Portugal’s tourism sector continues to grow every year, and besides Lisbon, Porto, and the Algarve, much of Portugal is still relatively unexplored by travellers. For a small country, there is quite a wide variety of different activities to explore, such as wine-tasting throughout the various wine regions, hiking through national and natural parks, and of course, taking in the sun of the Southern European country along the dramatic Atlantic coast.
Discover the traditional side of the country that is untouched by tourism, wandering through the charming little street of the typical Portuguese villages and tasting the finest of Portuguese cuisine in its most authentic form, whether that be on the mainland of Portugal, or on one of the stunning Atlantic islands, with lush forests and volcanic formations to hike through. There’s something for everyone’s taste in Portugal, and that doesn’t mean that you have to visit the most crowded places to find it!
Located on the gorgeous Alentejo coast is where you’ll find Melides, a charming beachside town known for its access to some of the most pristine beaches in Portugal. This beach town is perfect for anyone looking for a relaxing getaway to the coast without having to deal with the crowds that more popular beach areas in Portugal attract, like in Algarve or Cascais. Melides is a blissful, peaceful escape into nature, and there are even nearby hiking trails through the hills, so the naturally beautiful destination has quite a lot to offer.
The town of Melides is rather tranquil and has not been built up to support huge fluxes of tourism like other beach towns in the country, so you’ll be treated to exploring an authentically Portuguese village. Make sure to stop in one of the many seafood restaurants and taste the freshest fish of the day, a fundamental element of Portuguese cuisine. While bacalão, or Portuguese cod is a must-try, some other delicious seafood options include Amêijoas à Bulhão Pato, which is a unique style of Portuguese clams that was voted into the top three best traditional dishes in the world!
Where to Stay:
This cute and cosy countryside house is the most affordable option near Melides, about 7 kilometres from the town.
Stay on an authentic farm with beautiful views surrounded by pine trees, and a pool all to yourself.
Relax in a holiday home all to yourself close to the centre of Melides.
2. Schist Villages
The Schist Villages offer visitors the opportunity to explore the rural countryside. Made up of 27 villages in total, these villages are characterised by buildings constructed from local schist stone that blend into the natural landscape around it. These villages are spread out around the north and central areas of the country, and each one is extremely unique. All of the different villages have something to offer its visitors, whether it be traditional handicrafts and artwork, to natural landmarks, and regional cuisine in family-run restaurants.
Casal de São Simão is one of the villages located in the Serra da Lousã mountains and offers breathtaking views over the Zêzere River, and is one of the best villages for anyone looking to get a glimpse of the incredible countryside and its natural beauty. Cerdeira is an artsier village which has become a popular destination among artists, as the town is filled with different workshops and galleries that showcase local arts and crafts. Be prepared for some great shopping and local products! Ferraria de São João only has 50 inhabitants, but nearby is a beautiful waterfall worth taking a hike to called Pedra Ferida.
3. Parque Natural do Alvão
This gorgeous natural park is located close to the town of Vila Real, and is known for its lush vegetation and a variety of different water elements, ranging from rivers to waterfalls. The park is also surrounded by the Serra do Alvão mountain range. One of the main attractions of the natural park is the Fisgas do Ermelo, which is one of the largest waterfalls in all of Portugal, over 200 metres tall. The Miradouro das Fisgas de Ermelo is a scenic point that offers beautiful views over the cascade, but for anyone who wants a closer look, there is also a hiking trail that takes you down to the base. Besides just the waterfall, there are a ton of different walking trails that offer different types of scenic journeys and are a great way to explore the park. These hikes and trails also vary in difficulty level, so make sure you check in advance and plan accordingly!
There is quite a lot of biodiversity and interesting animals that you may come across on your hikes through the natural park! Otters swim in the rivers, mountain goats trek up the cliffs, and you may see wild boars, hares, rabbits, deer, badgers, and vipers, and on the rare chance that you may see an Iberian wolf! The biome is very fascinating and makes for exhilarating hikes as you spot the animals! If you’re lucky while looking into the sky, you may catch a glimpse of the rare golden eagle. Small villages are sparsely scattered throughout the park. Lamas de Olo is a cute stop with stone buildings. There is not much going on in the rustic town, but it is very picturesque rural village.
