Considered one of the best value destinations in Europe, Portugal is a beautiful country that has so much to offer from the many different breathtaking landscapes to the wealth of things to see and do – it really is a great place to explore if you want to see and do it all. Because it’s a fairly small country, you can easily travel from the mountains in the north to the beaches in the south. And of course, there’s plenty to see in between as well. The landscape is stunning, and for those who enjoy hiking or becoming one with nature, Portugal offers you plenty of opportunities to do just that.
The country of Portugal is 900-years-old, so of course there is a lot of history for those history buffs out there. The country has played a crucial role in world history and many major events that have shaped our world started there. There are churches, castles, aqueducts, medieval buildings, and more that you can experience when you visit, and there are entire streets and towns that will make you forget it’s the year 2014 thanks to how beautifully intact they are.
While there’s a lot of history in the around the country, there are also modern conveniences like golf courses that you may not expect. In fact, Portugal was listed as “Best Golf Destination 2008” by Golfers Today and 14 of Portugal’s courses are rated in the top 100 in Europe. You also won’t find a shortage of stunning beaches, relaxing hotels, and other modern luxuries that one might desire on a vacation. In Portugal, your options for fun are limited only by your interests and imagination!
Check out the 10 most funtastic things to do in Portugal:
#1 Get Back to Nature at Costa Vincentina National Park
Described by some travelers as being one of the most beautiful places on earth, Costa Vicentina National Park is easily in one of the most scenic areas in all of Portugal. The park is on the Atlantic Coast and features rugged cliffs, beautiful beaches, and a lighthouse that is well worth the drive. You’ll probably also see some wild birds and other wildlife too. In this protected national park, the only sounds you can expect to hear are the natural ones coming from the birds or the crashing of the waves on the stunning beaches. In fact, over 200 different species of birds can be seen in the park.
Costa Vincentina covers a wide expanse of rolling hills, marshes, cliffs, coves, and beaches. The beaches range from broad expanses to tiny, private coves. If you’re into surfing, this is the place to be as the rolling waves of the Atlantic are perfect for learning.
Fishing is also a popular activity and fishermen come from all over the world for the sea bass, conger eels, and more. But the good news is that even in the middle of the summer, most of the beaches are pretty empty and there are suprisingly far fewer tourists than one might expect. The area is surrounded by tiny traditional farming villages that give you an experience that’s definitely off the beaten track.
If you want to experience nature at its most beautiful, Costa Vicentina National Park can’t be missed.
#2 Listen to Some Fado While Dining in a Lisbon Restaurant
Fado is Portuguese folk music that can be traced back to the early 1800s. The music is melancholic and poetic with lyrics relating to death, sadness, and the dark side of love. Fado is typically accompanied by mandolins and guitars. When in Lisbon, it’s easy to experience the tradition of Fado, as many restaurants have Fadistas performing for you while you eat. What better way to enjoy a great meal in Portugal than by having traditional Portuguese music playing in the background?
If you’re looking to experience Fado with your meal, check out Clube do Fado in the Alfama Quarter of Lisbon or Sr. Fado de Alfama, which is owned by a Fado singer and violinist. You can experience delicious local food and wine while being serenaded to Fado music by the owners of the restaurant. Talk about a cultural experience!
#3 Experience Breathtaking Views in the Azores
One Portuguese local said of the Azores, “One of the biggest mistakes tourists make is not visiting Azores,” and he couldn’t be more right.
The Azores is made up of nine islands, and on these islands are some of the world’s tallest mountains. It’s 930 miles from Lisbon, but that’s a quick two-hour flight and is completely worth it for some of the most breathtaking scenery you can imagine. Open Travel describes the landscape as falling between Switzerland and Hawaii, which you really must see to believe. There’s a little something for everyone, too.
Enjoy traditional festivals? You can find it here. Care to hike to incredible new heights to take in the magnificent views? You can find that, too. And if you’re the type who’d prefer to visit a luxury resort to relax, well, you can find that in the Azores, too.
#4 Drink Port Wine in Porto
One thing that can be said about Europe is that many of the cities are so old, history is simply everywhere you look. If you’re the type of person interested in seeing historical cities, Porto is the place for you.
The city has been around since the 4th-century and offers history buffs plenty to see, explore, and experience. The architecture in Porto is different than in other major Portuguese cities and features more granite and monuments; it varies a lot even within the city itself. Sometimes it seems like you are transported back to medieval times, but of course, there are also the modern buildings situated nearby to remind you of what time period you’re actually in. Porto is also home to the Port wine industry, so if you’re a foodie, it might be worth checking out some local specialties.
While in Porto, you may also want to check out the Mercado de Bolhao, which is a traditional marketplace selling fish, meat, and vegetables. There are also a few restaurants that serve local dishes for reasonable prices, and you can expect people to interact with you there. Or, you might want to visit the Torre dos Clerigos which is a landmark with a terrific view – if you’re willing and brave enough to walk to the top!
