From the massive, dramatic cliffs that buffer the Atlantic in the south, to the soft rolling hills and vineyards of the Duoro in the north, Portugal is an amazingly diverse country. Visit the beaches of the Algarve but don’t miss historic Sagres or the historic university city of Coimbra. Stroll the cobbled alleyways of Porto, and be sure to visit fairytale-like Sintra, Lord Byron’s favorite.
Get off the beaten track and roam about remote Estremadura or through the cork forests and olive groves of Alentejo. And for a real adventure head to the Portuguese islands of Madeira or the Azores.
Here are the best places you don’t want to miss in Portugal.
The Baixa, Lisbon’s downtown area, is still the traditional center of city life. Also it’s where Lisbon’s oldest and traditional shops still exist. In this heart of the city, is the famous pedestrian-only street Rua Augusta. Streets that run parallel to it identify the various tradesmen and craftsmen who have done business there for centuries. You’ll find jeweler’s stores in the Rua do Ouro (Gold Street) and the Rua da Prata (Silver Street).
Sea, sun, and sand mark Portugal’s famous Algarve. While the region’s beaches and picturesque villages have made it world renown, the region also has some world-renowned golf courses. The area’s capital, Faro, remains nearly the same as it was in the 18th century, with some of its charming neighborhoods intact.
Lagos and Sagres on the east end of the Algarve date back to Roman times. But it was in the 15th century that Sagres achieved importance with the frequent presence of Prince Henry the Navigator.
Roughly halfway between Lisbon and Oporto in the north, Coimbra was once the capital of the Portugal. However, it’s most famous for the University of Coimbra, founded in 1290 and one of the oldest universities in Europe. Furthermore, it’s a city of medieval churches and a maze of medieval streets. Presumably, that’s the reason some consider it the most romantic city in Portugal.
Overlooking the city and the Mondego River, the University is a rambling building, constructed around a central courtyard. Its entrance is through the Porta Férrea (Iron Gate), an impressive Mannerist work (1634). There one can also see the statues of the University´s patrons, the Kings Dom Dinis and Dom João III.
Madeira is a group of four Portuguese islands off the coast of North Africa. Funchal, its capital, is a walkable city with a nice harbor and a cathedral more than 500 years old. It’s perpetually sunny, but when the sun goes down, the tempo picks up in its nightclubs, restaurants, and casinos.
Some associate the Monte area of Funchal with wicker “toboggan rides” that first appeared around 1850. Originally, this was a fast means of transportation to central Funchal for people living up the steep hillside in Monte.
Presently, the toboggans continue to attract tourists who want to sled down a narrow, winding street to the city below. The one-mile downhill journey takes about 10 minutes, sometimes reaching a speed of 30 miles an hour. You can take a cable car back up.