Portugal draws us in time after time. We’ve visited the country on multiple occasions and still, we can’t get enough of the splendid cities in Portugal with their inviting and convivial atmosphere, the gorgeous natural parks offering the most inspiring hikes, the enchanting castles that seem to come straight out of a storybook, the stunning beaches in Portugal that look picture-perfect in any season, the mouth-watering pastry that has been delighting both locals and visitors for decades… This post is a celebration to this amazing country and highlights some of the most beautiful places in Portugal. We’ve come across most of them during our travel adventures, others rank highly on our list.
This list includes Portugal’s top tourist attractions from both the mainland and the Portuguese islands. You’ll find a map at the end of this article, indicating all the must-see places in Portugal that are mentioned in this post. It’ll help you plan your trip to this amazing country.
Best places in Portugal for you to explore
Enchanting Palaces in Sintra
Sintra is a Portuguese town located in the heart of the forested Parque Natural de Sintra-Cascais (Sintra-Cascais Natural Park). This UNESCO World Heritage site is home to the most magnificent castles and mansions such as:
- Palacio da Pena, an enchanting 19th century palace built in romantic style and characterized by the most vivid colors.
- Castelo dos Mouros, a medieval Moorish castle offering the most spectacular mountain and ocean views.
- Quinta da Regaleira: a whimsical 19th century gothic mansion with a legendary initiation well amidst its enchanting gardens.
- Palacio de Monserrate, a refined 19th century islamic-inspired palace with delicate details and intricate patterns.
- Convento dos Capuchos, a modest Franciscan monastery that blends in perfectly with its natural surroundings.
- Palácio Nacional de Sintra: a gothic styled white palace with two huge chimneys, located in the heart of the convivial center of Sintra.
The Sintra palaces and mansions make for popular day trips from Lisbon but this timeframe only allows visiting one or two palaces. This site is one of the most popular places to visit in Portugal and, especially during peak summer, you can expect waiting lines to enter some of the castles. Therefore, if you want to explore the area more thoroughly and at a slower pace, staying near Sintra is highly recommended.
Best place to stay in Portugal’s palace hub Sintra:
The classy yet very family-friendly Hotel Vila Galé Sintra which offers pool views over the Sintra mountains and the Pena Palace. Highly recommended by yours truly: we absolutely loved our stay here.
The soul of Lisbon in its Alfama, Castelo and Graça districts
We’ve arrived at Portugal’s largest city, Lisbon. Take the iconic tram 28 E to the Alfama district, a former blue-collar and fishermen neighbourhood. In the shadow of the medieval Lisbon castle called Castelo de São Jorge, a maze of winding cobblestone streets leads to authentic restaurants with Fado music. Uphill from Alfama, you’ll find the Graça district with a similar labyrinth of narrow streets and staircases leading to local shops and cafés. On Tuesdays and Saturdays, this charming Lisbon neighbourhood, dominated by the National Pantheon, is the setting for the Feira de Ladra flea market.
Where most places in Lisbon were destroyed by the 1755 earthquake, the subsequent tsunami and city fires, these Lisbon districts stood the test of time. Alfama and Graça also offer the most sweeping views over the capital city from various miradouros or viewpoints, such as the Portas do Sol lookout in Alfama and the Miradouro da Senhora do Monte in Graça.
The rolling hills of the Douro Valley
Portugal’s most famous river flows from north-central Spain to the Atlantic over a distance of 897 km (557 mi). Porto is the city where the Douro, literally meaning Golden River, mouths in the Atlantic ocean and therefore makes an excellent base for day trips to the Douro Valley. You can explore the region’s majestic scenery by cruise or by train.
For a more thorough visit to the UNESCO listed Douro Valley, rent a car and explore one of the most spectacular places in Portugal by yourself. Take in the supreme views from one of the miradouros that dot hilltops, such as Casal de Loivos or São Salvador do Mundo. Go kayaking, hiking or follow the winding roads to one of the Douro’s exclusive wineries. Do make sure to book well ahead, especially during harvest-season at the end of September and perhaps you could participate in picking or crushing the country’s finest grapes.
