Sao Jorge Castle and Baixa, Lisbon. Par of a 14 day Portugal itinerary

What makes Portugal such a great place for a vacation? Why visit Portugal when the rest of Europe has so much to offer? Is it the beautiful beaches or historic monuments? Or maybe it’s because of its friendly locals who welcome tourists from around the globe.

Whatever the attraction is, visiting Portugal is certainly growing in popularity and winning awards left, right and centre.

Portugal’s natural beauty, warm weather, and welcoming culture have attracted visitors for many years and its rich history, stunning landscapes, and vibrant cities continue to win hearts and minds.

Facade including pool sculptures at Queluz National Palace,Sintra, Lisbon district, Portugal
Queluz National Palace,Sintra, Lisbon district, Portugal

Tip: If you’ve never been to Portugal, read my 25 Essential Tips For Your First Trip To Portugal for all of the information you’ll need to make your trip go smoothly.

It’s important for all of us to consider what impact our travels have on the environment. Read my post on Sustainability Tourism in Portugal for things to take into account when planning a trip.

Without further ado, here are 15 excellent reasons to visit Portugal.

1. The distinctive vibe of its charismatic cities

Yes, Lisbon and Porto are the two must see’s for bigger city lovers but there’s a growing awareness of the many other fabulous cities in Portugal, each with their own character.

Coimbra, in central Portugal, is perfectly located between Lisbon and Porto and boasts of one of the most ancient universities in Europe as well as a more laid back, open feel. The former capital of the Portuguese nation it is often refered to as the City of Knowledge.

Santa Barbara Gardens, Braga. Photography by Julie Dawn Fox
Santa Barbara Gardens, Braga

Alternatively, you could spend a day on the canals and waterways of Aveiro, or visiting some of its fascinating museums.

In the north of Portugal you have the historical cities of Braga, with the oldest cathedral in Portugal, and Guimarães, the medieval city known as the birthplace of Portugal.

The queen of the Alentejo region is Évora, surrounded by megalithic stone monuments and home to a particularly well-preserved Roman Temple as well as other architectural starts like the 15th century aqueduct and the creepy Chapel of Bones.

Capital city of the ever popular Algarve region, Faro boasts an international airport and access to the fabuous beaches and towns along the coast as well as Roman heritage and a delightful historical centre.

Let’s not forget the islands of Madeira, with its capital Funchal, Portugal’s 6th largest city. It’s one of Portugal’s main tourist attractions with it’s subtropical Mediterranean climate.

Traditional buildings, Funchal, Madeira
Traditional buildings, Funchal, Madeira

2. There are tons of pretty towns in Portugal

With just a little effort to prise yourself away from the usual tourist hotspots, you’ll find plenty of delightful towns waiting to be explored, like these, to name but a few:

The oldest town in Portugal, Ponte de Lima, is full of history and legends, such as Roman soldiers refused to cross the beautiful river believing their memories would be wiped clean if they did so. This pretty riverside town has gardens and cute squares galore.

Tomar, the small yet fascinating town in Central Portugal with a UNESCO monument that was the headquarters of the Knights Templar. 2023 sees the return of the famous Tomar Tray Festival in July.

Located in Eastern Algarve, Tavira is unspoilt and laid-back compared to its neighbours but its history and culture makes it an Algarvian town not to miss.

Looking along bridge, tourists walk along bridge in Tavira, Portugal
Tourists walk along bridge in Tavira, Portugal

And, of course, there’s the magical town of Sintra with it’s out-of-this-world palaces, all an eclectic mish-mash of architectural design and fantasy.

3. Portuguese villages are full of charm

Portuguse villages are full of history and charm, tradition and legends.

The small village of Monsanto is constructed around huge boulders. This boulder-strewn landscape is one of the locations for the prequel to Game of Thrones, House of the Dragon and therfore the most famous of the 12 official Historical Villages of Portugal.

The schist villages in Central Portugal will remind you of ages long gone, with small houses made from rust-coloured slate hundled together. Cerdeira has its own annual arts festival and a walk to Talasnal is satisfying beyond words if you can handle the steep hills.

