Portugals Best Destinations - Best Cities and Vacation Spots

Written By: Richard Nathan
Fact Checked By: Lamia Darwish

Jun 13, 2022

19 min read

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Best Places To Visit In Portugal - A Comprehensive Travel Guide To Portugal’s Best Destinations

Portugal is one of Europe's most popular tourist destinations due to its good climate, low travel costs, and various attractions.

Portugal has everything you want in a European getaway with its beautiful countryside filled with medieval villages, and breathtaking coastal towns. These are the best spots to see in Portugal that you should not miss.

Portugal's Top 5 Tourist Attractions

Lisbon

Portugal's capital and largest city is set on seven hills along the banks of the Tagus River near the Atlantic. Between the colorful, centuries-old buildings and the beautiful St. George's Castles that jut out onto the skyline, alleyways snake elegantly.

Lisbon is known for its almost usual sunny weather, stunning neighboring beaches, tasty cuisines, and low cost, especially in many other major European cities. So if you're looking for reasonably priced souvenirs, the ancient Feira da Ladra flea market is an excellent place to start.

Lisbon has a decent public transportation system, including buses and metro. Still, the most exciting way to see the city is on one of the antique trams, such as the famous Tram 28, which winds through ancient areas, parks, and main attractions.

Sintra

Sintra, only an hour-by-train ride from the city, feels like a different world. Everything seems like something from a fairy tale, with stone-walled restaurants set with a whitewashed palace looming over them.

The village's storybook setting is set against a backdrop of forested slopes, with magnificent castles, magical gardens, strange mansions, and centuries-old monasteries hidden among the woods. The nighttime fog adds to the mystery, and the fire best spends cool evenings in one of Sintra's many lovely B&Bs.

Sintra's beauty attracted the Romans, Moors, and Portuguese kings, and it even enchanted the famous author Lord Byron. He described it as the most beautiful village in the world in a personal letter.

Porto

Porto is most known for producing fine port wine, and it also offers a long list of other attractions. The Ribeira, a lively pedestrian zone along the river with live music, cafes, restaurants, and street vendors, lies at its heart. Its winding, cobblestone streets were designed to be explored. Baroque churches, huge theatres, and sprawling plazas exist in Porto.

Its Ribeira neighborhood, a Unesco World Heritage Site, is just a short walk from Vila Nova de Gaia's centuries-old port wineries, where you may sample some of the world's best Port.

Though some walls are collapsing, there is a tangible sense of renewal, as seen by modern architecture, cosmopolitan restaurants, a thriving nightlife, and vibrant arts.

Aveiro

With its stunning backdrop of scenic canals packed with colorful gondolas and boats connected by lovely bridges, this hidden gem is located on the Atlantic coast and is often referred to as the "Venice of Portugal." Historic sites, beautiful beaches, and delicious food all contribute to Aveiro's attraction as a travel destination.

Walking around Aveiro is the most enjoyable way to see the city, but tour boats and a free-use bicycle system are also available. The Aveiro Cathedral, the São Gonçalinho Chapel, and the Convento de Jesus are among the city's major tourist attractions. All of these places have beautiful architecture and artwork.

The Forum Aveiro is a retail mall with various stores, restaurants, and a movie theater. Fresh seafood, meat, fruit, and handicrafts are all available at the Fish Market and the Central Market.

Aveiro's shoreline is known as the Silver Coast because of its clean, beautiful beaches like Costa Nova, São Jacinto, and Barra, which offer swimming, sailing, and kite surfing.

Aveiro is a destination not to be missed, with its stunning environment, historical attractions, and delectable cuisine.

Madeira Island

Madeira Island, also known as the "Floating Garden of the Atlantic," is a fertile paradise between Portugal and North Africa in the Atlantic Ocean. They are known for their lush green landscapes, flower gardens, wines, and annual New Year celebrations, including one of the world's largest fireworks displays.

It is well-known for its pleasant climate, beautiful green scenery, flower gardens, and fine wines. It's a terrific destination for kayaking, with stunning coves and marine caves only accessible by watercraft, as well as trekking, with a nature reserve offering panoramic views of the Atlantic and striking volcanic rock formations in its eastern part.

Pebbled beaches, crystal blue water, natural rock pools, and sports such as fishing, diving, sailing, and whale watching can all be found along the island's shoreline.

Funchal, Madeira's capital and central city, is home to medieval churches, fortresses, tourist resorts, museums, restaurants, and markets, as well as the tree-lined Lido Promenade, which offers breathtaking views of the ocean.

Portugal's Sacred & Religious Attractions

Mosteiro dos Jerónimos

The Jerónimos Monastery (also known as Hieronymites Monastery) is a former Order of Saint Jerome monastery in Belém, Portugal, along the Tagus River. In Lisbon, the Monastery is one of the most prominent specimens of the late Gothic Manueline style of architecture. In 1983, it was classified as a UNESCO World Heritage Site.

