From golden beaches with amazing surf and cosmopolitan cities that never stop to grandiose palaces with stunning gardens and charming villages hidden off the beaten track, Portugal offers all kinds of experiences. Whether you want to relax and do as little as possible or put together an ambitious itinerary and see it all, Portugal’s got you covered!
With so many fascinating historic sites to explore, it’s no surprise that Portugal is the oldest country in Europe. As well as centuries-old ruins, Portugal is also home to the oldest bookstore in the world, one of the world’s oldest universities, and is the birthplace of explorer Ferdinand Magellan, who is said to have been the first person to ever make a full journey around the Earth.
Whether you prefer to soak up the sun and history in Lisbon and Porto, explore hidden villages and vineyards in the countryside, or go kayaking and hiking surrounded by nature, Portugal’s got something for everyone.
With such a huge choice of things to see and do, it can be tough to know where to begin. To help you out, we’ve put together a list of the absolute best things to do in Portugal. Add these fun activities and attractions to your Portugal bucket list, and get ready to have a fantastic time discovering the small country packed with adventure!
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25 Things to Do In Portugal
1. Go stargazing at Great Lake Alqueva
Known for its consistently clear skies and low levels of light pollution, Great Lake Alqueva in Alentejo is the best place in Portugal to go stargazing. The prestigious spot is the world’s first-ever starlight tourism destination, where you’ll find a number of companies offering stargazing tours.
The experience will make you feel like you’re in a planetarium watching an artificial show – not in nature, looking at the sky. The vast, dark night is illuminated by billions of twinkling stars of all shapes and sizes. You can see loads with just the naked eye, but if you bring a set of binoculars, you’ll be able to see so much more.
If you know your constellations, you can spot Ursa Minor, Ursa Major, and Cassiopeia from here, as well as many different star signs. If you don’t know much about constellations, sign up for a tour with one of the local companies, and your guide will point them all out to you.
2. Find peace at the Mosteiro dos Jeronimos
You’ll find some of the best sights in Portugal at the Mosteiro dos Jeronimos in Lisbon. A former monastery of the Order of Saint Jerome, this important religious building started out as a tiny hermitage in 1452. By 1501, a massive construction project began that would take more than 100 years to complete.
When it was finished, the once small abbey had been transformed into one of the most important monasteries in Portugal and an excellent example of Manueline architecture. The outside of the monastery is remarkable for its sheer size. Its white façade, orange roof, and various turrets make it look more like a palace or castle than a place of worship.
But step inside the monastery, and you’ll be blown away! The interior is incredibly ornate, with towering vaulted ceilings, imposing carved columns, stained glass windows, and beautiful frescoes.
As well as being home to several important pieces of art, including one stunning masterpiece by João de Castilho, the Mosteiro dos Jeronimos is also the final resting place of several prominent Portuguese figures. Here you’ll find the tomb of Vasco de Gama, as well as poet Luis de Camoes.
3. Go birdwatching at the Ria Formosa Natural Park
Tucked away in the Algarve, the Ria Formosa Natural Park is one of the most beautiful places in Europe. Declared one of the “Seven Natural Wonders of Portugal,” this protected space boasts a one-of-a-kind coastal lagoon that is always changing because of the continuous movement caused by the current, wind, and tides.
The park features more than 37 miles of sand dunes, salt pans, marshes, tidal flats, freshwater lagoons, and wooded areas home to a diverse collection of plants and animals. It’s also one of the most important bird areas in Europe and is a particularly popular place for aquatic birds.
Visit in winter, and you’ll have the chance to spot some of the 20,000 birds that visit at this time of year while migrating between Europe and Africa. The purple swamphen, little tern, pied avocet, and Audouin’s gull are just some of the bird species you can see while you’re here.
If you’re really lucky, you might even spot some of the colorful flamingos that occasionally visit the park.
4. Get dressed up and celebrate Carnival
One of the most fun things to do in Portugal is to join in with the Carnival celebrations. This huge festival is held each year between February and March when the whole country bursts into life with all kinds of loud, colorful events.
From parades with larger-than-life floats, extravagant ballroom dances, and hilarious comedy shows to dynamic street parties, buzzing music concerts, and competitions with incredible award ceremonies, Portugal’s Carnival program is full to the brim!
Almost everyone gets dressed up for Carnival. There’s usually a theme, but pretty much any fancy dress costume goes. If you want to be a part of it, you’ll find many stores selling costumes in the run-up to Carnival.
While festivities take place all over the country, the biggest and most spectacular events are held in Ovar to the south of Porto and Loulé near Faro. These two towns always have an incredible vibe during Carnival and are the best places to go if you want to party like never before.
