20 unmissable attractions in Portugal
Portugal is such an amazing country! You will be impressed by all the marvellous places and landmarks of Portugal, which is why I decided to write about the 20 unmissable attractions in Portugal!
From the north to the south of the country, some places are more beautiful the some than the others. Most the attractions I talk about in this article are located near the coast. As you travel through the country of Portugal, you will quickly realize that its people and all its highlights are closely connected to the nature. People in Portugal are very lucky, because it is a very rich country. In Portugal, we get to enjoy the beach, the mountains, but also the city. If you come to Lisbon but have some time left in the country, seize the opportunity to visit some of these attractions. You won’t regret it! Read on and find out twenty unmissable attractions in Portugal!
Gerês National Park
First on my list of 20 unmissable attractions in Portugal is the Gerês National Park. Located in the north of Portugal, closed to the border with Spain, it is one of the greatest natural attractions of the country! Its rare and impressive beautiful landscapes are home to many species of fauna, such as wolves and birds of prey. The flora variety of the park is also pretty unbelievable.
It is a magical place that still looks like it hasn’t been touched by the human hand. Walk the mountains along the currents of water, have a look at the waterfalls and swin in the water, and embrace all the nature has to offer to you. You will find many lagoons scattered along the park. Some areas of the Gerês National Park can be hard to access, so you need to evaluate your habilities, bring comfortable shoes and clothes.
In the main and largest lagoon of the Gerês National Park, you will be able to take a boat cruise, ride a water scooter, and join many other fun activities! All the members of the family will have the time of their life! During the month of July and August, prices explode! So, if you’re only into walking, admiring the landscapes and enjoying quiet moments away from the city life, you can go there during the rest of the year, when the accommodation prices are lower.
At Rua das Carmelitas, 144 in the city of Porto, you will find the Livraria Lello. This one-of-a-kind bookstore opened its doors on January, 13 of 1906. The building probably is one of the best examples of Gothic Revival architecture of the city of Porto. Close to the Torre dos Clérigos, it is considered to be one of the most beautiful bookstores of Europe.
The wooden shelves full of books go up to the ceiling, the stained glass on the ceiling provide a unique atmosphere to the place. But the carved stairs definitely steal all the show! They even inspired the author J.K. Rowling for the writing of the Harry Potter saga, when she lived in the city for more than a year.
Note that to get inside the Livraria Lello, you will need to pay three euros, that will later be discounted if you decide to buy a book there.
The Douro River is one of the main rivers of the Iberian Peninsula. It is born in the north of Spain in the Sierra de Urbión and then flows 850 kilometers to its mouth in Porto.
The river once played a very important role for the region’s commerce of Port wine. The Douro was also essential for the transportation of people and of Douro wine. While in Porto, you should definitely join one of Douro boat cruise to learn everything about the region and its history! There are several options for you to pick. For instance, you can check this company and this one too. This will allow you to compare the prices and get an idea of the set price.
Your Instagram contents will be the greatest at Costa Nova! The traditional Costa Nova houses are unique and will definitely give a special touch to your feeds!
This coast filled with coloured stripes houses is perfect for the summer holidays. This place is the favorite one for fishermen and people who enjoy water sports, such as windsurf, stand up paddle, and kitesurf.
Ria de Aveiro
Aveiro is sometimes nicknamed as the Portuguese Venice. If you come to Costa Nova, you cannot miss the Ria de Aveiro and its Moliceiros cruises. These boat cruises provide a complete different perspective on the city.
The Moliceiros are definitely the highlight of the city. They were formerly used to cath the seaweed, which is called “moliço” in Portuguese, that was used as fertilizer for the lands of the region. When this activity ended, the boats started being used for touristic activities. During the boat cruises, you get to see many landmarks of the region. So, it is definitely a must!
While in Aveiro, don’t forget to try the delicious and yummiest “tripas de Aveiro“! They kind of look and taste like crepes, but still are different.
Serra da Freita
This mountain is one of my favorite places. I usually go there every summer. I have to tell you that I’ve seen the best sunsets and sunrises. You will feel strongly connected to nature at Serra da Freita. You can get there from the roads of the cities of Arouca and Vale de Cambra .
Geologist have a distinct interest in the Serra da Freita, and you will too, if you love discovering and experiencing new places. There are also several pedestrian trail runs happening, so you will be able to explore the region and its hidden gems. Travelers who come to Serra da Freita are usually people who love breathtaking landscapes, nature, getting to know new cultures and trying new food.
