Top 25 Attractions & Things To Do In Portugal

Set your sail and off you go to the country of Fedinand Magellan and Vasco da Gama, where the patchwork of color is as dazzling and surreal as Mário Cesariny's palette. The emerald waters of Algarve, the red-tiled roofs of Madeira, the soothing whiteness of Belem and the luscious greenness of the Azores are all for the taking. And so is the tranquility Alentejo's sleepy fishing villages, the rambling of trams in the narrow, ascending streets of Lisbon, the nostalgic tunes of fado, and the blissful intoxication with Vinho do Porto. Portugal has everything you need plus a bunch of things to surprise you.

Following some research into the preferences and opinions posted by users of various social media sites, such as Twitter and Facebook, as well as own resources and reviews by the most popular travel sites, Open Travel has compiled a list of top 25 things to see or do on your Portugal Vacations. Zoom between the country's cosmopolitan and provincial quarters to find out what it means to be living in a place where modernity thrives without encroaching a single step on the ever vital past, and even if it does at times, they coexist in harmony unparalleled anywhere else in Europe. Just hit the Bairro Alto after dark and see for yourself.

  1. 1

    Belem

    Location: Lisbon, Portugal

    Belem

    Photo by dynamosquito

    If it's the Age of Discovery that has always spurred your imagination, drop the anchor at Belem, where Magellan and da Gama once prepared for their New World voyages. With a stunning selection of cultural venues, some of Lisbon's most striking historic monuments, and a palette of heart-melting waterfront vistas, Belem is one of the capital's most visited areas. Centered on the classy, snow-white Monastery of the Hieronymites, the quarter endows visitors with an omnipresent spirit of 15th century exploration and caresses their faces with a favorable wind that whizzes between the Belem Tower, the Maritime Museum, and the Monument to the Discoveries. Ahoy!

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  2. 2

    National Palace of Pena (Palacio Nacional da Pena)

    Location: Sintra, Portugal

    National Palace of Pena (Palacio Nacional da Pena)

    Photo by Tiago Rïbeiro

    "I must just observe that the village of Cintra in Estremadura is the most beautiful in the world." So wrote Lord Byron to his friend Francis Hodgson 1809, and if we assume that good things are getting better and better with age, no wonder UNESCO took this tiny gem under its auspices. Don't be mislead by its size - Sintra has a profusion of attractions, some as obvious as various fish specialties, some only discovered if you go off the beaten path. But no matter where you are within the city bounds or which direction you're approaching them from, your eyes will inevitably rest on the Pena National Palace overlooking Sintra from up the hill and playing a romantic game of color with the Portuguese sun. Do make an effort that it takes to climb Serra de Sintra for the palace's splendor outshines everything the whatsoever brilliant town has to offer.

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  3. 3

    Costa Vincentina National Park

    Location: Portugal

    Costa Vincentina National Park

    Photo by tuergeist

    Craving for a romantic evening? Just get into your car and make for the Cape St.Vincent to witness some of the most spectacular sunsets ever. Honestly, the cape is a sight to behold at any time of day. The rocky windswept headland rising 60m above the sea really gives you the feeling of being at the edge of the continent. Two most significant events of the maritime history echo in the cliffs and so do numerous bird species nesting on the hallowed rocks. The cape is a site of exuberant marine life and stunning sea views you can admire from a solitary lighthouse.

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  4. 4

    Fado Bars in Alfama

    Location: Lisbon, Portugal

    Fado Bars in Alfama

    Photo by Allie_Caulfield

    There is probably no better suited place to experience the nostalgia of fado than Alfama, the oldest district of Lisbon spreading down the slope between the Castle of Lisbon and the Tejo river, one that withstood the earthquake of 1775. Switch your inner compass on because you are bound to get lost cruising among the Lisbon Cathedral, the Museum of Decorative Arts, and several observation points that command perplexing views. But many don't want to find their way back anyway for Alfama mesmerizes with wiggling cobbled streets, azulejos-tiled walls and fado oozing melancholically from quaint little bars.

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  5. 5

    Azores

    Location: Portugal

    Azores

    Photo by Luissilveira

    Like nine precious gems scattered on the azure sheet of velvet, the paradisaical Azores adorn the Atlantic 930 miles from Lisbon. A two-hour flight takes you to the realm of flower-clad fields, verdant valleys, sleepy villages, dreamy lagoons and inspired folklore that never fails to grab the hearts of those who put culture over the cutting-edge gloss. St. Miguel's landscape falls somewhere between Switzerland and Hawaii, Santa Maria buzzes with the joy of traditional festivals. The highly pleasing blend of fabulous scenery and the natural human warmth coupled with the joy of traditional festivals makes you compelled to stop for a while and reappraise your attitude to life. Unless you wish to tuck yourself away at a luxury resort, which is, by the way, not a problem here either.