5. Swim in the natural pools in Porto Moniz
Portugal boasts some stunning beaches. But for an amazing swim, it’s tough to beat the natural pools of Porto Moniz. One of the oldest villages in Madeira, Porto Moniz is best known for its complex of lava pools, which are naturally filled with crystal clear water from the neighboring ocean.
The swimming area is surprisingly large and covers almost one acre. There are several sets of steps so you can get in easily, as well as underwater seating so you can relax and enjoy the combination of refreshing water and glorious sunshine.
Because of its location, waves sometimes crash over the wall into the pool. This is fantastic to see, but it can get dangerous if the sea is rough. If you’re visiting with children, we recommend going on a day when the wind and waves are calm, so you don’t have to worry.
As well as the primary swimming space, there’s also a children’s pool, play area, changing rooms, and bathrooms with lockers. If you visit during the summer months, you’ll also find a snack bar, plus sun loungers and umbrellas you can rent.
6. Discover the oldest palace in Portugal
For one of the most unique things to do in Portugal, take a trip to the Palacio Nacional de Sintra. Here you can explore the grand interior and stunning gardens of the oldest palace in the country.
The Palacio Nacional de Sintra is located in Lisbon and is easily recognizable from its two conical white chimneys, which rise out of the royal kitchen and give the palace a fairytale-like feel. Although the palace is said to date back to the 10th or 11th century, it’s actually made from multiple buildings which were constructed, adapted, and added to over the course of hundreds of years.
Instead of being a royal residence, today the Palacio Nacional de Sintra is a museum spread out across several elegant floors. Each floor has its own theme, giving it a unique look and feel.
Some of our favorite parts of the palace are the Coat of Arms Room which features 72 different types, and the Magpie Room which is decorated in hand-painted magpies. The astounding Swan Room was once used for banquets and boasts an incredible ceiling covered in swan paintings.
7. Explore a village built into the rocks
Monsanto is one of the most unique villages in Portugal due to its location. You’ll find it perched on the top of a hill and built among colossal boulders, many of which have been carved out to use as animal enclosures and homes.
Less than 1,000 people live in the rural village, giving it a charming and peaceful atmosphere. You can easily explore the whole place in a couple of hours, making it a great choice for a short morning out.
Walk through the village’s cobbled streets, past the quintessential red-orange roofs, and over giant boulders that look like they’ve been dropped on the village in a cartoon sketch.
For some of the best views in Monsanto, take a walk to Castelo de Monsanto. Although there’s not much of the castle left, the high location means you can see for miles across the Portuguese countryside.
If you’re feeling hungry, stop by Petiscos & Granitos. This restaurant boasts spectacular views and also has a giant boulder as its roof!
8. Snack on pastéis de nata
When you’re in the mood for a snack, one of the best things to do in Portugal is to order a pastéis de nata. This iconic dessert is made up of many layers of super-fine flaky pastry filled with a sweet and creamy custard-like center. The individual tarts are sometimes dusted with powdered sugar or cinnamon for an extra-sweet kick!
Known in English as a “Portuguese egg tart,” these bite-sized snacks are surprisingly filling and, even better, remarkably cheap. Because they’re so popular, you’ll find them available in bakeries, cafes, and grocery stores all over the country for just over €1 each.
The sweet treat is said to have been invented at the Antiga Confeitaria de Belém café in 1837. The original recipe is top secret and exclusively known by the monks from the nearby Mosteiro dos Jerónimos. The incredible harmony between the crisp pastry shell and the creamy custard filling is sensational!
9. Zoom down the streets of Madeira on a traditional toboggan
It doesn’t often snow in Madeira, but that doesn’t mean you can’t go tobogganing – even in the middle of summer! Instead of down white snowy slopes, the tobogganing in Madeira happens on the steep roads of Funchal.
Head to the top of Monte in Funchal and look around for pairs of men dressed in white hanging around unusual things that look like brown wicker benches. These benches are the toboggans that you’ll get to zoom down the village’s streets in!
The toboggan tradition began in the early 19th century when local residents used them as a means of transport to get from Monte to Funchal quickly. Today it’s a fun tourist attraction you’ve got to try during your visit.
Most runners follow the same route, starting at Monte and ending at Livramento. The route covers around 1.25 miles and takes about 10 minutes. You sit in the toboggan, and the runners jog behind you, pushing the toboggan until it gains enough speed. It’s a really fun experience and one you won’t find anywhere else!
