The most westerly country in mainland Europe, Portugal is home to picturesque towns and cities steeped in history. You’ll find verdant valleys of rolling vineyards, miles of beautiful coastline, outstanding surf spots, and superb golf courses. Throw in the country’s deep-rooted culinary and cultural traditions and Portugal is one of the best vacation destinations in the world.
From the northern city of Porto to the capital, Lisbon, and the sunny islands of Madeira and the Azores in the Atlantic Ocean, discover what Portugal is famous for.
Portugal is well known for its food and fine wine. From fresh anchovies to salted cod and grilled shrimp, the Atlantic Ocean is Portugal’s greatest influence when it comes to the kitchen table. Meat dishes are also popular, including beef, pork, and goat, and commonly used in stews or marinated and then barbecued.
You’ll find everything from simple, rustic-style cooking at taverns and “marisqueiras” (seafood eateries) to impeccably presented Michelin-star cuisine.
In Lisbon, graze your way through local dishes at the superb Time Out Mercado da Ribeira, where you’ll find 40 of the city’s best restaurants offering menus all under one roof. Sample the fragrant fish soup, delicate slices of tuna carpaccio, roast octopus, rich game sausage, and various flavorsome croquettes.
Madeira’s vibrant Farmers’ Market, Mercado dos Lavradores, has been in business since 1940 and features a lively fish market and stalls piled high with colorful fruit, vegetables, and flowers.
Stop by one of the fruit vendors to try the island-grown passionfruit, guava, prickly pear, and physalis, or cape gooseberry.
You’ll find less recognizable fruits, too, like the rare banana passionfruit, and the banana-pineapple-soursop-hybrid known locally as “Delicious Fruit”, which has a wonderful custard flavor.
Try the best food in Porto and graze over a selection of cheeses, including the robust Serra da Estrela sheep’s milk variety made in the Serra da Estrela mountains, the highest range in Portugal. Savor slices of Queijo de Cabra Transmontano, a hard goat’s milk cheese, and the semi-hard Queijo de Nisa made with raw sheep’s milk from Alentejo, paired with a glass of port. Look for a deep red-hued, vintage port that displays notes of ripe plums, blackcurrant, and cherry for maximum impact.
Pick up a bottle of Portuguese olive oil as a souvenir to take home as a reminder of the country’s rich gastronomic scene.
Pack your swimsuit as it’s widely known that Portugal is home to some of the best beaches in Europe. There’s a common theme with Portuguese beaches: sugary-soft golden sand, unless you’re in the Azores or Madeira where the sand is much darker, and adrenaline-packed watersports including surfing, bodyboarding, windsurfing, sailing, and swimming.
If you’re searching for a sunny beach in Porto, you won’t have to look far. Gondarém Beach is a serene stretch of sand offering plenty of amenities for sunseekers wanting to stay close to the city center.
The expansive stretch of sand at Meco Beach is one of the best beaches near Lisbon, while the more remote Ursa Beach in Sintra-Cascais Natural Park offers an off-the-beaten-track patch sandwiched between two rocky outcrops. This gorgeous spot is accessed via a coastal trail.
Head for Porto de Abrigo do Seixal Beach, regarded as one of the best beaches in Madeira for its dramatic black sand and lush coastline. Towering, forested cliffs plunge straight into the ocean here. Take out a sea kayak to admire the view, or relax and people watch at the beach bar.
Located in the mid-east Atlantic Ocean, Madeira is the principal island of the Madeira Archipelago, four islands that lie some 500 nautical miles southwest of the Portuguese mainland. Measuring just 34 by 13 miles, the island is easy to explore and offers a year-round mild temperature, peaking in summer with balmy, sun-drenched days.
Madeira’s interior is known for its lushly forested volcanoes, fruit plantations, and attractive towns and villages. The capital, Funchal, is among the best beach towns in Portugal and is easy to explore in a short visit.
