So you’ve finally booked that trip to Portugal you’ve been dreaming about for years. Between the stunning beaches, historic architecture, and mouthwatering food, you know you’re in for an unforgettable getaway. The only question now is how to fit all the must-sees into your itinerary.
Don’t worry, we’ve got you covered. We’re counting down the top 8 places you have to visit to experience the very best of Portugal. From the fairytale palaces of Sintra to the colorful streets of Lisbon, and the striking cliffs of the Algarve, get ready to fall in love with this magical country. One visit and you’ll soon see why Portugal has topped so many travel bucket lists. This list is your essential guide to planning the Portuguese adventure of a lifetime.
Top 8 must see places in Portugal
Portugal is a popular travel destination, and for good reason. This picturesque country offers a unique blend of historical sites, vibrant cities, and coastal scenery.
There are so many amazing places to see, but here are the top 8 must-visit spots in Portugal.
- Lisbon: The Vibrant Capital
As Portugal’s vibrant capital city, Lisbon should be at the top of your list. This colorful metropolis on the Tagus River has charming neighbourhoods, stunning architecture, and a buzzing food scene.
- Alfama and Bairro Alto: Picturesque Neighborhoods
Two of Lisbon’s most enchanting districts are Alfama and Bairro Alto. Alfama is the oldest neighbourhood, with winding cobblestone streets, basilicas, and the sounds of fado music spilling onto the sidewalks. Bairro Alto is equally charming, with pastel-coloured buildings, leafy plazas, and hip bars that stay open late into the night.
- Must-See Attractions
No trip to Lisbon is complete without visiting Belém Tower and Jerónimos Monastery. The tower is a medieval fortification that sits on the riverbank, offering panoramic views of the city. Nearby, the Jerónimos Monastery is a UNESCO World Heritage Site, featuring beautiful Manueline architecture.
Other can’t-miss spots are São Jorge Castle, a hilltop citadel with ruins dating back to the 2nd century BC, and Oceanário de Lisboa, one of the world’s largest aquariums. Take a ride on tram #28 for a scenic tour of the city’s highlights.
- Delicious Cuisine
Lisbon’s food scene is on fire. For petiscos (small plates), head to Timeout Market, Mercado da Ribeira or Cervejaria Ramiro. Try bacalhau (salted cod), amêijoas (clams), and prego (steak sandwiches). And no meal is complete without a creamy pastel de nata (custard tart) for dessert.
With stunning vistas, delectable cuisine and a buzzing nightlife, Lisbon offers something for everyone. Lose yourself in this enchanting city and you just may never want to leave.
- Sintra: Fairytale Town Near Lisbon
Sintra is a fairytale town near Lisbon that you absolutely must visit. Nestled in the forested hills of the Serra de Sintra, it’s home to whimsical palaces, enchanted gardens, and ancient castles that seem straight out of a storybook.
- Pena Palace
The Pena Palace should be at the top of your list. This colorful palace with Gothic and Islamic architectural elements was built in the 19th century. As you explore the palace and its lush parklands, you’ll feel like you’ve stepped into a magical kingdom. The views of the surrounding countryside from its hilltop location are stunning.
- Moorish Castle
For panoramic views of the town, head to the ruins of the 8th-century Moorish Castle. This historic fortification was an important stronghold during the Reconquista, and its crumbling ramparts offer the perfect vantage point to take in the beauty of Sintra.
- Quinta da Regaleira
The whimsical Quinta da Regaleira estate is another must-see. This elaborate palace and chapel complex features gardens, lakes, grottoes, and walking trails. The mystical symbols and Masonic references hidden throughout the property give it an air of mystery. Spend an afternoon getting lost in the enchanting grounds.
There are many other attractions worth exploring like the Seteais Palace, Monserrate Palace, and Sintra National Palace in the town centre. You can easily spend 2-3 days seeing all the highlights, but even just a day trip from Lisbon will give you a taste of the magic. Sintra feels like a storybook coming to life, with surprises around every corner of its winding cobblestone streets. No trip to Portugal is complete without visiting this fairytale town in the forest.
- Algarve: Stunning Southern Beaches
The Algarve region in southern Portugal is home to some of the most stunning beaches in the country if not all of Europe. As Portugal’s most popular coastal destination, the Algarve’s 100 miles of coastline are dotted with lovely beaches flanked by golden cliffs and azure waters.
- Praia da Marinha
One of the most famous beaches is Praia da Marinha, renowned for its natural beauty and dramatic sea cliffs. Reachable only by a steep staircase, its secluded cove and clear turquoise waters make it a perfect escape. It’s a popular spot for sunbathing, swimming and rock climbing.
