With vast beaches, hilltop castles and buzzing cities this holiday always delivers. We pick 30 of the best value-for-money breaks for summer
Planning a European getaway this summer? You will struggle to beat Portugal for both traveller satisfaction and value for money. The country has long been lauded for its beaches, sumptuous wines and culture-soaked cities, but this year it has also emerged as Europe’s top-value holiday spot. According to surveys by Post Office Travel Money, Lisbon ranks as 2023’s best-value European city break and the Algarve as the cheapest overall holiday destination in the Eurozone.
To devotees, this may come as no surprise. Portugal’s appeal is ever-enduring, thanks to 300 days of annual sunshine and 432 Blue Flag beaches, from the cliff-backed coves of the Algarve to the black volcanic sands of the Azores. Then there are the buzzing cities for short breaks: Lisbon with its vintage trams and Unesco-listed landmarks; Porto and its picture-perfect Ribeira district; and Coimbra for its majestic university.
But that is only part of the story. The countryside beckons, be it the rolling vineyards of the Douro Valley, the steamy thermal spas of the Serra da Estrela mountain or the rugged hiking trails through Portugal’s sole national park, Peneda-Gerês, where shepherds and wolves share the woodlands. On the remote Atlantic islands of Madeira and the Azores, you will discover smoking fumaroles, crater lakes and some of the world’s last remaining forests of emerald laurel trees.
These diverse landscapes can be explored by rail or by sea – on a whale-spotting cruise in the Azores, for example. Alternatively, a road trip along the country’s west coast will offer windswept bays, whitewashed towns and lunches of freshly grilled sardines. Other culinary adventures include learning to bake bread in a wood-fired oven, vineyard tours and courses in how to blend and bottle your own variety of wine.
If it is a family holiday you are seeking, Portugal excels with its wealth of child-friendly resorts and its status as the world’s sixth safest country (as ranked by the Global Peace Index). Whether you are glamping on the Silver Coast, going all-inclusive in the Algarve or whizzing down flumes at a waterpark, there is no shortage of family fun to be had. Meanwhile, culture lovers will be charmed by treasures including Evora’s medieval cathedral and the fairytale palaces of Sintra.
We have picked 30 great holiday ideas that will inspire you to embrace Portugal’s charms this summer, whether for the first time or all over again.
On golden sands in Praia da Rocha
On the Algarve’s aptly named Praia da Rocha – Rocky Beach – giant sea-sculpted rock stacks litter a stretch of wide, golden sand. This beach stretches for more than a mile, offering plenty of room to relax under the Algarve’s blue skies and wade into the shallows, watching surfers ride distant waves. When you are ready to stretch your legs, wander Rocha’s clifftop trail, which is lined with ocean-front cafés.
Book it: The glitzy Tivoli Marina Portimao (00 351 282 460200; nh-hotels.com) has direct beach access, with doubles starting at £126 per night.
Fins and waves in Nazaré
For many, the Silver Coast town of Nazaré is synonymous with wetsuited surfers, who flock here for the monster waves. However, away from Praia do Norte’s prime surf, crescent-shaped Praia da Nazaré features soft sands and shelter from the Atlantic’s swirling currents. There is an old-time fishing- village vibe here: painted wooden boats dot the sand and women in traditional seven-skirt outfits dry sardines in the sun. After a day of basking, saunter into the town’s cobbled laneways, where you can feast on fresh seafood.
Book it: Double rooms at the Villamar Style Maison (00 351 262 106752; villamar.pt/en) start at £73 per night
Black-sand basking on the Azores
Experience the Azores’ volcanic landscapes on Praia de Santa Barbara, one of the longest black-sand beaches in the archipelago. The Blue Flag haven lies near the town of Ribeira Grande, on Sao Miguel Island, and is loved by sunseekers and watersports fanatics alike. The Santa Barbara Eco-Beach Resort offers modern villas constructed from natural materials, and a show- stopping ocean-view infinity pool.
Book it: Double rooms at the Santa Barbara Eco-Beach Resort (00 351 296 470360; santabarbaraazores.com) start at £387 per night
A beach with a view on Madeira
Unlike most of Madeira’s beaches, which are laced with black volcanic pebbles, Calheta offers pure amber sand (albeit imported). An artificial stone wave barrier and swimming nets protect the beach, providing calm waters to cool off in. Calheta lies on the sunniest side of Madeira (the southwest), making it ideal for a lazy beach day after exploring the island’s hiking trails and clifftop viewpoints. Stay at Quinta das Vinhas, which overlooks the ocean and has chic rooms in a renovated 17th-century farmhouse.