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  6. 6

    Historic Center of Porto

    Location: Porto, Portugal

    Historic Center of Porto

    Photo by Josep Renalias

    As a Portuguese saying goes: "Lisbon shows off, Braga prays, Coimbra studies and Porto works". And indeed, this commercial hub at the delta of the Douro River is a grittier, more down-to-earth, and unashamedly industrious element of the "big four", with the thriving center of the Port wine industry setting the city's pace. Yet, tipsy or not, if you throw yourself into the Historic Center of Porto, you'll be surprised to discover that the urban development inscribed itself neatly into the historical fabric and made it shine so beautifully that there's just no end to rambling the narrow, ascending streets that lead from the magnificent cathedral and its Romanesque choir to the neoclassical Stock Exchange, then to numerous museums, old-fashioned shops, and eventually, cozy restaurants where the city's flagship product can be blissfully enjoyed.

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  7. 7

    Ponta da Piedade

    Location: Lagos, Portugal

    Ponta da Piedade

    Photo by romainmo

    A common stopover on Algarve tour, Lagos itself is an attractive town with 8th century fortifications, bustling nightlife and a new marina area. Yet nothing about the city really foreshadows the aesthetic blow you are dealt when you head further south. Not only is the headland of Ponta da Piedade lapped by waters of indescribable colors, but also surrounded by enormous formations that the sea has carved in sheer rock over time. Jump on a tiny boat to slalom between the sandstone boulders and through myriad natural passages, and when you end up dizzy, get your balance back on the sandy coves of Praia de Dona Ana and Praia do Camilo hidden between giant cliffs.

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  8. 8

    Historic Center of Evora

    Location: Évora, Portugal

    Historic Center of Evora

    Photo by Mozo Man

    The list of Portugal attractions is definietly topped with Evora. Seducing with whitewashed houses decorated with colorful azulejos and romantic wrought-iron balconies, the place is a real treat to any beauty lover. The Roman Evora is not only an intriguing alloy of Baroque, Gothic, Romanesque, Roman, Renaissance, and Manueline architectural patterns but also a town that has immense historical, religious, and archaeological significance. The city caters for many tastes and interests. Archeology buffs will be wonderstruck with the 5000 BC Megaliths and the Temple of Diana, architecture enthusiasts with Evora Sé Cathedral or Church of Our Lady of Grace and thrill-seekers shall find the Chapel of Bones or 'Capela dos Ossos' worth paying a visit. Don't miss it out!

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  9. 9

    Nightlife of Bairro Alto

    Location: Lisbon, Portugal

    Lisbon's cultural and bohemian heart, the nightlife and shopping mecca are probably THE words to introduce Bairro Alto in a nutshell. The quarter has a streak of Jekyll-and-Hyde to it, for with its calm and relatively quiet streets at daytime, it does not resemble the vibrant and jostling party-like neighborhood at night. Explore with intensity the sleek bars, stylish alternative fashion shops and a multitude of colorful, graffiti-sprayed facades to discover a highly explosive (and luring) mixture of Lisbon's music subcultures and party animals that all have the Bairro as their home.

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  10. 10

    Monsaraz

    Location: Évora, Portugal

    Monsaraz

    Photo by Fr Antunes

    Monsaraz is surely the place to let you breathe in the truly medieval Portugal. Sitting above the River Guardiana on the frontier with Spain, the tiny Middle Age walled town is one of the most atmospheric places in the region of Alentejo. The massive castle keeps a wary eye on the Spaniards in the distance and the cobbled narrow lanes and low-rise old houses dotted with ambient hideaways guarantee a laidback afternoon over a glass of wine or local dishes. Amble along the nearly deserted streets at a leisurely pace taking in the atmosphere of this amazingly well-preserved part of Portuguese history. Don't miss the castle or the parish church of Santa Maria and for some shopping make for the village of São Pedro do Corval famed for its pots and other locally produced ceramics.

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  11. 11

    Parque Nacional da Peneda-Geres

    Location: Braga, Portugal

    Parque Nacional da Peneda-Geres

    Photo by ptL2007

    Clinging to the northern border of Spain, the park, known simply as Gerês, is a sight not to be missed. Created in 1971, the area is the only natural reserve of this kind in Portugal. Just put on a pair of comfy hiking boots and let yourself be delighted in its turquoise waters, oak-clothed mountains and murmuring winding rivers. The reserve provides shelter for the endangered species of the Iberian wolf and has also helped preserve unique sets of ecosystems. Trekking the moorlands and lush pine forests you shall also feed your hunger for archeology for there are some Iron Age archaeological sites on the way. For some idyllic rural atmosphere and local peculiarities, head for the northwest!

