10 Places You just Can’t Miss in Portugal

Summer has finally arrived in Germany and I cherish every little second of sunshine. The other day, I was waiting for my bus home when I suddenly longed for a cold, fresh pressed orange juice. I sat on a bench in the sun sipping my juice and realized how much I miss Portugal. A country where you can sit outside in the sun year round. A country where every little pastelaria sells freshly pressed orange juice for less than a Euro. How much I loved the Portuguese for their sweet tooth that they even serve the most delicious orange juice with two packages of sugar! I just love and miss every little detail about Portugal.

Summer heat and fresh pressed orange juice also reminded me that I should write about Portugal again. Not a day goes by on which I don’t think and talk about it — so why shouldn’t I write about it on the blog more often, right? However, I’m in a little bit of a writing dilemma — on the hand I want to scream and tell the world how Portugal is the best country in Europe; on the other hand I want to keep it to myself, because it’s my beloved Portugal, my little amazing hidden gem.

But since vacation season is upon us and Portugal’s economy can really use the tourists, I decided to be altruistic: Portugal is great! You all should go there ASAP! Seriously!

But to be a little more precise I’ll introduce you to my ten favorite places in Portugal to convince you how beautiful, how diversified, how exciting this country is.

Óbidos

Óbidos is a tiny city that isn’t really well known in international tourism — but the Portuguese weekend-getawayers love this little town with its narrow cobbled lanes, the medieval castle and the white and yellow houses. Most Portuguese visit Óbidos in the spring for the annual chocolate festival. Yes, you read that right: A month-long festival dedicated to chocolate. But even beyond this, Óbidos is an incredibly great place to visit: It’s so historic and so picturesque — and it’s famous for a cherry liquor called Ginhinja, which is traditionally served in a chocolate cup. Yes, you read that right too: Sweet tasty liquor in an edible chocolate cup! Don’t you wanna go to Óbidos right away?

Óbidos, Portugal

Fátima

Fátima has never been on the list of places I originally wanted to see in Portugal — nonetheless I’m glad I visited this special place. Because besides Rome and Santiago de Compostela in Spain, Fátima is the most important catholic pilgrimage site in Europe. About a century ago Mary (apparently) appeared there and when this incident was officially declared a miracle by the Catholic church, Fátima became famous. Portuguese pilgrims walk through half the country on their bare feet and sick people from all over the world crawl in-between Fátima’s two huge churches on their knees. Not being too familiar with Catholicism, seeing all these desperate believers can be slightly oppressive, but I found it important to experience this. It helped me to understand the Portuguese and their religious beliefs better. Moreover, Fátima is simply overwhelming when it comes to architecture: The church forecourt is larger than St Peter’s Square in Rome, and the new church offers space for up to 9,000 Christians. From the endless shops selling little Mary sculptures to the impressive sanctuary, Fátima is a place that shouldn’t be missed on an extended Portugal itinerary.

Fátima, Portgal

Porto & Villa Nova de Gaia

Portugal’s second city has won me over several years ago and it has had a place in my heart ever since. Porto has a very special ruinous beauty, for which I fell entirely. The River Douro has been a part of the city’s history, economy and appearance for ever, turning Porto and the Douro valley into one if the most well-known wine regions in Europe. Porto is just the ideal place for a weekend getaway in Europe — it’s easy on the budget just and it is so Portuguese that it won’t take you very long to get culturally immersed.

Porto, Portugal

Houses in Porto, Portugal

Located right across the river from Porto, Villa Nova de Gaia is often mistaken for another part of Porto. Rumor has it that the combined names of the intertwined cities of Porto and Gaia created Portugal’s name in the first place: Portugal = Porto Gaia. What Gaia is most famous for are the port wine cellars down by the river, which definitely cannot be missed when visiting the Douro region. All port wine cellars offer free tours with a tasting of two different kinds of port in the end of the tour —  visiting a few wine cellars in Gaia is something that should not be missed out on!

The view from Villa Nova de Gaia, Portugal

Cascais

Cascais is a little beach city a bit outside of Lisbon. For me, Cascais was this beautiful recreational place, where time was passing slowly somehow. I loved the beaches surrounded by cliffs and watching the reflections of yachts in the marina. Cascais is a wonderful place to relax, to stroll, to rent a bike to cycle to even more beautiful beaches, and to be awe-struck if you visit famous boca do inferno at sunset.

Cascais, Portugal

Cascais, Portugal

Évora

Évora is a beautiful little town, which is an art historian’s dream come true: From ancient Roman temple ruins to medieval city walls and churches, Évora is overflowing with history and great architecture. If you’re interested in more quirky historic sights: There’s also a quite scary chapel that has walls made out of human skulls. And although Évora feels like a small town, it is home to one of the bigger universities in Portugal and thus has a great student vibe. Ergo: Évora is perfect for a weekend getaway if you love history, small but vibrant cities, and the fantastic wine of the Alentejo region.

