The charm of Portugal's two most famous cities is undeniable, but what's outside of Porto and Lisbon? Here are 10 unmissable cities to add to your Portugal itinerary.
Don't follow the crowd
Lisbon and Porto are all the rage, but what about the rest of Portugal? The small southwestern country is home to numerous cities and towns that shine just as bright as their more famous neighbors. These 10 unmissable spots in this sunny seaside paradise will show you both a different side of Portugal and even more of the country's boundless charm. Dive a little deeper into Portugal's inimitable history, culture and landscape.
Since Braga is home to one of Portugal's largest universities, it exudes an exuberant atmosphere by day and a raucous nightlife after dark. Connected by rail to Porto, it makes a great day trip, but be sure to leave early because there's much to see!
It's easy to tell that Braga is the religious center of Portugal thanks to the constant ringing of church bells and many religious buildings around the city. It's even home to the oldest cathedral in Portugal, the Sé de Braga, dating back to the 11th century. Located just outside the city, the Bom Jesus do Monte Church with its endless Baroque staircase is also a must-see. Besides churches and religious buildings, Braga is also home to sprawling plazas and regal, Baroque buildings like the Palacio dos Biscainhos and its gardens. The ornate manor house dates back to around the late 16th century, and stayed in the same family for three generations.
Unlike many old town centers that have been dressed up for tourists but abandoned by local businesses, the old center of Funchal is still full of life. The narrow streets and market stalls are living, breathing elements of the city, having been frequented by locals for centuries. There's even a hat factory that's been in the same spot for over 60 years. Although not connected to the Portuguese mainland, the heart of the Madeira island chain still merits a mention thanks to its long and storied history. It's been the capital of Madeira for about 500 years and was named for the abundance of fennel that once grew there.
"Sledding" down the road in a wicker toboggan is one of the city's most famous pastimes. Once upon a time, sliding down the hills was the quickest way to get to the bottom of Funchal, but now the carreiros mostly cater to tourists. The city is known for its lush gardens, particularly the Madeira Botanical Garden, which offers views over the Atlantic and Funchal. And since it's located in a valley with a sub-Mediterranean climate, you can enjoy the city's wonders any time of year.
As the capital of the Algarve, visitors often fly into Faro and then head straight for the beach, missing out on the town's charm and whimsy. The city's whitewashed walls and cobbled streets are fit for at least a day's wander, and the sleepy atmosphere of fishing boats and domino-playing locals is sure to put you at peace. If you're looking for the hustle and bustle of a classic resort town, Faro isn't for you.
Close to the Ria Formosa salt lagoons and wetlands, it's the temporary home of many migratory birds and wildlife. Although the beaches may not be as stellar as elsewhere in the Algarve, it makes a great stop on any trip through the country especially for nature lovers.
Farther along the Algarve you'll find bustling, busy Lagos. Partially enclosed by 16th century fortifications, the city is a tourist hub for those looking to explore Portugal's best beaches. There are swaths of sand for every type of beach bum, and its old town is a haven for architecture and culture lovers. The manicured Jardim da Constituição runs along the seaside promenade, and is the best place to see the city's old walls. Lagos is also notorious for its effervescent nightlife, thanks to its many beautiful beaches.