Planning a trip to Portugal can be overwhelming. It’s a big country with so much to see and do, but a perfect itinerary can exist for everyone. This guide to the best things to do in Portugal will help you plan the trip of your dreams!
Lisbon, Porto, and the Algarve are the three obvious destinations in Portugal, especially for first-timers. But what about Penede-Geres, the country’s only designated national park with tall mountains and spectacular landscapes, or Guimaraes, the birthplace of the nation? From strolling historic cobbled streets in historic villages and visiting UNESCO World Heritage Sites to wine tasting or lazing on beautiful beaches, these are some of the best things to do in Portugal from North to South.
What I like the most about Portugal is that it’s a country for everyone. Whether you want to explore the culinary tradition, ancient landmarks, or the best beaches, you will have everything you need at your fingertips.
The country’s history is as rich and diverse as its architecture and culture, and you can get a glimpse of this in every city, town, and village. So, let’s explore some of the best things to do in Portugal.
Best of Portugal Quick Guide
Must See: Sintra, Porto, Guimaraes, Algarve, Alcocaba Monastery, Bucacao National Forest, Alfama (Lisbon), Obidos Castle, Belem Tower Where To Stay: Pousada Castelo de Obidos, Lisbon Art Stay Apartments Baixa, Se Catedral Hotel Porto, Tivoli Carvoeiro Algarve Fun To Do: Benagil Cave, Algarve International Circuit, Peneda-Geres National Park, Douro Valley Day Trips: Coimbra, Cascais, Sortelha, Aveira, Read Best Day Trips from Lisbon Must-Try Foods: Pasteis de Nata, Bacalhau, Arroz de pato, Piri Piri chicken. Read more: Portuguese Food
Best Things To Do In Portugal
With tall mountains, big cities, and spectacular sandy beaches, Portugal is a country that can appeal to anyone. No matter what you like doing, you’ll find at least one city or town in Portugal that can cater to your every need.
From the best hikes in the north to the best resorts in the south, and all the best historic landmarks in between – here are all the best things to do in Portugal!
1. Listen To Fado Music in Lisbon
Fado is a type of traditional Portuguese music inseparable from the country’s culture. The earliest traces of Fado date back to 1820s Lisbon, but it is believed that the genre originated much earlier. We booked this Fado Show in Porto.
For the best bars and cafes with live Fado music in Lisbon, head to Alfama, the historic neighborhood with some of the capital’s oldest restaurants and bars. Bairro Alto is also home to many places to watch a live Fado performance. Just try to avoid the tourist traps, which you can spot by their overpriced menus. We booked this Fado Show in Lisbon that includes guided tours of Alfama and a traditional dinner.
Practical Information: Fado performances usually start at 8-9 PM and last for 2-3 hours, with breaks.
2. Discover the History of Belem Tower
Belem Tower is one of the country’s most important landmarks. With UNESCO World Heritage status, the historic tower is one of the best examples of the Portuguese Manueline architectural style.
The landmark tower is approximately 40 minutes outside Lisbon by bus or an easy and affordable 20 minute Uber ride. It is located in the same part of the town where the Jerónimos Monastery is. It’s best to visit both landmarks in the same afternoon if possible. We took an Uber out to Belem Tower and then walked to Jeronimos Monastery. Afterward, we followed the waterfront path to explore more top Lisbon attractions.
You can tour the Belem Tower to admire the beautiful architecture and fabulous panoramic views from the top. A cafe is located close to the tower where you can sit down for drinks with the best view in Lisbon. Read more: Where To Stay in Lisbon: A Complete Guide For Your First Visit
Practical Information: Belem Tower is accessible by bus from Lisbon. Tickets for the tower are 8 Euros.
3. Pena Palace in Sintra
Pena Palace is one of two famous palaces in Portugal. Located in Sintra, it is perched atop a high rock and surrounded by a large park, on the site of a former monastery. The palace is famous for its colorful exterior, which is considered a major expression of the 19th-century Romantic movement. Read more: 14 Best Things to Do in Sintra, Portugal
Pena Palace is both a UNESCO World Heritage Site and one of the Seven Wonders of Portugal. It is one of the best landmarks to visit in the country. You can visit it on a day trip from Lisbon, but we suggest staying in Sintra for at least two nights. Sintra is located just an hour outside the capital.