Odeceixe is a cobblestone village most well known for its white-washed houses and proximity to beautiful beaches, and arguably the main attraction of the village is Praia de Odeceixe, the closest beach near a small river, with clear blue waters, golden, soft sands and a stunning backdrop of cliffs. The beach is also great for surfers, and you’ll see plenty of them throughout the year heading to the uniquely shaped beach for its strong waves. The small village is filled with traditional shops, restaurants, and cafes that are a great break from the beach.
Alongside the beach is Rio de Seixe, the river meets the sea at the beach, forming a lagoon around the beach, creating a horseshoe shape out of the sand. Recently named one of the 7 Wonders of Portugal, the beach is incredibly distinctive looking, and you can even paddleboard or kayak in the river leading up to the ocean. There are also some beautiful hiking trails that offer views over the coastline and the surrounding areas, perfect for soaking up the incredible views over Odeceixe.
Where to Stay:
Share a bedroom with other guests with a cute outdoor dining area and patio.
Spacious rooms run by friendly hosts, offering lake and mountain views
Set in a traditional building in the centre of town with charming, modern rooms.
5. Pico Island
Pico island is one of the islands a part of the Azores archipelago and is home to the tallest mountain in all of Portugal, Mount Pico. Mount Pico attracts adventurous folk that are looking to hike up the volcanic summit, and those who embark on the journey are often rewarded because on clear days, you can catch a glimpse of the nearby islands of Faial and São Jorge. The hike is on the more challenging side and can be quite intimidating, especially on your own. Many tours leave across the island for guided hikes up the mountain, so make sure to look into this option if you feel more comfortable setting up the mountain with a local guide.
Its location set in the middle of the Atlantic Ocean makes Pico Island a great place for seeing wildlife, especially in the ocean. Tours leaving the island set out to spot whales, dolphins, and other sea creatures that call the Azores their home. Expect to be amazed by the variety of whales and dolphins that may pop up next to your boat on this whale-watching tour.
Pico is also well-known for the unique wine that has won it many international awards. The wine, verdelho, is grown on the volcanic soil in the region, which is known for being some of the best soil to cultivate grapes on in the country. Make sure to grab a glass of it during your meal at a traditional Azorean restaurant, or visit a quinta to taste the delicious wine produced by each respective farm. Check out our full itinerary of Pico island and the Azores here.
Where to Stay:
A quiet Azorean building with comfortable rooms and friendly staff.
A gorgeous, traditional house with a large private pool, patio, and mountain views.
Relax in a private holiday home, fully furnished and surrounded by the lush greenery.
6. Peneda-Gerês National Park
Rugged mountains, crystal-clear rivers, deep valleys, crashing waterfalls… Are you sold yet? Portugal’s only national park is dominated by these incredible natural features, and is a beautiful place to escape into nature. Backing up to the Spanish border, Peneda-Gerês National Park is paradise on earth, especially if you’re looking for some hiking or adventure. There are a wide variety of different hiking paths that you can take, ranging from easy, calmer ones that aren’t overly strenuous to intense mountain treks. During your hikes, you’ll be rewarded with hidden waterfalls and swimming holes that characterise the park. If hiking isn’t your thing, but you are still up for an adventure, you can check out a wide variety of other outdoor activities like kayaking, canoeing, or mountain biking!
Peneda-Gerês is home to important cultural and historical landmarks as well, so there is a lot more than meets the eye in this natural park! Ancient castles like Castelo de Lindoso give a glimpse into the Portuguese history of the region, and you can also explore the mountainous villages like Fafião, a stone settlement that used to be used for hunting the Iberian wolves, and now offers beautiful lookout points throughout the park and Ermida, a traditional town which offer a look at how the settlements in the national park live to this day, getting an authentic feel for the culture in the mountains of Northern Portugal!