While in Serra da Freita, don’t miss one of the biggest waterfalls of Europe: Frecha da Mizarela. You will also love to learn about the Pedras Parideiras, which are a very rare natural geological phenomenon. The “mother stone” basically gives birth to other stones. The Serra da Freita is the only place on earth where you will get to witness this phenomenon. Serra da Freita is also the perfect place if you’re a lover of extreme sports, like climbing, rappelling or kayaking!
Passadiços do Paiva
At the Passadiços do Paiva, you will see breathtaking landscapes, natural, biological, geological, archaeological wealth. The visitors enjoy getting lost in the wooden rail along the Paiva river. It is definitely an experience I recommend if you’re spending some time in the region!
During your walk, you can stop by the river, have a swim, have a picnic by the river. The only rule is to obviously trash! To get inside the Passadiços do Paiva, you have to pay two euros. But if you buy your ticket online, you will only have to pay one euro.
Serra da Estrela
It is the second highest mountain of Portugal. The Serra da Estrela is an exceptional place. It’s the biggest Portuguese protected area, and that’s where you will find the only ski slope of the country. The local heritage is always preserved and promoted. Some of the highlights of the Serra da Estrela are, for instance, the farm-produced cheese “Queijo da Serra da Estrela”, but also the protection of the dog breed Serra da Estrala, that can only be found in Portugal.
At the top of the Serra da Estrela, you will feel so tiny compared to the greatness of the world we live in. Once you reach the top, you will be seized by deep emotions and realize that you should really focus on the issues that really matter, because we are such tiny creatures on this earth.
Universidade de Coimbra
The Universidade de Coimbra (University of Coimbra) is one of the oldest universities in the world. It was founded in March of 1290. This university is the greatest highlight of the city. If you happen to visit Coimbra, make sure you walk the different faculties. You will also enjoy to see the students in their traditional garments, called “traje“.
The Universidade de Coimbra, the students and their traditional “trajes” are unmissable attraction in Portugal! They also were a great source of inspiration for the Harry Potter saga of J.K. Rowling. Once you visit this landmark of Portugal, you will realize why!
Since you’re in the city, also take the time to visit the Portugal dos Pequenitos. Your kids will love it! The purpose of this place is to bring together peoples and cultures, by exhibiting a portrait of the Portugal way and showing aspects of Portugal in the world. It’s very fun for the children, because all the buildings and details are in small versions. They will be able to enter in houses their sizes!
Mosteiro da Batalha
Located in the city of Batalha, the Mosteiro da Batalha was built by order of the King John I of Portugal in 1386, to show gratitude to Mary, mother of Jesus, for the victory against the Castilians during the Battle of Aljubarrota. If you enjoy Gothic and Manueline architecture styles, you will thoroughly love visiting the Mosteiro da Batalha.
Santuário de Fátima
The Santuário de Fátima, located in the city of Fátima, is a marian sanctuary dedicated to Our Lady of Fátima. It is a place of Christian pilgrimage and Catholic devotion. The sanctuary is very special, because it is believed it is where the Virgin Mary has appeared to three shepherds, Lúcia, Francisco and Jacinta, in 1917.
Catholics usually come to pray and to thank the lord. Some people also come on foot from their hometown to the sanctuary, when they’re going through difficult times. The trip lasts a few days but once they arrive, their hearts get filled with emotions. It definitely is one of the most important highlights of Portugal. Whether you’re a believer or not, the Santuário de Fátima is a peaceful and quiet place where people are filled with hope and gratitude.
Praia do Norte
In the city of Nazaré, you will find the famous Praia do Norte. It is in this beach that you will find the best, greatest and most perfect waves! A rare geomorphologic pheonomenon happens: there’s a gap in the continental plate that is about 170 kilometers long and five kilometers deep. Every year, surfers from all around the world get together in Nazare to surf the most awesome and the biggest waves. Many surfing contests happen during the year. And it is also in the Praia do Norte that most biggest waves records happened.
In 2013, Garrett McNamara, a surfer from the United States, made history when surfing a 30 meters tall wave. One year later, in 2014, the french surfer Benjamin Sanchis beat McNamara’s record with a 33 meters tall wave, at the same location, on the coast of Nazaré in Portugal. However, this year of 2018, Hugo Vau, a portuguese surfer has again beat the record when surfing a 35 meters high wave that has been baptized “Big Mama”. So if you’re into surfing, strong emotions and adventures, Nazare is definitely the place to be at.
