If you want to see the best of Portugal but are unsure where to go, I have you covered! There is no shortage of breathtaking places to see in Portugal, and the travel information in this guide highlights towns, cities, coastal areas and national parks. It tells you what to see and do in each destination and shows you why Portugal needs to be the next place you travel to!
Is Portugal Worth Visiting?
Portugal has a string of great places to visit and is undoubtedly one of the most beautiful countries in Europe. Its temperate climate of hot summer days and mild winters allows visitors to enjoy its world heritage sites, bustling cities, idyllic scenery and delicious traditional food all year round.
And it doesn’t stop there. Add the unique natural landscapes of the stunning islands of the Azores and Madeira and the white sandy beaches that entice visitors to the Algarve, arguably the best part of Portugal to visit, and you can see why Portugal is worth visiting.
Outdoor enthusiasts will love the opportunity to kayak, paddleboard and surf in Portugal’s sea, rivers and lakes, and walkers will love the challenge of the hiking trails in Madeira’s “Levada channels” high up in the mountains.
And let’s not forget the historical landmarks that Portugal is famous for, as well as the modern street art in Lisbon, Porto and Agueda, a nod to the 21st century. One thing’s for sure; there are so many places to visit in Portugal that all you will have to worry about is how long you will stay!
These destination travel guides highlight the best places to go in Portugal. From beaches and national parks to bustling towns and cities, there will surely be a place perfect for you.
1. Explore Lisbon, the capital city of Portugal
Lisbon, the capital of Portugal, is the perfect destination for a European city break. It is also a great starting point for exploring the rest of the country.
This colourful, cosmopolitan city is chilled but buzzy, cool but cultured and overflowing with things to see and do making it one of the best cities in Portugal.
Lisbon, which sits on the river Tagus, is a city of hills which means castles and epic viewpoints. If you’re not into hauling yourself up a hill, Lisbon has the answer in its iconic yellow trams and funiculars.
Take the tram up to São Jorge Castle and check out the fabulous views across the city. Sunset is a good time to do this.
Wind your way down through the cobblestone lanes of the city’s oldest district, Alfama, one of the best places to visit in Lisbon.
Maybe stop for ameijoas a bulhao pato (dish of clams) made with olive oil, white wine, garlic, and bay leaves, and one of Portugal’s popular food dishes.
Look out for colourful tiled walls and listen out for the mournful strains of Fado music seeping out from the shuttered windows of cosy bars and restaurants in Barrio Alto.
Getting around Lisbon
It is really easy to get around using the Lisbon metro. You can take the train to the beautiful Jerónimos Monastery in Belem, a Unesco World Heritage Site.
While you are there, try Pasteis de Belem, Lisbon’s famous custard tarts – one of my favourite things about Lisbon. The bakery is right next door to the monastery!
While in Belem, check out the Monument to the Discoveries, the Belem Tower and the futuristic Museum of Art, Architecture and Technology (MAAT) – and that’s just day one.
And the beauty of visiting Lisbon is that you can enjoy both the city and the sea all in one trip with a visit to the surfing town of Ericeira, a mere 40-minute drive away and one of the best places to visit on the west coast of Portugal.
For more things to do in Lisbon, check out this 3-day Lisbon itinerary. You can also find the best districts to stay in Lisbon in this comprehensive accommodation guide.
If you are looking for weekend breaks from Lisbon, there are plenty to choose from. One of the loveliest places to visit is Castelo Branco. It’s a 2-and-a-half-hour drive from Lisbon and a perfect place to visit, especially in June when the cherry season arrives.
Stay at the 5* EPIC SANA Lisboa Hotel in Amoreiras neighbourhood. This modern hotel has a rooftop infinity pool with fabulous views over the city. It’s also very close to the Metro station or a 25-minute walk to the city centre.
2. Discover Porto and its famous wine cellars
Porto is a Unesco World Heritage Site and one of the top 10 places to see in Portugal.
Nestled along the Iberian peninsula and known for being the birthplace of port wine, there are many port cellars in Porto along the banks of the magnificent Douro River, mostly in Vila Nova.
There are, however, so many other things to do in Porto that a 3-night break to Portugal’s second-largest city is a must.
Down by the river in Porto’s trendy Ribeiro district. You will find restaurants, bars and Porto boat tours cruising beneath the city’s six bridges.
