Portugal is in the western part of the Iberian Peninsula, fronting the Atlantic Ocean with a climate attractive to sunseekers. A member of the European Union, it has a population of 10.3 million. While local salaries are below the level of other Western European countries, the cost of living is also generally lower. Its colonial past led to prosperity with the architecture from those days, evidence of the wealth it created.
Portugal’s three popular regions are Porto in the north, the capital of Lisbon and the Algarve in the extreme south. The sea still plays a vital role in the country’s economy while tourists flock to the Algarve for everything from its beaches to the cuisine and the golf courses. At the other end of Portugal, to the north, is Porto, and its most famous product, Port wine. In between is the metropolitan district of Lisbon. Here are some ideas of the best things to do in Portugal, with options for whether you make a base in Porto, Lisbon or the Algarve.
- 20 Things To Do In Portugal
- Top 3 Tours
- The Algarve
20 Things To Do In Portugal
Top 3 Tours
- Lisbon Card: 24, 48, or 72-Hour Pass – Save money on transport and attractions with this card that offers free access to 39 museums plus other benefits.
- From Porto: Douro Valley Tour and Cruise – Visit wineries in the Douro Valley and cruise the Douro River.
- Pena Palace, Sintra, Cabo da Roca and Cascais – Discover the beauty and charm of Portugal on this amazing day trip from Lisbon.
1- Sample Port In The Douro Valley
The Douro Valley is not just beautiful; it is also where you will find wine estates that produce Portugal’s most famous export, port, as well as reds and whites.
A day in the valley is fantastic, whether travelling by road or on a boat on the river.
A typical tour provides time in Amarante, with its rich history, then lunch on an estate.
There will be plenty of time to take photographs as well as learn about the production of port.
You can cruise on the river and visit some famous names in the port industry.
Tasting is an experience with the chance to buy before you head back to your accommodation in Porto.
2- Cruise The Douro River
Many boats on the Douro, now used for cruising, were once used for transporting port wine to Gaia and Porto.
They have been upgraded to provide extra comfort for passengers and incorporate the latest navigational equipment.
You can board a boat in Porto’s heart to head inland, turn, and go the other way towards the Atlantic.
There are six bridges over the Douro, and you will learn their history and see the landmarks on both sides of the river.
Luis I Bridge is the most well-known of the six that links Porto with Gaia.
3- Learn To Surf
You may have seen surfing on film or watched experts taking a wave and speeding into shore.
If you think it is time for you to learn how to surf yourself, Porto is a place where you can do it.
You will be collected from your accommodation and taken to a beach your instructor thinks is the best for that particular day.
Tuition is always done in small groups so the instructor can give you personal attention.
After discussions on the technique while still on dry land, you get the chance to put the ideas into practice on a small wave.
It needs practice and patience, but you will succeed in the end.
4- Learn More About The Age of Discovery
Porto’s World of Discoveries is where you will learn more about Portugal’s famous explorers who set sail from the 15th Century onwards to colonise far-flung places to set up great trading routes between colonies and Portugal.
Henry the Navigator, born in Porto, took the lead with the exploits of Ferdinand Magellan, Vasco da Gama and Bartolomeu Dias, all covered.
There are several sections to see with the new routes across the waters showing how the world gradually opened up for exploration.
A great way to finish your day is to eat food made from products originally brought back to Portugal from African countries, Brazil, India, China and Japan.
The range of exotic fruits and spices taken for granted in Europe hit the western shores in those decades of “discovery.” Skip the line and reserve your World of Discoveries ticket here.
5- Marvel At The Walkways
If you want some exercise combined with a great setting, one popular tour out of Porto takes in the Paiva, river and gorge, walking along the Paiva Walkways and the 516 Arouca suspension bridge.
With the help of a guide, you can be collected from your hotel and dropped back at the end of the day.
The Paiva Walkways are at Areinho and you will begin by climbing 300 steps and reach the 516 Arouca bridge, 175 metres (575 feet) above the Paiva River.
As you cross the bridge, you will see the Aguieira Waterfall and continue along the paths.
