20 Top Rated Tourist Attractions in Portugal

Jul 22, 2021

Just south of the Atlantic Ocean, yet surprisingly remote from major European travel routes, Portugal may be small, but it packs a hefty list of tourist sites into its compact package.

Portugal's status as a year-round retreat for the rich and famous is evident from the gracefully restored palaces and villas scattered throughout the country. In the cities and towns, cultural treasures from the Middle Ages include a 12th-century cathedral in Braga and a 15th-century Renaissance palace in Coimbra. But don't be surprised if you can also find local celebrations, traditional festivals, and outdoor leisure activities.

For a first trip to Portugal, consider planning an itinerary that includes these top Portugal attractions.

Cascais

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Cascais: en.wikipedia.org

Cascais, Portugal, is a seaside resort town built around the banks of the Rio Tejo (River Tagus). It boasts pleasant weather throughout the year, a cosmopolitan urban center with a wide variety of restaurants, bars, and shops, plus a couple of museums. The town's main attractions are the brightly colored houses of Cascais. They are arranged around a central courtyard and surrounded by a garden full of roses and fruit trees. There are dozens of beaches in Cascais, such as Largo do Carvalho (with a lovely villa for rent) or near Lisbon, and a free boat service operates from the old town in high season.

Sintra

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Sintra: en.wikipedia.org

Sintra is a beautiful mountain-backed town nestled in Portugal's southwestern Alentejo region. The region offers visitors a quiet retreat set in the heart of an expansive park of oak forest and rolling green hills. In the heart of Sintra stands the 17th-century Palácio Nacional de Sintra. Its name is French, meaning "King's Palace," but the building was originally constructed by Portugal's King João III in 1748 and, at 600,000 square meters, is one of the largest palaces in the world. Highlights of a visit to Sintra include the Sunday afternoon wine and meat market (Mercado de Trigo) that takes place in the town center and lasts several hours. In this lively street market, numerous fresh products are traded, creating a charming, bustling scene. From Sintra, visitors can take a day trip to nearby attractions like the resort towns of Pena Park or Estremoz, or the vast Parque Natural de Sintra-Cascais.

Monchique

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Monchique: en.wikipedia.org

Sitting alongside the mouth of the Tagus River, the medieval town of Monchique is a pleasant and low-key place for a day of activity. Its steep cliffs overlook the river, which at various points can be crossed on foot. Monchique has plenty of sights, but the best known is the church of Our Lady of Mercy (Nossa Senhora do Mercado), which boasts some of Portugal's finest examples of baroque church painting. The region also boasts some very fine beaches, including the very popular Praia do Faro, with its delicious seafood restaurants and lively beach bars. Nearby Alcobaça is famous for its large Benedictine monastery, established in AD 930. As it lies some 20 miles east of Lisbon and 40 miles northwest of Oporto, it is a most convenient stopover for a visit.

Faro

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Faro, Portugal: en.wikipedia.org

Portugal's westernmost city has everything you would expect from a seaside resort. Its beaches are fine in spots but the surf is too strong elsewhere and it's very popular with windsurfers. Faro has interesting galleries, an excellent book market, restaurants, and plenty of good places to stay. There are many sunny days in Portugal this time of year. If you need to visit in summer, then you're better off heading further south.

Aveiro

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Aveiro, Portugal: en.wikipedia.org

Aveiro, located some 48 km south of the Portuguese capital of Lisbon, is a small, pretty town with a charming historical centre and lovely people. Aveiro is one of the oldest cities of the Alentejo region in Portugal. As Aveiro's once-extensive fishery and heavy industry declined, the historic centre grew more picturesque and the people more charming. The area is beautifully located and has breathtaking scenery. Aveiro is surrounded by cliffs and vineyards and is known for having some of the oldest churches in Portugal. This town is widely known for its history, charm and food.

