20 Best Things to Do in Portugal

Algarve Portugal

Neale Clark / robertharding / Getty Images

Despite sharing the Iberian peninsula with one of the world's most visited countries, Portugal's lures are not widely known internationally. But whether you're looking for major cities full of rich culture, beautiful beaches for swimming, sunbathing and surfing, picturesque landscapes or top quality cuisine, you'll find it in Portugal. Here's how to make the most of your time in this fascinating European country.

01 of 20

Visit the Bookstore That Was the Inspiration for Hogwarts

Livraria Lello bookstore in Porto, Portugal

Tibor Bognar / Corbis Documentary / GettyImages

Address
R. das Carmelitas 144, 4050-161 Porto, Portugal
Phone +351 22 200 2037

"Harry Potter" fans, rejoice! If you happen to be visiting Porto during your time in Portugal, head to Livraria Lello, the world-famous bookstore that helped inspire the look and feel of Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry. Author J.K. Rowling spent some time teaching English here in the 1990s and was no doubt a fan of the shop's twisting staircases, wooden interiors and whimsical design. Its spiral staircase makes a captivating centerpiece, making visitors feel as if they're completely surrounded by books, which, in and of itself, is quite magical.

02 of 20

Treat Yourself to Traditional Portuguese Custard Tarts

Pasteis de nata pastry in Portugal

Alexander Spatari / Getty Images

If you only indulge in one type of sweet treat during your trip, make it pastéis de nata, or cream pastries, a traditional Portuguese tart made with puff pastry, egg custard, powdered sugar, and a pinch of nutmeg or cinnamon. Sometimes referred to as pastel de nata (which just means one pastry, whereas pastéis is the plural form of the word), the popular dessert can be found all over Portugal.

Head to Pastéis de Belém, located next door to Mosteiro dos Jerónimos in Lisbon, to taste them at the bakery where they were first created by Hieronymite monks in the 1830s who got creative with egg yolks after using the egg whites to starch their robes.

Address
R. de Belém 84 92, 1300-085 Lisboa, Portugal
Phone +351 21 363 7423
03 of 20

See Portuguese Fado Music Performed Live

Fado performance in Lisbon

Greg Elms / Getty Images

Fado is Portugal's homegrown folk music and there are two main types, the mournful Lisbon style and the more upbeat Coimbra style, each named after the cities they were developed in. Wherever you end up in the country, try and see them both, as it's easy to book your own spot at many bars.​

If you're staying in Lisbon, head to local favorite Tasca do Chico, a cash-only institution since it opened in 1993, with two locations in Bairro Alto (the original) and Alfama, and where shows start nightly at 8 p.m. If Porto is your base this trip, try Casa da Mariquinhas, a Fado house since 1968, located in the heart of the city, and where the price of admission (roughly $40) also includes a prix fixe dinner menu.

Address
R. do Diário de Notícias 39, 1200-141 Lisboa, Portugal
Phone +351 961 339 696
04 of 20

Don't Forget to Visit the Azores

People canoeing on a lake in the azores

TripSavvy / Taylor McIntyre

Don't forget about the Azores, an archipelago off the coast of Portugal that's known for its environmentally friendly hotels, sustainable tourism ventures, and incredible natural scenery. There's something for every taste and budget, whether you're into hiking, cycling, diving, surfing, birdwatching, yachting, big game fishing, horseback riding, paragliding, kayaking, canoeing, golfing, canyoning, whale watching, or any number of other outdoor activities found among its nine islands.

Visit Furnas on São Miguel Island, a tiny town that's situated inside a volcanic crater, adjacent to three spectacular caldera lakes (one is pictured here), and home to some of the area's best geothermal pools.

Address
Furnas Lake, 9675, Portugal
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05 of 20

Spend time the Capital City of Lisbon

Praca do Comercio in Lisbon

TripSavvy / Lindsay Taclof

Address
Alfama, 1100 Lisbon, Portugal

Portugal's capital city is teeming with culture and historical sights and is home to a great nightlife scene with something to suit every taste, interest, and budget. For a real treat, hop on historic Lisbon Tram 28, which takes you past many popular sites and through various neighborhoods, or spend some time wandering around the medieval streets of the Alfama district. Afterward, admire views of Lisbon from St. George's Castle or one of the many ​mirodouros (look-out points).

