Hiking trails, classic cities, epic beaches and world-famous waves. Holidays to Portugal tick off every wish-list going.

Portugal may be small compared to its Spanish neighbour, but it packs in plenty of charming cobbled cities, sandy beaches and delicious food and drink. You might think you’ve completed it with a city break to Lisbon but that’s where this guide comes in… Get to know Portugal’s different coasts, from party destinations to old fishing villages and stunning national parks.

Portugal’s top places to visit are split across its mainland and island destinations. Summer is all about sunning yourself on the best beaches, but if you want to sidestep the peak tourist season, Easter time and September and October are still perfect for this.

Why pick Portugal

Colourful cities

Lisbon and Porto are big names on the city break scene for good reason. Their style feels completely unique, so no two buildings ever look the same. Tiled walls in pastel pinks, yellows, blues and greens paint the streets with different patterns and even the pavements are lovely to look at. Both cities also have waterfront promenades to add to their picturesque nature. It’s not often you get buzzing cities like these, on the water and with easy access to some of the best beaches – win-win-win.


King of the castles

Portugal is home to a handful of ancient castles that look like something out of a fairytale. The Pena Palace in Sintra is possibly the most well-known and while it’s a popular tourist spot, it’s so worth it. Its iconic yellow and red painted walls and white and blue tiles make it stand out from the Serra da Sintra hills that surround it. Sat on a rocky outcrop as well, the views from its terraces are amazing. In the same area, you also have the Castelo dos Mouros and National Palace of Sintra. All three make for a great daytrip from Lisbon and can be sorted with a combined entry ticket.


World-class waves

Ericeira on Portugal’s west coast is the home of Europe’s only World Surfing Reserve, which includes seven world-class waves. There are plenty of options for beginners as well as spots to watch the pros do their thing. So, either hire a board and book some lessons or sit back for an impressive show – the beach bars are a great base to check out the line up with a cool cervesa, AKA beer.


Top tip – time your trip with a World Surf League competition to get a free front-row seat on the sand to see the best of the best compete. Ribeira d'Ilhas in Ericeira and Supertubos in Peniche are two regular stops for the Championship Tour and Challenger Series.


National parks

Portugal is overflowing with places of natural beauty and Peneda-Gerês National Park is a hiker's paradise. It’s up in the northwest and sits between mountains and reservoirs, with beautiful waterfalls and river beaches for a refreshing dip. Routes range from full-day hikes to small circular loops with swimming spots so you can make the most of a picnic halfway round. The panoramic viewpoint of Pedra Bela is a great pick and the paths around here also take you to Arado waterfalls as part of the two-mile Miradouro Velho da Pedra Bela route.


You can also dive into the waterways with kayaking adventures along the Douro River or through the hidden coves of the Costa Vicentina. Running north from Portugal’s peninsula, the Vicentine Coast Natural Park is one of Europe’s best-preserved coastlines, with no major city in sight. Cape Saint Vincent outside of Sagres is thought to be the end of the European world and you can’t beat the sunset from its lighthouse.

Festivals and events

Portugal hosts a number of huge events that attract people to visit each year…

Festa de São João
What: a Midsummer celebration
Where: Porto
When: 23 June
Key highlights: fireworks, free concerts around the city and street vendors selling snacks and drinks.


Festival of Sardines
What: a celebration of Portugal’s 13th-century saint, Saint Anthony, and the sardine
Where: Alfama district in Lisbon
When: 12 June
Key highlights: eating lots of freshly grilled sardines and watching colourful street parades.


Primavera Sound Porto
What: a global music festival
Where: Porto
When: June
Key highlights: artist performances from the likes of Lana Del Ray, Caroline Polachek and Tame Impala


Harvest Festival
What: a celebration of the wine harvest
Where: Douro Valley
When: September
Key highlights: help pick grapes, do some grape stomping and take part in traditional winemaking rituals.


Picks that don’t cost a penny


The National Museum of Ancient Art in Lisbon is completely free on Sundays. Great beaches, food and architecture are a given here, but the artwork on show in this 17th-century palace is equally impressive. Collections span the Middle Ages to the 19th century, showcasing the history of Portugal and Europe. Sundays can be a bit slow sometimes too, so what better than a free slice of culture?


The non-touristy pick

Instead of visiting Castelo de S. Jorge for sunset, catch it from Miradouro de São Pedro de Alcântara. The sun sets behind you here, but it means the golden glow catches the castle and terracotta roofs of the city below for an amazing view.