Beachside bliss in Praia da Luz
The sheltered cove here lures families with its shallow waters and sandcastle- worthy beach. The bay is shielded from the Atlantic’s full force by a basalt headland, Rocha Negra, formed more than 150 million years ago by Monchique’s now-dormant volcano. In summer, lifeguards patrol the Blue Flag beach, which is backed by a palm-lined promenade. The 19th-century converted manor of Vila Valverde provides a serene base to return to after a day of oceanside fun.
Book it: Double rooms at the Vila Valverde (00 351 282 790790; vilavalverde.com) start at £222 per night
Best foot forward along the Portuguese Way
For a spiritual journey, hike the Portuguese Way, the lesser-walked route to Spain’s Santiago de Compostela. Portugal’s trails begin from Lisbon and Porto and either hug the coastline or weave inland along ancient pilgrim paths via historic towns and Roman settlements. The trek takes 12-14 days, but there are a range of shortened routes. Portugal Green Walks devises self-guided itineraries and will transport your luggage between the peaceful country houses and regal hotels where you’ll stay, rather than the crowded albergues frequented by most hikers.
Book it: Portugal Green Walks (00 351 258 027667; portugalgreenwalks.com) offers a 13-night trip from £826 per person, including accommodation, breakfast and luggage transfers. Flights not included
Ride the waves at Peniche
Portugal is Europe’s surfing capital, and wave-chasers are spoilt for choice. Peniche, on the Silver Coast, is the sport’s poster-child with its notorious Supertubos beach, where 13ft-high tubular waves attract Rip Curl Pro surfing competitions. Beginners can enjoy softer swells at Cantinho da Baia, where Baleal Surf Camp holds classes; the family business runs week-long surf camps, with either hostel accommodation or beachfront apartments, lessons and a surfboard factory excursion.
Book it: Baleal Surf Camp (00 351 262 750535; balealsurfcamp.com) offers a seven-night surf camp from £407 per person in a private apartment, with lessons, equipment and excursions
Get your golf on in the Algarve
The southern coast is home to more than 30 sun-blessed golf courses and a host of PGA pro-led academies. The Pine Cliffs Resort, set on the rust-orange cliffs above Praia da Falesia, features one of the region’s favourite courses. Designed by the renowned architect Martin Hawtree, it showcases ocean views and has a challenging par-three sixth hole. Known as the Devil’s Parlour, golfers must strike out across a 646ft ravine, aiming for a narrow green.
Book it: A seven-night break with Your Golf Travel (0800 043 6644; yourgolftravel.com) at the Pine Cliffs Resort costs from £615 per person, including accommodation and five rounds of golf. Flights not included
Trams and treats in Lisbon
The Portuguese capital is undoubtedly one of Europe’s top city-break destinations, thanks to its vibrant sea-front squares, Unesco landmarks and thriving food scene. Come to tour museums filled with glittering royal coaches, ride yellow trams to hilltop viewpoints or bar crawl through the buzzy Bairro Alto. Be sure to follow the Tagus estuary west, out to Belem, to try its famous pasteis de nata (custard tarts), before climbing the medieval Belem Tower and marvelling at Jeronimos Monastery’s gothic and renaissance architecture. Stay on Lisbon’s grandest boulevard, Avenida da Liberdade, at the Valverde Hotel.
Book it: Double rooms at the Valverde Hotel (00 351 210 940 300; valverdehotel.com) start at £343 per night
A step back in time in Guimaraes
The northern city of Guimaraes is a honeypot of history, as evidenced by its motto: Portugal Nasceu Aqui, Portugal was born here. The country’s medieval capital was home to Portugal’s first king, Dom Afonso Henriques, and is now listed as a Unesco World Heritage site for its historic architecture, which includes the Dukes of Braganca Palace, romanesque churches and mansions built by nobles. Don’t miss a tour of the city’s centuries-old granite castle.
Book it: Double rooms at the Pousada Mosteiro de Guimaraes (00 351 210 158100; pousadas.pt) start at £122 per night
Tiles and tipples in Porto
Compact Porto is the perfect size for a city break. Start on the colourful Ribeira, where cafés spill onto the pavements overlooking the Douro, sightseeing boats sail languidly beneath the steel arch of the Dom Luis I Bridge and the sound of buskers’ guitars mingle with gull caws. Across the water, you’ll find port-tasting rooms and the hilltop Jardim do Morro, which draws sunset- seeking crowds. Wander the city’s steep streets to discover tiled churches, climb the dizzying Clerigos Tower and visit Livraria Lello, often hailed as the world’s most beautiful bookshop.
