Famous for its explorers, maritime charms, and photogenic cities, Portugal is one of Europe’s most culturally robust countries. For travellers, it’s easy to associate Portugal with its trademark terra cotta roofed townhouses, Lisbon’s iconic yellow trams, and the surreal beauty of Algarve’s rugged coast. But these postcard-ready sceneries barely scratch the surface.
From its verdurous countryside to the architectural marvels that sculpted its cosmopolitan urban centres, Portugal is a destination worth many repeat visits. Here are the top 10 things to do and to check out while you’re there:
1. Find the Best Beaches
The image of gold-sand beaches brushed by glassy, azure waters is forever etched in the mind of travellers when they think of Portugal. The country, owning more than 1,000-km of coastline along the Atlantic Ocean, is speckled with hidden coves, Blue Flag beaches, and crystal-clear lagoons backed by colourful, plunging cliffs. Enjoy beach hopping in the Algarve, Alentejo, Costa Vicentine, and the Azores. The beaches can range from peaceful secluded hideaways to buzzing surf spots that are also perfect for water sports.
2. Explore Lisbon’s Neighborhoods
A world-class city built on seven hills, Lisbon bustles with history, art, culture, and architecture. Explore the city by journeying through medieval neighbourhoods like Alfama, strolling past calçadas-paved streets near Praça da Figueira, and finding hidden miradouros (lookout points) around Castelo de São Jorge. For shopping, dining, and a taste of modern Lisbon, stop by Baixa, Rossio, Bairro Alto, and Cais do Sodré to experience the pulse of this vibrant capital city.
3. Ride Tram 28
See all the best sight and sound of Lisbon’s neighbourhoods onboard the iconic tram 28. Starting from Martim Moniz Square, the tram winds through historic quarters including Bairro Alto, Chiado, and Alfama. In one trip, you’ll able to catch landmarks like Castelo de São Jorge, Lisbon Cathedral, and many azulejo tile-covered houses from the tram’s windows.
4. Sit in on a Fado Show
The bittersweet, soulful music of Fado spins mournful yarns of longing. Through ballads accompanied by guitars, this traditional folk music illustrates the essence of the Portuguese word, saudade, a nostalgic melancholia associated with permanent loss. In Lisbon and Coimbra, you can sit in on live performances in various bars and restaurants. Depending on the region, the style and lyric of local Fado can range from sorrowful and heart-wrenching to festive and upbeat.
5. Discover Porto’s Old Quarters
Portugal’s second city has an enduring rivalry with its capital, Lisbon. While not as polished, Porto posses just as much cultural charms. Along its gritty streets are narrow, azulejo decorated townhouses, trendy cafes, wine bars and riverside restaurants. By the River Douro, the Ribeira District buzzes with street performances, gourmet dining, and vibrant nightlife. Across the river, in Villa de Gaia, you’ll find many world-famous Port cellars and opportunities to try an award-winning bottle.
6. Climb Tower of Belém
The waterfront district of Belém just west of downtown Lisbon is home to several iconic historical sites. Among them, the 16th-century fortification, Tower of Belém, overlooks the Tagus River and stands as a reminder of the nation’s seafaring days. The limestone tower features several types of medieval architectures, elaborate façade and ornaments that were added on over the centuries. At the top of the fortress, you can get a far-reaching view of Lisbon’s cityscape and gleaming shoreline just over the parapets.
7. Stroll through Mosteiro dos Jeronimos
Also located in Belém, the Mosteiro dos Jeronimos is a highly ornate Gothic Manueline style monastery. This 16th-century UNESCO World Heritage Site features the stone tombs of Vasco da Gama, several royalties, famous poets, writers, and politicians. The monastery’s intricately decorated cloisters are connected by chapels, churches, and courtyards with varying motifs bearing Moorish, European, and Eastern influences.
8. Visit Sintra
Once the summer retreat of the royal family, Sintra remains a luxury destination today. This tourism hub in the Portuguese Riviera is famous for its cluster of castles and palaces. A popular day trip location from Lisbon, Sintra provides a relaxing atmosphere for exploring national treasures and tranquil nature parks. Plan your tours around the Pena Palace, a vividly painted Romanticist castle at the top of the hill. Then, make your way to Moorish Castle, Quinta da Regaleira, National Palace and other UNESCO Sites.
9. Join Wine-tasting Tours
Portugal’s Douro Valley is abundant with rolling vineyards and diverse varietals. Although the region’s many renowned estates specialize in Port wine production, they also bottle some of the world’s best red and white wines. On a wine tour, you’ll have the chance to visit historic, award-winning cellars along the Douro River and wander through traditional scenic villages dotting the valley. There is also the option of taking a robelo boat tour and stop by wineries in authentic, picturesque towns like Lamego, Amarante, Régua and Pinhão along the banks.
10. Try Traditional Pastries
Creamy, flaky, and custardy pastries are the cornerstones of Portuguese gastronomy. In Lisbon alone, you’ll find cafes and bakeries prominently displaying rows of oven fresh pastel de nata egg tarts. And while every town has its own famous nata stores, other traditional desserts including Pudim Caseiro (egg pudding with port wine), leite crème (Portuguese Crème brûlée), Malassada (fried donut with granulated sugar), and Bolo de Bolacha (layered biscuit cake) are simply decadent and not to be missed.
Portugal’s world-class cities, spectacular beaches, and cultural treasures are even better when seen up close. Let our Travel Experts craft your tailor-made vacation and get you there.
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