06 of 20

Drink Some Port in the City of Porto

Sunset over Porto

Patrik Bergström / Getty Images

Address
Porto, Portugal

While port wine, usually just referred to as port, is undoubtedly Portugal's most popular export, it's not really the same until you've tried its myriad forms in Portugal. Visit Porto and tour the producers' cellars, where you can learn about how the wine is made and sample some of its most famous varieties—for an even more in-depth experience, visit the Douro valley where the grapes are grown.

Otherwise in Porto, visit the Ribeirinha promenade, a historic waterfront area, stop at a cafe or wine bar and take in beautiful views along the river of Villa de Gaia, where all the port cellars are, and the Dom Luis I bridge.

07 of 20

Explore the Douro Valley

View of the rolling hills and vineyards in Douro Valley

TripSavvy / Taylor McIntyre

Address
Douro, 3260 Figueiró dos Vinhos, Portugal

While the Douro Valley is where most of the vineyards producing port are actually located, the city of Porto is where the wine is actually aged, bottled, and stored. It's the oldest demarcated wine region in the world and even if you have no interest in port or its production process, it is worth a visit to this beautiful part of the country for its scenery alone—picture rolling vineyards, lush backroads to drive on, and open blue sky as far as the eye can see.

08 of 20

Hit the Beach

Sagres Beach

TripSavvy / Jamie Ditaranto

Address
8650 Sagres, Portugal

Southern Portugal's Algarve region sports an amazing coastline home to stunning beaches, beautiful waters, and striking cliffs with hidden coves. You'll find whatever type of beach you're looking for, whether for swimming, sunbathing, something a bit more secluded, or full of fellow sun worshippers. The beaches along the country's most southwestern point, such as Sagres, provide excellent surfing conditions whether you want to try taking on the waves yourself or sit back and watch the pros do their thing.

Can't make it to the Algarve? Try Praia da Adraga, located just 45 minutes from Lisbon and one of the most beautiful beaches in Europe. Also nearby is Matosinhos Beach, just a 15-minute subway ride away, where you can surf, sunbathe, or go for a swim. Given the influence of the Atlantic Ocean, the water can be quite cold, even during the summer months, but it still is a great way to pass a sunny afternoon. Equipment for surfing, like boards and wetsuits, can be rented from vendors on the beach.

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09 of 20

Visit the Bom Jesus do Monte Sanctuary

Bom Jesus in Braga
Lindsay Taclof
Address
Estrada do Bom Jesus, 4715-056 Tenões, Portugal
Phone +351 253 676 636

Bom Jesus do Monte is a religious sanctuary located about 45 minutes from Porto just outside the town of Braga. Perched on top of a hill, you'll find the church and gardens, which you can either ride the funicular up to or walk up the amazing zig-zagging staircase. For the best of both worlds, take the funicular up to the top and walk down the stairs, as each of the landings here has something interesting to see.

10 of 20

Tour Sintra From Lisbon

Pena Palace

TripSavvy / Jamie Ditaranto

Address
2710 Sintra, Portugal

Sintra is one of the most popular day trips from Lisbon where you can visit three palaces—Regaleira, Pena, and the Royal Palaces—as well as the Moorish Castle. Afterward, go for a stroll through Sintra's historic center, relax by the waterfront, or spend some time unwinding in its nature parks.

If you're short on time but want to fit in as much sightseeing as possible during your trip, consider booking one of the many organized day trips to Sintra from Lisbon. Trips typically include some time in Sintra as well as a visit to nearby Cabo de Roca, continental Europe's most westerly point, as well as other points along the beautiful Estoril Coast.

11 of 20

Visit the Mosteiro dos Jerónimos

Mosteiro dos Jeronimos

 Wikimedia Commons

Located in Lisbon's Belém district, Mosteiro dos Jerónimos is an incredibly ornate monastery that was built in the 16th century. This extraordinary work of architecture was designated as a UNESCO World Heritage Site in the 1980s and today, you can freely explore the monastery, its altar, cloister, and refectory, among other sites.

Address
Praça do Império 1400-206 Lisboa, 1400-206 Lisboa, Portugal
Phone +351 21 362 0034
12 of 20

Climb to the Top of Torre de Belém

Sunset at Torre Belem, Belem, Lisbon, Portugal

joe daniel price / Getty Images

Belém is one of Lisbon's most popular neighborhoods, so why not get an incredible bird's eye view of it, too? Climb to the top of Torre de Belém, or Belém Tower (also called the Tower of St. Vincent), the 16th-century fortified tower that's a UNESCO World Heritage Site as well as a famous landmark within the capital city.