Book it: Iberian Escapes (0808 189 0647; iberian-escapes.com) offers a six-night Porto Art and Architecture tour from £715pp, including accommodation, transfers, tours, tastings and breakfasts. Flights not included
An edifying escape in Coimbra
Hilltop city is famed for its 13th-century university, of which the Biblioteca Joanina is the highlight. Stay at Hastens Sleep Spa, whose decor is inspired by the library, each room decorated with 1,200 hand-carved marble book spines. Dine at street-side eateries in the shadow of cathedrals and convents, accompanied by a distinct version of fado music, sung solely by guitar-strumming men.
Book it: Double rooms at the Hastens Sleep Spa (00 351 239 246960; cbrboutiquehotel.com) start at £429 per night
All aboard in the Douro Valley
Journey into Portugal’s vineyard- threaded valleys on the Linha do Douro, the country’s most scenic railway line. Embark at Porto’s Sao Bento station, lavished with intricate azulejo tiles, for the 124-mile train ride. You will snake alongside the Douro River, surrounded by hills scored with vines and olive groves, with family-run quintas (wine estates) tucked among them. The final stretch between Pinhao and Pocinho provides staggering scenery and is inaccessible by riverboat.
Book it: Purchase tickets through CP Comboios de Portugal (00 351 808 109110; cp.pt/passageiros/en) from £11. For a more luxurious adventure, Wexas (020 8125 4231; wexas.com) offers a four-day experience on the Presidential Train, from £3,930pp, including tailor-made tours of Porto, wine tastings and gourmet dining
Sail away in Madeira and the Azores
Portugal’s far-flung volcanic archipelagos, Madeira and the Azores, are best explored on a lavish cruise. You’ll pass lighthouses and isolated islets, hopping off to visit the Azores’ shimmering crater lakes, followed by Madeira’s lush trails. As you sail, join experts for whale-watching and stargazing sessions, as well as geology talks and Portuguese cooking demonstrations on board the luxurious Bolette.
Book it: Fred Olsen Cruise Lines (0800 690 6316; fredolsencruises.com) offers the 12-night Wonders and Wildlife of the Azores and Madeira cruise, departing Southampton on Aug 13, from £1,599pp
A wild west road trip on the Vicentine Coast
Enjoy a road trip along Portugal’s unblemished south-west coast. Start at Cabo Sao Vicente, where a lighthouse marks Europe’s most south-westerly point, travelling north to Lisbon. You’ll be blessed with spectacular scenery in the Vicentine Coast Natural Park, which is blessed with dune-backed beaches and seaside villages, such as Carrapateira and Zambujeira. In spring, fields of rainbow wildflowers come to life and autumn brings a host of migrating birds.
Book it: Fly to Lagos, where a week’s car rental from Lagos to Lisbon with Discover Cars (discovercars.com) starts at £155. Make your base at the effortlessly chic Hortas do Rio (00 351 912 059452; hortasdorio.com), just outside Carrapateira and a short walk from the beach, which has doubles from £163
Blend your own bottle in the Algarve
For a new twist on Portugal’s classic wine-tasting tours, head to the Quinta dos Vales, an Algarvian winery that offers the chance to buy or lease a parcel of their award-winning 110-acre vineyard. Their Winemaker Experience allows you to create your own variety of wine, guided by expert vintners. Quinta dos Vales also offers standalone bottle- blending workshops, tastings, and tranquil villa suites set among the vines.
Book it: Quinta dos Vales (00 351 282 431036; quintadosvales.pt/en) offers on-site villas, including the two-person Vines, from £68 per night. The bottle-blending workshop costs £245, while tours and tastings cost £27
Quinta dos Vales offers visitors the change to make their own wine, as well as sample the winery’s blends
A taste of the nation in Lisbon, Porto & Braga
Start in the capital for the ultimate food-lover’s journey north to Porto and Braga. Along the way, sample delights such as piri-piri chicken and caldo verde soup, tour a 1920s-era sardine factory and enjoy olive oil and wine-tasting sessions. You will learn to make typical Portuguese dishes during three cooking classes at a country retreat, complete with baking bread in a wood-fired oven. The trip also includes city sightseeing and visits to major sights, including Bom Jesus do Monte, in Braga.
