There is something unique and fascinating for everyone to discover throughout Portugal. Featuring idyllic beaches, wild terrain and hidden ancient histories, here are some of the many stunning places in Portugal that shouldn’t be missed.
University of Coimbra, Coimbra
Coimbra is one of the oldest and loveliest cities in Portugal, with historical buildings and a picture-perfect location along the Mondego River. Its most captivating landmark is without a doubt the public university. Built-in the 13th century, it was first located in Lisbon and moved to its current spot by the 16th century. The University of Coimbra was listed as a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 2013 and key spots to see on campus include the Royal Palace of Alcáçova, the baroque Joanina Library, the 18th-century botanical garden, and the University Tower.
Pena Palace, Sintra
Despite looking like it burst from the pages of a fairy tale, Pena Palace really came from the imagination of King Ferdinand II, the German prince who married Portugal’s Queen Maria II. The palace was the fruit of a reconstruction effort to fix the abandoned 16th-century monastery, Our Lady of Pena. Romantic gardens with both native and exotic flora were included in the plans, as were walking paths and benches. While there, set aside time to visit one of the other palaces or the ancient Castle of the Moors.
The Coast, Sagres
Wild, remote, and romantic, the coast around Sagres, in the southwesternmost corner of Portugal, is unlike any other part of the Algarve. Mainly visited by surfers and locals wanting to escape the tourist crowds, it emits an isolated feeling, especially during the cooler winter months, which only adds to the appeal. Visit Sagres for rest, relaxation, and mouthwateringly fresh seafood, but also to get up close and personal with a part of Portugal that witnessed a key moment in world history: the Age of Discoveries. Prince Henry the Navigator‘s School for Navigation started in Sagres and the Prince called this part of Portugal home until his death in 1460.
Sé Cathedral, Braga
Religious heritage is one of Braga’s standout features, as the oldest and one of the most important religious centers in Portugal. Not only is the oldest cathedral in the country located here, but Braga is also the oldest city in the country. Visiting all of the churches would be quite an endeavor, but the most popular to include in your sightseeing list are the Sé Cathedral, the Igreja da Misericordia de Braga, and the nearby Santuario de Bom Jesus do Monte. Also well-manicured and lively with college students adding their own energy to the city, Braga is as beautiful as it is historic.
Madeira island’s sunny capital is a fantastic destination no matter the season and a one-stop-shop for exploring the island’s culture. Nestled between the ocean and mountains, the city does not lack in outdoor activities and the mild, dry climate only helps. Browsing the markets is one fun thing to do with plenty of fresh fish and exotic fruits, and at night, bars and clubs keep the city vibrant. While visiting Funchal, don’t miss the botanical gardens and be sure to book a toboggan ride down the city’s hilly streets, pushed by men dressed in the traditional outfit: white shirt, white pants, a hat and rubber-soled shoes.
City center, Angra do Heroísmo
All of the Azorean islands are beautiful but Terceira may be the home of the archipelago’s prettiest city. Brightened by buildings that have been painted in blue, yellow and orange tones, and on the backdrop of a lush, green landscape, the center of Angra do Heroísmo is a feast for the eyes.It is also a UNESCO World Heritage Site for having been an essential port during the Age of Discoveries. When visiting, be sure not to miss the Sé de Angra Cathedral, the Misericórdia Church, the Town Hall, the Castle of São João Baptista, and Monte Brasil.
Rua Direita, Óbidos
Rua Direita is the main road in Óbidos where visitors will find shops, restaurants, ginjinha bars, and more. The name fittingly translates to “right street,” as it’s the path directly ahead after walking in through the city’s fortified entrance. After exploring everything that Rua Direita has to offer, don’t miss walking around the castle walls – just be careful if you experience vertigo since much of the walk is narrow and without a protective barrier. Also, swing by the Literary Man Hotel, an 18th-century convent turned into a hotel for bookworms.
Ribeira District, Porto
A World Heritage Site since 1996, Porto’s Ribeira District is the city’s most iconic neighborhood. Idyllically located on the Douro River, it has plenty to see and do, including views of the main bridges, boats, welcoming café terraces, landmarks that date back centuries, baroque architecture and thousands of years worth of history. Be sure to visit the Casa do Infante, once the city’s custom’s office but better known as the birthplace of Prince Henry the Navigator, before making your way further into the city to A Pérola do Bolhão to buy some souvenirs like traditional food and wine.
Costa Nova, Aveiro
As an Art Nouveau hub in Portugal and nicknamed “the Venice of Portugal”, Aveiro’s city center looks like a painting come to life. But the most colorful area may arguably be Costa Nova, a nearby beach characterized by rainbow-striped fisherman cottages. Easy to reach from the center of Aveiro, the Costa Nova is a peaceful place to kick back, enjoy the coast and watch some surfers in action. There are also plenty of restaurants with incredible seafood.
Peneda-Geres National Park
Practically all Portuguese locals are proud of Peneda-Gerês National Park. Listed as the country’s only nationally protected park and known as an excellent spot for hiking, bird watching, and camping, the park is located in the green and lush Minho Region, home to the oldest part of Portugal (including Braga), beautiful vineyards, and charming villages. The landscape takes in everything from river valleys to rocky peaks and to stunning flora and wild animals. Those who do visit should try to find the Roman path with distance markers dating back thousands of years.
Évora Center, Alentejo
Évora’s medieval center is a playground of ancient landmarks and eye-popping, beautifully preserved architecture. The main square, Praça do Giraldo, is a popular area to sit and relax, where the café and restaurant terraces allow visitors to take in views of the gothic buildings, old palaces converted into public buildings, the 16th century Church of Santo Antão, and an ornate 16th-century water fountain. Just a short walk from the central square, visitors will find the eerie but beautiful Chapel of Bones, the Roman Temple, the Royal Palace, the 18th-century Cathedral of Évora, and the Museum of Évora.
The Terra Nostra garden in São Miguel Azores is considered one of the most alluring and exotic gardens in Europe, well-known for its plentiful plant life and also the large, geothermal swimming pool and smaller geothermal hot tubs. Associated with an onsite hotel, the park has developed a reputation as a wellness retreat where people go to melt stress away. Open year-round from 10 AM to 6 PM and accessible with an 8.00€ entrance fee, visiting the park is an easy activity that should be included in all travel plans to São Miguel island.