Portugal, a small country nestled along the Atlantic coast of the Iberian Peninsula, boasts an enchanting combination of a beautiful coastline and rich historical heritage, attracting numerous visitors to its shores. This allure makes it one of the most popular destinations in Europe. Thanks to its compact size, travelers can explore and experience more places within a similar time frame compared to its neighboring country, Spain.
With its temperate climate, Portugal remains an appealing year-round vacation spot, where tourists can delight in exploring ancient Roman and Moorish ruins, along with a plethora of other captivating tourist attractions scattered throughout the country.
1. Pena National Palace
The Pena National Palace exudes the enchanting aura of a fairy tale castle, especially when it perches above the clouds on overcast days. Positioned on a hill in Sintra, it even offers a breathtaking view from Lisbon on clear days.
King Ferdinand II, its creator, crafted an awe-inspiring testament to 19th-century Romanticism, not only in Portugal but across the globe. This architectural masterpiece seamlessly blends elements of Moorish and Manueline styles. Originally built as a chapel dedicated to Our Lady of Pena during the Middle Ages, it now serves as a venue for state occasions.
Accommodation: Where to Stay in Sintra: Best Areas & Hotels
2. Belem Tower
The Belem Tower, also referred to as the Tower of St. Vincent, is situated on what was once an island in the Tagus River, within the heart of Lisbon, the capital of Portugal. The majestic tower was erected in 1515 to both protect Lisbon from attackers and welcome visitors to the city.
Erected during the Age of Discovery, this four-story limestone tower is accompanied by a bastion, which was strategically connected to it. Within the bastion, there was ample space to accommodate 17 powerful cannons, capable of firing long-range shots. Gazing out towards the river stands a statue of Our Lady of Safe Homecoming, thoughtfully designed to provide protection and safe passage for sailors on their daring voyages.
3. Praia da Marinha
Praia da Marinha holds the esteemed reputation of being one of Portugal’s most exquisite beaches. Nestled along the Atlantic coast in the Algarve region, this beach is graced with stunning blue waters on one side and bordered by sandy beaches and towering cliffs on the other.
Frequently referred to as Navy Beach, it is a charming small cove that often serves as a prominent feature in travel brochures. Its crystal-clear waters make it an ideal spot for snorkeling enthusiasts. Situated approximately a 30-minute drive away from Albufeira, visitors can enjoy the added convenience of free parking facilities at this picturesque destination.
Accommodation: Where to Stay in Praia da Marinha: Best Areas & Hotels
4. Obidos Castle
The magnificent Obidos Castle is a must-visit attraction located atop a picturesque hill in Obidos. It is a charming coastal city in Portugal with a rich history dating back to the Roman era. During their travels, the Moors constructed the magnificent castle around the eighth century.
During the 14th century, a keep was added to the remodeled structure. The castle now serves as a luxurious pousada hotel. Every July, travelers have the opportunity to experience a vibrant medieval market within the walls of the castle.
5. Sao Jorge Castle
The São Jorge Castle stands tall as a premier tourist attraction in Lisbon, commanding visibility from various vantage points across the city. Its origins trace back to Roman times, with the fortifications being reconstructed by the Moors during the 10th century. Notably, the castle played a pivotal role in the history of Lisbon when it was liberated from Moorish control in 1147 during the Second Crusade’s Siege of Lisbon.
In later years, the castle served as the royal residence for King Alfonso III. Despite facing destruction and subsequent reconstruction multiple times, the castle perseveres with its walls and 18 majestic towers that entice visitors to climb and explore its historical allure today.
6. Alcobaca Monastery
Situated in the town of Alcobaça, central Portugal, the Alcobaça Monastery stands as a significant Roman Catholic establishment. Founded in 1153 by the first Portuguese King, Afonso Henriques, this monastery maintained a strong and enduring connection with the Kings of Portugal throughout its historical journey.
Renowned for its architectural splendor, the church, and monastery were among the first Gothic buildings in Portugal. In tandem with the Monastery of Santa Cruz in Coimbra, it holds a place of utmost importance among the medieval monasteries in Portugal.
7. University of Coimbra
Established in 1290, the University of Coimbra holds the distinction of being one of the oldest continuously operating universities in Europe. With a student population of around 20,000, it also ranks among the largest universities in Portugal. Within the university complex, various captivating sections pique the interest of visitors.