Renovated schist cottage with blue windows, Foz d'Egua
Renovated schist cottage with blue windows, Foz d’Egua

There are medieval villages, with castles and stone cottages, especially near the border with Spain, such as Mértola and Monsaraz.

4. There are hundreds of great hiking trails in Portugal

There are a growing number of people who enjoy hiking on vacation and the natural beauty of the Portuguese countryside lends itself perfectly to this pursuit.

There are hundreds of hiking trails in Portugal to choose from, depending on whether you’re looking for a short, easy stroll, taking a self-guided walking holiday in the Douro wine region or the Peneda-Gerês National Park, or even walking the Portuguese Camino.

The Portuguese landscape is so varied and beautiful that whatever type of scenery and terrain appeals to you, from easy-going to challenging, you’ll find it here.

Read this article on What You Need To Know When Hiking In Portugal.

Hiking in the Douro Valley, Portugal
Hiking in the Douro Valley, Portugal

5. It’s a great destination for nature lovers

You can experience nature at its fullest when you visit Portugal’s natural parks. Gaze out over the wild Atlantic from Litoral Norte Natural Park in the north and see wild birds nesting in the long grasses.

Or explore lagoons, wetlands and the endless sands of the Ria Formosa way down in the south.

Dori on the Shepherd's Route, Penhas da Saude, Serra da Estrela
Penhas da Saude, Serra da Estrela

Maybe visit the largest mountain range in the country, the Serra da Estrela, with its crystal clear lakes and forests intermingled amongst the mountains.

The Arrábida Natural Park is just south of Lisbon and has a wealth of hidden coves and other treasures. The Peneda-Gerês National Park in the north is vast and varied and the islands of Madeira and the Azores are a paradise for outdoor enthusiasts.

If you want to get off-the-beaten-track and experience authentic Portugal then spending time in one of the natural parks is joyous.

6. 17 UNESCO World Heritage sites and counting

A World Heritage site is a monument, landmark or area recognised by UNESCO for having cultural, historical, scientific or other form of significance and it’s no surprise that Portugal boasts a few of them.

What you may be surprised about is that, as of 2022, it has 17 of these sites with another 19 on what’s called a ‘tentative’ list.

Alcobaça monastery. Photography by Mark Benham
Alcobaça monastery, a UNESCO Heritage Site

Some you may have heard of, like the Tower of Belem in Lisbon, or the cultural landscape of Sintra. Others maybe not so well known such as Prehistoric Rock Art Sites in the Côa Valley or the border town of Elvas.

Sites waiting in the background to be acknowledged are the levadas of Madeira and the walled enclosure of the Barefoot Carmelite monks in Bussaco National Forest.

The diversity of these UNESCO World Heritage sites in Portugal will continue to be an attraction for all future visitors.

7. There are countless beautiful beaches

Coastline on the Rota Vicentine near Almograve, Alentejo, Portugal
Coastline on the Rota Vicentine near Almograve, Alentejo, Portugal

No matter what kind of beach you’re after Portugal is sure to satisfy. With it’s huge coastline you can find beaches that are perfect for walking, lounging, swimming and everything else in between.

The Algarve is well known for its beautiful beaches such as Praia Dona Ana in Lagos but the whole Portuguese coast offers a diverse range.

Praia da Samoqueira in the Alentejo has steep cliffs and amazing rock formations; Praia de Afife in the north shows off the unspoilt Costa Verde coastline perfectly.

Of course, it’s also surfers paradise with the record breaking waves of Nazare and the surfers haven of Ericeira.

For more information read this article about the Best Beaches In Portugal.

8. The Portuguese know how to party

The Portuguese really enjoy having a good time so unless you’re crowd-averse, one of the things you must try and experience is one of their many festivals.

Participants at the Iberian Mask Festival, Lisbon
Iberian Mask Festival, Lisbon

These events come in all shapes and sizes from the International Iberian Masks Festival, where participants adorn masks and costumes made from colourful heavy woollen quilts, to food festivals that celebrate all manner of goodies, including cheese, wine, smoked meats, cherries, chocolate and even parsnips!

Here are some more examples of Weird and Wonderful Portuguese Festivals.