Best places to stay

Lisbon

The one you’re likely to think of first – Lisbon. It’s Portugal’s vibrant capital, with stunning architecture, street art and tasty food. Get lost in the historic Alfama and Bairro Alto neighbourhoods and climb the Santa Justa Lift in Baixa. Look familiar? This tower was designed by the same guy as the Eiffel Tower. When you’re feeling a bit peckish, the Time Out Market has everything you could dream of, from burgers and sushi to pizza and seafood. Of course, a pastel de nata has to be on the menu but the best place to try these is Pasteis de Belem, a short train, tram or bus ride away. The iconic Belem Tower is here too, and you can relax along the Tagus River.
From Lisbon, you can also tick off destinations along the Estoril Coast. Cascais is a popular beach pick, Sintra is all about historic castles and inland adventure, then Ericeira is famous for its surf. If you’ve got a week to play with, there’s no reason not to move about a bit.


Porto

Porto charms with its colourful buildings, riverside views and famous port wine. Tour the wine cellars, walk over the Dom Luís I Bridge, or soak up some laidback vibes at a cozy cafe. A cruise down the Douro River should be on the cards for unique views of Porto’s skyline and a visit to the enchanting Livraria Lello bookshop.


The Algarve

If it’s a beach holiday you’re after, head south to the Algarve. This region takes up most of the country’s south coast and one classic destination is Albufeira. This resort is internationally renowned with Blue Flag beaches and a bunch of great bars. It’s where the party’s at. For a more low-key time, you’ll find quiet fishing villages along these parts too, where life is still lived at a slow pace. And wherever you are, it’s never far to the nearest golf course. Or, for a taste of history and charm, look no further than Lagos – a gem of a town with cobblestone streets, breathtaking cliffs and beaches.


To get to all of these places, you’ll probably fly into Faro, but this city is far more than its airport. There’s a nature reserve, historic cathedrals and pretty old town here. Ria Formosa is a must-visit, as is a scenic walk or kayak through the wetland.


Madeira

The islands have their own cultures and traditions, so no two visits to Portugal can be considered the same. Madeira is warm all year round, perfect for exploring its brilliant hiking trails, botanical gardens and going dolphin-watching. Of course, the wine is big here too. Similar to port, Madeira is a fortified sweet wine and definitely worth tasting in the capital, Funchal. Another famous export you might recognise – the footballer, Cristiano Ronaldo. Footie fans can indulge in a trip to his very own CR7 museum.

Porto Santo

Porto Santo is super small. It’s part of the Portuguese Madeira archipelago and is probably the closest thing Europe has to a desert island. There are volcanic peaks, pretty beaches and a sleepy capital called Vila Baleira. Compared to Madeira, the coastline here is soft and sandy, so should be your pick if you plan to spend most of your time sunbathing and snorkelling. The south coast’s the best place for both.

Getting around

Lisbon and Porto's extensive bus, tram, and metro systems make urban exploration a breeze…


Tram

Trams are the way forward in cities like Lisbon and Porto. Plus, they make for a great pic. Don't miss the iconic Tram 28 to ride through Lisbon’s most historic districts – it doubles as the perfect introductory tour to the capital.


Metro

Lisbon and Porto also have a pretty good metro network to get about. In particular, Lisbon is really well connected with further trains to Sintra out of Rossio Station and a line that runs all the way down the coast to Cascais to satisfy your beach daytrip needs, starting from Cais do Sodre. You can pay for the metro using contactless or buy single and return tickets or top up passes at ticket machines in the stations. In Porto, the Andante card can be used to pay for the Metro and buses, which you can buy in any station or newsagent.


Bus

Buses connect a lot of big cities like Lisbon to Porto, or Porto to Faro, as well as smaller towns. The Rede Expressos website is where you can find more information on a lot of popular routes and book your seat online. Lisbon has two bus stations – Sete Rios and Oriente – and even has international routes like Lisbon to Seville via Flixbus. Local bus tickets can only be bought at the stations and some are charged by the driver onboard in cash.


Ferry

For a coastal adventure, hop on a ferry to explore the Azores. Porto Santo to Madeira via the Porto Santo Funchal route is popular and takes about two and a half hours. In the city of Porto, a boat cruise is a lovely way to see the city from the Douro River and in many other parts of the country, you can spot dolphins and visit caves.


Bike hire

Portugal is becoming increasingly bike-friendly, with dedicated lanes in cities and scenic bike routes throughout the country, in regions like the Algarve and Douro Valley. Parts of the Camino Portugues also make for a great ride, like the section leading from Ericeira to Santa Cruz along the coast.

Our pick

Take it from someone that's been there – here’s a top tip from our team:

“There’s this really unique café in Cascais called ‘House of Wonders’ – it’s all veggie and vegan with a visual menu concept. Inside, an example of each dish is plated up, so you can see what the food looks like and pick to eat with your eyes. The menu changes all the time and staff will answer any questions about ingredients and make recommendations. Plus, in the evening they do great cocktails.” – Lily Owen

At a Glance

  • Head to the Algarve for big beach life
  • When in Porto, go port tasting
  • Catch a tram through Lisbon’s tiled streets

Top Destinations

TOP THINGS TO SEE AND DO IN PORTUGAL

BEACHES

SHOPPING

NIGHTLIFE

FOOD & DRINK