Évora, Alentejo, Portugal

Tavira

Much has been said and written about the beach cities along the Algarve, but Tavira is different. Although I haven’t been to famous Faro, I briefly visited the tourist hub Albufeira and was totally underwhelmed: It wasn’t real the Portugal that was presented to the tourists here. However, if you want a more moderate touristy, but a lot more Portuguese Algarve experience, I recommend the quaint former fishing village of Tavira. The city is itself is adorable and the beaches around Tavira are breathtakingly perfect.

Praia do Barril, Tavira, Portugal

Tavira, Algarve, Portugal

Torre, Serra da Estrela

In a general opinion, Portugal is just beaches and pretty cities. And that is true of course, but Portugal is a lot more than that! Serra de Estrala is a mountain rage in the east, where the county looks entirely different: Huge dark stones, a strong icey wind — and Portugal’s only ski lift! Yes, skiing in Portugal is actually possible! And as the highest place in Portugal, Torre is the only place it ever really snows, and the Portuguese love going there to see the first snow: On the first real snow day there usually is major traffic volume, because everybody is driving up the steep roads to the highest peak to experience a little white powdery stuff. As a German, I wasn’t too thrilled to see snow (and I didn’t), but I adored seeing this other rough side of Portugal.

Julika at Serra da Estrela, Portugal

Torre, Serra da Estrela

Sintra

Sintra is the equivalent to a fairy tale. This little city, located a bit further outside of Lisbon, has so many castles that it is almost unreal: Every castle is built in another style — from a Moorish defense castle, to the classically Portuguese national palace, to the surreally colorful Palácio da Pena, which looks like straight out of a Disney movie. No matter if you are just a little girl wanting to dream about your future career as princess, or an architecture student, or a history buff: You can’t miss Sintra! My favorite palace was Palácio de Monserrate which was built as a 19th century version of an Arabian night’s dream. And I totally pretended to be an Arabian princess there.

Castelo dos Mouros, Sintra, Portugal

Palácio Nacional da Pena, Sintra, Portugal

Palácio de Monserrate, Sintra, Portugal

Lagos

There are places with a reputation that make you curious whether the rumors are true or if it’s just another hype — and Lagos on the Algarve coast has this kind of reputation. And let me reassure you: All the rumors are true, Lagos is out of this world! The beaches are so stunning that I couldn’t help squeaking all the time. The nights out are like a blur of insanity with all the clubs and bars and rooftop beers with surfing instructors. If you want the best vacation of your life: Go to Lagos! But remember: What happens in Lagos, stays in Lagos.

Lagos, Algarve, Portugal

Lagos, Algarve, Portugal

Lagos, Algarve, Portugal

Lisbon

Oh, Lisbon. I love this city so much it hurts. It’s my favorite city in Europe and I’m convinced it’s the best capital you’ll find on the continent. Lisbon has everything: Beauty, history, fantastic coffee, a crazy party scene, design hostels and beaches close by. I could serenade this city forever, but I will just say: Everybody who came to Lisbon ended up loving it. I’m convinced you’ll love it too.

Lisbon, Portugal

Mosteiro dos Jerónimos, Belém, Lisbon, Portugal

Lisbon, Portugal

These are my ten places you can’t miss in Portugal. I know there are a lot more amazing places I could have visited during my semester abroad — I have heard great things about Sagres, Guimarães, Braga and Coimbra for example. But those ten places above were what I loved most about Portugal. Some were expected, some were a surprise. But all of these places combined enlivened my love for Portugal.

Additional information: Portugal is best traveled by train or bus. Check CP Portugal for train tickets and more. A train ticket to Cascais or Sintra from Lisbon (each approximately a 50 minutes ride) will cost you around four Euros. When traveling longer distances: I had a great experience with EVA Bus, that connect cities all over Portugal — and my ticket from Lisbon to Lagos with EVA busses was only 15 Euros.

What are your favorite places in Portugal?

  • Pedro

    Amazing, LOVED it. Will feature the link on my facebook page http://www.facebook.com/pages/Living-Abroad Thank you

    • JulikaSarah

      Thank you for reading and sharing Pedro!

  • Mariana Vidal

    Monte Gordo, for sure. And in summer.

    • JulikaSarah

      It looks amazing! 🙂

  • Ana

    Thank you for loving my country and my “menina” (Lisbon) the same way I DO!

    • JulikaSarah

      How could I not love it! 🙂

  • Matin

    Did you go to Quinta da Regaleira? It’s my favorite place in Sintra. If you haven’t be sure to check it out next time ;). I’ve been living in Portugal for a while, i’ll be checking out the places you mentioned (ones I haven’t visited already) before I leave 😉

    • JulikaSarah

      It’s on my list for my next trip to Portugal! But all the palaces and castles in Sintra are downright awesome!

