Hiking through the countryside, Castro Laboreiro, Peneda-Gerês National Park, Portugal-min

Are you tired of the same old beach vacations and crowded tourist destinations? If you’re looking for a unique and rejuvenating travel experience, why not consider going on a walking holiday in Portugal?

I became a huge fan of multi-day hiking experiences a few years ago when I started walking the Portuguese Camino de Santiago. Since then, I’ve done several amazing walking holidays in Portugal and loved every one of them for a variety of reasons, which I’ll go into below. 

Lovely views while walking downhill after Messines
Lovely views while walking downhill after Messines

As a destination, Portugal is a hidden gem when it comes to walking holidays. With its diverse landscapes, breathtaking coastal cliffs, and charming countryside dotted with authentic villages, it offers a perfect setting for those seeking an active and immersive outdoor vacation. 

Whether you’re a seasoned hiker looking for a reasonably challenging trail in the mountains of the Peneda-Gerês National Park or a more casual walker who wants to keep the daily mileage fairly low and have time and energy for sightseeing or soaking up the local culture, Portugal has something to offer for everyone.

But what is it about walking holidays that make them such a great idea? Read on to discover the benefits, some of which may seem obvious, others perhaps less so.

1. Walking holidays are good for your body

Walking is one of the best forms of low impact physical activity for both your body and mind; it is known to reduce stress, boost your cardiovascular system, improve overall health, and even strengthen your bones. 

I like to keep pretty fit and active but I’m always in better shape when I have a walking holiday to prepare for as it gives me a reason to challenge myself and climb hills I might otherwise avoid.

I feel even better during and immediately after the experience. When I’m training, it’s hard to find the time to walk significant distances on consecutive days. When I’m actually on the walking holiday, I feel noticeably fitter and more energised, especially after the first day or two.

As well as boosting my general fitness and energy levels, getting away from the computer and being active outdoors gives my eyes a much-needed break from screen time. It also eases the discomfort I sometimes feel in my shoulders, neck, wrists and elbows from working all day. 

2. Let your soul be soothed by nature 

We are all part of the natural world and therefore have a natural affinity with it, even if our modern urban lives contrive to keep us separated.

It’s no secret that if you spend time amid greenery and around trees you soon benefit from a range of positives. These include lower blood pressure, lifting of your mood and an always welcome energy boost. 

Alentejo Coast Walking holiday, Portugal
Alentejo Coast Walking holiday, Portugal

These, and other, benefits are amplified when you actively notice the nature surrounding you. Pausing your walk to admire a flower, say hello to a local goat or be wowed by a gorgeous view or sunset is beneficial beyond the specific moment. The positive effects linger in your body and mind.

Exchanging the sounds of the city for birdsong and rustling leaves, punctuated by the occasional rooster, dog or tractor, helps clear your mind, activates your positive emotions and refreshes your spirit.

3.Take the time to slow down and unwind 

Many of us lead busy lives and often find ourselves juggling multiple tasks – I am forever spinning more plates than I can realistically handle. 

On a walking holiday, things are different. There’s no need to rush around, trying to tick things off a never-ending to do list. You can escape from your daily stresses and forget about the constant demands on your time and energy. You could even take the opportunity to disconnect from the world and turn off your mobile phone, although I realise this may be a step too far for some of us. 

The first couple of days may prove challenging if you are always on the go and connected/available for other people but after a while, you can relax into a new-found sense of freedom.

The pace and rhythm of your day is determined by your comfortable walking speed. Instead of spending 30-60 minutes driving between destinations, you are committed to slowing down and spending several hours on foot on a village to village route.

4. See and feel things differently 

When you explore a destination on foot, you are able to notice little details that you would simply whizz past while biking or driving.

In the countryside, there are so many things to marvel at, like spring flowers, a curiously-shaped haystack, the gurgling flow of a stream, and the hypnotic clanging of cow bells. 

Sheep on the Bread and Faith walking trail, Soajo, Peneda-Gerês National Park
Sheep on the Bread and Faith walking trail, Soajo, Peneda-Gerês National Park

Rural Portugal is full of villages where traditional small-scale agricultural practices are still used. It can feel like stepping back in time as well as a thought-provoking eye-opener to see how hard-working locals manage their crops and livestock.

The other side of Ermida, Peneda Gerês National Park, Portugal
The pretty side of Ermida, a village in the Peneda-Gerês National Park

Being on a walking holiday gives you the time and space to take a moment to pause and appreciate these wonders. Greet the people you meet, breathe in the delightful (and sometimes less appealing!) scents, and simply enjoy the sounds around you.

5. Take the time to talk and think 

A walking holiday is a fantastic chance to bond with loved ones. It’s rare to have so much time together so once the catch up conversations are out of the way, you’ll probably find yourselves having deeper, more meaningful conversations. Or having fun and making memories that will last.

3 women walking in the countryside near Santa Mariña, Galicia, Spain
My companions on the Camino de Santiago near Santa Mariña, Galicia, Spain

If things get tough, you can support each other and celebrate your accomplishments, which brings you closer together, especially when you can laugh about it later.

One of the things I most enjoy about walking with friends is that I don’t feel that I have to always be talking. There are also opportunities to be alone with your thoughts and nature while in the company of others. During these more peaceful moments of reflection, I find the ability to think clearly and make decisions becomes easier.

6. Make new friends and connections

When you go on a walking tour in the Portuguese countryside, you will undoubtedly come across local villagers and farm workers. Even if you can’t speak the same language, a friendly greeting and a smile can make everyone’s day better. 

On popular hiking trails like the Camino de Santiago, you will definitely meet other people on the same journey. Walking together and making new friends is one of the best parts of this type of holiday; the camaraderie and shared purpose gives you an immediate conversation opener, making it easy to break the ice. 

Depending on the type of walking holiday and location you choose in Portugal, you may find yourself in the same hotel or restaurant as other walkers, giving you further opportunities to build relationships.

7. Feel the weight of responsibility lift off your shoulders 

One of the biggest advantages of going on an organised walking holiday in Portugal, whether it’s guided or self-guided, is that everything is planned for you. There’s no need to work out where to stay or arrange transfers to trailheads or send your luggage on ahead of you. The local tour operator takes care of all these logistics.

If it’s a self-guided tour, they should also provide you with detailed route notes and clear instructions. If you read them carefully and follow the advice, you should have no trouble finding your way, getting food and drink when you need it and being prepared for any challenges that the day ahead may present.

If anything does go wrong, you can simply call the tour operator to help you out.

All you need to do is come prepared for an unforgettable and extremely rewarding experience.

Complete this enquiry form if you need help finding a suitable tour operator.

8. Discover some amazing scenery

Walking down from Casal de Loivos, Douro Valley
Walking downhill from Casal de Loivos on a Douro Valley Walking Holiday

I’ve mentioned some of the general benefits of walking, many of which can be experienced in a range of countries. But Portugal in particular has tremendous natural resources, ranging from rugged coastlines, expansive vineyards to lush valleys and waterfalls. It’s only a small country but very varied and packed with beauty and serenity, with colour and light.

I’ve written extensively about walking in Portugal. For tips, trails and much more here’s a link to my many walking articles.

Over to you. Please share your thoughts in a comment.