Discover Best Places to Visit in Portugal: Your Ultimate Guide

Discover Best Places to Visit in Portugal: Your Ultimate Guide

Top Portugal Destinations: Must-See Gems!

Photo by Maksym Kaharlytskyi on Unsplash
PUBLISHED ONNovember 17, 2023
Sunny Beach Day with Crowd and Boats
Source: Photo by Dahee Son on Unsplash

Portugal, a sunny European gem with a rich history and vibrant cultural tapestry, offers a unique blend of old-world charm and modern attractions, making driving in Portugal an unforgettable experience. Whether you're interested in exploring golden sand beaches, medieval castles, cobblestone villages, captivating Portuguese cities, or fascinating wine regions while driving in Portugal, this country has something to offer every taste and interest. This guide will introduce some of the best places to visit and experiences to enjoy while driving in Portugal.

Tourist Attractions and Experiences in Portugal

Douro Valley Vineyards Portugal
Source: Photo by Rach Sam on Unsplash

Portugal offers a diverse range of tourist star attractions, natural beauty, and exciting activities to enjoy during a day trip. Explore the vibrant cities, picturesque medieval towns, stunning landscapes, and coastal regions. In this guide, we provide a list of popular destinations, natural landmarks, cultural experiences, and outdoor activities you can experience in Portugal.

1. Sintra: Known for lush landscapes, fairytale palaces, dramatic peaks and historic
estates, Sintra is a paradise for history buffs and nature enthusiasts alike. The Pena Palace, a UNESCO World Heritage site, is an architectural gem offering
panoramic views. Quinta da Regaleira, known for its Gothic façade and mesmerizing
gardens, is a sight to behold. With its verdant parks and outdoor activities like hiking,
cycling, water sports and sightseeing walks, Sintra caters to both cultural and nature

2. Óbidos: A beautiful hilltop town that transfers you back to the medieval ages, Óbidos
is encircled by a fortified medieval wall, cobbled streets, quaint houses, and the
Óbidos Castle a well-preserved medieval castle in their original glory. One can also
visit the Santa Maria Church or the medieval market for a truly immersive experience.

3. Évora: The historic city of Évora, a UNESCO World Heritage city, is an architectural
delight. It houses numerous landmarks from different eras, from Roman ruins to
Gothic and Baroque Church masterpieces. Among these are the Roman Temple, the
Cathedral of Évora, and the somewhat eerie but compelling Chapel of Bones. Évora is
also a living museum of traditional craftwork, with many workshops and stores dotted
around the city.

4. Coimbra: Coimbra, once the capital of Portugal, is now known as the University of
Coimbra, one of the oldest universities in the world. Coimbra's library, the Biblioteca
Joanina, is considered one of the most beautiful libraries globally. Additionally, there
are many historic buildings, botanical gardens, and well-preserved museums that offer
a cultural feast.

5. The Algarve: The Algarve, with its stunning gold-sand beaches and calm waters, is
Portugal's most famous seaside destination. Its natural caves and rock formations
offer fun exploration activities. You can also enjoy water sports, sailing, golfing, or
relaxing on the beautiful beaches. The Algarve's lively resort towns like Lagos and
Faro offer bustling night markets, eateries, and clubs.

Natural Landmarks

  1. Douro Valley: Noted for its terraced vineyards leading down to the Douro River, the Douro Valley is a sight to behold. The region is also renowned for the wine it produces, especially Port wine. Wine-tasting tours offer a treat for wine connoisseurs. The verdant landscapes interspersed with historic estates and villages make the Douro Valley a lovely exploration spot.

2. Setúbal Peninsula: The Setúbal Peninsula, a treasure trove of natural attractions,
offers sandy beaches, high cliffs, and vast plains. The Sado Estuary is home to a
community of dolphins, and the Arrábida Natural Park offers stunning views of the
Atlantic Ocean. There are also many vineyards in the region, providing ample
opportunities for wine tasting.

3. Parque Natural da Serra da Estrela: This Parque Nacional showcases Portugal's
highest peak and most dramatic landscapes, including rugged mountains, glacial
valleys, and crystal-clear rivers. Visitors can engage in hiking, cycling, or, in winter,
skiing. Apart from the rich flora and fauna, the park also offers breathtaking views of
the Zêzere River.