Porto

With its medieval old town, sweeping views from the Douro River, cozy tapas bars, and the 17th century Renaissance Dois Irmãos monastery and gardens, Porto is one of the most charming destinations in Portugal. The best way to arrive at Porto is by taking a train from Lisbon and checking in at the main station. A taxi to Dois Irmãos monastery should cost around US$25. For an inexpensive night of sightseeing or a fun day trip, try the Portuguese sausage on a roll (alheira), or at the famous bakery (pastelaria) pastries at Ericeira beach. To the south, the Pinhão is well known for its lace factory (Balduína) and two fine waterfalls; the Pessegueiro is known for its fresh milk, cheese, and excellent wines.

Read more 👉  Top Rated Tourist Attractions in Porto

Portimao

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Portimão: en.wikipedia.org

Portimao is an attractive city on the southern tip of Portugal. It has some good beaches, but the most interesting things to see here are the Parque de Santiago funicular railway, which takes visitors up to Monte Sao Roque, a viewpoint of great views over the Algarve, and the Parque Pessegueiro, which features a cinema and a café. Portimao's beach is easy to reach by train, bus or taxi and has a number of excellent hotels. The nearest airport is Faro, 32 km from Portimao.

Lisbon

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Lisbon: en.wikipedia.org

A major historic center of Portugal and the Iberian Peninsula, Lisbon (Lissabon in Portuguese) was a notable medieval settlement. Lisbon is a major commercial, financial and cultural capital city of Portugal. The city's major tourist attractions include the Monumental Zone, which is a group of Gothic and Renaissance structures surrounding the old Jewish neighborhood. From a tourist point of view, Lisbon is famous for the funicular railway, the most famous and spectacular of which is the former tram, the Cascais Funicular, which ascends in just a few minutes from the seafront. Travelers who find their way here can see Portugal's capital city and the surrounding area at leisure. The city has a moderate climate and many parks and green areas for walking. Lisbon has the greatest choice of outdoor activities of any city of Europe: you will find everything here: theaters, museums, sports complexes, modern and ancient parks, playgrounds, churches, shopping centers and squares, etc. While Lisbon is very well-known in Europe and the United States, the city is much less well-known in the country itself, and even less in Brazil.

Read more 👉  Top Rated Tourist Attractions in Lisbon

Coimbra

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Coimbra: en.wikipedia.org

Stunning Coimbra is the capital of Portugal's most populous region, the Centro region. Situated in the northeast corner of the country, Coimbra is on the banks of the Mondego River, framed by lovely 17th-century buildings in gabled yellow and red, the color of the famous soccer team FC Porto. One of the most interesting things to do in Coimbra is the student-friendly castle, which dates from the 12th century, but its origins go back further. The city boasts two of Europe's most important universities (founded in the 12th and 19th centuries) and some of the continent's most interesting museums (including the Contemporary Art Museum of Coimbra and the Museu Nacional dos Coches), as well as a slew of former aristocratic houses that make up the Sete Rios suburb. Porto, a bustling port on the Douro River to the south, is a great destination for dinner and drinks. Located about a 30-minute drive from Coimbra, the city attracts visitors with its historic architecture, fine shopping streets, lively cafés and hip nightclubs. Coimbra is connected by regular bus service to Lisbon and Porto, and is just an hour by train from Lisbon.

Ponta Delgada

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Ponta Delgada: en.wikipedia.org

Noted for its modern renaissance, wonderful architecture, and seafood, Ponta Delgada, located on the Portuguese island of São Miguel, was once known as the New York of the West. Ponta Delgada's finest days were back when it was the capital of the Portuguese Overseas Province, during the 18th century when it was the largest city in the world and Portugal's first overseas capital, which it held until 1890. The city has a unique mediterranean vibe, with tall white buildings and pink and yellow tile roofs, making it seem like it's floating in the sea. The oldest part of the city is a collection of whitewashed buildings with exposed red beams and terracotta tiles from colonial-era forts. Museums on the island include the salt water fishponds, the Museum of Beaches, the Colégio da Marim, the Museu das Curtas and Museu do Retalhão, and the Manguesa Digital, which is a local fish restaurant dedicated to Portuguese culture. The city is serviced by the Ponta Delgada airport, which is 35 minutes from the city, and by daily flights from Ponta Delgada.

