Thinking of visiting Portugal and wondering what are the top places to see and experiences not to miss on your first trip? In this guide, we share some of the VERY BEST things to do in Portugal for your bucket list. Find out!
Portugal is one of Western Europe’s best-kept secrets. Well, it was until recently. Nowadays, more and more international tourists discover this beautiful country and leave their hearts here.
So if you are wondering whether Portugal is worth a trip, I’d say go for it, and do it fast before the whole world realizes how much Portugal has to offer.
But what is it that makes this country so fascinating? Where to go and what to do so that you can experience the very best of Portugal?
Portugal has a rich history and has much more to offer than it looks at first sight. In addition to the mainland, you can also explore the stunning islands of the Azores and Madeira, which deserve a separate trip (or even a few).
So you can imagine that there are countless interesting places to visit and things to do in Portugal. More than any article or travel guide could cover, and many more than you could see in one or even ten trips…
The purpose of this article is to showcase some of the very best places and bucket list experiences in Portugal and inspire you to visit and discover it for yourself! Read on!
Here are some of the bucket-list experiences and best things to do in Portugal:
1. Visit the Palaces of Sintra
If there is one place that you absolutely have to see in Portugal, it’s Sintra. This little village near Lisbon is home to some of the world’s most beautiful palaces and castles.
What makes it even more special is that there are so many remarkable landmarks in a rather small area and each of them is unique. No two palaces in Sintra can be compared to each other. In fact, some are so special that there is nothing like that in the entire world.
Visiting Sintra feels like taking a trip back in time and into a real-world fairytale forest!
One of the must-sees in Sintra is the world-famous Pena Palace with its strikingly colorful exterior. The quirky Quinta da Regaleira famous for its enchanting gardens is not to be missed as well. And if you are looking for a Medieval atmosphere, be sure to check out the Moorish Castle. The views from its walls are unparalleled!
PRO TIP: Sintra is the most popular day trip destination from Lisbon, attracting big crowds. If you want to be sure to visit the most popular palaces, book your tickets well in advance! Alternatively, visit with a local guide and let them do all the planning (this is especially convenient if you are short on time and want to see several places in one day).
2. Discover Europe’s Best Beaches in Algarve
Whether you are looking for a traditional beach holiday in southern Europe or are road-tripping in Portugal and want to see some beautiful landscapes, the beaches of the Algarve region are not to be missed.
Algarve has been chosen as Europe’s Best Beach Destination by the World Travel Awards 10 times in recent years. When you know that competitors include Greek, Spanish, and Italian islands and many other amazing destinations around the Mediterranean, it says a lot about how special and unique the Algarve coastline truly is!
From long and flat white-sand beaches in the east of the region and world-famous orange cliffs of the central Algarve to rugged coastlines in the west, Algarve boasts some of the most remarkable coastlines in the world. The scenery here is absolutely breathtaking!
Some of the most impressive coastal features can be found at Ponta da Piedade in Lagos and the area around the famous Benagil Cave. But there are literally hundreds of beaches scattered along the entire coastline, each more beautiful than the other.
Good to know: Algarve is a year-round destination with mild temperatures and lots of sunshine throughout the year. That said, if you are looking for a beach vacation and water activities, the best time to visit is between April and October. But if you are mostly interested in sightseeing, all seasons are great.
LEARN MORE: Most Beautiful Beaches in Algarve
3. Explore the Old Town of Lisbon
No trip to Portugal would be complete without visiting its capital. One of Europe’s most charming capital cities, Lisbon has such a great, relaxing atmosphere. Plus, it has a lot to offer to any kind of traveler.
There is no better way to experience the authentic side of Lisbon than by putting on your most comfortable walking shoes, ditching the map, and getting lost in the streets of the old town. Don’t worry – you won’t literally get lost and the city center is not that big.
One of the must-see areas in Lisbon is the hilly Alfama neighborhood, with its narrow alleyways and tiny streets connected by staircases. The historic old town, Baixa, offers a great atmosphere too. Both areas have lots of nice cafes and local restaurants and some of them also organize fado concerts (more about it further below).
Built on a hilly terrain on the shores of the River Tagus, Lisbon also has many viewpoints offering stunning views of the city and its surroundings.
TIP: If you rather limit walking, hop on the famous Lisbon Tram 28. This iconic Lisbon tramway passes many of the nicest areas in the city center. However, it’s so popular with tourists that you may not always find the authentic experience you might be looking for…
LEARN MORE: Best Things to Do in Lisbon
4. Taste Pastel de Nata
Pastel de Nata (aka Pastéis de Nata) are traditional Portuguese egg custard cakes. You will find them in bakeries, supermarkets, and cafés all across the country.
While there are some regional differences and each bakery adds its own special touch, there is no bad place to try pastel de nata. Still, some places are better than others… So ask your hotel (or other locals) for recommendations in the area where you are staying. Everyone in Portugal seems to have their own favorite bakery or café for pasteis.