How to Get to the Monastery of Jerónimos

There are three ways to get to Jéronimos Monastery and the Church of Santa Maria with public transportation. First, traveling by train is possible because the Monastery is only a 10-minute walk from the station.

  • Trains If you arrive by train from Cascais, you will be taken immediately to Belém station. However, you may need to change trains from Oeiras station to go to Belém on occasion.

  • Buses If you're coming from the city center of Lisbon, you can use tram line 15, the metro, or several buses.

Buses 727, 28, 729, 714, or 751 will drop you off just across from the Monastery in the park. You can also take the Cascais line train from Cais Do Sodré, which will stop at Belém station.

  • Taxi Another alternative is to take a 14-minute taxi or UBER ride from Cais Do Sodré.

You can also purchase the Lisbon Card, which offers free entrance to 23 museums and historic sites, including Jerónimos, for 24 hours, 48 hours, or 72 hours.

Sanctuary of Fátima

The Shrine of Fátima is a pilgrimage site that celebrates the apparitions of Our Lady to the three shepherd children who founded the shrine. The national shrine, which is located in central Portugal, has developed to become the world's fourth most visited pilgrimage site.

The majestic Jerónimos Monastery, located near the Tagus River in the parish of Belém, is one of Portugal's greatest examples of Manueline architecture.

This architectural marvel, known in Portugal as Mosteiros dos Jerónimos, was erected by King Manuel I of Portugal in the 16th century and is one of Lisbon's most famous landmarks.

How to Get to the Sanctuary of Fátima

The town of Fátima is located in central Portugal, in the District of Santarém, the country's third-largest district. It's around 125 kilometers (78 miles) north of Lisbon and 170 kilometers (106 miles) south of Porto.

Humberto Delgado Airport, sometimes known as Lisbon Airport, is the closest international airport to Fátima. There are various options for visiting the religious site after you arrive in Lisbon.

  • Car The travel from Lisbon to Fátima takes just under one and a half hours if you rent a car. However, be aware of the high cost of highway tolls.

Getting a parking spot will be nearly hard if you plan on going during the big religious festivals. If you visit on any other weekday, this isn't an issue.

  • Taking the train The train network in Portugal is quite well developed, so taking the train is always a good option. One thing to keep in mind is that Fátima's railway station (Cho de Maçs) is located 20 kilometers (12 miles) from the city center, needing the use of a cab (which will cost roughly €20 to €25).

  • Bus
    The bus ride from Lisbon to Fátima with Rede Expressos takes about 90 minutes and costs €11.40 for adults and €6 for children.

Portugal's Best Natural Attractions

Benagil

Benagil is a small fishing village in Portugal's Algarve region on the southern coast. It's famous for a stunningly beautiful sea cave that can be explored on foot or by boat. The town is a little fishing village. However, there are a few local Portuguese restaurants nearby to eat after exploring the caves.

Cabo da Roca

Cabo da Roca, also known as the "end of the world," is the westernmost point of mainland Europe. It is accessible by bus from Sintra or Cascais. It's windy, but the views of the crashing waves against the cliff faces are spectacular.

Lisbon's Top Attractions

Tram 28

The number 28 tram in Lisbon is undoubtedly the most famous mode of transportation in the Portuguese capital. The trams were first introduced in the 1930s and are currently an important feature of the city's public transportation system.

Tram 28 runs between Martim Moniz and Campo Ourique, passing through the tourist spots of Graça, Alfama, Baixa, and Estrela. The rattling yellow tram ride is a must-do if you want to see all of Lisbon's small alleys.

Oceanário de Lisboa

The Lisbon Oceanarium debuted in 1998 as the World Expo's centerpiece. It is the largest indoor aquarium in Europe, with 450 distinct species. It is located in Parque das Naçes. With over 1 million visitors every year, this is one of Lisbon's most popular attractions!

Portugal's Best Beach Attractions

Praia do Baleal

Baleal is a surfing village near Peniche, about 1 hour north of Lisbon. Praia do Baleal is a long stretch of golden beaches with ideal swimming and other water activities such as surfing and windsurfing.

Praia da Rocha

Portimo's Praia da Rocha is one of the Algarve's most famous beach resorts. The beaches are known for their golden sand, huge clifftops, and crystal clear waters that stretch down the southern coast.

Praia do Carvoeiro

Praia do Carvoeiro is a little beach within a bay located within the scenic settlement of Carvoeiro, where you can see little white buildings and colorful fishing boats on the shore. It is another stunning beach with spectacular rock formations.

