Portugal has many faces: from rough stretches of coast in the south to the green dune landscapes in the north. The location on the Atlantic coast has shaped the land over thousands of years leaving untouched wild coasts and mysterious cities far off the beaten path. Encounter the traditional charm of the country’s seafaring heritage on the volcanic islands of the Azores and stroll amongst beautiful nature in Madeira. Delight your palate at every turn with regional delicacies and specialities.
The land of seafarers and explorers enchants hundreds of kilometres of wild and untouched Atlantic coastline. The stormy waves of the Atlantic are a paradise for water sports enthusiasts, and the small fishing villages, surrounded by vineyards and green mountain landscapes amid ancient treasures, are all waiting to be discovered.
There are beaches for every taste: those looking for relaxation will find deserted sandy beaches in the north and active holidaymakers will find the best water sports conditions, especially in the south-west and in the Centro de Portugal not far from the capital Lisbon.
Beach happiness near the capital
Many capital cities can only dream of Lisbon’s close access to numerous beautiful beaches. A visit to the Portuguese capital can easily be combined with a trip to the beaches of the Costa da Caparica which can be easily reached by car or bus. To avoid the crowded beaches in the vicinity, drive to the southern part of the coast. On the coast of the Serra de Sintra north of Cascais, there are vast expanses of beach and breathtaking settings. Fill up on a fish dish in one of the beach restaurants and watch the waves roll in. Not far from Cabo da Roca is the dune beach Praia do Guincho, a popular spot for surfers.
Portugal’s coast beckons those skilled with a board to its wild waves and stormy surf. Surfers love the waves and stretches of coast that are surrounded by rocks and cliffs. In the winter months the wind is stronger and the waves even higher, which guarantees epic surfing fun. Professional surf schools offer events and courses around the beach of Peniche year-round. The Praia do Baleal Norte is an insider tip and is recommended for more experienced board pirates. The perfect tube waves are located on Praia do Medão and are the scene of major national and international competitions.
Algarve at its finest
The Algarve is Portugal’s most famous holiday region and shows a wide variety of facets. The west coast is known for its immensely beautiful cliffs, where beautiful natural treasures such as the Ponta da Piedade can be found. A boat tour from the water is a great way to explore the spectacular rock formations and caves where small trails lead the way down the cliffs to the beach. The sand-drenched Algarve begins further east, where wide dune landscapes and flat slopes with long white beaches offer pure relaxation. The offshore islands of the Ria Formosa lagoon consist of waterways and small sandbanks and the popular nature reserve, not far from Faro, is home to numerous species of birds.
Portugal’s green coast
In the north lies the beautiful Costa Verde where you’ll find untouched nature and a wide, white sandy beach on the coast, along with forests, rivers and hilly landscapes inland. The second-largest city of Porto can also be found in this area. A trip to the mountains of the Peneda-Gerês National Park is unforgettable; here the Fisgas do Ermelo waterfall flows amid the rugged landscape. Behind shady pine forests, the hinterland stretches with landscaped vineyards and grain fields. On the slopes, there are colourful orchards, wild meadows and rocky hiking trails.
Rocks with a view
The many ‘Cabos’ along the coast of Portugal offer wonderful vantage points. The most famous destination is the Cabo da Roca: the westernmost point of the European mainland. At the time of the Iberian Wars, the fortress on the rock was used as a defence against attacks, and it is here that the brightest lighthouse in Europe watches over the ships in the southwest of the Algarve. The busy sea route at Cabo de São Vicente is famous for its steep cliffs. The red and white lighthouse at Cabo Espichel sits enthroned above the site where dinosaur footprints were once uncovered. Here you will also find the Ermida da Memória chapel and the pilgrimage site with the the Igreja de Nossa Senhora do Cabo baroque church.
Picturesque fishing villages
Off the beaten track fishing villages that continue to deliver traditional charm invite you to while away an afternoon. The whitewashed rows of houses in the middle of quiet alleys in Ferragudo are a true oasis of calm. Fresh fish is still grilled directly at the port or sold on to local restaurants. A particularly colourful fishing village is Costa Nova – where you’ll discover strikingly striped houses, which were once used by fishermen as warehouses and summer houses, lining the beach. In the Alentejo is the picturesque fishing town of Porto Covo with restaurants right on the beach. Surrounded by colourful boats and a small harbour, secluded restaurants offer views of the Atlantic alongside culinary delights.
Far from the mainland, way out in the Atlantic, are the Portuguese islands of Madeira and the Azores. Lush green forests and deep mountain landscapes shape the islands, which have not lost any of their natural beauty. The evergreen archipelago of the Azores consists of nine different Atlantic islands. Mystical crater lakes, mild climate, lush vegetation and fascinating fauna inspire nature lovers and those seeking relaxation. Madeira surprises with colourful markets, historic mansions and churches.
Madeira and the Azores offer a wide variety of leisure activities. The breathtaking landscape can be explored on foot or by bike. Hike through the fascinating mountain ranges or explore the coast from kayaks and paddleboats, where you can discover the many small bays with their waterfalls and deep gorges. Water sports enthusiasts will find the best conditions for diving, surfing and sailing here. With the strong winds of the Atlantic, paragliders also get their money’s worth and enjoy a spectacular view over the mountain peaks. The mild climate is particularly suitable for a game of golf on the renowned courses of the Azores archipelago.
