The Best Things to Do in Portugal

Portugal is often thought of as a small, sunny country with lots of great beaches. That is without doubt, but dig a little deeper and you will find a country steeped in history and bursting with its own distinctive and proud culture.

Once one of the most powerful and richest nations in Europe, much of Portugal's fortune was sunk into indulgent monuments, grand architecture and fantastical palaces in and around Lisbon. Whilst this ultimately almost financially ruined the country it has left visitors spoiled for choice with so many things to do in Portugal.

If cities aren't your thing then there is stunning countryside a plenty on offer. Perhaps best known are the national park in Geres or the Douro Valley near Porto. For something in the middle try the magical town of Sintra with its hilltop, fairytale palace and ancient castle. And beach-lovers need not worry - the Algarve is lined with beautiful golden sand beaches and set up for family-fun.

We have created this list of the best things to do in Portugal based on our opinions. There are however an official 7 Wonders of Portugal chosen by the Portuguese public and a panel of eminent scholars. In honesty, a mere seven iconic sights doesn't do Portugal justice, so our list is a little longer.

  • Jeronimos Monastery
    Jeronimos Monastery
    Jose Manuel

    The Jerónimos Monastery was built during most of the 16th century in the Manueline style. It was built at a time when Portugal had an empire and was in the mood to show the World its status through a plethora of monuments and palaces


  • Pena Palace Sintra
    Pena Palace
    IPPA/António Sacchetti

    Fairytale castle meets Disney palace set on top of the hill high above Sintra. This UNESCO World Heritage Site is one of the finest examples of 19th century Romanticism anywhere in the world


  • Round church - Convento de Cristo - Tomar
    Round chapel, Convento de Cristo

    This former Knights Templar stronghold dates back to the 12th century. During the 15th and 16th centuries the monastery benefited from several Manueline additions including cloisters and the stunning chapterhouse window.


  • Batalha Monastery
    Batalha Monastery

    This extravagant mix of Late Gothic and Manueline architecture is rightly placed on UNESCO's World Heritage list. Built in the 14th century by King João I to celebrate victory in the battle of Aljubarrota the monastery houses both his and his son, Henry the Navigator's, tombs


  • Bom Jesus do Monte - Braga
    Bom Jesus do Monte - Braga
    Rafael G Fernandes

    Pilgrimage site with a monumental, Baroque stairway climbing 116 metres up to the impressive church. The truly devoted climb the last section on their knees!


  • Torre de Belem
    Torre de Belem
    E Pawłowska

    The Tower in outstanding example of 16th c. Manueline architecture. Standing on the waterside at Belem it was built as both a celebration of the age of the Discoveries and to defend the mouth of the river.


  • Quinta da Regaleira - Sintra
    Quinta da Regaleira

    Stunning romantic style palace and chapel set in parkland featuring lakes, grottoes, wells and fountains. Built by Carvalho Monteiro at the turn of the century as a private residence the estate was in private hands until it was purchased by the local council in 1997


  • Porto Bridge from Vila Nova da Gaia
    Bridge from Vila Nova da Gaia

    The double-decker Dom Luis I bridge is an icon of the city of Porto. It spans the River Douro linking the Port wine houses of Vila Nova de Gaia with the bustling downtown Ribeira district of Porto. Construction took place between 1881 and 1886 with the bridge being built adjacent to an existing bridge which it replaced. The granite pillars of the original bridge are still in place, standing on the Ribeira like a pair of gate posts.

    It is probably no coincidence that the bridge passes more than a fleeting resemblance of its neighbouring bridge, the...


  • Capela dos Ossos (Chapel of Bones) - Faro
    Capela dos Ossos - Faro
    Jonny Joka

    Without doubt the most macabre of Faro's many attractions is the Capela dos Ossos (Chapel of the Bones), a minuscule ossuary chapel lovingly decorated with the bones and skulls of over 1000 human skeletons. The chapel forms part of the beautiful 18th century Igreja da Nossa Senhora do Carmo (Our Lady of Mount Carmel) Church, with its whitewashed Baroque exterior and richly gilded interior. Towards the back of the church, on the right hand side, a small door leads to a walled garden and this is where the Capela dos Ossos...


  • Alcobaca Monastery
    Alcobaca Monastery

    The monastery of Santa Maria de Alcobaça is another UNESCO World Heritage site. This medieval monastery was the first to be built in the Gothic style in Portugal. Consists of many later additions and a a real insight into monastic life at the time.


  • Lamego Sanctuary Nossa Senhora
    Sanctuary of Nossa Senhora dos Remédios

    Set atop a baroque staircase with 686 steps is the shrine and rococo church. To either side of the staircase is dense woodland with furtherr pathways and shrines


  • Evora Cathedral cloisters
    Cathedral cloisters

    Évora's imposing cathedral (Sé Catedral de Évora) is situated in the very heart of the old city and the UNESCO World Heritage site. The oldest parts of the building date back to the 12th century, which was when the Moors were finally driven out by the Christians. As a consequence it is no coincidence that this mighty cathedral has certain aspects which resemble a fortress. Probably most people's first view of the cathedral is the façade which looks out over the Évora's main square. The rose granite façade consists of the main entrance portal over which is an impressive Gothic window with...


