Oh HELLO land of stunning beaches, fairy-tale castles, buzzing cities and devilish little custard tarts! Portugal is an absolute gem of a country, a vibrant mix of old and new. If you’re broke AF, but still want to hit up Europe this summer, then Portugal has everything you need. Not only is the food incredible and cheap, the hostels are amongst the best in the world and consistently come up trumps at our annual hostel award based on your reviews. And with so many stunning beaches and hiking opps you’ll hardly spend a penny when you’re there.
So what are the best places to visit in Portugal? From the mainland that hugs the Atlantic Coast to the remote islands of the Azores, there really is an incredible piece of Portugal for everyone that you’ll no doubt end up falling in love with. So buckle up, it’s time for an epic custard tart crawl adventure around Portugal.
Sintra is like something straight out of a fairytale. It’s one of the most beautiful places to visit in Portugal with its historic castles, quirky mansions and a whole heap of idyllic gardens to get lost in for days. It’s a great spot for hiking but if you don’t have long here, we recommend renting a rickshaw for the day; it’s a pretty epic way to see all the sights including Pena Palace, The Castle of The Moors and the often overlooked Montserrat Palace, all of which are just jaw-droppingly pretty.
To save money on eating out, grab some olives and other nibbles before you go and enjoy a slap-up picnic in the lush forests… alfresco dining at its finest! To swerve the crowds, set off early and avoid weekends if you can.
Because of its remote location far from the mainland of Portugal itself, the Azores islands are one of the best places in Portugal to get off the beaten track. If you love nature, hiking and surfing then this set of islands adrift in the middle of the Atlantic Ocean are the perfect place to escape to this summer.
The Azores are very budget friendly like most of Portugal, and since everything here revolves around exploring the great outdoors, you’ll hardly spend a penny once you’re here. We recommend hiking around the coastal routes for breathtaking views, trekking the Praia-Lagoa do Fogo trail and finishing off at Lagoa do Fogo, a lake that sits in a volcanic lagoon where you can take a cooling dip after all that exertion.
Lisbon has become one of the coolest destinations for backpackers in Europe, and it’s easy to see why. To get your bearings in this historic city swerve the tourist busses and hop on board Tram 28. It’s a pretty rickety ride on board this historic tram, and be prepped for the lack of air conditioning in the height of summer, but it’s the best way to explore the city quickly, authentically and cheaply.
After seeing some of Lisbon’s most iconic sights, such as the Belém Tower and the Santa Justa Elevator, it’s time to lose yourself in the backstreets of Lisbon’s diverse neighbourhoods. It feels like there’s street art, creative spaces (check out Village Underground Lisboa) and pretty squares around every corner. And at night, Lisbon really comes into its own, with some of the best clubs (if you only visit one, make sure it’s Lux Fragil) and bars in the whole of Europe. A good place to start your evening is the city’s former red light district, Cais do Sodré.
For budget-friendly piri-piri chicken head to Restaurante Bonjardim and after a long night on the town, there’s no better way to refuel than with the locals at A Merendeira – try the homemade soup and fresh chorizo bread. With so many things to do and see, it’s easy to see why Lisbon is one of the best places to visit in Portugal. For more tips and reasons to visit, read our love letter to Lisbon.
Lagos is the most southwesterly city in mainland Portugal, and it’s everything a Portuguese city should be: rustic, cultured, and really flipping hot. For a tasty bit of South American-inspired grub that won’t break the bank, hop on over to Beats & Burritos. Make sure to try their spicy salsa and yummy quinoa pots.
What makes Lagos really special is the stunning countryside and coastline that surrounds it. Just 2 miles south along the coast is the Ponta da Piedade, a group of beautiful rock formations nestled in the ocean. Although this is a popular tourist destination in Portugal, it’s still well worth a visit because it’s one of the best places in the whole country to watch the sun go down with an ice-cold beer in hand. For more stunning beaches nearby, read our Algarve road trip guide.
Cascais is around 1 hour west of Lisbon, perched overlooking the Atlantic Ocean. Take a stop at this coastal town to explore its historic centre, the idyllic Guincho Beach and discover the rugged coastline around Boca do Inferno. For some tasty Portuguese grub, head over to Melody for authentic regional dishes that will blow your mind!
It’s got all the historic charm, gorgeous tiles and custard tarts of Lisbon but with fewer crowds – what’s not to like?! Porto is one of Europe’s most underrated cities and definitely one of the best places to visit in Portugal if you’re looking to avoid being one of the herd.
Head over to explore the beautiful streets of the Ribeira district where there’s ample opportunity to chill out and relax in the city’s gorgeous cafes and bars. Just like Lisbon, Porto is the kind of city where you should go with the flow and explore the back streets on foot. If you want to do the tourist thang, then Clerigos Tower is well worth a visit and you can go sample the city’s famous tipple at Portologia afterwards.
Nestled in the centre of the country, Tomar is one of the most beautiful places in Portugal and also one of the most historic. Be sure to make a pit stop at the stunningly beautiful UNESCO World Heritage site Convent of Christ. For a more unusual and quirky experience, head over to Museu dos Fósforos, a matchbox museum that’s considered by some to be one of the best museums in the world. Just a heads up, if matches don’t strike your interest, you’ll probably want to give this a miss. To get your pretty castle fix, head over to Castelo de Almourol. Sitting on its own rocky perch overlooking the lake below, it’s a great place to experience a stunning Portuguese sunset.
One of the most westerly points of mainland Europe, Sagres is the perfect place to experience some of the impressive natural landscapes of Portugal. Make sure to drop by Fortaleza de Sagres, an awesome fort jutting out into the Pacific that’s a little off the beaten track but worth making the effort to see. Head over to A Casínha, a family-run affair that serves up authentic Portuguese cuisine and is the best place to fill your tummy before heading up the coast.
If you’ve packed your surfboard, head over to Praia da Mareta and catch some of the epic waves that shape the shoreline. If you’re more of a hiker, there are loads of free trails that weave between the natural landscape in and around Cabo Sao Vicente. The dramatic cliffs, crashing waves and amazing views are unforgettable and the area doesn’t get too crowded even in summer.
Famed the world over for its incredible waves, this is one of the best places in Portugal for water sports lovers. The great thing about Ericeira is the award winning surfing schools that cater for all types of surfers, from novices to pros. If the surf fills you with more fright that fun, stay on the dry land and enjoy the region’s gorgeous sandy beaches.
All that surfing is likely to have worked up a thirst, which is easily remedied by a dash towards ADEGA bar. This atmospheric and traditional bar is perfect for an afternoon chill session accompanied by live music.
Perched on the south coast in the Algarve region, Faro is a buzzing student city that should be on every backpacker’s list. It’s one of Portugal’s most popular cities, but it’s still possible to get off the beaten track here. If you want to avoid the crazy crowds in the summer, head towards Barreta Island, fondly known as Ilha Deserta. Take the 30-minute ferry from the centre of Faro to experience a whole other world. Think gorgeous sandy beaches, sun-kissed shores and amazing waters that are perfect for an afternoon dip.
The massive student population means there are plenty of fun and affordable food and drink options. For a wallet-friendly lunch, head over to Tasty! for some of the best chicken wings in the region.
Get yo broke ass to Portugal already!
…Um, did we already mention how delicious the hostels in Portugal are?! If that’s not a sign then we don’t know what is.
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