Located on the Iberian Peninsula, Portugal is a southern European country neighboring Spain. The coast along the Atlantic Ocean is home to many areas that are popular tourist destinations, especially The Algarve along the south coast of Portugal. Lisbon, the country's capital, is also a popular tourist destination. From the 1500s to the 1800s, Portugal was a powerful maritime empire, and a lot of the nation's architecture date back to these times. If this is your destination, you will find plenty of activities and attractions to fill your time and have an enjoyable experience. Here are the 20 best things to do in Portugal for first-timers to help you get the most out of your visit.
20. Take a Train Ride Across the 25th April Bridge
One of the most distinctive landmarks in Lisbon is the 25th April Bridge. This suspension bridge spans the Tagus River, and it has the biggest span in Europe. According to The Crazy Tourist, there is no walkway on this bridge, but you can drive or take a train across. From the bridge, there are excellent views of the city and the river.
19. Visit the Municipal Museum
A fascinating museum to visit is the Municipal Museum in Lagos. The main exhibit in this museum is a collection of archaeological pieces from the Algarve region. There is also a model of Algarve village and a collection of cultural memorabilia, including arts and crafts pieces. You should check out the Igreja de Santo Antonio, which is filled with gilt decoration, and the Opus Vermiculatum Roman Mosaic.
18. Explore Ria Formosa Natural Park
Located in the Algarve region of Portugal, the Ria Formosa Natural Park was created to protect the Algarve's marshlands' unique ecosystems. It consists of a large lagoon and 60 kilometers of coastline. The landscape is varied, with sand dunes, salt pans, lakes, small inlets, and marshes. Throughout the park, there are viewing platforms where you can watch wildlife. It is also a fantastic place to visit if you enjoy birdwatching.
17. Visit Evora to See Archaeological Landmarks
Evora is a town in the Alentejo region of Portugal, and it is famous for its Roman ruins. The most significant of these is the Temple of Diana, and the ruins are in surprisingly good condition considering their age. When you have seen the Roman ruins, you should go to the Igreja de Sao Francisco, which is home to the Chapel of Bones. Then, you can spend some time strolling through Evora to see traditional Portuguese architecture.
16. Admire the Art at the Museu Calouste Gulbenkian
If you are an art lover, then one of the best attractions to include in your itinerary is a visit to the Museu Calouste Gulbenkian. As its name suggests, this art museum was founded by Calouste Gulbenkian as part of his last will. The museum boasts an impressive and diverse collection that includes Hermitage paintings, Greco-Roman art, and European illuminated manuscripts. There are also special collections that showcase unique pieces from Gulbenkian's personal collection.
15. Take a Trip to the Azores to Enjoy the Water at Furnas Lake
The Azores is a tiny chain of islands just off the coast of Portugal that is popular with tourists as they are easily accessible on a boat trip. One of the most visited spots in the Azores is Furnas Lake, which is adjacent to three magnificent caldera lakes and multiple geothermal pools. The lake is the perfect setting for some water-based activities, such as canoeing. There is also a hiking trail around the lake with terrain that isn't too challenging and offers terrific views of the lake.
14. See the Aquatic Life at the Oceanario de Lisboa
A fantastic attraction for all the family is the Oceanario de Lisboa, the largest indoor aquarium in Europe. It was established in1998. The enormous main aquarium contains over five million liters of water. It is divided into four marine habitats, and you will see a diverse range of fish and marine life. In addition to the aquatic creatures, the aquarium is also home to birds, mammals, and amphibians.
13. Stroll Around the Mosteiro dos Jeronimos
Strolling around the Mosteiro dos Jeronimos is one of the most peaceful activities you can enjoy in Portugal. It is an ornate monastery located in the Belem district of Lisbon that was built in the 16th-century. In the 1980s, it was designated as a UNESCO World Heritage Site. Visitors can explore all aspects of the monastery, including the refectory, altar, and cloister.
12. Visit the Palaces of Sintra
If you stay in Lisbon during your vacation in Portugal, then one of the best places to go for a day trip is Sintra. A highlight of visiting Sintra is the three palaces, all of which are open to the public. These are the Regaleira, Pena, and Royal Palaces. Once you have visited all the palaces, there is plenty more to explore in this town. You should see Moorish Castle, enjoy the nature parks, and take a stroll through the town's historic center.
11. Go to the Bom Jesus do Monte Sanctuary
Just outside Braga, you will find the Bom Jesus do Monte. It is a religious sanctuary perched on top of a hill, and it consists of a church and gardens. There is a beautiful staircase leading up the hill to the sanctuary, or you can take a scenic ride in the funicular. However, it is worth making an effort to either ascend or descend the stairs because there are exciting things to see on each landing.
