Planning a vacation to the beautiful country of Portugal? Below you will find a list of what I consider the top 25 must see places in Portugal.
While fairly small, this popular destination is nonetheless packed with things to see and do. With photos and tons of relevant information I have created this guide to make your travel planning a little easier. Even without knowing your specific interests this list should prove extremely beneficial to all as it includes sites for those interested in:
Historical cities and castles
Quaint little villages
Rugged and beautiful natural landscapes
Use this list to put together your itinerary based on your interests and length of visit. For most people, a visit of at least a month would be required to visit all sites listed. As most people simply don’t have this much time to spend on their vacation this list should make planning your itinerary that much easier.
25 Must See Places in Portugal
#1 - Sintra
Long a royal playground this small town and its accompanying area are arguably the number one attraction in Portugal and if not so are definitely in contention. Three can’t miss attractions include:
- National Palacio de Sintra – a fairytale castle come to life
- Palacio de Pena
- Palacio de Queluz (located between Lisbon and Sintra)
From different time periods they are totally different in style and are all stand alone attractions in their own right.
Why Visit Sintra?
If these sights weren’t enough in their own right additional places worth seeing include:
- Castle of the Moors
- Quinta da Regaleira
- Monserrate Palace
- Parque Natural de Sintra-Cascais
- Considered part of the Portuguese Riviera
This UNESCO World Heritage Site is a must on any Portugal itinerary, a short distance from Lisbon, make the day trip at all costs, 2 days is better.
Lisbon to Sintra – 30 min. – 29 Km. one way.
Take the A5 highway west until reaching and exiting on the A9 highway north. Just past Queluz take the A16 highway and continue on the highway until exiting on the N249 highway into Sintra.
From Porto the trip is over 330 kilometres long and can be completed in about 3 hours. Take the A1 expressway south and continue until exiting on the A10 expressway towards Lisbon near Carregado.. The A10 ends at the A9 highway, exit towards Lisbon. Near Queluz exit from the A9 back onto the A16 expressway and follow right to the exit for the N249 highway into Sintra.
The journey to Sintra is a popular day excursion by train from the capital and there is a train departing from Lisboa Santa Apolonia station every ½ hour throughout the day. The entire journey takes just 55 minutes (one way).
From Porto, the journey is about 4 hours long.
The short journey to Sintra is a popular day trip from Lisbon and you will find numerous companies offering tours to the area.
GPS co-ordinates: 38.8029 N, 9.3816 W
#2 - Lisbon
The capital and largest city of Portugal, Lisbon is a must visit on almost all Portugal itineraries. With a rich history and being at the epicentre of Portuguese culture, there are so many attractions and things to do in the city you can easily fill up a week’s worth of your vacation time.
Why visit Lisbon?
Almost 600,000 people in the city proper and almost 3 million people in the Greater Lisbon Metropolitan Area and it is one of the oldest cities in western Europe.
Must see sites in and around the city include:
- The Belem area
- Belem Tower
- Jeronimos Monastery
- Castelo de Sao Jorge
- Museo National de Arte Antiga
- Monument to the Discoveries
- Museo Calouste Gulbekian
- Museo National do Azulejo
Nearby: a lot of the sites on this list including Sintra only ½ hour or so away
Self Drive and Getting Around
Driving in the city itself is not really recommended. Traffic is heavy, the old streets are narrow and not really car friendly and there is absolutely no parking. If you must drive insist on a hotel that provides guest parking whether complimentary or not.
Getting around Lisbon without a vehicle is not really an issue as it is well served by:
An underground subway (metro) system consisting of 4 lines that travel to the main touristic areas. This is the quickest way to travel throughout the city and to get from the airport to the city center.
A vintage electric tram system consisting of 5 lines mainly covers the southern parts of the city. A few funiculars still remain to assist passengers up and down steep hills.
The city is covered by an extensive bus system that services all areas of the core and surrounding regions.
Lisbon is also the central terminus for the country’s rail system and it is possible to hop on board a train to travel to any destination on the mainland serviced by rail.
Ferries travel up and down the Tagus river in central Lisboa and make frequent journeys from one bank to the other.
There are numerous tours visiting the various sites throughout the city and surrounding areas.
GPS co-ordinates: 38.7369 N, 9.1426 W
# 3 - Porto
This former Roman fort located near the mouth of the Douro River in the far north is the country’s second largest city and its historic center is a UNESCO World Heritage Site. As far as I’m concerned it is a must see destination on any trip to Portugal as this small city rising from the banks of the river with its red clay topped buildings is simply beautiful.
Add in the picturesque landmark bridge that spans the Douro at its center and you can easily get lost for a week in its core and surrounding countryside.
Why visit Porto?
Very historic it is still the second largest city in the country with 250,000 inhabitants and the population soars to almost 2.5 million in the Porto metropolitan region.
The famous “port” wine is named after the city and even today the city sits at the epicentre of the Portuguese wine industry.
Porto also makes for a great base for exploring northern Portugal and its numerous historic sights and small communities.
The city is well served by a network of major highways including the A1 to Lisbon approximately 3 hours away.
Once inside the city there is a small metro line and tram line and an extensive bus system that allows you to travel to any desired destination.
Porto is the northern hub of the country’s rail system and is well served and easy to reach by rail from most major communities in the country. Trains departs Lisboa’s Santa Apolonia Station throughout the day bound for the city and the entire journey takes a little over 3 hours.
There are many tours guiding visitors through the city and surrounding regions.
