Top 15 Interesting Places to Visit in Portugal
Rossio Square in old downtown Lisbon, Portugal
Portugal is a country filled with historical significance, but it's also a great vacation spot. Who knew? You can explore extremely old
churches, monuments, and castles that have many stories and interesting facts
about history to offer. Climb to the top of buildings to get amazing views of
Portugal’s modern and traditional cities. What if all you want to do is relax on
the beach and take in the sun? Portugal has you covered with islands in the Algarve.
That might be where you want to go if “interesting” means getting a tan and
shopping for local goods made only in Lagos. Places to stay are really unique,
too - you could even stay the night in a castle or former monastery! Portugal is
also home to the largest aquarium in Europe, great shopping, and beautiful views
Dona Ana Beach - Algarve Coast
Take the time to consider these fifteen places to visit while you
plan your vacation to Portugal.
via Wikimedia Commons
Fatima is a spot where many Roman Catholics pilgrimage to, a shrine to a holy event
in history. Many venture out to Fatima because it is said to be the place where
three very young shepherd children, Lucia Santos and her two cousins, Jacinta
and Francisco Marto, are said to have seen the Virgin Mary on May 13, 1917.
Lucia Santos (left) and Her Two Cousins, Jacinta and
Lady Fatima, or Our Lady of the Rosary Fatima, is a title of the Virgin Mary
because of the sighting in Fatima, Portugal. The apparitions in Fatima were said
to be "worthy of belief" in an official fashion at the time by the Catholic
Church. The event was known as the “Miracle of the Sun”, because the sight of
the Virgin Mary is said to be like “a lady brighter than the sun”. Annual
pilgrimages occur around mid-May and mid-October every year, where crowds of
several hundred thousand gather. Many walk on foot from around all of Portugal
to be part of this major faith-based ritual. Due to the popularity of this small
village, some parts of the place can be touristy, but if your faith in the story
of Our Lady of the Rosary Fatima compels you to make a pilgrimage, it’s an
obvious must-see in Portugal.
Close up of the Sanctuary
The small village of Fatima is about 76 miles north of Lisbon, and is part of
the Ourém Municipality in Portugal.
Braga is a city in Portugal that is home to major baroque monuments. The center of
town is old and traditional, while the outlying part of Braga is new and more
industrial. Praça da Republica, the main square, connects both parts of this
city. Braga is easy to walk around, so you can tour the cathedrals on a
leisurely day trip from the major city of Porto. For example. Bom Jesus
Sanctuary or Bom Jesus do Monte (meaning Good Jesus of the Mount) is a must see
in Braga, featuring a baroque stairway. Each segment of the stairway is
dedicated to the five senses.
Bom Jesus do Monte Sanctuary
The intricate stairway forms a zigzag pattern. There are also four baroque
fountains dating back to around the 1760s. Spend a relaxing day exploring this
city, and enjoying the many things that will most likely catch
your attention like the architecture of the Raio Palace.
Braga is an excellent destination for any tourist who enjoys a good ramble
through historic architecture, and see the contrast of the old and modern world.
Aveiro is a romantic, laid-back town in Beiras, perfect for visiting a beach
and strolling by a canal. Think Venice! Explore Art Nouveau mansions and take a
two hour boat trip on the Aveiro Lagoon. Relax on the Peninsula de São Jacinto
beaches and spot the candy striped houses in Cosa Nova.
Canals of Aveiro
Aveiro is famous for its
colorful boats that harvest seaweed; make sure to bring your camera for some
unforgettable shots! Also, thousands of students come to Aveiro to attend the
University of Aveiro, so there are many activities designed to appeal to the
young and active crowd. Aveiro is also known for its sweets, such as trouxas de ovos,
made from eggs.
Aveiro Train Station
via Wikimedia Commons
All in all, Aveiro is a cute, easy place to visit and explore
with many fun and interesting attractions.
Estremoz is a small town in Alentejo where you can stay in a castle, and not just
in any castle. Estremoz is known as one of the “marble towns” of Portugal.
In Portugal, many old buildings with no current use (such as abandoned castles
or convents) have been converted into pousadas, or hotels. Some of the pousadas
focus on totally luxury experiences juxtaposed against the ancient architecture.
Pretty neat, right? Hotel Pousada De Estremoz is one of Portugal’s best
pousadas. The castle was originally built in 1258 and was the home of King Dinis
and his wife Queen Saint Isabel around the early 1300s.