Practical Information: Full-priced tickets for adults are 20€. It’s possible to pay for a bus service (3€) to take you from the park entrance to the palace entrance. You need to purchase timed tickets ahead of time. You can do that here.
4. Quinta da Regaleira
If you are interested in the Knights Templar, make sure to visit Quinta da Regaleira. Its underground tunnels and caves were once used for initiation rites by secret societies such as the Knights Templar, and their secrets still remain hidden to this day. Visitors can explore the tunnels and caves, discovering hidden chambers and hidden passageways as they go. Book your skip the line entry tickets here.
5. Walk Under The Arco Da Rua Augusta
Arco Da Rua Augusta is one of Lisbon’s most famous landmarks. Pass under the arch while making your way to Praça do Comércio, the historic city square on the shore of the Tagus River.
The arch dates back to the 18th century. It was constructed as a memorial to Lisbon’s reconstruction after the devastating 1755 earthquake that destroyed 85% of the city’s buildings.
For a small entrance fee, you can take a lift to an exhibition space behind the clock in the arch. An observation deck is also available here, and it offers beautiful views of Lisbon’s rooftops and the waterfront plaza.
Practical Information: The Rua Augusta Arch can be visited at any time. The observation deck at the top of the arch is open from 10 AM to 7 PM and has a €3,50 entrance fee.
6. Prance Around Porto
Porto is the second-largest city in Portugal, right after Lisbon. Although it doesn’t get quite as many tourists as the capital, it’s just as good a destination for a city break in Portugal. The city has it all – a rich history, vast beaches, and the best local port wine. Read more: 30 Best Things to Do in Porto, Portugal
Porto’s old town has UNESCO World Heritage Status because it is one of the oldest historic centers in Europe. Bolsa Palace, Porto Cathedral, Rua das Flores, and Torre dos Clérigos are just a few of the iconic landmarks not to be missed in the charming town.
Venture west of the old town and you’ll find all of Porto’s beaches. Stunning views paired with a glass of local port wine – named after this city – is a recipe for a classic Porto afternoon. Plan your trip to porto with this guide on Where to Stay in Porto: A Complete Guide For Your First Visit
Practical Information: Porto is serviced by the Francisco Sá Carneiro Airport which is 25 minutes outside the city center. Lisbon and Porto are three hours apart (by public transport).
7. Lie on the Beach in the Azores
The Azores are an archipelago in the Atlantic Ocean accessible only by flight. A few days in this stunning region are a must if you’re planning a longer stay in Portugal. Read more about the Azores at Top 10 Things to do in Sao Miguel, The Azores
The good news is that flights to the Azores start at 40€ for a round trip from Lisbon, so you can visit the archipelago for very little money. Book a flight to one of the islands to experience the gorgeous beaches and breathtaking nature characteristic of these Portuguese islands.
Azores islands are also great for scuba diving. Pico Island is particularly popular among divers, while Terceira Island is the perfect playground for hikers and outdoor adventurers.
Practical Information: The Azores Islands are accessible only by plane. Return flights from Lisbon to Terceira start at 35-40€.
8. Discover Nature of Parque Nacional Peneda-Gerês
Peneda-Gerês National Park is a vast nature reserve in Northern Portugal. Featuring tall mountains, a plethora of hiking trails, and prehistoric remains, the park is a great place to discover stunning landscapes.
This is one of the best destinations in Portugal for outdoor lovers. If you want to go hiking or ride in quads, you can do so here, while uncovering Neolithic remains. Camping is allowed at Peneda-Gerês, which is great because the park cannot be done in a day.
If you’re considering a more alternative Portugal itinerary, I would recommend focusing on this national park for a while and then visiting the other places that interest you. Guided day trips to the park exist, but they cover only small portions of this magical place.
Practical Information: Peneda-Gerês National Park is approximately an hour and a half by car from Porto.
9. Roam Around the Historical Streets of Évora
Evora is a medieval town in the Alentejo region whose old town serves as one of the best UNESCO World Heritage Sites in Portugal. It’s best known for whitewashed houses and Templo Romano Évora, the historic Roman temple that dominates its center.
This quaint town is truly a wonderful destination in Portugal, and perfect for travelers who want to escape the big city crowds and spend a day somewhere more historic.