Glide underneath the city’s landmark Dom Luis 1 bridge, designed by one of Gustave Eiffel’s students, and marvel at the double-decker pedestrian and vehicle crossing.
Porto is also well known for the white and blue “azulejo” tiles.
Visitors can see them decorating buildings all around the city. One of the things to see in Porto is the beautiful azulejo tiles at the Sao Bento train station. They are worth checking out even if you aren’t catching a train!
Harry Potter in Porto
History lovers will find visiting Igreja de São Francisco and its gruesome catacombs fascinating. At the same time, Porto Cathedral, with outstanding views down to the river, is a must-see Porto landmark.
Harry Potter fans won’t want to miss Librario Lello, the charming bookstore supposedly the inspiration for J.K. Rowling’s novels.
Make sure that while you are in the city of Porto, you try two regional dishes. The first is Francesinha – a sandwich containing melted cheese, cooked meat, tomato and beer sauce. The second is an egg custard pastry called Pastel de Nata available at almost every Porto bakery!
3. Take a cruise in the Douro Valley
The Douro Valley is one of Portugal’s most beautiful places, and a Douro River cruise is one of the top things to do in Portugal.
With the gentle river meandering through thousands of acres of terraced vine-covered hills, this idyllic section of central Portugal is the world’s oldest demarcated wine region.
Grapes have been grown in the Douro Valley for over 2,000 years, and the Portuguese authorities set their official boundaries in 1756.
For wine lovers, this is one of the best places to go in Portugal. Visit any number of the port houses and vineyards in the Douro Valley. Some of the best wineries in the Douro Valley, such as Sandeman and Croft, have tasting rooms directly off the main highway.
Another classic Douro activity is to take a trip on a “Rabelo,” a traditional flat-bottomed boat, down the river itself.
A look at Pinhao
Visitors should also stop in the small town of Pinhao. Though it only had one main street, Pinhao is the largest settlement in the region. It has a historic blue-tiled train station and an adorable wine shop that offers tastings and Portuguese pasteis de Nata (custard tarts).
There are plenty of places to stay in Pinhao, but for those looking for true 5-star luxury, the Vintage House set in a former 18th-century wine estate offers the perfect stay in the Douro Valley.
The most popular place to stay in the Douro Valley is at one of the wineries – many of the “casas” operate as a B&B.
You will also find several lovely boutique inns, like Casa Cimeira, dotted along the Duoro River.
If you’re short on time, I recommend a guided day tour. That way, you can learn about the local history and culture, drink an irresponsible amount of port (without worrying about driving), and see the beauty of the Douro Valley from every angle.
4. Visit the historical city of Braga
Less than an hour from the well-known tourist hotspot of Porto is Portugal’s oldest city, Braga. It oozes history, religion and stunning Baroque architecture and is home to Portugal’s oldest religious monument, Sé Cathedral, and other churches.
Day trip visitors to Braga often start the day by venturing out of the city centre, where the UNESCO World Heritage Site of Bom Jesus do Monte sits proudly on top of a hill.
Bom Jesus greets pilgrims and tourists alike with a spectacular staircase of nearly 600 steps leading up to the chapel. There’s a funicular available too, and the surrounding gardens mean it’s a hit with visitors and a landmark not to miss while in Braga.
Returning to the city centre, a trip to Sé Cathedral is a must. A walk through the colourful streets and past traditional tile-covered buildings will undoubtedly lead you to more churches, museums and the all-important street cafes.
Be sure not to miss a walk through Arco da Porta Nova, the beautiful Baroque arch built in the 18th century, and don’t forget to visit Braga Tower, a remnant of the medieval castle of Braga.
To get an authentic feel for Braga, my favourite thing to do is head to one of the markets. Spend a while perusing the different stalls before having a coffee at the popular Café A Brasileira. Come evening; there’s only one thing for it, the traditional Portuguese dish francesinha for dinner.
5. Wander the cobbled streets of Coimbra
One of the most beautiful towns in Portugal, yet one of the lesser-known UNESCO world heritage sites, is the charming river town of Coimbra, which can be visited from Porto on a day trip.
Steeped in amazing historical monuments, Coimbra is home to the oldest academic institution in Portugal and was once a Moorish stronghold.
