After decades out of the limelight, Portugal has stepped into the spotlight as one of Europe’s hottest destinations. I’ve chosen 24 of my favourite things to do in Portugal to inspire your next trip.
Short on time? Don’t miss my step by step guide for the perfect 7 days in Portugal.
Best Things to do in Portugal
Delve into History in Belém, Lisbon
Sitting on the outskirts of Lisbon, Belem is home to three of the city’s most famous historical sites: The Monument to the Discoveries, the Jeronimos Monastery and the Torre de Belem.
If you are spending some time in Lisbon, a day in Belem should be at the top of your list of things to do in Portugal – in fact, it’s worth a trip alone.
Take your time to explore the striking architecture of all three sights: from the unbelievable scale and detail of the monastery, to the intricately carved figures on the monument – a trip to Belem is like stepping back in time.
Go Wine and Port Tasting in the Douro Valley
Portugal is really good at making tasty tipples – hands up if you’ve heard of that well-known drink called… Port.
While the Portuguese are good at making all kinds of alcoholic treats, you need to go port and wine tasting in the Douro Valley during your time in the country.
The Douro’s beautifully terraced landscapes are one of the most famous sights in Portugal.
Add to this a collection of world-famous Port houses (Graham’s, Taylors, Sandemans to name a few) and vineyards making world-class wines and you’ll start to understand why you really shouldn’t miss this on your trip.
How to Discover: Douro Valley Tour with Wine Tasting, Cruise and Lunch
Escape to Gorgeous Sintra
UNESCO-heritage Sintra is a fairy-tale amalgamation of colourful architecture, castles, convents and palaces all in a stunning location in the foothills of the Serra Mountains.
A short hop away from Lisbon, the town is a popular day trip from the capital and deservedly so.
Make like the Portuguese aristocracy of days gone by and spend your days in the lush, shady gardens, occasionally dipping into a palace or two for variety’s sake.
While a day trip to Sintra is one of the best things to do in Portugal, it’s even better if you can stay the night – exploring the town once all the tour buses have gone is a much more peaceful experience.
How to Discover: Sintra and Cascais Day Trip from Lisbon
Take the Thermal Waters at Vidago Palace
Back in the day, taking the thermal waters at Vidago Palace used to be all the rage.
Anyone who was anyone in Portugal would spend some time each year “improving their constitution” with a long stay in the gorgeous belle-epoque style hotel.
Who can blame them? The gorgeous property (less than an hour from Porto) boasts several thermal springs, from which you can take a sip or (in our humble opinion, far more preferable) have a spa treatment in their indulgent spa.
Explore the Beautiful Benagil Sea Cave
The retired expats and locals that live in the Algarve have kept pretty schtum about how beautiful it actually is to date, but now it looks like the secret’s out of the bag.
Of all the natural attractions on the rugged coast of the Algarve, the Benagil sea cave gets our vote for being the most spectacular.
Swim or kayak round from the shore into one of the cave’s natural openings then look up at the huge domed ceiling leading up to an almost perfectly circular spot of blue sky.
What’s better? There’s a beach of perfectly soft fine sand for you to relax on before heading back to the real world.
How to Discover: Benagil Sea Cave and Dolphin Spotting Tour
Soak up the Sun on Praia do Camilo
Mainland Portugal has an impressive 586 miles of coastline, so isn’t short of a beach or two. It would be impossible to write a piece about the best things to see in Portugal without including at least one beach.
While the Atlantic coast is good for watersports and long beaches as far as the eye can see, the Algarve is home to calmer waters and some gorgeous places to catch a spot of sunshine.
Praia do Camilo is one such beach – accessed via a wooden staircase, the praia is tucked between the golden yellow cliffs for which the coastline is famed.
Get there early enough, or on a weekday and it can feel like your own private paradise – or grab a spot with the other sun-worshippers and soak up the rays.
Read Next: The Best Beaches in the Algarve
Hike Along the Fisherman’s Trail in the Alentejo
If Portugal’s southern coastline is all about small coves and hidden beaches, the Atlantic coast is a much wilder and more forceful affair.
Sparkling azure waters, fierce riptides and a dramatic coastline await those who choose to hike the Fisherman’s Trail along the Costa Vicentina.
The Alentejo is less well-known than some other regions in the country, meaning that the hike winds through small villages and untouched seashore – dipping into a few towns along its 120km stretch.
Walk the Historical Way from Santiago do Cacém
If you’re looking for a completely different hike through Portugal, opt for the Rota Vicentina’s other long-distance route, the Historical Way.
It’s the perfect option for seeing a less-explored part of the country.
Starting in the charming town of Santiago de Cacém, the path wends its way down to Cabo de San Vincente on Portugal’s southernmost tip.
As the name suggests, walking the Historical Way takes you back in time.
The route passes through rural hamlets, dusty cork groves, scented Eucalyptus forests and mountain valleys as it makes its way south.
The trail’s foundation has also created a range of immersive experiences, where you can learn about the unique history and culture of the region from the locals themselves
Take a Trip to the Ilha Deserta (and splash out on an amazing meal while you’re there)
We’ve already established that Portugal has no shortage of beautiful beaches, but a trip to the Ilha Deserta in the Algarve is much more than a flop and drop affair.
