These are the top ten must-see places in Portugal. Why only ten locations? Well, my purpose was to refine this list to the ten perfect destinations that a visitor to Portugal must see to truly appreciate the spirit, diversity, and beauty of Portugal. This list of destinations contains places of natural beauty and cultural significance. However, this list only includes destinations on Portugal's mainland and thus omits spectacularly beautiful autonomous regions and islands such as Azores and Madeira. I must preface this by mentioning, while I currently live in Portugal, I have not visited every point of interest in Portugal. Nevertheless, of the destinations I have visited, these are the places to see...but check back in a couple of months because this list may change. :-)
Aveiro is called the "Venice of Portugal" by the Portuguese people. While that may be a stretch, Aveiro is indeed a vibrant and lively destination with canals, good food, and neighboring colorful coastal villages that add to the appeal of this energetic community. [Map]
9) National Palace of Mafra
One of the most important monuments in Portugal is the National Palace of Mafra. This truly magnificent Baroque and Italianized Neoclassical palace-monastery stretches over four acres and has an impressive 1200 rooms. While it does not have the opulence of a Versailles, Schönbrunn, or Hermitage, it is probably the most remarkable piece of Portuguese architecture. [Map]
8) Parque Natural da Serra da Estrela
Portugal does have mountains, and the Serra da Estrela mountain range features the highest point in Portugal. While you will never confuse it with Switzerland's Alps, it does provide an occasional venue for skiing. Spectacular views of lakes, curvy roads, forests, and lofty peaks are all part of this striking natural area. [Map]
When one thinks of Portugal, typically Lisbon comes to mind, and for a good reason. Lisbon is an incredibly vibrant metropolis with many architectural sights nuzzled in a uniquely hilly setting. It always helps when a city rests on a waterscape, and the Atlantic Ocean and Tagus River backdrops only add to the beauty and mystique of Lisbon. [Map]
6) Elvas and the Forte of Graça
Nossa Senhora da Graça Fort is massive fortress near the Spanish border in Portugal. This unique structure is set atop a hill with fantastic views of a valley and the walled city of Elvas. The two destinations combine to create the largest fortified city in Portugal and Europe. Elvas is one of the most beautiful towns in Portugal and is strategically set in the Alentejo Region, a few kilometers from Spain. It is listed by UNESCO as a World Heritage Site. [Map]
5) Berlengas Archipelago
The Berlengas Archipelago lies only several miles westwards from the picturesque coastline of Portugal. The jagged outlines of cliffs on the backdrop of the Atlantic Ocean, the soft murmur of waves easing onto the beach, sightings of playful dolphins during the boat tours, the mystery of the island caves, and the caw-cawing of the seagulls occasionally breaking the tranquility all while creating a magical natural environment. [Map]
The Medieval walled town of Óbidos is a high point of any trip to Portugal. Known for its delicious sweets, Ginja liqueur, castle, and annual medieval festival, the stone-walled town of Óbidos makes for an enjoyable journey into the past. After enjoying the architecture and tight cobblestone main street which take you through the historic medieval marketplace, you must then make a memorable walk around the town on its stone walls which provide a panorama of the region. [Map]
3) Quinta da Regaleira and Sintra
It is hard to separate the many impressive architectural monuments in Sintra, so we will combine all of them for now while focusing on the one we like the most. Quinta da Regaleira is one of Portugal's fifteen UNESCO World Heritage Sites. Located on the picturesque Portuguese Riviera, in the city of Sintra, this garden estate and palace is probably the most impressive of the many enchanting palaces situated in the forests of the region. It will undoubtedly take you a full day to explore Regaleira's vast grounds with its winding caves, imposing and deep well, and copiously floral gardens. [Map]
2) The Algarve
Emerald blue-green waters, wide beaches that stretch as far as the eyes can see, and a magnificently sculpted and rugged coastline create one of Europe’s most beautiful, spectacular, and fun destinations. The Algarve is the most important tourist region of Portugal. [Map]
Towering cathedrals, a vibrant cityscape, a spectacular wine region to the East, and, a collaboration of old, dilapidated, and new architecture create my favorite city in Portugal, Porto. This large city straddles the Douro River on both sides, with its rolling hills full of colorful energy that only seaports can provide. No city in Portugal has the character and unique vibe of Porto (sorry Lisbon). [Map]
Honorable Mention - Casal de São Simão and Fragas de São Simão
Casal de São Simão is a beautiful old-world stone village that is surrounded by tall mountain cliffs with fantastic views. While this village is a sight to behold, the fact it resides within a tranquil and serene scene embraced by crags, mountains, streams, and waterfalls is what makes it unique. This natural setting separates Casal de São Simão from Portugal's other famous villages; Monsanto and Piodão. That adjacent stunning natural area is known as Fragas de São Simão and the two São Simão’s are inseparable. [Map]
Well, there they are, my top ten must-see places in Portugal. Make sure you check back in a couple of months. This list may change as I continue to explore Portugal. If I missed a destination, tell me about it below.
I'm just a guy who likes traveling, taking photos, and writing about my travels. I am not a writer by trade, so the main reason I write is to relive my travel experiences. Documenting vacations via photography and writing seems to add another layer to memory.
Article by Mark Pringle
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