There are many interesting things to do in Coimbra, including taking a walk through the quaint streets of the 12th-century University of Coimbra, getting wowed by its stunning architecture (Santa Cruz Monastery and Joanine Library are especially remarkable), and learning all about its Harry Potter legacy.
Wander through the steep yet beautiful historic centre, listen to a soulful Fado rendition, and get some stunning city views across Rio Mondego.
Be sure to carry a good pair of walking shoes because the old town and the university are located on a hill slope, and a lot of walking is involved.
When in Coimbra, try Pastel de Tentúgal, a unique Portuguese dessert from the nearby town of Tentúgal.
6. See the Umbrella Sky project in Águeda
Águeda, a small town of 47,000 inhabitants, is located in Portugal, one hour from Porto (63km).
It is famed for the Umbrella Sky Project installation, shading the streets during hot summer days and is one of the most fun places in Portugal.
Hundreds of vibrantly coloured umbrellas cover multiple streets throughout the charming town.
It is probably one of the most beautiful cities in Portugal and gives so many positive vibes. There are also tons of street art and music events making this small town a worthwhile stop on your trip to Portugal.
You don’t need long to see the small village of Águeda – a couple of hours will be plenty. Just wander the happy streets and stop by O Tipico for lunch, indulging in their fantastic food.
Closely situated 30 minutes from Aveiro, “the Venice of Portugal” is known for its canal resembling Venice. You can stay overnight in Aveiro as there may be more options as it’s a bit larger town.
If you up for visiting off-the-beaten-track destinations, then Águeda is for you! It is definitely one of the lesser-known places to go in Portugal and so very unique.
7. Visit the Unesco World Heritage Site of Evora
Step back in time to the ancient city of Evora. Narrow cobbled streets wind through a maze of local shops, ornate churches, outdoor cafes and Roman ruins.
This UNESCO World Heritage city dates back over five thousand years and has been inhabited since the 2nd century B.C.
The walled city sits 83 miles south of Lisbon and is a good halfway point to the Algarve. It is surrounded by the picturesque Alentejo region known for its olive fields and traditional villages.
Evora’s 16th-century whitewashed buildings are decorated with wrought-iron balconies and azulejos tiles. Open-air shops sell cork products, ceramic tiles and other regional keepsakes.
Evora is known for its 1st-century Roman ruins and The Templo Romano Evora, which boasts 12 original stone pillars.
This walkable historic city is also known for its grand churches, and there are several must-see tourist attractions in Evora. Igreja de Sao Francisco is decorated in carved wood and azulejo tiles.
A visit to the eerie Capela dos Ossos, Chapel of Bones, is off the main cathedral and one of the unusual things to do in Portugal. Several thousand bones and skulls decorate the walls and pillars. It is said to be a reflection of the transience of human life.
The stunning 1204 A.D. Cathedral of Evora is one of the area’s oldest buildings, with rooftop views overlooking the city. The painted scenes of Angels and carved gold decor surrounding the 1580s Igreja da Graca make it a Portugal must-see.
Rua Alcarcova de Baixo is a popular evening hotspot with bars, cafes and outdoor seating.
8. See the picturesque canals of Aveiro
Only one hour from Porto by train, the charming city of Aveiro makes for an easy day trip or interesting stopover when driving between Lisbon and Porto.
Dubbed the Venice of Portugal, Aveiro is renowned for its picturesque canals and painted gondolas known as Moliceiros. Ferrying visitors along the maze of waterways in the city centre, a trip on a traditional boat is one of the highlights of visiting this seaport city.
Besides its rich maritime history of primarily cod fishing, Aveiro charms with elaborate Art Nouveau buildings, engaging museums and a wealth of cafes and restaurants lining the main waterway.
Stroll the quaint side streets to discover traditional Portuguese tiles adorning the old train station and many homes, churches and shops in the city.
Visit the salt pans in the Aveiro lagoon and the open-air eco-museum to discover the region’s history and traditional methods of salt production.
Pop into the famous Aveiro Fish Market to see the frantic action of the day’s catch being unloaded and try some of the region’s famous seafood dishes. And don’t miss sampling the sweet egg-yolk treat of Ovos Moles, the regional delicacy that pairs perfectly with coffee.