A Quick Guide to the Best Places to Retire in Portugal

Now comes the fun part: deciding where you want to live. We advise you to consider this carefully because purchasing property in a foreign nation is a lengthy and tedious process. If you're thinking about retiring in Portugal, you don't want to go through the procedure too many times.

One of the most satisfying stages of life is reaching the so-called golden age. You begin to appreciate each moment of leisure and begin to set aside more time for yourself. Most people spend their entire lives debating where they should retire. Many expats choose Portugal as their first choice.

Madeira

Madeira is an island in the center of the Atlantic Ocean, making it a one-of-a-kind destination for many Portuguese tourists. However, when it comes to living there, Madeira is a one-of-a-kind alternative that offers year-round enjoyment for various reasons.

Madeira is an excellent alternative if you're looking for the greatest places to retire in Portugal, thanks to its mild climate in the summer and winter. Not only because of the consistently pleasant weather but also because it allows you to live a peaceful existence close to everything while still having a variety of activities to enjoy throughout the year.

When it comes to the cost of living, Madeira is well-known for being a tourist destination. Therefore prices aren't always the cheapest when it comes to eating out and shopping for groceries.

In any case, housing prices remain attractive. There are numerous possibilities to select from because this is still a somewhat unusual location to choose as your new home in terms of long-term living.

There are reasons why we believe Madeira is the ideal location for retirement abroad:

  • Living the island lifestyle - with all of its luxuries, yet at a reasonable cost;
  • It is surrounded by stunning natural scenery and the Atlantic Ocean.
  • The weather is fantastic in the most unexpected seasons of the year — there is no such thing as a true winter there;
  • It's safe and comfortable; you'll build strong friendships with most residents and have your favorite grocery store and coffee shop.
  • There are beautiful villas for rent and sale in idyllic settings throughout the island that can provide excellent value for money.
  • There's always something to do - check out the annual Flower Party, which is one of the most stunning events you'll ever see; and
  • They serve "bolo do caco," which is, without a doubt, the best bread in the world.

The Algarve

The beautiful Algarve is one of the best spots in Portugal to spend the summer. Idyllic beaches and stunning rock formations define the coastline of Portugal's most southern region.

However, additional factors contribute to it being such a unique and great place to live: the fresh fish, the peaceful lifestyle, particularly during the winter, and the affordable prices when it comes to purchasing a home or land.

Forbes recently named Portugal, specifically the Algarve, as one of the best destinations to retire abroad. Even the prestigious daily The Times UK released a story this year about purchasing property in Portugal, and as they say, ‘'Portugal is flourishing," so it's best to do it now rather than later.

Retirement residents will be surrounded by nature, kind people, and a secure environment.

Here are some of the reasons why we think the Algarve is an excellent place to retire

  • When compared to the major cities, the properties are generally more affordable.
  • When compared to the major cities, the prices are lower.
  • It's very safe;
  • It has a wide range of activities - it's a great location to play golf, having some of Portugal's top golf courses.
  • Food is excellent - fresh fish and seafood are available all the time.
  • It's lively without being overly crowded, with a good balance of summer and winter.

The list continues, but they are enough to make the Algarve one of your top retirement destinations. After all, who doesn't enjoy vacations that never end?

The Azores

Consider a paradise on earth where you will feel at ease every day of your retirement. That's the Azores in the distance. A nine-island archipelago has something special to offer on each of them.

The main island of So Miguel offers breathtaking scenery, and the entire archipelago provides the freshest milk from the world's happiest cows.

The most popular islands to live on are So Miguel and Terceira, but you may always choose a lesser-known island and enjoy the peace and quiet that the entire archipelago offers.

Furthermore, if you are an American citizen, the Azores islands are only 4 hours away by plane from Boston, making it simple to return home.

The Azores should be at the top of your list when it comes to the finest places to retire in Portugal.

We'll tell you our top reasons for this:

  • The mild year-round climate;
  • The fields' green is unlike any other;
  • It's so quiet and tranquil, yet there's so much to see and do;
  • It is one of the most cost-effective places to reside in Portugal, with a lower VAT tax than the rest of the country.
  • Fresh milk and cheese produced by happy cows;
  • It has two UNESCO world heritage sites, and properties for sale and rent are significantly more reasonable than in other parts of Portugal.

Lisbon

Lisbon, Portugal's capital, is an excellent retirement destination for city lovers who want to be immersed in the perpetual bustle of major cities. And, because Portugal is among the top ten greatest countries in the world to retire, choosing to live in its capital city is choosing to live the best of the country's lifestyle.

There's always something to do and places to visit in Lisbon. There are modest, traditional coffee shops where you may have your morning coffee every day, as well as major avenues where you can shop in style, such as Liberty Avenue. There's the river with its cool wind and the 7 Lisbon hills to climb if you want to see the city from a different perspective.

