I am in love with the sophisticated and elegant country of Portugal. From its museums, artifacts, and architecture that tell its wonderful story to its delectable food, warm people, and very diverse culture, Portugal is a place that I go back to every few years.
Here are some of the best things to see and do when traveling to Portugal. Be sure not to miss them when going to this magical place!
View the Ancient Drawings in the Côa Valley Archaeological Park
I was in awe when I first came across the Côa Valley Archaeological Park in northeastern Portugal. It was amazing to learn about thousands of rock drawings on huge slabs of granite dating back to the prehistoric era. To be in the presence of ancient rock art was a great feeling.
During the guided tour, I learned that the rock formations were discovered in the 1990s by a team of engineers who were planning to build a dam in the River Côa.
The drawings, which feature weapons, cattle, horses, and human figures, among many others, give us a glimpse of ancient history. Now, visitors can enjoy this UNESCO World Heritage Site and learn more about the history and images at the Côa Museum which is located at the park’s entrance.
Hike Up the Paiva Walkways
The Paiva Walkways or the Passadiços do Paiva in Arouca is one of the most interesting and unique hikes I’ve ever taken. I spent around three hours on the hike, but on average, it only takes about two and a half hours to complete the eight-kilometer hike along the elevated boardwalk.
The hike took me around the Arouca Geopark, a stunning landscape and biodiversity hotspot just outside the town of Arouca. We started in Areinho and went up and down the River Paiva. I often forgot that I was on a hike and stopped to admire the beauty of the gorges and woodlands along the trek.
This hike is definitely not for the faint of heart as this journey will really test one’s physical fitness and stamina. Every step of the way was worth it as we reached the end in Espiunca and got to lay eyes on the incredible view the area offers.
Cross the Border By Ziplining
Another daredevil adventure I experienced during my visit to Portugal was ziplining across the border from Portugal to Spain. I can proudly say that I was able to travel from Portugal to Spain in under one minute!
Called the Cross-Border Zipline, this activity is a cult favorite among tourists and locals alike. The zipline is the world’s only zipline that crosses a border between two countries, connecting Sanlúcar de Guadiana in Huelva, Spain with Alcoutim in the far north of the Algarve.
Equipped with safety harnesses and helmets, I zipped along the 720-meter zipline overlooking the hamlet of Sanlúcar, reaching speeds from 70 to 80 kilometers per hour. This activity is easily one of the best activities I ever did in Portugal.
Wander Around the Silves Castle in Algarve
Still in the Algarve region, the Silves Castle is located in what was once the capital city of Moorish Algarve. Silves was renowned as a center of learning and education where the most educated fellowmen gathered. The Moors then built the Silves Castle to protect the inhabitants of the town.
Today, the remains of the castle serve as a reminder of Moorish domination and Christian Reconquest. It is one of the most impressive historic and architectural monuments in the Algarve and in all of Portugal.
I was told to visit the castle in early August to take part in the annual Medieval Festival which takes place just outside the castle, but unfortunately, I was not able to visit the castle during that time. Still, walking around the castle was a peaceful experience which I would do over and over again.
Tour the National Palace and Monastery of Mafra
Located in the quaint countryside of Mafra, the Mosteiro Palácio Nacional de Mafra or National Palace and Monastery of Mafra is a stunning mastery of architecture representing grandiosity and glamour.
I made it a point to visit the palace because it is home to over 40,000 rare books stored in Rococo-style wooden bookcases which can only be visited via a guided tour. Aside from the library, I was also able to see the exquisite monastery, church, and basilica.
The palace dates back to 1717 and grew in size and décor as wealth from Brazil arrived. The palace took on the form of a Baroque palace furnished with exotic décor and artwork, as well as the marble-floored library.
Ride a Horse in Alentejo
I was never one for horseback riding because of my poor riding skills, but I was eventually able to conquer my fear during my visit to Alentejo. Riding a horse was a great way to see the many landscapes in the province from narrow streams and flower meadows, to sand tracks and lush forests.
Famed for its Lusitano breed and Coudelaria de Alter stud, Alentejo is a town known for its fascination with, and abundance of, horses. I was able to explore the province with the help of expert guides who knew horseback riding like the back of their hands.
Some of the places we visited were Comporta, a popular seaside destination; Ourique, located in the forests; and Alcácer do Sal on the River Sado.
Snap a Photo of the Roman Temple
Aside from horseback riding in Alentejo, I also visited the Roman Temple and the nearby Evora Cathedral, both great historical landmarks in the province.
The Cathedral is one of the best attractions in the province and is truly a sight to behold because of its Baroque and Gothic style. I was able to go up the roof and take in the amazing view from the top.
Just a stone’s throw away is the Roman Temple, Evora’s most iconic monument. This UNESCO World Heritage Site is one of the most impressive Roman buildings in Portugal. I spent some time marveling at the structure and took the opportunity to snap a ton of photos.
Climb Up the Bom Jesus do Monte
Bom Jesus do Monte in Braga is Portugal’s grandest religious sanctuary and is regarded as one of the most important pilgrimage sites in the country. My family and I have been here several times, but I never get tired of climbing up the 116-meter-long staircase made of granite.
Along the way, we saw the Sacred Way, some chapels featuring the Stations of the Cross, and the Escadório dos Cinco Sentidos midway. We reached the Staircase of the Three Virtues (Faith, Charity, and Hope) which led to the church of Bom Jesus.
Once we reached the top, we were greeted with a spectacular and lovely panoramic view of the countryside. On our second visit, we rode the vintage 1882 funicular and got to the top in just three minutes.
Kayak Along the Lisbon Coast
I enjoyed our time kayaking and exploring the Lisbon Coast. Because it is near the ocean, we had a plethora of choices for exciting water sports, beaches, coves, and bays.
My personal favorite was exploring the pristine waters of the Serra da Arrábida Natural Park. There, we witnessed and viewed a unique landscape of ancient sea cliffs.
We also went to the stunning Ribeira do Cavalo beach which lies within a protected marine reserve.
Visit the Mosteiro dos Jerónimos
A symbol of Portugal’s golden era of conquest and expansion, the Mosteiro dos Jerónimos stands as one of the country’s most revered and visited buildings. It sits atop the Lisbon travel bucket list for almost every tourist who comes to the city because of its history.
The Mosteiro dos Jerónimos is one of the finest examples of Manueline architecture, featuring an extensive and grand interior that houses the tomb of Vasco de Gama and Luís de Camões, Portugal’s greatest poet.
I especially loved walking along the halls of the church and monastery and marveling at the decorations that embellish the grand architecture.
These are just some of the things I loved doing during my many visits to Portugal. You may not do them all, but this will give you an idea of some of the things to do and places to see. Portugal is a country that I fell in love with the very first time I visited and as you can see from this varied list, there’s much to explore here.
I can’t wait to go back and visit more places, meet more people, and learn more about the rich history this country has to offer. Put Portugal on your travel list today!