With stunning scenery, rich history and perhaps the friendliest people in the world, Portugal is hitting the radar of travellers far and wide.
While fascinating capital Lisbon is at the top of every visitor’s to-do list, there’s so much to see in regional Portugal – so leave enough time in your itinerary to explore further afield.
Here’s a list of ten top things to do in Portugal.
Visit the Douro Valley vineyards
Trying port wine is a given on any trip to Portugal, but better still, pay a visit to the stunning Douro Valley, home to many of the country’s vineyards and wineries. If staying in Porto, you can see the valley by taking a cruise up the Douro River from Vila Nova de Gaia, then return by train for an alternative view of the landscape.
Pay a visit to Portugal’s birthplace
Guimarães is often referred to as Portugal’s birthplace, being the country’s former capital and the city where Portugal’s first independent king, Afonso Henriques, was born.
The historic architecture here dates back to the tenth century and includes a medieval castle, several churches – such as the Igreja de São Francisco clad with Portugal’s famed blue and white tiles (azulejos), and the Alberto Sampaio Museum where you’ll find exhibitions of religious art.
The city is easily reached from Porto, and is a highly recommended day trip when visiting Portugal’s north.
Try Portugal’s original custard tart
You can barely walk a few metres in this country without seeing rows of delicious looking Portuguese custard tarts – Pastéis de Nata – staring back at you from a café window. However the original tart, the Pasteis de Belém, comes from its namesake district just outside Lisbon’s city centre, and as everyone knows, the original is always the best.
Creamy on the inside and flaky on the outside, these tarts can impress even the most savoury palate.
Step back in time at Évora
The walled medieval city of Évora is a UNESCO World Heritage-listed site and can be visited as a day trip from Lisbon. This is one of the most historical of our ten top things to do in Portugal.
The Praça do Giraldo, or Giraldo Square, (a former execution ground) sits at the heart of the city and showcases gothic architecture amid a bustling café scene. Other key sites include a Roman temple dating back to the first century.
Join the celebration of the saints
If you find yourself in Porto or Lisbon in mid-June, you may find it hard not to get caught up in the festivities of Saint John and Saint Anthony respectively.
The tradition of celebrating the cities’ patron saints is alive and well with locals pouring out onto the streets on festival night to barbecue sardines, enjoy live performances and fireworks displays, and party long into the night.
Explore Portugal’s majestic coastline
As Europe’s westernmost country, Portugal is blessed with long stretches of beach and dramatic shoreline cliffs. The Algarve region in the south rates highly among beach-loving locals and foreigners alike, however more secluded and equally beautiful beaches can be found in the Alentejo region closer to the centre.
As a heads up, the ocean in Portugal is known to be nippy year-round, so expect your ocean dips to be brief and refreshing!
Indulge in top-notch seafood
Given the aforementioned coastline, Portugal is a haven for seafood lovers. In coastal areas like Matosinhos in Porto you’ll find rows of barbecues along the footpath where the day’s catch is cooked over smoking coals.
Make sure you also try gooseneck barnacles – a juicy national delicacy scraped from rocks in oft-dangerous sea conditions, and nicely matched with a Portuguese vinho verde (green wine), which is typically a young wine with a delicate fizz.
Ski in Serra da Estrela
With its many beaches and Mediterranean climate, Portugal is generally considered a summer playground. However, if you head inland you’ll find the country’s highest mountain range, Serra da Estrela, complete with a winter ski resort.
The national park is the largest protected area in Portugal and includes a series of marked hiking trails.
Listen to fado
Fado is a style of traditional Portuguese music developed in the nineteenth century. The genre is known for being intensely emotive and, well, sad, with songs typically conveying feelings of hardship and loss.
Fado consists of a male or female vocalist backed by a small stringed ensemble and you can find shows in many Portuguese bars and restaurants.
Island hop in the Azores
The Azores is an autonomous region of Portugal consisting of nine islands surrounded by clear blue water in the North Atlantic Ocean. Here you can cycle, hike, surf and kayak until your heart’s content, and nature lovers can enjoy feather spotting in one of Europe’s best bird watching locations. Whale watching is also popular.
A number of airlines fly to the Azores from Lisbon and Porto and ferry services operate between islands.
Do you have any suggestions to add to our list of ten top things to do in Portugal? We would love to hear from you. Please leave a comment below.
Additional images: Bigstock
About the writer
Emily McAuliffe is an Australian travel writer and photographer based in Portugal. Her work has featured in national publications such as the Qantas, Jetstar and Tigerair inflight magazines, Get Up & Go and Women’s Fitness. Subscribe to Emily’s blog for stories and images that will make you want to visit Portugal tomorrow!