The historic town of Lagos is a great base for exploring the western Algarve beaches. Just outside the city walls are scenic coves like Praia do Camilo, a small sandy beach enclosed by ochre cliffs. Take a boat tour to explore the peculiar sea caves and rock formations along the coast. With calm waters and gentle surf, Lagos’ beaches are ideal for families with kids.
- Water Sports
If you’re into water sports, the Algarve is a prime destination. Surfing, windsurfing, kayaking, stand-up paddle boarding, jet skiing, and snorkelling are all popular activities, especially along the western coast. The strong winds and waves around Sagres attract many surfers and windsurfers. Join a boat tour to access more secluded beaches and the best surfing spots.
- Coastal Scenery
Even if you’re not a beach person, the Algarve coast is worth visiting just for the scenery. Take a drive along N125 road, stopping at the many viewpoints to soak in the vistas of sandy coves, sea cliffs and the vast Atlantic Ocean. Or hike parts of the 300-mile Algarve coastal walking trail between Cabo de São Vicente and Vila Real de Santo António. The wildlife, flowers and panoramas along the way are breathtaking.
With stunning beaches, inviting waters and an abundance of outdoor pursuits, the Algarve is a perfect summer escape in Portugal for beach lovers and outdoor enthusiasts alike. Its picturesque coastline and charming towns will leave you with memories to last a lifetime.
- Madeira: Lush Island Escape
Madeira is a lush, mountainous island off the coast of Portugal known for its natural beauty. Blanketed in forests and crisscrossed by levadas (irrigation channels), Madeira’s landscape is perfect for hiking and exploring. The capital city of Funchal offers charming gardens, a beachfront boardwalk, and a vibrant food scene. For adventure, head to the mountains to hike the levadas or go canyoning in the rock pools and waterfalls. Madeira’s subtropical climate means you can swim in the ocean and natural pools all year round.
- Funchal: A Charming Capital
The capital city of Funchal is a great base for exploring the island. Stroll the beachfront promenade, visit the farmers market to sample fresh produce and flowers, and tour the botanical garden with its vast collection of plants. The old town has cobblestone streets, colorful buildings, and cafes where you can try a poncha, Madeira’s signature cocktail. Take a cable car ride up to the village of Monte for panoramic views of the city and coastline below.
- Levada Walks: Hiking Paradise
Madeira’s Levada system of irrigation channels winds for over 2,000 miles through the mountains and valleys. Following these paths offers a glimpse into traditional life on the island and access to breathtaking scenery. The Levada do Caldeirão Verde is one of the most popular hikes, leading to a waterfall and natural swimming pool surrounded by lush forest. The Levada das 25 Fontes also features over 20 springs flowing into a rocky gorge.
- Natural Wonders: Mountains, Pools and More
Madeira’s volcanic peaks, massive cliffs and rocky coastline are a natural playground for adventure and swimming. Go canyoning in the rock pools and waterfalls of Ribeira Brava, or cliff jump at Ponta de São Lourenço. The natural pools at Porto Moniz and Seixal are ocean pools set within the volcanic coastline, perfect for a dip surrounded by dramatic sea cliffs. Inland, Pico Ruivo is Madeira’s highest point, offering panoramic views of the island’s mountainous interior.
Whether enjoying the amenities of Funchal, hiking the levadas, or exploring the natural wonders, Madeira’s scenic beauty and mild climate make it an idyllic island escape. A trip to Madeira offers opportunities for adventure, culture, food and relaxation amidst stunning landscapes.
- Évora: Walled City Rich in History
Évora is a walled city in the Alentejo region that will transport you back in time. As a UNESCO World Heritage site, Évora’s historic city centre is filled with architectural and cultural gems from various periods in Portuguese history.
- Templo de Diana
One of the must-see spots is the Templo de Diana, a well-preserved Roman temple dating back to the 2nd century. Despite its name, the temple was likely dedicated to several Roman deities. This iconic landmark stands as a symbol of Évora’s important role in Roman Lusitania.
- Sé de Évora
The Sé de Évora, a Gothic cathedral, dominates the city’s skyline. Construction began in the 12th century but took hundreds of years to complete, resulting in a mix of architectural styles. Climb the cathedral’s towers for panoramic views of the city’s cobblestone streets and terracotta rooftops.
- Capela dos Ossos, or Chapel of Bones
The Capela dos Ossos, or Chapel of Bones, is another unusual attraction. The interior walls and columns of this small chapel are covered in thousands of human skulls and bones, a reminder of our shared mortality.
