Livreria Lello
Photograph: Courtesy CC/Flickr/JoseLubilbo

The 22 best things to do in Portugal

A gorgeous rectangle of land between the sea, the mountains and the plains, the finest stuff to see and do in Portugal awaits


Portugal is a wonderful place. A gorgeous geographical position helps, and this little slice of magic between Spain and the Atlantic Ocean certainly makes the most of its location. Lively cities like Porto and Lisbon stand tall at the top, while the country’s array of beaches, mountains, quaint villages and ancient traditions make for a destination that ticks almost all the boxes.

Spread between the continent and two idyllic archipelagos in the middle of the ocean, the best things to do in Portugal have travellers swooning all year round. The incredible food and delectable wine are the delicious cherries on this most magnificent cake.

🏖 The best beaches in Portugal
🇵🇹 The best things to do in Lisbon
🍷 The best things to do in Porto

Best things to do in Portugal

1. Take a picture of the Sete Cidades lagoon in São Miguel

Get ready for one of Portugal's Seven Natural Wonders and the highlight of every Azores-themed postcard, calendar or computer background. Conquer the blue waters (or are they green?) and become a tiny dot in all those pictures taken from the Vista do Rei viewpoint.

2. Enter one of the world’s most beautiful bookstores

Some say J.K. Rowling took inspiration from it for her Harry Potter books, and international media call it one of the most beautiful on the planet. They are not mistaken. Visiting Porto's Livraria Lello is a rite of passage for any book-loving traveller.


3. Ride the cable car down to the Fajã dos Padres in Madeira

What may look like a descent into hell is actually a trip to paradise. There you will find an estate owned by the same family since 1921 and a grape variety once believed to be lost to phylloxera, the Malvasia. You absolutely should have lunch at the restaurant, led by Amândio Gonçalves.

4. Grab a Francesinha at Santiago’s

Prepare to wait in the queue for a seat at Santiago. Is it worth it? Yes. Especially when it’s a matter of eating Porto’s best francesinha, with a delicious sauce accentuating everything; expect mortadella with green pepper, nice and spicy linguiça sausage, a thin steak with little fat, lots of cheese melted over it and an egg on top.


5. Eat top-notch seafood at Ramiro’s

Ramiro is the best-known seafood restaurant in Lisbon and always has a queue out the door, but it’s worth the wait. Make sure you try the Bulhão Pato clams (cooked in olive oil, garlic and coriander), the barnacles or the tiger shrimp.

6. Climb to the highest point in continental Portugal

With or without snow, the Serra da Estrela mountain range is well worth a visit. Climb to the highest point in continental Portugal, 1993 metres tall, and sleep in a former sanatorium converted into a hotel by Pritzker award-winning Portuguese architect Eduardo Souto Moura, the famous Pousada da Serra da Estrela.


7. Go to a Portuguese restaurant with two Michelin stars

Headed by the Portuguese chef José Avillez, Belcanto is a sensorial and authentic dining experience worthy of its two Michelin Stars. For a smaller budget but banging food nevertheless, try Bairro do Avillez. 

8. Fall in love with a Portuguese hot dog in Porto

Imagine the following; a thin toasted bun with a filling of sausage and melted cheese, sprinkled with butter and a spicy sauce and then cut up into little pieces. That’s what you’ll find when you sit at the counter at the Cervejaria Gazela, in the Batalha neighbourhood, Porto. Delicious.


9. Go horse riding in Gerês

Take the Soajo entrance and search for the Mezio Horse Riding Centre, where professional jockeys will take you on a ride through one of Portugal's most beautiful nature parks: Peneda-Gerês. The track is rough, and you can take trips of one, two or three hours - three, seven or eleven kilometres, respectively. Those of a more adventurous disposition can join a one or two-day trek (which means five hours per day of riding).

10. Visit a unique collection of carriages in Belém

This is one of the world’s finest collections of historical carriages, now displayed in a new building at Avenida da Índia. Museu Nacional dos Coches now stands just a few metres away from the old Picadeiro Real, where the carriages were stored from 1905 (and a few remain). Get ready to bask in public transport nostalgia. 


11. Take a dive at the Deserted Beach in Deserted Island

If there is a paradise, it might look like Barreta Island, the official name for a beach better known as Deserta ("Deserted"), in Faro. It has a population of one (the Estaminé restaurant, a fixture since 1987), it is the southernmost point of continental Portugal, and its 3.3km of immaculate sand prove that you can still find quiet areas in the Algarve.

12. See Vhils's first work in Calçada Menino de Deus

Street artist Vhils created his very first oeuvre on a Lisbon sidewalk. Ruben Alves, a film director, needed cover art for a Fado album, and Vhils contemplated using the quintessential Portuguese pavement stones to create a portrait of the famous fado singer Amália Rodrigues on the street.


13. Drive down the Alentejo Coast

Rich in wild beaches, fresh seafood, unspoiled nature, picturesque sunsets and many other delights, this is our Costa Rica. From Melides to Azenha do Mar, with stops in Vila Nova de Santo André, Sines, Porto Covo, Vila Nova de Milfontes, Almograve and Zambujeira do Mar, here is a quiet haven full of tiny secrets to be shared.

14. Say hello to Portugal from the old days

As souvenirs go, fridge magnets don’t always hit the spot. A Vida Portuguesa, found in Lisbon and Porto, is chock-full of 100% Portuguese antique toys to take home and give your loved ones. The locals are big fans; they go to the store on nostalgia trips to find traditional items from their childhood. 


15. Try a 'pastel de nata' at Manteigaria

Pastel de Nata (custard tart) is present in nearly every café in Lisbon, but this is one of the best places for it. At Manteigaria, you’ll find an abundance of mouth-watering tarts. One won’t be enough.

16. Go to the theatre for shows with a view

Light enters the room through the glass wall in Café da Garagem, Taborda Theatre’s coffee shop. The terrace offers an attractive view, but step inside, and the atmosphere is cosy. Quirky tables are made out of old doors and easels. Great for either a meal or just a drink.



17. Walk on the Fajã de Santo Cristo in São Jorge

The rockstar among the Azorean "fajãs" - flat coastal rock formations typical of the Azorean islands - is well known because of surfing (the nearby waves are a magnet for surfers), clams and its romantic isolation. There is no road leading to it, and once upon a time, the generator was only used on Sundays so that Mass could play on the church radio. It is Portugal at its most idyllic. 

18. Fill your cart in Porto’s with the traditional chocolate makers

Avianense is the oldest brand (established in 1914), and the top product to look out for is the Imperador bonbons. Also, keep an eye out for Imperial, which sells Regina umbrellas and Jubileu almonds; at Arcádia you’ll have to try their “línguas de gato” cookies.


19. Visit the garden that Manet fell in love with

Tapada das Necessidades is an ancient hunting place with a fountain and a tank, an area filled with exotic species. Why not make like a king or queen and have a royal picnic? Plus, this stunning spot is where Manet was inspired to paint his masterpiece Le déjeuner sur l’herbe (1863).

20. Take a boat trip through the Douro wine region

The beauty of the Douro wine region is well known, but there is a lot more to do here than basking in natural wonder. A boat trip up or down the Douro region is an absolute must, and there are plenty of companies willing to take you on one of your life's most beautiful trips. Enjoy the sights, the scenes and the wine. 


21. Try the fried cuttlefish at Casa Santiago

Established in 1974 and nicknamed the King of Fried Cuttlefish, Casa Santiago in Setúbal sells on average 300 kilos of the stuff per day in summertime, about half as much in winter. They also serve so-called choco, strips fried on the spot with vegetable oil and pork lard. We suggest you try it on bread. 

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