A rich seafaring past, beautiful seaside resorts, cities full of melancholy and a landscape filled with olive groves, vineyards and wheat fields: this is Portugal, a country of strong traditions and its proud, nostalgic people, capable of captivating writers and directors as famous as Lord Byron, Antonio Tabucchi, and Wim Wenders, in addition to millions of tourists every year. Able to unite the arts, to contaminate and to always distinguish itself, even in traditions. Romantic cities such as Lisbon, Port and Coimbra enchant visitors with their timeless beauty and atmosphere, while the poignant notes of the Fado, traditional Portuguese music, imprints itself into the memory and skin of every listener. The sea is the main protagonist of every holiday in Portugal, with seaside tourism concentrated in the Algarve region, but not forgetting other areas such as the coastline between Cascais and Estoril or the islands. Inland there is a wealth of attractions to discover, with castles, mediaeval cities, religious paths, natural parks, vineyards and wineries. And then there are the islands, the Azores and Madeira, pearls to discover and savour. There is also a young, energetic Portugal: this is the country of the beaches that are a surfer’s paradise, a lively nightlife, the colourful graffiti and many outdoor music festivals. Come with us and discover the list of the 15 best places to visit.
15 places to visit
- Portugal's islands: the Azores
- Portugal's islands: Madeira
Lisbon, the capital of Portugal, is many things: romantic, melancholy, loud and dreamy. You can enjoy it for its atmosphere, its monuments, its breathtaking views, its food or all these things together. Why not start in Alfama the oldest district in the city, an intricate network of alleys and staircases, of climbs and descents that wind below the imposing Sao Jorge Castle, one of the city's symbols as well as the highest vantage point. It is a picturesque neighbourhood that develops vertically, with an upper and a lower part and a cascade of houses perched on its sloping alleyways, sometimes so close to each other that the roofs seem to touch.
It is also the birthplace of fado, Portugal’s poignant, traditional music. You can also visit the Alfama, taking Tram 28,the method of transport in the city that dates back to the 1930s, and which is rightly one of the city’s attractions.
Going down towards the Tagus, don't miss the view from the scenic bridges: the Miradouro de Santa Luzia with its coloured tiles and the Miradouro das Portas do Sol. The Monastery of Sao Vicente de Fora with its tiled cloister is also well worth a visit.
Ther is also Baixa, the heart of modern and European Lisbon, the area rebuilt after the city’s violent earthquake: walks along the wide boulevards and once you have reached Pracha do Comércio, Lisbon's largest square, walk right across it to reach the steps on the banks of the Tagus for a short stop.
In Belem visit the monastery de los Jeronimos, one of the greatest architectural examples of Manueline style in Lisbon. It was built in 1505 to celebrate the return of the Portuguese explorer Vasco de Gama, who had just discovered the route for India. Try tasting some Pasteis de Belem in the old café adjacent to the Monastery which is said to possess the original recipe. Not too far from here, you can walk to the famous Belem Tower, which shines depending on the sun’s angle: it was made a Unesco World Heritage Sitein 1983. It is a bastion of about 30 metres located at the mouth of the River Tagus.
Once you have arrived in Estrela, you can relax in Jardim de Estrela, one of Lisbon's most beautiful parks. Contemporary art enthusiasts will be able to take a free look at the Museu Colecção Berardo, the flagship of the Centro Cultural de Belém. The museum, which is snow white and built in a minimalist style, exhibits the collection of abstract, surrealist and pop art owned by the millionaire José Berardo. It also hosts some of the best temporary exhibitions in Portugal.
With its bell towers towering over the hilly landscape, its baroque churches, its mediaeval buildings and its art-deco palaces that just flow on and on, one after another, Porto seems to belong to a timeless fairy tale.
Its labyrinth of narrow, cobbled streets is home to squares, churches and houses with colourful facades. While in the old town you can admire the decadent, and thus wonderful, splendour of the ancient past, outside the historic centre the city has witnessed a rebirth of its seaside resorts. Don’t miss the Ribeira, one of the most picturesque parts, flanked by colourful and uneven houses on one side and the Douro River on the other. You'll be captivated by this neighbourhood with its colourful cottages and craft shops. To get the most out of the view of the neighbourhood and the Dom Luis IBridge, get on one of the barcos rabelos and sail on the river. Don’t forget to stop for a drink in one of the town's squares.
