In addition to Lisbon and Porto, the favorite destinations in Portugal are mainly beach resorts. However, there are a few historic inland towns attracting some tourists.
The best-known beach destinations are concentrated to Algarve in southern Portugal. The beaches of Algarve are constantly rated among the best in Europe. The destinations of Algarve include, for example, Lagos, Portimao (Praia da Rocha) and Albufeira.
Lisbon, the sunny capital of Portugal, is a wonderful blend of beautiful sceneries from the seven hills and modern yet relaxed city life. In Lisbon one can explore historical sights, get lost in the alleys lined by colorful buildings and enjoy the plethora of dining and shopping possibilities.
Near Lisbon, there are various types of holiday destinations, such as the coastal towns of Cascais and Estoril, and the fabulous town of Sintra that is famous for its castles and palaces.
Porto in the north of the country has beaches within the city. Close to Porto, there are other nice beach resorts as well, such as Espinho and Vila do Conde. Porto is at its best when admiring the city views over the river and the historical buildings decorated with blue and white tiles, and of course visiting the many port wine cellars.
The Douro Valley unfolding from Porto to inland contains different destinations, mainly involving vineyards and cozy towns.
The lush holiday island, Madeira, and the volcanic island group, the Azores, are also Portuguese holiday destinations, which are both located out in the Atlantic Ocean.
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In summer, temperatures vary strongly between different areas of the country. On the northern coast, such as in Porto, temperatures remain between 20-30°C. Only a hundred kilometers towards inland, however, daytime temperatures can easily be 10 degrees higher. Temperatures tend to increase towards the south, both inland and along the coast. However, the inland temperatures will always remain higher than the coastal temperatures, including Algarve in the very south.
Since most holiday destinations of Portugal are located on the coast, they are cooler than, for example, Mediterranean destinations. The temperature of the Atlantic Ocean doesn’t reach that of the Mediterranean, and there’s a cool breeze from the Atlantic towards the coastal towns even when the weather is hot.
Coastal winters are mild with pretty much rain. Daytime temperatures are between 10-20°C.
On average, Portugal is somewhat cheaper than European destinations, except for clothes and shoes, which rank slightly above the European average.
According to statistics, Portugal is one of the safest countries in the world for tourists. As always, it’s good to pay attention to basic safety issues, such as protecting yourself against pickpockets.
- Portuguese is the 5th most spoken language in the world and the official language of nine countries.
- Portugal has its own, unique music style and martial art – fadoand jogo do pau.
- The world longest pedestrian suspension bridge is located in Arouca, Portugal.
- Thanks to its vast sea areas, Portugal consists of around 95% of water and 5% of land.
- The Portuguese are said to be responsible for introducing tempura to Japan and tea to England.
The TOP 5 destinations in Portugal
The colorful and atmospheric Lisbon is the perfect destination for a combined city and beach holiday, thanks to the white-sand beaches being located only a stone’s throw away from one of the sunniest European capitals.
The beaches of Algarve
The most popular beach destinations of Portugal draw holidaymakers to the Algarve coast, where the paradise-like beaches are lined with sandy rock formations and whitewashed villages.
The magical Sintra is a spectacular day trip destination from Lisbon. The royal palaces, fairytale gardens and medieval knight tales come alive in this town spreading into the forested mountains.
Porto and the Douro Valley
Famous for port wine, the second city of Portugal is one of the best cities to visit in Europe, from where it’s also possible to enjoy the surrounding gorgeous beaches or take a river cruise to the vineyards of the Douro Valley.
Islands – Madeira and the Azores
The lush archipelagos of Portugal in the middle of the Atlantic Ocean make a dream destination for nature lovers, where hiking on mountain trails, swimming in natural pools and hot springs, and whale-watching are some of the most memorable activities.