One of the best things to do in Funchal is to ride the cable car to admire the city’s terracotta rooftops, gorgeous green gardens, ancient amphitheater, and endless Atlantic Ocean views.
Climb on board for the 20-minute ride to the summit and take in one of Portugal’s most beautiful places, the Botanical Garden. This verdant park is located at an altitude of between 650 and 1,100 feet above sea level and offers remarkable views from a setting featuring some 2,500 plants from around the world.
Once you’ve explored the Botanical Garden, travel back down to the center of Funchal via the famous Monte sleds. These two- and three-seat wicker toboggans are mounted on wooden runners and powered by two smartly dressed “carreiros”, or drivers, wearing a uniform of all white with a jaunty straw hat. The journey takes around 10 minutes.
In the center of Funchal, near the waterfront, call into the Madeira Wine Company to taste the island’s exquisite wines, including the famous Blandy’s Madeira, produced here for over 200 years.
If you’re keen to experience some of the extraordinary marine life that inhabits the clear, deep water surrounding the island, a dolphin and whale-watching excursion is one of the best things to do in Madeira.
Meet a local marine biologist at the waterside, before climbing aboard for an exhilarating boat trip in search of these majestic marine mammals. Don’t forget to pack your camera as you may spot sperm, fin, blue, and killer whales, as well as bottlenose and common dolphins.
What is Portugal famous for? Wine, for sure; this is where you’ll find some of the oldest wine-growing regions in the world. In fact, two of Portugal’s wine-growing regions, the Douro Valley and Pico Island in the Azores, are protected as UNESCO World Heritage Sites.
The Douro Valley, known for the immaculate vineyards that follow the contours of the hills through which the river flows, is one of the most striking landscapes in Portugal. It’s easy to get here from Porto, which itself lies on the Douro. Join a wine-tasting tour in the town of Amarante, home to estates producing the region’s punchy red table wines and a delicious range of fortified ports.
Visit the Douro Museum in Peso da Régua to gain a greater understanding of the region’s wine culture. Explore the permanent exhibition and library, finishing your visit at A Companhia restaurant and wine bar, overlooking the river.
Read: Beginner’s Guide To Portugal’s Famous Port Wine
Portugal’s dramatic Atlantic coastline, more than 500 miles long, is considered one of the best destinations in the world for surfing. A 50-minute drive north of Lisbon lies the laid-back surf town of Ericeira, known as the surf capital of Europe. Here, you’ll find great swaths of honey-colored sand, pounded by big Atlantic rollers and waves favored by some of the world’s most skilled surfers.
If you’re a less experienced surfer and would like to ride some more gentle waves, book a two-hour lesson for beginners with one of the many surf schools dotted around Ericeira. Extra Surf School, located by São Sebastião Beach, offers lessons with an experienced and qualified instructor, including the hire of a wetsuit, surf boots, and board.
One of the best beaches near Lisbon, the popular Carcavelos Beach is perfect for those seeking slightly calmer water. You’ll find surf shops, surf schools offering lessons, and plenty of places to eat and drink after you’ve worked up an appetite in the water.
In the north, just 12 miles south of Porto, Espinho Beach is another famed spot for drawing surfers of all levels of experience, with a handful of surf schools offering lessons to suit all ages and abilities.
Read: Lisbon vs. Porto: Which Should You Visit?
Portugal is known for the melancholic musical genre of Fado, which means “fate” in Portuguese. Fado is both romantic and dramatic, featuring a singer accompanied by a band playing the Portuguese guitar.
A tuneful art form that originated in the early 19th century in Lisbon’s Alfama neighborhood, Fado is sung with intense passion, with folklore performances taking place at quaint local taverns around the country.
Fado is of such cultural importance that it was added to UNESCO’s Intangible Cultural Heritage Lists, along with Cante Alentejano, another Portuguese musical tradition, in 2011. Visit a traditional Fado House in Lisbon to soak up a live soulful performance. Order a delicious glass of red from the Douro Valley that matches the depth of the show.
