Portugal has many spectacular hiking trails to offer, with a range of difficulty levels and a huge variety in landscapes. I’ve had the pleasure of walking in every region of mainland Portugal as well as many of the islands of Madeira and the Azores.
Here are some of my favourite trails for you to consider for your next Portugal hiking experience.
Some of these walking routes are relatively short, i.e. a few hours, while others could take a week or more to hike the full trail. Some are self-guided, either just by using the public signs or using routes designed by local tour operators, while others are guided experiences.
1. Camino Português
Multi-day self-guided hike in Portugal and Spain
I’m starting with the famous pilgrim trail that leads to Santiago de Compostela Cathedral in Spain because this was a life-changing experience for me. My experiences of hiking the Portuguese Camino took me from being a day hiker at most to a person who actually enjoys multi-day walking holidays. I also learned that my body and mind are capable of more than I gave them credit for.
The trails merge in Redondela but before then, you have the choice between walking through the beautiful towns, villages and countryside around Barcelos, Ponte de Lima, Valença and Porriño or experiencing more coastal scenes and communities in Vila do Conde, Esposende, Viana do Castelo, Caminha, Oia, Baiona and Vigo.
After Redondela, the route is inland via the beautiful city of Pontevedra and the attractive towns of Caldas de Reis and Padron.
Depending on which route you choose and where exactly you start from, you’re looking at around 240 kilometres / 150 miles from Porto to Santiago de Compostela. It’s also possible to start from Lisbon, which is around 641 km / 398 miles but I haven’t tried that!
Among the highlights of the Portuguese Camino de Santiago are the opportunities to bond with fellow hikers on the pilgrim trail, a sense of achievement at the end of each long walking day and when you reach the cathedral, and the chance to experience rural lifestyles and landscapes as well as local culture and history in the towns and cities along the way.
With walking days averaging 20 km, you need to train for this experience, or allow more time and shorten your walks where accommodation permits.
2. Peninha Sanctuary, megalithic dolmen and forest trail, Sintra-Cascais Natural Park
Easy half day guided hike near Sintra (Lisbon area)
Having failed to find the dolmen, known locally as Anta Andrenunes, on a self-guided hike, I engaged a local guide to take me through the forests near Sintra to find it. On the way, we stopped at the Peninha Sanctuary, which has an intriguing history and stunning views down the coast to Cabo da Roca.
The trail itself was beautiful, and Teresa explained the history of the forests and the mythical Moon Mountains of Sintra as well as the different types of trees and plants along the route. We walked through juniper forests and mixtures of pine, acacia and oak.
This trail is pretty easy with few challenges and a fair amount of shade so it’s a good option all year round and could be combined with seeing one or two of Sintra’s monuments.
3. Rota Vicentina Fishermen’s Trail near Odeceixe, Algarve
From 1 hour to half a day along stunning coastline and countryside
The Rota Vicentina is one of the best-maintained routes in mainland Portugal, with volunteers checking and repainting waymarkers regularly. It’s comprised of two linear trails; the Fishermen’s Trail, which runs up the coast from Sagres to Porto Covo, although some of it is inland, and the Historical Route from Sagres to Santiago do Cacem.
There are also lots of circular routes that make it easier logistically if you don’t want to deal with luggage transfers or taxis.
I’ve hiked small sections of the Rota Vicentina near Arrifana, Odeceixe and Vila Nova de Milfontes and so far, my favourite stretch was the Fishermen’s Trail along the clifftops near Odeceixe. Mainly because of the dragon-shaped cliffs.
I had stayed overnight in Odeceixe village so I walked the 3 km to the beach and then went south along the cliffs. The views are absolutely wonderful and the sandy paths were lined with flowers in April. The route then heads inland to join the Historical Trail and although I got a bit lost at this point, I made it back to the village easily enough. The full loop is about 15 km / 9 miles. More details here.
My tip, for those short on time but looking for a short walk with amazing scenery, would be to drive to the car park on the south side of Odeceixe beach and follow the blue and green Rota Vicentina markers along the clifftops until it starts veering inland then retrace your steps. This should take about an hour so it’s a great way to stretch your legs and take a break if you’re driving to or from the southern Algarve via the Alentejo coast.
If you want to spend a few days hiking the Alentejo coast with the support of a local tour operator to make logistical arrangements and provide either a guide or self-guided route notes, see this page for more details.
This particular local tour operator also has some amazing hikes around Evora, Lisbon and the Algarve so let me know what you’re most interested in and I’ll connect you.