GPS co-ordinates: 41.1579 N, 8.629 W
# 4 - The Algarve
While maybe not fair to include a whole region by itself, especially its most popular tourist destination, but the area is beautiful with stunning coastline and beaches, with each small town and city a destination in its own right.
While relatively small in size the Algarve region is steeped in history and packed with things to see and do.
Fortunately, the entire area along the coast is heavily developed and reliant on tourism so there are many hotels of all sizes, restaurants, resorts etc. Perfect for the overseas vacationer.
Why visit the Algarve?
The southernmost region of mainland Portugal it is the most popular tourist destination in the country and one of the most popular in all of Europe. With a warm climate, beautiful beaches and being relatively inexpensive when compared to the rest of Europe it is easy to see why the former independent kingdom of Al-Gharb has become one of the most popular tourist destinations on the planet.
Please note that the region becomes extremely hot during the summer months.
Leaving Lisbon along the A2 motorway it takes about 2 ½ hours to reach the borders of the Algarve region and about 2 hours 45 minutes to reach the City of Faro, the regional capital.
The drive is relatively straight forward and easy to complete. The highway is well maintained and traffic is very light. To me. Self-driving the Algarve is the best option as it allows you the freedom to fully explore this incredible region in depth.
There are 5 trains daily departing from Lisbon to Faro with the entire journey taking just under 4 hours to complete. From Porto expect the entire journey to take about 6 – 7 hours.
There is also a train that connects most of the major population centers in the region but due to terrain difficulties some of the stations are located quite far from the main resort areas.
The local bus services run throughout the region and it is fairly easy and inexpensive to travel by public transportation throughout the Algarve region.
GPS co-ordinates (Faro) 37.019356 N, 7.930440 W
# 5 - Madeira
While this may be another entire region of the country it is also its smallest. Located southwest of mainland Portugal just off the coast of Morocco in Africa this small island is a tropical paradise with perfect weather and spectacular natural scenery.
Long favoured as a winter tourist destination by northern Europeans including many English, Dutch and Germans, its tourist infrastructure is well developed. Its capital Funchal is a destination in its own right with many a cruise ship making it a regular port of call.
Why visit Madeira?
Looking to escape to a tropical paradise during the long winter then look no further than the beautiful island of Madeira. While it may be lacking in beaches this small island nonetheless experiences an almost perfect year round climate making it perfect for sun worshippers to enjoy lounging under its warm rays.
If a day or two at the beach is a must on your vacation Madeira also has that covered as its sister island of Porto Santo just a short ½ day trip away has a spectacular 9-kilometre stretch of gorgeous white sand.
The mountainous interior contains some breathtaking scenery and combined with the perfect year round climate and friendly locals this tiny island makes for a perfect holiday destination.
Self driving to Madeira is not an option as it is an island located 967 kilometres southwest of the mainland. Once on the island self-driving is also not recommended as the roads are narrow, very steep and sometimes have extremely dangerous drop-offs. A better option is to hire a driver or take one of the numerous organized tours.
There is no train service to or from the tiny island. There is also no train service on the island itself. A public bus transportation system services most of the island.
A daily ferry service is in operation from Madeira to the nearby Canary Islands of Spain. There no longer is any ferry service from the mainland of Portugal to Madeira.
GPS co-ordinates (Funchal) 32.6693 N, 16.92406 W
# 6 - The Azores Islands
These remote islands in the middle of the Atlantic Ocean are known for their stunning natural beauty in addition to their relatively modest climate due to the moderating ocean currents surrounding them.
An entire region of Portugal in itself it is nevertheless so isolated from the rest of the country that any potential visitor will most likely not be utilizing it for a stopover. For many it is the only destination to the country in itself and they spend their entire vacations travelling amongst the various islands.
Why visit the Azores?
While fairly remote and isolated from the rest of Europe the 9 islands are a very popular tourist destination due to their spectacular natural scenery. Located 1360 kilometres west of mainland Portugal the volcanic islands have a fairly mild climate despite their northern location and each island is very different in culture, cuisine and terrain.
The islands are divided into 3 main subgroups and are all worth visiting in their own right.
Self driving to the Azores is not an option as they are islands located in the middle of the Atlantic Ocean.
There is no train option to and from the islands or on any of the islands themselves. Travel between the various islands can be done by either air or boat as there are regular ferry services between the main islands and also regular air services between the mainland and the islands main population centers.
Once on the islands a public bus transportation system exists linking the main communities.
GPS co-ordinates (Ponta Delgada) 37.742830 N, 25.680587 W
# 7 - Monsanto
Remote as it may be the long haul out to this small town located in the rugged mountains is very well worth it. With houses built into the hillside strung amongst these incredibly huge boulders it is a sight unlike anywhere else in the country.
Consistently ranked as one of the must see small towns of Portugal it is easy to see why.
Why visit Monsanto?
This small fortified village sits on top of a 400 metres (1300 feet) hill and is often called “The most Portuguese village in Portugal.” A stroll to the small Templar castle at the top of the village rewards visitors with some beautiful views over the surrounding countryside.
It is not the views that draws throngs of visitors to this small community however, it is the unique beauty of the residents tiny houses jammed in between humongous boulders that make this place special. A visit to Monsanto is sure to leave a lasting impression on any visitor and it is highly recommended to include a side trip to this small town on any Portugal itinerary.
Located in rugged hilly terrain close to the Spanish border the town may be isolated but it is still relatively easy to reach.