Where to Stay:
This charming bed and breakfast is close to the Gerês thermal spa, offering a relaxing getaway surrounded by the mountains.
Stunning views of the national park and the Cávado River can be seen from this fantastic hotel.
Outdoor and indoor swimming pools, as well as luxurious wellness facilities make for a great getaway in nature.
Alongside the river, Coimbra is known for its old university which has been an important part of Portuguese education and history for centuries, with a stunning old campus listed as a UNESCO World Heritage site. Coimbra is also the birthplace of one of the most famous cultural traditions in the country, the melancholy Fado music that dominates the Portuguese music scene, so head into one of the many quaint bars throughout the city that will be playing Fado all night long. Besides its rich music and influence, the traditional city of Coimbra is absolutely beautiful to walk around, with colourful buildings dominating the skyline, filled with adorable shops and restaurants. .
If you’re curious about the UNESCO-protected university, you can take a walking tour of the oldest University in Portugal and learn about the great minds that shaped the country into what it is today. In 2 hours, you’ll get to explore the most beautiful buildings in Coimbra, rich with intellectual history, and this is a great way to hear about some of the stories and legends of the university that have been told for years.
Make sure to take some leisurely time around the old city, stopping and admiring the architecture, the river, and the deep-rooted traditions that are still celebrated to this day in this town and its university, perhaps over a coffee or a meal overlooking the riverbank.
Where to Stay:
Clean hostel rooms located in an optimal, central location of Coimbra.
This modern hotel is near the river bank of the Mondego River, right in the heart of Coimbra.
On the site of a famous 14th-century romance story that took place in Coimbra you’ll find this hotel and its incredibly elegant architecture.
8. Ponta Delgada, Azores
Ponta Delgada is the biggest city in the Azores, as well as the capital of the islands. The city itself is incredibly rich in history, and in the historic centre, you can wander through the old streets and uncover some of the best gems in town, such as Mercado da Graça, a traditional Portuguese market that represents Portuguese market culture in its fullest, making it a great place to taste some of the finest culinary delicacies on the island. Another favourite in the city is known as Portas da Cidade, which is a 3-arched gateway that leads into the old town and is one of the city’s most photographed spots!
The Atlantic city is a gateway to the rest of the incredible island of São Miguel. The volcanic island is filled with amazing natural beauty and features that will stun you upon arrival! Some must-visits on the island include Sete Cidades, a massive crater that spans over 3 miles, and Furnas, which are relaxing, bubbling hot springs that are perfect for a quick swim and even for a meal! A traditional stew from the Azores, called Cozido das Furnas, which literally means cooked from the Furnas, and yes, this stew is buried underground and is cooked completely by the volcanic temperatures!
São Miguel is quite a big island, so one of the best ways to explore it is to head out with a knowledgeable local who can show you the best places on the island. This tour takes you to some natural wonders of the islands like the Véu da Noiva waterfall, amazing viewpoints of the island like Ponta do Sossego and Vila Franca do Campo. You’ll even get to explore the traditional village of Povoação, which translates from Portuguese to mean ‘village’, which is the oldest settlement on the island! For more ideas on visiting São Miguel, check out our itinerary on the island.
Where to Stay:
This hostel has a social atmosphere, delicious breakfast, and comfortable beds in either shared or private rooms.l
Spacious guest rooms situated in a 19th-century historical building, only a 5 minute walk from the seaside.
This 5-star hotel was recently renovated, serves up traditional Azorean cuisine, and offers gorgeous views of the Ponta Delgada Marina.
9. Douro Valley
Everyone has heard of the authentic city of Porto, the namesake for the sweet wine famous worldwide, but did you know that while the wine is named after the city, all its production takes place in the Douro Valley? The diverse landscape is home to hundreds and hundreds of Quintas, which are essentially farm estates, in the case of the Douro Valley, most act as vineyards. Explore the Douro Valley tasting the best wines and enjoy the natural beauty of the hills alongside the Douro River. Visit the historic train station of Pinhão which is known for its traditional blue and white tilework, which is known in Portuguese as azulejo, the famous tiles you’ll see sold in hand-painted throughout the country. The train station’s interior and tilework is fabulous, depicting history and stories throughout the Douro Valley and Pinhão with those hand-painted tiles.