The Palcio da Bolsa, the city’s old stock exchange, is breath-taking. Don't miss a visit to the church of St. Francis- its humble facade does not reveal the sumptuous Baroque engravings hidden inside, where you can admire the technique of talha dourada, the all-golden wooden inlay that is typical of many Baroque churches built in Portugal during the 1700s. Porto is famous for its wine and not just for Port. The most interesting wineries are located in Vila Nova de Gaia, the city that is located on the other side of the Douro and which is connected to the city by the Dom Luis Bridge.
Sintra, a small town about half an hour's train ride from Lisbon, is a fairytale-like collage of colourful palaces and gardens straight out of a story book. At the top, on top of the city stands the Moors’ Castle with its large park stretching along Serra da Sintra. Around the town we find other palaces and important monuments, amazing beaches and nature to discover, starting with Cabo da Roca, the westernmost point in Portugal.
The most scenic palace in Sintra is the Pena Palace. Built on the spot where an ancient convent of friars of the Order of St. Geronimo once stood, this was the result of the imagination of ing Ferdinand II, a man who loved art and who wanted a building that could represent a lyrical opera, or rather a masterpiece. Different architectural styles coexist in the building’s architecture, such as Gothic, Manueline, Arabic, Renaissance and Baroque styles that are also reflected in the interior rooms. Another building to visit is La Quinta da Regaleira, an enigmatic structure with mysterious tunnels and mazes. The interiors of the villa are full of statues and esoteric symbols.
The Shrine of Fatima is one of the most important locations for the worship of the Virgin Mary, a destination for pilgrims from all over the world. The spot on which it stands, Cova da Iria, in the town of Ourém, more precisely in the hamlet of Fatima, was completely unknown until 1917. That year, a religious event changed the town’s history forever: Our Lady, the Virgin of the Rosary, appeared several times to three small shepherds, Jacinta and her cousins Francisco and Lucia. At first, the Church was rather reluctant to recognise the miraculous phenomenon, which immediately gained great popular support. It was not until 1930 that the Bishop of Leiria considered the testimonies provided about the apparitions to be true, and from that moment on the town underwent great development and was visited by the faithful and tourists.
As you enter the Prayer Enclosure, you can see the Basalica de Nossa Senhora do Ros'rio de F'tima (Basilica of Our Lady of the Rosary) with its tower 65 metres high in the distance. At the centre, the Monument to the Sacred Heart of Jesus and, on one side, there is the Chapel of Apparitions, which is located in the exact place where Our Lady asked the little shepherds to build one. In the area, in addition to the Sanctuary, you can visit some museums: Museu de Arte Sacra e Etnologia, Museu de Cera, Museu Fétima 1917.
The happiest town in Portugal: Braga knows how to combine its dual soul, that of ancient city rich in history on the one hand, and cultural and university centre with its relaxed atmosphere on the other. Lose yourself in the maze of narrow streets where you'll find Gothic churches and Baroque buildings. In the city you can count more than 30 churches, which is why it is also known as the Portuguese Rome.
The most important is Braga Cathedral, which is the oldest in Portugal and dates back to 1070. The real discovery is the Museu dos Biscainhos, an 18th-century palace dedicated to the decorative arts. Another highlight is the Baroque garden created by the architect Soares, who designed some of the most important works in the city, such as the Town Hall, the main altar of the Monastery of Tibaes, the Church of St. Magdalene of Falperra, the Palacio do Raio and the Sanctuary of Our Lady of the Tower.
The most famous monument is the Shrine of Bom Jesus di Monte which is just outside the centre. The Sanctuary stands at the top of a monumental staircase of 450 steps which is the true emblem of the city's Baroque architecture.