Whilst Aveiro offers visitors a wealth of laid-back activities, it is undoubtedly a “moliceiro” boat ride through the city canals that is a highlight and favoured activity from all who visit – not to be missed!
The elegant Hotel Moliceiro with delightful views over the central canal is a fabulous upmarket choice for those wishing to stay the night.
9. Enjoy the beach at Costa Nova Do Prado
Often mistaken to be in Aveiro, the beautiful beachside town of Costa Nova is actually a short drive away.
Surfers and wind-surfers favour Costa Nova for its magnificent waves and stunning beach. However, the magnet that pulls photographers and tourists to Costa Nova is the candy-striped houses that line the strip of land between the lagoon and the beach.
Once used as storage and shelter for fishermen’s equipment and boats, these shelters had no separating floors when first built. Over time, the fishermen added levels to enable families to live together.
These iconic traditional houses, known as “haystacks’ to the Portuguese, are now privately owned as holiday homes and holiday rentals.
If you want to stay in one of the candy-striped buildings, the M Costa Nova has been restored and has sea views.
You should visit the Fishing Market while in Costa Nova. Freshly caught shellfish from the lagoon is prepared and served immediately.
10. Visit the fairytale Pina Palace in Sintra
Sintra is a special place and, without a doubt, one of Portugal’s best places to visit.
The town has been the home of the Portuguese royal family, Moorish princes, and eccentric millionaires since the 10th Century. They’ve all left behind some of the most magnificent fairytale castles and palaces in Europe that have made Sintra a UNESCO World Heritage Site.
Pena Palace is the most famous castle in Sintra, with its red and yellow towers visible for miles around.
If you want to look inside the palace, you need a ticket; otherwise, you can admire the palace from the outside. There are extensive gardens, and the view outside the palace is probably sufficient for most people.
The Moorish Castle has splendid views of the countryside and Pena Palace and has a fascinating history.
La Quinta de Regaleira was a private home whose owner designed the gardens to create a mystical wonderland.
You might recognise the Well of Initiation from photos on Instagram – it was used for ceremonies possibly related to the Freemasons or Tarot – whatever its purpose, don’t miss exploring the gardens. The Sintra National Palace and the Palace of Monserrate are other popular attractions here.
Many people visit the magical town of Sintra on a day trip from Lisbon, but you will have more time to explore if you spend at least one night here.
If you have the time, a drive through the Parque Natural de Sintra-Cascais to Cabo da Roca on the coast is also worth the effort.
Make sure to watch the sunset from the Moorish Castle, the views are incredible!
11. Walk the historic city walls in Obidos
You feel like you’ve gone back in time when you visit Obidos, about an hour north of Lisbon. It’s a small, well-preserved medieval town with much to offer visitors.
City walls surround the town, much like Dubrovnik in Croatia. They are pretty impressive to see but even more spectacular to walk on. You get terrific views of Obidos and the surrounding countryside.
Allow at least an hour for this walk, then treat yourself to the local cherry-flavoured liquor, Ginja served in a chocolate cup.
Many stands sell Ginja and other souvenirs along the town’s main road. Nearby, venture inside the Santa Maria Church, where King Afonso V married his cousin Isabel in 1444.
The best time to go to Obidos is in July when they have the Medieval Festival. You can bring a medieval costume or rent one during your visit. The highlight is their medieval feasts on Friday and Saturday evenings.
You can easily visit Obidos on a day trip if you have a car or take the bus. There are also many organized tours from Lisbon.
However, why not stay longer at the luxury hotel Pousada Castelo de Obidos in the town’s medieval castle?
I loved the city wall walk, but there were times it was a bit scary without a handrail. Don’t let that deter you, just be careful; the views are worth it.
12. Take in the sea air at Viana do Castelo
Viana do Castelo is a charismatic coastal city in northern Portugal, 70km from Porto. It is a city bathed by the Atlantic Ocean and the Lima River.
The city has a strong tie with the sea, with a big port. It was known for its shipbuilding and essential role in cod fishing campaigns.
But besides the beach and the river, the city has a charming old medieval city centre with plenty to do. You will find the costume museum in the city centre, where you can admire different local costumes.
Viana do Castelo is also known for its jewellery, the famous heart of Viana, a golden heart with a beautiful design in filigree.
