Are you thinking of visiting Portugal and wondering where to go? In this article, we cover the very best towns in Portugal. From major cities to smaller towns and picturesque villages – this list shows you all the nicest towns in Portugal that are worth a visit the most.
Despite being a relatively small country, compared to other European counterparts, Portugal offers a range of diversity that most travelers never expect it to have. From all the European countries we visited in the last years, Portugal is the one that surprised us the most. We keep on going back and always find so much to explore and experience…
Whether you’re heading for the national parks or wine-country up north, spending time in the bigger cities, plan on traveling through the Alentejo countryside, or visiting the golden beaches of the Algarve in the south, there is so much to discover in Portugal…
I find that Portuguese cities and towns deserve a separate mention. However, despite having been to Portugal multiple times, we haven’t yet visited all of its amazing towns. I, therefore, asked an insider to share some of the very best places that will make your trip to Portugal even more special.
Our guest writer Marco from Travel-Boo travel blog lives in Portugal and knows the country inside out. In this post, he shares a roundup of the most beautiful Portuguese cities, towns, and villages. I also added three of my personal favorite Portuguese towns to this selection; places that left ever-lasting memories during our trips to this beautiful country.
This selection of the best towns in Portugal will not only inspire you to plan a trip to Portugal but will also introduce you to some amazing little towns that many first-time visitors and travel guides overlook. Find out!
These are the best cities in Portugal:
Among all the cities in Portugal, Lisbon attracts most visitors and attention. And rightly so! Without any doubt, Lisbon is one of the most beautiful cities in Portugal. And not just in Portugal! Lisbon is quickly becoming one of the most popular city break destinations in Europe.
First-time travelers to Portugal include Lisbon into their travel journey, partly because it’s the easiest city to fly in and out of. But Lisbon is so much more than you’d come to expect from a capital city!
Not only is the weather phenomenal with plenty of gorgeous sunshine, but the people are warm and welcoming. Central Lisbon has a great small-town atmosphere that makes a visit more relaxing and enjoyable than in most other big cities. The city’s architecture and buildings are stunning and the views are simply incredible!
With so much history, charm and sights to explore, not to mention the delicious Portuguese food & cuisine, Lisbon is an absolute must in any Portugal itinerary.
Top Lisbon Sights & Activities: Explore the neighborhoods of Alfama, Baixa and Chiado | The Belem Tower & Jeronimos Monastery | Santa Justa Elevator | The Sé Cathedral and the incredible São Roque Church | Time-Out Food Market | Sailing on Tagus River
LEARN MORE: How to See the Best of Lisbon in One Day
Porto, the largest city in the north of Portugal, oozes character, history, and charm. The city, set along the banks of the famous Douro River is definitely worth a visit when planning your next Portugal holiday. Often overlooked and overshadowed by Lisbon, many first-time visitors are both surprised and impressed with Porto.
The city has so much going for it that spending a couple of nights here wouldn’t be a waste at all. Whether you’re lazing by the riverfront, enjoying a Port wine tasting, exploring the historic streets and sights, visiting the many churches with their blue and white-tiled facades or embarking on a day trip from the city, Porto will keep you busy for your entire stay.
If you love old-worldly charm and history, then Porto is definitely one of the towns to visit in Portugal.
Top Porto Sights & Activities: São Bento Train station | Torre dos Clérigos church and tower | Livraria Lello (the Harry Potter bookstore) | Port Wine Houses | Porto´s riverfront area | Palácio da Bolsa stock exchange palace
The beautiful city of Coimbra, located at the foot of the Mondego River, is one of Portugal’s largest cities. This former capital of Portugal is also home to the oldest university in Portugal and one of the oldest universities in continuous operation in the world. This University was established in 1290 in Lisbon and moved to its permanent location in Coimbra in 1537.
The grand and imposing University is set right at the top of a hill overlooking the city. It is also said to have inspired J.K. Rowling in her writing of Harry Potter when she lived in Portugal. This is evident in the traditional black robes worn by the university students as well as the University hall and the showstopper, the exquisite Biblioteca Joanina. This impressive library is a must-see in Coimbra!
Although the Coimbra University forms an important part of the city, there are tons of other great sights and activities to see and explore. A visit to one of the many churches including both the Old and the New Cathedrals are a must. For a laid-back experience, the Botanical Gardens is an oasis of tranquillity and escape from the bustling historic city center. If you are traveling with kids, don’t miss the miniature park Portugal dos Pequenitos.