  • Hailey Higgs

    Hi! came across your blog through your comment on Adventurous Kate’s site. I live in Germany, too, but I’m American 🙂 anyway, loved this post. I have heard nothing but great things about Portugal and it is very high on my list, I just haven’t made it there yet! But when I finally do, I will definitely have to check out these places!

    • JulikaSarah

      Thanks so much for stopping by Hailey! I’m sure you’ll love Portugal! Let me know if you need any recommendations!

  • Magda SouSilva

    Until you visit Minho you don’t really know Portugal… but you are in the right path.

    Also try to visit the historical villages on the border (http://www.aldeiashistoricasdeportugal.com/ahp.htm) Óbidos pales to any one of them (although since there are not 0,1% of the tourists there, there aren’t also many attractions – but they are all worth it, even if deserted).

    • JulikaSarah

      Can’t wait to see more of Portugal!

    • I have to agree. Despite every region having its ‘gems’, Minho is also a personal favorite. The coast, the border with Galicia, Spain… it’s breathtaking and as good a summer retreat as fishing villages (such as Tavira), IMO. Great article!

  • Oh I need more Portugal don’t I? Lisbon and Sintra just aren’t enough!

    • JulikaSarah

      But Lisbon and Sintra are definitely a good start — Portugal has just too many amazing places!

  • ls1200

    As someone who’s lived all his life in Portugal, I must say that is a GREAT selection!

    • JulikaSarah

      Thank you so much!

  • Antonio Bernardo

    10 out of 10!! 🙂

    • JulikaSarah

      Awesome! 🙂

  • grijoti

    Coming to Portugal? Enjoy the beatiful landscapes wit a low cost campervan. Try West Coast Campers (http://www.westcoastcampers.com.pt)

  • Seatours

    Did you already made a Lisbon Sightseeing by boat? We, in Seatours would love if you can join us one of these days. It’s an invitation…

    • JulikaSarah

      Thanks! Can’t wait to come back to Lisbon!

  • Roberto

    Went to visit Portugal twice last year, thinking of returning this year as well! Muito bem!

    • JulikaSarah

      Muito obrigada! 🙂

  • Joana França

    Thank you for the kind review of my country! 🙂 It’s always great to know that our country is aprecciated abroad.

    If you go to Sintra again, don’t miss Quinta da Regaleira..is amazing, I can assure you.

    I would recommend Alentejo coast, where the beaches are lovely and not so crowded as (some) in Algarve.

    In Alentejo you have also Monsaraz, a little picturesque border village with an amazing view. (Attention: Don’t go in the hot months, because there the hot is really hot!)

    • JulikaSarah

      Thanks for all your great tips Joana! I’ll be sure to check all these places out as soon as I go back to Portugal!

  • BFGC

    You have to come to Douro Valley… it is unique!

    • JulikaSarah

      It looks gorgeous!

  • Vasco

    Good selection 🙂 The only thing that is missing is Comporta. Probably one of the best beaches in Portugal.

    • JulikaSarah

      I just love Portugal’s beaches!

  • Don and Linda

    Very well done piece! Our love for Portugal and the Portuguese people shines through in the travelogues on our non-commercial web site: http://www.thetravelzine.com

  • xlipe

    Falta uma cidade muito importante!! Guimarães! grande berço de portugal!onde a essencia ainda se vive no dia a dia, como nos tempos das conquistas, onde a dificuldade da vida era sentida no seu dia a dia contando na mesma com os momentos de charme, sedução e romantismo 🙂 Só quem conhece e viveu a cidade é que poderá entender estas palavras no seu todo 🙂

    • JulikaSarah

      Tens razão! Vai visitar Guimarães na minha proxima vez em Portugal — com certeza! 🙂

  • Manuela Cuomo

    Tavira IS the hidden jewel of Algarve, our destination every summer! Thank you for including my birthplace beautiful Lisboa! Everything about Portugal is amazing, every corner of it!!

    • JulikaSarah

      Thanks Manuela! I loved Tavira so much!

  • Sílvia

    Well i’m portuguese and i read this post, i’m from the algarve. Let me tell you that in sintra you missed the best part! The “Quinta da Regaleira”, is just stunning, beautiful, beond everything! Really looks like you are in a movie.
    I know Lagos really well and it’s true, it’s stunnig! You didn’t see Sagres, so you need to come back to visit! You have the best view in the world! All you see are cliffs and ocean everywhere around! The powerfull and strong ocean! When coming to Lagos, you really need to make a boat tour to the grottos or a boat trip to see the wild dolphins.
    You have so much to see, that you’ll never want to leave……. (sorry for the english)

    • JulikaSarah

      I yet have to visit Quinta da Regaleira, but I did the boat tour through the grottos in Lagos — one of the photos in this post was even taken from a boat! 🙂

  • Another excellent post on Portugal, Julika. I’ve featured it in my Facebook page in http://www.facebook.com/BestInPortugal . Keep up with the good work!

    • JulikaSarah

      Thanks so much! 🙂

  • Hi Julika, nice post about Portugal, but i would like to invite you to visit Center of Portugal like Aveiro, Coimbra, Viseu and their countryside with beatiful landscapes, peaceful nature and an excellent gastronomy. With the Hotspot Tours you can travel around the best portuguese spots. We find it you live it.

  • Mariella

    For now I just screened through this beautiful post with its amazing pics, but it’s convinced me that Portugal is rightfully on top of my bucket list. The way you talk about it sounds like I feel about the Balkans, especially Bosnia… Although Lisbon seems to be to you what Gdansk is to me. Ah, Gdansk… so much love. Travel is awesome. It generates so many wonderful feelings.

    • JulikaSarah

      I’m convinced you’d love Portugal just as much as I do! 🙂

  • Cinderella’s Travel Shoes

    I really liked Coimbra and Figuera da Foz 🙂

  • Andrea

    Hello!! LOVED your blog. Is it possible to visit ALL of this in 11 days? hahahahaha =/ Which ones would you recommend if you only had 11 days to explore the best of Portugal?? My boyfriend and I are thinking about going there for our honeymoon (jan 27- febr7) Also, what about the weather around that time of the year? And, is it possible to visit all of this staying in Lisbon or you would recommend heading to another city for a few days?
    I Know you’re not a travel agency but I would really appreciate your help!!!
    THANKS!
    Greetings from Costa Rica

  • Melissa Auffredou

    Wow you’ve really convinced me to want to live in Portugal! I’m currently studying in Paris, and have lived abroad in Brazil as well so I adore the Portuguese language. All the pictures are beautiful!

  • Augi

    I’ve been planning to go to portugal for a long time now., I’ve become more fascinated after reading this article.Good job!

  • Fawceth

    Hello, I absolutely love your blog, I miss Lisbon so much it hurts and can’t wait to go back this summer! I was wondering which camera and lens you use for your beautiful photos as I’m hoping to come back with something a little more special than last year’s iPhone snaps!

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  • Bruno Coriolano

    I have been to Portugal and I must say: it’s a wonderful place! Great entry!

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  • Lewis

    I would add Sesimbra, it’s a natural sun trap so is brilliant all year and highly rated by the Portuguese as a gastronomic centre

  • Sofia B.

    As an art lover you shoul had visit Saint Francis Church in Porto. A impressive gothic monument with an outstanding baroque inner decoration. Baroque in Porto monuments is diferent from Lisbon ones. Try to find out why 🙂

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  • Phoenix

    Hi Julika, thanks for the post, I really enjoyed reading it. I’m visisting Lissabon and the Azores in June (12 days in total). Where in Lissabon would you recommend us to stay? How many days should we spare for Lissabon alone? I will definitely check out the villages you recommend. Thanks, Phoenix

  • Helle Garber

    Lisbon is in my opinion the most beautiful city in the world ( and I have been to quite a few!) It makes my heart melt. Luckily I am going back there soon again. I also travelled around in Portugal for a few weeks and I must say that the Douro area absolutely took my breath away. And the food and the wine and the views and the PEOPLE and and and Portugal…..
    Helle

    • Lambuseira

      Hi, i’m portuguese and as you can guess i share your love for Lisbon, and the whole country in fact! Reading your comment made my eyes shine (damn onion-cutting-ninjas!). I’ve been working and living in France for 5 years now, and go back to Portugal every 3 months +-. Visiting family, visiting Lisbon and exploring other places or just visiting friends in other cities. It’s an incredible feeling just arriving there and visiting the place, going by so many people in the street who just take for granted the exceptional country/environment/weather/people we have there. f you ever need some pointers or suggestions, text me here. 😀

    • Bhavini Johar

      Hi! I was reading this blog and came across your comment. My boyfriend and I are planning a visit in September. It’s short trip sadly 🙁 Just 6 days. This blog mentions sooo many amazing places and I wish we could travel to all. But could you help and tell me the must-do’s in 6 days? We love the local experience and we are big on architecture and history and different types of terrains. Would love to know your suggestions. Thank you 🙂

  • S.W.W.

    Why don’t you get a buffalo or a gorila to do the job? That way you would keep the business within the family!

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  • Nicholle

    Heading to the Canary Islands the end of October and wondering what I should make time for in Portugal?

  • Oh, how it can be so incredible. Just now I want to be there around all cliffs and shores. Yeah, Portugal is like from fairy tail’s pages, so wherever you go everything is stunning and magnificent from cities to nature around you.