Porto’s playful palette in the Ribeira district
Porto’s oldest district Ribeira consists of a labyrinth of winding streets flanked by a vivid palette of decorated façades lining the Douro’s northern banks. Located in the shadow of Porto’s iconic Ponte Dom Luis I bridge, it is a vibrant and bustling district with plenty of trendy bars and local boutiques. Ribeira never sleeps, it’s a place where locals and tourist alike hang out and socialize until the early hours.
Azulejo tiles all around in this eclectic neighbourhood and UNESCO World Heritage site, from the houses to the street name signs. Ribeira is also home to the Prince’s House or Casa do Infante, where Henry the Navigator was born in the late 14th century. The house of one of the most important players during the Age of Discovery later became the only royal residence in Porto.
The spectacular Benagil cave
The Benagil cave thanks its popularity to its particular rock formation that lets the light flood in via an opening in the ceiling. The cave, which also goes by the names Algar de Benagil or Benagil Cathedral, is located along the picturesque Algarve coastline, tucked between the villages of Carvoeiro and Armação de Pêra. It’s one of the hardest places in Portugal to get to, making it a bucket list destination for many visitors.
Looking down from the top of the cliff, you’ll see a small patch of golden sand, sheltered by cliffs and hugged by aquamarine waters. You can visit the cave by boat but you’re not allowed to hop off. There are only three ways to access this exclusive beach: by kayak, by SUP or by swimming. We took a kayak tour to the Benagil cave and it turned out to be a memorable experience (for several reasons). We dedicated an entire article to our Benagil cave experience.
Best place to stay near Portugal’s Benagil cave:
Vila Vita Parc Resort & Spa.
A creepy chapel in Évora
The most macabre of places in Portugal must be the Chapel of Bones or Capela dos Ossos in Évora, central Portugal, where over 5000 human skulls and tons of bones are stacked from floor to ceiling on the walls and pillars. This small chapel is part of the white Royal Church of St. Francis or Igreja de São Francisco on the 1º de Maio square in the heart of the city.
Land was valuable in the 16th century and therefore, the Franciscan monks decided to repurpose several cemeteries. The bones were relocated and put on display in this dedicated chapel to remind visitors of their mortality. The inscription “Nós ossos que aqui estamos, pelos vossos esperamos” above the entrance translates as “We, the bones that are here, await yours”. Other features inside the chapel are the white coffin, holding the bones of the three monks, and two skeletons hanging from the wall.
The magnificent Ponta da Piedade rock formations in Lagos
The Ponta da Piedade is located near Lagos in the Western Algarve. It’s one of the most scenic places in Portugal thanks to its impressive setting of cliffs, tock formations, caves and grottos surrounded by crystal-clear waters. The views are gorgeous and a picture-perfect rocky staircase leads visitors to the waterside, where they can participate in boat trips or kayak tours to explore the nature caves and grottos. Because of to the low tide, the morning is the best time of day to take such a tour. Some of the rock formations are so distinct that locals have given them names.
Tranquility at the Mosteiro de Santa Maria da Vitória in Batalha
After King Dom João I of Portugal, his general Nuno Álvares Pereira and their Portuguese army had defeated superior numbers of Spanish soldiers during the Battle of Aljubarrota, the King commissioned the construction of a monastery in honor of Virgin Mary. After all, the battle was that was won on 14th August, secured the nation of Portugal and even gave light to a new dynasty, the House of Aviz. The construction works for the Mosteiro de Santa Maria da Vitória started in the 1385 and took over 200 years to complete.
This impressive limestone monastery is one of the finest Gothic-Manueline buildings in Portugal. Highlights include the equestrian statue of general Nuno Álvares Pereira, the magnificent Manueline church portal, the Royal Cloisters, the stained-glass windows in the Chapter House and the Founder’s Chapel where you’ll find the monumental grave of King Dom João I, his English spouse and their youngest sons, among which Henry the Navigator.