Book it: Eco Trilha’s (00 351 927 771815; ecotrilha.pt) eight-day Tastes of Portugal tour starts at £1,945 per person and includes accommodation, activities and cooking classes. Flights not included
Fairytale fantasies in Sintra
Explore the Disney-esque castles and paintbox palaces of Sintra, once a cool-climate holiday retreat for Portuguese royalty. The Unesco-listed site lies in the forested hills north of Lisbon, criss-crossed with walking trails that reveal cultural treasures including an 8th-century Moorish castle, the turreted Pena National Palace and the Quinta da Regaleira, a manor house with secret passageways and spiral staircases leading to deep, moss-clad stone wells. The opulent architecture here served as inspiration for some of Lord Byron’s poems.
Book it: Double rooms at Tivoli Palacio De Seteais (00351 219 233 200; tivolihotels.com) start at £212 per night
Escape to the country in Évora
Rural Alentejo – a huge swathe of slow-paced, golden countryside between Lisbon and the Algarve – evades most travellers’ radars as they scurry for the coast. Dotted throughout are charming, old-world villages such as Montemor-o-Novo, Monsaraz and Arroiolos, but the grandest of all is surely the city of Evora, rising from the wheat fields and olive groves. This city, encircled by 14th-century walls, has cobblestone streets packed with Moorish temples, stately mansions and the biggest medieval cathedral in the country, which features an eerie-yet-beautiful bone chapel. The city’s architecture has been miraculously preserved after escaping ruin in a 1755 earthquake, earning the town Unesco status.
Book it: Double rooms at M’ar de Ar Aqueduto (00351 266 739 302; mardearhotels.com) start at £129 per night
Spirited away in Braga
Portugal’s religious capital and seat of the country’s archbishops. The atmospheric, 12th-century city is filled with cathedrals, churches and chapels, as well as the elaborate Archbishop’s Palace. Visit during Easter’s Semana Santa celebrations for torchlit processions; just three miles away, pilgrims make the 580-stair climb on their knees to the hilltop Sanctuary of Bom Jesus do Monte. Enjoy a coffee in one of Braga’s squares, accompanied by the chime of church bells.
Book it: A classic suite at the Villa Garden Braga (00351 253 680 020; villagarden.pt) starts at £113 per night
Time for tradition in Tavira
Away from the Algarve’s busy beaches, Tavira presents a quiet slice of tradition. Once a key trading port, the town straddles the Gilao River, which is crossed by a Roman bridge and lined with restaurants. Go through shady squares and past gothic and renaissance architecture to the remains of a hilltop castle. The Moorish-inspired Vila Galé Tavira makes an excellent base for exploring; it is also worth taking a short drive to visit Tavira’s unusual anchor graveyard.
Book it: Jet2Holidays offers seven nights at Vila Galé Tavira, (00351 281 329 900; jet2holidays.com) from £815pp, B&B, including transfers and return flights from Birmingham on Aug 6
Rural rambles in Peneda-Geres National Park
Portugal’s only national park is a land of waterfall-studded forests full of towering pines and oaks, river valleys and mammoth peaks; the park takes its name from the two highest – Peneda and Geres. Located near the northern border with Spain, Peneda- Geres is an obvious magnet for walkers, its terrain covered with wild trails that lead to 12th-century granite villages. Wolves and shepherds roam this unspoilt landscape, which is best enjoyed on a national park tour.
Book it: National Park Tours (00 351 964872 656; nationalparktours.pt) runs guided hikes costing from £73
Hot and steamy in the Azores
Sulphur tinges the air in the Furnas Valley, on the island of Sao Miguel – the product of geothermal activity created by the now-dormant Furnas volcano. There are bubbling mud pots, steaming fumaroles and mineral-rich springs. Spend a day hiking and kayaking your way around Furnas Lake, then have a soak in one of the 35C-40C pools at Terra Nostra Park. Afterwards, there’s no better way to end the day than by sampling the local dish, cozido, a hearty meat-and-vegetable stew that’s slow-cooked underground using geothermal heat.
Book it: Double rooms at the Terra Nostra Garden Hotel (00 351 296 549090; bensaudehotels.com) start at £188 per night
Walk in the woods on Madeira
Wander Madeira’s magical laurisilva (laurel forests), protected for their rare flora and fauna, including the Madeiran long-toed pigeon and ancient species of heather. Explore this 20-million-year-old habitat on the Caldeirao do Inferno trail in Queimadas Forest Park – the route follows one of the island’s famous levadas, a network of vein-like stone waterways built to funnel water south. Pass through tunnels carved into cliffsides and stop to savour the cooling mist of crashing waterfalls.