Natural swimming pools
The saltwater basins of Porto Moniz in northwest Madeira are formed from volcanic stone. The natural pools are filled with seawater from the tide and are surrounded by bizarre rock formations. With a view of the stormy ocean, the pools of different sizes offer ideal bathing opportunities – the best place for swimming without strong currents and surf. There is a particularly shallow swimming pool for families with children. A restaurant, sun loungers as well as changing rooms and showers make it a convenient spot. São Miguel in the Azores also has very similar natural lava stone pools near Mosteiros.
Bathing in Porto Santo
Porto Santo is not far from the main island of Madeira. The bathing island is a popular destination for many tourists, as Madeira itself has very few sandy beaches. The forests that once surrounded Porto Santo have long been cleared and no longer regrow, which is why the climate here is drier and rougher. The golden sandy beach has remained as far as the eye can see. Anyone looking for rest, quiet and relaxation is in the right place here. In addition to bathing fun on kilometre-long stretches of beach, there are good conditions for water sports such as surfing and sailing. A first-class inland golf course with fantastic views of the Atlantic and horse riding along the coast are other popular activities.
Garden of Eden
Both in Madeira and in the Azores, nature flourishes in a beautiful variety of colours. Terra Nostra Park is a very popular destination in São Miguel. With its fertile soil, abundance of water, and the crater of a volcano you can expect an enormous variety of plants, including tropical flowers, trees, and bushes. In the Botanical Garden, which is very easy to reach by cable car from Funchal, Madeira displays more than 2,000 species of plants. Other parks near Funchal that are worth seeing are the city park or the natural Parque Municipal do Monte, where bougainvillaea and strelitzia bloom at every turn.
Over 24 different species of whale live in the Atlantic around the Azores. The dwarf sperm whale, the Cuvier’s beaked whale, small schools of dolphins and the predatory killer whales all make a home here. With a bit of luck, you might even come across the gargantuan blue whale. Some whale species live here permanently, others are just passing through. In total, they make up a third of the existing whale species around the world. You can experience magical moments with the majestic animals off the coast of the Azores all year round as many organizers offer guided tours.
Europe’s only tea plantations
The only European tea plantation can be found on the island of São Miguel, where the wavy terraces nestle along the green hilly landscape. Only the top leaves of the green hedge are harvested every two to three weeks, which are called Orange Pekoe, Pekoe and Broken Pekoe – depending on the degree of ripeness. The leaves are then processed into tea in the Chá Gorreana tea factory. During the harvest season between April and October, the factory offers guided tours and tastings in the Manufaktur-Café. In addition to the green and black teas, culinary delicacies such as matcha ice cream or pastries are served.
Adventure through Nature
Of course, the hospitality of the Portuguese and the flavours of the country’s cuisine go without saying, but it is Portugal’s nature that truly shines. Here are some of the best ways to experience the mainland and islands by hiking, canyoning, paragliding, or biking.
Hiking on the Rota Vicentina
One of the best routes is the Rota Vicentina, along the west coast of the Algarve and the Alentejo to Cabo de São Vicente. The Caminho Historico (historical path) leads 230 kilometres from Santiago do Cacém through the centre, which can also be tackled by bike. The shorter route is the trilho dos Pescadores (fisherman’s path) along the shore and, due to its height, is only suitable for walking adventures. The viewpoints are roughly 25 kilometres long and offer enough time to completely immerse yourself in the landscape. If you have less time, you can go on a day trip on one of the circular trails, e.g., at Carrapateira, where the beach of Bordeira beckons.
Paragliding in the Azores
The Azores were named Europe’s leading adventure tourism destination in 2020 and it’s easy to see why. The nine islands are not only world-class when it comes to diving and surfing, but on land, there is lush nature, well-developed hiking trails and crater lakes. You can see it even better in a paraglider, where you’ll get a bird’s eye view over the beaches and steep slopes of the coast, or even in a flight over the volcanic craters of Furnas, the famous Lagoa de Fogo and the Sete Cidades on São Miguel. Flights to Santa Maria are suitable for beginners, but Terceira is also one of the top islands for paragliding flights with its view of the blue expanse.
Canyoning in Madeira
Canyoning is about experiencing a narrow watercourse up close. You rappel down the river, right next to imposing waterfalls, climb, jump, slide, paddle, and swim, overcoming obstacles for an adrenaline-fuelled adventure. In the summer months, the rivers on the northern slopes such as the Ribeiro Frio are better suited for canyoning
Bike tour on the Ecovia do Litoral
From east to west, the Ecovia do Litoral crosses the Algarve for 214 kilometres, from the furthest point of Europe, the Cabo de São Vicente, to Vila Real de Santo António. The cliffs at Sagres, which overlook the open ocean, are the starting point of the route that takes you all the way to Lagos. In the second stage, you cross the lagoons of Ria de Alvor and in the third section, you meet cities such as Albufeira and Faro. Near Faro, the Ria Formosa Nature Park is a natural wonder; a protected area made up of barrier islands and peninsulas and is home to diverse species. The tour comes to a close with Tavira, the city of 37 churches and the beaches of Alagoa or Manta Rota, where you can ditch the bike and swap to your bathing suit.
