Nestled along the Atlantic coast of the Iberian Peninsula, Portugal, officially titled the Portuguese Republic, is a highly underrated destination in southwestern Europe. Historically overshadowed by high-profile neighbors like Spain and nearby France, Portugal has just recently sparked major tourism interest within the past decade, and for a good reason! The country is full of beautiful coastlines, quaint beach towns, and historic architecture. Yet, it’s not just the beaches that are drawing people in, but also the charming metropolitan areas. Portugal’s cities are some of the most beautiful (and least overcrowded with tourists) in Western Europe. With over 100 “cities” in Portugal, we narrowed down the list to the 7 cities you should not miss during your trip to Portugal!
A city that gave name to its country, Porto is known to be one of the most authentic and charming cities in all of Europe. Known most popularly for its export of fine port wine, you simply cannot leave Portugal without taking a taste! The best way to experience the wine is by visiting one of the Porto wine caves: these mysterious caves are full of the rich history of Porto and provide travelers with a deeper knowledge of the city’s past.
To be in the center of all the action in Porto, book your stay near the Cais da Ribeira district. With an infinite amount of restaurants and bars lining the riverside walk, this area is filled with mingling locals and tourists. Bring your camera for the iconic views of the Luís I Bridge and pastel-painted houses. The recently installed information boards in the area will provide insights on the district’s characters and businesses back in the day. If you are in need of a little caffeine-pick-me-up, be sure to visit Café Majestic, arguably one of the most beautiful cafés in the world.
Aveiro is a small port and fishing town packed with charming colors. Home to three canals filled with gondola-type boats, some compare Aveiro to a little Venice. Make sure to add the Covento de Jesus, Aveiro Cathedral, and the São Gonçalinho Chapel to your list of must-see attractions. And don’t forget the famous lighthouse! At 62 meters, the tallest lighthouse in all of Portugal stands overlooking the Atlantic in Aveiro. Plan your visit on a Wednesday afternoon and climb the 271 stairs up for the stunning aerial views from the lighthouse platform. This local town is as real as it gets, as it is does not attract tourists in the masses like some of Portugal’s larger cities.
A page straight out of a fairy tale, Sintra is full of rolling mountains, exotic gardens and dewy mountains. Venture to the center of the city and discover the Palace of Sintra, an old residence made for Portuguese royalty from the 1400s to the 1700s. If traveling with small children, or if you are in need of a break from walking, take advantage of the Sintra Tram, which has been running since 1904. It leaves from the center of Sintra and rides to Praia das Macas which is located on the coast. Tickets are only €3 for the 40 minute ride out to the coast. It is recommend you board early in the day if looking to avoid crowds.
You can find Portimão on the right bank of the Arade River, just before it touches the ocean. Home to a long waterfront promenade and the Museu de Portimão in a former fish cannery, Portimão is a great stop, especially if you are headed on your way to Praia da Rocha. If looking to check out Portugal from above, Skydive Algarve offers guided free falls from 4600m. If you’d rather keep your feet on the ground, head to pedestrian Rua da Barco for some open-air seafood. This locale, which is now a popular location for tourists, has been feeding hungry fishermen barbecued fish and charcoaled sardines for hundreds of years. Head to Portimão during the first week of August to experience their yearly sardine festival filled with numerous waterside stalls selling their main staple of the local economy.
Filled with lovely views and delicious food, Odemira is Portugal’s most picturesque city located next to the Mira river where you can kayak or canoe. If you are looking to take a dip in the water, keep in mind that the water is not nearly as warm as the water in the tropics. Some would relate it much closer to taking an ice bath. Whether you go in the water, or decide to stay warm and dry, you can still take in the beautiful beach views. Squeeze in some shopping and admire the handmade goods made locally by craftsman. You can find furniture, pottery, fabrics, baskets and many more authentic gifts to bring back home as souvenirs or presents for loved ones.
A city that hibernates through the winter and attracts the surfers and family vacationers during the summer, Odeceixe provides fabulous beaches and a laid back atmosphere. During the summer months of July and August, a road-train is in operation, providing transportation from the village to the beach. However, you can also easily walk along the road if preferred. Praia de Odeceixe is one of the most sheltered beaches in Portugal, offering great waves and safe swimming when the tide is out. If you are looking to transform from a vacationer to a labeled surfer, check out Odeceixe Surf School for some lessons on how to ride the waves like the locals. If you are traveling on a budget, Odeceixe offers several cheap places to stay. When seeking out food, head to Largo 1 Mai for many cafes and restaurants clustered together.
We couldn’t create a list of must-see Portuguese cities without including Portugal’s bustling capital, Lisbon. Close to several beaches and a city full of history and great nightlife, Libson is a truly magnificent city. While you are there, be sure to try vinho verde, which translates to green wine. Libson also offers a variety of excellent Portuguese cuisine which includes many codfish dishes. If looking for something unique, check out the City Of Spies walking tour: it covers World War II history of when Lisbon was a popular spot for espionage and spies. Another fun activity is the Parque Eduardo VII, located in the center of town. Filled with fruit trees, streams, flowers and ferns, this park is great for a beautiful break from the heat. Conveniently, Lisbon is easily accessible from other cities in Portugal.
From relaxing on the beach to exploring old streets and castles full of history, Portugal’s cities have something for everyone. Whatever time of the year you choose to visit, these cities will not disappoint! Let us know your favorite in the comments below!
Post written by: Kirsten Cusack, @kirqsak
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