You must visit Santa Luzia Basilica atop the hill outside the centre. From the Basilica, you will find breathtaking panoramic views overlooking the city of Viana do Castelo, the Lima River, and the shoreline.
Another top attraction is the Gil Eanes Hospital Ship, a former hospital ship converted into a museum. Here you will learn about Portugal’s brave history in the cod fishing campaigns.
Finally, you can spend time on the beach, surfing or sunbathing, or drive to Ponte de Lima, 30km from Viana do Castelo, one of Portugal’s oldest and most charming towns.
Viana do Castelo is also the perfect place to eat fresh fish, which is always delicious. But, our top tip is to try the “Bolas de Berlim” (Berliner) in the Natario pastry shop.
13. Enjoy outdoor adventures in Porto Covo
One of the standouts of an impressive line of terrific fishing villages along the southwestern coast of Portugal, and only a 2-hour drive from Lisbon, is lovely Porto Covo.
With fantastic trails along the photogenic cliffs up and down the coast, hikers and bikers will find plenty to occupy them.
Like most places along Portugal’s Atlantic Coast, surfing is a top Portugal pastime and one of the many outdoor things to do in Porto Covo.
Several top beaches within walking distance of the village offer a nice variety of scenic, sheltered and wild surf.
Praia Grande is a big, beautiful stretch of sand next to Porto Covo that gets busy mid-summer but usually still has plenty of room for everyone to spread out.
Meanwhile, in the other direction, Praia dos Buizinhos is a picturesque jumble of rocks great for photos and collecting seashells.
Visitors can find the best surfing in Portugal at Praia de Vale Figueiras.
Further south, the old ruins at Praia da Ilha do Pessegueiro are perfect for history lovers and anyone fascinated by the remains of Forte do Santo Alberto, which are still noticeable on the small offshore island.
A guided day trip from Lisbon highlighting the southwest coast of Portugal is a good way of seeing Porto Covo if you are strapped for time.
There is a good selection of local Portuguese restaurants specializing in excellent seafood in the gorgeous, whitewashed old town centre. With mild winters and hot, sunny summers, Porto Covo is a superb choice nearly all year round.
Parque Campisimo Porto Covo offers a wide range of accommodation from comfortable suites with kitchenettes, to camping and RV spots.
14. Wander around Faro, the Algarve’s charming capital city
Faro is the capital of the Algarve but is often regarded as simply the gateway to Portugal’s beach resorts. Before heading to other places in the Algarve, take some time to explore the charming town of Faro.
Start by wandering along Faro’s streets lined with whitewashed buildings. Stop to peek inside traditional shops selling Portuguese handicrafts and delicacies.
Then on to the Cathedral of Santa Maria with its bone chapel and bell tower. Climb to the top for an amazing view over the town of Faro and the natural park of Ria Formosa.
Afterwards, check out the ancient Roman and Moorish city walls, where you will find Faro Cathedral and Arco da Vila, the ornate city gate.
And don’t forget there are beautiful beaches in Faro. A quick 25-minute walk from Faro’s train station will find you on one of the best beaches in Portugal (Praia de Barreta). Favoured by windsurfers and sailing enthusiasts, it is the perfect spot to unwind after exploring the town of Faro.
If you want somewhere special to eat in Faro, look no further than Ria Formosa Restaurant on the rooftop of Hotel Faro. The food is amazing, and the views across the harbour are sensational.
15. Discover Estoi, a hidden gem in the Algarve
Another great place to visit and a quick 15 minutes by taxi from Faro is the town of Estoi.
A hidden gem in the Algarve, this sleepy town has the most beautiful restored 19th-century pink facade palace turned into a luxury hotel called Pousada Palacio de Estoi. It reminds me of the Villa Ephrussi on the French Riviera.
You can wander around the hotel grounds and enjoy a refreshing drink under its pastel bougainvillaea trees before checking out the mosaics and Roman Ruins of Milreu, a short walk away or a herb tour at Dias de Aromas.
16. Stroll through the historic streets of Tavira
Visit Tavira, one of Portugal’s prettiest towns in the eastern Algarve region, and you’ll step back in time. This hidden gem is a mere 30 kilometres from the Spanish border. As you ramble through its old streets and alleyways, one cannot help but fall under its spell.
