Best Places to Visit in Portugal

Best Places to Visit in Portugal

Portugal Travel

Portugal is one of the oldest states in Europe.  After establishing its independence from the Kingdom of Leon-Castile (now part of the country of Spain) in the early 12th century, the nascent country enlarged its domain soon after by expelling the Moors from the southern half of what is now modern-day Portugal, including the area around Lisbon.  Numerous cultures and religions were blended during the  country’s history and modern Portugal has benefitted from the mixing of these different identities.

Exploration seemed to come naturally to Portugal’s inhabitants and the country’s  history is that of a seafaring nation. The Portuguese explorers Henry the Navigator, Vasco da Gama, Bartolomeu Dias and  Pedro Alvares Cabral helped extend the map of the known world  in the fourteenth and fifteenth centuries to include South America, India and the Far East, as well as much of Africa.

The explorations led to a significant colonial empire and brought great wealth to Portugal.  However, the country’s success bred political instability and dynastic disputes.  A massive earthquake destroyed much of the country in the mid-18th century (including most of Lisbon) and cast Portugal’s economy into decades of depression.From the historical eras of turmoil, Portugal has risen to become a stable democracy and an exceptional tourist destination.

Portugal is surrounded by Spain on its east and north and  abuts the Atlantic Ocean on its west and south.  The Portuguese are justifiably proud of the country’s eleven-hundred continuous miles of beautiful coastline and the spectacular views that it provides. The views are especially spectacular in the south along the Algarve and Portugal represents itself in tourist literature as “Europe’s West Coast.”  While Lisbon is the star attraction of Portugal’s cities, many others  such as Porto and Evora, will demand your attention and make you glad that you chose to vacation in Portugal.

    • Lisbon

      Lisbon, Portugal
      Tower of Belem, Lisbon, Portugal
      • Lisbon is a city of neighborhoods and each one has something special to offer the tourist.  Although a great town for walking, Lisbon is very hilly and we recommend taking the electrified streetcars when possible.
        • Be sure to visit  Castelo de São Jorge, Biaxa, Alfama, and the banks of the River Taugus.  Spend an afternoon in Belem visiting the Age of Navigators Monument, Torre de Belem, and the Mosteiro dos Jeronomos – a tour of the cloisters is worthwhile.
        • If you are considering visiting Lisbon, we have a detailed guide the describes the Best Places to Visit in Lisbon.
        • Cascais
          • Take the train from Lisbon to suburban Cascais for a delicious seaside lunch (think seafood, the sardines are terrific here), great shopping, and beautiful beaches.  Cascais is both a suburb of Lisbon and a delightful beach resort.
      • Porto

        Porto, Portugal
        Porto, Portugal
        • The original home of Port wine, features winding streets and great sightseeing in its interesting old town that is a World Heritage Site.
        • Be sure to visit the wine lodges in Gaia to sample some of the city’s famous Port wine (Gaia is on the south side of the River Douro, south of the Dom Luis bridge).
        • Henry the Navigator was born in Porto and the city had a minor role in “The Discoveries”.
        • The Church São Francisco is well worth a visit for its beautiful Baroque decorations.
        • For more information on visiting Porto, see its official website Visit Porto.
      • Algarve

        • Considered by many to offer the most attractive and highest-quality beaches in Europe, the Algarve, also, features, beautiful scenery and mild to warm temperatures depending on the season.   Its attractiveness lures many travelers to the Algarve: it’s crowded in high season, but worth a visit.
          • Lagos  
            • An exotic walled town set in a beautiful location, Lagos offers the visitor the best beaches in the Algarve.  Like many Portuguese cities, Lagos was a Celtic settlement, then Roman, followed by the Moors who built the city’s first walls. See the Forte da Pona da Bandeira beyond the city walls to see a glimpse of Portugal’s past might as a sea power.
          • For more information on the towns and attractions of the  Algarve, visit the areas’ official website.
      • Sintra

        • Sintra, PortugalSintra, set in beautiful rolling hills, is a historic town replete with a royal palace. The shops offer many delights, especially art and decorative ceramic tiles.
        • Many travelers consider Sintra the highlight of a visit to Portugal.  It is nice place to wander, but expect crowds.  Sintra is a popular pre-cruise or post-cruise tour stop on several Mediterranean cruises and you will enjoy your visit more if you avoid the late morning and lunchtime “cruise” crowds.
          • If you are on a cruise related tour, skip a sit- down meal and pick up something to “go” or your time in Sintra will be spent waiting for lunch rather than seeing the sights.
          • On your way to Sintra you might want to stop at Queluz Palace, the summer palace of Portugal’s royal family. that dates from the 18th century.
          • Some call the palace Portugal’s Versailles, but we think this is a poor comparison.  Queluz is Rococo palace that is beautiful in an understated manner and deserves a visit on its own merits.
          • To find out what’s on in Sintra, visit the official website of the city of Sintra,
        • Evora

          • Portugal’s best-preserved medieval city has been likened to a living museum and Evora is a  celebrated UNESCO World Heritage site.  Originally a Roman settlement, the city was conquered by the Moors and re-conquered by the Christians in the 12th century.
          • The city has many interesting attractions, but you should see its cathedral, which is the largest in Portugal and the city’s Roman ruins.
          • For more information on visiting Evora and the Alentejo area see the official Guia Turistico  website for more information
        • Braga

            • Considered by many to be the “cultural” capital of the Portuguese people, Braga  may be the country’s most beautiful city.  Braga’s most notable sights are religious and the city is a very religious city in a very Catholic country.
            • The Sé de Braga is Portugal’s oldest cathedral and dates  from the 12th century.  If you visit the Sé, take time to visit its cloisters, which house the cathedral’s museum, as well as several spectacular chapels and tombs.
              • See the tourism section of the Braga’s official website  for details on visiting  this interesting city.
      • Coimbra

        • The  Museu Nacional de Machado de Castro, is one of the highlights of visit to Coimbra, but has been undergoing construction for several years and not all aspects of the museum are currently available. However, you will be able to see the famous Roman crypt upon which the museum is built.
        • The official website of the museum is here, but it appears not up-to-date.
        • For more information on what’s on in Coimbra, visit the Tourismo Coimbra..
      • Fatima

        • One of the most visited locations in Portugal, Fatima’s attractiveness, for most  tourists, is based on a religious belief in the Apparitions and Miracle at Fatima when the Blessed Virgin appeared to three shepherd children.  The city is located approximately 80 miles north of Lisbon.
        • Tourismo Leira Fatima .

Additional Resources

The official website for tourism is Visit Portugal where you can find additional details for visiting the towns covered above, as well as information for other cities and attractions in Portugal.

For country facts on Portugal, as well as travel information related to visas, driving rules, safety, medical conditions, visas and other travel-related information, see this page on Portugal Travel from the Bureau of Consular Affairs of the U.S. State Department.  Regardless of your home country, we think you will find the information provided to be useful when planning a trip to Portugal.

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