Posted on 16/04/2019
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.
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 Sť 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 ConstituiÁ„o 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.
Another university town, …vora has been a UNESCO world heritage site since 1986. Situated in the heart of the Alentejo, its colofrully trimmed houses, Baroque buildings, romantic balconies, and impressive city walls have been charming tourists for decades.
The city has an offbeat vibe, most distinctly characterized by its cathedral with its quirky, mismatched towers. The Capela dos Ossos is another example of the city's eccentric character. The small church is filled from floor to ceiling with human bones excavated from the municipal graveyards in the 16th century. An aqueduct from the 1500s arches over the city's skyline and …vora even has its own Roman Temple.
Baroque and Moorish architecture blend seamlessly in Coimbra. The city is most notably home to Portugal's oldest university. The University of Coimbra was founded in 1290 in Lisbon, but just ten years later it relocated to an old palace in Coimbra. The Biblioteca Joanina is one of the most spectacular wings of this UNESCO world heritage site. Built in 1717, over 250,000 volumes from the Renaissance to the 19th century line its gilded, Baroque shelves. For a jam session like no other, head to Fado al Centro. Every night at 6 PM, present and past university students gather to croon their hearts out over Portugal's favorite ballads.
Guimar„es' Gothic buildings and sprawling plazas are an easy train ride from Porto. The stark and imposing Dukes of Braganza Palace presides over the city, its spare exterior heavily influenced by northern European architecture. Filled with 17th century accoutrements, the castle is almost impossible to miss, and you won't regret a visit. The hills around Guimar„es offer great opportunities for hiking. Penha Park can be reached via cable car and is full of nature trails and views over the whole city. Or, if you're less interested in nature, just hang out among the olive trees in the Largo da Oliviera. The plaza is full of Gothic architecture including the town hall and the impressive Igreja de Nossa Senhora da Oliveira.
This is a trip for history buffs and castle lovers as there are numerous regal and regal-adjacent monuments scattered everywhere. The main draw is the prismatic Palacio Nacional da Pena, a citadel built in the 19th century. Surrounded by greenery, it was one of the Royal family's homes until the 1910 revolution. The nearby Palacio Nacional de Sintra was the first home of the Portuguese monarchs and nobility as early as the 15th century. Its minimalist Gothic architecture attests to its age, and belies the intricate interior. In addition to all this royalty, there's an old Moorish castle from the 9th century and the Palacio de Monserrate, a 19th century mansion inspired by Islamic architecture. Sintra is also located near the Cabo da Roca, the westernmost point in continental Europe.
Obidos is a short bus or train ride from Lisbon and is quite small, making it an easy day trip. Take a walk along the walls of the medieval castle to get a sense of this impressive fortified city. Once you get down among the labyrinthine streets, you'll find that the old town is just as splendid as the fortress with arches and entryways vaulting over its cobbled streets and blue and white tiles peeking out from around every corner. Pay a visit to some of the churches-turned-bookstores, or stay in a library-themed hotel! Obidos is even home to the largest collection of Buddha statues in Europe. Keep in mind that you won't be the only one who's discovered this lovable town. Plan your visit early in the morning or outside of the summer season to avoid the crowds.
Portugal's answer to Venice is just as charming and chock full of treasures. Located on the banks of the Rio de Aveiro at the edge of a network of saltwater lagoons, the best way to see the city is from a traditional wooden boat called a moliceiro. Admire the Art Nouveau architecture and small houses lining the canals, and when you arrive back on land wander through the playful streets decked out in bright colors and tiles. Ovos Moles are the local specialty and a must-try: sweetened egg yolks encased in a thin wafer. And don't miss a trip to the bustling fish market right in the center of town. Wake up early to watch fishmongers selling their wares, which have been plucked right out of the water. You can even have a taste at the restaurant upstairs.