Top Coimbra Sights & Activities: Coimbra University – Biblioteca Joanina | Sé Velha – Coimbra (Old Cathedral) | New Cathedral | Igreja de Santa Cruz | Historic city center | Botanical Gardens | Miniature park Portugal dos Pequenitos
Magical, royal Sintra is unlike any other town you’ll find in Portugal. Back in its heyday, Sintra used to play host to royalty and nobility as it was the popular summer residence of the Portuguese royals and aristocrats.
Today Sintra is awash with royal palaces and elegant estates, a true fairytale set amongst the forests and woods that surround the town. Don’t miss the colorful Pena Palace that could come straight from a Disney movie. The adjacent Pena Park is also worth exploring, just as the Moorish Castle located just nearby.
Quinta de Regaleira and especially its gardens is another must-see place in Sintra, attracting big crowds. Our personal favorite is the Monserrate Palace – stunning architecture, enchanting gardens, and hardly any tourists at this hidden gem of Sintra.
Given its location, under an hour by train from Lisbon, Sintra is a popular day-trip destination for many travelers visiting Lisbon. You can visit by train or join one of the many organized day – or half-day tours. Sintra is considered an absolute must-see in Portugal and should definitely be part of any Portugal itinerary.
Top Sintra Sights & Activities: Pena Palace and Pena Park | Quinta da Regaleira | Historic town center | Moorish Castle | Palacio Nacional de Sintra | Monserrate Palace
LEARN MORE: What to Do in Sintra
Yet another of my favorite towns in Portugal is Óbidos. It’s set only a short hour drive away from Lisbon, making it a fabulous day tour from the capital. The medieval walled city of Óbidos with its rustic cobbled streets and glimmering white-washed houses is a pure delight to explore and definitely a must-visit when planning a holiday to Portugal.
This medieval city rose to prominence during the 13th century when King Dinis I of Portugal bestowed the village as a gift to the bride, Queen Isabel.
Today, Óbidos is a very popular tourist destination in Portugal, probably best known for its cherry liqueur Ginja and all kinds of delicacies made with it. The town also hosts several annual events such as the Óbidos Chocolate Festival, the Medieval Festival, and the Christmas Village.
Top Óbidos Sights & Activities: Walk the city walls | Visit the various churches | Wander through the cobbled streets exploring Óbidos | Attend one of the many fairs & festivals that take place each year | Taste Ginja cherry liqueur
6. Alcobaça & Batalha
Batalha and Alcobaça are two small towns in Central Portugal. They are best known for their incredible monasteries, the Monastery of Alcobaça and the Monastery of Batalha.
While the towns themselves aren’t that special, the monasteries are not to be missed when in Portugal. They are both listed as UNESCO World Heritage sites and it’s hard to say which monastery is more impressive or worth the visit more. That’s also the reason why we mention these two places together on this list of the best towns of Portugal. You just have to see them both!
The Monastery of Alcobaça was founded in 1153, but it wasn’t before mid 13th century that the building was finished. These buildings are the earliest examples of Gothic architecture in Portugal and the monastery is considered to be the most beautiful Cistercian abbey in Portugal.
But the biggest significance of the Alcobaca Monastery is in its relation to the Portuguese monarchy. Inside, you can find impressive Royal tombs where several kings of Portugal were buried. The 14th-century tombs of Inês de Castro and Pedro I are real masterpieces!
The Monastery of Batalha (literal translation – Monastery of the Battle) was built in order to commemorate the Battle of Aljubarrota (1385). The construction began in 1386 and took almost two centuries and fifteen supervising architects to somewhat complete the monastery in the mid 16th century. A part of the monastery – Capelas Imperfeitas (The Unfinished Chapels) – has never been finished. But it’s also one of the most impressive parts of the Batalha Monastery and something that makes it even more special and unique.
The monastery was damaged by earthquakes and wars and was completely abandoned in 1834. Luckily, a few years later, King Ferdinand II of Portugal ordered its restoration. It was only at the beginning of the 20th century that the Monastery of Batalha has been completely restored to its previous glory and declared a national monument.
Not only are these monasteries incredible feats of architectural engineering and design, but Batalha and Alcobaca are still pretty much hidden from the mainstream tourists that flock to Portugal every year. And yet, they are among the very best places to see in Portugal!
Top Sights: Monastery of Alcobaça | the Monastery of Batalha
TIP: You can easily visit both these monasteries with organized day tours from Lisbon. Often, these tours will also include a visit to Nazare or Obidos – other amazing towns we also mentioned in this list.
Évora is yet another historic walled city of Portugal that deserves a visit. Set in the heart of the Alentejo countryside and only around an hour and a half’s drive by car from Lisbon, it can easily be visited as a day trip from Lisbon and there are some organized tours that visit Evora as well.
Surprisingly, Evora has managed to remain somewhat of a hidden gem with fewer tourists than most other towns in close vicinity from Lisbon. It seems that only the tourists in-the-know pass by here. However, the city is gorgeous and has so much to offer that spending a night would definitely be justified.
Some of the most interesting sights in Evora include the intriguing Chapel of Bones (Capela dos Ossos), the Roman Temple ruins, the imposing Cathedral as well as the town square, Praça do Giraldo. One of the highlights is a visit to the roof of the cathedral – the views are simply stunning!
Of course, Evora has so much more going for itself. In fact, the entire Alentejo region is renowned for its cork plantations, excellent wines and delicious food too! When visiting Evora be sure to go try the ‘Bochecas de Porco Preto’ (Black Pork Cheek stew) at a restaurant called Cozinha da Catarina (it’s located by the Porta da Aviz city gate). This is one of the best meals we’ve ever had in Portugal!
Top Evora Sights & Activities: Capela dos Ossos | Sé Cathedral and rooftop | Roman Temple (Templo Romano) | Praça do Giraldo | Explore the historic center on foot | Try the local cuisine & wines
Cascais is a pleasant seaside town located just outside of Lisbon. Regarded as the Portuguese Riviera, Cascais and the coastline that snakes all along from Lisbon to Cascais, is another popular day trip from Lisbon.
You’ll find some stunning beaches scattered all along this coast. One of my favorite beaches is the Praia de São Pedro do Estoril. Another popular choice is the small beach known as Praia da Rainha (Queen’s beach).
Whether you choose to explore the quaint and dreamy historic center of Cascais, walk to the fort, visit the Estoril Casino, or simply laze on one of its beaches, Cascais will no doubt enchant and capture your heart! Make sure to sample some delicious fresh seafood and take a stroll along the seaside promenade. Visiting Cascais is a great escape from the hustle and bustle of Lisbon city.
Top Cascais Sights & Activities: Historic Center | Beaches in and around Cascais | Estoril Casino | Cidadela de Cascais (fort)
What is undoubtedly one of my favorite places in the Algarve, Lagos attracts many visitors. Popular among locals and tourists alike, it somehow manages to retain its authenticity as a true Portuguese seaside town.
If the allure of Algarve, with its golden sandy beaches and rugged golden rock formations, sounds like your perfect holiday, then you’ll love Lagos. This town and the whole region is a true beach-lovers paradise, but also nature-lovers will love this stunning coastline.
The historic center of Lagos is usually abuzz with activity. You’ll find plenty of restaurants and bars lining the cobbled streets, but for me, the main drawcard to Lagos is the incredible beaches found in and around the town. Praia Dona Ana, Praia do Camilo, Ponta da Piedade, Meia Praia and many more are perfect examples of the stunning beaches found in and around Lagos. Most of these beaches can be easily reached on foot or by using public transportation, and, of course, by car.
Nearby, you can visit some amazing sea caves, including the famous Benagil Cave. A boat tour along the coastline is an absolute must! This being the Algarve, I needn’t even mention the selection of water sports and other outdoor activities on offer too. If a beach holiday and stunning coastlines is what you’re after, then Lagos will not disappoint.
Top Lagos Sights & Activities: Incredible beaches of Lagos | Historic city center | Igreja de Santo António church | Boat tours along the coastline | Water sports & outdoor activities
LEARN MORE: Best Beaches in Algarve
Set only about an hour from Porto by train, Aveiro is yet another popular town in northern Portugal. It can easily be visited as a day trip from Porto or when driving between Lisbon and Porto. Aveiro is known as the ‘Venice of Portugal’ because of the colorful gondolas (known as Moliceiros) that travel up and down the canal, ferrying tourists on a sightseeing trip through the city.
But for me personally, the real charm of Aveiro is the exquisite and traditional Portuguese tiles that adorn many of the buildings and homes in the city. Walking around Aveiro and getting lost in the side streets and alleyways while photographing all these tiled buildings was definitely a highlight during our visit.
Also make sure to try out the egg-yolk sweet known as Ovos Moles de Aveiro. It’s a traditional delicacy of the region and very well-known and loved throughout Portugal.
