Post Overview: Visiting Portugal? Roundup of the Best Things to Do in Portugal
Of all the countries I’ve visited to date, perhaps none has surprised me more than Portugal. Bursting with color and kindness, the country is ripe for exploration.
Just when you think you’ve discovered a true gem, you’ll be pleased to find another (and another). Even spending a full year in this charming country isn’t enough to cover the plethora of great things to do in Portugal.
Longtime readers of this blog know that I’m not one for small talk. So without further ado, let’s get to the good stuff.
Visiting Portugal? Here’s why you can trust me.
Fair question. I’m an avid world traveler from America. In the past five years, I’ve visited 30 countries with my husband and we’ve lived to tell the tale!
Portugal is one of my favorite countries to visit thanks to the colorful cities and incredible seafood. Plus, the kindness of the Portuguese people is hard to beat (one of our Uber drivers kissed us on the cheek when wishing us off — seriously!).
I’ve visited Portugal four times and have done month-long stints in both Lisbon (twice!) and Porto. By spending three full months in Portugal, I was able to base myself in the two most popular cities while getting an opportunity to explore the smaller towns and hidden gems.
I can offer you the perspective of an American tourist visiting Portugal. I’ve had enough time to weed through the tourist traps to offer you A robust list of the best things to do in Portugal based on firsthand experience.
Visiting Portugal | Best Things to Do Portugal
#1. Explore Lisbon
There’s no better way to start a list on the best things to do in Portugal than by covering the country’s colorful capital, Lisbon. Beloved by locals and visitors alike, the city has a magnetic appeal few can resist (myself included).
When I first visited Lisbon in 2018, I was completely unprepared for the charm of the city. Holy cow.
Colorful, affordable and the kindest locals you’ll ever meet, there’s so much to love about Lisbon, which makes it a great introduction for the rest of the country. As such, visiting Lisbon is non-negotiable for those in search of the best things to do in Portugal.
We spent a week visiting Lisbon yet felt the trip was far too short. We found ourselves (beyond) eager to return for the city’s youthful vibe and affordability. So when my husband and I got an opportunity to leave NYC during winter, Lisbon was at the forefront of our minds, so we decided to return for a full month.
We returned to Lisbon with excitement but tried to keep our expectations in check. You know how it goes, reality seldom lives up to romanticized memories from the past (summer! sangria!). Would were curious to see if the city would feel the same way the second time around.
Spoiler alert: hard yes. We loved the city so much the second time around that we returned the following February (2023) for another month-long stay. Yeah, I don’t know what to tell you apart from Lisbon is a wonderful place to explore.
Where to stay in Lisbon. If you haven’t booked accommodations yet, here’s my favorite hotel in Lisbon. It’s where I personally stay while visiting Lisbon for a few days. If you’re looking for luxury (way to go, you!) this is where we splurged for our honeymoon.
Best Things to Do Lisbon, Portugal
Alas, allow me to leave my sappy soapbox and get down to the brass tacks. Here’s the best things to do in Portugal’s lively capital.
- Get lost in Alfama. Wander aimlessly and you’ll find yourself pleasantly surprised by various viewpoints, old churches, people-watching opportunities, stores and cafes. There’s never a shortage of great things to see in Alfama, you can be sure of that.
- Visit the oldest bookstore in the world. Founded in 1732, Livraria Bertrand is officially the oldest bookstore in the world. Pop in and peruse the books for yourself, the staff is incredibly friendly and visiting the store is a treat. This experience shouldn’t be missed by anyone looking for the best things to do in Portugal.
- Catch sunset at Portas do Sol. Lisbon is known as the City of Seven Hills which means the panoramic views are ripe for the taking (if you’re willing to get your heart pumping). There’s no shortage of great viewpoints in Lisbon (known as “miroduoros” by the Portuguese). Portas do Sol is my personal favorite though, which is why I recommend catching sunset from here.
You May Enjoy Reading: 25 EPIC Things to Do in Lisbon, Portugal
#2. Discover the Beauty of Belem
Belem is a testament to the fascinating Middle Ages and the victories of the Portuguese during the age of discovery. No trip to Lisbon is complete without paying a visit to Belem.
While we’re on the topic of Lisbon, let’s talk about Belem. Technically located within Lisbon’s city limits, Belem warrants a visit for those interested in historic things to do in Portugal. This district is steeped with rich history that seeks to pay respect to the Age of Discovery (and Portugal’s wealth) through breathtaking architecture.
The Belem District is rather small so exploring it won’t talk longer than half a day. If you want to extend it to a full day trip, tack on the nearby LX Factory — an interesting converted warehouse space full of artsy stores, restaurants and cafes. The LX Factory is a short walk from the Monastery of Jerónimos, but you can hop in an Uber as well, up to you!
Things to Do in Belem:
- Tour the Monastery of Jerónimos. Built by King Manuel in the 15th century, the Monastery of Jerónimos is one of the most beautiful buildings in Lisbon (took 100+ years to construct!) and is often considered one of the most impressive Manueline-style buildings in the world.
- See Belem Tower. Sitting on the Tagus River, the Tower of Belém was built in the 16th Century and stood watch over the city, protecting Lisbon from pirates. It’s also the thing most explorers saw before sailing out to the unforgiving Atlantic Ocean. It’s an icon for Lisbon and shouldn’t be missed by anyone looking for the best things to do in Portugal.
- Admire Padrão dos Descobrimentos. Erected in 1960 to commemorate the 500th anniversary of Henry the Navigator, this is of the most famous monuments in the country so swing by while visiting Portugal.
- Try the most famous pastel de nata. Located in Belem, Casa Pastéis de Belém is known as the birthplace of the much-beloved Portuguese egg tart (the pastel de nata). Try the original was exploring Belem!
#3. Go Port Tasting in Porto
Porto, a charming coastal city best known for port wines, exudes authentic easy-going vibes while paying homage to a storied past. No proper Portugal itinerary is complete without paying a visit to Porto.
While visiting Portugal for the third time, we decided to finally make the trek north and explore Porto. We’ve heard so many great things about this charming port town and decided to see for ourselves if it warrants showing up on a list of the best things to do in Portugal.
Honestly speaking, Porto is one of the most interesting cities we’ve been to to date. Blame it on low expectations (I knew nothing going in), but I was completely surprised, even awestruck, by the vibe and beauty of this place.
Between the stately bridge and stunning tiled buildings, we were smitten. In fact, we enjoyed Porto so much that we extended our stay by two days and even the expense of having to purchase new train tickets didn’t deter us. The city is a joy to explore.
Much like Lisbon, Porto exudes an easy-going and relaxed vibe. The locals are equally friendly as the colorful homes are guaranteed to lift your spirits.
Porto Travel Tip: Here’s my favorite hotel in Porto (where I typically stay). It’s affordable, cozy, and has the best views of the Douro River. If you can’t live without luxury (way to go, you!) here’s the BEST hotel in town, hands down.
Fun Things to Do in Porto
Go port tasting. Getting a proper port tasting is undoubtedly one of the things to do Portugal. You need not look further than the libation’s birthplace, Porto. Ironically enough, port is not made in Porto but rather across the river in the town of Gaia (for tax reasons, I’m told). That small detail doesn’t have to stop you from partaking in some world-class porto tasting while visiting Porto.
All of the port cellars are located next to each other, simply pick the one you’re most interested in and sign up for a tour. If helpful, I recommend Sandman the most.
Visit the most beautiful bookstore in the world. Livrare Lello is considered the most beautiful bookstore in the world. As such, you can’t roundup of the best things to do in Portugal without mentioning this gem. Pay a visit for yourself and see what all the fuss is about, just be prepared for long lines.
Tickets must be purchased in advance. You can purchase tickets to skip the line for €15.