You may have heard of Pastéis de Belém. They are baked by Antiga Pastelaria de Belem using an ancient secret recipe from Jeronimos Monastery which is located in the Belem neighborhood in Lisbon. Some people claim that this is the best pastel in Portugal and if you get the chance, definitely give it a try.
TIP: Pastel de Nata is usually eaten cold, but if you get a chance, try it warm and add some cinnamon. It took us many trips to Portugal to discover this but it’s so delicious that we hardly ever eat it cold anymore…
5. Experience Fado
One of the must-dos in Portugal is to experience the beautiful art of Fado.
Fado is a traditional Portuguese music genre that expresses deep emotions through melancholic storytelling. The soulful melodies of a Portuguese guitar and poetic lyrics convey a profound sense of saudade, a term that encompasses feelings of longing and nostalgia.
Attending a Fado concert is a unique experience, especially if it’s your first time and you are not familiar with this genre. But even if you don’t understand the words, you’ll be touched by the performance. It’s one of those local experiences that you must do when in Portugal, just like seeing a flamenco show in Spain or riding a traditional gondola in Venice…
Fado music is often performed in intimate venues, known as Fado houses, which is best if you are looking for the most authentic experience. Often, you can also listen to Fado music at local restaurants, which can be very nice too. The only issue with this is that some people find it difficult to remain silent in a restaurant environment and that can be disturbing because Fado is best enjoyed in silence.
Good to know: You can experience Fado all over Portugal. Here you can find the best options for all the most popular cities in Portugal. Some of the best Fado houses can be found in Lisbon, Porto, and Coimbra.
READ ALSO: Best Towns & Cities to Visit in Portugal
6. Admire the architecture of monasteries in central Portugal
Central Portugal is home to some very impressive religious landmarks.
You may already have heard about the religious pilgrimage site Fatima, but the nearby monasteries of Alcobaça, Batalha, and the Convent of Christ in Tomar are even more impressive. Not even to mention Jerónimos Monastery in Lisbon. These are all listed as UNESCO World Heritage Sites and deserve a place on any Portugal bucket list!
Jerónimos Monastery is located in the picturesque neighborhood of Belém in Lisbon. Built in the early 16th century it’s a wonderful example of Manueline architecture, a Portuguese late-Gothic style. In addition, the church of the monastery is also the final resting place of Vasco da Gama and Luís de Camões, two of the most prominent figures of the Portuguese Age of Discovery.
Alcobaça Monastery was founded in the 12th century and was one of the most important medieval monasteries in Portugal. The building is a stunning example of Gothic and Baroque architecture and is a must-see. The monastery also houses the impressive royal tombs of King Pedro I and his mistress Inês de Castro. Learning about their tragic love story makes a visit here even more special.
Batalha Monastery dates from the late 14th – early 16th centuries and was built as a thank-you to the Virgin Mary for the victory of the Portuguese over the Crown of Castile in 1385. The monastery is a true Gothic masterpiece with stunning architecture. The impressive Unfinished Chapels are worth a trip in their own right!
The Convent of Christ in Tomar is a monumental complex dating from the 12th century. Originally built as the headquarters of the Knights Templar, it later became a Christian monastery. The Convent boasts a unique blend of architectural styles and is really impressive.
TIP: Because of their proximity to each other, you can easily visit the monasteries of Alcobaça and Batalha, and/or even the Convent of Christ on the same day. There are also day tours from Lisbon that can bring you to these monasteries, usually in combination with a few other beautiful places nearby.
7. Visit ‘the End of the World’ at Cape St. Vincent
Cape St Vincent (Cabo St Vincente) in Sagres, Algarve, is the southwesternmost point of the European mainland. Behind it, there is nothing but water for hundreds of miles.
Before the Age of Discoveries, Sagres was known as the end of the world. Nowadays, the Portuguese say this is where Europe starts. No matter how you look at it, this place should be high on any Portugal bucket list!
Standing at the lighthouse of Cape St Vincent surrounded by the ocean as far as the eye can see is always a special feeling. Plus, the scenery here is really impressive, with waves crashing against high rugged cliffs deep below you.
TIP: Combine a visit to Cape St Vincent with that of Sagres Fortress nearby and some of the most beautiful beaches of the Algarve.
LEARN MORE: Best Things to Do in Sagres
8. Swim in the Hot Springs of Sao Miguel Island in Azores
São Miguel Island is the largest island of the Azores archipelago nestled in the middle of the Atlantic Ocean. With its breathtaking landscapes and unique natural attractions, Sao Miguel is often referred to as the “Green Island”.
If you are a nature lover looking for stunning sceneries and outdoorsy things to do in Portugal, then Sao Miguel should definitely be on your radar!
Among many other things, São Miguel is also known for its geothermal activity, which gives rise to enchanting hot springs. As you explore the island, you will find plenty of opportunities to go for a swim in the warm geothermal waters.
Some of the best natural hot springs include the Terra Nostra Park and Poça da Dona Beija in Furnas, and Caldeira Velha in the middle of the island, close to Ribeira Grande.
