Portugal is a long narrow country on the Iberian Peninsula, facing out to the Atlantic on its western and southern boundaries. From north to south, it is 560 kilometres (350 miles) but never wider than 215 kilometres (135 miles), making exploring many cities in Portugal logistically easy. Its population is around 10.4 million, of which half a million live in Lisbon’s capital. Evidence of the history of Portugal in the Age of Discovery, when European explorers travelled the world, is found around this city which sits just below the midpoint on the western coast.
Tourism has become extremely important to the national economy with its latitude such that there are many months of sunshine and relatively warm winters. That is in sharp contrast to many of the densely populated countries of Western Europe. There are distinct regions in Portugal with the southern coast, the Algarve, the most popular tourist area. Lisbon and its immediate coastal hinterland and the northern city of Porto have much to recommend them while the central inland region heading towards the border with Spain has its own characteristics. Here are 20 cities in Portugal which you are likely to enjoy.
- Cities in Portugal
- Top Tours
- Cities in Portugal – North
- Cities in Portugal – Central
- Cities in Portugal – Interior
- Cities in Portugal – Algarve
Cities in Portugal
- Lisbon Card: 24, 48, or 72-Hour Pass – explore the capital at your own pace.
- Porto Card with Transportation (1, 2, 3 or 4 Days) – explore Porto at your own pace.
- Portimão: Benagil Caves Speed Boat Tour with Sunset Option – explore the Algarve.
- Private 8-Day Tour of Portugal from Lisbon – let someone else do the planning.
- Best of Portugal – starting and ending in Lisbon, this city sightseeing trip is an 11-day tour through Lisbon, Fátima, Evora and 3 other destinations in Portugal.
Cities in Portugal – North
1- Viana do Castelo
Several of Portugal’s cities have a relatively small population, and the capital of the region of the state with the same name is an example.
The population of 26,000 represents just under a third of the regional population.
Its origins in the 13th century was a small village that was a trading port with a tower, Torre da Roqueta, designed to defend against pirates from both Galicia and Africa.
Wine and salt were its main exports, while more recently, it became one of the main cod fishing ports and subsequently service industries and those associated with the sea.
Its beautiful architecture is just one reason to pay a visit.
Recommended tour: Ponte de Lima & Viana do Castelo: All-Inclusive Private Tour
Porto is the country’s second city, south of Viana, on the mouth of the Douro River.
While the city itself has 230,000 inhabitants, the greater metropolitan area has 1.7 million.
The Old Town has been a UNESCO World Heritage Site since 1996, with several landmarks for visitors to enjoy.
Its origins date back to the Romans and it was one of the Empire’s most important outposts.
While tourism is important, nothing compares to the port wine production in the region, which is Portugal’s most important export.
There are numerous cellars locally and plenty of the city’s activities are related to this fortified wine.
Recently, Porto has been twice named Best European Destination.
Recommended tour: Porto Card with Transportation (1, 2, 3 or 4 Days)
Braga’s population is approaching 200,000, with the urban area third behind Lisbon and Porto, yet the city is older than both.
The oldest Catholic diocese in Portugal is found in Braga, which first developed in Roman times.
There is plenty to see in Braga, a former European Youth Capital.
They include Castro of São Mamede, the Museum D. Diogo de Sousa with its exhibits from Roman times 41 to 238 AD (Emperor Claudius to Maximinus II), and the thermae built in those days but only discovered in the 20th Century.
Bom Jesus do Monte is the best of its monuments, with its staircase depicting the ascent to heaven.
Recommended tour: Braga Tuk Tuk City Tour
This city of 80,000 receives plenty of tourists annually, many coming to see its architecture, both Art Nouveau and Romanesque.
Brochures often call it “The Venice of Portugal” because of the “gondolas” that used to transport seaweed down its canals.
The Aveiro Museum (Museu de Aveiro, which used to be the Mosteiro de Jesus Convent), the Art Nouveau Museum, Aveiro Sé or São Domingos Cathedral from the 15th Century and the Church of Jesus (Igreja de Jesus) should all be on your itinerary if you visit the city.
If you are looking for a beach, there are two nearby.
Recommended tour: Aveiro: Traditional Moliceiro Boat Tour
Bragança is a city of 35,000, where service industries associated with state-run institutions such as the Polytechnical Institute of Bragança are major employers.
Its rural population has been falling, so Braganca’s service industries are important.
Its proximity to the Spanish border means it attracts significant tourism from its neighbour.
The highlight for visitors is the old walled citadel on a hill east of the city, from where there are some lovely panoramas.