Try the Francesinha. It’s the most iconic dish in Porto and describing it is no easy feat. Essentially it’s a super-filling sandwich made with ham, sausage and steak, covered with melted cheese and topped with a generous portion of tomato and beer sauce. When in
Rome Porto, right?
You May Enjoy Reading: 20 Memorable Things to Do in Porto, Portugal
#4. Explore the Fairy-Tale Castles of Sintra
Every time I visit Portugal I find myself engrossed by the rich history of the country. It’s hard not to notice the wealth and influence the Portuguese had during the Age of Discovery. Nowhere is this more evident than in Sintra, largely thanks to the colorful castles and palaces peppered throughout the hills.
In many ways, exploring Sintra, Portugal feels like stepping foot into a colorful fairytale. Between the dreamy castles, kind locals and regal gardens, there’s no shortage of great things to do.
A mountainous town with breathtaking views and equally beautiful castles, there’s no denying that taking a day trip to Sintra is one of the best things to do in Portugal.
Heck, I’ve been to Sintra three times yet still pop over every time I’m visiting Portugal.
Even though the town is small, it feels like there’s always something new to discover, or at the very least – new cobble stone streets begging to be explored. If you’re visiting Sintra for the first time, I suggest taking a full day trip from Lisbon. The train is cheap (less than €3 per person) and only takes 40 minutes.
There’s quite a few castles to tour, if helpful, here’s the 5 most beautiful castles in Sintra (with photos). Spend the day exploring the two castles you’re most interested in, I suggest Pena Palace and Monserrate Palace before grabbing a bite to eat and heading home with tons of new memories.
Best things to Do in Sintra, Portugal
Tour Pena Palace. Pena Palace was originally a monastery that was reduced to ruins during the great earthquake of 1755. After the earthquake, the monastery was abandoned until King Ferdinand decided to transform it into a summer residence for the Portuguese royal family.
Fun fact: Queen Amelia (Portugal’s last queen), spent her final night at Pena Palace before leaving the country in exile.
Visit Monserrate Palace. imagined by an English millionaire by the name of Sir Francis Cook. Cook had a knack for world travel and his intent was to build a summer home that displayed his passion from the ruins of neo-gothic palace. At Monserrate Palace Arabic and Indian architectural styles are seamlessly blended together is a breathtaking sight to behold.
Visit Quinta da Regaleira. The whimsical gardens at Quinta da Regaleira mimic ancient secret orders, full of hidden tunnels and concealed symbolism. Visiting the Initiation Well housed at Quinta da Regaleira is considered one of the best things to do in Portugal, so you won’t want to miss it.
Take in the views from the Moorish Castle. Positioned at a high vantage point to provide protection over Sintra, Castelo dos Mouros was originally built in the 8th century. The sturdy castle fought off many would-be invasions, but fell to the Christian crusade in 1147.
You May Enjoy Reading: 10 Epic Things to Do in Sintra
#5. Go Wine Tasting in the Douro Valley
Few know that Portugal’s Alto Douro “high Douro” is the oldest demarcated wine region in the world. Romans planted vines more than 2,000 years ago after realizing the area’s ideal growing conditions. Fast forward several centuries to 1756 when official borders for the region became defined.
All this to say, there’s no reason to miss an opportunity to take a day trip to the country’s premier wine region while visiting Portugal. Located 3-hours drive from Porto, you can reach the valley by train, car or cruise and can make it a day trip or stay overnight, up to you!
If you’re a wine enthusiast, you’ll want to brush up on your knowledge of Portuguese wine beforehand. Spend some time researching the best wineries to visit, or sign up for a helpful tour.
Between the breathtaking views and delicious wine, you’ll see why visiting Douro Valley is considered one of the best things to do in Portugal.
If you don’t have the time to explore the Douro Valley while visiting Portugal, fret not. You can easily pick up a bottle of red, wine or port wine from the Douro Valley at any local grocery store. We usually get a $10 bottle and make an evening out of it.