View of Estremoz and its castle uphill
via Wikimedia Commons
Estremoz Castle and Keep Tower
By Javier Habladorcito from Gijón, Spain (Estremoz) [CC-BY-2.0],
via Wikimedia Commons
While you are here, check out the chapel dedicated to Queen Saint Isabel and
read the story of Miracle of the Roses. Saint Isabel’s story is short and
mostly sweet. She wasn’t allowed to provide food for the poor, so she would
hide the food in her clothes. One day she was searched, but instead of food, all
they found were roses. You can see a statue made of marble depicting the queen
on the castle terrace. Shopping can be found in the lower part of town, with a
Statue of Queen Isabel - Queen of Portugal
Go on a Saturday for a chance to shop at the local markets
and pick up a piece of locally made pottery. If you’d rather look than buy, step
into the Rural Museum for a look at local artifacts. There are plenty of things
to do during a visit to Estremoz.
Evora is very old in the best possible way. Romans created the Temple of
Diana, which dates back to the second century. The temple is a very well
preserved monument, with 14 Corinthian granite columns.
Temple of Diana
Walking through the town
you can tell there is Moorish influence. Between the whitewashed houses and
winding alleyways, Evora can be a fun place to wander around and discover some
history and monuments along the way.
Colorful Houses of Evora
via Wikimedia Commons
You can also see the towers of the Lisbon
Cathedral from Evora. Take a chance to see the Cromlech of Almendres, known as
the Portuguese Stonehenge. It dates back to somewhere between 4000 and 2000 BCE,
and consists of nearly a hundred huge stones of granite. If you look closely you
might find some stones engraved with mysterious markings, possibly relating to
Cromlech of Almendres
If that piques your interest you can also get free tours of the
nearby Cave of Escoural, a cave with very, very old charcoal sketches of
animals, including horses. Evora features include olive groves, vineyards, and
the Capela dos Ossos, or the Chapel of Bones, a creepy chapel made of the bones
of thousands of the deceased.
Detail of the Wall in the Chapel of Bones
By Ken & Nyetta [CC-BY-2.0],
via Wikimedia Commons
According to Portugal Holidays, the interior of the chapel is covered in
skulls and bones, and the entrance warns “Nós ossos que aqui estamos pelos
vossos esperamos”, which translates to “We, the bones that are here, await
yours." “Melior est die mortis die nativitatis” or “Better is the day of death
than the day of birth” is written at the roof of the chapel. A visit there
clearly may not be for everyone, but some may find a stop to the Chapel of Bones
intriguing. Evora is about a two hour bus ride away from Lisbon.
Beja is a lovely little town with whitewashed
houses and a tragically romantic history. Hotel Pousada de Beja is a former
monastery that has been converted into a pousada you can use for an overnight
stay if you’re not just passing through on your way to the islands of Algarve.
However, the main attraction (so to speak) of Beja is the romantic and
passionate real-life love story set there.
via Wikimedia Commons
The story goes that a French count
seduced a nun living in the Nossa Senhora da Conceição Convent, and then left
town never to return. The nun in question wrote five letters to the count, which
were eventually published in Paris and then translated into English. The story
of Five Love Letters of a Portuguese Nun is a beautiful work that has made Beja
famous and draws many people to the region. The 15th century convent the nun
lived at is now the Regional Museum, where you can take a look at the
magnificent painted ceiling and 16th century tile art. Make sure to also check
out the Visigothic Basilica of Santo Amaro, with structures that date back to
the 6th century.
Want to explore a fairytale palace? Look no further than Sintra. The Romans
named the place after Cynthia, the goddess of the moon. In the 18th century, the
poet Lord Byron visited and wrote that it was "perhaps in every respect the most
delightful town in Europe". He wasn’t wrong. Wealthy royals also loved Sintra,
choosing it as a preferred place to build mansions and villas. The National
Palace dates to the 14th Century, and features azulejos (colored tiles), major
banquet halls decorated in swans, a kitchen to cater to a thousand, and interior
National Palace in Sintra
The other palace you must add to your list of places to visit is Pena Palace.
Created around the 1840s, Pena Palace is just how you would imagine a castle to
be, with a drawbridge, ramparts, and an amazing ballroom.
Explore magical Pena
Park, with its black swans, exotic plants, and old villas. Pena Palace and
National Palace are only a couple of the many palaces and castles in Sintra.
Architecture aficionados and romantics alike can easily spend hours, if not
days, exploring all the places to visit in Sintra. The train ride to Sintra is
about 40 minutes from Lisbon.
