Portugal was once at the edge of the known world. It made it the perfect launchpad for many pioneering expeditions during the rampant age of discovery. Travel and adventure simply runs in the Portuguese blood. Once one of the world’s biggest empires, it’s now a more humble but fascinating slice of western Europe containing endless evidence of its former conquests and distant colonies.
Containing cobble-stone streets, ancient architecture, challenging hikes, craft beer, copious wine and remote beaches, Portugal is no longer just a launchpad to adventure but a destination in its own right. I’ve tapped into the collective knowledge of travel bloggers to reveal the best sights in Portugal for 2020. So, like the Portuguese of generations past, the best bits from their explorations is available for you here all in one place.
Recommended by: Sheree Hooker / Winging the World
As you wander through the streets of Porto, one very long queue is certain to draw the eye. Welcome to Livrario Lello, also known as Harry Potter bookshop. This beautiful book store is said to have been frequented by J.K. Rowling during her time living in Porto and is actually said to have provided the inspiration for wizarding favourite ‘Flourish and Blotts’.
Although the bookshop is busy around the clock, it is an absolute must for any Potterhead. Try to be one of the first in the queue for the 10 am opening to make the most of the store without the crowds. Tickets into the shop cost €5 per person and this entrance fee can be put towards the purchase of a book. Porto is nice but a trip down Diagon Alley is definitely more magical!
Recommended by: Sandrina Ferreira / The Wise Travellers
Douro region, just a short distance from Porto is where the Port wine is produced. The undulating landscape of the vineyard can be compared to the rice terraces in Asia. The Douro region it was awarded UNESCO World Heritage in 2001. No wonder why. The dramatic views make it one of the best places to visit in Portugal.
Although you can visit almost all year round, the best time is September to November. You will get colourful scenery, sunny weather and even can experience the Douro grape harvest.
You can explore the region by car, train or river. There are cruises along the Douro river. By train the views are appealing, and you can get easily daily trains from Porto. In summer there is a special historical train between Régua and Tua. If you choose the car option, you can do a more comfortable trip and enjoy the viewpoints along the way.
Besides visiting the vineyards, visitor’s centre and tasting wine there are other options. There are walking trails to do in the region and cycling is another good choice.
For history and heritage lovers, explore the little villages, the famous Coâ Museum with hundreds of Palaeolithic engravings and the Côa Valley Archaeological Park, declared UNESCO World Heritage in 1998.
Coming to the Douro is also time to indulge yourself in a spa therapy. The hotels provide spa services, combining massages and swimming in beautiful pools surrounding by nature.
Recommended by: Mikkel Mihlrad / Sometimes Home
We traveled to Portugal and used Lisbon as a base for our few days in this beautiful country. We love going to cities that are a bit less popular than incredibly well known destinations; thus, faced with the decision to do a day trip to Sintra or Tomar, we chose the latter. Tomar is only about two hours from Lisbon via train accessible on a regional train line.
It’s a city renown for its history as the headquarters of the Knights Templar for over 200 years. There’s a ton to do and see there, especially in a day, whether touring the Convent of Christ and Castelo de Tomar or taking a Tuk Tuk tour out to the Pegoes Aqueduct from the 16th and 17th centuries. It was an added bonus, but a reason we chose it, to not feel like it was overrun by tourists!
Recommended by: Laura Hartley / What’s Hot?
Óbidos is a small medieval town just an hour outside of Lisbon by bus that you should definitely consider visiting as a day trip. Think small winding streets, beautiful tiles, medieval ruins, old churches and plenty of bookshops. Each summer, Óbidos hosts a medieval fair, which will take you back to a time centuries and centuries ago. People walk around in medieval costumes, there are traditional stalls set up in the old boundary walls and there’s even jousting on horseback! It’s truly like you’ve stepped through to another era.
It’s also recently become a haven for book lovers and is a UNESCO city of literature. Óbidos is home to The Literary Man hotel the largest literary literary hotel in the world, which boasts over 65,000 titles on its shelves! You’ll find that they’ve converted an old church, market and wine cellar here into beautiful bookshops!
Buses run frequently to Óbidos throughout the day and tickets can be bought on the bus for €7.95 each way.
Recommended by: Michael Turtle / Time Travel Turtle
Just outside of Lisbon, in the hills of Sintra, the wealthy have built themselves holiday homes for centuries. But these are not normal houses – they are grand palaces, quirky mansions, and romantic castles.
