Sun. May 19th, 2024

Though a relatively small country, Portugal has a culture, history and landscape that can rival anywhere in Europe.

The continent’s westernmost country has several enviable features, from a mild climate and a privileged location on the edge of the Atlantic to incredibly varied natural landscapes alongside characterful towns and cities.

Capital Lisbon is a perennially popular choice, while second city Porto is gaining ground as more people visit for a weekend by the waters of the Douro. The Algarve’s magnificent beaches remain a draw for many, but tourists are starting to explore pastures new further into the Atlantic as the wild beauty of the autonomous islands of Madeira and the Azores begins to attract more visitors.

With such a range of destinations, it can be difficult to choose exactly where to visit on your Portuguese getaway, so we’ve rounded up some of the best towns, cities and regions to get you inspired.


<p>A view over Lisbon and the Sao Jorge Castle </p>

The country’s cosmopolitan capital is a great place to start a trip to Portugal. Its rising hills and cobbled alleys hide hundreds of years of history – from the Jeronimos Monastery to the imposing Sao Jorge castle that overlooks the city – while its vast port and waterfront areas mark a fusion of the city’s modern personality and maritime past. Landmarks such as the 16th-century Belem Tower are juxtaposed with rows of bars and restaurants lining the city’s historic squares.

The central areas are easy to explore on foot, though the city is a large one; use the iconic Tram 28 cross the city in quintessentially Lisbon style while seeing some of the sights; the route takes you through the characterful districts of Bairro Alto and Alfama.

Near the waterfront, the LX Factory provides the hipster dream blend of shops and eateries housed in industrial warehouses, while Time Out Market is Lisbon’s culinary heart, a large indoor market with stalls that showcase a variety of the city’s best restaurants, from steak-only stalls to the famous pastéis de nata (custard tarts).

When to travel to Lisbon

For great weather and fewer people, head to Lisbon in the shoulder seasons. June and September have the best weather (think highs around 25C); May and October are likely to be cheaper while still bringing average temperatures around 17C.

Where to stay

Found between the Chiado and Baixa areas, LX Boutique Hotel is an excellent base for exploring the city. Sitting near the waterfront, it has spacious rooms and an on-site sushi restaurant for an evening of slightly different cuisine.


<p>The Ribeira district is Porto’s finest waterside location </p>

Portugal’s second city has character to rival the capital. Located on the banks of the Douro River, the city is centred around its waterfront district, the Ribeira. Here, you’ll find grand old hotels and a proliferation of waterside bars and restaurants, many at excellent value – a relaxing drink by the waterside doesn’t often come this cheap in a major European city.

Walking away from the water, Porto stretches up the hills, first to the district of Vitoria, the old commercial centre of the city. In this Unesco-certified district, you’ll find excellent viewpoints (such as the Miradouro da Vitoria) and some of the city’s most important landmarks, including the Carmo church and the university. Venture further up and you’ll come to the districts of Cedofeita, Bolhao and Baixa (the grand Downtown area that contains many of the city’s best attractions, such as Bolhao Market and the Clerigos Tower).


When to visit Porto

Early June is an excellent time to visit Porto. The summer crowds will not have descended on the city, and temperatures average a pleasant 17C (with little chance of rain spoiling your day).

Where to stay

The Carris Porto Ribeira is in the district of the same name, overlooking the Douro. Its contemporary rooms offer city and river views; book a room with a terrace to make the most of the scenery.


<p>Aveiro has been nicknamed the ‘Venice of Portugal'</p>

Little over an hour south of Porto lies Aveiro, a charming city lined with canals. Portugal’s answer to Venice is a less grand but similarly elegant city, where tourists gather to admire the Art Nouveau architecture and ride moliceiros (the Portuguese equivalent of gondolas) across the intricate network of waterways. The centre is filled with colourful facades and buildings adorned with azulejo tiles (typical of old Spanish, Portuguese and some Moorish buildings), while the promenades of the beaches at Barra and Costa Nova are lined with striped beach houses reminiscent of the stereotypical British seaside huts.

Other attractions in the city include the Se Cathedral and the Aveiro Museum, and you can also enjoy the city’s nature, from birdwatching at the Ria de Aveiro lagoon to walking the four-mile trail around the Sao Jacinto Dunes Nature Reserve.

When to visit Aveiro

The weather is unlikely to get sweltering even at the height of summer, so a visit in July or August isn’t a bad option. Alternatively, to best avoid crowds while still enjoying the sun, June and September are the best months, with average temperatures around 17C.