Braga

Portugal's largest and most beautiful city is the capital, Lisbon. It is famous for its cosmopolitan character and exciting nightlife. Situated at the foot of the spectacular Serra da Estrela mountain range, Braga is a quiet town where the historic center is one of the most atmospheric places to explore. At night, after sipping on Portuguese wine, sitting and watching the world go by is one of Braga's specialties. The nightlife is lively and beautiful – many places are closed only on Sunday, but there are some fine pubs with live music and nightlife around Praça do Infante Dom Henrique. Braga is the only Portuguese city with an opera house, the opera house, Palacio das Festivas, which dates back to the 17th century. For a day trip, head north to the Ribatejo wine region and visit some of the area's biggest and most historic wineries, the most popular of which is Companhia Velha, which hosts free wine tastings.

Lamego

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Lamego: en.wikipedia.org

Located 40 kilometers (25 miles) north of Lisbon, Lamego is a remote yet attractive, historical town that features a series of old white houses covered in bright blue and terracotta tiles. It was here that King John I met the Countess Constance of Portugal and later married her, making Lamego, then a small town, the capital of Portugal. With its narrow, tree-lined streets and cute shops, Lamego is both historic and cosmopolitan. In addition to the many historic sites scattered throughout town, the most appealing are the 13th century Roman Temple of Nova Iria, the parish church of São João Evangelista (Parish Church of St. John), and the unique palace of the Earl of Vila Real. The city is also home to the largest church in Portugal, the Gothic Santa Maria Maior, constructed in the 12th century. To reach Lamego from Lisbon, take a train to Lisbon, then get off at Sines (45 minutes) and transfer to a shuttle bus to Lamego.

Vila Real

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Vila Real: en.wikipedia.org

Located in northern Portugal about 50 miles south of Porto, the town of Vila Real was once known as Elvas, after its defenses along the River Lima. In the mid-18th century, Vila Real was the imperial seat of the Austro-Hungarian Empire and later an important strategic center. The castle built by the Portuguese in the early 19th century is a well-preserved example of neoclassical architecture and has some of the most interesting art-nouveau frescos in Portugal. The castle was declared a World Heritage Site in 1987 and also includes one of the oldest churches in Portugal. The historic center, with more than two dozen buildings in a mix of Gothic, Renaissance, Baroque and Neoclassical styles, is closed to the public and can be explored only with prior arrangements.

Sesimbra

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Sesimbra: en.wikipedia.org

Sesimbra's name in Latin means "she stands in the sand," as the area was previously covered by sand dunes. The village has been featured in many English-language novels, one of the most popular being Marguerite Yourcenar's Memoirs of Hadrian. Visitors to this fishing village with a distinct architectural style will enjoy the view of the ocean, the locals, and the iconic white-washed houses. There are a number of small hotels and a few restaurants, but most visitors are drawn to Sesimbra by its beaches. Travelers may choose from popular beaches with sunbathing and swimming, or more secluded beaches with just a rocky promontory and some swaying palms, and possibly also accessible by windsurfing.

Beja

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Beja, Portugal: en.wikipedia.org

Beja, in the heart of central Portugal, is the gateway to the Serra de Alvão Natural Park, one of the most extensive in Portugal. Here, the Serra de Alvão gives way to an undulating landscape of pine-covered hills, deep valleys, and ravines populated by Portugal's largest brown bear population. Located some 55 km southeast of the provincial capital of Aveiro, Beja makes a good place to get away from the noise and crowds of the big cities. It's also one of the least-populated towns in Portugal, where you're more likely to run into an indigenous person or an older villager than a tourist. One of the main attractions in Beja is the museum at the Romanesque Templar Monastery of Santo Amaro. The high altar inside is an iconic example of Portuguese Romanesque art. Among the region's best-known sights are the cobblestone streets of Serra de Alvão town, the quaint former village of Tidreiro, and the UNESCO-listed castle in Tomar. It's also possible to visit the small towns of Souselo and Meco, where you can take a side trip to see the Fado (Portuguese folk music) culture, listen to the mesmerizing sound of fado singers and guitarists and join in with the locals to dance the night away.