- Évora’s historic centre
Évora’s historic centre is also home to museums, a lively town square surrounded by cafés and restaurants, as well as boutiques selling traditional Alentejo crafts like cork products, azulejo tiles and wine.
Outside the city walls, Évora is surrounded by cork oak forests, olive groves and vineyards. Take a day trip to a nearby winery to sample some of Alentejo’s famous wines, made from grapes like Alicante Bouschet and Trincadeira.
With its layers of history and culture, charming ambience, and natural beauty, Évora deserves a spot on your must-see list for Portugal. Lose yourself within its medieval walls and you may find it hard to leave.
- Coimbra: Youthful University Town
Coimbra is a youthful university town set along the banks of the Mondego River, home to one of the oldest universities in the world. As a historic centre of learning, Coimbra has a rich cultural heritage and charming atmosphere you’ll want to experience.
- The University of Coimbra
Founded in 1290, the University of Coimbra is one of the world’s first universities. Its historic campus, called Alta, is a UNESCO World Heritage Site. Explore the architectural gems like the Royal Palace and St. Michael’s Chapel, used for university ceremonies. The highlight is the magnificent Baroque library, the Joanina Library, which houses over 300,000 books.
- The Coimbra Cathedral
The Coimbra Cathedral, also known as the Sé Velha, is the oldest cathedral in Portugal, originally built in the 12th century. This Roman Catholic cathedral has seen many architectural changes over the centuries, now featuring a mix of Romanesque, Gothic and Baroque styles. Climb the cathedral tower for panoramic views of the city. The cathedral also houses the tombs of the city’s first two kings.
- Student Life
As a university city, Coimbra has a lively student population and a youthful vibe. Relive your college days by joining students at a café or bar. Head to Praça da República, a popular square lined with cafes and bars featuring live music. Or check out a fado performance, Portugal’s traditional melancholy music, often performed by local students.
Coimbra’s educational prominence and intellectual spirit combined with a long, rich history give this city a cultured yet casual feel. The youthful energy from the student population infuses Coimbra with vibrance. No visit to Portugal is complete without experiencing this historic university town.
- Porto: Historic City on the Douro
Porto is a picturesque city in northern Portugal, known for its port wine and scenic riverfront. The historic Ribeira district features colorful houses and narrow cobblestone streets along the Douro River. Cross the double-decker Dom Luís I Bridge for panoramic views of the city’s skyline and port wine cellars.
- Ribeira District
The Ribeira district is Porto’s historic heart, with beautiful architecture and a vibrant atmosphere along the riverfront. Take in the painted houses, cafes, and restaurants as you stroll the winding alleys. Climb the Baroque Clerigos Tower for stunning views of the cityscape.
- Dom Luís I Bridge
Completed in 1886, the Dom Luís I Bridge is an iconic double-decker arch bridge that spans the Douro River. Walk or ride the metro across the bridge for unparalleled views of the city. The top deck offers scenic vistas of the Ribeira district and port wine cellars.
- Port Wine Cellars
Porto is synonymous with port wine, and no trip is complete without visiting one of the port wine cellars. Many are located across the river in Vila Nova de Gaia, including Sandeman and Graham’s. Take a guided tour to learn about the winemaking process and port wine varietals. Sample tawny, ruby, and white port wines and find a new favourite.
- Other Sights
Check out the São Francisco Church, with its lavish gold interior. The Palácio da Bolsa was once Porto’s stock exchange. The gardens of the Crystal Palace offer greenery and fountains. For art, visit the Serralves Museum. Take a boat tour on the Douro River to see sights from the water.
Porto charms visitors with its historic architecture, port wine, and natural beauty. Stroll through the picturesque Ribeira district, cross the iconic double-decker bridge, and sample port wines in the cellars of Vila Nova de Gaia. Discover the many delights of this charming city on the Douro.
You’ve now got an exciting list of the top places to visit on your trip to Portugal. With stunning beaches, historic sites, natural wonders and delicious food around every corner, Portugal has something for everyone. What are you waiting for? Start planning your Portuguese adventure today. Pack your bags, book those flights and hotels, and get ready to experience the beauty, culture, and hospitality of this amazing country. Portugal will capture your heart – the only question is where will you go first? The fairytale town of Sintra, the world-class surfing in Peniche, or the vibrant city life in Lisbon? However you choose to explore Portugal, you’re sure to make memories that will last a lifetime. Until next time, safe travels!