Cultural Experiences

  1. Lisbon: Lisbon Region, the Portuguese capital and largest city, offers a multitude of
    cultural experiences. Historic sites in Bairro Alto, museums, ancient streets dotted
    with colorful houses, and numerous neighborhoods, each possessing a distinct
    culture, add to the city's charm. One must not miss the famous pastel de nata (egg
    tart) or a soulful Fado performance, which adds to the authentic Lisbon experience.

2. Porto: Porto is famed for the production of Port wine. It offers cultural experiences
through its lively Ribeira District running along the river, ancient monuments, historic
churches with intricate blue tiles, and wine cellars offering wine-tasting experiences.
A boat trip on the Douro River offers charming views of the city's landscapes.

3. The Minho: The Minho region, nestled in northern Portugal, boasts a religious and
cultural heritage, annual festivals, and a prominent wine culture. It's prominent for its
verdant landscapes, ancient charming towns, and Roman ruins. Notable cultural
experiences include trying distinctive Minho cuisine and witnessing Minho's colorful
folk festivals.

Outdoor Activities

1. Douro Valley: The valleys offer beautiful terrains for hiking and cycling. Wine lovers
can enjoy wine touring experiences in estates scattered across the valley.

2. Sintra: Sintra offers splendid landscapes for photography tours, cycling, and walking
tours. Here, hikers can find many trails leading up to historic castles and viewing

3. Setúbal Peninsula: The Setúbal Peninsula offers beaches for sunbathing, swimming,
and surfing. The Arrábida Natural Park offers numerous hiking and cycling trails.

4. Parque Natural da Serra da Estrela: With the mountainous landscapes, the park
offers excellent hiking and cycling routes. Winter brings opportunities for skiing.

Transportation Options

Trains are one of the most comfortable and efficient ways to travel across Portugal. Let's explore the different train services you can avail of:

  1. Intercidades (Intercity): Intercidades trains provide long-distance services and
    connect major cities across Portugal like Lisbon, Porto, Coimbra, Faro, and Évora.
    They offer comfort and amenities such as reclining seats, air conditioning, and a
    buffet service.

2. Alfa Pendular: Alfa Pendular is the fastest and most luxurious train service in
Portugal. The trains connect major cities like Lisbon, Porto, Braga, Coimbra, and Faro.
They offer two classes of service—1st class (Conforto) and 2nd class (Turística).
Amenities include Wi-Fi, power sockets at each seat, a bar, and a replenished meal

3. Regional and Interregional Trains: Regional and Interregional trains cover shorter
distances and are useful for local travel or traveling to locations not served by long-
distance services. They usually stop at all stations along their route.

4. Comboios Urbanos (Urban Trains): Urban trains are perfect for moving within the
city and its suburbs. They run from early morning till late night. They cover Lisbon,
Porto, Coimbra, and Faro.

Accommodation Options

Douro Valley

The Douro Valley, known as the birthplace of Port Wine, offers charming and scenic accommodations. Here are two options:

  • Quinta Nova: Quinta Nova Luxury Winery House is a renovated 18th-century manor house located in the heart of Douro Valley. The property boasts vineyard views and an outdoor pool. The rustic rooms with contemporary decor offer an atmosphere that blends tradition and modernity.
  • Casa Cimeira: Casa Cimeira is a country house set on a hill overlooking vineyards and the Douro Valley. It provides tranquil accommodation with an outdoor pool and an in-house restaurant. The rooms feature a classic style with a touch of elegance.


Sintra, often referred to as the 'fairytale' town of Portugal, is home to picturesque palaces and gardens. Here are some accommodation suggestions:

  1. Lawrence's Hotel: As one of the oldest Portugal hotels in the Iberian Peninsula,
    Lawrence's Hotel offers charm and history. The rooms are classically decorated,
    featuring antique furniture.

2. Tivoli Palácio de Seteais: This 5-star hotel offers luxury accommodation with
stunning views of the Sintra Mountains. It features a full-service spa, a gourmet
restaurant, and beautifully landscaped gardens.

3. Sintra Boutique Hotel: Located in the city center of a historic town, the Sintra
Boutique Hotel offers modern rooms overlooking views of the Sintra-Cascais Natural
Parks and the Moorish Castle.