Many tours leave from Porto that take you to some of the most impressive vineyards in the wine region, stopping at the Quintas, so that you can taste everything from the whites to the roses, ranging from the dry to the sweet. With this day trip leaving from Porto, you will get to visit two different vineyards, which of course, means taste test! Not to mention, you’ll visit the adorable historical town of Pinhão, and see the traditional town from a boat view as you sail down the Douro river. Combining your trip with a visit to Porto is an amazing way to see the countryside and city life of Portugal. Explore Porto and with a day trip to the Douro Valley in depth with our itinerary.
Where to Stay:
A friendly, family-run hostel with a social atmosphere in the heart of Pinhão.
Stay literally on the Douro River with this cosy, modern boat transformed into a luxurious stay for travellers.
This luxury hotel is located inside of a former 18th-century wine estate offering stunning views over the Douro Valley.
10. Costa da Prata
Costa da Prata is home to some of the most stunning beaches in all of Portugal, with incredible rock formations that are overlooked compared to the sudden coast of Algarve. Peniche is one of the most dramatic coastlines with beautiful beach getaways, and the town of Nazaré is home to some incredible waves which have drawn in professional surfers from all across the world. Actually, the biggest wave ever recorded to be surfed in history took place in Costa da Prata, at Nazaré, at 80 metres high! Head to Aveiro to admire the unique, colourful architecture along the waterfront. The town against the lagoon is known as the Portuguese Venice, and its definitely recommended to hop in one of the moliçeiro boats that are the Aveiro equivalent of a gondola, and head down the lagoon to see the city from a different, equally as enthralling perspective.
Another highlight of Costa da Prata is Óbidos. This UNESCO World Heritage site is one of the most charming little villages in all of Portugal, and it is a great stopping point when driving between Porto and Lisbon. The white-washed buildings have orange and yellow accents, and traditional Portuguese architecture overtakes the streets. Spend some time exploring the artisan shops that offer the finest Portuguese products and a ton of ginja, a cherry liquor that is famous in Portugal that actually originates from here. Plenty of shops and bars will sell versions of ginja, but our personal favourite is the ginjinha shot which is served in an edible chocolate cup. Absolutely delicious! Óbidos is an amazing destination year-round, but one of the most special parts of this town is its Christmas celebrations. The town turns into a Christmas Village, which attracts visitors from all around the country.
Where to Stay:
A charming hostel situated in a historical building in the centre of Óbidos.
A stunning building in the heart of the beachside town, Figueira da Foz, just a short walk from the beach.
Located near the stunning beach of Peniche, this hotel offers relaxing, leisurely activities.
Ericeira is the destination for you if you’re into surfing, as it has become world-renowned for its ideal coastlines for the watersport. The coastlines create some of the worlds best waves, and it should definitely be a bucket-list destination for anyone interested in surfing. Between April and October, Ericeira is well-suited for beginners looking to try out the sport, as the waters are much calmer during this time.
Even if you’re timid to take up surfing, the beaches are still a beautiful little getaway on the coast of Portugal. The beaches are wide and sandy, and you can come to watch the surfers, soak up the sun, and enjoy the warmth. Some of the most gorgeous beaches along Ericeira include Praia do Norte and Praia dos Pescadores, beautiful, calm beaches set below rugged cliffs. Praia de São Sebastião is one of the best for surfing the big waves, but be aware that the water can be a bit rocky!
The main town in Ericeira filled with adorable and hip shops, trendy cafes and restaurants, and some of the best seafood that you will ever eat, as the village is a fishing village. The town is super cute to walk throughout and enjoy the boutiques before heading out for your beach day!
Where to Stay:
This hostel offers a variety of group activities, boasts a cool outdoor barbeque, and is within walking distance from some of the best beaches.
Stylish and charming traditional but modern rooms are located just a 350-metre walk from the beach.
Stay beachfront at this stunning, elegant hotel with a breathtaking pool.