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  12. 12

    Monastery of Alcobaca

    Location: Alcobaça, Portugal

    Monastery of Alcobaca

    Photo by Flávio de Souza

    Facing the Moors at Santarém, Afonso Henríques invoked God's blessing and vowed he would erect an impressive monastery if God granted him victory. God yielded to his prayers and Alfonso kept his promise. Today the fascinating UNESCO-protected complex is one of the most important national legacies and a prime tourist attraction. Representing the arrival of Gothic in Portugal, it is not only vast, lofty and heavily ornamental, but also brimming with ribald accounts of medieval monastic decadence and gloomy stories of royal star-crossed lovers, including that of Dom Pedro and Dona Ines lying in face-to-face tombs so that they can look at each other first thing on Judgment Day.

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  13. 13

    Madeira

    Location: Portugal

    Madeira

    Photo by Ville Koistinen

    You definitely are in a hot spot here for not only is Madeira sitting atop a submarine volcano but also enjoys all-year-round popularity among holidaymakers and travelers. The archipelago equals untouched nature, tranquility, breathtaking mountain views and a wrap of abundant greenery that shall calm your senses and charge your worn-out psyche. The islands will treat you to exquisite Madeira wine, delicious food and the largest fireworks show if you happen to visit around New Year's Eve. Matched with thriving local folklore, upmarket accommodation and a vast range of leisure activities, Madeira Archipelago is a winning destination.

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  14. 14

    Walled Town of Obidos

    Location: Óbidos, Portugal

    Walled Town of Obidos

    Photo by Paulo Juntas

    It is not hard to explain the hordes of day-trippers swarming the walled interior of Obidos. Just imagine a town of dreamy whitewashed houses with a zesty splash of blue and yellow on the walls, winding stone-paved streets draped with blossom and ...aha! there YOU go, trying to find your own cozy nook somewhere in Obidos to taste the local cherry liquor known as ginjinha. And once you are there, climb the hill to explore the massive castle which now houses one of the Pousadas de Portugal that is a hotel blending rustic and genuinely Portuguese flavor into a luxurious service. If you are lucky, you might get a check- in into even more of the town's charm.

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  15. 15

    Ria Formosa

    Location: Portugal

    Ria Formosa

    Photo by fotografar

    As far as the eye can see, the Ria Farmosa will bewilder you with golden dunes, sand banks, canals and marshes running along the distant line of the horizon. The extensive lagoon area that covers 60km of coastline between Manta Rota and Vale do Lobo delights with shimmering freshwater lakes and an astonishing assortment of fauna and flora. The amazing labyrinth of small sand isles, mud flats and canals is not only a home to a diversity of life forms but also, with its mild climate and sunny days all year round, a paradise for holidaymakers craving for some laidback beach treatment.

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  16. 16

    Convent of the Order of Christ (Convento da Ordem de Cristo)

    Location: Tomar, Portugal

    Convent of the Order of Christ (Convento da Ordem de Cristo)

    Photo by Alvesgaspar

    The Holy Grail, the Knights of Templar, power and mystery? If you are into all of these, explore the Covent of the Order of Christ in Tomar. Originally a Templar stronghold erected in the 12th century, Tomar is one of Portugal's most valued historical and artistic monuments on the World Heritage list. The massive, fortress-like complex includes a castle, numerous towers, cloisters and a church blending beautifully Romanesque, Gothic, Manueline and Renaissance architectural styles into a stunning body. Do visit to take part in a feast of Gothic sculptures and paintings, abundant Manueline motifs and impressive vaultings, everything spiced up with the Templar enigma.

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  17. 17

    Oceanarium (Oceanario de Lisboa)

    Location: Lisbon, Portugal

    Inaugurated in 1998 as one of the attractions of the World Exhibition of Lisbon (EXPO'98), the Oceanário de Lisboa is the second-biggest aquarium in the world. The impressive stone-and-glass structure features four aquariums replicating the abundant ecosystems of the Atlantic, Pacific, Indian, and Antarctic oceans. The center is dominated by a giant 5-million-liter tank which represents all the oceans as one. The visit is a must, for there is probably no better school to give you so perfectly animated, illustrated and sea-voiced lesson on underwater wonders.

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  18. 18

    Historical Center of Braga

    Location: Braga, Portugal

    Historical Center of Braga

    Photo by Jsome1

    If tourist brochures can be believed, Braga is a Portuguese equivalent of Rome, and far-fetched as this may be, the fact remains that the city was a thriving Roman settlement from 20 BC onwards and is today a pounding heart of the country's ecclesiastical body, with stunning Bom Jesus do Monte, the age-old Sé (Braga Cathedral), and the sprawling Archbishop's Palace as prime must-sees. Centered on the surprisingly modest Praça da República, Braga's historical center oozes classical style and hypnotizes with old-fashioned charm that you'd better pursue fast as the number of concerns voiced over the encroaching modernity is on the increase.