Where to travel in Portugal, if you…
Long for a beach holiday
Located in Southern Portugal, the Algarve coast has been the most popular beach holiday destination of Portugal for decades, and righteously so. The golden beaches continuously hold top places among the best European beaches and in the Algarve province they are combined with turquoise water and white coastal villages, creating a gorgeous setting for a vacation. Many are also framed by dramatic rock formations and caves. Popular destinations in the Algarve include Lagos, Portimão (Praia da Rocha) and Albufeira.
It’s not only about Algarve though, since the whole coast of Portugal is dotted with beautiful sandy stretches. It’s however noteworthy that the Atlantic waters get colder the more north you go. In the southern Algarve, the sea water temperature is at its warmest in August, at around 22 °C, whereas off the coasts of Lisbon and Porto the water doesn’t reach 20 °C even in the summer.
Portugal is a great destination for a combined city and beach holiday, because there are several tempting beaches close to both Lisbon and Porto. From Lisbon, one can easily catch a train and head to the coastal town of Cascais for a relaxed holiday vibe, whereas in Porto the beach of Matosinhos is only a metro ride away.
During the winter months, it’s possible to find comfortable beach weather on the tranquil Madeira island of Porto Santo, where the kilometers long beach draws sunbathers to its golden sand. The warmest sea water temperatures are also found in Madeira and the Azores, where the passing Gulf Stream heats the water up to 25 °C in the summer months.
Are interested in history
Évora is the top destination in Portugal for those who are interested in history, thanks to the city’s vast portfolio of sites to visit, including Roman ruins, such as a temple and a spa, but also medieval cathedrals, convents and other buildings – the most famous being a chapel decorated with human bones. In addition, one can explore the largest ancient stone circle in the Iberian Peninsula, the Almendres Cromlech, located on the countryside not far from Évora.
Coimbra is one of the oldest cities of Portugal and also home to one of the first universities of Europe. Besides the beautiful old town of Coimbra, the Conimbriga ruins constitute the best preserved Roman city of the country and are located close by.
Located in Central Portugal, the town of Tomar is another interesting historical destination, where the Knight Templars once had their base. The medieval town has a lot to see from castles to churches and convents. It’s even possible to travel to the Jurassic era in the Tomar area, since the most important dinosaur footprint site of Portugal is located at the close-by Serra de Aire.
Sintra is one of the most popular travel destinations of the country, where one can admire the glory of the 17th century and older palaces as well as the royal glamour of the former times, whilst wandering in the mythical gardens and the old town alleys.
Want to hike on the mountains
Serra da Estrela is the highest mountain range of Continental Portugal and a natural park offering a network of 375 kilometers of hiking trails in rugged landscapes. The only skiing centre of Portugal is located on the mountain top at an altitude of 1993 meters, and the hikes travel through rocky glacial valleys and mountain lakes.
The mountains of the interior Central Portugal, reaching to over 1000 meters in height, have been given a common name: Montanhas Mágicas, Magical Mountains. Here, one can hike through the tranquil mountain landscapes and wonder at the emptying schist villages and geological curiosities of the region. The longest pedestrian suspension bridge in the world, 516 Arouca, is located at the Passadiços do Paiva walking route. Information: 516arouca.pt
The scenic mountains of Madeira offer not only more demanding mountain hikes but also easier walks on the famous levadas of the island. The highest peak of the island, Pico Ruivo, rises up to 1862 meters and the views from the trails winding above the clouds are just absolutely breathtaking.
The highest mountain peak in all of Portugal can be conquered on the island of Pico in the Azores. The cone-shaped volcano Mount Pico has a height of 2351 meters and there are also night hikes available in order to watch the sunrise from the mountaintop.
Dream of vineyards
The wine region of Douro is perhaps the most interesting wine production area in Portugal, because it not only offers many spectacular wineries, but also gorgeous views over the protected Douro River Valley. In autumn, it’s also possible to participate in the traditional wine production method, vindima, carried out by stepping on the grapes.
One can also explore the Douro River on a river cruise complemented by wine tasting, most of which depart from Porto. If time is of the essence, the wine cellars of Porto and Vila Nova de Gaia offer faster tours especially for port wine lovers.