Book it: Double rooms at the Cliff Bay, in Funchal (00 351 291 707700; portobay.com/en), start at £185 per night
Mountain healing in Serra da Estrela
Head to the healing foothills of the Serra da Estrela, a Unesco Geopark, home to Portugal’s highest mountains. Pamper yourself at H2otel, which has one of Europe’s largest mountain spas, where the thermal centre uses mineral waters sourced from the park in its pools and hydromassage baths. The Celtic spa circuit is a highlight, allowing you to hop between hammam, sauna and ice fountain. Visit the Aquacorpus for massages, rituals and facials; specialists are on hand to devise a tailored treatment plan.
Book it: Double rooms at H2otel (00351 275 330406; h2otel.pt) start at £164 per night
Soothe your senses in the Douro Valley
Unwind among the vineyards at the plush Six Senses Douro Valley. This famed wine and spa resort, set in a restored 19th-century house, offers valley views – best savoured from the hot tubs on the private terraces of the suites. The award-winning Six Senses Spa features everything from a Himalayan salt sauna and herbal bath to a Roman-style laconium and an igloo. Indulge in underwater sound sessions, colour therapy, cutting-edge skin analysis and sleep programmes. The spa’s heated indoor pool has floor-to-ceiling windows, perfect for gazing out after a massage or an Ayurvedic treatment.
Book it: Double rooms at the Six Senses Douro Valley (00351 254 660600; sixsenses.com) start at £705 per night
Into the Azorean blue
The Atlantic archipelago is one of the world’s best whale-watching destinations, its waters a refuge for aquatic life. Children will love joining marine biologists on a nautical caper, spotting resident and migrating cetaceans, from blues and humpbacks to beaked and sperm whales. You may even spot pods of dolphins playing in your boat’s wake.
Book it: From the southern coast of Sao Miguel, a three-hour whale-watching trip with Terra Azul Azores (00351 296 581361; azoreswhalewatch.com) starts at £47pp. Stay at the lush Terra Nostra Garden Hotel (00351 296 549090; bensaudehotels.com), in nearby Furnas, where rooms start at £171 per night
Make a splash in the Algarve
Base yourself on the sunny south coast and you are in prime position to enjoy the region’s best water parks. The three top choices – Aquashow, Slide & Splash and Aqualand – are spread along the coast, each with adrenaline-pumping slides, flumes, splash pools and lazy rivers – a paradise for children (and adults) of all ages. Aquashow, set near the beach resort of Quarteira, is one of the most extensive parks, and home to both one of Europe’s highest water coasters and the country’s first indoor water park.
Book it: The Tivoli Marina Vilamoura Algarve Resort (00351 289 303303; tivolihotels.com) has double rooms from £202 per night. Tickets to Aquashow (00351 289 315129; aquashowpark.com) cost £28 for adults, £20 for kids
An A+ beach break in Sagres
The Martinhal Sagres Beach Family Resort is the top choice for a family Algarve beach break. The award-winning resort offers five-star hotel rooms and villas overlooking Martinhal Beach, which has a private area for guests, with family-sized, coconut- shaped beds. You will scarcely need to leave the resort, with its five pools, sports centre and range of restaurants, each with a dedicated children’s menu, complete with fresh purées for babies. There are also crèches and kids’ clubs, football and tennis academies, mini golf and a games room.
Book it: Two-bedroom villas at the Martinhal Sagres Beach Family Resort (00351 282 240200; martinhal.com) start at £274 per night
Glorious glamping on the Silver Coast
Head to the Parque dos Monges (Monks’ Park), where homely wooden cabins and fishermen’s huts dot the park’s 60 countryside acres. In keeping with the monk theme – Cistercian monks have long inhabited the Alcobaca region – you will find a medieval village, an animal farm, a pool and wildlife-saturated lakes. The adventure centre provides endless fun, with everything from climbing walls, paintballing and zip wires to archery, canoeing and treasure hunts.
Book it: Four-person cabins at Parque dos Monges (00351 262 581306; parquedosmonges.com/en) start at £138 per night
Airlines including British Airways (ba.com), TAP (flytap.com), easyJet (easyjet.com), Ryanair (ryanair.com) and Jet2 (jet2.com) all fly direct from various UK airports to Portugal’s mainland hubs of Lisbon, Porto or Faro, as well as to Madeira. British Airways flies direct to Ponta Delgada in the Azores from London Heathrow, and Ryanair from London Stansted, with more routes available with a change in Lisbon or Porto.