Weather Considerations

The Algarve, located in the southernmost region of mainland Portugal, is world-renowned for its mild and sunny climate, often considered the best time to visit Portugal. This region experiences more than 300 days of sunshine per year, making it a delightful destination almost year-round and highlighting why it's often regarded as the best time to visit Portugal for sun-seekers and beach enthusiasts.

  • Spring and autumn provide pleasantly warm temperatures, averaging between 16°C and 23°C, ideal for outdoor exploration and beach relaxation.
  • Summer (June to August) sees the highest temperatures, often climbing above 28°C, making it perfect for sunbathing, swimming, and other water activities. However, given the Algarve's popularity during this season, expect the beaches and tourist historical attractions to be crowded.
  • Winter (December to February) in the Algarve is relatively mild and wet compared to the rest of Portugal. Daytime temperatures can range between 15°C to 18°C. It's the least crowded time of year, offering a peaceful travel experience.
  • The most ideal times to visit depend on your preferred activities. Always check specific weather forecasts closer to your travel date for the most accurate information.

Safety Precautions

While traveling to a new place, certain precautions can reduce the likelihood of encountering problems. Here are some broad safety tips to consider:

1. Stay Alert: Always be aware of your surroundings. Don't let distractions like mobile
devices lower your guard, especially in crowded public places where pickpocketing
can occur.

2. Secure Valuables: Keep your belongings in sight at all times. Use hotel safes for
valuable items and avoid carrying large amounts of cash.

3. Travel Insurance: Ensure you have travel insurance to cover any medical expenses,
theft, or trip cancellation.

4. Local Laws and Customs: Respect the cultural sensitivities, laws, and customs of the
location you are visiting.

5. Emergency Contacts: Keep a list of emergency contact numbers, including local
police, ambulance, and the closest embassies or consulates.

6. Travel Advisories: Check your government's travel advisories for safety information
about your destination.

7. Personal Safety: Avoid walking alone late at night, especially in poorly lit or deserted

8. Secure Accommodation: Confirm that your accommodation has appropriate safety
measures such as secure locks, safes, and 24-hour staff.

9. Travel Documents: Always keep a digital and physical copy of your identification,
travel documents, and your International Driving Permit for Portugal in a safe
place. This is especially important if you plan on driving during your stay.

10. Public Transportation: Be cautious on public transportation, especially at night.

Remember, while safety precautions are essential, they should not induce paranoia. Most people travel without experiencing any security issues. The idea is to stay vigilant and prepared.

Visa Requirements

Before you plan any international travel, always check the visa requirements based on your specific nationality and passport. Visa regulations can vary greatly and often depend on factors, including the purpose and duration of your stay, your country of residence, and any existing agreements between countries.

1. Visa-exempt countries: Citizens from certain countries might not require a visa for
tourist or business purposes if the duration of stay is below the stipulated period
(usually 90 days within half a year for many countries).

2. Visa-required countries: Citizens from some countries are required to apply for a
visa, even for short-term visits.

To find out whether you require a visa, the most easily accessible and reliable sources are the official government websites or consulates of the country you intend to visit. Some key points to determine are:

  • Visa requirements are based on your nationality.
  • Where and how can you apply for the visa (online or in person at the embassy or consulate)?
  • The cost of the visa.
  • Validity period and duration of stay permitted by the visa.
  • Required supporting documents (passport, photos, hotel reservations, return flight tickets, travel insurance, etc.).

Always ensure your passport validity meets the requirements of the country you are visiting; it is typically valid at least six months after the intended date of departure from the visited country.

Don't forget to keep an eye on the latest updates and advisories related to visa policies, as they may change.

Disclaimer: The above information is a general guideline. Please verify the necessary details with the official government sources or the respective country's embassy or consulate.

Local Customs or Etiquette

Portuguese people are widely celebrated for their warmth and generosity, which is ingrained in their culture. Being open, friendly, and grateful will go a long way in making your experience memorable.

1. Greetings: A firm handshake is common when meeting someone for the first time.
Close friends and family often greet each other with a hug and a kiss on both cheeks.

2. Conversation: Portuguese people are social and enjoy conversation. As a token of
respect, try to include a few Portuguese words in your conversations.

3. Gifts: If you're invited to a Portuguese home, it's customary to bring a gift such as a
bottle of wine, chocolates, or flowers.