From Lisbon it is about a 3 hour drive (276 kilometres) . Take the A1 motorway north towards Porto then at the small town of Alcacena take the A23 highway east towards Castelo Branco. After passing Castelo Branco head northeast along the N233 highway until reaching the exit to the N239 highway that leads directly past Monsanto.
From Porto the journey is slightly longer at just over 3 hours (288 kilometres) but still very easy to undertake. Head south out of the city on the A1 motorway. Near the town of Albergaria-a-Velha head east along the A25 motorway towards the Spanish border. At the small village of Arrifana head south along the A23 highway.
Stay on the A23 until exiting at the N345/N346 highway towards the town of Caria. Continue traveling along this highway through the rolling hills until reaching the town of Penamacor. Exit south on the N332 highway that will lead you right past Monsanto.
Self drive is the recommended method of reaching the town but for those that wish to utilize public transportation it is still possible to reach Monsanto.
Trains depart daily from Lisbon and Porto to nearby Castelo Branco. The usual journey is about 3 ½ hours. From Castelo Branco it is easy to hop on a bus to make the short journey to Monsanto.
Alternatively, public bus transportation is available directly to Monsanto from both Lisbon or Porto and thus most major Portuguese communities.
GPS co-ordinates 40.021690 N, 7.065300 W
# 8 - Bom Jesus de Monte Monastery
One of the highlights of any trip to this small Iberian country it is arguably its most memorable religious attraction. Situated on a hilltop just outside the small northern city of Braga its magnificent Baroque stairway leading to the top must be seen to be believed.
Any visitor is sure to remember this incredible site where the first chapel was built in 1373 and it is well worth the trip north out of the city of Porto.
Why visit Bom Jesus?
A real “stairway to heaven” as its magnificent staircase climbs 116 metres (381 feet) to the religious sanctuary at the top of the hill. The church however isn’t the highlight of this site as it is definitely the “Via Scara” staircase that zig-zags its way up the hill that is the star of the show. While other sites (ie: Lamego) have similar structures none can hold a candle to the beautiful Bom Jesus de Monte.
Visited by Pope Francis himself in 2015 see why the pope made the journey to this small pilgrimage site in northern Portugal.
Located just east of the small northern city of Braga the sanctuary is not the easiest to find as adequate signage is lacking and it is located off the main highway. It is however only a short journey from the city and it is definitely worth the effort and any inconveniences.
From the city of Braga head east along the N103/N101 for about ½ hour. The exit to the sanctuary (Road da Republica) is opposite the campus of the University do Minho, hang a right and head up the road for approx. 5 minutes until you see a small sign that points to the site.
The city of Braga is regularly serviced by train and is easily reached from most places in the country.
Once in Braga however you will need to either take public transportation (bus) or rent a car as the site is located outside the city proper.
GPS co-ordinates 41.5547 N, 8.3771 W
# 9 - Guimaraes
Another highlight of the north is this small town known as the birthplace of the nation as it was made the first capital of the new country of Portugal in 1139. Its medieval castle dominates the historic town center and its battlements are even today awe inspiring.
When you think of a picture post card medieval castle in Europe Guimaraes should always come to mind.
Why visit Guimaraes?
See where the country of Portugal was born. The 10th century castle and accompanying town is a UNESCO World Heritage Site.
The medieval town is well preserved and its narrow cobblestoned streets are flanked with stone buildings of the period giving visitors a splendid walk back in time.
The small city is located just a few minutes southeast of the City of Braga in the north of the country. Relatively easy to drive to no matter what your staring point on the mainland as it is intersected by the A7 and A11 motorways.
From Porto it is a short 55 Kilometres taking about 45 minutes. Take the E1/A3 from Porto until reaching the exit towards Guimaraes.
From Lisbon the journey is just as easy albeit quite a bit longer. Simply take the E1 north right into the city. The journey is about 3505 Kilometres in length and should take about 3 ½ hours to complete.
Guimaraes is easily reached by train from either Lisbon or Porto. From Lisbon the journey takes about 4 ½ hours while from Porto it can be completed in approximately 1 ½ hours. Public bus transportation is also readily available.
GPS co-ordinates: 41.2647 N, 8.1728 W
# 10 - Tomar
Of special interest to military history buffs as this small town and its Convento de Cristo were the headquarters and main base for the Knights Templar, and the subsequent Order of Christ, in Portugal. During the middle ages and into the age of discovery it was from here that the Christian Knights spread their word throughout the world.
Today, their former headquarters make for a must see visit on most itineraries that include more than a few days in Lisbon.
Why visit Tomar?
Construction of the castle and monastery was first started in the mid 11th century and the resultant splendid Templar sanctuary seen today is an excellent example of medieval architecture. It is however its ties to the mythical Knights Templar and the subsequent Oder of Christ that draws history buffs from across the world as for centuries this site was at the epicentre of the Age of Discovery.
It was from here that the Order’s Grand Master sent his members around the world exploring the planet and converting millions of people to Christianity.
A true gem of world history this UNESCO World Heritage Site is not to be missed.
The small city of Tomar is located a short drive north of Lisbon almost halfway between Lisbon and Porto along the main E1/A13 highway. Approximately 137 kilometres away it can be completed in about 1 ½ hours.
The self drive option is recommended as a visit to Tomar can be combined on a day trip with many other sights located within a relatively short driving distance.
Regular train service is available to the small town from both Lisbon and Porto. From Lisbon the journey takes about 2 ½ hours while from the northern city of Porto the journey will take approximately 3 ¼ hours.
GPS co-ordinates 39.60353 N, -8.41880 W
# 11 - Obidos
Driving up to the town is like stepping back in time to the middle ages. Immaculately kept white washed houses enclosed by stunning city walls that stretch around the town and located at the very top, a dominating castle.
Picture postcard-like this small town should be included on most Portugal itineraries.
Why visit Obidos?
With one of the most photogenic locations in the entire country the picturesque town just north of Lisbon simply MUST be included on your itinerary. Look at some images online. The round turrets fronting the small castle, the walls seemingly undulating across the countryside, the beautiful whitewashed homes interlaced with immaculately kept gardens and streets make it a photographers nirvana.
Steeped in history, it will also satisfy the appetite of most history buffs.
Now catering mostly to tourists, the narrow cobblestoned streets are lined with restaurants and quaint little shops.
Located along a well travelled tourist route between Coimbra and Lisbon take the A8 highway north out of Lisbon for a little over an hour. Obidos is well marked as it is a major tourist attraction in the region and is regularly voted amongst its prettiest towns.
From Porto I would say stay on the E1 highway south until passing the City of Leira at which time merge onto the A8 south into Obidos.
Obidos is well connected by train and can be easily reached from both north and south. From Porto expect the journey to take anywhere from 4- 5.5 hours while from Lisbon 2.5 hours is the norm.
GPS co-ordinates 39.3604 N, 9.1582 W
# 12 - Marvao
Guarding the border with Spain like an impregnable sentry the castle at the top of the almost 3000 foot high granite outcrop dominates the area. Like stepping back in time to when the Moors controlled the region the village within the walls of this outstanding example of military engineering is well worth a visit.
One of the gems of the Alentejo region it is well worth the effort to see this off the beaten path attraction.
Why visit Marvao?
This marvellous tiny walled village once played a supremely important role in the countries defence. Now it is an underappreciated testament to a forgotten time.
Particularly well preserved despite the numerous military assaults over time it remains isolated and little visited. This makes it appealing to many as you can usually walk the small cobblestoned streets relatively alone and quietly admire the architecture of a bygone era.
Many visitors choose to stay overnight and are usually rewarded with historic streets devoid of any tourists and very few locals. Photographers will find this especially appealing as you can set up a tripod and take some stunning long exposure shots throughout the town.
On the UNESCO World Heritage Site’s tentative list.
Other than an organized tour this really is one of the only other options for reaching Marvao. Located very near the Spanish frontier it really is in the Portuguese hinterland.
From Lisbon head north along the E1 motorway, near the small town of Zibreira take the exit to the A23 highway heading west. At the hamlet of Gardete, exit and head south on the E802. At the village of Apalhao take the N246 highway towards Castelo de Vide. Just pass this town you will see signs to Marvao along the M1033 highway to the N359 highway. Exit the N359 to make your way to the top of Marvao. The entire journey is about 235 kilometres and will take almost 3 hours one way,
From Porto, head south along the E1 motorway. At Avelar exit and head southeast along the IC8 highway. At the highway’s end, take the E806/A23 highway. At the village of Gardete continue on the E802 highway, NOT the A23.
At the village of Apalhao take the N246 highway towards Castelo de Vide. Just pass this town you will see signs to Marvao along the M1033 highway to the N359 highway. Exit the N359 to make your way to the top of Marvao. Expect the entire journey to take 3.5 hours as you will travel approximately 300 kilometres one-way.
The hilltop town is not accessible by train as it really is out of the way and isolated from most major modern transportation corridors.
GPS co-ordinates 39.3939 N, 7.3765 W
# 13 - Coimbra
Of special historical importance to most Portuguese as for over 100 years it served as the capital of the country this small city located on a hilltop alongside a bend in the Mondego River is also very beautiful. Founded by the Romans millenniums ago its medieval town center is perfectly preserved as is its university, the oldest in the country.
Still a university town today it bristles with life in its many café’s and restaurants.. Located between Porto and Lisbon it makes for a good place to spend a night or two visiting its historic core and the nearby attractions.
Why visit Coimbra?
For many this small city is considered “the 3rd city of Portugal”. Located on a time worn route between Lisbon and Porto it has long been an important stopover along the way.
In fact, one of the major attractions in the region is located just south of the city near the small town of Condeixa-a-Nova where the significant Roman site of Conimbriga is to be found.
One of the most important Roman era sites in the entire country if not the entire Iberian Peninsula it is one of the must see attractions if visiting the area.
Coimbra has been important since ancient times and you can find signs of the heritage at different spots throughout the city. Whilst still more modern, its university is still very historic and well worth reserving a couple of hours in itself for visiting.
You cant miss Coimbra if travelling from north to south or visa versa in Portugal as it sits astride its main north south axis the A1/E1 motorway.
From Lisboa the journey is 203 kilometres and takes just over 2 hours to complete.
From Porto the journey is 122 kilometres and takes about 1.5 hours to complete.
The city sits along the main north south railway line and is thus very easy to reach from almost anywhere in the country.
Direct trains leave Porto frequently and take about an hour.
Trains from Lisbon leave just as frequently but take about 2 hours to complete.
GPS co-ordinates 40.2033 N, 8.4103 W
# 14 - Evora
This small city was founded by the Romans and their splendid temples remain at the heart of its historic center. A UNESCO World Heritage Site it is one of the jewels of the Alentejo region.
An easy day trip from Lisbon or a short diversion if making the trip from Lisbon to the Algarve it is a historic treat and is worth at minimum a half day visit.