Porto, or Oporto in English, is the second-largest city in Portugal. One of
the particular things to check out in Porto is the port wine, since the entire
city is named after it! Port wine is one of Portugal’s most famous exports.
can get a guided tour of the wine cellars of Sandeman and buy very expensive
(and old) port if that’s what you like. Or you could stay at a “luxury wine
hotel” called The Yeatman, which has an impressive collection of Portuguese
wines to tempt as well as treat your palate.
Cable Cars in Porto
If port isn’t your thing, take a tram car along the Douro River, starting
near Praça do Infante square, and tour the city very inexpensively. Another great
money saving but still fancy option, is to stay at the Gallery Hostel, a
so-called luxury hostel that features a cinema, lounge, a library, a garden,
karaoke, and wine tastings.
7) Castelo de Vide
Castelo de Vide is a beautiful town near Lisbon, a mountain village in
Alentejo. The sunsets are gorgeous, and the Castelo de Vide is in one of the
warmest parts of Portugal. The Castelo de Vide is a castle on a mound, and you
can walk around all you like for free.
Castelo de Vide - Alentejo, Portugal
The area seems like it’s from another
time, with Gothic doorways and buildings preserved so that they remain the way
they were ages ago. Castelo de Vida is home to the oldest synagogue in Portugal.
Those of Jewish heritage might be interested in visiting it. The synagogue is in
the Jewish Quarter, and there’s a Renaissance fountain nearby.
Marble Fountain at Castelo de Vida Village
In the main
square you can see Baroque buildings and churches. Put on your good walking
shoes and prepare to spend a fascinating day meandering around this picturesque
6) Lagos and the Algarve
Lagos is a city in the southern part of Portugal in the Algarve, near the
coast of the Atlantic Ocean. It’s a perfect place to go on vacation because it’s
cheap, pretty, and most people at the hotels in Lagos speak English. Lagos is
known for its beaches, coves, and grottos. You can visit big, sandy public
beaches or travel to private ones. With over 100 beaches altogether in the
entire Algarve, you won't easily run out of sand and shore to explore.
major resorts, but also smaller, more zen places to stay. Nature is abundant
including mountains like Monchique Mountain, and there are more than 30 hiking
trails in the Algarve. Companies like The Mountain Bike Adventure provide guided
mountain bike rides with breathtaking views of the local, natural scenery. Kayaks can be rented
in the summer and boat tours of the grottos are also available.
Lagos in particular as well as most of the region of southern Portugal, is known for its
ceramics, so make sure to stop in a shop and see what the artisans have to
offer. A beautiful handmade dish would make a great souvenir or gift. Lagos is
actually famous for its cork; believe it or not, Portugal produces the most cork
in the world! In Lagos, check out shoes, handbags, and even hats made out of
cork. Bars in Lagos tend to cater to young backpackers, and this can be a fun
scene. Make sure to try a classic and traditional Algarve drink, Medronho, or
fire water. There is also a large youth hostel, so staying in Lagos doesn’t have
to be expensive.
Azores are a series of islands that are part of Portugal. At Pico Island, you
can climb the highest mountain in all of Portugal, 2351 meters above sea level.
Most marinas have whale and dolphin watching, and you can go out on a boat and
get about 10 feet from a whale! You can fish and dive, watch birds, and buy tea.
Azores happens to produce tea, and is the only part of Europe that does so.
Pico Volcano, Azores
sure to take the time to enjoy a leisurely cup of the local brew while you are
there. Pico Island is also home to the largest man-made salt-water pool. Visit
the vineyards on Corvo, and watch out for the running of the bulls.
4) Oceanario de Lisboa
The Lisbon Oceanarium is the biggest indoor aquarium in all of Europe. The
Oceanario de Lisboa has a massive collection of species, with approximately
8,000 fish and sea mammals. The main tank is as big as four Olympic swimming
pools. There’s an arctic tank with penguins, a pacific tank with otters, and
there are smaller tanks with tropical fish. Sharks, barracudas, and moray eels
are some of the other creatures you could find in The Lisbon Oceanarium.
Oceanario de Lisboa
By Ravi Sarma (Oceanário de Lisboa - 45Uploaded by tm) [CC-BY-2.0],
via Wikimedia Commons
crabs, yellow puffer fish and large sunfish attract crowds here, too. The
building of the aquarium was designed by Peter Chermayeff and resembles a large
aircraft carrier. This is a great location to bring the whole family, and kids
are sure to enjoy all the fun things to do. If you need a break from outings in
historic towns, this may just be the attraction you're looking for.