The Cathedral of Évora is another special building in the small town. It’s the tallest building with the absolute best views of Evora’s rooftops and surroundings. You must climb the church’s tower to experience this wonderful view.
Practical Information: Evora is an hour and a half outside Lisbon by bus.
10. Road Trip Through the Algarve Region
The Algarve region of Portugal is known for its vast sandy beaches, golf resorts, and fishing villages. The Algarve is one of our favourite places in Portugal. While many tourists only visit it for a short stay, we recommend at least 3 days in the Algarve to truly appreciate it. Rent a car to explore all the little towns and villages. Read more: 3 Days in the Algarve Itinerary
Lagos, Portimao, Sagres, Vilamoura, Faro, and Cacela Velha are towns to visit on this road trip. Each offers historic landmarks, gorgeous beaches, and some of Portugal’s best resorts. Silves and Tavira are also worth checking out, especially if you’re into historic villages with fewer tourists.
Practical Information: The Algarve Region is in southern Portugal, stretching from the Spanish border to the Atlantic Ocean.
11. Hiking in The Douro Valley
Douro River flowers through Spain and Portugal, until it meets the Atlantic Ocean in Porto. The river valley stretches horizontally through northern Portugal, from the International Douro Natural Park on the border with Spain to Porto city.
Douro Valley offers a myriad of hiking trails, the best of which can be found in the natural park. From easy trails that can be completed in a couple of hours to challenging, multi-day adventures, the River Valley is ideal for travelers who enjoy exploring the great outdoors.
Douro is also a prominent wine region in Portugal. As such, it offers a variety of wine trails and vineyard tours, making it suitable even for a slightly more relaxed vacation.
Practical Information: Public transport from Porto to International Douro Natural Park is scarce. Rent a car and drive there or arrange a guided tour for the best experience.
12. Visit Portugal dos Pequenitos
Portugal dos Pequenitos is a theme park in Coimbra, a city in central Portugal. Situated approximately halfway between Lisbon and Porto, Coimbra is a great destination for a day trip or even a short stay in the country.
The theme park boasts miniature replicas of the works of the best Portuguese architects. There’s everything from miniature villages to replicas of iconic Portuguese-made landmarks from other countries. A tour of the park is an excellent experience, one that will help you learn more about this fascinating country.
Practical Information: Portugal dos Pequenitos is open every day from 10 AM to 5 PM. Tickets are 15€ for adults.
13. Drive a Racing Car Around the Algarve International Circuit
Algarve International Circuit remains the most important race track in Portugal. It’s home to all the races in the Formula 1 and Moto GP series, and an excellent destination for all motorsport and car enthusiasts in Portugal.
Come here to watch a race if you’re lucky enough, or to drive a super fast car on the track for a couple of laps. You can even have the experience of driving a Formula 1 car on this track, but I reckon that’s more expensive than first-class plane tickets to Portugal.
Practical Information: Algarve International Circuit is a 30-minute drive from Lagos.
14. Get Lost in The Buçaco National Forest
Have you ever visited a forest encased by an ancient wall? You can do so in Portugal if you head to Buçaco National Forest, just 40 minutes outside Coimbra.
The forest was first inhabited by monks in the 6th century, and the ownership of the land was passed around between various monasteries in the region. It was the monks who built the walls surrounding the arboretum and planted many of the trees inside the forest.
Buçaco National Forest is famous for its dendrological collection, which is believed to be one of the best in Europe. Boasting more than 2,500 plant species from five different continents, little is left to the imagination at this spectacular place.
Practical Information: Buçaco National Forest is accessible by public transport from Coimbra. Entrance to the forest is free for passengers on foot.
15. Visit Bom Jesus do Monte Sanctuary
Bom Jesus do Monte is a religious sanctuary close to Braga in northern Portugal. With stunning gardens, a neoclassical church, and a world-famous stairway, it’s a must-visit for anyone traveling in the north of the country.
You can reach the sanctuary in a funicular, which will take you up the hill for just 2 €. From there, walk around the beautiful gardens, and stand on the terrace in front of the church, to soak in the panoramic sights. Descend the famous staircase for even more epic views.
Practical Information: Bom Jesus do Monte is open daily from 9 AM to 7 PM, with free admission.