There is no hurry so take the whole setting in, flora and fauna. You end at Espiunca, where it is time for refreshments.
6- Enjoy A Pub Crawl
An excellent way to get to know a city’s nightlife is to take a guided walking tour around some of its best bars.
Four or five hours will allow you to learn more and sample local drinks, alcoholic or non-alcoholic.
You will make new friends along the way within the small group who join the tour, which is an added advantage.
The cost of certain drinks will be included in the tour price. You will meet locals and have plenty of time to dance as well.
If you want a super-late night, the nightclub included in the pub crawl will be one idea you can use later during your visit to Porto.
7- Take The City Tour
You may associate a tuk-tuk with Asia, but you can also climb aboard one in Lisbon to tour the capital and see the prominent landmarks.
They are safe and great to manoeuvre Lisbon’s streets and climb its hills, which is especially helpful if you’re lugging heavy camera equipment around.
You can take in Chiado and Bairro Alto, experiencing the atmosphere of these historic districts.
Landmarks include Rossio Square, Lisbon Cathedral, St. Vincent Monastery and Saint Anthony Church.
There are viewpoints from which you can photograph stunning panoramas while passing through the neighbourhoods of Graça, Castle and Alfama.
8- See The Stadium of Light
Estádio do Sport Lisboa e Benfica (Stadium of Light) is the home of the top soccer club in Portugal, Benfica.
Luz Stadium opened in 2003 and replaced the old stadium, which had a capacity of 120,000; today, it seats 65,000.
Its museum recognises the great players of the past, most notably Eusebio.
In his time, Benfica became European champions while they continued to win domestic competitions.
Explore the stadium, field, press room and changing rooms.
If you are in Lisbon when a Benfica game or a Portugal national fixture is on, go along for an experience you won’t forget.
9- Head To Sintra And Beyond
If you travel out of Lisbon on a guided tour, there are many great places to see, from the iconic Pena Palace in Sintra to the seaside town of Cascais and the Cabo da Roca cliffs.
Sintra’s Romanticist architecture, royal palaces, castles, historic estates, and villas have become a UNESCO World Heritage site.
There are long lines at Pena, which you can avoid by booking a tour, giving you plenty of free time to explore, or reserving an advance ticket.
Cabo da Roca is a natural spot to explore and the westernmost point in Europe, with the views of the ocean against the rocky cliffs worth a photo or two.
Finally, Cascais, a charming fishing port with its restored fort and luxury marina, completes your day.
10- Take A Portuguese Cookery Class
Pastel de Nata is Portugal’s famous egg tarts, which are delicious to eat and easy to learn how to make.
The cooking class will take around two hours, and you can eat what you prepare and cook.
These pastries originated in monasteries in Lisbon in the 18th Century, almost becoming a symbol of the country.
They are now enjoyed worldwide.
Once you know the recipe, you can make it home for family and friends.
The ingredients include egg yolks, icing sugar and cinnamon, and the tarts are best eaten with coffee anytime.
11- Enjoy The Fado
Something else that originates in Lisbon is the Fado, a traditional music genre that is now on UNESCO’s Representative List of the Intangible Cultural Heritage of Humanity.
An evening enjoying the Fado combines very well with a walking tour around Alfama and Mouraria before a traditional dinner and the performance.
It was in Alfama that the Fado was first performed back in the early 19th Century.
Portuguese guitars play a mournful style of music with lyrics in keeping with the sadness of the guitar melodies.
12- Tee Off At Penha Longa Atlantico
While golfers on specific golfing holidays are more likely to head to the Algarve, there is a great championship course in Estoril, north of Lisbon and just above the Grand Prix track, where regular testing still takes place.
Penna Longa was only built in the early 1990s, but within a few years, it was already hosting the Portuguese Open.
It is a stern challenge but not full of water hazards that often feature in modern-day courses.
It makes use of the terrain and provides a great day out if you want to give over a single day of your Lisbon holiday to golf.
Penha Longa means “long rock,” with rocky outcrops being a feature of the championship course.