Why visit Evora?
The Roman ruins alone make the trip to this small city well worth the effort. The aqueduct and “Temple of Diana” are amongst the finest Roman ruins on the Iberian Peninsula.
Its historic core is a designated UNESCO World Heritage Site and is small and compact enough to walk around and spend a few hours exploring it restaurants and shops.
Located along the main transportation route from Lisbon to the Spanish border and city of Badajoz the city has been important for millennia even though its height was long ago.
Very easy to get to from Lisbon, take the A2/A6 highway until the N114 highway exit into Evora. The drive is 134 kilometres and takes about 1.5 hours.
From Porto the journey is still fairy easy to complete even though it is over 400 kilometres long and takes almost 4 hours to complete. Take the E1 motorway south to the town of Corregado at which time you exit east on the A10 highway which subsequently merges with the A13 highway. At the roundabout, take the A6 highway towards Evora until the N114 highway exit into the city.
It is possible to travel to the city from Port by train but it is a fairly long journey and usually involves transfers (in Lisbon). Expect the journey to take 8 hours or longer. Bus is probably a better option as even with transfers the journey can usually be accomplished in about 5 – 6 hours and is much cheaper.
From Lisbon it is a different story as the service is regular, frequent and takes about 2 hours to complete.
GPS co-ordinates 38.5714 N, 7.9135 W
# 15 - Batalha
The major site in the small town is the Santa Maria da Vitoria na Batalha. This gem of Gothic architecture is also a UNESCO World Heritage Site dating from the 1400’s and built to mark an important victory over the Spanish that thereby secured Portuguese independence. This magnificent church with its towering spires leaves a visual impression that wont soon be forgotten.
Why visit Batalha?
Probably the only reason to visit is too see the above mentioned Christian monastery which many will find awe inspiring. Also containing royal tombs and tombs of other important nobles the site has a long pilgrimage history.
Expect to spend 1- 2 hours visiting one of Portugal’s can’t miss attractions.
While just a little off the main highways the town of Batalha is still very easy to reach.
From Lisbon take the A1 highway north then take the N1/IC2 right into the town. Approximately 121 kilometres in distance expect the trip to take almost 2 hours to complete.
From Porto, travel south on the A1/E1 until reaching Leira, exit on the A8. In Porceiros take the IC2 into Batalha. The 195 kilometre trip should take about 2 hours to complete.
Located off the main north south routes direct train travel is not possible.
GPS co-ordinates 39.6583 N, 8.8241 W
# 16 Alcobaca
This small city north of Lisbon is noted for its main attraction, a church dating from the age of Portugal’s founding, this UNESCO World Heritage Site remains the country’s largest church After many additions throughout the ages the monastery is a sight to behold, its façade especially humbling.
Why visit Alcobaca?
This splendid example of medieval architecture, the Mosterio de Santa Maria de Alcobaca, was originally constructed between 1153-1223. It was dedicated by Portugal’s first king Alfonso Henriques to commemorate his victory over the Moors at nearby Santarem.
Close to other nearby religious, historic and recreational attractions. A stop in Alcobaca is usually on the list for most visitors to:
At the church itself, expect to spend an hour of two at most exploring the:
- Royal Tombs
- Monks quarters
- Central Nave
Very easy to get to, the city is located about 1.5 hours (120 kilometres) north of Lisbon. Simply take the A8/E1 Motorway north to the small town of Volado dos Frados then exit on the N8-5 which leads right to the monastery about 10 minutes (6 kilometers) away.
From Porto the entire journey is 212 kilometres long and takes about 2 hours to complete. Take the A1 motorway heading south. Near to community of Sobreiro take the A25 highway heading west. After crossing the Vouge River take the exit to the A17 highway south. At the town of Albergaria merge with the A8 highway.
At the small town of Volado dos Frados exit on the N8-5 which leads directly past the monastery about 6 kilometres down the road.
Located off the main north south routes direct train travel is not possible.
GPS co-ordinates 39.5487 N, 8.9796 W
# 17 - Douro Valley
The river at the historic heart of the country remains the center of its winemaking industry today. Known the world over for its Port wine the terraced cliffs of this UNESCO World Heritage Site are also home to some of the finest wines in the country.
Beautiful terraced vineyards grace the rivers banks in between small quiet hamlets that beckon for you to spend a day or two. A river cruise through the Douro Valley is a must for many people making their first trip to the country.
Why visit the Douro River Valley?
A day tour of a few wineries is a popular daytime excursion from Porto but for those with a little more time an overnight excursion allows you to also visit a few of the beautiful little towns along its banks.
- Peso da Regua
- Vale de Figueira
In addition to the multitude of wine tasting tours you can also hop about a cruise of the vine lined banks in traditional rapelo boats. These boats are native to the Douro River and the port wine industry and can be found no where else in the world.
For many, a day or two in the Douro River valley is a must on any itinerary to the country as it along with the historic city near its mouth represent quintessential Portugal.
A self drive tour really allows you to fully appreciate the beauty of this historic region as you can pick and choose what sights and attractions you want to visit and are not restricted to a tour group with a set itinerary.
From Porto take the A4 expressway east towards Vila Real. Take the A24/IP3 expressway exit #11 towards Peso da Regua. The trip should take about 1 hour and 20 minutes and is 117 kilometres in distance.
Alternatively you could tke the A24/IP3 expressway exit #13 towards Pinhao.. The trip should take about 1 hour 45 minutes and is 128 kilometers in distance.