Pastel de Nata
So delicious are these tasty sweet treats they deserve a section of their own. You’ll find recreations of the famed pastel de nata served at bakeries around the world, but nothing compares to eating one, or several, of these rich custard tarts in Portugal, where they were invented.
Pastel de Nata is a bite-sized egg custard tart, encased in light, flaky pastry and dusted with cinnamon before being baked in the oven. For an authentic experience, step into a local cafe in Lisbon and order one with a coffee, around mid-morning. It’s worth waiting in line at Pastéis de Belém, opposite the Tropical Botanical Garden on Rua de Belém and a Lisbon institution that has baked and served pastel de natas since 1837.
Portugal can confidently claim to have some of the world’s most legendary golf courses. Many cling to the dramatic coastline, with the sparkling Atlantic as a backdrop. Choose from over 90 courses in destinations including the Algarve, Lisbon’s coast, Madeira, and the Azores. There will always be a course to suit all levels. One of the most famous courses is Oporto Golf Club in Espinho, near Porto, the oldest club in Portugal.
Even non-golfers can’t help but fall for the beauty of Madeira’s 27-hole Santo da Serra golf course, where the lush green grass of the course contrasts with the glistening azure ocean.
For more of Portugal’s breathtaking coastal landscapes, fine tune your handicap on the Estela links golf course, just a 45-minute scenic drive north of Porto, or tee off on the Quinta da Marinha championship links course at Oitavos Golfe near Lisbon.
Portugal is famed for its charming capital city, Lisbon. Home to sublime architecture, magnificent monuments, and fascinating neighborhoods, there is no shortage of things to see and do in the city. Start with some of Lisbon’s major landmarks, including the 16th-century Belém Tower on the bank of the Tagus River, and the nearby Jerónimos Monastery. Both were awarded UNESCO World Heritage Site status in 1983.
Head to the top of the four-story tower for views of the vermillion 25th April Bridge. The 1966-built suspension bridge is one of the most famous sights in Lisbon, spanning nearly a mile and a half across the Tagus River. The bridge looks for all the world like San Francisco’s Golden Gate Bridge, but was in fact built by the American Bridge Company, which constructed the Bay Bridge but not the Golden Gate.
Spend time exploring the European Gothic-style Jerónimos monastery, one of the best places to visit in Portugal. Legendary explorer Vasco da Gama and his crew spent their final night here before setting sail for India in 1497. Vasco da Gama, along with other important figures in Portugal’s history, is entombed here, as are King Manuel and King Sebastião, and poets Fernando Pessoa and Alexandre Herculano. Stroll around the cloisters and admire the columns, with each one decorated with carvings that reflect the world of sea exploration.
Spanning 109 graceful stone arches and a total length of 36 miles, Lisbon Aqueduct is another of the city’s must-visit attractions, built in 1746 to deliver Lisbon’s first clean drinking water. One of the most eye-catching stretches is the 14 arches that cross the Alcantara valley, an astonishing feat of engineering for the era.
Ride the iconic mustard-yellow and white Bica Funicular to get around Lisbon’s historic center. Wander the Terreiro do Paço, the largest square in Lisbon, stopping by Lisboa Story Centre to learn about the city’s powerful seafaring past and the 1755 earthquake that destroyed much of the urban area.
One building that was Largely destroyed by the earthquake but remains a city landmark today is the graceful Gothic Carmo Convent, the walls still standing but the nave entirely roofless.
For the best food in Lisbon, visit the traditional neighborhood of Alfama, where you’ll find traditional restaurants and fado houses. Track the winding medieval alleys to Portas do Sol lookout point for some of the best views of the city. Allow time to walk the city’s cobbled streets, soaking up the pretty tiled buildings and street art of the Bairro Alto quarter, home to many restaurants, cafes, bars, and shops.
Whether you’re intrigued by culture, golf, beaches or gastronomy, explore Celebrity Cruises’ luxury cruises to Portugal. Plan your next luxury vacation to take in this fascinating country.