10. Go surfing at Matosinhos Beach
If you’re into watersports, one of the coolest things to do in Portugal is to ride some waves at Matosinhos Beach. Located in the north of Porto, this stunning beach is made up of a long strip of golden sand lined by deep blue waters, which have consistently excellent conditions for surfing.
There are very few rocks under the water, and the harbor on the northern side of the beach provides shelter from the wind without encumbering the waves. Because the shore gently slopes into the water, it takes some power out of the surf, making it a great location for people of all levels.
If you’re not in the mood for surfing, there are plenty of other things you can do here. Soccer and volleyball games regularly take place, and there are several other water sports to try, including wakeboarding.
Walk inland along the promenade, and you’ll also come across many different restaurants specializing in fresh seafood, too.
11. Admire grandiose carriages at the National Coach Museum
The National Coach Museum (Museu Nacional dos Coches) might not sound like a fun day out, but the name really doesn’t do the place justice! First opened in 1905 at the old riding ring of the Palace of Belém, this remarkable museum was designed as a way of preserving the important vehicles that belonged to the royals and other important people in Portugal.
The museum is home to a staggering collection of vehicles from the 17th, 18th, and 19th centuries. Here you can check out all kinds of berlins, coaches, carriages, and sedan chairs which have been decorated in lavish and ostentatious styles.
There are three carriages from 1581-1598 that belonged to Philip II of Spain. They’re the oldest in the collection and are amazing to see. The three carriages that belonged to Pope Clement XI were built in Rome in 1715 and are also fascinating.
As well as the royal vehicles, the National Coach Museum also features a number of paintings and artifacts from the same centuries.
12. Be amazed by the Holy Week processions
If you’re planning to visit over Easter, some of the top things to see in Portugal are the processions. The days leading up to Easter Sunday are known as Holy Week and are commemorated with somber processions and realistic reenactments.
Many of the churches throughout Portugal are decorated with banners, flowers, and candles. Loudspeakers peppered throughout the cities, towns, and villages play Gregorian chanting music, giving many places an eerie, spiritual atmosphere.
During the day, incredible reenactments are held, recreating some of the most important Easter scenes from the bible. At night, locals wearing peaked hoods walk through the streets with donkeys, followed by others walking barefoot and carrying candles and torches.
Instead of major cities like Lisbon and Porto, the smaller villages are the best places to experience Easter in Portugal. The religious aspect is often taken more seriously in the more rural parts of the country, with more people taking part and putting a greater importance on the event.
Even if you’re not religious, Portugal’s Holy Week celebrations are so unusual and otherworldly that they’re bound to leave you captivated and curious to find out more.
13. Climb up to the highest point in Portugal
If you’re up for a challenge, plan your trip to Portugal for the spring or fall and visit the Serra da Estrela mountain range. Here you’ll find the highest point in continental Portugal, standing 6,552 feet in the sky.
Known as Torre, the tallest point in mainland Portugal rewards adventurous climbers with phenomenal views over the Estrela mountains and the rest of Portugal. When the sky is clear, you can see for over 60 miles!
During your trek, you’ll have the chance to admire springs, waterfalls, and rivers. You might also spot some native wildlife, including boar, foxes, wildcats, and owls. The Estrela mountain range is the only place on Earth where you can see the Iberian mountain lizard living free in nature.
If you want to check out the views, but you’re not up for the climb, you can cheat. There’s a road that leads straight to the top of Torre, so you can get there without getting out of breath.
14. Go kayaking at Furnas Lake
For one of the best Portugal activities, visit São Miguel in the Azores. This is where you’ll find Furnas Lake, one of the most beautiful and peaceful kayaking spots in all of Portugal.
The serene Furnas Lake is an excellent place to go if you’re a kayaking beginner. Located at the foot of green rolling hills, this large expanse of water is set inside the crater of a volcano and is almost perfectly still.
The tranquil waters and beautiful surroundings give the place a very calming atmosphere and provide you with a much-needed break from intense sightseeing.
There are several points of interest around the lake, including the Our Lady of Victory Church, several rock formations, and a mausoleum built by José do Canto after the death of his wife. Depending on the time of year you visit, you might also get to see some ducks paddling at the water’s edge.
15. Take a road trip along the Alentejo Coast
Portugal boasts plenty of fantastic road trips, but the route along the Alentejo Coast is one of our absolute favorites. It begins in Melides and ends in Azenha do Mar, taking you past natural beauty and incredible vistas you’ll remember forever.
Alentejo is the largest region in Portugal. It’s about the same size as Belgium! Despite being so large, it’s only home to around 700,000 people, giving you an idea of how quiet and sparsely populated most villages are.