Top Aveiro Sights & Activities: Gondola rides | Explore Aveiro’s art deco architecture and tiled buildings | Taste Ovos Moles de Aveiro
11. Costa Nova
Heading a bit out of Aveiro to the beautiful beaches nearby, you’ll come across Costa Nova. This is probably one of the most picturesque towns in Portugal!
Costa Nova is a small beachfront town with colorful striped houses that make for some great vacation photos. In summer, this is also a very popular summer holiday spot for many Portuguese families.
We visited Costa Nova during low season, in April, and the atmosphere in town was great. We especially enjoyed visiting a local fish market, strolling around the beautiful pedestrian promenade lined with colorful houses, and discovering some more authentic striped houses a bit further from the main street.
Costa Nova is one of the prettiest little towns in Portugal and it’s really worth a short visit. If you are visiting Aveiro, Costa Nova is just a very small detour nearby, so don’t miss it.
Top Costa Nova Sights: Striped houses along Av. José Estevão |Local Fish Market | Costa Nova Beach
The city of Braga, located around an hour north of Porto, is not only one of the oldest cities in Portugal, but also one of the countries most important and noteworthy religious destinations. Braga is a very popular day trip from Porto and you can easily visit with a tour.
The city boasts an incredible array of religious heritage sites. In fact, it has over 30 churches including the Braga Cathedral, the oldest in the country and dating back to the 12th century.
Of particular interest is the iconic Bom Jesus do Monte Sanctuary pilgrimage site. It’s an impressive sight as you behold the Baroque-style staircase that leads up to the church at the top. This is definitely one of the most photographed sights in Braga where many devout pilgrims also climb the 116-meter stairs on their knees.
Top Braga Sights & Activities: Bom Jesus do Monte | Braga Cathedral | Praça da República
One of my personal favorite cities in Portugal, Guimarães, also happens to be one of the most important places in the country. The city dating back as far as the 9th century when it was known as Vimaranes, is regarded as the birthplace of Portugal.
It is believed that the first king of Portugal, Afonso Henriques, was born in Guimarães. It is also within close vicinity of the city that the Battle of São Mamede was fought, an important step towards the eventual establishment of the Kingdom of Portugal in 1139.
Today, it’s a pleasant town with a quaint and extremely charming historic city center. Make sure to visit the castle, the Ducal Palace, and other significant sights in and around the city.
Top Guimarães Sights & Activities: Palace of the Dukes of Braganza | Igreja de Nossa Senhora da Oliveira church | Guimarães Castle | Historic town center
One of the most popular seaside towns in Central Portugal, Nazaré is an old fishermen’s town that has a great mix of traditional culture and beach life.
If you come here on a busy summer weekend, it will perhaps remind you of any other beach resort in Portugal. However, if you visit a bit off the main season, you’ll find a quaint little town where people still wear traditional clothing and dry fish on the huge wooden racks on the beach. If you visit a local restaurant, the chances are big that they bring you a whole platter of freshly-caught fish to choose from instead of a menu.
Nazaré is also famous for its wide sandy beach, the world’s highest waves, and the most incredible sunsets that will make you linger a lot longer than you’d planned.
Top sights in Nazaré: Fishermen’s district Bairro dos Pescadores | Nazaré beach| Nazaré funicular| O Sitio district
LEARN MORE: What to do in Nazare
The former seat of the Order of the Knights Templar, Tomar is a gorgeous city set in central Portugal. Together with nearby Batalha and Alcobaça (see above), these three towns make up the monastic triangle featuring the incredible Manueline-style monasteries.
Convento do Cristo in Tomar was built in 1160 and served as a headquarters for the Knights Templar, making Tomar one of the most important medieval sites of Portugal. It is now listed as a UNESCO World Heritage site.
Tomar is also home to the ‘Festa dos Tabuleiros’ (the Trays Festival) where the entire city is decorated by flowers. It only takes place every four years. It’s an incredible sight to behold as the city comes alive with the vibrant colors and festivities that take place.
Top Sights: Convento do Cristo in Tomar
TIP: A visit to Tomar is a popular day trip from Lisbon and is often combined together with some other impressive medieval sights nearby. Many tours to Tomar include a visit to the nearby Almourol Castle, situated on a small island in the middle of the Tagus River.
Situated around an hour and a half drive north of Lisbon, Fátima is one of the most religiously significant cities of Portugal.