#6. See the Western-Most Point in Europe
“If there is one portion of Europe which was made by the sea more than another, Portugal is that slice, that portion, that belt. Portugal was made by the Atlantic.”Hilaire Belloc
Want to see exactly where Europe begins (or ends, depending on how you look at it)? Head to Cabo da Roca, the wester-most point in Europe..
Visiting Cabo da Roca is considered one of the best things to do in Portugal because getting there requires little effort but the significance is profound. It’s a mere 20-minute scenic bus ride from Cascais and an hour long ride from Sintra.
The fare is €4.35 one-way and can be bought from the driver (have cash with you!).
Massive rock outcropping rise from the depths of the formidable Atlantic Ocean while a lighthouse offers some semblance of protection.
If you plan to visit Cabo da Roca then you’ll want to dress accordingly. The wind is incredibly strong so you’ll need to bring a warm jacket and snug warm hat (loose hats may fly off). We were freezing but hey — when else will you get an opportunity like this? I highly recommend adding a stop if you plan on visiting Portugal!
#7. Admire the World-Renowned Beaches of Lagos
Portugal has an impressive coastline of 586 miles, which means you’ll be spoiled for choice when it comes to beaches while visiting Portugal. The cream of the crop belongs to Lagos, a dreamy coastal town at the tip of southern Portugal.
The area has a handful of pretty beaches to choose from, but Ponta da Piedade takes the cake by a country mile. Other beaches to check out are: Ponta da Piedade (Mercy Point), Praia da Dona Ana and Praia do Camilo. I’m hardly the first to tell you that spending an easy-going weekend on a lazy beach is one of the best things to do in Portugal.
#8. Explore the Famous Benagil Sea Cave
Found in the charming southern coast of the central Algarve, the Benagil Sea Cave has become an internet sensation in recent years. People travel from all over the world to see this remarkable seaside cave for themselves.
Reachable by boat or kayak, exploring the Benagil Sea Cave is one of the most popular things to do in Portugal and it’d be a shame for you to miss it. Swimming to the cave is not advisable because the currents are very strong in the area.
Known for the distinctive hole in its roof, this cave reminds me of the Roman Pantheon’s oculus. The cave gets very busy with tourists in the summer months, so it’s best to visit during low tourist season. If helpful, I recommend booking a boat ride with Tridente Boat Trips.
#9. Visit the (Breathtaking) University of Coimbra
Established in 1920, the University of Coimbra is one of the oldest in the world. Which makes touring it one of the best things to do in Portugal. Located in Coimbra, a large city 2 hours north of Lisbon, don’t sleep on the opportunity to explore the area.
The city’s shining star is undoubtedly the university’s Joanine Library. The university itself achieved UNESCO World Heritage Site status in 2013 and is open for tours every day of the week.
#10. See the Thought-Provoking Chapel of Bones
Located 1.5 hours from Lisbon by train, Évora is a historically rich Roman city that has earned UNESCO World Heritage Status. More like a small town, this largest draw is the fascinating Chapel of Bones inside of Sao Francisco Church.
Decorated with bones from more than 5,000 corpses, it’s safe to say the chapel is aptly named. But before you write this off as one of the most morbid things to do in Portugal, hear me out. The chapel was built in the 17th century by Franciscan monks who strove to get visitors to contemplate mortality.
The entrance of the chapel is flanked by a profound inscription that reads: “We bones that are here await yours.”
A thought-provoking poem by Father Antonio da Ascencao takes center stage in the chapel. It reads:
“Where are you going in such a hurry traveler? Pause… do not advance your travel; You have no greater concern Than this one: that on which you focus your sight.
Recall how many have passed from this world, Reflect on your similar end, There is good reason to reflect If only all did the same.
Ponder, you so influenced by fate, Among all the many concerns of the world, So little do you reflect on death;
If by chance you glance at this place, Stop… for the sake of your journey, The more you pause, the further on your journey you will be.”Father Antonio da Ascencao
Apart from the Chapel of Bones, you should visit the Cathedral of Évora and take in the panoramic views from the roof. Also check out the Templo Romano Évora (referred to as Templo de Diana), the famous Roman Temple next to the cathedral. The temple dates back to the 1st century A.D, imagine!