16. Spend a Day in Coimbra
Coimbra is a city in Central Portugal, approximately halfway between Porto and Lisbon. It is mostly known for its university, which is one of the oldest on the continent. The University of Coimbra was founded in the late 13th century, and its main buildings boast a diversity of architectural styles.
Other noteworthy attractions in Coimbra are the Old Cathedral of Coimbra, the Joanine Library, the New Cathedral of Coimbra, Quinta das Lágrimas Gardens, and Portugal dos Pequenitos, which has its own entry on this list. A day is enough to discover the top sights in the city, but you might want to stay longer for the proximity to other excellent Portuguese destinations.
Practical Information: Coimbra is accessible by train from Lisbon (1 hour 45 minutes) and Porto (1 hour 10 minutes).
17. Witness The Magic of Benagil Cave
Benagil Cave is one of Portugal’s most famous natural landmarks. Set on a beach in the Algarve, the cave remains one of the best places for a boat excursion in southern Portugal. The ceiling of the cave is accessible via hiking trails and offers an aerial view of the Benagil Cave interior.
The cave has been Algarve’s most famous landmark for years, which ultimately resulted in many accidents and overcrowding. The local authorities had to step in and suspend access to the cave. It was previously possible to visit Benagil cave on a SUP and hang out inside for a couple of hours, but that’s no longer to case.
Rental of SUPs and kayaks is now prohibited on the beaches near the cave, and visitors who attempt to swim in the cave will be fined up to 2,500€. You must arrange a guided boat tour to see the cave, and you won’t be allowed to go inside. But you might see dolphins from the boat, which is just as exciting in my book.
Practical Information: Arrange a guided hiking tour to Benagil Cave to peek inside it from above. Visitors are not allowed inside the cave.
18. Climb the Mountains of Serra da Estrela Nature Park
Serra da Estrela Nature Park is a top destination for travelers who enjoy discovering new landscapes. The natural park is in the northern area of central Portugal and features roads to its tallest summits. It is the car road-trip alternative to hiking, where you get to discover some fascinating natural landmarks, but needn’t climb a mountain on your own two feet.
And there’s plenty to do here once you’re out of the car. With spectacular rock formations, observation platforms that offer sprawling panoramic views, and rewarding hiking trails, the national park leaves no one indifferent.
Practical Information: Admission to the nature park is free of charge.
19. Peek Inside a Walled Town
Óbidos is a tiny walled town in central Portugal. Best known for the hilltop Castle of Óbidos, the town serves as one of the best examples of medieval architecture. The castle dates back to the 9th century and even has a hotel within its medieval walls.
Set just two hours outside the capital city, Óbidos is the best destination for day trips from Lisbon. The village is absolutely charming and offers unique architecture, ancient cobbled streets, and mesmerizing art inside the castle.
Practical Information: Óbidos is accessible by public transport from Lisbon (2 and a half hours) and Porto (almost 4 hours).
20. Admire the Complexity of Lisbon Cathedral
The Lisbon Cathedral is the oldest church in the capital. It is one of few that have managed to survive the devastating 18th-century earthquake, although not without great damage. The cathedral’s royal pantheon and Gothic main chapel were entirely destroyed, and many of the cloisters and chapels were heavily damaged.
It took many years of reconstruction for the church to appear as it does today. And because of so many reconstructions, the cathedral is architecturally diverse, incorporating elements from Gothic, Baroque, and Romanesque styles. If you stay in Lisbon for even just a day, a visit to Sé de Lisboa is a must.
Practical Information: The Cathedral in Lisbon is open from 10 AM to 6 PM every day except Sunday. The entrance is 5€.
21. Take it Slow at Cascais
Cascais is a resort town in the Lisbon District, easily accessible from the capital city. It’s an important tourist destination in Central Portugal because it’s home to some of the best resorts. For relaxed beach vacations, Cascais remains at the top of most travelers’ lists.
With sandy beaches, historic architecture, and vast golf courses, the town can offer something to nearly anyone. Whether you want to spend your days in Portugal relaxing, playing sports, or discovering the local history and traditions, you’ll be right at home in Cascais.
Practical Information: Cascais is situated west of Lisbon City, just an hour away by bus.
22. Indulge in Portuguese Cuisine
Portuguese food is diverse and layered, just like the country’s rich history. The cuisine is influenced by Portugal’s geographic location as well as history and includes a blend of seafood, hearty meats, and stews.