Now this fairytale landscape has become a playground for tourists doing a day trip to Sintra from Lisbon. I think it’s an incredible place to explore the colourful architecture and lush gardens that cover the slopes.
There are so many places to see that it’s impossible to fit into one day, but I would recommend going to the National Palace, Quinta da Regaleira, Moorish Castle, and Pena Palace.
You can quite cheaply get the train from Lisbon and there’s a bus that will take you on a loop to most sites. Each attraction has its own entrance price, but you’ll get a discount the more of them you visit.
Recommended by: Wendy Werneth / The Nomadic Vegan
In between Sintra and Cascais is a beautiful, forested area known as the Sintra Mountains, much of which is protected by the Sintra-Cascais National Park. In addition to hikes in the forest, there are some lovely vineyards and whitewashed villages to be visited.
And for a rural cultural experience near Lisbon, join in on a Portuguese cooking class at Terrazoia, a small organic farm near the village of Azoia. Sofia, the owner, will teach you how to make vegetarian and vegan recreations of traditional Portuguese dishes, with fresh produce picked from her garden. She’s sure to welcome you with a glass of freshly squeezed orange juice and is happy to share stories about her life on the farm.
Terrazoia is a world away from Lisbon but is easily accessible via the Lisbon-Cascais train line. Sofia will be happy to pick you up from the Cascais train station and drive you to her farm.
Recommended by: Or Amir / My Path in the World
Cabo da Roca is a part of the Sintra-Cascais Natural Park and is the most westerly point of mainland Europe. This unique spot in Portugal is all about panoramic views of jagged cliffs and the Atlantic coast.
After soaking in the stunning scenery, you can head to the gift shop and purchase your handwritten and personalised certificate confirming you have been to Cabo da Roca. If you’re in for something more active, Cabo da Roca is also the starting point of several walking trails along the coast.
Touring this beautiful point of interest is free of charge, and to make the most of your time there, I highly recommend visiting during sunset time.
Recommended by Lyubomira Velikova / Bulgarian On The Go
Cascais is one of the nicest resorts to visit around the region of Lisbon. This little fishing town is a delightful addition to every Portugal adventure because of its fine beaches, interesting history and charming city centre. The beaches in the north of Cascais are perfect for surfing, making this place very attractive both for tourists and locals.
One of the must-see places around Cascais is Boca do Inferno – a unique rock formation in the cliffs. The sights and sounds of the ocean touching the land with all its power is what makes this natural phenomenon such a great experience. It also provides perfect photo and video opportunities for all photography lovers. Boca do Inferno is easily accessible by car (5-minute dive) or by foot (20-minute walk) from the city centre of Cascais and involves no costs whatsoever.
Recommended by: Amber Hoffman / With Husband in Tow
In the last few years, there’s been a renaissance in craft beer in Lisbon, and a lot of it is centered around Marvilla, a small parish just to the north of Lisbon. A twenty minute bus ride from the main tourist areas in Lisbon, Marvilla offers craft beer lovers the opportunity to taste what’s brewing with several local breweries to test out, most notably, Dois Corvos Cervejeira and Cerveja Musa.
From stouts to sours, these two craft brew houses serve up some of Lisbon’s best craft beers. They often host musical performances and other events to create a little community in this tiny neighborhood. Located just north of the main tourist areas, they showcase another side of one of Europe’s iconic cities. If you travel for craft beer, Marvilla is a must visit.
Recommended by: Claire Sturzaker / Tales of a Backpacker
I loved Evora. Most people visit this beautiful city on a day trip from Lisbon, but there are so many things to do in Evora that you really should spend a couple of nights here to fully explore.
Evora oozes history from every stone, with evidence of different civilisations dating back thousands of years. Just outside of the city, the Almendres Cromlech is a megalithic site thought to be from 4000-6000 BC. Within the UNESCO listed Historic Centre of Evora you will find ruins of a Roman Temple in the main square, and close by the huge Cathedral towers above the city where you can climb up to the roof for great views!
The Chapel of Bones in Evora is one of the most popular ‘attractions’ if you can call it that; the small chapel is decorated with the skeletons of previous inhabitants of the city and is a potent reminder of how fragile life is.
Wine tasting is another popular activity in Evora, and Alentejo wines are among the best in Portugal. The food is quite special too, with Iberian pork a local speciality.