Behind the church, you’ll find a refined Manueline portal and a beautiful open space called the Imperfect Chapels.
Nature at its best at the Parque Natural do Sudoeste Alentejano e Costa Vicentina
The Southwest Alentejo en Vicentine Coast Natural Park is one of the best places in Portugal to escape the crowds. From the lighthouse at Cabo de São Vicente in the western Algarve to Porto Covo in the Alentejo, this natural park stretches for 125 km and wraps the Atlantic coastline. Rugged cliffs, some of the most secluded beaches in Portugal, water lagoons and scenic landscapes dotted with wildflowers and picturesque villages create a spectacular setting.
Its remote location makes the Parque Natural do Sudoeste Alentejano e Costa Vicentina one of the most pristine places in Portugal and a paradise for hikers and bird lovers. We explored this protected coastline as part of our road trip from Lagos to Lisbon. Highlights include Praia da Bordeira (Bordeira beach), the village of Aljezur and Praia de Odeceixe Mar.
Keeper of the capital in Belém
Belém is the westernmost district of Lisbon, located along the Tagus river. It’s very different from the other Lisbon districts, much more spacious and open, featuring a long boardwalk and a nice park. Belém’s top tourist attractions are its Jerónimos or Hieronymites Monastery, its legendary mouth-watering Pastéis de Belém and its majestic and iconic tower.
This Torre de Belém or Belém Tower, constructed in the early 16th century, was part of the Tagus estuary defence system in the Tagus estuary. With this tower on the river’s northern banks and the St. Sebastian’s Tower on the southern banks, invaders would get caught in a crossfire. After accessing the tower via the drawbridge and the guillotine gate, you’ll spot 17 cannons in the bulwark. Under the nave, you’ll find storage rooms that were eventually used as dungeons.
In spite of its violent purpose, the Belém Tower is a majestic construction with many wonderful details. The Venetian-inspired balcony windows and Arabic-inspired watch towers provide excellent photo opportunities.
Glorious gates in the walled city of Faro
Faro is one of the main cities along the Algarve coastline. Its historic center or cidade velha is built upon the site of a Roman forum and encompassed by Moorish city walls. The neo-classical arch or arco da vila forms the main entrance to the old town. Other gates are the Arco da Porta Nova and the Arco do Repouso, which has the chapel of Nossa Senhora do Repouso built into it.
Picture-perfect whitewashed houses line the cobbled streets and lead to the gothic cathedral Igreja de Santa Maria de Faro. Other noteworthy tourist attractions in Faro’s historic town are the the Bishop’s Palace or Paço Episcopal and the convent of Our Lady of the Assumption which houses the archeological museum Museu Municipal around its tranquil gardens.
Faro’s old town is pretty compact but the city walls and gates are well worth a visit. Opposite from the historic center, there’s the marina which offers access to the Ria Formosa Natural Park with its marshes and lagoons. It’s a gorgeous part of the Algarve, with the small town of Tavira and the famous Falesia beach right around the corner.
Sensational Sete Cidades crater lakes on the Azores
The Lagoon of the Seven Cities or Lagoa das Sete Cidades is a twin-lake, located on the western part of Sao Miguel in the Azores. The Blue Lake or Lagoa Azul and Green Lake or Lagoa Verde are inter-connected yet both keep their distinct shade. It’s easy to see why this is one of the top places to visit in Portugal.
The miradouros or viewpoints at Sete Cidades offer some of the most sensational views of these crater lakes and the bridge that divides them. Boca do Inferno, Vista do Rei (King’s View) and Cerrado das Freiras are some of the best lookouts. Descending to the lakes is another option: Around the Blue Lake you’ll find several restaurants and a sandy beach. From there, you can even rent a kayak and paddle your way from one lake to the other.