13- Take A Speedboat On The Algarve Coast
The Algarve has an incredible coastline, one with plenty of resorts that retain the region’s original charm while welcoming vast numbers of tourists every year.
Most arrive at the international airport at Faro and then head to their accommodation.
One way to enjoy this coastline is to take a speedboat tour that will let you see the beaches, towns and some of nature’s creations, the caves and the cliffs.
The Benagil Sea Caves were created by natural erosion, producing a large sunlit cavern.
Add the remote sandy beaches that few onshore realise are there, and your trip reveals plenty to help you enjoy your holiday.
14- Watch Dolphins Off Albufeira
There are many reasons to head out into the Atlantic, such as fishing or dolphin spotting.
As well as enjoying the coastline and caves, you can swim, but the main idea behind this tour is to see marine life.
Albufeira is your starting point, with an experienced captain taking you to sea.
Dolphins are almost guaranteed, but you should concentrate on the water as they surface and dive.
Dolphins tend to travel in groups, while other marine life, even whales, are a possibility. Find out more about what to expect on a dolphin-watching cruise.
15- Go Kayaking With A Guide
You can book a kayaking tour with a guide off the Algarve coast, with the Benagil caves a popular destination.
You can see the caves by booking several different Algarve tours, but kayaking is the most adventurous as the cliffs will tower above you as you paddle.
Equipment is provided, and a safety session precedes your heading out to sea.
The waters are clear and filled with marine life, although close to the shore, you may only see fish.
Once you reach the caves, you cannot fail to be impressed with the sunlight streaming through from above.
Wind and waves have eroded the rock, producing today’s cavern.
16- Board A Pirate Ship
Portuguese boats returning from South America during the “Age of Discovery” had to watch out for pirate ships that preyed on the defenceless in the Caribbean.
Board a pirate ship at Portimão, where you can visit Alfanzina Lighthouse and the Benagil Cave. Then transfer to a small boat to explore the cave.
Swimming is great in clear water; you can walk the plank if you wish.
After a safety briefing, your trip also includes seeing famous landmarks and old castles.
You are also likely to see dolphins, so have your camera ready.
17- Head Out On A Jeep Safari
While the beaches are the Algarve’s main attraction, it is also worth a day of your time to explore inland.
You can do this in a 4×4 capable of handling the terrain on a half-day jeep safari.
Setting out from Albufeira, you will travel through beautiful countryside with plenty of cork trees, orange groves and vineyards.
There are local villages and farms where you can sample honey and locally produced liquors.
Rivers and waterfalls are other features and there will be a chance to swim. And if that is not enough, you can also learn about local history and culture.
18- Enjoy Touring A Winery
Quinta da Tôr is a family-owned winery in the Algarve where visitors can learn about making wine and why their local wine is so special.
Algarve wine has become increasingly popular away from the region that produces it.
The climate provides a good balance in allowing grapes to mature.
Seven grape varieties are grown here, including Chardonnay, Sirah and Cabernet Sauvignon.
You can taste those of your choice and buy your favourites. Local olive oil and traditional bread make a great accompaniment.
19- Take To The Skies
The Algarve is a place where parasailing is popular and it’s not surprising given the wonderful panoramic views it affords the flyer.
A typical flight takes just 10 minutes, but the bird’s eye view you get makes every second special.
Starting from Albufeira Marina, you will get a safety briefing, then the life jacket and harness connecting you to your parachute.
Once in open waters, you will be strapped in, ready to take flight.
You get to 80 m (262 feet) then the fun begins.
The length of the time on the boat depends on the number of customers and can be as long as 90 minutes.
20- Check On The Local Birdlife
Ria Formosa is an extreme environment that can change by the hour.
The National Park covers 18,000 ha and includes five islands and two peninsulas.
The sea level rises and falls up to three metres (almost 10 feet) four times a day.
The local industries included fishing and shellfish production.
Migratory birds always need food on their travels, so plenty of birdlife is evident here.
Predatory birds are a common sight around the many canals.
Storks, egrets, spoonbills and flamingos are among the species you can see depending on the time of your visit. Here’s a guided tour you may enjoy.