Highlights

Listing Portugal’s highlights is tricky – not just because there are so many but also because each person’s tastes and interests are different. However, if I had to pick out my favourite places they would definitely include:

Lisbon & Porto

Not great places for cycling but Portugal’s two main cities definitely have a lot going for them. Lisbon is more cosmopolitan and grander. Porto is a bit rougher and grubbier but with huge charm plus a dramatic setting on the banks of the Douro River. Plus there are all the port lodges to explore…

L: Cathedral in Viseu. M: The Douro valley in autumn. R: Castelo de Vide.

L: Cathedral in Viseu. M: The Douro valley in autumn. R: Castelo de Vide.

Historic towns

Most Portuguese towns have a historic old quarter tucked away behind the modern – and often ugly – sprawl that surrounds them. But for towns worth making a real effort to visit though, consider:

  • Castelo de Vide – there’s a magic about this old town with its cobbled lanes and stairways – a real step back to another time.
  • Chaves – frontier town on Portugal’s northern border. It’s got a beautiful old centre and is a handy stopping-off point for the Peneda Geres national park.
  • Evora – set among the Alentejo plains, the city has everything from a Roman temple to 16th Century mansions – all protected by UNESCO status.
  • Ponte de Lima – a small town with lovely riverside setting and lovely countryside around.
  • Tomar – an attractive town even without the fabulous Convento de Cristo – the former HQ of the Knights Templar.
  • Viana do Castelo – if you’re coming south along the coast from Galicia, this is the first large town you’ll reach. An attractive town in its own right.
  • Viseu – largely off the tourist radar but with a picturesque old town. It’s also a convenient base for the Serra da Estrella

Other personal favourites include Elvas, Serpa and Trancoso.

L: The old bridge in Chaves. M: The main square in Evora. R: Tomar's Convent of Christ

L: The old bridge in Chaves. M: The main square in Evora. R: Tomar’s Convent of Christ

Wild spaces

Portugal has a very diverse and rugged landscape. Some of the wildest country is in the north – the Peneda Geres national park is beautiful, as is the region around the Serra da Estrella.

The borderlands that run along the frontier with Spain are some of the emptiest in Portugal – and where you’ll find some of the quietest roads and villages that look as if they’ve hardly changed in centuries.

L: The castle at Penedono. M: Old granaries in the Peneda Geres. R: Odeceixe on the Algarve coast.

L: The castle at Penedono. M: Old granaries in the Peneda Geres. R: Odeceixe on the Algarve coast.

You’ll also find some wonderful old fortresses and castles – Almeida, Sortelha, Monsanto and Marvao are all well worth the visit.

Further south, the Alentejo offers some rolling landscapes that are full of flowers in the early spring but baked almost bare by the sun as the year moves on.

Coast

Generally, Portugal’s coast can be a bit of a disappointment – a lot of windswept beaches and ugly, overdeveloped towns. However, there are some areas well worth the visit.

The Atlantic coast between Sagres and Vila Nova de Milfontes is the most unspoilt area of coast but not always easy to access. The coast to the west of Setubal and between Lisbon and Peniche also boast some dramatic cliffs and spectacular beaches.

These are just some personal favourites. You might have others – in which case, please let us know your thoughts!

L: Rock formations near Lagos. M: The harbour at Viana do Castelo. R: The 'Blue Coast' near Setubal.

L: Rock formations near Lagos. M: The harbour at Viana do Castelo. R: The Arrabida coast near Setubal.

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