Picture-perfect cultural Cascais
Apart from its fishermen’s soul and royal allure, Cascais offers a thriving cultural scene. There’s the contemporary Cidadela Art District, aiming at maximizing the interaction between artists and visitors, within the walls of the Citadel of Cascais. Then, adjacent tot the marina, there’s the Museum District with the picturesque Museu de Farol de Santa Marta Lighthouse, the Museu Condes de Castro Guimarães museum, the Museu do Mar Rei D. Carlos and the Casa das Histórias Paula Rego. The gorgeous Parque Marechal Carmona offers a welcome break in between museum visit. Cascais truly is one of the best cities in Portugal for art lovers.
Of all the mesmerizing places in Portugal we’ve visited, seaside gem Cascais is probably our favorite. This beautiful town, once a fishing village, became the summer retreat for the Portuguese royals in the laten 19th century. It grew out to be a high-end destination along the Portuguese Riviera. Elegant palaces and mansions line the palm-fringed lanes in Cascais and the Praça 5 de Outobro features beautifully patterned tiles. The coastline is just as spectacular, especially the bike lane from this seaside town to Guincho beach.
Mystical São João Baptista fort in Peniche
Throughout history, the Peniche peninsula and the Berlengas islands have been of great strategic importance. In order to prevent the Peniche port to fall into the hands of the enemy, the Fortaleza São João Baptista (Berlengas) or Fort of the Berlengas was constructed in the 16th century. It’s configured like an octagon star of which the edges are inter-linked via narrow arched bridges. The fortress also housed the Santa Bárbara Chapel and the Sentinel Tower.
In the first years of the 20th century, it served as a shelter for South-African refugees. But soon after, the São João Baptista would become a prison and hell on earth for many. First for the German captives in WW I and then for political prisoners during Salazar’s dictatorship at the time of the Estado Novo regime. Today, the fortress houses the Museu Municipal de Peniche which still shows the original prison yards and confinement cells but it also hosts several ethnographic, embroidery and archaeologic exhibitions. You can even climb to the roof and enjoy the views of the Arquipélago das Berlengas nature reserve.
Best place to stay in Portugal’s port of Peniche:
Baywatch Beach House Peniche.
Traditional thatched houses in a flowery setting on Madeira
On Madeira’s north coast, nestled between the mountains and the ocean, is a town called Santana. Its location has always been subject to rainfall and a cold northern wind. Therefore, the 16th century residents built small houses with triangular thatched roofs called casinhas de Santana or palheiros. These rural houses are traditionally painted white while the red door and blue trim around the windows add a dash of color. The town of Santana has its own theme park where visitors can learn more about the traditions if Madeira.
Other highlights of Madeira include the natural pools in Porto Moniz which were formed by volcanic lava and contain seawater, The Pico de Arrieiro viewpoint above the clouds, the Laurisilva UNESCO World Heritage forest and the botanical garden in Funchal.
Natural wealth at Peneda-Gerês National Park
Peneda-Gerês is the only National Park in Portugal, spanning over 250 mi² or 700 km² at the country’s northeastern tip, along the Spanish border. It’s a place of natural wealth with oak forests, granite cliffs, rivers and pine trees. The park is also home to wild horses, otters and deer. It’s located close to the city of Braga, from where you can easily take a day trip to Peneda-Gerês. But with so many natural delights, it’s highly recommended to spend several days in and near the park.
Some of the park’s main attractions include Roman road or geira in the Mata da Albergaria oak forest, the Cava da Velha Roman bridge, the sparkling water falls Cascata do Arado and Cascata Tahiti, the healing thermal waters at the Termas do Gerês, paddling your boat on the Themal Park’s lake and visiting authentic, remote villages. No better way to end a day of exploration than with a sunset panorama from the Pedra Bela viewpoint.
Molineiro boats floating on the Aveiro canals
For centuries, the lagoons of the Aveiro River or Ria de Aveiro have been an important centre of salt-producing. In the early 19th century, the marshes were drained and the town opened to the sea by means of a channel. To this day, the many canals are Aveiro’s main tourist attraction, thanks to the flat bottomed gondola-like boats. These beautifully painted moliceiros used to transport seaweed from the lagoon but, nowadays, they offer guided visits to tourists. Some tours do a tour of the city canals, others will take visitors to the lagoons as well.
