Culturally infused with Portuguese blood from my mother’s side, her timeless advice echoed in my ears: ‘Do you truly understand your homeland before you venture away?’ So it was that one scorching summer when I was 18 that I embarked on an epic cycling odyssey, cutting my way through the very fabric of Portugal. This journey, I’d summarize as follows: “There are long stretches of nothing – but then you get to where you’re going, and it’s worth every mile of wondering if you’re completely lost“. From Sagres’s secret surf scene in the south to Alentejo’s underrated wine country, there’s more to Portugal than Lisbon (although, what a capital it is). With its Atlantic coast and Mediterranean climate, the country is scrappier than Spain and wilder than France – its charm is in its reluctance to be too polished, and Portugal’s prettiest places are raw, real, natural. After all, once something is too shiny, it simply presents a reflection of the familiar rather than its beautiful, authentic self.
Here, in my eyes, are the fifteen prettiest places in Portugal that are worth every mile in between. Now it’s up to you to choose the means of mobility that suits you best.
Comporta’s Coastal Bliss
Experience one of Portugal’s most exquisite stretches of Atlantic coastline along Comporta. Miles of sandy beaches stretch endlessly, providing an abundance of space. When Lisbonites escape for a wellness retreat, you know this place is special. Enjoy family-friendly waters in the northern Tróia peninsula or ride the waves at Praia do Carvalhal. For an adventure, saddle up with Cavalos na Areia, explore the smartest stables in the area, and then indulge in beachfront dining at Sal restaurant.
Traveling there? Land in Lisbon, then choose between a car rental or a scenic 25-minute ferry ride from Setúbal to Tróia, continuing with a 15-minute drive to Comporta.
Monsanto’s Enigmatic Charm
If you crave more than picturesque photos, venture north to Monsanto, a medieval village perched atop giant stone boulders. The streets seem poised for a rolling spectacle, making it a charmingly offbeat destination. Gaze at stunning sunsets from Taverna Lusitana while you delve into this village’s unique allure.
Traveling there? Rent a car, or opt for a bus ride from Lisbon’s Sete Rios station to Monsanto-Relva.
Douro Valley Vineyards – A Visual Symphony
Discover the eighth wonder of the world, as celebrated by novelist José Saramago – the enchanting Douro Valley. Get lost in the mesmerizing ASMR of Porto’s terraced topography as you sail along the meandering waters and bask in the lush landscapes. Revel in a river cruise, or savor the scenery from Six Senses’ European retreat or the Vintage House Hotel in Pinhão.
Traveling there? Access the Douro Valley from Porto and Lisbon by road or public transport, offering a journey as enchanting as the destination.
Benagil Caves, Algarve – Nature’s Retreat
Escape the crowds at Benagil beach, and explore the weathered limestone layers of the Benagil Sea Cave. Glide on a stand-up paddleboard and immerse yourself in the cave’s serene ambiance, as the sun’s rays cast enchanting patterns throughout.
Traveling there? Opt for a car rental or transfer to Praia do Carvalho, a three-hour drive from Lisbon and an hour from Faro. Park your car at Urbanização Clube Atlântico or along the cliffs lining the beach for easy access.
Sintra – A Fairytale Reality
Visit Sintra, where King Ferdinand II’s palaces are nothing short of a fairytale come to life. The Parque da Pena surrounds the castle, boasting rare roses and non-native flora that the king once instructed sailors to bring back for his lover. Marvel at the colorful turrets, arched walkways, and the enchanting azulejos that adorn the palaces.
Traveling there? Get there in just 40 minutes by train from Lisbon, departing from Rossio train station.
Évora – A Cultural Oasis
Embrace the heatwaves, vineyards, and Roman architecture of Évora, the Alentejo’s hottest city. By June 2021, the Evora Farm Hotel, featuring 57 bedrooms and 25 private villas, will be your ideal basecamp. Raw wood, glossy granite, leather chesterfields, and Mediterranean touches characterize this new gem.
Traveling there? Take the train or bus from Lisbon to reach Évora and savor a unique blend of culture, food, and climate.
Praia De Odeceixe, Costa Vincentina – A Hidden Haven
Discover the secret cliffside gem straddling the Algarve and Alentejo regions. Praia De Odeceixe, a thumbprint-shaped beach, offers the perfect escape. As part of a National Park, this unspoiled beauty is an excellent stop to end a hike along the Rota Vicentina trails. Dive into rock pools and gentle riverside waters, or ride the surfable waves on the oceanside.
Traveling there? Rent a car or book a transfer to Praia De Odeceixe and unlock this coastal treasure.
Alentejo’s Sunflower Fields – A Summer Wonderland
In Alentejo, witness the breathtaking beauty of towering sunflowers in full bloom. Drive south from Cuba towards Aljustrel, where vibrant fields of lavender, cork oak, olives, and wheat await. Savor local girassol honey and take in the fragrant landscapes, rich with farmer’s crops that add authenticity to your photos.