Inside of Oceanario de Lisboa
3) Castle of St. George
Saint George’s castle is very old, with some portions dating back to the sixth
century. It’s dedicated to the patron saint of England. Parts of the castle have
been destroyed due to the Great Earthquake, but it still has extensive walls and
18 towers. There are amazing views of the city of Lisbon from the Castle of St.
George, and you can also visit the gardens to relax and observe local peacocks
and geese. One of the towers in the castle, the tower of Ulysses, has Câmara
Escura - the perfect place to get a really good look at all the cityscape has to
offer. Be sure to bring your camera so you can take some truly breathtaking
Castle of St. George, Lisbon
via Wikimedia Commons
The castle is in Alfama, home of winding medieval alleys with a solid
foundation of bedrock that survived the earthquake. Visit the amazing views from
the castle and then get lost on the nearby streets of Alfama. Alfama is also
home to some very unique hotels and even more modern developments. Make sure you
have plenty of time to linger and explore, as you are sure to find many things
to pique your interest.
In Lisbon, Portugal, Baixa is the perfect place to do some shopping and go to
a cafe in the very heart of the city. It was rebuilt entirely after its
destruction from an earthquake in 1755, and the rebuilding effort was driven
forward by the dictatorial minister, the Marquês de Pombal. It is technically
Europe’s first example of urban planning with pedestrian streets, and it serves
as Lisbon’s main shopping and banking district.
Sao Jorge Castle and Overlook of Baixa
Baixa a good place to meet, or even stay, in Lisbon because it’s central to
everything and there are hotels, restaurants and easy transportation to wherever
you want to go in the city. Make sure to check out the mosaic pavements and City
Hall palace. New Year's Eve festivities are held in the square in Baixa. History
was less kind to royals in the square, King Carlos I and his eldest son meeting
their end by gunshot in 1908 on that very spot to make way for the Republic two
years after that.
Streets on the grid in Baixa are named after trades and skills, like Rua dos
Sapateiros or Cobblers’ Street, and Rua da Prata or Silversmiths’ Street. Trade
shops like these aren’t around anymore, but you can check out the Art Deco shop
fronts where they used to sell their wares. See if you can spot any modern
shopkeepers taking advantage of the history of their locations. You may be
surprised by the unique treasures you can find.
Baixa is also where the Santa Justa Elevator is, which is a major Lisbon landmark. The
elevator is 147 feet high and is Neo-Gothic in design. You can also climb a
spiral staircase to get to the top and overlook Rossio Square and the Castle of
St. George. The Nicola Café in Rossio Square is a great location to people-watch
or meet up with friends or family.
Baixa City Center of Lisbon
The city’s biggest park is in Baxia, Edward VII Park. The park is obviously
named after Britain's Edward VII. There’s a hot house with exotic plants and a
greenhouse with tropical plants, palms, and cacti. On the east side of the park,
a monument stands for Carlos Lopes who was a Portuguese Olympic medal winning athlete.
Lisbon is where it all happens in Portugal. Lisbon is the capital of Portugal
and is located by the sea. It’s relatively small, but compact and very
interesting. It’s also affordable; officially, it is Western Europe’s cheapest
capital. The climate is mild and it’s the closest European capital to the United
States, making it an easy travel destination for
The city features remnants from other civilizations, including the
Phoenicians, Celts, Romans, Visigoths, and Moors. The history in Lisbon is rich
and varied. If you’re looking for more recent history, check out the vintage
trams. Stand on virtually any tall building to get a good view of the medieval
villages and castles that surround Lisbon.
Lisbon has nightlife, the fanciest
club of which is called “Lux” and is owned in part by John Malkovich. There are
even 1920’s style jazz bars. Nightlife also includes classical music, plays, and
a local opera house. There’s shopping, museums, and beaches, not to mention
numerous churches and cathedrals.
There are a variety of cities and towns in Portugal that might surprise you.
Porto is a scenic and cosmopolitan area to explore, and it’s not just about port
as the name might suggest! The activities available in Lisbon vary from shopping
in Baixa, clubbing, or visiting a huge oceanarium. History is a major focus, and
sites of churches, synagogues, castles, chapels, and marinas could be romantic,
educational, spiritual, or even creepy. And there are many more in the rest of
Portugal, too. Pretty views, interesting history, fun activities for everyone,
Portugal has everything you need for a great vacation.
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