Portugal is an amazing place, full of delicious food and drink, amazing buildings, and cultural experiences. Make sure to include a trip to Portugal in your Europe travel itinerary!

To listen, hit play below or find episode 339 in iTunes, Stitcher or Soundcloud:

1. Eat

“Food is really important to us Portuguese,” an acquaintance of mine said as we ate a rather nice lunch at a conference I was at recently. “This food is just okay, but even for ordinary occasions, we have to eat well.”

You can certainly eat well in Portugal. Though I’m not the biggest fan of the ubiquitous bacalhau (salt cod) even the most basic of meals seem to have a deliciousness about them. Make sure to try pasteis de nata, a tiny custard pastry made by most bakeries; most famously the Pasteis de Belem Factory just out of Lisbon. A pilgrimage to this bakery is a non-negotiable on many tourists’ itineraries.

Pasteis de Belem.
Pasteis de Belem.

2. Drink

Although you might associate Portugal with port (and fair enough too), the country also produces a wide range of white, red, and even green wines. Vinho verde (green wine… it’s actually white) is mostly produced in the Douro valley, and is ridiculously refreshing.

If you can’t do a wine tour around the vineyards, stop into a
ViniPortugal in Lisbon or Porto, where you can taste a range of Portuguese wines at a reasonable price (or even free!). Or just order a bottle with lunch or dinner!

Also make sure to try ginjinha from the hole-in-the-wall shop in Largo de Sao Domingos square in Lisbon (just off Rossio square). This sour-cherry liqueur was originally sold by an ex-monk from this very shop after the dissolution of the monasteries in the early 1800s.

Wine in Portugal
Make sure to try the wine!

3. Get to know the people

Less vociferous than their Spanish neighbours, Portuguese people tend to be pleasant and friendly when you get to know them. If you’re looking for a way to have contact with locals outside the tourist bubble, try using Couchsurfing, AirBnb, or a homestay, or find a conversation exchange partner to help you pick up the language.

Linda, Isabel and Jorge at the Memorias de Tierra ii ceramic exhibition in Portugal
One of our favourite memories of Portugal was heading to an art exhibition with our Couchsurfing host, Jorge.

4. Learn Portuguese

Speaking of which, why not learn a little of the language while you’re there? English is widely spoken, so this isn’t essential, but at least learn the basics so you can order coffee or say thanks as you leave a shop.

Affordable courses are available in Lisbon and Porto, or get a grammar book and a private tutor and dive in yourself. Make sure to start speaking from day one! Check out our languages page and Benny’s books on language learning.

5. Head to Porto

Of course, you’ll want to do some exploring, and Porto is a great place to start. This was the port where port wine started its sea journey to England and further afield, so a taste of its namesake beverage is a must. Try a port tonic for a refreshing afternoon drink.

There are museums and tours, but my favourite thing to do in Porto is just to wander around. The architecture is so gorgeous!

Porto town hall
Porto town hall

6. Admire the Azulejos

One thing you’ll notice in Portugal is the abundance of tiles, often depicting agricultural scenes in an attractive blue and white colour scheme. All the train stations are covered in these, and many buildings have a tile frontage and/or hallways and other rooms decorated with patterns or pictures.

We particularly like Pinhão’s emblematic train station, whose azulejos show wine production techniques and scenes of traditional life in the area.

Painted tiles on the Pinhão train station building
Painted tiles on the Pinhão train station building

7. Visit some castles, monasteries, or other awesome buildings

There are plenty of amazing buildings for those who are interested in architecture or history, particularly in the north of the country.

We particularly liked Guimarães, a World Heritage city that’s most famous for its twelfth-century castle and narrow medieval streets. Braga is another gem; the 600 steps up to the sanctuary of Bom Jesus are worth the effort. You can also visit Viana do Castelo, which was named after Vienna but has more in common with Paris: the sanctuary of Santa Luzia is a copy of the Sacre Coeur, and the city also features a green bridge designed by Gustav Eiffel of Eiffel Tower fame.

The Sanctuary of Santa Luzia at dusk.
The Sanctuary of Santa Luzia at dusk.

Further south, the National Pantheon in Lisbon is worth a visit, as is the bone chapel in Faro inside the Carmo Church.

8. Explore Lisbon’s 7 hills by foot and elevator

Lisbon is an unashamedly hilly city, with the “downtown” area nestled downhill from pretty much anywhere. Wander around, explore the neighbourhoods, take in a fado show or two… you’ll love it.

Lisbon funicular
Lisbon is steep.

9. Get your nature fix in the Algarve region

The Algarve is a great place to get into nature, particularly the Ria Formosa Nature Park. You’ll get to see a range of birds and environments, and will get a lot more out of the experience if you go with a guide or a good guidebook!

Hiking the Ria Formosa in the Algarve. Beautiful!
Hiking the Ria Formosa in the Algarve. Beautiful!

10. Head to the Portuguese islands of Madeira and the Azores

We haven’t made it to any of the Portuguese islands yet, but we’ve heard very good things about them — they’re #1 on our list of “things to do in Portugal next time”!

Where to next? Check out our itinerary of five underrated European cities!

Heading to Portugal? Buy your travel insurance, book your accommodation, or shop on Amazon after clicking these links. It doesn’t cost you any more but we get a small commission. Cheers!
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Your thoughts on "Top 10 things to do in Portugal"

  • Highlights and really interesting when talking about Portugal

    on June 22, 2017 at 2:11 am Reply
  • I love ronaldo, love this beauty, love the country of Portugal

    on July 8, 2017 at 2:30 pm Reply
  • Portugal was fantastic. Interesting, so much History, beautiful country and nice people. Would love to return to Portugal.

    on July 19, 2017 at 4:12 pm Reply
    • I agree, Portugal is one of my favourite places!

      on July 19, 2017 at 8:20 pm Reply
  • Portugal is wonderful cosmopolitan, with best culture, vibrant night life and historic sites. Portugal offers sunshine, lush, green mountains and glorious beaches. Once I have been to Portugal and tried to talk in Portuguese. It was quiet difficult for me yet very helpful while staying there and about food it’s delectable.

    on December 9, 2017 at 12:23 am Reply
    • Yes, Portugal is an amazing place! I'd love to be able to speak Portuguese... one day I'd like to do classes in Porto or Lisbon. :)

      on December 11, 2017 at 9:38 am Reply
      • Yeah ofcourse you should... helps a lot and saves time

        on December 11, 2017 at 9:11 pm

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