It has virtually remained unchanged over time. Its traditional Portuguese characteristics and Moorish influences are still very much everywhere. Beautiful latticework doors and the Moorish-influenced door knockers in the shape of hands to the colourful azulejo tiling to the low whitewash buildings.
Don’t miss some of Tavira’s key historic buildings. The 16th-century Renaissance church (Church of Mercy). The 13th-century Gothic-style church (Church of Saint Maria), or the seven-arched Roman bridge spanning the slow-flowing river of Gilão from the 1100s.
After you have explored the charming old town, it’s time to head to the beach! Tavira offers a beautiful coastline with several golden sand beaches with warm turquoise water.
The beaches are a short ferry ride away, separated from the mainland by lagoons and waterways, part of the Parque Natural da Ria Formosa.
Renee’s Top Tip:
Don’t miss the incredible sight of the Parque Natural da Ria Formosa. It is considered one of the 7 Natural Wonders of Portugal.
17. See the famous cliffs and beaches of Lagos
One of the best places to visit in Portugal is the lively town of Lagos in the western Algarve. It is also one of the best places in Portugal for families, with its sandy beaches and shallow waters.
Jam-packed with fun water activities, beautiful beaches such as Meia Praia, and surrounded by nature, there are many things to do in Lagos, making it one of the best coastal towns in Portugal.
Head to the incredible cliff formations at Ponta da Piedade or to the westernmost spot of Portugal to see the Sagres cliffs and castle.
You can also take a boat trip to explore the incredible Algarve rock formations and caves from the water. Lagos is also perfect for learning how to surf, with some of the best surf spots in Europe close by. Or maybe you want to learn to scuba dive to discover hidden cave systems?
Lagos’ historic old town is quaint with a chilled vibe that attracts tourists from all over Europe and is often voted as one of the top 10 places to visit in Portugal.
Lagos is excellent for bars with live bands and has lots of restaurants. You can find anything from ecological vegan food to local dishes. It is also a good destination for solo travellers hoping to meet other like-minded travellers.
Especially spectacular is Benagil Cave! It’s only a short boat drive away, but to enter the actual cave, you have to go by SUP or kayak. Consider a day trip to Benagil beach and see the caves from there.
18. Explore the incredible Benagil caves in Carvoeiro
Carvoeiro is a beautiful small fishing town on the western Algarve coast of Portugal. Most Algarve tourists visit for a relaxing beach holiday, but one of the best things to do in Carvoeiro is to visit the Benagil caves and a trip to the port town of Lagos.
The stunning Praia de Carvoeiro beach is one of the most beautiful beaches in the Algarve.
Along with golden sands and rock formations, you’ll find small caves in the bay for those who like exploring. Carvoeiro is an excellent holiday destination for families and one of the best places to go in Portugal for couples. It is an easy day trip from Albufeira or Ferragudo.
You’ll also find a mix of the younger and older generation during the summer when Carvoeiro can get quite busy.
It is quiet during the off-season and mainly caters for holiday visitors who come to relax on the golden beaches and enjoy Carvoeiro’s restaurants without the crowds.
Perched on the cliffside and offering stunning bay views is one of the popular Carvoeiro hotels, named Tivoli Carvoeiro.
If you plan on taking a day trip to Carvoeiro, make sure you arrive early to park. It can be challenging to find a spot on the narrow Portuguese streets, especially in peak season.
19. Visit Ria Formosa Natural Park, a must for nature lovers
Ria Formosa is a protected natural park in the northern Algarve region.
Stretching over 60 km of the Algarve coastline and covering an area of 18000 hectares, Ria Formosa Natural Park is a patch of mudflats, marshes, and a lagoon dotted with sandy beaches. The national park also includes five barrier islands and two peninsulas, all of which are one of Portugal’s seven natural wonders.
With a unique environment and rich biodiversity, Ria Formosa makes an ideal home for various flora and fauna. The lagoon is also the winter home for as many as 20000 migratory birds crossing between Europe and Africa. Visitors can see ibis, flamingoes, herons, egrets, white storks, and many other bird species throughout the year.
Faro, Tavira and Olhao are the main towns located within or close to the natural park, making them an ideal base to explore.
As far as exploring Ria Formosa, there are many ways to do it. You can take boat and photography tours, which take roughly 5 hours.