From Lisbon the journey to Pinhao takes about 4 hours and is approximately 380 kilometres in total distance.
Head north out of the city on the A1/E1 expressway. At Coimbra continue north on the IP3 expressway. The IP# will eventually merge to become the A24 highway. Continue on the A24 until just before you hit the Douro River. Take exit# 10 from the A24 onto the N313 highway,. At the river, take the N222 highway into Pinhao.
A train trip to Pinhao is a popular daytime excursion for locals and tourists alike. The journey becomes very scenic about an hour out of Porto and the entire trip takes only about 2 1/2 hours with the last hour or so following the course of the meandering river.
Reaching Pinhao from Lisbon is possible but you would first have to travel and transfer in Porto. Expect the entire journey to take well over 8 hours with transfer and wait time included.
GPS co-ordinates 41.1910 N, 7.5462 W (Pinhao)
# 18 - Lagos
Located on a gorgeous stretch of Algarve coastline this small town should be visited if due only to its infamy as having the first slave market in Europe and being at the epicentre of the slave trade for over 200 years.
Once at the forefront of the country’s seafaring explorations today the small fort at the tiny port where thousands of lost souls poured through is a sombre reminder to a terrible past.
Nowadays Lagos is mainly known for its outstanding beaches and top notch tourist facilities. Set on a beautiful bay this small town facing the Atlantic is on most Algarve itineraries.
Why visit Lagos?
Surrounded by some of the best beaches on the Algarve coastline Lagos has long been one of the premier Portuguese tourist destinations for decades. A favourite amongst fellow Europeans expect to find many English, Dutch and French tourists worshiping the sun on its golden sands.
One of the busier places along the coast due to its extensive collection of hotels, fine restaurants and clubs etc.
Very easy to get to from Lisbon the short journey of 300 kilometres takes less than 3 hours thus making it a popular day trip from the urban sprawl. Simply follow the A2 highway out of the city all the way until its end at the A22. Take the A22 to Lagos.
From Porto the trip is a bit longer at 5 hours (with luck) making it a still doable trip in a day. From Porto take the A1/E1 south all the way until exiting on the A13 near Santarem. Continue on the A13 until it ends at the A2. Take the A2 towards the Algarve. Continue on the A2 until its end at the A22. Take the A22 to Lagos. The entire trip is approximately 575 kilometres.
The direct Lisbon to Lagos train takes just over 4 hours to complete. From Porto the entire journey can be done in 6 ½ hours if able to catch the right combination of trains.
GPS co-ordinates 37.1028 N, 8.6730 W
# 19 - Fatima
Of special significance to believers of Catholicism it is revered as a place that witnessed the appearance of the Virgin Mary. Hundreds of thousands make a journey each year to see its shrines. That in itself puts in on my list of must see attractions in Portugal.
Why visit Fatima?
There really isn’t anything else in the small town not “religious” related. For devotees it’s a cherished site. For most, while its plaza and accompanying church are beautiful in their own right., its just another stop on a string of must see religious sites such as:
Only 128 kilometres outside of the city of Lisbon the journey can be competed in about 1 hour 15 minutes. Simply take the A1/E1 highway north until the exit for the N356 highway into Fatima.
From Porto the journey is a bit longer at just under 200 kilometres but can still be completed in less than 2 hours. Simply take the A1/E1 expressway south out of the city and continue until reaching the exit to the N356 highway into Fatima.
The civil parish lies off the main north south rail line and thus train travel is not possible directly to the sights. The best option would be to take the train to the nearby City of Leira which is a regular stop on the main north south rail line in the country.
GPS co-ordinates 39.6172 N, 8.6521 W
# 20 - Nazare
This small town on the Atlantic coasts boats a beautiful beach and spectacular views from the O Sitio district located high up on the cliffs above. Yet it is more famous for its waves and surfing and some of the waves here have been recorded as being amongst the highest in the world.
If you’re a surfer there’s a good chance of big waves and the town is a favourite amongst surfing enthusiasts. Surfing aside, the beach makes for a great getaway and the town is fast becoming a popular tourist destination.
Why visit Nazare?
With some of the best beaches on Portugal’s Silver Coast the small community has long been a popular destination for throngs of tourists looking to escape the summer heat and frolic in the waters of the Atlantic Ocean.
Nowadays it is also a world renowned surfing destination and annually hosts a regular stop on the World Surf League called the Nazare Challenge. Surfing has become one of the towns most popular activities and draws participants from across the planet.
A popular day trip from Lisbon the town is a short 122 kilometres away and takes only about 1 hour and 15 minutes to reach. Simply head north on the A8/IC1 highway out of Lisbon and continue on the highway until exiting on the N8-5 highway towards Nazare near the small village of Valado dos Frades.
From Porto the town is about 215 kilometres away and can be reached in about 2 hours. Exit the city and head south on the A1/iP1 highway. Near the Town of Albergaria-a-Velha veer off to the right and exit onto the A25 expressway heading south. Near Aveiro exit onto the A25/IC1 expressway. Near the small village of Valado dos Frades. Exit on the N8-5 highway into Nazare.
Nazare lies off the main north south rail line and thus is not accessible by train.
GPS co-ordinates 39.6012 N, 9.0701 W
# 21 - Peneda-Geres National Park
Located in the far north and straddling both sides of the international border with Spain it is the only national park in the country. With countryside consisting mainly of rugged highlands, high rainfall and fast moving waterways it is a unique ecosystem unlike anywhere else in the land.