4. Douro wine region, northern Portugal
Various lengths and difficulty levels, from half hour strolls in the vineyards to 1-week self-guided walking holidays
Having spent so much time hiking in the Douro Valley (i.e. about 3 weeks in total), it’s really hard for me to pick a favourite section or route. The views of the terraced vineyards that create mosaic patterns on the endless hills either side of the Douro River and its tributaries are incredible from so many places in the wine region.
South of the river, you’ve also got fruit orchards and more rural, small scale wine producers as well as the rugged hills around Tabuaço that add variety to a hike.
Perhaps the most dramatic views have been on hikes that crest a hill and bring you in front of and above the Douro River, with stunning views on your descent. I’ve experienced this on several days on a couple of the self-guided walking holidays I’ve done with a local tour operator as well as shorter hikes, like the one I did near Ervedosa do Douro.
Perhaps one of the best parts of the trail is the section from Vilarinho das Cotas to the viewpoint at Casal de Loivos then down through the vineyards of Quinta da Roeda and Quinta do Bomfim to Pinhão, although the trail downhill through Quinta das Carvalhas on the opposite hillside is also stunning (see the photo above).
A word of caution about hiking independently in the Douro: signage is generally rubbish and it’s very easy to get lost. Trust me, I have tried and failed to follow marked walking trails on several occasions. That’s why I recommend using a local tour operator, either for a guided hike or a self-guided experience that they have mapped out for you.
If all you want is a short stroll through some vineyards, stay at a quinta (winery hotel) or visit one that allows you to go for a walk, e.g. Quinta do Bomfim or Quinta de la Rosa.
5. Levada walking in Madeira Island
Levada do Rei, an easy half-day linear walk or Vereda dos Balcões for a 1-hour experience with breathtaking views
Levadas are irrigation channels and many of the hiking trails in Madeira follow levadas. The good thing about them is that the watercourses are generally on the level although that doesn’t always mean that the trail is without its challenges, e.g. tunnels and steep drops that are not ideal for vertigo sufferers.
Levada do Rei is a reasonably easy walk with a couple of very short tunnels that we had to crouch through and a tiny waterfall to walk behind (bring a poncho!). The views of the jagged peaks of Madeira’s highest mountains are stunning and the greenery is beautiful throughout the trail.
The levada ends at a small waterfall and pool and surrounded by boulders known as Ribeiro Bonito, which means Pretty Stream. After relaxing by the water for a while, simply turn back and retrace your steps to the start point. It’s 5.3 km / just over 3 miles each way. Here’s the trail information – always check the status of trails before you set off as they may be closed following adverse weather conditions.
Practicalities: You’ll need transport to get to the start point for Levada do Rei so if you don’t have a car, consider this half day Levada do Rei tour which includes transfers from Funchal.
Vereda dos Balcões is a shorter levada walk (1.5 km / 1 mile each way) through a forest with jaw-dropping views of the surrounding peaks at the end. Trail info here.
For more amazing Madeira hikes, see this article: 5 Magical Easy Walks On Madeira Island
6. Paiva Boardwalk and 516 suspension bridge
An 8 km linear boardwalk trail that’s moderately challenging in parts and includes the world’s longest pedestrian suspension bridge
The Paiva Walkways is a walk that I want to return to now that the Arouca 516 suspension bridge has finally opened. I’m not sure I actually want to walk across it but it’s a feat of engineering that is bound to be impressive.
The 8 km (5 mile) wooden walkway along the Paiva River allows you to walk through a beautiful valley that was previously inaccessible on foot. The scenery is delightful and there’s a small river beach around the halfway point at Vau.
When I walked, we started in the village of Espiunca and turned back when we saw the amount of steps to climb the hill at the end. If you’re not planning to walk both directions, I would start from the other end of the boardwalk, i.e. Areínho, so that you walk down those steps rather than up them.
You can read about my experience and see more photos in this article.
To avoid overcrowding on the boardwalk, daily visitor numbers are limited so you need to buy a ticket in advance (€2). If you know you want to walk the suspension bridge, just buy that ticket (€10) as it includes entrance to the Paiva Walkway.
If you don’t have a car, perhaps the easiest way to walk the Paiva Walkway from Areínho to Espiunca is on this guided tour from Porto, which also includes an amazing steak lunch in a local restaurant (or other food if you don’t eat meat).
7. Calçada de Alpujares, Douro International Natural Park
Short, steep and spectacular Roman thoroughfare
Just north of Barca de Alva on the Douro River is a section of what was originally a road paved by Romans – calçada means pavement. The trail through this remote part of Portugal was subsequently used by travelling salesmen, local farmers and all manner of travellers making the journey to the far north of Portugal and into Spain.