You can also take boat trips to explore the five barrier islands. Alternatively, enjoy the walking trails through the pine forest and muddy marshes. You can also hire a kayak, stand-up paddle or snorkel in the waters; the options are truly unlimited.
20. Explore Madeira, Portugal’s Golden Island
Madeira lies over 1000 kilometres southwest of Portugal and enjoys a temperate climate all year round. The tropical Atlantic Island is an affordable and diverse destination.
Visitors can explore the city’s parks, museums and churches in the charming capital Funchal, known for its purple jacaranda trees and black and white mosaic pavements. Alternatively, enjoy newer attractions like the CR7 museum (dedicated to local hero Cristiano Ronaldo) or Aquapark Madeira.
Take a scenic cable car ride from Funchal’s long promenade to the colourful Monte Palace Tropical Gardens. Return to Funchal with a thrilling ride on Monte’s iconic wicker toboggans, followed by a glass of Madeira wine to steady your nerves.
The rest of Madeira Island offers something for everyone. Swim in naturally formed pools at Porto Moniz, explore the lava tubes at Sao Vicente or learn about Madeiran culture at Santana Theme Park. Relax on a sandy beach in Calheta or tackle one of Madeira’s famous Levada hikes.
Keen hikers travel to Madeira worldwide to walk these scenic trails along the levadas (irrigation channels) that crisscross Madeira. Choose between mountain trails, on the coast or through dense forest.
Most visitors stay in Funchal, where the major attractions can be visited on foot, but we enjoyed a rural stay in Estreito da Calheta in the sunny southwest of the island.
If time permits, add a few days to your Madeira holiday itinerary and head to Madeira’s sister island, Porto Santo. Here you will find idyllic golden sandy beaches and a laid-back vibe across the island.
There is a levada hike for everyone. A picturesque and varied hike is Levada do Risco.
21. Visit the Azores, Portugal’s Green Island
São Miguel, known as “Green Island,” is the largest of nine islands in the Azores archipelago, off mainland Portugal. It is known for its lush green landscapes and natural hot springs and is a wonderful holiday destination, particularly for travellers searching for an epic outdoor adventure.
Begin your Azores holiday by flying into the main Azores airport in Ponta Delgada, São Miguel’s capital city. Explore the striking streets and cobblestone squares on foot, or take to the waters of the North Atlantic Ocean.
Several companies at Marina Ponta Delgada offer water sports rentals and other activities like dolphin swimming and whale watching tours. Or join a private group island tour to see some of the hidden gems on São Miguel island.
Make a trip northwest from the capital to the twin crater lakes of Sete Cidades.
Hike to jaw-dropping lookouts like Miradouro da Boca do Inferno or, if the weather allows, rent a kayak or SUP board and take in the view of the blue and green lakes from the water.
Finally, head to Furnas in the east to take a dip in the island’s famous hot springs.
While you’re here, try a quirky cup of purple tea at Chalet da Tia Mercês and delicious Cozida das Furnas or volcanic stew. This traditional stew is cooked underground with heat from the natural volcanic cooking holes and is available at many Portuguese restaurants.
No matter when you visit São Miguel, the weather can be wildly unpredictable – a fair price to pay when visiting a gorgeous volcanic island in the middle of the North Atlantic. Be sure to pack accordingly!
22. Be at one with nature in Peneda-Gerês National Park
Peneda-Gerês National Park is Portugal’s only national park and one of Portugal’s most famous landmarks.
It is situated in the north, close to the Spanish border. In addition to the stunning natural landscape, at Peneda-Gerês, you can also discover the region’s impressive biodiversity, embark on some adventure sports such as canyoning or rafting, go bird-watching, and swim in turquoise lagoons, or hike and take in the views.
It’s easy to spend a day exploring on your own or with the support of a local guide. Either way, it’s the perfect day trip from Porto. Visiting on your own, you’re able to go at your own pace; however, the local guides know all of the best things to do in Gerês, including finding great spots for swimming or photo opportunities.
Some companies that offer small-group tours of Peneda-Gerês are also involved in local sustainability efforts, such as Oporto Adventure Tours. These tours will often include local lunch in an authentic village and time for swimming in the lagoons, with a portion of ticket revenue dedicated to reforestation in the park.
There are many entrances and routes/trails throughout the park, so research your routes beforehand if you plan on going without a guide.