TIP: Visit at the beginning of the summer and you will find the whole island covered in blooming hydrangeas. Summer is also a good time to see whales here, although you have even more chance in April-May or September-October.
READ ALSO: Best Things to Do in Sao Miguel, Azores
9. Visit Port Wine Lodges in Porto
Portugal’s second largest city Porto is a vibrant town in the north of the country. Renowned for its picturesque charming old town, colorful medieval Ribeira (riverside) district, and iconic bridges, Porto has a wonderful, relaxed atmosphere and is well worth a visit.
In addition to historic sites, architecture, and cultural attractions, Porto is also the birthplace of Port wine. The city is home to an array of Port wine houses, or “lodges”, including famous names like Sandeman, Croft, Burmester, Cálem, Cockburn’s, and Graham’s to mention just a few.
These lodges offer guided tours and tastings, giving a unique insight into the production and aging of the world-famous Port wine. The historic cellars with their vast barrels and casks are really impressive and well worth seeing, even if you are not a fan of the wine itself. And if you like a good glass of wine, it’s your chance to try some of the best Port wine right where it’s made!
10. See the World’s Biggest Waves in Nazaré
Nazaré is a quaint fishing village nestled along the rugged coastline of central Portugal. It is renowned worldwide for its awe-inspiring waves, which rank among the largest surfable waves on the planet.
The unique geography of Nazaré, including an underwater canyon, creates the perfect conditions for colossal waves to form right near the coast.
During the winter months, the waves at Praia do Norte in Nazaré often reach 24-30 meters (80-100 feet). This attracts lots of thrill-seeking surfers and spectators from all over the world.
There are numerous viewpoints along the coastline providing an unforgettable opportunity to witness nature’s raw force in action.
Good to know: The best season to see giant waves in Nazaré is from October to March. But also on quiet summer days, the waves here are still very impressive. Furthermore, Nazaré has a lot more to offer and is always worth a visit.
READ ALSO: Best Things to Do in Nazaré
11. Go Hiking in Madeira
Madeira is one of the most famous Portuguese islands. If you are a football fan, then you probably already know that Christiano Ronaldo comes from here (you can even visit a museum dedicated to him!). But there are so many more reasons to visit!
Located in the Atlantic Ocean, 520 kilometers from the African coast, Madeira enjoys a mild climate and is a wonderful year-round destination. If you are looking for the best places to visit in Portugal in the low season and are not sure about the mainland, then definitely consider Madeira.
Good to know: Madeira is a large volcanic island with a mountainous interior. It’s not the best beach destination since it has just a few – and mostly rocky – beaches, but there are plenty of beach resorts with pools from where you can enjoy amazing ocean views.
The main reason to visit Madeira is for its spectacular nature. The island also offers the best hiking in all of Portugal. From coastal trails and levada walks leading to impressive waterfalls in the hilly interior, to the dazzling mountain peaks towering high above the clouds – the scenery here is breathtaking!
But there are many more reasons to visit Madeira, even if you are not interested in hiking. You will find plenty of cultural and historic sites in the capital city of Funchal and some smaller towns and villages around the island. Madeira is also known as the ‘flower island’ and has several impressive botanical gardens. Last but not least, it’s also a great place to see dolphins or even whales.
In other words, Madeira Island is a unique destination that has plenty to offer to all types of travelers.
12. Discover Portuguese Wines & Vineyards
Finally, no list of the best things to do in Portugal would be complete without mentioning its wines. Portugal boasts some of the finest vineyards and wines in Europe!
The most famous wine region in Portugal is the majestic Douro Valley. It’s located in the north of Portugal, not far from Porto, and is one of the most popular day trip destinations in this part of the country.
TIP: If you just want to enjoy the scenery of terraced vineyards, you can easily drive around by car. If you want to indulge in wine tastings, visit with a guided tour! One of the nicest and most relaxing ways to visit Douro Valley is by taking a river cruise from Porto.
Equally captivating are the vineyards of the Alentejo region and also Setúbal Peninsula in the southern part of the country. Venturing further south, the Algarve surprises with its emerging wine scene as well.
There are several vineyards and wine cellars that you can visit in these regions as well. Here is one of the best wine tours from Lisbon and there are also quite a few options with departure from various popular seaside resorts in Algarve.
If you don’t have the time to visit the vineyards during your time in Portugal, you will have plenty of opportunities to taste delicious Portuguese wines in local restaurants!
TIP: Some of our personal favorites include the reds from the Douro and Algarve, the whites from Alentejo, and the famous vinho verde (green wine) from the Minho region in the far northwest of Portugal.
So, this is our list of some of the very best things to do in Portugal. As you can see, there are so many reasons to visit this beautiful country!
If this article inspired you to travel to Portugal, but you are not sure where to start or how to plan your trip, take a look at this 10-day itinerary that covers central Portugal. We also have a recommended first-timers itinerary for 3-5 days in the Algarve region.
Good to know: We visit Portugal several times a year and have covered many of the popular destinations on our blog, with new articles added after each trip. You can find an overview of all travel guides on our Portugal travel page. Check it out!
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