This is a city where retiring will be simple, enjoyable, and safe. True, real estate is growing increasingly expensive, and living in the city's heart is no longer a possibility for many people. However, the surroundings are equally as nice, and the city is easily accessible by car, train, or subway.

For a variety of reasons, we are enthusiastic about living in Lisbon. However, there is a handful that convinces us that it checks all the boxes when it comes to determining the finest places to retire in Portugal:

  • Because it is the capital, there is always movement and activity;
  • The weather is pleasant for most of the year.
  • There are numerous stores and shopping malls to choose from;
  • It is close to other lovely spots worth seeing, like Cascais, Sintra, and Setbal;
  • There's a significant expat population to engage with
  • It's not as busy as other European capitals, and it's still one of Europe's most affordable places to relocate to. Portugal has been named the greatest place to live in 2020 by Forbes magazine.

Porto

The Portuguese have a saying about Porto: "Porto is a nation." And it aptly characterizes what you'll find if you choose to retire in this lovely city: incredible individuals who will melt your heart in a variety of ways. When it comes to receiving visitors and making them feel welcome and appreciated, the so-called "tripeiros" (Porto natives) are the ultimate hosts.

Porto is not a capital, but it does have the potential to become one. Empathy's capital city. Retiring here means meeting new people every day, seeing how friendly the locals are, and discovering everyone is.

It's the ideal spot for unwinding and savoring the unique Porto wine produced in the Douro Valley, as well as eating a "francesinha" in Café Santiago again and over.

Porto has a special place in our hearts because of everything it provides and how it makes us feel. In addition, we adore it for the following reasons:

  • The people - Have we mentioned the incredible individuals you'll meet there?
  • There is so much to see and do in Porto that it feels like a tiny town within a big city; it has too much to offer to be considered small, but it is too cozy to feel impersonal;
  • The food is fantastic — without a doubt, the locals are the best cooks in Portugal;
  • Everything is near and easily accessible; it is safe; and, while the weather is not as mild as in other parts of Portugal, summers are still pleasant, and winters are tolerable.

Porto isn't a place to live; it's a place to fall in love with and call home. You'll be doing this for the rest of your life.

Portugal's Best Travel Destinations

Portugal is divided into seven areas, which means there is enough to see and do, but there are even more reasons to make it a great pick and put it on your bucket list.

The country's history and culture and its gastronomy and wines are all major draws, not to mention the beaches, surfing, golf, diverse landscapes, and, above all, the friendly Portuguese people.

Travel guides, travel writers, bloggers, and the media from around the world who specialize in travel and tourism have all agreed that Portugal is a top-of-mind destination. What's more, do you know why Portugal is on everyone's mind? We'll give you a hint right now.

If you just have a few days, Lisbon and Porto are two beautiful destinations only a few hours away from most major European towns. Both are immersed in a river, which provides them with a unique and distinct environment.

Sun, Beach, and Sea

The Atlantic Ocean's presence and the climate, which features very sunny summers and moderate winters, make Portugal a year-round vacation destination known for sun, sea, and beach walks. The Portuguese coast is nearly a single beach that stretches for over 850 kilometers and offers various scenery that allows you to select between the rougher and calmer sea in the north and the warmer and more pleasant sea in the south.

Walking and cycling trips

Portugal is also a popular location for outdoor activities, whether they are more contemplative, such as bird watching, or more intense, such as canyoning, thanks to the Natural Parks and Reserves, Geoparks, and Biosphere Reserves designated by UNESCO. Following nature paths on foot or by bike has become a popular option for those who enjoy combining physical and mental activity in recent years.

Surfing

Portugal's mainland and the archipelagos of Madeira and the Azores provide excellent surfing conditions. However, surfers of all types will discover the largest locations with the shortest distance between them on the Portuguese coast. Furthermore, they will compete in events from the world's most prestigious championships, such as the Rip Curl Pro Portugal.

Peniche has ideal tubular waves, Nazareth [Nazaré] has huge waves, and Figueira da Foz has the longest in Europe. Meanwhile, Ericeira was Europe's first surfing reserve and the world's second. So, as you can see, you can visit Portugal multiple times and obtain a different wave each time!

World Heritage Sites

Portugal's 25 classifications represent the country's history and culture, as well as the peoples who have lived there since time immemorial. UNESCO designated historical and artistic monasteries and convents, remarkable structures, historical centers, and cultural landscapes that offer Portugal's most spectacular natural scenery.

Fado, the Cante Alentejano [Alentejo singing], and the Mediterranean diet are among the icons that reflect a way of being and how to be a people in their moments of celebration. However, some skills and crafts unite Intangible Cultural Heritage, such as rattle making, Bisalhes black pottery making, Royal Falconry art, Estremoz clay doll making, and the Podence Carnival.

A visit to these important contributions to world history is a must, and it's a great way to learn about Portugal from north to south.

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