So what makes it different?
Firstly, the Ilha Deserta sits in the middle of the Ria Formosa Nature Park – a 60km-long nature haven on the Portuguese coast.
The island can be reached via a short speedboat ride from Faro, but those in the know book onto one of the wildlife boat tours run by local experts Animaris.
Guides point out the bird and wildlife prevalent in the nature park, briefing you on the history and delicate ecosystem of the reserve before dropping you off on the deserted island for a day’s fun.
Once you’ve landed, there are two things to concern yourself on the island (which really is as deserted as the name says): the beach and the restaurant. 13 miles of golden sandy beach to be exact.
Swim, surf, sunbathe and work up an appetite before going to the island’s largely self-sufficient restaurant, Estamine, which serves up some of the best seafood you can find in the country – no kidding.
All that’s left for you to do is jump onto the speedboat back to the mainland…
How to Discover: Boat Tour of the Ria Formosa to Ilha Deserta
Wander Around the Cobbled Streets of Picture-Perfect Tavira
Want to know what to do in Portugal but still want to keep things low-key? Say hello to Tavira.
Whitewashed buildings, brightly-coloured doors, hidden gardens and a ridiculous number of beautiful churches – it’s almost like someone thought of the quintessential Portuguese town and then made Tavira to suit.
This small town might not have a lot of big-name attractions other than the medieval Castello but so much of its appeal is in walking around the narrow, cobbled streets.
Oh, and stopping off for a coffee here, a pasteis de nata there and soaking up its laid-back atmosphere of course.
See the Anchor Cemetery in Praia do Barril
Just around the corner from Tavira, Praia do Barril is best-known for the rather quirky anchor cemetery set back from the main beach.
The cemetery, a collection of large anchors set into the sand, dates back to the time when tuna fishing was one of the biggest industries in the Algarve.
When the stocks declined, the local fishermen left their anchors on the beach and they’re still there decades later.
Sure, it’s one of the more offbeat things to see in Portugal, but very much worth a visit.
Gobble up Pastéis de Nata in Lisbon
Delightfully tasty and unexplainably moreish, the Portuguese custard tart is a display of true culinary genius.
Layers of flaky pastry, filled with a nutmeg-scented egg-custard filling – it all sounds so simple?
The fact is, that you haven’t had a pasteis de nata unless you’ve had one in Portugal.
While locals disagree who actually makes the best in the country (the general consensus is Pasteis de Belem, whose long-guarded secret recipe was created by Hieronymite monks in medieval times).
PS. You are totally justified in trying as many as possible in order to make up your own mind on the matter.
How to Discover: Private Food Tour of Lisbon
Soak Up the Vibes at Vila Nova de Milfontes
The Alentejo might not be the first thing you think of when you conjure images of a beach escape in Portugal – that tends to be the province of The Algarve.
However, The Alentejo boasts a wealth of gorgeous beaches (if a little more windswept than some on the Algarve thanks to their position facing the Atlantic Ocean) that are just waiting to be discovered.
Case in point? Vila Nova de Milfontes.
The most popular resort in the Alentejo is framed by a thick ribbon of sandy beach running in both directions – walk a little away from the main drag and don’t be surprised if you get a stretch all to yourself.
Away from the sand, the small town is awash with traditional Portuguese restaurants, whitewashed houses and the rather curious Forte de São Clemente – built to protect the town from the pirates who roamed the Alentejan coasts in the 16th century.
Venture to Madeira
Madeira is more than just the namesake for a tasty, tawny tipple and a brightly-coloured cake – this cluster of volcanic islands in the Atlantic ocean will blow you away with its spectacular scenery and memorable (if difficult) Madeiran hikes.
The capital, Funchal is a quiet haven of charming architecture and friendly locals.
Elsewhere on the island you can hike the steep, volcanic terrain, take a dip in the natural seawater swimming pools, go paragliding and parasailing and go dolphin and whale watching.
Don’t miss Sao Vincente off your list either – this hidden gem is one of Madeira’s most beguiling spots.
Not bad for an island that’s only 800km squared.
How to Discover: Open-Top 4×4 Tour to Volcanic Pools
Strike Out to The Azores
The Azores, an archipelago of nine main islands set in the mid-Atlantic, is Portugal’s answer to the Lost World.
Big on sustainability and preserving their natural environment, Azoreans are proud of the otherworldly setting that they call their home. Not surprising when you have a chance to explore the densely vegetated islands – dotted with all kinds of natural wonders – for yourself.
Climb Portugal’s highest peak, Pico for stellar views of the islands and hurl yourself into the seemingly endless number of outdoor activities on offer.
When you’re all worn out, chill in towns seemingly lost in time, and dial onto the on the relaxed pace of life typical of the islands.
How to Discover: Sete Cidades and Lagoa do Fogo Tour
See the Street Art and Party at LX Factory, Lisbon
Lisbon is a city of stark contrasts – centuries of history rub comfortably alongside the city’s reputation as one of the most exciting and dynamic cities in Europe.