10. Explore the Douro Valley
Although Porto is where the port is aged, bottled, and stored, most of the wineries that produce port are located in the Douro Valley, which is the oldest demarcated wine region in the world. Some of the wineries are open for tours, but the valley is still worth visiting even if you are not interested in the port's production due to its spectacular scenery.
9. Spend Time on the Beaches in the Algarve
The beautiful Atlantic coast of Portugal has many amazing beaches, but the best place to spend time on the beach is in the Algarve. This is the southernmost region of Portugal, and one of the most popular tourist destinations in the country. You can spend time relaxing on the beach, enjoy the amazing climate, admire the sea views, and take a scenic stroll. Not only are there stunning beaches in this part of the country, but the coast also boasts beautiful waters and hidden coves. You can spend time in the water swimming or enjoying watersports, and exploring the coves is a lot of fun.
8. Tour Lisbon on the Historic Tram 28
As Lisbon is the capital of Portugal, it is home to some of the country's most important landmarks and attractions. One of the best and fastest ways to view these landmarks and to see the various styles of architecture in the city is to take the historic Tram 28. This tram takes you through several of the city's neighborhoods and passes many significant landmarks and buildings.
7. Enjoy a Night of Portuguese Folk Music
The folk music of Portugal, called Fado, is unique and an important part of Portuguese culture. There are two styles of folk music that are named after the cities in which they were founded. The Coimbra style is upbeat, while the Lisbon style Fado is mournful. While you are in Portugal, you should take the chance to listen to this folk music. There are many bars and restaurants in the main cities that have live Fado performances to enjoy.
6. Learn About Port Production
As port is one of the best-known exports from Portugal, Trip Savvy recommends taking a tour of the cellars of some of the country's port producers. Although most of the wineries are located in the Douro Valley, the aging, bottling and storing are done in Porto. There are many producers who open their cellars for visitors to tour, and you can learn about the production process. You can then sample some of the goods yourself. If you do not make it out to Porto, then you can also sample various forms of port at the Solar da Vinho da Porto tasting room in Lisbon.
5. Admire Clerigos Church and Tower
Clerigos Church and Tower is one of the symbols of Porto. The church was built between 1732 and 1750, and it was one of Portugal's first Baroque churches. Its seaside setting is reflected in its façade, which has carvings of garlands and seashells. The granite bell tower, which was completed in 1763 in a Roman Baroque style, is the most iconic part of the structure as it stands at 245 feet. Visitors can climb to the top of the tower, which involves embarking on a climb of 225 steps. From the sixth floor at the top of the tower, visitors can enjoy views over the city, the Atlantic coast, and across the Douro River.
4. Go to St. George's Castle
There are many castles in Portugal, but one of the best known and most impressive is Castelo de Sao Jorge, or St. George's Castle. This iconic landmark in the Alfama district of Lisbon was originally constructed in the 6th century, but little remains of the original structure. Following the 1147 re-conquest of Lisbon by King Afonso Henriques, the castle was redeveloped. The castle sits on the waterfront, so it offers over the Tagus River and Lisbon from its fortified walls and turrets. Visitors can explore the grounds and see the fortified ramparts, of which there are 11 remaining of the original 18. It is also possible to climb the Tower of Ulysses and look at the views through a gigantic periscope.
3. Visit the Monument to the Discoveries
Along the Tagus River and close to Belem Tower, you will find the Monument of Discoveries. During the 15th and 16th centuries, boats would depart from this spot and ser out on journeys to Asia. The monument was constructed in 1940 for the Portuguese World Fair, and it was intended to celebrate the Age of Discovery in Portugal. In 1960, the monument was inaugurated, and it became a Cultural Center of Discovery in 1985. Inside, 33 sculptures depict important historical figures, including monarchs, missionaries, artists, and explorers. The monument is also home to a museum that has some fascinating exhibitions. From the museum's rooftop, you can enjoy panoramic views of the Tagus River and across Lisbon. You should also check out the pavement outside the monument, as there is a marble wind rose with a world map showing the locations of Portuguese explorations.
2. Climb Belem Tower
Belem Tower is one of the most significant landmarks in Portugal, and it is considered a symbol of the country's maritime glory. This stone fortress sits in Belem, which is a leafy precinct along the River Tagus. The tower was built between 1514 and 1519, and it is a UNESCO World Heritage Site. Visitors can climb the tower to enjoy the views, and take a look in the dungeons that were once a military prison.
Explore Arrabida Natural Park
According to Viator, the best thing to do in Portugal for first-timers is to explore Arrabida Natural Park. It is a vast park that stretches along the Portuguese coast between the towns of Setubal and Sesimbra. It consists of golden beaches, green hillsides, forests of pine trees, and cliffs. The area is full of natural beauty, regardless of whether you spend time at the beaches of Porthino da Arrabida or climb to the summit of Serra da Arrabida to enjoy the views. There are multiple hiking trails through the park, and this is the best way to explore the area.
Written by Liz Flynn
Read more posts by Liz Flynn