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…
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.
- Elvas – home to some of the finest 17th century military fortifications in Europe, as well as being a pleasant small city with some good restaurants.
- Évora – 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 Estrela
Other personal favourites include Moura, Serpa and Trancoso.
Portugal has a very diverse and rugged landscape. Some of the wildest country is in the north – the Peneda-Gerês national park is beautiful, as is the region around the Serra de Estrela.
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.
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.
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 boasts some dramatic cliffs and spectacular beaches.
The southern Algarve gets huge numbers of tourists but for good reason. Apart from it’s weather, it has some beautiful beaches, as well as many pretty coves and stretches of cliffs, particularly to the west of Faro.
These are just some personal favourites. You might have others – in which case, please let us know your thoughts!
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