Do you only have one week to explore Portugal?
Our recommendation is to see as many sides of this beautiful country as possible, by starting at the Algarve and making your way north to Porto. Although one week isn’t enough time to dig deep into the culture or head off the beaten track, it can give ambitious travelers a good first impression of this fantastic country. Hold onto your hats, because it’s going to be an energetic journey!
Days 1 and 2: The Algarve
The two main international airports are in Lisbon and Porto; the third is in Faro, but consider entering the country through one of the first two and then catching a connecting flight to Faro. There are also trains and buses that head into the Algarve, but some travelers may prefer flying to get there more quickly (flights from Lisbon take about 45 minutes).
In the Algarve, the coast is the shining star and the region is lined with stunning beaches that look too beautiful to be true. Lagos, Albufeira, Portimão, and Tavira are a few of the more popular city stops highlighted by spectacular beaches, seaside caves, and multi-toned cliffs. We suggest stopping at Camilo Beach, Benagil Cave, the Beach of Three Brothers (Praia dos Três Irmãos), and the lighthouse at Piedade Point. Renting a car is the easiest way to jump from one site to the next.
Benagil Cave © Julius_Silver / Pixabay
Camilo Beach © LauraRinke / Pixabay
Some visitors like to get in the water as soon as possible, while others prefer enjoying the coast from afar. Trekking, surfing, sunbathing, and kayaking are just a few of the popular activities on offer.
Another gem in the Algarve is the Ria Formosa lagoon system and its islands, a natural treasure that is listed as one of Portugal’s Seven Natural Wonders and located around Faro’s coast. In the Ria Formosa, birdwatching is a unique treat and there are more than 200 bird species here.
Do you consider yourself a seafood connoisseur? Portugal’s charming fishing villages are filled with excellent restaurants offering freshly caught fish and seafood on their daily menus. The best seafood dish to try in the Algarve is the mixed seafood cataplana: steam-cooked fish and shellfish in a traditional copper pot.
Seafood cataplana © studio f22 ricardo rocha / Shutterstock
Days 3 and 4: Lisbon, Belém, and Sintra
Drive or hop on a train and head north to Lisbon, Portugal’s lively and artistic capital city. After arriving and sampling your first pastel da nata, spend a few hours meandering through and exploring the winding streets of Alfama, the oldest neighborhood in the city and the most popular spot to hear fado, Portugal’s magically melancholic traditional music.
Many of Alfama’s street corners show off an aged beauty © Walkerssk / Pixabay
For snapping photos and embracing stunning panoramic views, try visiting the São Jorge Castle and a few local neighborhood miradouros (viewpoints).
Rooftop views in Lisbon © 12019 / Pixabay
Where should you eat amidst all that sightseeing? Finding a nice spot is sometimes as easy as closing your eyes and pointing (the restaurants are everywhere), but these restaurants stand out from the rest. If you’re in the mood for something quick and budget-friendly, a popular suggestion is finding a churrasqueira and ordering frango assado, Portugal’s take on spicy grilled chicken.; or head to Cais do Sodré and choose one of the tascas or riverside cafés for a quick meal with a view.
An afternoon in Lisbon is an excellent time to head to Belém, where it’s possible to tour magnificent buildings with significant heritage importance. The Jeronimos Monastery, the Belém Tower, and the Discoveries Monument are three key landmarks not to miss.
The Belém Tower is just one of many stunning landmarks waiting for you© irinashutko / Pixabay
No doubt, Sintra deserves a full day dedicated to it, so visit the day after arriving in Lisbon. The easiest way to get there is by train from Lisbon’s Rossio Station (don’t forget to snap a few photos of the station’s ornate entrance). The train ride lasts about an hour and costs €2.25 each way.
It’s best to visit Sintra with a plan and know which castles and palaces you want to see most. The Pena Palace, Quinta da Regaleira, and Castle of the Moors may arguably be the three most popular landmarks for first-time visitors.