Recommended by: Nicole LaBarge/ Travel Gal Nicole
My favourite place in Portugal is the Benagil Cave in the Algarve. Of course the Algarve is known for its beautiful beaches but did you also know there are caves you can explore along the coast?
Benagil Cave is located just off of Praia de Benagil near Carvoeiro. To reach the caves you can hire a boat to take you inside the cave where there is a small beach. The cave is famous because it also has an open top where the sun comes in and shines on the turquoise water.
The site is impressive to see. There are several ways to get there such as renting a boat but you can also kayak there or standup paddleboard to get there. The cave may look like it is close to the beach but I do not recommend swimming there are the current is strong. Once you get there enjoy this unique place in the Algarve.
Recommended by: Cath Jordan / Passports and Adventures
Tavira is a quaint, traditional Portuguese town in the East Algarve. If it’s a buzzing nightlife and English bars you’re looking for, this is not the town for you. Tavira, while not exactly sleepy, is a quieter town in the Algarve where you will find traditional Portuguese life at its best.
There are plenty of cafes and restaurants on offer with dishes like Bacalhau à Bras (salted cod), Frango Grelhado (grilled chicken) and Portuguese Steak for you to try. If you are seeking some sightseeing, there is a small tourist train which runs through the town, stopping at the small castle.
If you are visiting during summer, why not take one of the ferries across to Ilha de Tavira, where you’ll find a beautiful sandy beach. And of course, while in Portugal, you must enjoy a Pastel de Nata (Portuguese custard tart) with your coffee. There is a small café on the square in the centre of Tavira which I highly recommend for this exact activity.
Recommended by: Mamta Naidu / Mamta Naidu
Faro, the capital of Algarve, is an underrated Portuguese town, typically used as a stopover before heading to the scenic beaches of Algarve region.
However, the rich architectural heritage and history, the stone-walled old town with beautiful cobbled Portuguese pavement, snug outdoor cafes, churches, and a scenic harbour outside the wall, Faro has much to offer its visitors.
But what’s more interesting about Faro is that a few white storks have adopted the town and made it their base. The first thing you notice as you step into the old town through the historic archway, Arco da Vila, is the white storks’ nests perched right on top of the arch. If you go in the right season, you will also get to see the chicks.
You will hear locals tell tales of how some of these birds never left Faro although they are migratory in nature and supposed to leave for Africa every winter.
As you walk around the town admiring the beautiful Portuguese architecture, you can’t help but notice how the white storks have adorned the buildings and enhance their beauty.
Algarve region per se is a popular destination for birdwatching, and it’s a good idea to start with white stork watching in Faro.
Recommended by: James Davies / Where You’re Between
The Azores are possibly Europe’s best kept secret. The nine Portuguese islands are spread across the Atlantic Ocean, just a couple of hour’s flight from Lisbon.
The main island, São Miguel, is the most visited of the Azores. Though small in size, São Miguel is loaded with spectacular natural beauty. The capital of São Miguel, Ponta Delgada, is a typically picturesque small Mediterranean city, with beautiful old-world backstreets and a picturesque modern marina.
It’s São Miguel’s natural beauty that is the real draw. Volcanic activity has played a huge role in shaping São Miguel, most visibly at the two stunning crater lakes at Sete Cidades. Hot springs spew sulphuric steam towards the sky, particularly around Lake Furnas. The warm brown water at Terra Nostra park’s thermal pools are said to have healing properties.
The best way to see São Miguel’s magnificent beauty is by hiring a car, and nothing is ever more than a short drive away.
Recommended by: Krix Enikő / Travel Hacker Girl
Madeira is the perfect place for nature lovers. Beautiful mountains, epic waterfalls, volcanic rockpools, interesting plants and impressive coastline amazes the visitors. Hiking in Madeira is an absolute must do! The island has several levada walks, which were originally built as an irrigation system however, nowadays they are also very popular hiking trails.
The most challenging and impressive hike on the island is the Pico do Arieiro – Pico Ruivo (PR1) one. It is a 14 km round trip hike, which can take 6-8 hours. There are several really narrow sections, where you will walk right next to the cliff edge, so it is not recommended for people with vertigo. You will need to bring a torch, as the path leads through some tunnels as well! Don’t miss the opportunity to do this hike! Walking above the clouds and seeing those impressive mountain views is an unforgettable experience!