Where to stay

Located right in the centre of town, the Aveiro Palace has welcomed guests since 1937. Rooms here are modestly sized with minimalist decor, in contrast to the large, stylish common areas (and their impressive views across the canals).

<p>The Algarve possesses some of the best coastal scenery in the country </p>

The country’s famous southern coastal region is home to an array of delightful golden beaches which have made it vastly popular. The main city is Faro, where visitors can explore a cobblestoned Old Town. Other cities in the region include Albufeira – known as a popular seaside resort with extensive nightlife options on the Monte Choro strip – and Portimao, with a lovely promenade and its own quaint Old Town, filled with tree-lined plazas and winding pedestrian streets.

But a series of strikingly beautiful coastal towns is what sets the Algarve apart from other destinations. They all have distinctive features: Lagos has its walled town and the extraordinary Ponta da Piedade rock formations; Tavira its castle and the white-washed houses of the historic centre; Silves its Moorish influences and russet-tiled roofs; and Carvoiero an eye-catching bay area that’s perfect for water sports. One thing they all have in common, though, is a series of remarkably pristine beaches, where white sands disappear beneath emerald waters and golden cliffs rise high above the shore.

When to visit the Algarve

Temperatures rise quickly in the region, with average highs already at 23C in May – these temperatures also last until October. These two months are the best time to come for warm rather than scorching weather while swerving the roughly three million tourists that visit each year.

Where to stay

Carvoeiro makes a good base for exploring the Algarve, as it sits in the middle of several of the best towns. The Tivoli Carvoeiro is on the coast near the town, with incredible views over the cliffs and out to sea from its pools, terraces and some of the rooms.


<p>Madeira’s temperate climate makes it a popular year-round destination</p>

An archipelago that sits 600 miles away from the mainland, Madeira has volcanic landscapes and a sub-tropical climate that make it a great year-round holiday destination. Its capital is Funchal, an expansive port city of labyrinthine streets set among verdant hills. Here, visitors can walk among the Santa Catarina Park and the tropical gardens at Monte Palace, or take the cable car to the Botanical Gardens after exploring the Old Town.

Madeira is known for its captivating coastal towns and villages – of which Camara de Lobos and Santana are two of the most picturesque – but don’t miss an opportunity to explore the island’s natural beauty. From beaches such as Alagoa and the black sands of Prainha to peaks such as Pico Ruivo and the island’s numerous levada walks (along old irrigation channels), lovers of the outdoors can spend plenty of time exploring.

When to visit Madeira

Average highs don’t drop below18C in Madeira, and even in August you can expect a pleasant 26C. For cheaper prices, choose any month in the shoulder seasons; average temperatures in May, June, September and October are around 17C, 21C, 24C and 22C respectively.


Where to stay

The self-styled ‘Hedonist Design Resort’ of Saccharum sits on Calheta Beach, around 30 minutes away from Funchal. It’s centred around a fantastic rooftop infinity pool overlooking the ocean, complemented by two restaurants, four bars and summer terraces.


<p>The Alentejo region is famous for its rural landscapes and wineries </p>

Bordering the Algarve to the north and Spain to the east, the Alentejo region is an area that mixes the alluring Portuguese coast with northern marshlands, flat countryside and sunny areas to the south. Covering huge areas of forest, wheat fields, olive groves and vineyards, the Alentejo provides a different kind of tourism that gives visitors a taste of rural Portugal. This is true in every sense of the word; gastronomy and wine tourism play an important role in the Alentejo experience, from dishes such as acorda (a bread- and egg-based soup) and codiza stew to the famed red wines of the region.

The regional capital, Evora, is worth a visit to see its Roman Temple and various 16th-century monuments (including a town square and aqueduct), though many of the region’s best attractions are in natural areas, including the Arribada National Park (an attractive mountainous area with amazing coastal sections) and the Serra de Sao Mamede (a natural park that is perfect for hiking and mountain biking).

When to visit the Alentejo

Weather in the region can vary slightly from north to south, so it is best to stick to the warmer months. Anything between June and September will bring good weather; crowds here will be far more sparse than more popular areas, so even in peak season it shouldn’t be overrun.

Where to stay

The Octant Evora is found in the Alentejo countryside just 20 minutes away from Evora. A simple yet stylish hotel, its white buildings contain spacious rooms decorated in muted tones, while the outdoor areas include a terrace, spa and two outdoor swimming pools.


