The Best 8 Things to Do in Portugal

Travel+Leisure World's Best Awards 2023 logo in white
Array
Written by
Meg Simpson

Published on: July 2nd, 2024

Last modified: July 2nd, 2024

Sun-drenched beaches, bountiful vineyards, picture-perfect cities and volcanic islands… You’ll find all of that and more in Portugal, one of the most sought-after luxury destinations in Europe. This country may be small, but it offers a truly remarkable range of things to do – from exhilarating outdoor adventures to captivating cultural experiences.

Planning a trip to Portugal means narrowing down an enormous list of potential activities, so it was no easy task to limit ourselves to these eight selections. Here are a few of the best things to do in Portugal, all the way from the wine cellars of Porto to the ochre cliffs of the Algarve.

Sand Beach at Nazaré Portugal from above

1. See Spectacular Waves in Nazaré

Until relatively recently, Nazaré was known mainly as a fishing village and summer resort town. But today it’s internationally famous, thanks in large part to an enormous underwater canyon that creates the record-breaking waves nicknamed the ‘giants of Nazaré.’

The best time to visit Portugal for big waves is November to March; if you’re lucky enough to be here when the conditions are right, don’t miss your chance to see the world’s best big wave surfers brave the gargantuan walls of water. And even when the sea is flat, you can visit Nazaré’s scenic cliff-top lighthouse and small surfing museum, or just enjoy the charming town. We recommend a day trip from Lisbon for a day of stunning coastal adventures.

A family learning to surf in Portugal

2. Learn to Surf on the Silver Coast

If you’ve ever wanted to learn how to surf, Portugal is one of the best places on earth to do it. The Costa de Prata (Silver Coast), which includes both Nazaré and the surfing hub of Peniche, offers plenty of beginner-friendly waves and surf schools, as well as fantastic conditions for experienced surfers of all levels. 

Here there are beaches for all tastes, whether you’re looking for wide expanses of sand and kid-friendly waters or more remote spots flanked by copper-coloured cliffs. When you’ve got your fill of surfing, visit the nearby Berlengas Islands or the pretty medieval town of Óbidos.

A view of one of Lisbons hills and the Bica tram, Portugal

3. Stroll the Seven Hills of Lisbon

They say Lisbon is ‘the city of seven hills’, and once you’ve spent a few hours exploring it, you’ll understand why. Some of the city’s steepest streets lead to panoramic views from its many miradouros (viewpoints) or to ancient landmarks like the hilltop São Jorge Castle.

Even Lisbon’s flatter areas are stunningly picturesque, whether you’re looking up at the pastel-painted and tiled buildings or down at the intricate black-and-white mosaics decorating the sidewalks. This is also the country’s cultural and culinary heart, with an endless array of monuments, museums, restaurants, bars, fado shows and other fun things to do in Lisbon. Let your guide lead you to behind the scenes experiences in some of the city’s most exciting small restaurants.

Cliffs in the Coast of Algarve close to Benagil cave, Portugal

4. Explore the Striking Beaches of the Algarve

The Algarve region covers the entire southern coast of Portugal, with a decidedly different vibe from the central and northern areas. You won’t find any big cities here – but you will find some of the most iconic beaches in Portugal, boasting dramatic rock formations, stark ochre cliffs and the majestic Benagil Cave with its natural skylight.

Because the Algarve has been a popular holiday destination for decades, the beaches here tend to be a bit more developed and accessible. You can still find wild and pristine spots if you seek them out, though, especially on the western end of the region near Sagres. We love the stylish beachfront Hotel Bela Vista that transports you back to the early 1900s, glowing with Portuguese charm.

5. Hike the Costa Vicentina

The alternative to the manicured resorts and pristine beaches of the Algarve is the Costa Vicentina, a stretch of protected coastline on the western side of the country. Here you’ll still get the perpetually warm and sunny weather of southern Portugal, but with fewer visitors and wilder landscapes.

For a real adventure, grab your hiking boots and embark on the Rota Vicentina, a trail that covers 400 kilometres (249 miles) along the coast. It takes 1–2 weeks to walk either of the two main routes, but you can easily tackle a smaller section in one day (or cycle instead of walking).  

mixed portuguese traditional tapas dishes

6. Taste Traditional Cuisine in Alentejo

You’ll find incredible cuisine all over Portugal, from cataplana de marisco (seafood stew) in the south to the indulgent francesinha (a multilayered sandwich) in the north. But one of our favourite places for homemade food is Alentejo: the vast region just north of the Algarve, known for producing olives, wine, cork and pão alentejano (traditional bread).

Alentejo is a haven of culinary heritage, with emblematic dishes like açorda (a sort of bread stew with poached eggs) and migas (similar to bread stuffing, usually served with pork). Make sure to visit Évora, a medieval city renowned for its Roman temple and eerie Chapel of Bones.

boat trip through the Douro Valley

7. Cruise Down the Douro River

The Douro Valley is a can’t-miss destination for wine lovers, with two thousand years’ worth of winemaking heritage. Visit the gorgeous vineyards of the Alto Douro, stay at one of the world’s best wine hotels and step aboard a luxury yacht to cruise the Douro River in style. You can even follow the river all the way to Porto, Portugal’s second-largest city and the home of port wine.

We can arrange the very best winery visits and wine tastings for you, including the port wine cellars of Gaia (across the river from Porto). And if wine isn’t your priority, there’s plenty of gorgeous scenery and cultural heritage to dive into as well.

The azores island of Sao Miguel

8. Visit Portugal’s Volcanic Islands

When you think of volcanic islands, you might not immediately picture Europe. But Portugal has not just one but two volcanic archipelagos: the Azores and Madeira. Don’t get them confused, though; each has its own unique identity, distinctive culture and characteristic accent.

The Azores are a group of nine islands known for their lush green landscapes, turquoise lakes and the country’s highest peak, which you’ll find on the aptly named island of Pico. Madeira encompasses four islands but is mostly known for the largest of them, which boasts magnificent vistas, mountain trails and the famous Madeira wine (plus lots of other local delicacies to try).

Whatever you want from your trip to Portugal our expert travel designers are ready to help:

Trip Inspiration

Get inspired with our Portugal example trips and then get in touch to plan your own adventure

Luxury accommodation in Portugal

There are many incredible places to stay in Portugal. Here are some of our favourites, hand picked by our travel designers: