Known for its soccer legends and dessert wines, pristine beaches, and ancient attractions, Portugal’s a glorious – and oft-overlooked – European travel destination that delights visitors of all ages and interests.
You can spend your days dipping toes into turquoise tidal pools, visiting modern metropoles, relaxing on sun-kissed shorelines, or strolling through picturesque countryside. But if that doesn’t float your boat, then maybe wine tasting will? Or witnessing the biggest waves in the world? Or exploring ancient castles?
Honestly, the list of fantastic things to do in Portugal goes on and on! So much so, in fact, that planning your itinerary can be a challenge.
To help, we’ve assembled a long list of 16 must-do Portugal activities as well as some incredible sights to see in Portugal while you’re there. Let’s dive in…
16 Fantastic Things to Do in Portugal
1. Explore Portugal’s Capital City: Lisbon
Lisbon’s the ideal place to start this list of things to do in Portugal. You could spend your entire trip here and never get bored!
Expect a unique blend of ancient and modern, with charming cobbled streets, tiled facades, wooden trams, and access to nearby beaches – not to mention all the amenities of a modern city. Take a stroll through the winding streets of Alfama and Mouraria, listen to Fado music blaring from the bars, enjoy one of the many festivals here, and take a trip on the infamous 28 tram.
If that isn’t enough to keep you entertained, there are also stunning churches (don’t miss the view from the top of the Panteao Nacional), world-class restaurants, and endless shopping opportunities at your fingertips.
2. Climb the Torre de Belem
This particular Lisbon tourist attraction deserves its own special mention. A UNESCO World Heritage Site and one of the capital city’s most impressive monuments, the Torre de Belem (AKA the Belem Tower) was built in the early 16th Century as part of a pioneering national defense project.
Protruding into the river, the tower – and its heavily fortified bastion – is an iconic sight. A lasting symbol of power that harkens back to the reign of King Joao II, it’s a must for anyone wondering what to do in Portugal, let alone what to do in Lisbon.
3. Enjoy Lazy Days on the Beach
Portugal’s blessed with countless miles of coastline and around 300 days of sunshine each year. Combine that with its cerulean seas and a day at the beach is all but obligatory in this part of the world.
The tricky part’s deciding which beach to visit first! It’d be impossible to list them all, but a few of the best Portugal beaches include:
- Praia da Falesia – a stunning 6km sandy beach with ochre-colored cliffs
- Praia da Furnas – a long, sandy beach in the south that’s ideal for family fun
- Praia do Camilo – a tiny, sandy alcove with dramatic cliffs near Lagos
Why not hire a surfboard and take to the waves at some point too? Portugal’s famous for its surfing opportunities. Whether you’re a seasoned pro or a complete beginner, you’re sure to find waves that are safe and suitable for your abilities. Trust us, this is another must-do Portugal activity!
4. Port and Wine Tasting in the Douro Valley
If you’re something of a wine connoisseur (or simply love a cheeky tipple on a sunny afternoon), then don’t miss the delightful Douro Valley.
Meandering across northern Portugal, this picturesque place is at the very heart of the country’s wine scene. Get ready to sample world-class wines as you gaze out across its dramatic terraced landscape.
Oh, and don’t forget the port! As its name suggests, Portugal’s the birthplace of this delicious red dessert wine. Don’t leave the Douro Valley without stopping in at one of the famous Port houses. Sandeman, Taylor’s, and Graham’s are just a few of the options at your disposal.
5. Visit Sumptuous Sintra
Few Portuguese towns boast as much intrinsic charm as Sintra. Located in the foothills of the Sintra Mountains and surrounded by forest, it’s a unique and enchanting place that deserves a spot on anybody’s Portugal bucket list.
Expect fairy-tale castles, extraordinary palaces, stunning gardens, and jaw-dropping views over the surrounding area. The quaint old town’s fun to explore and the natural beauty on offer is second-to-none. All told, it’s no surprise at all that this UNESCO World Heritage Site is such a popular tourist destination.
6. Dine on Portugal’s Delicious Local Cuisine
Indulging in the various gastronomical delights available is another of the best things to do in Portugal. This is a topic we could devote an entire blog post to, but a few notable dishes and treats include:
- Pasteis de Nata
Arguably Portugal’s most famous food, these sweet and flaky custard tarts are divine. Be sure to eat your fill and don’t feel an ounce of guilt for doing so!
The seafood in Portugal is spectacular and octopus is a particular local favorite. Check out a dish called Polvo a lagareiro to try it roasted alongside potatoes and copious amounts of olive oil.
You simply cannot beat the freshly grilled sardines (or sardinhas assadas, if you’re a local) that are caught and cooked in this part of the world.
7. Visit the Spectacular Benagil Sea Cave
Looking for another excuse to go to the beach and/or get out onto the water? Well, why not check out the striking caves that line the Algarve’s extensive coastline? There are many to explore – all of which are wonderful in their own way – but chief among them is the world-renowned Benagil Cave.
This huge, striking cavern’s close to the beach of Benagil in the district of Lagoa. It’s only accessible from the water, but it’s too dangerous to swim, so you have to join a boat trip, hire a kayak, or take a paddle board out there to explore. You’ll be pleased you did though. Exploring this extraordinary space is one of the best things to do in Portugal. Just try to get there early to avoid the crowds!
8. Head to Cascais Old Town
There’s a helluva lot to like about Cascais. Located just west of Lisbon, this idyllic resort town has gorgeous sandy beaches, a bustling marina, and an enticing old town that’s perfect for a mid-afternoon stroll.