If you’re into books, you must check out the Livraria Lello, which is considered one of the most beautiful bookstores in all of Europe. You can sit down with a glass of coffee or port in this amazing shop and read the latest bestseller.
One thing to note though is that the citizens of Porto are often considered more crass than people residing in other cities in Portugal. It’s not that they’re rude, they’re just more straight-forward and often lack common social graces. If you ask a question, you will get a simple, direct, and oftentimes very blunt answer.
#5 Ride Toboggans in Funchal
Many of the cities we’ve talked about are full of historic charm, but Funchal is a little different. It’s a modern city, but it still has preserved churches and sites mixed in with modern conveniences. Entertainment is not an issue in this city full of nightclubs, restaurants, and casinos.
The city is surrounded by cliffs, which is where one of the more unique activities of the city originated. For those living on the steep hillsides, people would often travel down to central Funchal in toboggans. This tradition is alive and well today for those adventurous enough to try it. You sit in a two-seater wicker-sled that glides on wooden runners, steered by two men who use their own shoes for brakes. The ride takes about ten minutes, and you can reach speeds of up to 30 mph. What better way to see the city than from the seat of a toboggan?
#6 Attend the International Chocolate Festival in Obidos
There are already many reasons to visit the fine city of Obidos including the history, the Holy Week festivities, the Ancient Music Festival, and, of course, the International Chocolate Festival in March. If you’re a chocolate lover, this event can’t be missed.
As the name implies, it’s an international competition with an international jury. Every year, hundreds of visitors come to Obisos to try decadent chocolates and desserts. For those who are a little more hands on, there are cooking classes and demonstrations as well. When your sweet tooth is finally sated from the wide variety of truly delightful desserts, the city has plenty of other sites for you to see as well – including a 16th-century aqueduct that used to provide water for the city’s fountains and beautiful, ornate churches.
#7 Ride Through Canals on a Moliceiros in Aveiro
Aveiro is often called “the Venice of Portugal.” Of course, many will argue that comparison is exaggerated, but the similarities are there. For one thing, part of the city is surrounded by canals and bridges, and painted boats called moliceiros travel through the canals much like the Gondolas of Venice.
You can arrange for moliceiro tours leaving from the central canal, or you can windsurf on the river or the sea. It also has a local sailing club, so if you’re interested in learning how to use a sailboat, that’s always an option as well. Surfing, kayaking, and relaxing on the beautiful, clean beaches are also a nice way to round out a trip to this beautiful city.
#8 Visit the Bone Chapel in Evora
The Capela dos Ossos (Bone Chapel) in Evora is exactly what it sounds like – it’s a chapel filled with decorations made from real human bones. Sure, it’s a bit creepy, but one of those things you must see to believe. If you’re looking for something less macabre, you can also visit some Roman ruins like the Templo de Diana.
There’s an old aqueduct with houses built into the arches, the Evora Catherdral, and a historic city center that’s considered a UNESCO World Heritage Site.
#9 Visit a Castle in Tomar
Most people’s knowledge of The Knights Templar likely came from the book or film version of Dan Brown’s “The Da Vinci Code,” but there’s so much more to this order than that. The Knights Templar is an ancient, secretive order that is said to guard the secret of the Holy Grail still to this day. If you’re interested in controversial history, your trip to Portugal wouldn’t be complete without visiting Tomar where the Knights Templar Castle remains.
Built around 1160, a few centuries before the Order of the Knights Templar fell in the early 1300s, the castle is filled with intricate architecture. The beautiful castle towers over the city, and it takes about two hours to tour the castle and learn the history of the Knights Templar. For many, it’s worth it to appreciate the story behind not only the castle but the city of Tomar as well.
#10 Party the Night Away in Bairro Alto, Lisbon
After visiting castles and walking through medieval towns, you might be asking yourself, “Where can a person go to get a drink in this town?” If you’re looking to experience the nightlife of Portugal, there’s no place better to do that than in the Bairro Alto Quarter of Lisbon.
During the day, the area is quiet and calm, but at night, the young people come out and liven up the place. If you want to party with people from all over the world, this is the place to be with bars and clubs for every personality. There’s even an Irish pub! Most of the places are really small and people take the party out into the street. So don’t be surprised if people are drinking, chatting, and otherwise enjoying life outside. It’s a great way to meet new people, both locals and other tourists alike!
Portugal is a melting pot. Sure, you have the history, the charm and the museums that one might expect from one of the oldest countries in Europe, but there’s obviously much more to it than that. Whether you want to grab a drink with your buddies, explore ancient castles or relax on pristine beaches, Portugal has you covered. Whether you visit Lisbon, Tomora, or the Azores, you won’t be disappointed. In fact, there’s really no reason to not visit them all, plus others on our list. Portugal makes it easy to see it all!