But Aveiro has more to offer: There’s the Convento de Jesus with its magnificent interior, the old train station covered in azulejos depicting scenes that are typical for this Portuguese region, the beautiful Art Nouveau district, palm-fringed Rossio square and the yellow Bridge of Couples in Love or Ponte de Carcavelos. Last but not least, you’ll find one of the most instagrammable places in Portugal opposite from the lagoon: Costa Nova. This coastal resort is known for its picture-perfect striped beach houses and its mouth-watering fresh seafood.
Where it all begun in Guimarães
Only 30 mi (50 km) northeast of Porto, in the shadow of the Penha Mountain, lies the birthplace of Portugal: Guimarães. The city thanks this status to the 10th century Castle of Guimarães, one of the most significant monuments in the country’s history, located atop a hill. This is said to be the place where D. Afonso Henriques, the first king of Portugal, was born in 1110. After his triumphs over the Spanish in the Battle of São Mamede and the Moorish invaders in the Battle of Ourique, Afonso Henriques was crowned King. Soon after, Portugal’s independence was a fact.
In the old city wall at the Largo do Toural square, you can still find a sign that says Aqui nasceu Portugal which translates as Portugal was born here. In the center of the square, there’s a beautiful 16th century drinking fountain. It’s a pleasure to walk the cobbled, often arched streets while admiring the authentic houses with their cast iron balconies. On a clear day, you can enjoy magnificent views over the city from the cable car to the Monte da Penha. Classified by UNESCO as World Heritage, Guimarães may not quite be on the tourist radar yet but it’s one of the most important cities in Portugal.
The end of the world in Sagres
At the southwestern tip of the Algarve, reigned by the sweeping wind, you’ll find the surfers capital of Sagres. For centuries, this coastal town was believed to be the end of the world. Until the Age of Discoveries, when Henry the Navigator established his school of navigation, attended by Magellan and Vasco da Gama among others, at this strategic location.
At the Sagres point or Ponta de Sagres is the Sagres fortress or Fortaleza de Sagres. From this location you can enjoy the dramatic coastline views of the lighthouse of Cape St. Vincent or Cabo São Vicente, the most southwesternmost point of continental Europe.
Panoramic views from the Castle of Silves
The town of Silves is located in the inland Algarve, north of Portimão. Even before you cross the bridge over the Arade river to enter this quaint little town, you can already see the impressive fortress atop a hill. In order to reach the Castle of Silves or Castelo de Silves you’ll need to conquer some steep, narrow and picturesquely winding roads. At the entrance of the building, there’s a statue of Sancho I who conquered the Silves citadel in the 12th century (after which Portugal lost it again and reconquered it in the 13th century).
The Castle of Silves (Castelo de Silves) is a Moorish fortification with four towers. You can walk the entire lenght of the wall. The impressive panorama clearly shows how significant this building’s strategic function must have been. The interior of the fortification has not been preserved. Instead, there’s a beautiful garden in the courtyard with roses, fruit trees and an exhibition area with a café.
Best place to stay near Silves:
Vilalara Thalassa Resort.
Map with the most beautiful places in Portugal
For your convenience, we’ve created this map mentioning all the best places to visit in Portugal that are listed in this post.
Well, that’s it for this list of mesmerizing places to see in Portugal… at least for now. After all, a list like this is never complete so we might add some other mind-blowing Portuguese gems in the future. We love Portugal so much that we can’t wait to explore even more of this beautiful country. Did you spot your favorite in this list or are there other unique places in Portugal you’d like to add? Let us know in the comments.
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Portugal on your mind? Then check out these other articles:
- Best things to do in Cascais, Portugal’s best kept secret
- Benagil Cave Portugal: Ultimate guide to the Algarve’s most popular sea cave
- 15 Beaches in Portugal that will blow your mind
- Things to do in Lagos, Portugal, and the best places to see nearby
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