Endless beaches, cliffs and coves make up the southern coastline with the Algarve area being the most popular choice for tourists. As a compact country, Portugal offers the visitor the opportunity to take in something of each of its elements in one visit and this is made even easier when using car hire for your visit.
Portugal Tourist Board: The official website for the Portuguese National Tourist Office – a useful resource for planning your trip to Portugal.
Know Before You Go: Travel advice for Portugal from the FCO.
Portugal highlights and attractions
If you crave some sunshine and swimming, make the most of Portugal’s many fantastic beaches. If you’re in Lisbon, the Praia da Adraga near Sintra offers wonderful breakers and views from Europe’s most westerly beach.
On the Algarve and looking for somewhere a little quieter? Head to Praia da Rocha in Portimão where you’ll find an excellent beach and a number of caves to explore.
South of Porto you’ll find the gorgeous beach of Miramar with the famous Capela do Senhor da Pedra sat on a rock by the water’s edge.
If you’re looking for fabulous architecture, the Torre de Belem in Lisbon is the place for you. Found on the banks of the Tagus River, this fortified tower played an important role in the Age of Discoveries. Alternatively, visit Sintra and explore the two vast palaces found here that were a summer residence for Portugal’s royalty.
Religious architecture is well catered for. The Mosteiro dos Jerónimos, Convento do Cristo, Monastery of Batalha, and Igreja de Santo Antonio are amongst the numerous beautiful churches and cathedrals on offer.
Drive through the Côa Valley Archaeological Park and explore this UNESCO World Heritage Site in more detail. Fine examples of rock carvings situated here from the Palaeolithic period are truly fascinating and date back to around 20,000 B.C.
Also consider ....
- Visiting Evora, a walled medieval city where you can view roman to present day architecture.
- Checking out Sintra’s magnificent castles. The Moorish Castle there dates back to the 8th century and offers stunning views from its walls.
- Fatima, a world-famous religious site, best known as the site of an appearance of the Virgin Mary in 1917.
- Lagos, on the south coast of the Algarve, one of the country's most popular tourist resorts. Most visitors are drawn to the superb beaches, which include Meia Praia, a vast strip of sand to the east and the more secluded Praia do Pinhão to the south.
- Porto, an ancient city whose earliest name "Portucale" later gave its name to the country. There are wine producing regions in the area which are well worth a visit. Built on the slopes of the hills that overlook the River Douro, admire the typical granite houses and monuments, take a tram ride along the banks of the river, or a boat ride under the magnificent bridges of the city.
- The Azores, consisting of nine remote volcanic islands which are located in the middle of the Atlantic Ocean can be reached by direct flight from Lisbon.
- Visiting the cultural city of Lisbon which offers the visitor lots of things to do from magnificent architecture to botanic gardens.
Portuguese golf breaks
A golf break in Portugal may be high on your travel to-do list. Many tourists are attracted to Portugal by the variety of golf courses available. Widely considered one of the best courses in the country, Monte Rei is located in Tavira. This lovely course has endless charm, excellent bunkers, and a gorgeous backdrop of rolling hills that make strolling down the fairways a real pleasure.
Alternatively, San Lorenzo hand is well-known among golfers both on the Algarve and throughout the world. Situated next to the Ria Formosa bird sanctuary, it offers wide fairways and a wonderful atmosphere. The first five holes are played through a lovely pine forest whilst water hazards are a major feature throughout. For more tips, check out our guide to golfing in Portugal.
Food and drink
Seafood dishes are extremely popular, making the most of freshly caught anchovies, bass, salmon, and sea bream among others. For meat lovers, there are traditional dishes such as porco à alentejana (pork and clams) and cozido à portuguesa (pork, beef and vegetables). The dessert arroz doce, a rice pudding flavoured with cinnamon and lemon, and traditional custard-filled tarts are a must.
It’s not uncommon for you to be seated in a restaurant and have plates of appetisers placed on the table. You’ll be charged for anything you eat so don’t be afraid to decline these.
It’s worth seeking smaller, local cafes and restaurants away from the tourist hustle and bustle to get a taste of authentic Portuguese cuisine. A service charge is not usually added to the bill so be prepared to tip around 10-15% if you’re pleased with the service.
A visit to Portugal wouldn’t be complete without sampling some port and there’ll be a wide selection on offer, particularly from Porto. Visit one of the many vineyards and discover your new favourite tipple. Popular wine regions include Ribatejo, Bairrada, and Alentejo. Be warned though that wine lists aren’t separated just into red, white and rose, but also green and mature.
Festivals and events
- January: Festa das Fogaceiras held annually in Santa Maria da Feira.
- February - March: The Fantasporto International Film Festival is one of Portugal's oldest and longest running film festivals.
- May: The Fatima Romaris (pilgrimage) is held to commemorate the anniversary of the apparition of the Virgin Mary.
- June: The Festa de Sao Joao (John the Baptist) is big in Porto, Aveiro and Braga. In Porto there are large parties with people being hit on the head with harmless plastic hammers; in Braga expect to see dancing, illuminations, folk dramas, poems to loved ones in pots of basil, music and processions.
- July - August: Estoril's world famous Classical Music Festival is simultaneous with the town's Handicrafts Fair.
- August: The Week of the Sea Festival in Horta on the island of Faial in the Azores is a 7-day festa of marine sports and traditional whaling boat regattas.
- November: All Soul's Day is a national holiday and celebrated often with processions across the country.
- December: Independence Day is a public holiday, is usually celebrated with fireworks and joyous parties.