The Alentejo Wine Route winds through the rolling landscapes and cork oak forests of the province, guiding the guest to sample some of the best quality wines of Portugal. The dozens of vineyards dotting the large region have been marked in a handy interactive map.
Close to Lisbon, the best place for a vineyard visit is Azeitão. This village is home to several wine estates where one can taste the aromatic wines of the Setúbal region. There are also some wineries located north of Lisbon offering great day trips.
Want to visit local villages
Built on a hill and surrounded by ancient town walls, Óbidos is perhaps the most picturesque medieval village of Portugal. There is of course a castle on the highest top of the hill.
Monsanto has been titled as the most Portuguese village of Portugal, where the houses are built among, on top and under huge boulders. The peculiar village is guarded by medieval fortress ruins occupying the mountaintop.
Also the schist villages of Northern and Central Portugal have their stories to tell, the best known of them being probably Piódão. Almost every single building here is made of stacked schist in its natural color, even the cobblestone streets.
Are a nature traveler
In Portugal there are a total of 13 natural parks and one national park, all of which have a lot of interesting things to see and explore for a nature lover. Especially the remote natural parks in the interior, such as the Douro Internacional and Montesinho natural parks that are located in the Northeastern corner of Portugal, are peaceful havens where it’s possible to spot some wildlife as well.
The only national park of Portugal, Peneda-Gerês, is known for its magnificent views, waterfalls and wild horses, offering nature experiences while hiking on the rocky mountain slopes and on the Roman road leading through the park. After a long day of exploring, it’s heavenly to relax in the hot springs of the region.
If the exotic wonders of volcanic nature are high on your list, the holiday destination should be set at the Azores. When visiting this archipelago belonging to Portugal, one can admire its lush nature and volcanic activity, such as the steaming fumaroles and the hot springs, hike in the ancient laurel forests and spot whales on a boat trip. Known for its levada trails, also the island of Madeira is a wonderful nature destination.
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Travel guides to Portugal
The Azores is a Portuguese archipelago of nine volcanic islands, offering a variety of things to see and do in the middle of the Atlantic Ocean. The lush volcanic nature of the exotic Azores is complemented by relaxing activities and the tranquility of the historic coastal villages in a comfortable subtropical climate.
Read more: The Azores
The luxurious holiday vibe of Cascais and Estoril make them popular destinations on the Portuguese Riviera. The beautiful Cascais beaches, shopping possibilities and exciting activities guarantee an enjoyable holiday.
Read more: Cascais
Blessed with rich history, Évora is a UNESCO World Heritage Site in the interior of Portugal. The city combines several historic sights with culinary experiences under the Alentejo sun.
Read more: Évora
The versatile Lisbon is a travel destination that combines exploring the Portuguese capital and a sunny beach vacation. The historical sights of the colorful city, the rhythms of fado and the cobblestone alleys are just a stone's throw away from the white sand beaches.
Read more: Lisbon
Matosinhos is a town in the district of Porto. It is known as the center of surfing in the area and famous for its excellent fish restaurants. The spacious beach of Matosinhos consists of fine and light sand.
Read more: Matosinhos
A visit to Porto can be a combination of a city break and a beach holiday; the beaches are situated close to the center. The convenient summer climate on the northern coast guarantees a successful city holiday in one of the coziest cities in Europe.
Read more: Porto
Sesimbra is a picture-perfect holiday destination just south of Lisbon. The turquoise-water beaches, nature destinations and the atmosphere of the historical fishing village make a memorable vacation.
Read more: Sesimbra
Known for its fairytale palaces and castles, Sintra is a UNESCO World Heritage destination close to Lisbon. Things to do in Sintra include cooling off in the mountainous palace gardens, exploring waterfalls and relaxing on the wild beaches of the rugged Atlantic coast.
Read more: Sintra
Text: Johanna Maldonado
Photos: Johanna Maldonado, Jussi Ryynänen, Ville Ryynänen