Some of the most famous dishes you should try are Bacalhau, Arroz de pato, Piri Piri chicken, and Caldeirada de peixe. They’re all main courses with either seafood or other meat. Pastéis de nata have long been the snack of choice for the locals, and who can blame them? I couldn’t resist a flaky custard tart either.
Practical Information: Get recommendations from locals to avoid tourist traps and find the best local restaurants in every Portuguese city you visit.
23. Time Travel to Sortelha
Sortelha is a medieval village close to Serra da Estrela Nature Park. Combine a trip to the village with a visit to the nature park, otherwise, it will likely be too far out of the way.
The village is approximately a three-hour drive from both Porto and Lisbon, without the option of traveling by public transport. It’s best known for the hilltop castle, which offers sprawling views of the landscapes of eastern Portugal.
Visiting Sortlha is like traveling back in time. It is surreal how ancient everything about this village is, and if you want to have a unique experience in Portugal, this is by far one of the best destinations.
Practical Information: Sortelha is most easily accessible in a personal vehicle. The closest bus stop is 20 km outside the village.
24. Venture Into Monsanto
Monsanto is a hidden gem off the beaten path, perfect for travelers who want to stay away from the tourist areas in Portugal. The village is close to the border with Spain, and it’s best known for the hilltop ruins of the Castle of Monsanto.
Rocks are what mostly remains of the former castle, chapels, and churches. The views from the site of the castle ruins are incredible and some of the best in Portugal. The village is at the foot of the hill with castle ruins and offers the opportunity to spend the night in a medieval house built from stone.
Practical Information: There is no public transport to Monsanto and driving is the best way to reach the village.
25. Tour Sintra National Palace
Sintra National Palace is one of two important palaces in Sintra. It can be visited on the same day as the National Palace of Pena, provided you get up early enough.
The Moorish palace originates from the 11th century and it’s the oldest palace in Portugal. With gorgeous rooms, period furnishings, and exceptional artwork, touring the palace is like going on a journey throughout history.
The Swan Room, Arab Room, and Magpie Room are the three most famous areas of the palace. But all the other rooms are also worth visiting, so you should set apart several hours at least for this landmark.
Practical Information: Sintra National Palace is open from 9:30 AM to 6:30 PM. Tickets are 13€ for adults.
26. Fly to Madeira
Madeira is another Portuguese archipelago accessible only by airplane. The upside is that low-cost carriers operate flights to the island, and you can get there from Lisbon for less than 30€ if you can pack in a small backpack.
Madeira Island is known for its gorgeous beaches, tall mountains, excellent hiking trails, and scenic vistas. Come here for hikes in the mountains that reward you with incredible views, but also for picturesque coastal towns with friendly locals.
Practical Information: Madeira is approximately a 2-hour flight from Lisbon. Return tickets start at 30€.
27. Hike a Section of Camino de Santiago
Camino de Santiago, also known as the Portuguese Way, is a network of pilgrimage routes in Portugal. The path starts in either Lisbon or Porto and leads the pilgrims to the cathedral of Santiago de Compostela in the northwest of Spain.
The route is also called the Way of St. James, and it has many iterations throughout Western Europe. Hiking even a small section in the hills north of Porto is great for understanding the difficulty of this pilgrimage. Just imagine covering 25 kilometers every day, for 35 days straight.
Practical Information: The Portuguese Way can be hiked from Porto or Lisbon. The shortest route begins at the Cathedral of Porto and goes on for 227 km.
28. Explore Braga
Braga is the first stop for anyone planning a thorough discovery trip through Portugal. Set in the north of the country, Braga is a city famous for its religious heritage. It is best known for Bom Jesus do Monte sanctuary, which attracts travelers from all over the world.
It’s a picturesque town with historic houses, ancient churches, and Roman ruins. Braga boasts gorgeous arcthiecture, which includes Baroque, Romanesque, Neoclassical, and Gothic elements. Also, Braga offers easy access to the only designated national park in Portugal (Peneda-Geres).
Practical Information: Braga is easily accessible by bus from Porto (1 hour 10 minutes).
29. Boat Rides in Aveiro Canals
Aveiro is a town in the west of the country known as the Venice of Portugal because of its canals. Colorful boats locally called barcos moliceiros run through the canals, and jumping on one of these for a tour is the top thing to do in Aveiro.