If you’re visiting Lisbon, have some extra time and love to explore new places, take the bus at Sete Rios stop in Lisbon towards Peniche. It will cost you about nine euros and the trip lasts one hour and a half. From Peniche, you can get in a boat cruise to the Berlengas Island, which is a true masterpiece of nature!
Palácio Nacional da Pena
The splendid Palácio da Pena is the greatest example of Romanticist architecture of Portugal! Located on the top of the Monte da Pena in Sintra, the palace was built on the site of an old convent of the Order of Saint Jerome friars. The King Fernando II of Portugal loved the city of Sintra, so he decided to acquire the convent and the surrounding lands to built his summer palace for the royal family.
For his project, the King chose Portuguese architectonic and decorative shapes based on Neo Gothic, Neo Manueline, and more architectural styles. The Palácio da Pena has a unique architecture! You will love both the palace and the nature around it. The place definitely looks like out of a fairytale.
Quinta da Regaleira
While in Sintra, don’t forget to visit the Quinta da Regaleira as well. It is one of the most remarkable and enigmatic monuments of the city.
Carvalho Monteiro, one of its first owners, wanted to build magnificent place, where everyone could see the symbols that showed his interests and ideologies. He wanted to bring the glorious past of Portugal back to life, which is why the Neo Manueline style is predominant. It make references to the Age of Discoveries. It is a mysterious and magical place that I am sure you will love!
I consider Alfama to be the soul of Lisbon! It is the oldest and safest neighborhood of Lisbon. There are a lot of narrow alleys, a lot of staircases and dead ends. The structure of the area is very peculiar, unique and one-of-a-kind! But you should know that you don’t need to worry, because despite the fact that there are a lot of narrow lanes going up and down, there’s no way you can really get lost as long as you walk down Alfama. If you keep walking down the neighborhood from the Castelo São Jorge, you will get out at the bottom. In fact, I highly recommend you to stroll around Alfama. Freely explore and “try to get lost“, because it’s actually the best way to discover the area and meet its people!
Mosteiro dos Jerónimos
Proclaimed as World Heritage by UNESCO, the Mosteiro dos Jerónimos is most certainly one of the most important monuments of Lisbon! It is the symbol of Portugal power, discoveries and knowledge. Built in the late 1400’s, it is a fine example of the architectural Manuelino style that was inspired by the Age of Discoveries. The remains of important Portuguese figures have been transported to the monastery, such as Luís de Camões and the explorer Vasco da Gama. You really shouldn’t miss this major landmark of the city of Lisbon!
> Read more about the Monastery and the area of Belém.
> Learn more about the Age of Discoveries.
> Learn more about Vasco da Gama.
> Join our Belém tour! A local guide will tell you everything about the history of Portugal.
Located in the Algarve region, precisely in the city of Benagil, you will find the Benagil Caves. Unfortunately, I’ve never actually been to the Benagil Caves, but it’s been on my bucket list for so long! You can access the caves by boat, and also by swimming. But you need to be careful with the high tide! Also, you need to know that it is quite a long swim, so you have to be physically prepared!
Praia da Rocha
Again, in the Algarve region, there’s a very fun beach: the Praia da Rocha! Why is it on my list of 20 unmissable attractions in Portugal? Because it has such a cool atmosphere. The water is warm, there are plenty of water activities you can join, and the people are so friendly! You can stay on the beach til the sun sets. Romantic and relaxing moments are guaranteed. However, you need to know that during the summer months, the beach can get really crowded.
Marchas populares de Lisboa
This is something you won’t be able to experience only once in the year, during the month of June! On the 12th of June, the Marchas Populares de Lisboa happen. You will witness the most amazing popular parades, with handmade costumes. These traditional celebrations take place all through the month. Everybody get together on the streets to drink, to eat, to dance, to sing, to party! All the streets are decorated with flowers, lights and garlands. You won’t see an atmosphere like this one anywhere else. Don’t miss the Marchas Populares de Lisboa!
During the month of October, the Magusto begins. It is a traditional Portuguese event. People gather eat roasted chestnuts and drink the new wine. The harvest of chestnuts already begins in October and they already start selling the early ones. But the best roasted chestnuts you will ever eat truly are the November ones. During the month of November, you will find plenty of roasted chestnuts street sellers in Lisbon.
My article about the 20 unmissable attractions in Portugal is now over! I hope you’ve enjoyed reading it and that it has awaken the will to explore Portugal and all its highlights and hidden gems! Don’t hesitate to contact us if you need further information about anything!
See you soon in our beautiful country!