Stopping off at small towns in this part of the country is a great way to experience some of the more peaceful, rural areas that tourists rarely get to see. We recommend paying visits to Sines, Porto Covo, Almograve, and Zambujeira do Mar.
Along the way, you’ll get to see countless examples of stunning, unspoiled nature. From wild beaches with dazzling sunsets and ancient castles on top of hills to secluded whitewashed villages and farms with fields that seem to go on forever, this road trip is one of the most beautiful Portugal attractions.
16. Dine on polvo à lagareiro
If you’re a fan of seafood, one of the top things to do in Portugal is to try polvo à lagareiro. This dish is remarkably simple but incredibly delicious.
Polvo à lagareiro comes from the center of Portugal and is made up of a meaty piece of octopus roasted with olive oil and garlic and served with roasted potatoes. It’s always made with fresh octopus and tastes so good you’ll be begging the chef for the recipe.
We had one of the best ever polvo à lagareiro at Páteo – Bairro do Avillez. This Michelin-starred restaurant is owned by José Avillez, the most famous chef in Portugal. It’s served with a rapini and onion sauce, and it really does melt in your mouth. We’ve never had anything like it since!
This dish is definitely not for the squeamish. The octopus is served with its tentacles and suckers still attached. If you’ve never had it like this before, the texture can be a little strange, but don’t let it put you off of trying one of Portugal’s classic entrées.
17. Go horseback riding in Geres
When you want to get away from the city and surround yourself with nature, go horseback riding in Geres. This region in Portugal is home to a beautiful national park, Peneda-Gerês, where you can ride for hours and lose yourself in natural beauty.
The Peneda-Gerês National Park is home to wide-open spaces, huge lakes, babbling rivers, and countless tracks for you to follow. Depending on which route you take, you’ll have the chance to see everything from ancient castles and churches to tiny hamlets and waterfalls.
Our favorite horseback riding company in Geres is Equicampo. This family-run business takes really good care of their horses and does everything it can to preserve the national park and all the plants and animals that call it home.
Equicampo offers various horseback riding tours in the local area, as well as riding lessons. With everything from short 15-minute starter classes to extended four-day packages, you’re sure to find the perfect option for you.
18. See 4,000-year-old art in the Museu Calouste Gulbenkian
One of the most unique Portugal attractions is the Museu Calouste Gulbenkian. This museum is home to around 6,000 artifacts, some of which date back to 3000 CE.
The collection was originally owned by Calouste Sarkis Gulbenkian, an Armenian man who donated his pieces to the museum before he died. Take a stroll through the exhibitions, and you’ll find masterpieces from all over the globe that are thousands of years old.
The galleries are all neatly laid out, with individual sections for Greco-Roman art, Egyptian art, Mesopotamia, Armenia, the Islamic Orient, and the Far East. There’s also a sprinkling of Western art, which features books, sculptures, and paintings, including famous works by René Lalique.
Some of the most important pieces include sculptures from the 18th and 19th centuries, Italian and Flemish tapestries from the Renaissance period, and French furniture from the Louis XV and Louis XVI periods.
After you’ve explored the displays, there’s a cute cafe in the garden where you can relax and discuss your favorite pieces.
19. See wild dolphins at the Sado Estuary
The Sado Estuary is one of the best places in Portugal to spot wild dolphins in their natural habitat. A pod of around 36 bottlenose dolphins lives in this protected zone, and although they can sometimes be spotted from shore, the best way to see them is to sign up for a boat trip.
On this tour, you’ll climb on board a 72-foot catamaran and sail across the Sado Estuary, searching for the community of dolphins that call this part of the world their home. Even if you’re not lucky enough to spot the dolphins, you’ll still have the chance to enjoy the stunning landscape of the Arrábida Natural Park.
The guide and crew will tell you all about the local dolphins while you keep an eye out for them. Depending on the weather and timings, you may even get the chance to go for a swim, so don’t forget to pack your swimsuit!
20. Check out the International Sand Sculpture Festival
For one of the best Portugal sightseeing opportunities, visit the Algarve any time between May and December. During these months, the stretch of beach between Porches and Lagoa is covered with remarkable sand sculptures that look like they belong in an art gallery!
In Portugal, the festival is known as Fiesa and attracts around 60 individual artists from all around the world. All kinds of sand sculptures are created to symbolize different ideas and events, some of which are as big as buses. While creativity is encouraged, all sculptures have to tie into the theme, which is changed every year.