Pena Palace © breakpoint / Pixabay
Day 5: Coimbra or Aveiro
Make your way to Porto, but fit in enough time for one stop first. Two great locations to choose from are the historic riverside city of Coimbra, located in central Portugal and home to the country’s oldest university, and Portugal’s Art Nouveau capital, Aveiro, a romantic city nicknamed “The Venice of Portugal.”
Coimbra University © falco / Pixabay
Aveiro, the Venice of Portugal © uroburos / Pixabay
Days 6 and 7: Porto
Finally, wrap up your trip in traditional Porto, home of delicious croissants (just ask the locals about their love of Porto’s croissants), the francesinha calorie bomb, and amazing landmarks that give the city its own special personality.
Ancient Porto is a beautiful city in which to end your trip © SofiLayla / Pixabay
By the end of a busy week-long voyage through this amazing country, it’s probably time for a little rest and relaxation, but first, make sure to visit the Ribeira District for some more sightseeing. History buffs may like seeing the house where Henry the Navigator was born, called the Casa do Infante, and you can also check out some of the incredible displays of azulejo mosaics that Porto is home to.
A few last-minute activities to fit in before saying adeus to Portugal include going for a walk along a nearby beach, taking in a spectacular view from a rooftop terrace and shopping in one of the local markets.
Original Post written by NINA SANTOS for The Culture Trip
Do you want to see the best historic destinations in Portugal?
Explore these Beautiful Villages
Keep reading for a few ideas to explore one of the oldest countries in Europe and its many beautiful historic towns
Inside the Convento de Cristo in Tomar | © Pixabay
Who has a penchant for following the history of the Knights Templar? Anyone who thinks “me” should make a trip to Tomar, Portugal, a town that was once a sort of headquarters for this mysterious Catholic group. Visit the 12th-century Convento de Cristo (Convent of Christ), a medieval fortress and church where the local branch of the Templars met for religious mass and gatherings. Tomar is also the location of one of the best-preserved synagogues in Portugal in addition to many other Catholic churches dating between the 12th and 15th centuries, the 17th-century Pegões aqueduct, and the stunning park and gardens called National Forest of Seven Hills (a perfect spot for a stroll).
Coimbra is one of the oldest cities in Portugal. It also happens to be the home of the oldest university in the country, The University of Coimbra, also one of the oldest universities in all of Europe. Then there is the Biblioteca Joanina, a major attraction that has been listed among the most beautiful libraries in the world. Intersected with medieval, cobbled streets and filled with souvenir shops, Coimbra is a lovely spot to walk through and it is near many sightseeing opportunities that are considered “off the beaten path” like Conimbriga, excavated ruins that date back to the Roman occupation, as early as 139 BC.
Angra do Heroísmo
Angra do Heroismo early in the morning | © Roman Sulla / Shutterstock
The center of Angra do Heroísmo is listed as a UNESCO World Heritage Site for the role it played as a port of call and trading center during and after the Age of Discoveries. It is also the oldest continuously settled town in the Azores, located on the third largest island, Terceira (after São Miguel and Pico). Be sure to visit the 18th-century Praça Velha, the central town square surrounded by lovely churches, museums, hotels, and restaurants, and don’t forget to snap photos of the 16th-century town cathedral rimmed in peach-hued borders and the baby blue and white Igreja da Misericórdia (Misericordia Church).
Évora’s Temple and Chapel | © Pixbay
Évora’s portfolio is an expansive one. It is the regional capital of Alentejo, Portugal‘s large, sleepy wine region and farmland where locals tend to move to the beat of their own drum. In the 15th century, Évora was the residence of many of Portugal’s royalty. It is a town that doubles as a UNESCO World Heritage Site and triples as an open-air museum. Major landmarks include the Roman Temple of Diana, the medieval 16th-century Chapel of Bones, the 13th-century Cathedral, and the ancient Royal Palace of Évora, the latter reflecting Portugal’s very own Manueline architectural style.