Go ahead and pop it on your Portugal bucket list! Whether you’re keen to go sightseeing, shopping, surfing, or sunbathing, Cascais won’t let you down. Better still, the ice cream here is said to be the best in Portugal. Head to the Santini ice cream parlor in the town center to see what all the fuss is about…
9. Walk the Historical Way
Want to stretch your legs while you’re there? Well, walking the Historical Way would certainly be one way to do it. This 230km trail is a well-known long-distance route that takes you from Santiago do Cacem to the Cape of Sao Vicente.
A rural hike, it has 12 different stages that take you through some of Portugal’s most historic villages. You’ll follow beautiful forest tracks, with mountain ranges, creeks, rivers, and valleys around every turn! Whether you do the entire walk or an individual section, the Historical Way promises to be a special part of any trip to Portugal.
10. Lose Yourself in Lagos
The coastal city of Lagos is Portugal at its finest. Offering an attractive mishmash of surf and city life, this popular part of the country is the sort of place you go for a day and stay for a week.
You can enjoy the perks of the city (shopping, fine dining, bars, and nightlife…), hop from beach to beach, explore nearby cave systems, and find your own slice of paradise on the many secluded coves.
On that topic, don’t miss the Praia dos Estudantes with its remarkable Roman-style bridge that extends between two rock formations. Otherwise, you can simply spend many happy days in Lagos surfing, exploring, or sunbathing; sipping fresh cocktails or hot cups of coffee, and strolling slowly through its city streets.
11. Catch the Sunset at Cape St. Vincent, Sagres
Situated on the western edge of mainland Europe, most places along the Portuguese coast are ideal for watching the sunset. However, one of the most famous sunset destinations is Cape St. Vincent, in Sagres.
This magical part of the country is at its most south-westerly point. Sat atop the cliffs as the sun drops below the horizon, it feels like you’re at sitting at the edge of the world! Top tip:
If you want to visit the westernmost point on the continent too, head to the Portuguese promontory known as Cabo Da Roca. Located approximately 25 miles northwest of Lisbon, this granite cliff offers more outrageous views over the Atlantic.
12. Go on a Boat Trip to the Ilha Deserta
Also known as Barreta, Ilha Deserta is a true desert island getaway and one of the Algarve’s hidden gems. The only uninhabited island of Ria Formosa, expect 13 miles of pristine Portuguese beach set to a backdrop of spine-tingling natural beauty.
Accessible by speedboat from Faro, you can swim, sunbathe, and surf until your heart’s content, see all sorts of birds and wildlife, and enjoy first-class seafood at the island’s very own restaurant, Estamine. Don’t miss it.
13. Get Lost in the Enchanting Buçaco National Forest
Visiting the spectacular Buçaco National Forest is another must-do Portugal activity. Boasting 105 hectares of green open space, the history and mystique here is second only to the forest’s natural beauty.
Endless walking trails allow you to explore at your leisure and there are historical buildings too, such as the Buçaco Palace – as well as other points of interest, like the Coimbra Gate and the fabulous Fonte Fria fountain. If you’re looking for peace, quiet, and greenery, then this is undoubtedly one of the best things to do in Portugal.
14. Take a Tour of Coimbra University
The Buçaco National Forest is just 19 miles away from Coimbra – another bustling Portuguese city that’s host to its own long list of attractions. Why not pay it a visit on your way to (or from) the forest?
Expect lots of historical buildings and monuments, including the inimitable Coimbra University. Dating back to the 13th Century, it’s like something straight out of a fairy tale. Go on a tour to explore the campus, discover the university’s illustrious history, and see its stunning architecture with your own eyes.
15. Visit the Madeira Islands
Amazing Madeira is Portugal’s second autonomous island region. Comprised of 4 islands, it boasts a subtropical climate and dramatic landscapes that host everything from forests and mountains to volcanic rock formations and pebble beaches.
Coming to Madeira is yet another must-do Portugal activity. There are walking trails galore (don’t miss the Pico Ruivo do Paul trail if you’re a keen hiker), crystal clear waters to swim in, stunning wildlife to see, glorious botanical gardens, cable cars that take you to stunning viewpoints, and so much more.
16. Sea Some Monstrous Waves at Nazaré
No list of what to see in Portugal would be complete without the giant waves at Nazaré. When we say they’re unbelievable, we mean it. Thanks to an underwater canyon about 1km off the coast, the waves here regularly reach mindboggling heights of 50 feet and are sometimes over 100 feet tall.
Nazaré’s worth visiting for more than just its monstrous swell though. This charming town is in the historical province of Estremadura and offers all sorts of fun, family-friendly activities. Ancient chapels, lovely viewpoints, and a huge sandy beach are just a few of the options on its menu.
Remember These Fantastic Things to Do in Portugal
As you can tell, there’s no shortage of things to do in Portugal! With attractions to suit all budgets, interests, and ages, it doesn’t matter who you are or where you’re from – everyone stands to fall in love with this historic European travel destination.
While we’ve only scratched the surface of what’s available, we hope this list of the best things to do in Portugal will help you plan the perfect trip. Whether you attempt one or all of these must-do Portugal activities, you’re sure to have a memorable time. Looking for more ideas for your travel bucket list? Check out our article about 14 of the best tourist destinations in the world.
I’m Steve. I’m an English Teacher, traveler, and an avid outdoorsman. If you’d like to comment, ask a question, or simply say hi, leave me a message here, on Twitter (@thefrugalexpat1). Many of my posts have been written to help those in their journey to financial independence. I am on my journey, and as I learn more I hope to share more. And as always, thanks for reading The Frugal Expat.