Portugal has everything you need for a dream vacation. Spend your time unwinding on idyllic beaches, hiking breathtaking cliff passes and eating your way through a mountain of pastel de natas thanks to our guide to the country’s most unmissable spots.
1- Take to the waves Listen up surfers: forget Australia and Hawaii. The highest wave ever surfed (24m) was in Nazaré, just a few kilometers north of Lisbon. Even if you’re not that into surfing, from the lookout point of Miradouro do Suberco, you can enjoy spectacular views of the ocean crashing against the rugged coastline. The biggest waves usually occur in early November, but you’ll need a bit of luck to catch an elusive 20m one. Unfortunately not all of us are able (or crazy enough) to surf waves as high as a house, but luckily Portugal has more surf spots to offer than just Nazaré. On Arrifana Beach in the southwest of the country, perfect surf swell awaits you on a stretch of coastline that’s lined with high cliffs.
2- Unwind on a deserted island An uninhabited island that’s basically just one giant beach with a little restaurant on sounds pretty damn perfect in comparison to the touristy alternatives on the mainland. Soak up the sun, swim and repeat all day – with absolutely nobody disturbing your peace. The nature on Ilha Deserta is still relatively untouched, and its remoteness will make you feel like you wandered into paradise. Instead of spending the entire day on the island, you can take a catamaran tour that visits both Ilha Deserta and Ilha Farol. The latter is ready-made for hiking enthusiasts since there are no roads or vehicles.
3- Find your dream beach Portugal’s 900 km coastline is home to its fair share of unique beaches. One such beach, Miramar, is just a short drive from Porto. Here, embedded in dreamy white sand and built on several rocks, sits Senhor da Pedra, a picture-perfect little chapel marooned in the middle of the beach. If you find yourself further south, head to Praia do Paraiso (Paradise Beach). You can only reach the beach by walking down a set of cliff steps, but you’ll be rewarded with a stunning sandy beach that truly lives up to its name. The charming fishing village of Carvoeiro, which overlooks Praia do Paraiso, is well worth exploring.
4- Get lost in nature There are seemingly millions of different hiking tracks you can choose to tackle in Portugal – and with each route more breathtaking than the next, it’s tough to settle for just one or two. Arguably Portugal’s (and the world’s) most picturesque coastal path is known as the Fisherman’s Trail, a single track along the cliffs of the west coast. Even though the whole trail is 120 km long, it’s easily accessible meaning you can choose to hike as much or as little as you want. If you’re less of a hiker, you can enjoy the many different paths (or even kayak routes) in Arrabida National Park, just a short drive from Lisbon.
5- Meet the Venice of Portugal With its brightly painted gondolas peacefully floating through the canals, Aveiro easily gives Venice a run for its money. Each gondola (also called a Moliceiro) is unique, usually painted to depict traditional landscapes found around Aveiro. They were originally used to collect seaweed in the lagoon, but you’ll now see them taxiing locals and tourists. Make sure to also explore the city by foot – Aveiro boasts beautiful pastel houses, public gardens and a century-old train station with stunning blue azulejo tiles.
7- Do go chasing waterfalls After a quick forest hike in Serra do Açor, you’ll find yourself standing in front of the stunning 20m high Fraga da Pena waterfall. If you’re brave enough, you can go for a swim in the lagoon that sits underneath it, but only if you don’t mind very (and I mean very!) cold water. The closest ‘big’ town is Coimbra – it’s easy to reach from Fraga da Pena and the perfect starting point for a camping trip.
8- Venture to the end of the world We (hopefully) all know that earth is not flat, but when you’re in Cabo de Sao Vicente it sure feels like you’re about to fall off the edge of the world. At the most southwestern point of continental Europe, you’ll find an almost hundred-year-old lighthouse that sits perched atop cliffs that can reach up to seventy meters. You can enjoy “The Last Bratwurst Before America” from a little food stand while you take in the amazing scenery. In the unlikely case that you get sick of the view, just a kilometer before the lighthouse is Fortaleza do Belixe, a 15th-century fort that’s packed with history.
9- Explore Europe’s trendiest capital A trip to Portugal is incomplete until you’ve visited its artsy capital city. The age-old yellow cable cars will transport you from A to B in what may feel like the hilliest city in the world. No matter where the cable cars (or your legs) take you, you’ll soon realize there’s no shortage of things to do in Lisbon. Take in the views from Park Bar (an inexpensive rooftop bar in the city center), enjoy exhibitions at the MAAT and do not leave the city without enjoying a pastel de nata from Manteigaria, a famous little bakery that produces fresh batches every hour.
10 – Marvel at the almond blossoms Everyone’s heard of the gorgeous cherry blossom trees in Japan, but you’ll find something equally as beautiful at the very edge of western Europe. From late February until early March, the Douro Valley in northern Portugal becomes a flower paradise you really don’t want to miss. Legend has it that a young king had the almond trees planted to woo a Nordic princess. He hoped by covering the valley with white almond blossoms she would be reminded of the snow back home. We’re not sure if it worked – but it did leave us with a breathtaking natural spectacle to enjoy! Be sure to celebrate the blossom with the locals at the Folklore Festival of the Almond Trees in Mogadouro.