Dating back to the early 18th century, the Biblioteca Joanina, or Joanine Library, stands as a splendid exemplar of Baroque architecture, a result of King Joao V’s initiative. Another notable space is the Sala dos Capelos, originally serving as a throne room and presently the venue where doctorates are ceremoniously awarded.
8. Oceanarium in Lisbon
Arguably the most popular and family-friendly visitor attraction in Portugal, Lisbon’s oceanarium boasts a brilliant design that showcases the diverse ocean habitats of the world. It stands as one of Europe’s finest and largest oceanariums, housing an impressive variety of fish and marine creatures.
Within its premises, four distinct seas- and landscapes are meticulously recreated to represent the ecosystems of the Atlantic, Pacific, Indian, and Antarctic oceans. A massive central tank, visible from various levels, brims with awe-inspiring sharks, rays, and other fascinating finned wonders from the depths of the sea. The cleverly designed transparent plexiglass structure creates an illusion of smaller tropical species, residing in separate aquaria around the main tank, swimming alongside their larger cousins.
Adding to this captivating spectacle are the open-air landscapes, where adorable penguins, sea otters, and other charming birds and mammals coexist in a carefree and harmonious environment.
9. Azores (Atlantic Ocean)
Embarking on a 1,500-kilometer journey across the ocean from mainland Portugal, you’ll find yourself in a picturesque and secluded corner of subtropical paradise – the Azores. This archipelago comprises 9 captivating islands, collectively covering an area of approximately 2,300 square kilometers. Among them, the largest is the island of San Miguel, which also hosts the autonomous region’s capital, Ponta Delgada. Notably, this island boasts Portugal’s highest point, an active volcano with a peak soaring over 2,300 meters.
A holiday in the Azores offers a perfect escape from the bustling cities of Portugal, allowing you to immerse yourself in pristine nature. The array of activities on the island is a delight, ranging from sea fishing and whale watching aboard rented yachts to invigorating hikes to extinct volcanoes. Additionally, you can indulge in relaxing baths in thermal pools, and marvel at the extremely beautiful lakes, waterfalls, and natural parks that grace the landscape. The Azores truly offer an unforgettable opportunity to merge with the untamed beauty of nature.
Venturing to the southern region of Portugal, Vilamoura beckons as a must-visit destination—a relatively young town, yet a well-developed tourist hub and one of Europe’s largest luxury resorts. Nestled right along the oceanic coast, it offers an idyllic setting for a comfortable beach holiday. Four large, well-equipped beaches invite visitors to partake in various water sports, bask in the soft embrace of white sands, and revel in the breathtaking scenery.
Vilamoura caters to the discerning traveler with an array of high-class amenities, including top-notch hotels, indulgent SPA centers, delectable restaurants, elegant beauty salons, thrilling casinos, and prestigious golf clubs. Notably, it hosts Europe’s largest yacht club, a haven for sailing enthusiasts.
Shopping enthusiasts will find joy in leisurely strolls through charming small stores, where an assortment of souvenirs with sea-themed motifs, traditional tiles adorned with beautiful paintings, exquisite handmade jewelry, and a plethora of other memorabilia await discovery. Vilamoura promises an unforgettable experience of luxury, leisure, and seaside splendor.
11. Capela dos Ossos
The Capela dos Ossos, or Bone Chapel, may seem like a scene straight out of a Halloween movie, but its origins lie in the practical solution devised by 16th-century monks in Evora to address the issue of overcrowded cemeteries.
To free up space, the monks relocated human remains to a dedicated chapel, which earned the nickname Bone Chapel due to its distinctive interior decor. Situated within the Gothic Church of St. Francis, the chapel’s walls and ceiling are adorned with an estimated 5,000 skeletons, including skulls, creating an eerie yet intriguing spectacle for visitors.
12. Cabo Girao
Cabo Girao is a stunning travel destination situated along the picturesque southern coast of Madeira, within the captivating Portuguese archipelago bearing its name. Located at an impressive altitude of 570 meters (1,870 feet), this magnificent cliff is widely recognized as one of Europe’s most elevated sea cliffs. However, it is worth noting that there are at least three other cliffs in Europe that surpass its height.
The breathtaking sight of the ocean from the steep cliff is still incredibly exciting. During a thrilling adventure in 2012, a mesmerizing glass-floored platform was introduced, amplifying the excitement of the viewing experience.