Respect for Local Customs, Especially in Religious Sites

Portugal is predominantly a Roman Catholic country. Whether or not you share these beliefs, it's important to show respect for their customs and religious practices.

1. Dress Modestly, Particularly when visiting religious sites. Cover your shoulders and
knees when visiting churches or cathedrals.

2. Silence: Keep your voice low to maintain the serenity of the site. Turn off or silence
your mobile phone.

3. Photography: Always check whether photography is allowed before you take
pictures on any religious site.

Stay mindful that traditions and norms can vary within regions, and it's always best to observe and imitate local etiquette. By showing respect for local customs, you will receive a warm welcome and enhance your travel experience.


Portuguese cuisine reflects the coastal town's rich history of exploration and trade, resulting in a diverse culinary scene.

  • Seafood: Being a seafaring nation with a long coastline, seafood is a cornerstone of Portuguese cuisine. Cod (known as 'bacalhau') is a national staple, traditionally served on special occasions and holidays. Octopus, squid, sardines, and a variety of fresh fish are abundant in Portuguese cooking.

Also popular is the 'cataplana de marisco, ' a flavorful seafood stew named after the clamshell-shaped cookware in which it's prepared and served.

  • Wines: Portugal has a strong wine culture, with several regions producing distinctive and internationally acclaimed varieties. Port wine, originating from the hilly Douro Valley, is undoubtedly the most famous. Yet, the country also boasts excellent reds and whites and the unique green wine (vinho verde), which is light and slightly effervescent and typically enjoyed as a refreshing summer beverage.
  • Pastries: Portuguese pastries, particularly egg-based sweets, are a culinary delight. The 'pastel de nata' (custard tart) is iconic, featuring a flaky pastry crust filled with a creamy custard center and a caramelized top. Each region has its own specialty dessert, so there's always more to explore!

Experiencing the cuisine is an integral part of travelling. Food and drink provide valuable insights into a country's culture, history, and way of life.

Historical and Political Context

Portugal has a rich history deeply intertwined with maritime exploration and colonial pursuits.

Age of Discovery

During the Age of Discovery, between the 15th and 17th centuries, Portugal was a global maritime power, exploring and establishing trade routes around the world. The explorations begun by Infante Dom Henrique (Prince Henry the Navigator) led to the discovery of previously unknown lands. Vasco da Gama's voyage established a sea route to India, while Pedro Álvares Cabral is credited with the discovery of Brazil.

During this time, Portugal amassed a vast overseas empire, establishing colonies in Africa (including Angola, Mozambique, Cape Verde, and Guinea-Bissau), Asia (like Goa in India and Macau in China), and South America (notably Brazil), contributing to the first wave of globalization.


The 20th century witnessed a shift as decolonization movements swept across the globe. Portugal's colonial rule was marked by armed resistance and calls for independence in many of its territories.

In 1974, Portugal underwent the Carnation Revolution, a military coup sparked by opposition to the ongoing colonial wars in Africa. This event was a turning point in Portuguese history, leading to the fall of the authoritarian Estado Novo regime, the end of colonial wars, and the swift decolonization of Portugal's overseas territories.

Current Context

Today, Portugal is a democratic republic and a member of the United Nations and the European Union. Decolonization and recent history have significantly influenced the country's political, social, and cultural landscapes. While it no longer holds its colonial territories, Portugal's impact on these regions continues to be evident in shared language, culture, and customs.

Recognizing the historical context enriches our understanding of Portugal's current social fabric, reminding us of the profound and lasting influence of past actions and policies on the present.


Experience the best things to do in Portugal. From exploring UNESCO World Heritage Sites, such as Pena Palace in Sintra, to delighting in the sun-kissed beaches of Algarve, you'll explore the best places in Portugal. Vibrant cities like Lisbon and Porto and picturesque towns like Coimbra captivate travelers with their allure and history.

Maximize your adventure by considering renting a car in Portugal for a road trip through this enchanting country. Be sure to consult a comprehensive driving guide in Portugal that covers local driving laws, navigation tips, and scenic routes, and ensure you obtain an international driving permit/license. Renting a car in Portugal will give you the flexibility and freedom to explore the country's captivating landscapes and historical locales at your own pace. Armed with the right credentials and a spirit of exploration, you're on the path to creating unforgettable memories. Boa viagem!

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