<p>The town of Cascais is a popular seaside destination </p>

A smaller town less than an hour west of Lisbon, Cascais is known for its picturesque coastline, rugged cliffs, hidden coves and golden-sand beaches such as Praia da Rainha, Praia do Guincho and Conceicao. Swimming, surfing, sailing and a host of water sports are popular activities in the area.

The focal point of this vibrant town is its historic centre, a maze of colourful buildings and large squares that have a range of cultural attractions, from the Paula Rego Museum (showcasing artworks of a famous local artist) to the town’s Cultural Centre (which hosts different shows and exhibitions). The streets lead down to a vibrant marina, brimming with shops, restaurants and bars that are the ideal spot for a sunset meal or drink.

When to visit Cascais

While May and October are still warm months in Cascais, there is often a lot of rain. For the best weather, visit between June and September, where average temperatures will be around 20C.

Where to stay

For a peaceful stay around 10 minutes away from the centre of Cascais, opt for the Sheraton Cascais Resort. Compised of a series of attractive red-ochre buildings, this hotel provides all the amenities that you’d expect from a resort, from two large outdoor swimming pools to a spa and bar, with the added luxuries of an on-site Japanese restaurant and extensive gardens.


<p>Coimbra is a former Portuguese capital </p>

Coimbra lies just over an hour south of Porto. A former capital city, it has a history stretching back to Roman times, some of which is still on show in the form of an aqueduct, a cryptoporticus (a gallery of underground corridors) and the nearby ruins of Conimbriga. It is now one of the country’s cultural centres; home to its oldest university, it also features a General Library, the Machado de Castro National Museum and large Botanical Gardens. Most famously, it has produced its own style of fado music, one of the most famed forms of traditional music in Portugal.

Situated along the Mondego River, the city has a similar appearance to Porto; stacks of white-washed buildings rise from the waterside and up the hills, culminating in panoramic views available from the top of the University Tower. A walk around its historic centre will take you across several monuments as you navigate the network of narrow streets.

When to visit Coimbra

Average highs in May and June are around 22C and 25C respectively. For an injection of liveliness, the city’s ‘Burning of the Ribbons’ festivities – marking the end of the academic year – take place in the first week of May.

Where to stay

Hotel Oslo is a family-run hotel in the centre of Coimbra where the views are the main attraction. Though the hotel and its interiors are fairly modest, its roof terrace and its seating area are exceptional, featuring views across the city and its hills.

The Azores

<p>The Azores possess some of the finest natural landscapes in Portugal</p>

The Azores is an archipelago that lies 1,000 miles west of mainland Portugal. It consists of nine main islands: Sao Miguel is the main one, and houses the capital (Ponte Delgada), though notable others include Pico (the site of the tallest mountain in Portugal), Terceira (known for its Unesco-listed capital, Angra do Heroismo), Sao Jorge and Flores (where you’ll find many of the best sites on the archipelago).

Marked by a dizzying variety of natural landscapes, these islands are the ideal choice for those who want a holiday of outdoor pursuits and natural discovery. There are dozens of treks and hiking trails on the island, ranging from a climb of Mount Pico to hikes along the Lagoa do Fogo, one of Sao Miguel’s prettiest lakes, or a 23-mile hike across the whole of Faial. Along these routes you’ll find remarkable geography, from daunting canyons to towering waterfalls such as those of Poco Ribeira do Ferreiro and Poco da Alagoinha. Perhaps the most scenic point on all of the islands is the Sete Cidades, an incredible crater lake surrounded by seven verdant peaks that is reminiscent of the landscape of a Pacific island.

Such a range of lakes offers plentiful opportunities for wild swimming, with many natural pools present on the island too. Ponta da Ferraria, Simao Dias and Mosteiros are some of the best, though if you prefer sandy coastline to jagged rocks then head to one of the many beaches on the islands. Sao Lourenco Bay, Praia do Fogo, Praia Grande and Faja de Santo Cristo are some of the best.

When to visit the Azores

The islands are prone to rainy periods, with June, July and August receiving the lowest amounts (three days per month on average). Temperatures are manageable even at the height of summer – the August average is around 22C.

Where to stay

For a truly unique base on Sao Miguel, stay at colonial-style Octant Furnas. Located on a site with one of the highest concentrations of natural thermal waters in Europe, the hotel is a paradise for spa-lovers, with 24-hour access to its naturally heated pools and a wide range of treatments and facilities on offer.




By Lala