Of all of Lisbon’s contemporary hotspots, LX Factory is the jewel in the crown: a welcoming mishmash of cool street art, weekend markets, independent restaurants, bars, boutiques and parties that guarantees to entertain you pretty much any time and any day of the week.
How to Discover: Lisbon Guided Street Art Tour
Discover the Beauty of Historical Aveiro
Crisscrossed by canals, it’s not hard to see where Aveiro’s nickname “The Venice of Portugal ” comes from – and most visitors hop onto one of the colourful barcos moliceros that ply the waterways.
That said, Aveiro’s charm goes far beyond just water. A wealth of Art Nouveau architecture and pastel-hued houses complete the picture.
Strike out by boat across the lagoon and you’ll find the beautiful nature reserve of Sāo Jacinto – complete with wooden walkways picking their way through the long grass.
How to Discover: Molicero Boat Tour
Wind Your Way through Porto’s Historic Streets
There’s a friendly rivalry between Lisbon and Porto for the title of the country’s most-loved city.
With its UNESCO World Heritage city centre and cavernous Port houses, there’s good argument for Porto to win the title.
Spend at least a few days taking in the city’s highlights: the Cathedral Se, Museu de Arte Contemporânea, Casa da Música and Jardim do Morro to name a few.
The city is also riding the wave of contemporary Portuguese cuisine, with some of the country’s most famous (and whizzy) chefs calling it their home.
How to Discover: Porto Electric Bike Tour
Listen to Fado in Alfama, Lisbon
Listening to the sorrowful, bittersweet tunes typical of Fado, Portugal’s long-loved music genre is one of the experiences you shouldn’t miss when visiting the country.
Where better to go and listen to some Fado than in Lisbon’s Alfama neighbourhood, from which it hails?
Sip on a Ginjinha (a Portuguese liqueur made using ginja berries steeped in alcohol) and soak up the melancholy sounds in a traditional Fado restaurant.
Sr. Fado de Alfama and Clube de Fado are two of the best spots.
How to Discover: Live Fado and Alfama Tour
Go on an Indulgent Weekend in the Algarve
If you’re looking for a laid-back luxury getaway with plenty of spa and sunshine, the Algarve is the place to be.
There’s no shortage of high-end hideaways for you to escape to but The Anantara Vilamoura is a real gem.
This new hotel in plush Vilamoura is the perfect destination for a weekend escape – complete with an outstanding spa and an adults-only pool, surrounded by Veuve Clicquot cabanas for the ultimate treat.
Visit Tomar, The Home of the Knights Templar
Close enough to Lisbon that you could easily do it on a day trip, the compact town of Tomar is a pretty escape from the city. Stroll around the cobbled streets to discover its traditional Portuguese charm.
Most visitors come here with a purpose – to check out the Convento do Cristo – sitting high above the town and best-known as the base of the Order of the Knights Templar, who sought to defend Portugal from the Moors.
The Unesco World Heritage site straddles the line between religious haven and military base – but also functioned as a palace in its history, which dates all the way back to 1160. Allow at least half a day to explore.
How to Discover: Tomar Day Trip from Lisbon
Past Meets Present in Braga
Braga, one of Portugal’s oldest cities, sits in the northeast of the country, luring visitors in with the promise of remarkable architecture, delicious food and old-world charm.
Although it’s a small city, Braga boasts over thirty churches and Portugal’s oldest cathedral – a testament to its longstanding religious importance.
You could be forgiven for thinking it will be sleepy and staid – it’s not. Underground bars and clubs, small cafes and contemporary restaurants keep the city firmly in the present.
How to Discover: Braga Day Trip from Porto
Visit Monsanto – The Most Portuguese Town in Portugal
Monsanto won the quaint title of being the “most Portuguese town in Portugal” in 1938, reason enough to pique your curiosity.
What does that even mean?
Well, in Monsanto’s case, a village that has barely changed for hundreds of years, a living museum of days gone by.
The town’s architects weren’t remotely fazed by the huge granite boulders occupying the space in which they wanted to build – they simply built around them.
The result? An unusual design where the boulders form part of the walls, roofs and floors or many of the village’s buildings.
Setting aside its charisma, Monsanto should go straight to the top of your list of things to do in Portugal for the picture opportunities alone.
Hiking in the Parque Nacional da Peneda-Gerês
Butting up against the Spanish border, the Parque Nacional da Peneda-Gerês is Portugal’s only national park – which would be reason enough to visit.
Add to that 700 square kilometres of verdant valleys, wooded hills and tiny stone-built villages to see why it’s a hiker’s delight. This is Portugal at its wildest – go for some of the country’s best hikes and no crowds.
How to Discover: Private Peneda-Geres Guided Hike
Cool things to do in Portugal: Map
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A Whole Bunch of Reasons to Visit Peneda-Gerês National Park
Thursday 23rd of August 2018
[…] Need some travel inspiration for the rest of Portugal? […]
Monday 9th of April 2018
I also suggest Obidos, a medieval town surrounded by a wall
Tuesday 10th of April 2018
Thanks for the suggestion Iris - I haven't been but have always wanted to. Definitely one for the next trip!