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One of the oldest countries in Europe, Portugal boasts a complex history alongside dramatic landscapes, stunning beaches, fascinating museums, and exquisite cuisine. But it has some surprises, too; natural springs, a village built from boulders, and a chapel made of human skeletons, to name a few. So if you happen to find yourself in this vibrant country, here are some of the best places to visit.

The vibrant capital, Lisbon

Portugal’s illustrious capital is arguably one of the most charismatic cities in Europe and home to some of the country’s most famous landmarks. These include the 11th-century São Jorge Castle and the 16th-century Torre de Belém. When strolling around the cobbled streets, you will stumble upon stunning mosaic-tiled plazas, fairytale castles, and gothic monasteries. This stunning architecture makes Lisbon one of the most popular places to visit in Portugal.

For amazing views of the city, take the 45-meter-high Elevador de Santa Justa to the highest part of Lisbon. Alternatively, hop on Elevador da Glória, a vintage wooden tram that brings you to Miradouro de São Pedro de Alcântara; a beautiful garden with an observation point. You can also soak up the sights by jumping on one of the iconic yellow trams, enjoying a Portuguese custard tart (pastel da belém) in a patisserie, or listening to mournful fado singers on a patio restaurant.

Praça do Comércio, Lisbon

The beaches in the Algarve

Located in the south of Portugal, the Algarve region is home to more than 100 spectacular beaches scattered along 155km of golden coastline. Unsurprisingly, this is one of the best places to visit in Portugal if you are looking to hit the waves. The country’s best-known surf spot, Praia do Amado, on the Costa Vicentina, regularly hosts international bodyboarding and surfing competitions. The dramatic sand dunes, cliffs, and rock pools also make this a popular destination with families during low tide.

Nearby, the wide-sweeping beach, Praia de Bordeira, attracts nature lovers with its dramatic limestone cliffs, swathes of sand dunes, and 3km of sand. Meanwhile, Praia do Amoreira, just outside the town of Aljezur, is home to an abundance of starfish-filled rock pools that keep little ones entertained. Those looking for a more laid-back vibe can head to Praia do Martinhal, just outside Sagres. This remote beach offers gentle waves and several popular seafood restaurants sheltered behind the rolling dunes.

The Algarve

The palaces and castles in Sintra

Not far from Lisbon, the forested hilltops of Sintra are home to some of Portugal’s most opulent palaces and castles. The most magnificent of these is arguably the gloriously decadent and colorful Palácio da Pena. One of the Seven Wonders of Portugal, the impressive castle is famous for its extravagant Romantic design, which blends together Gothic, Moorish, and Renaissance architecture. The castle was built in the 19th century for Ferdinand II, as the summer residence of the Portuguese royal family. However, it is still used today for state occasions.

Another notable landmark is Palácio Nacional de Sintra, the best-preserved medieval royal palace in Portugal. Its impressive exterior features iconic conical chimneys, columns, and hand-painted tiles that date back to the 15th century. The 9th-century Moorish Castelo dos Mouros is also well-maintained with its high fortified stone walls and dramatic towers. With so much history contained in these picturesque mountains, it’s not surprising that Sintra is classified as a UNESCO World Heritage Site.

Pena Palace, Sintra

The wineries in Douro’s River

Famed for its production of Port and other wines, the valley of the River Douro is undoubtedly one of the most spectacular places to visit in Portugal. People from all over the world travel to this stunning UNESCO World Heritage Site to sip on wine and admire the vineyard-covered hillsides. Taking a road trip will allow you to visit the wineries and perhaps even stay a night in one of the wine-producing estates (quintas). Be warned, though, the roads here are winding and often stomach-churningly steep.

Alternatively, you can hop on a train along the Linha do Douro; one of Europe’s most picturesque railway lines which connects Porto with Peso da Regua and other towns. If you prefer a more leisurely adventure, there are numerous cruise operators that tour up and down the river. These often stop at various attractions along the way such as Mateus PalaceSé Cathedral, and Bolhão Market.

Wineries in Douro’s River

The Parque Natural da Serra da Estrela

The rugged mountainous landscape of the Parque Natural da Serra da Estrela is the perfect location for hiking. The park is Portugal’s oldest and largest protected area and spans more than 1,000 square meters. It is home to rock-strewn meadows, gushing rivers and waterfalls, terraced fields, and icy lakes. Here you will also discover the country’s highest peak, Torre, which towers at 1,993 meters.

There are many hiking trails in the area, including the popular route from Covilhã up to Torre. During the incline towards the rocky gorges, you will be able to spot casais; traditional one-room stone shepherd huts that are thatched with straw. Covilhã has remained the center of wool production in the Iberian region since the 12th century. You can explore its history in the Wool Museum (Museu de Lanifícios). The mountain town of Manteigas, with its cobbled streets and picturesque houses, is also a great base from which to explore this magnificent landscape.

Serra da Estrela

The Venice of Portugal, Aveiro

Often dubbed the Venice of Portugal, the picturesque city of Aveiro is famed for its beautiful canals, Nouveau architecture, and colorful gondolas (moliceiros). Located on the edge of the vast Ria de Aveiro lagoon, this authentic fishing district is home to numerous religious buildings. These include the Cathedral of Aveiro, with its prominent bell tower, and the 15th-century Convento de Jesus; featuring a lavish tomb made of marble.

A ride on one of the traditional seaweed-gathering moliceiros will offer you the best views of the town and the São Jacinto Nature Reserve on the salt marshes. Often referred to as white gold, Aveiro salt is famous for its high quality and taste. People traditionally use it to preserve cod (bacalhau), which is a key ingredient in Portuguese cuisine. While there, make sure to visit the lively fish market and pastel-colored Art Nouveau houses lining the canal.


The nine islands of the Azores

Some 1,500km to the west of Lisbon, in the Atlantic Ocean, lie the Azores; an archipelago of nine islands characterized by volcanic landscapes, green pastures, and one of the best marine habitats in the world. The archipelago is a pit stop for about a third of the world’s species of cetacean. As a result, it is one of the most important places to visit in Portugal for nature lovers.

While the islands are a hot spot for diving, hiking, and water sports, they are best known for whale and dolphin watching. Sperm whales, common dolphins, and bottlenose dolphins can be seen passing through on migration routes all year round. Blue whales, humpbacks, and orcas are also known to travel these waters between April and June. Several boat tours operate from the larger islands, giving visitors the chance to learn about the area’s diverse marine biodiversity from marine biologists and naturalists. These operators are also committed to responsible whale watching and, depending on which one you take, sometimes offer the chance to bathe in the islands’ natural geothermal springs.

Lagoa das Sete Cidades, São Miguel Island, Azores

The wine cellars of Porto

Any trip to Portugal wouldn’t be complete without a visit to the city that gave its name to the county’s most famous export, port wine. Located on the mouth of the Rio Douro, Porto is the second-largest city in Portugal and a popular center of culture and entertainment that rivals Lisbon. It boasts a colorful mix of medieval relics, extravagant churches, and wine cellars that are open for tastings.

There are dozens of wine cellars to choose from along the Duoro River; nearly all of which provide guided tours and a selection of different port wines to try. Calém is one of the most famous cellars and invites guests to watch a unique fado concert; the traditional music of Portugal. Meanwhile, Taylor’s boasts a modern museum and stunning terrace offering spectacular views over the city. Espaço Porto Cruz, meanwhile, includes a multimedia center, workshops, and chocolate and cheese tastings.

Graham’s, in Vila Nova de Gaia, Oporto

Source: Lonely planet

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