Perhaps not the prettiest town, Fátima is home to numerous important religious sites including the Sanctuary of Our Lady of Fátima. This is the spot where the Virgin Mary is believed to have appeared to three shepherd children back in 1917. The alleged apparitions took place between the dates of the 13th of May until the 13th of October of that same year and were later recognized by the Catholic Church.
Today the city draws many visitors. It’s especially busy during Easter as well as mid-May when the annual festivals celebrating the anniversary of the apparitions take place.
Top Fátima Sights & Activities: Sanctuary of Our Lady of Fátima | The original Capela das Aparições (Chapel of Apparitions) on the original site where the apparitions allegedly took place | Basílica de Nossa Senhora do Rosário
If you love medieval, fortified cities, Monsaraz is a truly spectacular sight to behold. This lesser known town is located only around an hour’s drive east of Evora, heading towards Spain. As you drive up the hill, where this fortified village rises up from, you start to appreciate the incredible feat of construction that must have gone into building this city and its castle.
Entering the city gates, you are greeted by the incredibly charming, white-washed houses and cobbled streets. The main street is lined with boutique shops selling all sorts of Alentejo handcrafts and local products. Wondering through the rustic streets you can head to the Monsaraz Castle and walk along its walls, passing by the historic bullfighting ring.
Given Monsaraz’s vantage point, being set so high up, the views here are to die for! As you stand on the castle walls, you can look out over the Alqueva River that separates the Beja district of Spain from Portugal. This is also the perfect spot from which to enjoy an unforgettable sunset !
TIP: Feel like taking a swim? Head down to the Praia Fluvial de Monsaraz (the man-made beach situated on the banks of the Alqueva river), about a 10-minute drive from the village.
Top Monsaraz Sights & Activities: Historic center | Monsaraz Castle | Praia Fluvial de Monsaraz
Tavira is yet another hidden gem in the Algarve region. Tavira is extremely popular amongst the Portuguese and is one of the prettiest towns in Algarve.
Set along the Gilão River, the historic town center is definitely worth exploring. As you wander through the streets you can still find traces of Moorish influences, mixed in with quintessential Portuguese architecture. The colorful buildings, some decorated with intricate Portuguese tile-work, is perhaps what adds so much character and charm to Tavira.
If you have the time, explore the nearby beaches and visit Praia da Ilha de Tavira, a beach-island that requires a ferry crossing from Tavira.
Top Tavira Sights & Activities: Explore the historic city center | Praia do Barril beach | Tavira Castle | Praia da Ilha de Tavira
And last, but not least, I also want to add Funchal to this list of the best cities in Portugal. While all the other towns mentioned in this article can be found on mainland Portugal, Funchal is the capital city of Portuguese island Madeira. It’s one of the nicest cities in Portugal and definitely deserves a mention and a visit.
Set in the stunning surroundings with the green hills dotted with red-roofed houses, banana trees, and colorful flowers on one side and the azure blue sea on the other, Funchal is a city that truly has it all. Centuries-old history and architecture, unique traditions, exotic flowers and fruit, Madeira wine, and delicious food. Furthermore, there are countless hiking opportunities in Madeira, you can go whale watching, and visit all the top sights and hidden gems of Madeira just by taking day trips from Funchal…
Funchal and the entire island of Madeira deserve a separate trip. But with the easy flight connections from Lisbon, you can easily add a few days in Madeira to any Portugal itinerary. It will be worth it!
Top Sights in Funchal: Old town | Various botanical gardens | Monté cable car| Wicker toboggan sled | Mercado dos Lavradores
LEARN MORE: Things to Do in Funchal
So, this is our guide to the best towns in Portugal. I want to thank Marco for sharing these great tips with our readers and I truly hope that you found some new travel inspiration in this post.
About the author. Born and raised in South Africa, Marco Santos moved to sunny Lisbon over 2 years ago. With an absolute love for Europe, he is on a mission to rediscover his own Portuguese heritage along the way. Marco shares his passion for traveling throughout Portugal and Spain on his blog Travel-Boo.
TIP: If you are thinking of visiting several of the best towns of Portugal, but are not sure how to plan your time, take a look at our Portugal itinerary. It contains our day-to-day road trip itinerary that covers most of the best Portuguese towns mentioned in this article. Check it out!
More tips for your trip to Portugal:
- Best of Lisbon
- What to See and Do in Sintra
- Portugal with Kids
- Best Beaches in Algarve
- Benagil Cave
- 10 days in Portugal: Trip Itinerary from Lisbon to Porto
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