Portugal is a small country in the far southwestern corner of Europe, yet there is so much diversity and incredible places to uncover, and fun activities to have. For being such a tiny country, there is enough to add to your Portugal bucket list to wish you could stay at least a month in the country.
From serene natural areas to dramatic cliffs creating scenic hiking routes and unique kayaking opportunities. Wine lovers will enjoy the picturesque wine regions, and art lovers will enjoy Portugal’s soaring Fado performances and traditional tilework. In this post, we will reveal the ultimate Portugal bucket list adventures so that you can start planning your trip!
Portugal Bucket List
Kayak to Benagil Cave
One of the most impressive natural wonders in Portugal is located in the central Algarve region in the south. Benagil Cave is a massive sea cave that can only be reached by sea. With its large opening in the ceiling, it slips in heavenly sunlight onto the beach inside, and the huge natural column splitting the two cave openings gives it the nickname “The Cathedral.”
There are plenty of boat tours from around the coast taking you to Benagil Cave, so whether you are located in Albufeira, Faro, Portimao, or Lagos, you can easily get there.
However, if you want to enter the cave, you must book a kayaking tour or a standup paddle tour. Alternatively, you can go directly to Benagil Beach and rent a kayak or paddleboard there and paddle to it yourself. It is located just a few meters from the beach, but due to underwater currents, it is too dangerous to swim there.
There is no arguing that exploring Benagil Cave is one of the highlights of any Portugal bucket list and should definitely be on your itinerary.
Bone Chapel in Evora
Portugal is home to multiple bone chapels, but the most famous one is the one in Evora. Located only an hour and a half from Lisbon, it makes a popular day trip from the capital, but it is also a great stop on any Portugal road trip.
The bone chapel is situated in the Church of St. Francis with its own entrance to the right of the church’s entrance and dedicated to Senhor dos Passos. It is a unique experience as the entire chapel is decorated in human bones.
Chilling as it might sound, the bones belong to deceased locals from medieval times, and the décor is meant to remind us that nothing is permanent.
Take a boat trip to Ponta de Piedade
A boat trip to the impressive rock formations in Algarve’s Ponta da Piedade is another top bucket list experience in Portugal not to miss. There are boat tours in Lagos, that take you along the golden cliffs, past secluded beaches, and zig-zags through the towering rocks in the crystal clear water in Ponta da Piedade.
You will hear stories told by fishermen over centuries and see different rock formations named by fishermen by their resemblance, like The Elephant and The Kissing Couple. Other ways to explore the natural site is by kayak or getting there either by foot or by car from Lagos and uncover the area by land – I promise you, the views are spectacular!
Port wine tasting in Porto
Porto is famed for its high-quality port wine, and going on a wine tasting in one of the cellars is a great way to learn more about the history and production. Porto’s Douro River is lined with port wine producers like Sandeman and Calém, though you will notice that they are located on the opposite side of the river, officially in Vila Nova de Gaia.
Wine production in this area dates all the way back to the Romans, and in the mid-1100s, Portugal began to export wine. To ensure that the wine made the long journey to countries like England, they fortified it with Brandy. Port wine has evolved since then, and today, it is fortified by fermentation instead of aging.
A port wine tasting tour typically consists of a tour of the cellars with a guide that will tell you more about how the port wine is produced and stored before you get to sample the best of their ports.
See a Fado show in Lisbon
Portugal’s capital city is the perfect place to see a Fado show, the traditional Portuguese form of musical art. In fact, Fado was recognized by UNESCO as Intangible Cultural Heritage of Humanity. It is extremely emotional, sad on the brim to being depressive, but the soaring music is guaranteed to touch your soul on a deeper level.
There are several Fado joints where you can go, but even heading to a restaurant with a Fado performance can be worth it, though slightly more touristy. Worth mentioning are Sr. Fado de Alfama and Tasca do Chico in the Alfama district. This is basically the best area in Lisbon to find Fado joints worth visiting.
Visit Sanctuary of Bom Jesus do Monte in Braga
Sanctuary of Bom Jesus do Monte is one of Portugal’s major pilgrimage sites and should definitely be on your bucket list. It is possible to do on a day trip to Braga from Porto, but in all honesty, Braga is such a lovely city with a wealth of religious history and art that it is surely worth staying a night or two.
The 14th-century hilltop sanctuary of Bom Jesus do Monte was declared a UNESCO site in 2019, and rightfully so. The imposing stairway taking you up to the sanctuary is beautifully decorated with statues and fountains. Along the walk to the top, you find small chapels on the sides with full-size statues depicting different scenes from when Jesus Christ was crucified.
If you struggle to walk the stairs, there is a funicular running every half an hour taking you to the top.
The church itself, is splendid inside, with frescoes, columns, and picturesque chapels. Surrounding the church, there are perfectly groomed gardens, trees giving shade, and splendid viewpoints where you have Braga and the surrounding countryside at your feet.