Established to protect the remote area and its fragile remains of indigenous wildlife visitors are usually amazed at its raw beauty. Somewhat hard to get to and visited mainly by locals only it is well worth the effort to visit the park and spend a day.
Why visit Peneda-Geres National Park?
Scattered throughout the park is more than 100 granite villages little changed over the centuries with many dating to the dawn of the nation. In the more remote areas, animals that can be seen include:
- Wild Ponies
- Wild Boar
- Golden Eagles
In addition to the multitude of domesticated animals to be found on the various farms in the region.
Other sights worth visiting within the park include:
- Village of Castro Loboreiro and its castle
- Village of Peneda and its Nossa Senhora da Peneda Sanctuary
- Village of Soajo with its old stone granaries
- Village of Lindoso with its old castle and stilted granaries
- Submerged village of Vilarinho das Furnas
- The old Roman road that connected Braga to Astorga
- Arado waterfall
- Village of Pitoes das Junias and its 9th century Santa Maria das Junias Monastery
- Caldas do Geres thermal baths
Quite a distance from the capital it is located about 415 kilometres away and takes a little over 4 hours to reach. Take the A8 motorway out of Lisbon and head north.
Near the town of Albergaria exit from the A8 and head north on the A17 highway. Continue on the A17 for a couple of hours until it ends at the A25 highway near the city of Aveiro.
Stay on the highway for only a short distance as near the community of Albergaria-a-Velha head north on the A1 motorway.
Take the A20 highway to bypass Porto. After crossing the Douro River on the outskirts of Porto take the A3 highway north.
After crossing the Limia River take exit 12 to the IC28 highway heading east.
At the N203 highway exit and head directly into the park.
From Porto the journey is relatively easy at 107 kilometres and takes a little over an hour to complete. Take the A3 highway north out of the city. Stay on the highway until reaching exit 12 at the IC28 highway heading east.
Located in remote areas of the Minho region train travel is not possible.
GPS co-ordinates 41.8387 N, 8.2416 W
# 22 - Bucaco Palace and Forest
Located just north of Coimbra the national forest at Bucaco is a place unlike any other in the country. Containing an ancient forest and exotic flora species imported during the golden years of the empire this 260 acre walled in site has been a protected sanctuary for centuries.
Protected by a Papal Bull (that included women being prohibited from entering) the area was for centuries a monastic retreat but with the closing of the monastery in 1834 it has subsequently been transformed into a major tourist attraction.
Why visit Bucaco ?
The area has been transformed into a park containing many serene contemplative walks. The highlight of the park is undoubtedly the Palace Hotel Bussaco. Originally commissioned by King Carlos it was completed in 1907 and to this day remains one of the great hotels in the country. Beautiful, luxurious and romantic it is a must see attraction on any visit to the park.
Other park highlights include:
- Fonte Fria – A man made waterfall
Monument to the Battle of Bucaco – which commemorates the battle fought on Bucaco Ridge in the Peninsular War between the forces of Napoleon and Wellington.
- Porta de Coimbra – containgin the inscribed papal bulls protecting the forest and barring entry to women.
Vale dos Fetos – A beautiful small valley containing ferns from around the world.
The Bucaco Cedar – Planted in 1644 it now stands over 85 feet tall
- Via Sacra – Installed in 1693 these small chapels mark the Stations of the Cross
The National Forest of Bussaco is very easy to reach from almost any point on the mainland and thus is a very popular day trip amongst locals.
From Lisbon the journey is about 229 kilometres long and takes about 2 ½ hours to complete. Simply follow the A1 Expressway north all the way until exit #14 onto the N234 highway just south of Sepins. Follow the N234 right into the park.
From Porto the distance is even shorter at approx. 110 kilometres and taking about 1 hour 20 minutes to reach. Head south on the A1 expressway. At Sepins exit onto the N234 highway heading to Bussaco Palace.
While trains do not run directly into nor adjacent to the National Forest, it is possible to catch a train close enough and then walk or cab the balance of the distance.
From Porto the journey takes about 3 hours including a 47 minute walk from the nearest station.
From Lisbon the journey takes a little over 4 hours to complete including the final walk.
GPS co-ordinates 40.3760 N, 8.3651 W
# 23 - Braganca
This small hilltop city in the far northeast has long been the bastion of Portuguese defence against the Castilians. A series of forts had existed since ancient times but a citadel was constructed in 1130 and was complimented by a castle for King Sancho I himself in 1187. The castle and it keeps still exist to the day.
Why visit Braganca?
Sancho’s castle is one of the finest examples of a 12th century fortress in the country. Although engaged in battle many times it has survived with its dungeons such as the Torre da Princesa, castle keep, Domus Municipalis and surrounding defensive walls.
It is also a gateway to nearby Parque Natural de Montesinho, a remote area of Europe little touched by humans over the course of time. It is also the home of the last Portuguese Royal Dynasty and current pretenders to the royal crown, the House of Braganza.
Isolated and at the extreme northeast of the country the journey from Lisbon is about 500 kilometres long and takes about 5 hours to complete. Take the A1 expressway north out of the city, just north of Coimbra head northeast on the IP3 expressway. The IP3 eventually becomes the A24 highway. Continue on the A24 highway north, cross the Douro River and exit east on the A4 highway. Continue northeast until reaching the small town of Samil. Exit onto the N217 highway into Braganca.