The zig-zag section of the Calçada de Alpajares near Riberia do Mosteiro zig-zags through a landscape of fascinating rock formations, with rare birds of prey soaring ahead. Look out for wavy rocks, the result of shifts in tectonic plates millions of years ago, and enjoy the views every time you pause to catch your breath.
It’s only about 1 km but quite challenging, even if you’re fit.
You can extend the walk by following the marked trail for a 9 km circular hike in the area or, as I did, enjoy this special landscape as part of a week-long walking holiday in the Douro International Natural Park and the Côa Valley Archaeological Park.
8. Hike from Serra do Topo to Caldeira de Santo Cristo and Fajã dos Cubres
From the highlands to a volcanic crater on São Jorge island in the Azores
By far the most enjoyable walk that my friend Dori and I did in the Azores was the PR1 trail on the island of São Jorge.
The initial descent led us through hillsides dotted with blue hydrangeas and a section of pretty woodland before we reached Caldeira de Santo Cristo. This is a volcanic crater that has formed an ocean-side lagoon. We took full advantage of the opportunity to break our walk with a refreshing dip and a picnic beside the lake.
The next section is a car-free dirt track between the Caldeira and the beautiful village and nature reserve of Fajã dos Cubres, all backed by lush steep cliffs. There are very few houses on this part of the island, which means that nature reigns supreme.
Read more about our experiences of hiking in São Jorge in this article: Is São Jorge Island The Best Of The Azores?
Practicalities for the São Jorge PR1 walk: It’s a 9.3 km / 5 3/4 mile linear hike so it’s best to arrange for a local taxi to drop you at the start point and pick you up at the end unless you want a long climb back to the start point. Allow 3-4 hours, depending on how long you want to spend at the lagoon and nature reserve. Trail information here.
9.Hike to the schist village of Talasnal in the Lousã Mountains
A circular hiking trail from a pretty sanctuary, through the forest to a mountain village
This is a walk I’ve done several times and I never get bored of it. The official trail starts from the town hall in Lousã in central Portugal but I like to drive to Lousã Castle, park there and follow the trail from the sanctuary of Nossa Senhora de Piedade (Our Lady of Piety).
The narrow path through the woods leads higher and higher, with correspondingly fabulous views, until you reach the schist village of Talasnal. Here, the entire village is constructed of brown slate and, in recent years, many of the abandoned cottages have been restored as holiday cottages or cafés.
Hardly anyone now lives there year-round – it’s very isolated, even with the road that was made a few years ago to connect it with Lousã. But the views are incredible and I like to imagine the lives of the villagers who once inhabited Talasnal.
From the village, you have several trail options and I’ve yet to fully explore them all. I usually head for Casal Novo to bring me back to the sanctuary via a slightly different route.
The route I take is about 3.5 km / just over 2 miles and it’s steep until you reach Talasnal so it takes longer than you might think. Allow around 2-3 hours, depending on how long you want to spend in Talasnal and at the sanctuary and castle. In summer months, there is a river beach below the sanctuary but if it’s warm enough to swim, it’s probably too hot for hiking.
10. Hiking near Lindoso in Peneda-Gerês National Park
A beautiful trail from a mountain village known for its medieval castle and stone grain stores
I did this walk as part of a walking holiday in the Peneda-Gerês National Park and although it’s hard to choose a favourite hike from that trip, this one sticks in my mind for several reasons.
After walking through the ancient village of Lindoso, we followed a track up through the forest before a more gradual climb along a forestry track with wonderful views back down to Lindoso Castle and the grain stores that are clustered around it. The views of the reservoir and dam, as well as the surrounding mountains, are worth turning around for every now and again.
At the end of the forestry track, the views are extensive and memorable as the descent begins. We saw several stone shepherd’s shelters and a few Garrano horses grazing near a remote shrine as well as the long-horned Cachena cows that are typical in this part of Portugal.
The descent ends in the village of Cidadelhe, after which we climbed once more to return to Lindoso via more villages. This trail also includes a short stretch on the fairytale woodland trail of the Trilho dos Moinhos (Watermills Trail) with mossy boulders and a stream with small waterfalls and pools.
While much of this hiking trail follows the GR50 Grande Rota Peneda-Gerês route, the tour operator has made several changes in order to make it more attractive and efficient than the GR50.
If you plan to walk independently in the Peneda-Gerês Nationa Park, read these two articles first to prepare:
If you want recommendations for Portugal hiking guides or tour operators, simply fill out this form and let me know what you’re interested in.
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