Toural Square in the center of Guimaraes | © Saiko3p/Shutterstock
The town square in the center of Guimarães is so historic, you may feel like you’ve been transported through time while just standing there. Its 11th-century castle is where Portugal’s first king, Afonso Henriques, was born and for this reason, Guimarães has adopted a reputation as “the birthplace of Portugal”. In 2012, Guimarães was named the European Capital of Culture and is on the UNESCO World Heritage list. Medieval streets and palaces, religious museums, and Gothic monuments are just a few of the visual treats that are waiting.
Anyone who has heard of Sintra knows that it’s a lovely town filled with amazing buildings like the romantic, 19th-century Pena Palace. What they may not know is that it was once where many of Portugal’s royal family members and aristocrats lived or vacationed, attracted by the forested landscape and mild climate (hence the abundance of fascinating architecture and gardens). Most of the attractions are house-museums inside romantic and eclectic mansions, chalets, and palaces. Of course, there is also the medieval fortress, the Castelo dos Mouros, built in the 10th century by the Moors who once had control in Portugal.
Chaves, Portugal | © Gabriel González / Flickr
In the 1st century AD, Roman settlers lived in what is now called Chaves, Portugal, a town close to the border with Spain in the Tras-os-Montes region. Left behind as a memento is an amazingly well preserved Roman bridge, connecting the two sides of town across the Tâmega River and which is still used. Early settlers are believed to have been attracted to Chaves for the local hot springs, providing some of the hottest, natural mineral water between Portugal and Spain. Today it is a town oozing in tradition and local culture, the landmarks include the medieval town square and castle and a 14th-century fortification that has been converted into a hotel.
Braga is a city that meets many superlatives. It is home to the third largest metropolitan area after Lisbon and Porto and the oldest archdiocese in Portugal (originating in the 3rd century). Braga is one of the oldest cities in the country. Conversely, it has one of the youngest spirits in Portugal and is home to 2 universities and multiple other educational centers. Visit Braga to tour the Sé Cathedral, dating back as early as the 11th century making it the oldest cathedral in the country and one that showcases Renaissance, Baroque, Moorish, Manueline, and Gothic architecture. Then there is the stunning Bom Jesus do Monte, a hilltop sanctuary that attracts many visitors every year with its views and religious significance. Downtown, you’ll find no shortage of cafés, shops, restaurants, and bars, so there is plenty of socializing to enjoy in between sightseeing.
Fishing boats at anchor Lisbon Cascais historical harbour | © PJCC / Alamy Stock Photo
Cascais is a beautiful resort town just an hour from Lisbon along the coast. It is also a Portuguese town with a unique heritage that blends the country’s maritime history with its role as a vacation destination for many of Europe’s wealthy families. Visit Cascais for the beach but also tour the local museums showcasing the wealth acquired by Portuguese aristocrats, like the seaside Museu dos Condes de Castro Guimarães. Highlighting the area’s modest fishing past is the Museu do Mar. Then stay to walk along the stunning coast and enjoy fresh seafood from one of the many seaside restaurants.
Ponte de Lima
Downtown Ponte de Lima | © Travelholic Path / Flickr
This list would not be complete without mentioning the absolute oldest settlement in the entire country. Ponte de Lima, named after the bridge that crosses the Lima River, is a charming village in the Minho region of Portugal, located north of Porto in northwest Portugal. The downtown is decorated with eye-catching manor homes, ancient yet well-preserved buildings, and stunning gardens. It is also a town with one of the most interesting stories steeped in superstition, stemming from early Romans in Portugal. It was believed that the river would cause total amnesia to anyone who touched it, leading to the Roman bridge that still stands today. Ponte de Lima is also in the center of the Vinho Verde wine region, and visiting the local vineyards is a popular activity for visitors.