Braganca’s isolation means that it is still over 2 hours 15 minutes away from Porto, still being almost 215 kilometres away. It is however simple to drive between the two. Take the A4 highway straight out of Porto until exiting at Samil onto the N217 highway into Braganca.
Even today the small city of Braganca remains an isolated outpost on the international frontier. It is not accessible by train.
GPS co-ordinates 41.8001 N, 6.7611 W
#24 Viana do Castelo
This small port city on the Atlantic coast at the extreme north of the country has long been one of its principal fishing ports. Situated at the mouth of the Limia River its historic centre displays its former glory as walking its cobbled streets is like stepping back into the 16th century
Why visit Viana do Castelo?
The various squares around downtown’s Plaza da Republica are filled with opulent mansions and buildings from when this tiny community was at the forefront of European trade and fishing, particularly in the 16th century. Highlights include :
Casa de Joao Velho – The home of the town’s most famous son, explorer Joao Velho
Praca da Republica – main square with 16th century fountain, town hall and palaces
Cathedral of Viana do Castelo – constructed in the 16th century its west entrance is through the Jgreja Matriz arch that displaces magnificent reliefs depicting the apostles.
Today the town remains a fishing port but has also developed into a holiday resort as it is surrounded by many fine beaches.
Another popular activity is to makes a short 5 kilometre trip to the top of nearby Monte de Santa Lucia, the hill that has a dominating presence over the town below. At the top is a basilica reminiscent of Sacre Coeur in Paris and offering spectacular views below.
From Lisbon the journey is a little under 400 kilometres and takes a little under 4 hours to complete. Take the A1 expressway north all the way north of Porto the exit on the A28/IC1 highway north until reaching the ton
From Porto it tasks less than an hour to reach the town as it is only 74 kilometres away along the A28 highway.
Viana lies on the main north-south railway line and can usually be reached from Lisboa in under 5 hours.
The journey from Porto can usually be completed in 1 ½ – 2 hours.
GPS co-ordinates 41.6198 N, 8.8345 W
# 25 - Braga
The largest city in the Minho region in the far north it has been the most important community in the area since its founding by the Romans in 20 BC. The leading centre for Christianity on the Iberian Peninsula for many centuries to this day it remains at the epicentre of Portuguese religious politics.
Now located at the centre of the far north’s burgeoning tourist industry there is much to see and do in the city itself and within its immediate environs.
Why visit Braga?
This small city is rich in history and its city centre lends itself to at minimum ½ a day visit. Very compact, the historic core highlights include:
Torre de Menagem – all that remains of the city’s once formidable walls
Se – the Cathedral of Braga with construction beginning in the 11th century on the site of a former church destroyed in the 6th century.
Antigo Paco Episcopal – Formerly the Palace of the Archbishop
Jardin de Santa Barbara – located just outside the walls of the Archbishops Palace
Palacio dos Biscainhos – This former grand 16th century mansion now houses a museum.
Numerous church’s and historic grand mansions.
A visit to Braga is usually also accompanied by a stop at nearby Bom Jesus de Monte.
From Porto it is a quick 55 kilometers on the A3 highway heading north east. Expect to take ¾ of an hour.
From Lisbon the journey is about 365 kilometres long and should take about 3 ½ hours to complete. Follow the A1 highway forth out of the city and continue until almost reaching the Douro River. Near Raposa exit onto the A20 highway north to bypass Porto. Cross the Douro and exit onto the A3 highway heading north. Contunue north until reaching Braga then take highway A11 directly into the old city centre.
Braga is very easy to reach by train. From Porto there is a train leaving every hours during the rush hours and the journey itself takes just over an hour to complete.
From Lisbon the journey is also very easy but can take anywhere from 4 ½ – 6 ½ hours to complete.
GPS co-ordinates 41.5454 N, 8.4265 W
BONUS # 26 - Vila Vicosa: Paco Ducal
Vila Vicosa is a small town in the Alentejo region close to the Spanish frontier with a crumbling 14th century castle and surrounded by some of the best marble quarries in the country. What makes this town special is that for centuries it was the seat of the noble House of Braganza family. It was from here that the Duke’s eventually went on to become the ruling house of the kingdom and to this day remain pretenders to the throne.
Prior to becoming kings and moving to Lisbon the wealthy family built a huge palace, the Paco Ducal. Today it is a marvellous example of wealth displayed in marble.
Room of the Dukes (Salos dos Duques) – portraits of all the former Dukes hang along its walls
Chapel – 16th century church where the 8th Duke learnt he would become King of Portugal
Why visit Vila Vicosa?
Even after moving to Lisbon the House of Braganza maintained the palace as a summer escape into the country.
The palace has been remodelled and enlarged over the centuries and the result today is one of the grand palaces in the country and well worth the drive to its extremities..
From Porto the drive is about 360 kilometres long and takes about 4 hours to complete. Take the A1 expressway south out of the City. Near Condeixa-a Nova take the A13 highway until exiting on the IC8 Expressway east. Near Perdigao take the A23/IP2 highway. At Gardete continue on the IP2/E802 all the way to Mendeiros at which time exit on the N4 highway. Just outside of town exit on the N255 and follow the signs to the palace.
From Lisbon the trip takes about 2 hours and is about 190 kilometres long. Take the A6 expressway out of the city and continue until reaching the A6 expressway east. Continue on the A6 right into Borba at which time exit on the N255 highway to the palace.
It is not possible to reach Vila Vicosa directly by rail. The train is not an option.
GPS co-ordinates 38.7663 N, 7.3625 W