  • Igreja de Sao Francisco - Porto
    Igreja de Sao Francisco

    Fine Gothic church situated just behind the Ribeira. Designated a UNESCO World Heritage Site the church has a particularly fine Baroque interior


  • Lisbon Cathedral and tram - Alfama
    Lisbon Cathedral

    Reputed to be the oldest building in Lisbon, the cathedral (Sé de Lisboa) certainly has the appearance of being built to last. Compared to the frivolous Manueline architecture of the Jeronimos Monastery the Romanesque lines of the cathedral appear quite austere. Along with castellated walls and arrow slits in the towers Lisbon Cathedral, like other Portuguese cathedrals of the period, had the appearance of a fortress as much as a church.

    Work began on the cathedral in 1147, the same...


  • Moors Castle - Sintra

    Situated on a high hilltop above the town of Sintra the site does indeed date back to the Moorish occupation of Portugal. The walls and towers that you see now though are the Romantic/decorative work of the 19th century King Ferdinand II


  • Elevador de Santa Justa, Lisbon
    Elevador de Santa Justa)

    The Elevador de Santa Justa (Santa Justa lift) is a 47 metres (145ft) Lisbon's only remaining vertical elevator and connects Rua do Ouro in the Baixa to Largo do Carmo near Bairro Alto. It was built, along with several other cable powered urban lifts and funiculars, in a time before cars and the Metro. Whilst this may sound quite utilitarian and uninteresting nothing could be further from the truth.

    Inaugurated in 1902, the elevator is a cast iron tower decorated with Neo-Gothic style filigrana details. Some say it is reminiscent of the Eiffel Tower in Paris, and this is not...


  • 25 de Abril Suspension Bridge, Lisbon
    25 de Abril Bridge
    Günter Wieschendahl

    Stretching across the estuary at the Tagus River in Lisbon is the Ponte 25 de April (25th April Bridge); the largest suspension bridge in Europe and the 20th longest in the world. Often considered as a twin sister of the Golden Gate Bridge in San Francisco because of its similar design the bridge in Lisbon is actually 300 feet (100m) longer.

    Officially opened in 1966 the Ponte 25 de April was considered the primary connection between north and south Portugal until the Vasco da Gama Bridge was built in 1998. Around this time works were carried out to suspend two railroad tracks under...


  • Marvão Castle

    Built towards the end of the 13th century by King Dinis, Marvão castle dominates the village. Enclosed within its walls are two cisterns and a keep and offering spectacular views to the Spanish frontier


  • Porto Cathedral cloisters
    Porto Cathedral cloisters

    The austere and imposing cathedral in Porto was built during the 12th and 13th centuries in the Romanesque style. Alterations during the 18th century have made the façade more appealing


  • Mafra National Palace
    Mafra National Palace

    Built in the Baroque and neoclassical style the enormous palace / monastery dwarfs the town of Mafra. At the time of its construction in the 18th century this was one of the largest buildings in Europe


  • Parque Natural - Ria Formosa - Faro
    Parque Natural da Ria Formosa
    Can Stock Photo Inc

    The Ria Formosa estuary forms a complex of lagoons,marshes and salty areas. The park which extends 60Km along the coast provides habitats to a wide range of wildlife


  • Silves Castle

    Situated overlooking the town below Silves Castle is considered the best preserved of the Moorish castle in Portugal


  • Arco da Vila - Faro
    Arco da Vila - Faro
    Morgan Davis | BY-SA

    Faro's fine neo-classical archway is the entrance to the Algarve city's old quarter (Cidade Velha). It was built on the site of a much older medieval gateway in the city walls by order of Bishop Francisco Gomes do Avelar in 1812. He oversaw much of the reconstruction of Faro after the devastating 1755 earthquake.

    The design is the work of Genoese architect Francisco Xavier Fabri. Also hailing from Italy is the statue set in the recess above the arch - it is a figure of St Thomas Aquinas, a 13th century Italian religious scholar.



  • Cristo Rei - Lisbon
    Cristo Rei

    Standing at over 110 metres tall on the opposite bank of the Tejo to Lisbon is Cristo Rei. Built between 1949-59 the statue was inspired by the Christ the Redeemer statue in Rio de Janeiro.


  • Zoomarine Algarve
    Zoomarine Algarve

    Promoting conservation, environmental education and FUN! Zoomarine combines an important message with hands on shows and a huge water park.

    Located just a few kilometers from Albufeira, here you can see presentations with the parks animals. The highlight of all these has to be the dolphin show which is along the lines of those at the famous Florida Seaworld. These feature displays of amazing acrobatics and the dolphins showing off their intelligence. Not only can you watch the performance, you can swim with the dolphins, although this does require booking in advance.