Serra da Estrela
The “Star Mountains” in the east of central Portugal are the highest mountains on the Portuguese mainland and are a protected nature park. Throughout the 375 kilometres you can hike along the great rivers of Portugal, surrounded by deep green valleys. On the “Rota das 25 Lagoas” you get to the bottom of 25 refreshing lakes and in winter you can even take your skis with you, as the only ski area in Portugal is located on the Torre. You can even take to the skies with a paraglider flight over Linhares da Beira.
Playing golf around Lisbon
The area around Lisbon is ideal for golfing holidays thanks to the mild climate and landscapes; it has already twice been awarded as the best golf travel destination in Europe. Demanding architects designed the courses south of Lisbon, such as the Quinta do Peru Golf Course with the Serra da Arrábida mountains as a backdrop. West of Lisbon, at the historic Estoril Golf Course, you can emulate Ballesteros and prove your technique on the course. Further towards Sintra, at the foot of the mountains lies the Pestana Beloura golf course.
The Centro region impresses with its diversity: here you can experience architecture from as far back as the Middle Ages. Feel the oriental flair in Tavira or stroll through the picturesque alleys of Óbidos. Explore the cradle of Portugal in Guimarães or visit the famous hospital ship ‘Gil Eanes’.
Tavira – oriental flair
In Tavira you’ll find gleaming white houses between a network of alleys and one of the most beautiful bridges in Portugal; this small town at the mouth of the Rio Gilão is perfect for a stroll. The legacy of the Moors brings Eastern influences everywhere you look. In the evenings, events and theatre performances take place in the old market hall of the Jardim do Coreto. Around the Praça da República, the old town exudes charm with its cafes and restaurants. High up you’ll find the castle and the Igreja de Santa Maria church, which was built in honour of the liberation of Tavira by the seven knights of the Order of Santiago on the site of the former mosque.
Évora – historical architecture
The town of Évora in the Alentejo wine region is an ideal travel destination for foodies and connoisseurs. It is surrounded by olive groves, vineyards, and the famous cork oak forests. The most important cork producer in the world is also known for its culinary highlights: tasty ham and delicious red wine are served in abundance. The city is also a UNESCO World Heritage Site so you’ll discover impressive historical buildings, such as the Roman temple, the Gothic cathedral, the medieval Jesuit monastery and the Renaissance palace.
Óbidos – a look back in time
The town of Óbidos is surrounded by walls built in the Middle Ages, and a walk around it provides spectacular views. The Castelo de Óbidos has now been converted into a guest house, and every summer a medieval market is hosted in the town square, alongside food and music from the era which is now one of the city’s main attractions. Just outside the city centre, you’ll find the historic aqueduct which also dates from the early Middle Ages and was traditionally used to transport water from Usseira.
Guimarães – the cradle of Portugal
The historic town of Guimarães is considered the heart of Portugal and is the birthplace of the first king. The historical legacy is everywhere, in the many sights and monuments of the charming city, which is another World Heritage Site. The city centre is characterized by Gothic-style houses, framed by open spaces with cafes, restaurants and small green areas. In Largo da Oliveira square you’ll find the Padrão do Salado Gothic shrine and the beautiful Nossa Senhora da Consolação church. The aristocratic residence Casa Mota Prego and the palaces Vila Flor and Toural give Guimarães are majestic buildings to gaze upon.
Viana do Castelo – cultural heritage
Viana do Castelo is located in the north on the Costa Verde directly at the mouth of the Lima River in the Atlantic. From the Santa Lucia Basilica, you can enjoy a breath-taking view of the city and the ocean. The main square Praça da República is a few hundred meters from the Museu do Traje and the Museu Municipal, where you can admire the filigree gold jewellery for which the city is known. The famous hospital ship ‘Gil Eanes’ is moored in the harbour here.
Viseu – sacred art
The beautiful city of Viseu lies on a plateau surrounded by two rivers. It is known, among other things, for its wine from the Dão area and has been awarded the Quercus environmental prize for nature conservation. The imposing cathedral Sé de Viseu and the church Misericórdia form the city’s skyline. The medieval architecture, palaces and churches, the green squares and parks and the historical monuments testify to the diverse nature of the city, making Viseu a must for holidaymakers!
Angra do Heroísmo – strategic port city
When travelling to the Azores, a visit to Angra do Heroísmo is a must. The strategically located port city was formerly an intermediate stop for ships on the way to America or India and, as a UNESCO World Heritage Site, with its well-preserved old town centre and the two striking church buildings, Sé Cathedral and Igreja da Misericórdia is one of the oldest places in the Azores. Take a stroll past the lively Praça Velha and Jardim Duque Park up to the Alto da Memória Obelisk. Up here you can expect a fantastic view over the roofs of Angras and over Monte Brasil, formerly a volcano in the south of the island.