9. Adventures await in the Azores and Madeira islands

Not only has the Portuguese mainland got so much going for it but venture into the Atlantic Ocean and you’ll find the archipelagos of the Azores and Madeira islands.

Waterfall in Madeira with rees and rocks
Waterfall in Madeira.

Madeira, the best known of these, is a paradise with it’s subtropical climate and magnificent mountains. The abundance of colourful flowers is celebrated each year in the Madeira Flower Festival and the main island is renowned for its hiking trails, many of whihc are along irrigation channels called levadas.

The Azores is made up of 9 islands and is home to Pico mountain, the tallest in the whole of Portugal. From the top you can see some of the other islands, such as Sao Jorge and Faial. São Miguel island is the largest and is home to several stunning lakes, hot springs and even tea plantations.

Although the islands are small there, is so much to see and do, from eating food cooked underground at a steamy lakeside caldera in Furnas to exploring Madeira on a motor-bike and sidecar.

10. Portuguese food is lip-smackingly good

Every country is proud of its cuisine and Portugal is no different. One of the many highlights is the abundance of fresh seafood but perhaps the most popular Portuguese food is bacalhau (dried salted cod).

There’s also the many delicious cheeses, cakes, meat and petiscos (Portuguese snacks) available, often with a local twist.

Seafood platter, Zambujeira do Mar
Seafood platter, Zambujeira do Mar

The cost of meals often surprise visitors. It is quite easy to get a three-course meal, including drinks, for a relatively modest price.

If you’re not sure which local food you should try when you visit Portugal, take a look at this post.

11. Portugal has world-class wines

Wine tasting, Quinta dos Murças, Douro Valley rivate tour
Wine tasting, Quinta dos Murças, Douro wine region

People often say that one of the most surprising delights when visiting Portugal is the quality of the wines. The fortified port wines are famous the world over but there are many other delightful wines to try.

Many of the outstanding ones are produced in special denominated wine regions like the Douro and Alentejo, Dão and Vinho Verde.

As well as wines, there are many other alcoholic beverages to try. There are liqueurs such as Licor Beirão and ginjinha (cherry brandy), flavours that will stay with you and cocktails to die for.

As a beer connoisseur, my husband will definitely vouch for the rise in craft beers over the past few years, too!

For more insight into the most popular Portuguese drinks, read this article.

12. Portugal is a great destination at any time of year

Another huge attraction for the visitor is Portugal’s weather. Due to its Mediterranean climate it has mild temperatures all year round with some parts of the country boasting over 300 days of sunshine a year. 

That said, it’s important to do your homework when figuring out what to pack. Evenings can get unexpectedly chilly and the weather can be quite changeable outside the summer months. Layers are the key.

Temperatures during summer can get searing so, for some activities ie hiking, it’s often best to take a vacation during the cooler months.

Read this post for the best time to visit Portugal.

The islands of Madeira and Azores can get hotter and wetter due to their location.

Cattle on side of road. Before the storm. Weather in the Azores, Portugal
Before the storm. Weather in the Azores, Portugal

13. It’s safe and welcoming

Most Portuguese people pride themselves on their hospitality to the point where it’s considered a national trait. Time and time again you’ll hear stories of helpfulness, kindness and a shared pride in their country as their host. Of course, every now and then you may experience something negative but this is the exception rather than the rule.

A part of this friendliness goes hand in hand with how safe you feel here.

The Global Peace Index 2022 puts Portugal as the sixth safest country in the world.

One of the things I noticed when I first arrived in Portugal was how safe I felt as a woman on my own. Obviously, it’s common sense to avoid dimly lit streets at night and some dodgy parts of the city but, overall I feel secure.

A word of warning: Portugal’s crime rates are very low but pickpockets are active in busy places. It’s important to keep your wits about you in major cities and tourist spots, particularly on public transport and flea markets.

Market in the park, Tavira
Street market, Tavira

14. Golf-lovers are spoilt for choice

The Portuguese claim their country is the most sought-after golfing destination in the world and with almost 2 million rounds played on fewer than 90 courses you can see why.