Portugal’s International Sand Sculpture Festival is the biggest of its kind in the world. So even if you’ve seen sand sculptures before, it’s still definitely worth checking out.
As well as the impressive sculptures, the festival also hosts music concerts and sand sculpture workshops. Make sure you come back after sunset for the chance to see all the sculptures illuminated at night.
21. Discover ancient ruins at Évora
In the heart of Alentejo, halfway between Lisbon in Portugal and Extremadura in Spain, you’ll find an ancient UNESCO World Heritage Site. The Romans settled in this spot in 57 CE, and because of that, you can see centuries-old ruins the likes of which you’d expect to find in Rome.
The highlight of this spot is the remains of the Roman Temple of Évora. It was built in the 1st century BCE and is located in the city’s historical center. Although only a few columns of it remain today, it’s still a fascinating piece of history worth visiting.
As well as the temple, there are plenty of other parts of Évora to explore, too. The golden age of the town was in the 16th century when Portuguese kings lived there. You can still admire the white houses with colorful windows, monumental palaces, grand churches, and sprawling cathedral, which were built around this time.
22. Visit one of the largest indoor aquariums in Europe
If you’re fascinated by marine life, one of the best things to do in Portugal is to spend a day at the Oceanário de Lisboa. The second-largest indoor aquarium in Europe (after L’Oceanogràfic in Valencia), this attraction is home to more than 15,000 creatures from over 450 species.
The building is absolutely stunning and created to look like it’s floating on the water. The inside is cleverly designed over two floors surrounding a central aquarium. The bottom floor features deep-sea creatures that keep to the bottom of the ocean, while the top floor is where you’ll find the creatures that live closest to the water’s surface.
As well as admiring all kinds of species, from fish, octopuses, and axolotls to puffins, penguins, and otters, there are also a few ways you can get more involved. You can join guided tours to learn more about the creatures that reside in the aquarium, have a sleepover close to the shark enclosure, and bring your little one to a concert for babies!
23. Find comfort in arroz de pato
Duck is one of the most popular meats in Portugal, and one of the dishes that highlights it best is arroz de pato. The name literally translates as “duck rice,” but there’s much more to it than that!
A moreish combination of succulent shredded duck and creamy baked rice, all served with spicy chorizo sausage and sweet orange slices, arroz de pato is pure comfort food.
This dish was invented in Alentejo, but it’s so popular you can find it all over the country. We had some of the best arroz de pato in Cozinha da Terra in Louredo. It’s a 17th-century farmhouse that’s been transformed into a gourmet restaurant by an award-winning chef.
The arroz de pato from Cozinha da Terra was awarded first place in the National Gastronomy contest a few years ago. It’s designed for two people to share and is one of the most decadent, rich, and hearty dishes you’ll have during your trip.
24. Follow the Cabo da Roca trail
The Cabo da Roca trail is one of the most impressive and dazzling coastal walks in all of Europe, making it a must on your Portugal bucket list. Located in the western part of the country, the trail is pretty short and suitable for people of most fitness levels.
You’ll need 90 to 120 minutes to cover the 2.7-mile track, as well as a good pair of shoes, as some of the trail is loose underfoot. As you walk, you’ll work your way through the Sintra Cascais Natural Park, passing by rugged cliffs, devastatingly gorgeous beaches, and grassy mountains.
If you do the walk during one of the warmer months, it’s a good idea to take your swimsuit. You’ll pass by many beaches and if you get hot, you can take a refreshing dip in the ocean to cool off.
Make sure your phone’s fully charged because you’ll want to take loads of photos along the way! It might be worth taking a power bank, too, because you’ll need to use your phone to navigate – there are no physical signposts marking the route.
25. Wine and dine in Porto’s Ribeira district
If you’re looking for somewhere with a lively party atmosphere during the evening, head to the Ribeira district. One of the most charming and dynamic parts of Porto, Ribeira is considered to be the old quarter of the city and is bursting with unique character.
Along the Douro River, you’ll be spoiled for choice with excellent restaurants, cool cocktail lounges, swanky wine bars, and bouncing nightclubs. Whether you want a place to spend the evening quietly in style or party until the early hours, you’ll find the perfect place here.
The colorful multi-level houses, bubbling stone fountains, and boats sailing on the river make Ribeira a wonderful place to take an early evening stroll. Then, as the sun begins to set, pop into one of the district’s many bars and order yourself a glass of vinho verde (local wine from the Vinho Verde wine region), ginja (cherry liqueur), or poncha (punch made with rum from Madeira).
There you have it! The 25 best things to do in Portugal. What’s your favorite thing to do in Portugal?
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