Tavira

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Tavira: en.wikipedia.org

The highlight of a trip to Portugal is the country's architecture. Some of the most stunning architecture can be seen in the places people live: the haciendas (farmhouses) of the Alentejan region, the Manueline cathedrals and the palaces of Lisboa, and the country's many old towns. For travelers visiting from abroad, Tavira is a lovely place in which to stay. Within walking distance of the bustling Praia do Livramento, Tavira's best beach, there are pleasant seaside parks and the spa town of Cascais, Portugal's first seaside resort. Within the tiny fishing village of Tavira there are many historic buildings and several narrow lanes that are great for strolling. At night, the town is quieter as the main drag of Rua Doutor Sonheiro turns into a lively pedestrian-only zone with cafes and restaurants. Located on the southern coast of the Algarve, between Tavira and Lagos, Tavira is the main gateway for travelers to the region. There are direct flights from the US, Canada and the UK.

Vila Nova de Gaia

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Vila Nova de Gaia: en.wikipedia.org

A stunning setting, several rivers that run through the city, and a proximity to Barcelona, along with good cultural attractions and gastronomy have made this attractive coastal city the second biggest city in the autonomous region of Galicia, and one of the fastest growing centers in all of Europe. Many of the city's 14th-century stone buildings remain intact, while modern buildings have been used sparingly to make this an authentic town. The old city, with its narrow streets and dark squares, is divided into a mix of color and texture; surrounded by green valleys, streams, and lakes, it offers a fascinating place to visit. The most popular attractions in the old city are the lively markets. Most are held on Sundays. Beyond the oldest, the Granja do Socorro, on Rua do Rosario, is known for its craftsmanship and quality carpets. The old city's riverside areas are lively and relaxed places to eat and drink, or to take a boat trip. At night, the area is increasingly lively as people gather at the various cafes. Porto, just an hour away, has more of a contemporary feel.

Caldas da Rainha

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Caldas da Rainha: en.wikipedia.org

Famous for its “honey” brown, soft, rough, white-clay “soberanas,” Caldas da Rainha is nestled on a beautiful river and enjoys a mild climate all year round. This small university town has remained a place of peace and tranquility, and for many years was actually hidden from outsiders. It was discovered only when a farmer named Bernadino Ferreira noticed a clear, unspoiled water source, and decided to construct a new factory there in 1925. One of the largest sand dunes in the world, Monsão das Júnias, dominates the town, which remains the seat of the Diocese of Goa, under the Roman Catholic Church's jurisdiction.

Sagres

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Sagres (Vila do Bispo): en.wikipedia.org

This peninsula at the southwestern tip of Portugal has several small towns, including Ilha de Tavira, which is rich with history and considered the most beautiful of the region. Its lovely natural setting with rocky cliffs and dense vegetation makes for great walking and hiking and offers the perfect place to relax. The coast is dotted with picturesque villages such as São Martinho do Porto, São Lourenço do Ribatejo and Trafaria with their beaches and restaurants. It also has a good selection of attractions, including the Mem Martins Historical Center (which houses the house where Camões once lived), the Palacete dos Ferreiros (the bell tower of a 19th-century fort) and the Ilha da Tavira Lighthouse. Portugal is well known for its wine and several wineries are within walking distance from the historical center in Ervideira, Peniche and along the coast from Canas to Sines. Among the must-visits are Restaurante Serra do Roqueteiro (a 5-star restaurant with a great atmosphere), Restaurante Serra do Navio (one of the few buildings from the days of sailing ships) and Vinhos do Convento de Salvaterra, known for its small size, but whose production has been acknowledged by international wine societies.

Estoril

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Estoril: en.wikipedia.org

The picturesque coastal resort of Estoril is located 10 miles east of Lisbon. Its small, narrow streets are lined with colorful houses and quaint cafés, and the beach is perfect for a leisurely stroll. Estoril is best known as the home of Royal Golf in Portugal, the Royal, a spectacular 18-hole course designed by Robert Trent Jones Sr. and opened in 1954. The area around the resort is lovely, too, with beautiful villages and luscious meadows, making it a great option for anyone looking for a relaxing getaway.