History, tradition and creativity in one town. Guimaraes is considered the cradle of Portugal as Afonso Henriques, who would become the first king of Portugal, was born there. Its mediaeval centre is a maze of labyrinth-like, narrow streets and picturesque squares surrounded by 13th-century palaces, while a thousand-year-old castle stands on an adjacent hill and, next to it, the imposing palace built by the first Duke of Bragana in the 15th century. The importance and beauty of Guimaraes was officially recognised in 2001, when Unesco declared its historic centre a World Heritage Site. In addition to the city's architectural treasures, museums and avant-garde cultural institutions, the city boasts many squares crowded with bars and restaurants. Also, it should not be forgotten that it is a university town, and its student population makes the atmosphere extremely lively and eventful.
How many women can say they have received a hamlet as a gift? One of these is Queen Isabel, who received Obidos as a gift from her husband, King Denis I. Perhaps, thanks to the merit of taste and feminine touch, Obidos became one of the most beautiful villages in Portugal: the romantic old town, perched atop a hill dominated by a mediaeval castle, is a labyrinth of cobbled streets and white cottages, with balconies adorned with flowers, colourful doors and decorations. Strolling along the castle walls or down the village streets is always a fascinating experience. - The main tourist attraction of Obidos are the walls of the village. Originally the manor was an austere building, more a fortress than a palace, with numerous towers, merlons and large gates; it only took on the appearance of a palace in the sixteenth century, with the addition of Manueline elements, and today it is one of the most luxurious hotels in Portugal.
The Obidos Municipal Museum it is housed in an eighteenth-century building not far from the Igreja de Santa Maria: it exhibits a collection of paintings from various eras, the most important of which is the portrait of Josefa de Ebidos entitled "Faustino das Neves", characterised by a dramatic contrast of light and shade. South of the town, the Santurio do Senhor da Pedra, an imposing 18th-century baroque church with a hexagonal plan, is an 18th-century Baroque wonder well worth a visit. On the altar is the stone statue of the crucifix to which the shrine owes its name. The town is famous for its International Chocolate Festival, attracting thousands of visitors from all over the world every year.
Evora, the best-preserved fortified city in Portugal, is a pretty place to visit, so full of history. Roman in origin, in the 15th century it was the residence of the Portuguese kings and this gave a considerable boost to the city’s cultural life. For centuries it remained one of the most important commercial and religious centres in the country and today it is a lively university town.
This thousand-year history has left numerous traces, which make Evora an unmissable destination during a holiday in Portugal. Within the 14th-century walls, the narrow, curving streets of Evora wind through an itinerary of great architectural beauty: from the elaborate mediaeval cathedral with its beautiful cloisters to the spectacular columns of the Templo Romano, to the evocative main square, once the scene of the bloody executions of those condemned by the Inquisition. Food also wants its part: the town is full of restaurants that serve the region’s characteristic dishes.
Evora is also the ideal base for exploring High Alentejo, a charming inland region, characterised by a picturesque landscape of olive groves and fortified towns. Outside the city, Neolithic monuments and rustic wineries are great destinations for a day trip.
A place of art and culture, a city on the banks of a river that attracts students from all over the world thanks to its glorious University: this is Coimbra, a magical city in Portugal. Located in the north-central part of the country, roughly halfway between the capital Lisbon and the "northern capital" Faro, Coimbra is easily accessible from Portugal's other cities.
Here the University is not only an institution, but also a monument with a sumptuous chapel and a magnificent library. One of the most important centres of knowledge in Europe, the University of Coimbra is amongst the oldest on the planet and has been recognised as a Unesco World Heritage Site. It was founded in 1290 as "Estudos Gerais" (general studies) and, after several transfers, settled permanently in the ancient mediaeval palace of Coimbra in 1537.
After visiting the University of Coimbra, you must visit the Mosteiro de Santa Clara in Velha. Built on the orders of Isabella of Aragon in 1286 in place of an old convent of Poor Clares, it is an enormous complex with a church and cloisters. Construction of the sacred building was completed in 1330; In 1677 the convent was abandoned after the last of the river floods that frequently reached the gates of the structure. At the end of the last century, restorations were carried out that restored dignity to the monument.
As the mediaeval capital of Portugal for more than a century, Coimbra has played a decisive role in Portuguese history. Its old town, lying on the side of a hill that descends to the eastern bank of the Rio Mondego, is formed by a series of buildings built over the course of almost a millennium.
In Praca de Maio there is the Mosteiro de Santa Cruz, located on the banks of the Mondego River, one of the oldest and most important monuments in Coimbra. Founded in 1131 by the Augustinians, it was the favoured retreat of King Afonso Henriques, the first king of Portugal who loved to take part in masses in the monastery church after the military battles. And who wanted to bury his son here. Church, cloister and chapels were rebuilt in the 16th century.
Don't miss the Museu nacional de Machado de Castro. Taking a short walk out of the old town, you can appreciate the modern side of the city: a new riverside parking lot with bars and restaurants, a pedestrian walkway that runs through the Rio Mondego and large shopping malls that offer everything you can find in any other major European city. Coimbra is also a great starting point for day-to-day visits to Roman ruins of Conmbriga, to the mediaeval fort on top of Montemor-o-Velho and to the extravagant Palace Hotel do Buaco.
For those who also want to enjoy the ocean, Portugal offers many possibilities. The Algarve is the beautiful southern coastline. It is a region of beautiful beaches, picturesque fishing towns and a fantastic climate, all combined to make it a perfect destination for holidays. It is an eclectic and diverse area, that attracts a wide variety of tourists: there are must-see beaches for families, water parks for teenagers. There is also a lively nightlife for young couples and there are cultural tours in historic cities to be enjoyed. Then there is the hinterland, where people live in harmony with nature and which preserves the traditions they like to share with those who visit it: some of the towns worth a mention are Silves, which shows traces of its Arabic past, Lagos, reminiscent of the age of discovery. It sits on the banks of the Rio Bensafrim and its sixteenth-century walls enclose a pretty old town, with cobbled alleys, churches and charming squares.
Just 100 km north of Lisbon, there is the small town of Alcobaca. with its fascinating old town and the tiny river crossed by pretty bridges. It owes its fame to the development of the monastery Real Abadia de Santa Maria, founded in 1153 by Cistercians who began its construction in 1178, on land donated to Friar Bernard of Clarevalle by the first King of Portugal, Afonso Henriques after a promise made after the Christian recapture of Santarém. Built on the model of the Abbey of Clairvaux, the home of the Cistercian Order in France, the Mosteiro de Alcobahasa has been recognised as aUnesco World Heritage Site. The visit to the entire complex gives you access to the charming refectory, the vast dormitory and other spaces that can bring visitors back to the time of Cistercian life. The monks also influenced the gastronomy and sweets of the area. Of these, the most famous is the Po de Lae de Alfeizer, a kind of sponge that took its name from the place where it was prepared, Alfeizer. The area is also known for excellent quality of its crystal and terracotta and ceramic objects.
Nazaré is one of Portugal's most beautiful beach holiday towns and is a fantastic destination for a holiday. The city is situated on a wide bay of golden sands and in the shadow of the imposing headland Do S'tio that you can climb on a cable car to admire the beautiful landscapes of the coast. Historically, this headland offered shelter to fleets of fishing boats and boats were moored on the sand, safe from the might of the ocean. Today, fishing has given way to tourism, but Nazaré is proud of its cultural heritage. With a tangle of narrow, cobbled alleys descending to a wide cliff front beach, Nazaré is the most striking seaside resorts in Estremadura. In the summer months it is a lively and hectic holiday destination that attracts people of different nationalities and ages. Winter attracts a completely different kind of tourists, surfers, who come to try their hand with their boards on the colossal waves crashing on the beach of Praia do Norte.
Tavira is an ancient Moorish town full of charm and wonderful corners not to be missed. Lying along the sinuous banks of the Rio Gilo, Tavira boasts several interesting historical sites, including the ruins of a hilltop castle, an ancient Roman bridge and stunning Gothic and Renaissance churches. What remains of the castle is surrounded by a small and enchanting garden. From the restored octagonal tower you can also enjoy a beautiful view. It's a perfect place for walking around: a labyrinth of cobbled streets with pretty historic gardens and squares in the shade of the trees.
