you're into less extreme outdoor adventures, you can go on hikes and bird watch very easily. Each island boasts a variety of walking trails, ranging from simple strolls to challenging hikes.
The trails often lead you through ancient forests, along rugged coastlines, and up to panoramic viewpoints.
Remember to respect the local environment and follow guidelines for responsible tourism, as the Azores' unique ecosystems are delicate and must be preserved.
Whether you're an outdoor enthusiast, a gastronomy lover, or simply looking to escape into nature, the Azores will surely offer an unforgettable experience.
When to Visit Portugal
Portugal enjoys a Mediterranean climate, with variations across different regions. Choosing when to visit depends on what you're looking for in your vacation. Here's a breakdown to help you decide:
Spring (March, April, May)
- Weather: Mild and blossoming, especially in the coastal areas. Inland areas may still experience some chilly evenings.
- Highlights: Gardens in full bloom, particularly beautiful in Madeira and the Azores.
- Consideration: Fewer crowds, ideal for sightseeing and outdoor activities.
Summer (June, July, August)
- Weather: Hot and dry, particularly in the Algarve and other southern regions. Cooler along the Atlantic coast.
- Highlights: Beach season and a popular time for festivals like Lisbon’s Festas de Lisboa or Porto's São João Festival.
- Consideration: Peak tourist season, expect larger crowds and higher accommodation prices.
Autumn (September, October, November)
- Weather: Warm but starting to cool, with some rainfall later in the season. Ideal for enjoying the harvest, particularly in wine regions like Douro Valley.
- Highlights: Beautiful fall foliage, wine harvest festivals, and pleasant temperatures for sightseeing.
- Consideration: Fewer crowds after the peak summer season, good travel deals available.
Winter (December, January, February)
- Weather: Mild in the coastal regions but cooler inland. Snow in mountainous areas like Serra da Estrela.
- Highlights: Christmas markets and festivities, winter sports in the mountains, and the unique chance to explore cities like Lisbon and Porto without the crowds.
- Consideration: Shorter days and some attractions may have reduced hours or be closed.
- Azores and Madeira: These island regions have subtropical climates, making them appealing year-round destinations, but the weather can be unpredictable.
- Surfing: The big wave season in places like Nazaré is during winter, attracting surfers and spectators alike.
Plan Your Trip to Portugal With Pilot
If you're planning a visit to Portugal, ensure you don't miss out on those top destinations! If you're worried about not remembering these locations when you go on your trip, why not add them to a list in a trip planner? Pilot to the rescue!