#11. Relax in Cascais
Sitting pretty at the western edge of the Tagus estuary, hugged by the breathtaking Sintra mountainside to the north and the Atlantic Ocean to the west, Cascais (pronounced “cash-kai-sh) is Portugal’s dreamy coastal town. Thankfully, there’s no shortage of fun to be had while visiting Cascais.
Located on the Portuguese Riviera, Cascais rose to prominence as a desirable seaside resort when the royal family made it their official summer residence. In typical fashion, nobility followed suit and before long, Cascais became a playground for the wealthy.
One of the reasons I consider a day trip to Cascais as one of the best things to do in Portugal is simple. First, the city is less than an hour from Lisbon, and second, the beaches are beautiful! Plus, if you’re visiting Portugal during the off season (in winter) you can score a great deal of hotels.
Because we were visiting in the off-season, we scored a deal on this historic hotel (steal of a deal for 5 star hotel) to celebrate a special occasion. Admittedly, the town is sleepy in the winter months but in many ways it’s more enjoyably.
In the winter seasons crowds are few and sunshine is plenty, this was a great addition to our Portugal itinerary and I think you may enjoy it as well.
Further Reading: (Coming Soon) Best Things to Do in Cascais, Portugal
Have extra time? More Cool Things to Do in Portugal
Relax in the Azores
Characterized by epic landscapes of dramatic cliffs, green pastures and rustic fishing villages, the Azores are an archipelago in the mid-Atlantic. Because the islands are so remote, you’ll need to hop on a plane to reach them.
Thankfully there’s plenty of daily flights between Lisbon and the Azores. The flight takes about 2.5 hours each way, so I suggest spending at least three days exploring the islands.
Óbidos is a medieval town located one hour northeast from Lisbon. Like all great medieval cities, you’ll find a well preserved castle, hilly streets, historic buildings and interesting architecture. The entire town is such a joy to explore.
The town was very important to Porteguese royals. It was gifted to Queen Isabel by her husband, king Dinis, in the 13th century. She was keen on enriching the town with glory fit for royalty and spared no expense in making it beautiful (and holy). The town has a plethora of fascinating churches to explore, which is why paying a visit is one of the best things to do in Portugal.
An archipelago consisting of 4 islands, Maideira is located off the coast of northwest Africa. best known for its namesake wine and irresistible tropical climate. The main island is full of rugged green beauty thanks to the volcanic soil it sits on.
Full of pebbly beaches, stunning cliffs and breathtaking sea views, spending a few days relaxing in this island paradise is one of the best things to do in Portugal.
P.S. Christiano Ronaldo was born in Madeira’s Capital, Funchal.
Visit Portugal’s Only National Park
For as beautiful as the country’s nature is, Portugal surprisingly only has one national park. Located in the northwest end of the country, Peneda-Gerês is a breathtaking sight to behold. The stunning mountainous landscapes is home to unique species of wildlife like the Castro Laboreiro dog breed and wild garrano horses.
Nature nuts searching for the best things to do in Portugal can’t afford to miss Peneda-Gerês .
Portugal Best Things to Do (Post Summary)
In sum, here’s a roundup of the best things to do in Portugal. Hope you enjoyed!
- Explore Lisbon
- Discover the beauty of Belem
- Go Port Tasting in Porto
- Explore the fairy-tale castles of Sintra
- Go wine tasting in the Douro Valley
- See the western-most point in Europe
- Admire the world-renowned beaches in Lagos
- Explore the famous Benagil Sea Cave
- Visit the University of Coimbra
- See the famous skull church in Évora
- Relax in Cascais
- Visit Portugal’s only national park
- Explore Obidos
- Visit Maideira
- Relax in the Azores
Map of the best things to do in Portugal | Visiting Portugal
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