There is also a café where you can sit down and have a drink while taking in the spirituality of this magnificent site. Note that the best way to reach Sanctuary of Bom Jesus do Monte is by car, as it is located in one of the hills outside Braga.
Explore Ria Formosa Natural Park
Ria Formosa Natural Park is located in southeast Portugal and is one of the most important resting places for migrating birds traveling between Africa and Europe’s northern countries. It is a vast area of wetlands and saltwater lagoons that are protected by 5 barrier islands.
You can find a variety of Faro boat trips taking you to the islands where you can learn more about the biodiversity of this unique natural area. Tours typically take you to 2-3 islands like Culatra Island and Desert Island where you can board sand-blown beaches and have local food in the small fishing communities.
Another way to explore the area is to walk to Tavira Island across the only footbridge connecting the mainland to the island. From there, you can take a tourist train across the island to Barril Beach and the quirky Anchor Cemetery where 200 anchors left behind by fishermen are lined perfectly in the dunes by the beach.
Other activities in the natural park are hiking the Ludo trail to look for flamingos and go bird watching. There are also organized bird watching tours you can take if you prefer that over going by yourself.
Take a cruise of the Douro Valley
One of the most popular places in Portugal is the picturesque Douro Valley mounting the Douro River from Porto. Going on a cruise from Porto is a popular way to see the terraced vineyards producing some of the best Portuguese wines.
Wine has been produced in the Douro Valley for the last 2000 years which makes it a historical place. And let’s be honest! It is hard to think of anything better than being surrounded by top-shelf wines.
Some tours let you stop at a winery for wine tasting and lunch, which is a fantastic opportunity to taste the delightful wines and port wines of the region.
Have Pastel de Nata in Lisbon
Pastel de Nata is one of the most traditional pastries in Portugal, and Lisbon is the place to try it. The delightful custard tart is particularly famous in the Belen neighborhood of Lisbon.
They date back to the 18th century and was made by the monks in the Jerónimos Monastery in Belem, which rightfully so, makes the area known for its bakeries specializing in the succulent tarts.
There are also fantastic vegan options in Lisbon, and the absolute best place to try it is at VeganNata, which basically only sells vegan Pastel de Nata and drinks. It is super popular and only has a couple of tables, but you can get takeaway and enjoy it in a park nearby.
Visit Sao Jorge Castle in Lisbon
While in Lisbon, make sure you visit the imposing Sao Jorge Castle for sweeping views of the city. The castle sits on one of Lisbon’s hilltops and has a large garden where you can sit down at a café for a drink or take in the sunset from the fortified walls.
You can enter the castle and climb its towers and walls too and take pictures of the peacocks running freely in the castle’s gardens. The castle grounds are large and you can easily spend a couple of hours at Lisbon’s biggest attraction.
Explore the fairytale castles of Sintra
If you have seen the fairytale Pena Palace in Sintra on Instagram, you already know that it is a must-visit when in Portugal and on most traveler’s bucket list. But besides the Pena Palace, there are several other castles in the area. The Moorish Castle, Quinta de Regaleira, and the Monserrate Palace are all worth a visit.
With enormous gardens and green spaces, fountains, ponds with ducks, tunnels, towers to climb, and the impressive stairwell of Quinta de Regaleira, Sintra is a fairytale haven for big and small alike. It feels like stepping into a fairytale story or a fantasy movie where Dracula and Rapunzel exist.
Sintra is an easy day trip from Lisbon which has made it a popular day trip from Lisbon. However, the impressive natural and historical region deserves at least a couple of days if you want to see more than a couple of castles. The town of Sintra itself is super cute with narrow alleys, fantastic bakeries, cozy cafés, and a relaxing vibe compared to the capital.
Tiles in Porto Train Station
Portugal is famous for its wonderful tilework decorating building on the outside and the inside. Porto Train Station, Sao Bento, is one of the most spectacular places to see it. The entrance hall is covered in over 2000 “Azulejos” depicting Portuguese landscapes and people while showing different historical scenes.
Even if you do not arrive in Porto by train, it is well worth going just to see the tilework. It is like a free museum where you can enjoy incredible artwork so traditional to the country.
Learn how to surf in Ericeira
Ericeira is a lovely beach town not far from Lisbon. It was declared Europe’s first World Surfing Reserve and boasts excellent waves all year round. While most new surfers think of the Algarve when planning on taking surf lessons, Ericeira is a fabulous option to the crowded south.
The village is full of restaurants and cafés where you can enjoy fresh and local food, cobblestoned streets take you through alleys or whitewashed houses with blue painted windows. The waterfront is great for a stroll passing some of Ericeira’s best surf beaches. There are also a lot of surfing retreats (or joint surf and yoga retreats) where you can truly learn the art of surfing and get comfortable in the water.
Final Thoughts: Best Things to do in Portugal
Well, there you have it! Now you know all the activities you must add to your Portugal bucket list. What will you do first?