Traveling there? You have to drive by car to see Alentejo’s sunflower fields as the highway south from Cuba, Portugal, towards Aljustrel is where you’ll see the beautiful sunflowers.
The Islets of the Azores
Less than a mile from São Miguel lies the islet of Vila Franca do Campo, a volcanic crater surrounded by underwater caves and the Atlantic’s cool waters. Snorkel, dive, and soak up the sunshine in this nature reserve, which is home to sea birds and crystal-clear lagoons.
Traveling there? Fly into João Paulo II Airport in Ponta Delgada and explore the Azores’ islands. Ferries and flights offer easy inter-island travel.
Obidos – An Enchanting Hilltop Town
Just an hour from Lisbon, Obidos enchants with its walled hilltop charm, narrow cobbled streets, and whitewashed houses. Indulge in local liqueur ginjinha at Bar Ibn Errik Rex, and explore the city walls that reach up to 43 feet (some without handrails).
Traveling there? Enhance your visit with a bus ride to Obidos, departing from Campo Verde station.
Aveiro – Portugal’s Hidden Gem
Experience the timeless charm of Aveiro, where traditional boats and crisscrossing canals are a colorful ode to history. The moliceiro vessels’ painted prows, Art Nouveau façades, and Costa Nova’s vibrant beach huts add character to this unique town. While there, savor ovos moles de Aveiro, the region’s specialty shaped like shells.
Traveling there? Travel with ease through direct train routes from Lisboa-Oriente or Porto’s Campanhã Station to discover Aveiro.
Ilha Deserta – Desert Island Paradise
Escape the tourist crowds with a boat ride from Faro to Ilha Deserta, an island that feels like your private paradise. In March 2021, Estaminé, the only restaurant on the island, tragically burned down, but plans are underway for a triumphant return. Revel in bowls of fresh prawns and spend your afternoon in the clear, warm waters, snorkeling, or collecting seashells.
Traveling there? Ilha Deserta is accessible only by a ferry or speedboat shuttle departing from Faro’s Cais das Portas do Mar.
Berlengas Islands – A Scuba Diver’s Paradise
A few miles off Peniche’s rugged coast lies the Berlengas Islands, a UNESCO-protected nature reserve. Ideal for scuba diving, the calm waters, excellent visibility, and abundant marine life beckon. Spot dolphins from the deck, and explore underwater wonders like John Dory fish, octopus, and giant sunfish among shipwrecks and caves.
Traveling there? While there is no direct connection from Lisbon to the Berlengas Islands, take the bus from Lisboa Sete Rios to Peniche, followed by a short walk to the Peniche Bus Station, and finish with a ferry ride to Berlengas Islands.
Serra Da Estrela Natural Park – Where Adventure Awaits
Get ready for a wild ride in Portugal’s Serra Da Estrela Natural Park. While paragliding, trekking, and mountain biking are all the rage here, did you know that this place is also a skiing hotspot? Just a stone’s throw from Lisbon, you’ll find a small resort nestled in Serra da Estrela’s National Park. While February guarantees the best snow cover, this mountainous wonderland also offers year-round delights, with wildflowers and crystal-clear lakes dotting the landscape. Don’t miss the mesmerizing Covão dos Conchos, an artificial spillway that could easily be mistaken for a natural sinkhole. And remember to include a cheese tasting experience in your itinerary and grab a bottle of chestnut liqueur from the historic hilltop village of Piódão.
Traveling there? You can hop on a train from Lisbon (Lisboa – Santa Apolonia) or catch a bus (Lisbon Sete Rios) that’ll take you to Covilhã. From there, a taxi will whisk you away to the Serra Da Estrela Natural Park.
Arouca Geopark – Where Bravery Meets Beauty
In May 2021, Arouca Geopark unveiled the world’s most epic pedestrian suspension bridge, suspended 574 feet above the Paiva River. Brace yourself for breathtaking views of the protected area, Aguieiras Waterfall, and the Paiva Gorge – if you’ve got the guts to cross it, that is. Once your heart rate normalizes, make your way to the Pedras Parideiras, a geological marvel with an intriguing name that roughly translates to ‘breeding stones’ – these are small rocks emerging from larger ones. It’s all due to temperature changes and erosion, but local folklore adds a fascinating twist, suggesting that the site has the power to work fertility wonders.
Traveling there? Navigating the Path to Arouca Geopark If you’re coming from Lisbon, the swiftest route involves catching a train at Lisboa – Santa Apolonia station, followed by a direct taxi ride from Ovar. For travelers departing from Porto, hop on the Line 9 bus at Porto — Campo 24 de Agosto to reach Rio Mau, and then catch a taxi to Arouca Geopark.