With its picturesque Atlantic coast, vibrant cities, and villages steeped in history and tradition, Portugal has plenty to offer to travelers looking to discover the treasures this European country has to offer. Maybe you’re looking to take in the lively, modern capital city of Lisbon. Or perhaps you’re the more adventurous type looking to explore stone-built towns. And don’t forget about the historic buildings, monuments, and cathedrals dotted throughout the countryside. Portugal definitely has something for everyone to discover.
For those looking for a relaxing, scenic getaway, the Portugal coast is a definite must. The Portuguese coast offers a wide array of experiences from imposing cliffs to secluded beaches and sleepy coastal villages. The adventure enthusiasts will also love Portugal’s coast. Here you’ll find plenty of outdoor activities to choose from, including surfing, horseback riding, kayaking, and diving.
So where are the best places to go when considering Portugal as your travel destination? Let’s take a look at some of the top spots to discover during your Portuguese excursion…
Best Time to Visit
The best time to visit Portugal depends on the season and what type of weather and activities you’re most fond of. During the summer months of June through September, expect sunny skies and plenty of hot weather. This is also going to be the peak season for locals, especially during the month of August, which is the Portuguese holiday month. So if you dislike big crowds, you may want to consider staying away in August especially.
If you’re looking to do a lot of exploring, whether it be hiking or walking through towns or archaeological sites, the ideal months for that would be between the months of May and October, as these prove to be the two cooler, drier months before the hot summers and colder winters approach, respectively.
Spring is a lovely time to visit the country. The weather is cooler and you’ll have the opportunity to see the flowering country sides. And while the winter sees relatively mild weather, especially on the coastline, it’s also the rainy season, typically lasting from November through March.
What to See and Do While in Portugal
The Portuguese coastline stretches for an impressive 1700 kilometers, providing plenty of enticing water related opportunities. And into the country’s interior, you’ll find dramatic mountain ranges, rolling plains, and enchanting villages. Here’s a look at just a few of the fun options to consider when planning your Portugal travel itinerary…
Explore the Historic Streets of Lisbon
There are plenty of individual sites to see in Lisbon, which will be touched upon a bit later. But Lisbon as a city itself deserves a mention as a top place to visit while you’re in Portugal. The city is well-known for its colonial history, and with that comes plenty of beautiful architecture and culture. The weather is relatively pleasant all year round, providing a great time any time to get out and explore the capital city. Check out a walking city tour or grab a map and discover the beautiful historic sites on your own!
Experience the “Spirit” of History at the Mosteiro dos Jeronimos
This beautiful and historic church and monastery represents Portugal’s “Golden Age of Discovery. It was built to honor the achievements of Vasco da Gama, who in 1498 discovered a sea route to India. It’s one of the country’s most visited buildings, and rightfully so. Its design offers some of the best examples of Manueline architecture in Portugal. And the interior of the building is an even more breathtaking sight to behold. The church is also the final resting place of Vasco da Gama as well as a few other well-known Portuguese figureheads. You can find the Mosteiro dos Jeronimos during your Lisbon explorations.
Take in the View Like Kings and Queens at Palacio Nacional de Sintra
Located along the Lisbon coast, the Palacio Nacional de Sintra is definitely a sight to behold. It’s nestled at the food of a wooded mountain range and is a UNESCO World Heritage site. The palace dates back to the late 14th century and was once a popular summer retreat for Portugal’s kings and queens. It’s the country’s oldest surviving palace and holds quite a lot of Portuguese history and culture inside. Don’t forget to explore the quaint old town area of Sintra Velha after seeing the palace. Its cobblestone streets and pastel-painted homes offer a great glimpse of Portuguese old-world charm.
Get Inspired by the Bom Jesus do Monte
A few kilometers east of the town of Braga lay one of the most important religious sanctuaries in Portugal. Called the Bom Jesus de Monte (Good Jesus of the Mount), the entry to this complex consists of the impressive Baroque Escadaria (stairway). The stairway alone is impressive in nature as it zigzags its way up to a beautiful church at the top of the mount. The climb up the 116 meters (381 feet) of stairs is eventful in itself, consisting of several chapels with sculptures depicting the Passion of Christ, as well as statues of mythological, biblical, and symbolic figures. The final section of the stairway depicts the Three Virtues: Charity, Hope, and Faith before leading up to the church. And don’t forget to reward yourself after the climb with the breathtaking views from the top!
Relive Old Portugal’s Past at Castelo de Guimaraes
For those who are fans of historic castles, look no further that the Castelo de Guimaraes. It’s a UNESCO World Heritage Site due to its historical significance and was built in the 10th century. This castle is so important to Portugal’s history and culture that it appears on the country’s coat of arms. The castle once stood at the heart of the great kingdom known as “Portucale” and served as a fortified structure to help defend the surrounding city. It’s quite an interesting structure to explore. And make sure you climb up the castle tower to take in some pretty great views of the countryside.
Look Out Over Lisbon at Castelo de Sao Jorge
This impressive castle is one of Lisbon’s most visited attractions. And it’s not hard to miss as it sits atop a hill overlooking the bustling city below. Castelo de Sao Jorge dates back originally to the 12 century, although a big earthquake in 1755 destroyed much of the original structure. But it was later renovated and stands guards over Lisbon in all of its historic glory. Visitors can walk the ramparts of the castle and there’s also an observation terrace offering lovely views of Lisbon.
See a Mix of Cultural Influences at the Se Cathedral and Roman Temple
In the southern part of Portungal lies the sun-drenched Alentejo province. It’s here where you’ll find the enchanting city of Evora, where Roman and Moorish influences can be found throughout. Two main highlights here are the Se Cathedral and Roman Temple. The Se Cathedral was built in the early 1200’s and celebrates a diverse architectural style that includes Romanesque, Baroque, and Gothic influences. The view from atop the church offers quite amazing views of the city. Nearby, you’ll find the Roman Temple, the city’s most iconic structure. It’s thought to have been built between the 2nd and 3rd century AD and is an impressive sight to behold. Because of its historical significance, it’s been designated as A UNESCO World Heritage Site.
Discover the Religious and Historical Significance of Covento de Cristo
In the quaint riverside town of Tomar, travelers will find one of Portugal’s most historic sites. The Covento de Cristo holds plenty of mystery and intrigue, as it was once the headquarters of the powerful Knights of the Templar. The Knights of the Templar had quite a lot of power in Portugal from the 12th to the 16th centuries. The Covento de Cristo was constructed at a time when Christian-Muslim relations were in a volatile state. Because it was built over the course of five centuries, it showcases many Portuguese architectural styles. There’s quite a lot to take in at this structure, and those who are history and architecture enthusiasts will definitely appreciate all of the culture significance it has to offer.
Marvel at the Antiquities and Art at Museu Calouste Gulbenkian
If art and antiquities is your thing, while you’re in Lisbon, you definitely must visit the Museu Calouste Gulbenkian. This museum holds works and exhibits that span across nearly 4,000 years of history and culture. In fact, the time span is so varied; no other museum in the world holds pieces that extend over such a period of time. So this is definitely the place to go to see plenty of history. The museum’s exhibits range from classical and oriental antiquity up to European art of the 20th century. So there’s likely to be something for everyone to see here. And during the summer months, take advantage of the warm weather and lush gardens on the grounds of the museum by taking a stroll or having a picnic.
Portugal is definitely full of plenty of surprises to discover. And while these examples are just a few of what the country has to offer, hopefully it will give you a good idea of the types of things you can expect to see while exploring this beautiful, historic country!