Address
Av. Brasília, 1400-038 Lisboa, Portugal
Phone +351 21 362 0034
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13 of 20

Learn About Aquatic Life at the Oceanário de Lisboa

Sea turtle and fish swimming in the sea by Portugal

TripSavvy / Chris VR

Billed as the largest indoor aquarium in Europe, Oceanário de Lisboa opened in 1998. The main aquarium holds more than five million liters of water, which all combine to showcase four different marine habitats. In addition to fish, the site also houses mammals, birds, and amphibians.

Address
Esplanada Dom Carlos I s/nº, 1990-005 Lisboa, Portugal
Phone +351 21 891 7000
14 of 20

Admire World-Class Art at Museu Calouste Gulbenkian

Museu Calouste Gulbenkian

Wikimedia Commons 

Calouste Gulbenkian founded this incredible Lisbon museum as part of his last will, featuring a wide-ranging collection that includes everything from European illuminated manuscripts to Greco-Roman art and Hermitage paintings. The museum also houses special exhibits highlighting the most unique pieces from Gulbenkian's collections.

Address
Av. de Berna 45A, 1067-001 Lisboa, Portugal
Phone +351 21 782 3000
15 of 20

See Archaelogical Landmarks in Évora

Évora

 Wikimedia Commons

Évora, located in Portugal's Alentejo region, is home to its namesake Roman temple, also referred to as the Temple of Diana. The ruins here are in remarkably good shape given their age and showcase an incredible contrast to the town's traditional Portuguese architecture.

Address
Evora, Portugal
16 of 20

Visit an 18th-Century Baroque Palace

Mosteiro Palacio Nacional

Wikimedia Commons 

About a 35-minute drive from Lisbon, Palácio Nacional de Mafra, also called Mafra National Palace, is a stunning monumental Baroque landmark. Built in the early 18th century, the palace includes more than 1,200 rooms, many of which are incredibly opulent, featuring marble and gold details.

Address
Terreiro D. João V, 2640 Mafra, Portugal
Phone +351 261 817 550
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17 of 20

Enjoy a Memorable Pastry in Amarante

Amarante

 Wikimedia Commons

Amarante is a picturesque riverside town about an hour's drive from Porto that's become famous for a very, ahem, unique pastry. In this conservative town, you'll spot bolos (or cakes) shaped like a distinctive part of the male anatomy. The tradition dates back to pre-Pagan fertility rituals but still holds strong, even today.

Address
4600 Amarante, Portugal
18 of 20

Walk Along Cabo de Roca

Wide shot of the lighthouse at Cape Roca

TripSavvy / Jamie Ditaranto

This rugged stretch of Portugal is also the westernmost point of mainland Europe. If you're near Sintra or Cascais, you can walk the windswept cliffs and a make a short visit to the adjacent lighthouse. Visitors from the West Coast of the U.S. will be struck by how similar the landscape is to California's coastline.

Address
Estrada do Cabo da Roca s/n, 2705-001 Colares, Portugal
Phone +351 21 928 0081
19 of 20

Visit Ria Formosa Nature Park

Ria Formoso Nature Park in Portugal

Juampiter / Getty Images

Ria Formosa, which became a national park in 1987, is a labyrinth of islands, canals, lagoons, swamps, and marshes, all full of fascinating plant and animal life. Stop by the Environmental Education Centre of Marim to get better acquainted with the park's many ecosystems along with the creatures who call it home. Beyond that, there are plenty of other hiking trails, beaches, and places to explore.

Address
8700-225 Faro, Portugal
20 of 20

Admire Contemporary Art at Serralves

The building of Serralves Modern Art Museum

TripSavvy / Christopher Larson

Museu de Arte Contemporânea de Serralves, or the Serralves Museum of Contemporary Art, is one of Portugal's most important cultural institutions, consisting of a contemporary art museum, a park, and a villa. Exhibitions frequently change, showcasing work from innovative Portuguese artists and world-class modern giants like Joan Miró and Robert Mapplethorpe.

Address
R. Dom João de Castro 210, 4150-417 Porto, Portugal
Phone +351 22 615 6500
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Best Things to Do in Portugal