From a golfers point of view the quality of courses in fantastic places is a key part of what keeps bringing them back.

Alto golf course, western Algarve
Alto golf course, western Algarve

The Algarve boasts of more than 40 courses and because of the good all year round weather it’s a golfers paradise. There’s an extensive network of courses around Lisbon, Northern Portugal, the Silver Coast and the Portuguese islands of Madeira and Azores.

Many golfers take the opportunity to combine their love of golf with exploring the local culture and enjoying Portuguese cuisine.

15. It’s easy to travel around Portugal

Because of the size of the country, getting around Portugal is relatively straightforward.

Hiring a car allows you the opportunity to venture out and discover the real Portugal. If you’re based in Lisbon or Porto, public transport is ideal if you’re staying within the city but a car may be useful when you’re ready to leave the city.

Visitors may feel a little apprehensive about driving here for a variety of reasons but once you’ve been behind the wheel for a few hours you’ll find the emptiness of many of the roads a welcome relief. See my tips for driving in Portugal.

If you’re looking for car hire I recommend Discovercars and Rentalcars for finding the best deals.

There’s a fast and efficient rail service between the major hubs with the Alpha and Intercidade trains being comfortable and reasonably priced.

Things do get a little slower away from the major towns. Here you’ll find yourselves on the Regional train services which usually means stopping at many local stations. However, if you’re in no rush why not sit back and enjoy the scenery!

Rede Expressos is the main long-distance bus carrier in Portugal and, depending on the area, provides an extensive, comfortable and cheap way to travel. Flixibus also provide good coverage.

So the only question left is: When are you coming to Portugal?!

Take a look at my post on why I believe it’s important to consult a travel expert when planning your trip.

If you need help planning your trip, take a look at the ways in which I offer support.

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4 Comments

  1. Food and Wine: The wines, both white and red, were fantastic! I ordered table wine and was never disappointed. Food in higher-end restaurants was very good; there I had bacalhau, which was wonderful (I’d been a little apprehensive about it). I had salmon twice and it was amazing. In “regular” restaurants, I wasn’t so impressed. Octopus, some kind of white fish and others were OK. I had sardines 5 times and thoroughly dislike it. (I know – that must be sacrilegious to the Portuguese!) I knew vegetables weren’t much used, so I was prepared for that. There’s a ubiquitous pale yellow soup that was OK, and in one higher-end restaurant it was very tasty. My complaint about the food is that largely it’s not very tasty; they don’t seem to use herbs and I found most dishes to be lack-luster. It seemed to be peasant food…I don’t mean that in a negative way…it’s simple, basic and unadorned. They are very generous with servings, though, and I often left food on my plate. Oh…and “chicken salad” is nothing like what Americans are accustomed to…it’s a big bowl of cooked chicken (tasty enough) with maybe a tiny bit of vegetable as garnish, far too much meat for one person to consume in one meal.

    1. Author

      Hi Candace, I’m not a fan of sardines or ‘orange soup’ either – it’s a shame that good quality soup isn’t as common as it could and should be. As for the lack of herbs and spices, I think that’s part of the appeal, that the flavours of the ingredients speak for themselves. As with all things, it depends on where you eat and knowing what to ask for. I hope you come back and have a better foodie experience next time.

  2. Actually I didn’t find Portuguese food that great, to me it is quite monotonous (rice, pasta, potatoes, repeat), with not enough vegetables. What is tasty is also quite unhealthy, so as a result of sampling the various cheeses and breads and pastries my cholesterol is now the highest it’s ever been, now I have to go back to the diet I was observing in Canada, but that too is not easy because of the limited variety of fresh greens and vegetables…
    One thing I was really, really surprised at was the fact that the Portuguese don’t seem to use dill in their cooking and don’t seem to eat corn on the cob.

    1. Author

      Hi Cristian, the vegetables thing can be a challenge when you’re eating out but there are workarounds. Most Portuguese get their veggie fix through the ubiquitous soup starter although I do like greens on my plate. Dill isn’t a thing here, you’re right and corn is used for making broa or animal feed. I guess it’s just a different strain of corn that’s not so nice for eating off the cob.

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