A well-preserved mediaeval neighbourhood is just under the arched entrance. Cathedral Square and the Igreja da Santa Maria Church are landmarks worth your time.
6- Vila Real
Vila Real sits on a plateau that stands 450 metres (1,500 feet) above the level of the Atlantic.
There is a population of around 30,000, with a further 20,000 living in the immediate hinterland.
The setting is beautiful, a promontory created by the gorges of the Corgo and Cabril Rivers.
Mountains lie to the west, the highest peak being 1,400 metres (4,600 feet).
The city is 700 years old, established largely by nobility, especially the Marquis of Vila Real whose family was an important noble house behind that of the Dukes of Braganza and the Dukes of Aveiro.
If you wander around the old town, you will still see several family crests.
Regio de Coimbra has a population of 460,000, with a third of them living in the city itself, making this the fourth largest urban area in Portugal.
It is another city that is attributable to the Romans, with a well-preserved aqueduct and cryptoporticus evidence of their presence.
Coimbra was Portugal’s capital between 1131 and 1255, with some buildings from that period remaining.
Early in the 14th Century, Portugal’s first university relocated here and remains the oldest academic institution in the Portuguese-speaking world.
Its historical buildings are a UNESCO World Heritage Site.
Recommended tour: Coimbra: Live Fado Show with Port Wine Tasting
Cities in Portugal – Central
Lisbon, and the immediate surrounding area, is one of the largest urban areas in the European Union and the third-largest on the Iberian Peninsula after Madrid and Barcelona.
The metropolitan region has around 3 million, and the city has half a million.
It lies on the mouth of the Tagus River, and its coastal location made it hugely important during the Age of Discovery and hugely wealthy.
It has Portugal’s busiest airport, with tourists and commercial travellers heading there all year round.
Athens is the only European city that was founded before Lisbon. There are many important landmarks that will keep visitors intrigued for several days while the infrastructure provides everything a visitor might want; accommodation, entertainment and fine cuisine.
Recommended tour: Lisbon Card: 24, 48, or 72-Hour Pass
Sintra deserves attention of its own despite it being in the greater metropolitan area of Lisbon. That is partly because the municipality has around 400,000 inhabitants.
It is extremely scenic and has a delightful fairytale setting with palaces and castles, parks, gardens and beaches to enjoy.
Sintra-Cascais Nature Park runs through the Sintra Mountains.
The historic heart of Sintra is known for its 19th Century Romanticist architecture, historic villas, gardens, palaces and castles.
Not surprisingly, all these things earned this Portuguese city UNESCO World Heritage Site status.
Recommended tour: Sintra: Pena Palace and Park Entrance Ticket
Setúbal is a city of 90,000, once again within the Lisbon metropolitan area, 48 kilometres (30 miles) south of Lisbon on the Sado River’s north bank.
It earned city status in 1860 from King Pedro V of Portugal officially recognised Setúbal as a city.
It was formerly the most important place in the Portuguese fishing industry, but now you will see marinas and other maritime activities.
Take your pick of beaches with plenty of accommodation for all budgets and the river’s dolphin colony is a major attraction.
Recommended tour: Setubal & Tróia: Sado Estuary Dolphin Watching Boat Trip
Heading further south down the Atlantic Coast, Sines is the smallest of the cities facing out into the Atlantic.
It appeals to visitors because of the lovely beaches, yet it is also home to an important oil refinery and associated petrochemical industries.
Another aspect of Sines is its main fishing harbour on this stretch of the coast.
The Southwest Alentejo and Vicentine Coast Natural Park are just to the south, where historical landmarks have survived despite industrialisation.
Porto Covo is where you will find them and where industrialisation has yet to be a factor.
Cities in Portugal – Interior
A regional hub for the wine industry, Viseu has absorbed several influences over the centuries, starting with the Romans and later the Moors, with others in between.
The Visigoths ruled here in the Middle Ages, and the first king of Portugal, Afonso Henriques, was thought to have been born here.
The population of 100,000 embrace and enjoy the local culture with highlights in the city, including the famous Grão Vasco Museum.
Viseu is a Catholic diocese and the Catholic University of Portugal is just one of the seats of learning.
Dão Wine comes from Viseu and the Dão Wine institute is here.
Local handicrafts include black pottery, bobbin lace, embroidery and metalworks like copper and wrought iron.
Guarda, the capital of the Beiras e Serra da Estrela, is a city of around 40,000.
Guarda sits at an altitude of 1050 metres (3,465 feet) in the highest mountains in Portugal.
Sancho I founded Guarda in 1199; today, it is known as the “city of 5 F’s”.
- Farta means abundant, relating to its fertility
- Forte means strong, the castle tower and walls
- Fiel stands for loyal, a reference to its refusal to surrender in the 14th century to the King of Castile
- Fria stands for cold because of the altitude and
- Formosa is beautiful, an apt description of the immediate region.
Highlights of the city are the castle and cathedral.
Évora is a historic city in Alentejo, and it is home to the ancient Roman Temple of Évora (also called the Temple of Diana and a UNESCO World Heritage Site).
Whitewashed houses surround the Cathedral of Évora, a huge Gothic building that started in the 12th century.
The Igreja de São Francisco is a mix of Gothic and Baroque and features the skeleton-adorned Chapel of Bones.
The centre of Evora, home to 50,000 inhabitants, is well-preserved with impressive walls and several monuments.
Away from maritime influences, summers are very hot in the city.
Évora will be a European Capital of Culture in 2027.
Recommended tour: Évora and Megaliths Full-Day Tour from Lisbon
Another Alentejo city, slightly smaller than Evora, is Beja, which looks down over the plains from a height of 277 metres (900 feet).
A settlement was first built here in Celtic times and Julius Caesar later named it Pax Julia before it became Pax Augusta when Caesar Augustus became emperor.
The 13th-century castle has four square towers and a keep with 197 steps on a spiral staircase to its summit.
It is worth the climb to get the panoramic views.
The Latin-Visigothic church of Santo Amaro next to the castle is one of just four pre-Romanesque churches left in Portugal.
Some parts are actually from the 6th century.
This is a rich, fertile region and a great place to enjoy fresh produce.
This small city in Portugal is close to the Serra de São Mamede and was first mentioned in a 16th-century work by Friar Amador Arrais.
This still resembles Alentejo but is more accurately described as a transitional region where the climate is wetter.
At an altitude that ranges between 400 and 600 m (1,300 and 2,000 ft), Portalegre has a variety of geologic features and, consequently, diverse flora and fauna.
The Serra de São Mamede Natural Park includes Portalegre and is just one of its attractions.
Cities in Portugal – Algarve
Statistics show that around 5 million people visit the Algarve each year, and some even enjoy mid-winter holidays here to escape cold winters further north. Lots of places that were just very small fishing villages have blossomed into popular resorts. The four below are good examples of places that have developed infrastructures to cater for visitors.
Faro has an international airport that provides easy access to enjoy the delights of the Algarve.
Many of the city’s population of 60,000 depend upon tourism for their livelihood, but that was not always so.
The Moors ruled this region for 500 years until Afonso III expelled them in the middle of the 13th century.
As Silves to the far west declined, Faro became the administrative hub of the Algarve.
While many visitors head off from Faro to their chosen destinations, there is still reason to explore Faro itself.
It has an interesting architecture with highlights including its famous lighthouse, the cathedral and the old town (Cidade Velha) dating from the 16th and 17th centuries.
Recommended tour: Faro: Ria Formosa Faro Islands Catamaran Tour
Portimão nearby is of a similar size and gained city status around a century below.
Its past revolved around fishing and shipbuilding, but the growth of charter flights has changed that.
In the last quarter of the 20th century, huge numbers of visitors started to arrive due to the lovely beaches and excellent climate.
The Algarve is famous for its cuisine, with sardines being a popular dish. The region is also fertile, so its culinary delights are a real treat.
The old town, museums that explain the region’s history and the natural setting make this city a great base for a holiday.
Recommended tour: Portimão: Benagil Caves Speed Boat Tour with Sunset Option
The permanent city population may be just over 20,000, but the numbers in Lagos swell hugely through the long days of summer.
While agriculture and forestry remain important inland, the coastal strip of Lagos is where things become very busy.
The infrastructure here is well-developed, with the beaches and rock formations as natural attractions.
Henry the Navigator lived here, so Lagos played an important role in the Age of Discovery with a historic shipyard associated with Lagos and, sadly, the slave trade.
In the 15th century, Portuguese ships headed down the African Coast from here, so perhaps it gets its name from the largest city in West Africa.
Recommended tour: Lagos Dolphin Watching Catamaran Trip with Marine Biologist
Albufeira’s origins are unclear, but for the last half-century, its role is certainly as a popular tourist resort.
Certainly, the Romans were here all those years ago and some reminders of their presence are still evident.
The city has a permanent population of just about 30,000, and it sits between Lagos to the west and Faro to the east, within an hour from the international airport.
In the summer, that permanent population expands ten times over at times.
People come to enjoy the warm sea, lovely beaches, fine cuisine and the choice of golf courses which stay in good condition for most of the year.
Recommended tour: From Albufeira: Half-Day Algarve Jeep Safari
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