The small boats are primarily intended for harvesting seaweed, but they’ve become the best tourist attraction in town. Aveiro is also known for Art Nouveau architecture in its historic center, as well as the Aveiro Museum with impeccable religious art.
Practical Information: Aveiro is accessible by train from Lisbon (two and a half hours) and Porto (40 minutes).
30. Marvel at Alcobaça Monastery
Set 120 kilometers north of Lisbon in Central Portugal, Alcobaça Monastery is a UNESCO World Heritage Site. It was constructed in the 13th century as the first Gothic building in the country, it was originally a Knights Templar stronghold. Baroque elements were added to the church in the 18th century, making it appear even more spectacular.
The church has free entrance and visitors must buy tickets to enter the monastery. They’re worth the money; the complex is massive and it takes hours to explore the entire grounds. See the stunning decorations inside, the tombs of Kind Pedro I and his mistress Ines, and the beautifully landscaped monastery gardens.
Practical Information: Alcobaça Monastery is open daily from 9 AM to 6 PM. Tickets are 10€.
FAQ for Visiting Portugal
What Is The Main Thing Portugal Is Known For?
Food is the main thing Portugal is known for around the world. The country’s cuisine is heavily influenced by the proximity of the Atlantic Ocean and seafood is widely eaten in Portugal.
How Many Days Do You Need In Portugal?
You need at least 10 days to travel the country from north to south. Two weeks should give you plenty of time to explore most of Portugal’s famous landmarks.
Is It Cheap To Travel In Portugal?
Yes, it’s mostly cheap to travel in Portugal. It’s considered one of the most affordable countries in Western Europe, and more affordable than the neighboring Spain.
What Is The Nicest Part of Portugal To Visit?
The Algarve Region is the nicest part of Portugal to visit. With vast sandy beaches, excellent resorts, and plenty of historic villages, it showcases all the best of Portugal.
Tips And Information For Visiting Portugal
Best Time To Visit
Portugal can be enjoyed any time of the year. I’d even say it’s best to visit Portugal in the winter, especially if you live in a place where it snows. Escape the cold by going to Lisbon for a while, where it’s a balmy 16 degrees Celsius even in January.
Summer is the most popular season in the country, and there’s a huge influx of tourists from all over the world. Avoid summer if you’re interested more in tourist attractions than resorts and beaches.
Late spring and early fall are good seasons for warm weather and smaller crowds.
The top three largest airports in Portugal are the ones in Lisbon, Porto, and Faro. Chances are you’ll be arriving at one of those airports, and if you can choose, I would choose Porto and start exploring Portugal from the north down.
But most people land in Lisbon, which is approximately half an hour outside the city center by public transport. Trains and buses can take you from Lisbon to other cities in Portugal.
Portugal has a decent network of public transportation, but car rental is the best solution for exploring the country. Buses take much longer and are not available at nature parks outside the cities.
Train travel is good for getting from one major tourist center to another. The Algarve is connected to the north with trains, which travel much quicker than the buses. But they can’t take you to all the smaller towns worth your time in Portugal, and they’re still slower than driving.
How Much Time Do You Need
You can explore Portugal a little in five days as easily as you could spend a month wandering around the country and discovering all of its beauty. Plan a stay of 3-5 days if you’re mostly focused on staying in one city and touring its attractions, with an optional day trip. But consider a vacation of at least two weeks, if you want to explore as much of Portugal as possible.
The Algarve region alone takes at least a week, and I would reckon it’s even more time for all the spectacular destinations in Central and North Portugal.
Where To Stay In Portugal
Stay in Lisbon to explore the capital city and for easy access to the south of Portugal. Alternatively, stay in Porto for a more relaxed vibe, and better access to attractions in the north of the country. Some of the best hotels in Portugal for all budgets are:
Lisbon Art Stay Apartments Baixa is a popular boutique hotel in the heart of historic Lisbon. Óbidos Castle is a personal favorite. The medieval town is a must-stop on the way from Lisbon to Porto, and a night at the castle might just be the highlight of the trip. Se Catedral Hotel Porto is an excellent four-star hotel right next to Porto Cathedral. Tivoli Carvoeiro – Is a five star hotel in the Algarve with the best views of the sea. It is our favorite hotel.
Plan your trip to Portugal with these valuable resources