The best places to visit in Portugal include its multifaceted destinations that captivate travelers from around the world. The capital, Lisbon, enchants visitors with its dramatic riverside setting, rich history, stunning architecture, and one of Europe’s top culinary scenes. Porto serves as the entrance to the picturesque Douro Valley, renowned for its undulating hills and iconic wine regions.
Meanwhile, the Atlantic archipelagos of Madeira and the Azores open up a world of adventure away from the cities. Colonial history, unique architecture, and dramatic volcanic landscapes with natural hot springs abound.
Wherever you choose to visit, the towns, cities, and sights of Portugal are experiences that will remain with you long after you return home.
Belém Tower, Lisbon
Built in the 16th century at the height of the Portuguese Renaissance, the ornate Belém Tower, officially the Tower of Saint Vincent, sits on the banks of the River Tagus. For many years it acted as both the gateway to the city and the departure point for the great Portuguese explorers.
A UNESCO World Heritage Site since 1983, the tower is one of the most striking monuments in Lisbon and a symbol of Portugal’s dominance in 15th and 16th-century trade.
You can enter the tower itself, but the most impressive aspect from which to view this iconic site is from the quayside, imagining what arrival or departure into the city more than 500 years ago was like.
Ribeira District, Porto
Set along the banks of the Douro River, the Ribeira District is one of Porto’s most charming neighborhoods; Porto itself is without doubt one of the best cities to visit in Portugal.
Dating from medieval times, the Ribeira District consists of a riverfront promenade overlooking the city’s historic port, a central square, and a series of winding streets and alleys lined with colorful buildings decorated with ornate azulejo tiles.
The restaurants and bars that line those streets make this part of town its most popular entertainment district, great for soaking up the lively atmosphere, enjoying the many street performers and taking in a spot of people-watching.
Funchal is the bustling, pretty capital of Portugal’s Madeira archipelago. It’s famed for its Madeira wine cellars and the harborfront São Tiago Fortress which was built in the 17th century and is now home to a popular contemporary art museum.
Other highlights of a visit include the beguiling mix of Gothic and Romanesque architecture of the late 15th century Catedral do Funchal, and the cable car that takes visitors from the city’s lower section to the elevated suburb of Monte, home to the shaded Madeira Botanical Gardens.
Ponta Delgada, Azores
The capital city of the Azores archipelago and beating heart of São Miguel Island, Ponta Delgada played a significant role in the early days of Portuguese exploration. It acted as a landing and re-stocking point for ships crossing the Atlantic on their journey from Europe to the Americas.
Rich in history, it features a mix of architectural styles from traditional whitewashed buildings with unique black volcanic stone accents, to the Baroque churches that line its cobbled streets.
Landmarks include Portas da Cidade (City Gates), three arched gateways at the entrance to the city, and the historic Convento da Esperança, which dates from the 16th century.
Castelo de São Jorge, Lisbon
Simultaneously an iconic sight that can be seen from almost every neighborhood in Lisbon and the location of the best vistas over the Portuguese capital, St. George’s Castle is another must-see in the Portuguese capital.
Parts of the castle date back to the sixth century, when it was a royal Moorish residence, but a succession of earthquakes over the years means much of it is an early 20th-century restoration.
Aside from the views and the chance to walk around its ramparts, visitors are welcomed by an elegant restaurant and elaborate gardens with peacocks, geese and ducks.
Dom Luís I Bridge, Porto
Designed by Théophile Seyrig, a protégé of Gustave Eiffel, the Dom Luís I Bridge spans the Douro River and links the cities of Porto and Villa Nova de Gaia.
Its double-deck construction carries both cars and trains, while both decks have pedestrianized walkways that afford incredible views over both cities.
Ribeira Brava, Madeira
Ribeira Brava, nestled in a south-coast river valley where mountains reach the Atlantic, is one of Portugal’s prettiest towns. Taking its name—“Wild River”—from the river that runs through it, colonial-era buildings adorn both banks of the river’s mouth.
At the heart of the town is Praça Central, home to the pretty Church of São Bento and buzzing with shops and restaurants, while the Mercado Municipal central market offers a taste of the island’s produce. There’s also a pleasant Madeira beach with dark volcanic sand backed by a seaside promenade.
Ribeira Grande, Azores
When settlers first arrived in the Azores in the 15th century, many of them settled in what is now known as Ribeira Grande on the northern coast of São Miguel Island.
The reasons for their location choice were largely centered around the natural resources provided by the eponymous river that empties in the Atlantic here, providing a both dramatic and fertile landscape.
Similar to the capital, Ponta Delgada, the historic town center is a maze of cobblestone streets, charming squares and the unique local white buildings with black volcanic accents.
Cascais, Portuguese Riviera
If you have at least three days in Lisbon, take a day trip to Cascais, the main holiday destination on the Portuguese Riviera, the affluent stretch of coastline west of the city.
A traditional fishing town turned into a high-end vacation destination, its historic center is a maze of cobbled streets, fascinating museums and plush villas, as well as a host of hip bars and restaurants.
This Portuguese beach town is also home to some great beaches such as Praia de Conceição, while the Cabo da Roca—continental Europe’s most western point—is a 25-minute drive away.
Clérigos Church and Tower, Porto
Set somewhat grimly in the heart of Porto’s Old Town on what was known as the “hill of the hanged men”, the 19th-century Clérigos Church and Tower is a magnificent baroque building that is also home to Portugal’s largest bell tower.
Entrance to the church itself is free. For a small charge, you can take in the Museum of the Brotherhood of the Clérigos (the monks who built the church) and climb the 200 steps to the tower summit for amazing views of both the city and the 49 bells that offer regular ear-splitting peals.
Camara de Lobos, Madeira
Camara de Lobos may have started life as a small fishing village, but it’s redolent with history. It sits on the location where navigator Gonçalves Zarco, the first person to “discover” the islands, made his home. The town was Madeira’s first settlement when a parish was created in 1430.
Unsurprisingly, historic buildings abound, including the 1425 convent of São Bernardino, the 15th-century Senhora da Conceição chapel, and the 16th-century São Sebastião church. Despite being almost absorbed into the capital Funchal, signs of the fishing industry still exist thanks to the many colorful xavelhas fishing boats that line its shores.
Sete Cidades, Azores
Thanks to their volcanic nature, the Azores archipelago features some of Portugal’s most beautiful places. This is evidenced at the Sete Cidades, a series of 11 water-filled craters that not only provide social-media-worthy vacation snaps but also a natural playground for visitors.
The verdant hills around the lakes can be seen on foot thanks to myriad hiking trails or on horseback with guided rides, while the Cumeeiras road, which features in international rally races, offers jaw-dropping views on jeep tours.
For those looking for a more serene activity on a visit, stand-up paddling boarding is available on the lakes themselves.
National Azulejo Museum, Lisbon
The Portuguese capital is famed for the ornate azulejo glazed tiles that adorn many of its buildings. There is no better place to find out more about them than this fascinating museum in Lisbon set in the 16th-century former Madre de Deus Convent.
Detailing the history of the tiles from the 15th century to the present, it also features ceramics, porcelain and faience, as well as impressively decorated rooms such as the convent’s former choir and church.
Livraria Lello, Porto
Set on Rue das Carmelitas and overlooking cobbled Praca de Lisboa, it’s not hard to imagine why Lello claims to be the most beautiful bookstore in the world.
Housed in a Gothic building more reminiscent of a church than a shop, its art nouveau interior is home to sweeping staircases and seemingly endless bookshelves. Visiting here is one of the best things to do in Porto, even if just to take in the scene.
Mercado da Ribeira, Lisbon
Lisbon’s Mercado da Ribeira, also called the Time Out Market, dates back to the 12th century and is now the city’s premiere destination for foodies, although it was not always this way.
After moving to a new venue in 2000, the market fell into disrepair until it was taken over by Time Out magazine whose food writers created a carefully curated collection of shops, stalls and eateries by some of Portugal’s top chefs.
The market is divided into two main sections, the food hall packed with the tightly knit tables of its restaurants and bars, and the main food market, home to delicious local produce.
It’s busy, bustling and can feel chaotic, but it remains one of the best places to visit in Portugal if you love food. You can even join a cooking class.
Read: What to Eat in Lisbon
Cabo Girão, Madeira
The best—and most vertiginous views—of Madeira’s south coast can be had by climbing the top of Cabo Girão.
Europe’s highest promontory is home to a glass skywalk suspended almost 2,000 feet above the crashing waves below and offering vistas over the capital, Funchal, the village of Câmara de Lobos and the rest of the Madeira archipelago.
The island’s most photographed spot is also a location for paragliding and BASE jumping, while nearby is the 1951 Nossa Senhora de Fátima chapel, one of the island’s main pilgrimage sites.
Furnas Hot Springs, Azores
The Azores are known for their natural volcanic hot springs with the most famed being those at Furnas on the east side of São Miguel. Surrounded by lush, green forests, the iron-rich pools here provide a natural spa.
Create your own clay mask from the mud at their bottom, or enjoy a hand-free hydro-massage provided by the waterfalls that cascade into the lakes.
Everything is of a geothermal nature in the Azore, including the way food is cooked. Locals use water from steaming geysers to cook corn on the cob, and rich Cozido das Furnas stew is slow-cooked in clay pots submerged in natural ovens and served in the village’s restaurants.
Douro Valley, Porto
Said to be the oldest demarcated wine region in the world, the stunning landscapes of the Douro Valley are famed for their stepped vineyards that produce the region’s iconic port wine.
Approached by winding roads that crisscross impossibly verdant landscapes, each turn reveals a new town, village or boutique winery, many of which are iconic names.
Peso da Régua is the region’s capital, a charming town that straddles the river and is home to both a great selection of waterside eateries and the Port Wine Institute HQ.
Pico dos Barcelos, Madeira
For those on a time-limited visit to Funchal who are looking for dreamy views, Pico dos Barcelos is the place to go.
Rising 1,165 feet above sea level, it offers sweeping views over the Bay of Funchal and is easily accessible thanks to it being a stop on sightseeing bus routes around the city.
A large, flat area, it is home to a café, a restaurant, and a handful of souvenir stalls. This is a popular spot among locals, who gather here on New Year’s Eve to watch fireworks exploding over the sky when the clock strikes midnight.
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