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  19. 19

    Boca do Inferno

    Location: Cascais, Portugal

    Boca do Inferno

    Photo by JoJan

    Among the natural wonders, the Boca do Inferno or ‘The Mouth of Hell', proudly tops the list of attractions. This breathtaking chasm located on a cliffy seashore close to the Portuguese city of Cascais will attract you with roaring waves crashing vigorously against the rocks. Leisurely strolls along the craggy shores should give you plenty of scenic views and a perfect unwinding treatment. And for a little bit of city vibe, head for the popular coastal resort of Cascais where your inner travel bug will swarm, get tanned and fed with the town's local yummies.

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  20. 20

    Conimbriga

    Location: Coimbra, Portugal

    Conimbriga

    Photo by Andreas Trepte

    Situated about ten miles (16 km) from Coimbra, the ruined Roman town of Conímbriga is one of Portugal's largest and best preserved Roman sites. The complex is vast and quite impressive. What you can explore on the premises are some worship sites, a forum and a theater as well as a ruined nobleman's villa complete with intricate tiles, baths and even a heating system. Pay attention to wonderful mosaics still present in some of the houses. There is a good museum at the site, too, whose modest but well-displayed exhibits will enhance your understanding of Conimbriga days gone by.

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  21. 21

    Douro River Valley

    Location: Porto Moniz, Portugal

    Douro River Valley

    Photo by brx75x

    If you have ever savored port wine, you already have the taste of the Douro Valley inside you. Caressed with sun, blue skies and clear waters, the valley thrives bearing luscious grapes and cherries. The 560-mile Rio Douro (River of Gold) winds past spectacular quintas (vineyards), olive groves and sun-wrapped slopes of almond trees you can admire cruising the peaceful waters. Make sure you not only have a sip of the region's exquisite wines but also a bite of the local sumptuous cuisine with smoked hams, spicy sausages or even javali, the wild boar, on the menu.

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  22. 22

    University of Coimbra

    Location: Coimbra, Portugal

    University of Coimbra

    Photo by Andreas Trepte

    Boy, you feel like coming back to school on seeing this! With foundations back in the 13th century, the spirit of Enlightenment echoing in its old walls, a magnificent library with resources ranging almost every possible field of study, and several species of birds sheltered in its sprawling botanical garden, the University is able to make even the most die-hard advocate of informal learning change their mind. No wonder that as many as 20,000 students choose to zoom across the atmospheric old courtyard and into the magnificently fitted department buildings. Who knows, if you stick to the rules that apply to all freshers (including the purchase of an escalator season ticket), the students may impart some of the best university lore with you. In a nutshell, nobody goes "We don't need no education" in Coimbra.

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  23. 23

    Parque Natural da Serra da Estrela

    Location: Portugal

    The park has drawn hordes of visitors since its establishment in 1976. Filled with rocky, barren mountains and emerald green rivers cutting the glacial valleys, the region attracts with perfect hiking trails that shall take you from peaceful plateaus and green pastures to craggy, rugged mountain ranges. If you do happen to wear the most hardwearing of hiking boots, venture the climb of the highest of Portuguese peaks, Torre, for amazing alpine views. Bear in mind that the area is a ‘protected countryside' which denotes that no wild camping, fire lighting or flower picking is allowed!

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  24. 24

    Historic Centre of Guimarães

    Location: Guimarães, Portugal

    Historic Centre of Guimarães

    Photo by Jsome1

    The historical Portuguese capital, Guimaraes or the 'Cradle City', is a small town in the north-western region of the country. It prides itself on its glorious past, which is reflected in the town's impressive architecture including a 10th century castle and many traditional buildings from the 15th to 19th century. It makes a must stopover during your Portugal trips as the town was chosen by the Portuguese government to be the European Capital of Culture in 2012. Its Palace of the Duke of Braganca, the Church of Nossa Senhora da Oliveira along with the Santa Clara Convent and a monastery make picturesque views not to be missed!

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  25. 25

    Prehistoric Rock-Art Sites in the Côa Valley

    Location: Guarda, Portugal

    Prehistoric Rock-Art Sites in the Côa Valley

    Photo by Henrique Matos

    This magnificent pre-historic complex of Paleolithic engravings was discovered in Vila Nova de Foz Côa, in north eastern Portugal. Dating from 22,000 to 10,000 BC the rock-sites of Penascosa, Ribeira de Piscos and Canada do Inferno constitute an amazing source of information about the early stages of art in western Europe. The stone panels' fine line carvings range from the most typical of the Upper Paleolithic Era art themes such as animals, especially mountain goats, horses, aurochs (wild hulls) and deer to the Iron Age figures of warriors holding swords and lances. Bet you might find some inspiration for your graffiti art here!

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