The cosy town square on the river bank has been the market place and place to walk around for the inhabitants for centuries; it was here that slaves, who were considered to be a commodity like fruit and fish, for centuries. The small port is quite active and there is also a modern market. Just 3 km from the coast, Tavira is the starting point to head towards the pristine beaches of Ilha de Tavira. For nature lovers you can discover the Ria Formosa Nature Park, which covers about 60 km of the south coast and has six lagoons.
Portugal's islands: the Azores
The Azores archipelago is a popular destination for tourists from all over the world because of its crystal clear, calm waters and its breathtaking landscapes. Being of volcanic origin, it has many black beaches, derived from basalt, a characteristic that distinguishes them worldwide. Where there is no sand there are incredible cliffs from where you can enter the sea for an unforgettable experience. Praia Formosa is probably the most famous beach in the Azores, located onSt. Mary's Island. The pleasant temperature, the crystal clear waters and the sense of peace characterise this beach and make it a real paradise on earth.
There are so many things you can do on the islands: a boat trip where you can spot over 20 species of cetaceans, including sperm whales. If you prefer to stay on land use the vigias, old watchtowers used once by whale hunters. Go to Pico to climb Portugal's highest mountain (2351 metres) and to go swimming with manta rays. In the hinterland, enjoy the lakes, hiking, birdwatching and Flores flowers.
Or explore Terceira, "the lilla island" by bike, called thus due to the colour used on many facades of the local houses, especially in the city of Angra do Heroism, the capital. What makes the island of Terceira special is the extraordinary contrast between the natural beauty of the volcanic island and the admirable work of man right in the historic centre of the main town founded in 1534, the first resort of the Azores to be elevated to city and ranked as a Unesco World Heritage Site.
Portugal's islands: Madeira
If the art, culture and history of Portugal are not enough for you, if the wonderful beaches of the Portuguese coast are not enough, you can continue your holiday in Lisbon with a pleasant diversion to Madeira, an archipelago of volcanic islands in the Atlantic Ocean about 500 km from the African coast. Dominated by the deep blue of the sea and the emerald green of dense vegetation and blessed with a mild climate year-round, these islands are a very good alternative to the better-known and much busier Canary Islands.
The main island is the one that gives the name to the archipelago, Madeira. It was immortalised in a fairytale film sequence from the 1950s: a stunning Romy Scheineder as the romantic Princess Sissi walked on a terrace overlooking the sea, adorned with a riot of flowers. The extraordinary beauty of the island of Madeira is within everyone's reach. A mild climate all year round, blue sea, an abundance of tropical flowers, and the largest laurel forest in the world declared as a Unesco World Heritage Site make Madeira a haven for nature lovers. The island's most famous product is Madeira wine, a liqueur wine enjoyed all over the world for which the particular method of winemaking was discovered by chance.
Those who have rented a car will be able to drive it up and down in search of the most romantic vantage points; those who prefer a more active holiday will be spoilt for choice: the island is in fact covered by numerous paths immersed in nature.
Funchal, the capital of the island, and hometown of the football champion Cristiano Ronaldo, has become a trendy neighbourhood and hub of nightlife. Where until a few years ago there were ruined fishermen's houses and 19th-century palaces in a state of disrepair, today there are new bars, and original, welcoming restaurants and hostels.
Visit Portugal with Costa Cruises
Visiting Portugal will be a unique and multi-faceted experience. The diversity of landscapes, the wealth of historical testimonies and traditions, the ease of travel within the country, the welcome of the Portuguese, will all make the holiday unforgettable. And one more point will also be the food and cooking.
The dishes of the Portuguese gastronomic tradition, and Lisbon in particular, are fish, vegetables, rice and legume-based. There are also meat specialities, but fish (sardines and cod above all) is the indisputable king of the table. The most famous dish for excellence the Pasteis de bacalhau: small pieces of breaded and fried cod, soft croquettes with a delicate flavour and golden and tasty breading. Portugal was amongst the first to export spices and products such as pepper, potatoes and tomatoes. In addition, owing to its very history and colonial ties with Brazil, Portugal also has a great coffee tradition.
In Lisbon's bars and typical restaurants, you can order the best espresso outside Italy. Beauty, sea, art and taste: all for you to experience, choosing Portugal as a destination for your upcoming holidays.