A destination with a little bit of everything: culture, history, views, and amazing food, Portugal has all the elements of a dream vacation. Whether you have a week or just a few days, visiting this little slice of heaven (read: pastel de nata) is a must. From sailing along the coastline and hiking across breathtaking landscapes to snacking your way through the streets of Lisbon, we’ll tell you the spots you can’t miss.
1. Surf the world’s biggest waves in Nazaré
Grab your surfboard and forget about Australia and Hawaii. Home to the highest wave ever surfed (80 feet/24 meters), Nazaré is a go-to destination for surfers and landlubbers alike. Just a few hour’s drive north of Lisbon, travelers head to Nazaré’s beaches to scope out the waves from the famous lookout point, Miradouro do Suberco. For premium swell sightings, we recommend heading to here between October and March.
2. Unwind on Ilha Deserta
Formally known as Ilha da Barreta, this “deserted” island is one of the five barrier islands of Ria Formosa. Frequented by fishermen and visitors, this uninhabited beauty is home to flora, fauna, and one restaurant. Just a short sail away from Faro, we recommend hitching a ride to Ilha Deserta on a catamaran. Once you arrive, walk the sandy beaches and soak up the unspoiled nature. This is what getting away really feels like (minus any Castaway scenarios).
3. Find your dream beach outside of Porto
Portugal’s 560 mile (900 km) coastline is home to its fair share of unique beaches. One such beach, Miramar, is just a short drive from Porto. Why is this beach so special? Aside from being perfectly picturesque, it’s also home to Senhor da Pedra, or Lord of the Rock. This tiny chapel is a must-see for history and culture buffs alike, as the building dates all the way back to 1686. If you head further south, you’ll stumble onto Praia do Paraiso, or Paradise Beach. This beach is only reachable via a set of cliff steps, so make sure you’re wearing the right shoes.
4. Walk the Fisherman’s Trail
Portugal has so many hiking trails to choose from — and with each route more breathtaking than the next, it’s tough to decide where to go. Arguably Portugal’s (and the world’s) most picturesque coastal path, the Fisherman’s Trail draws walking enthusiasts from all over the globe. Travelers can start their walk anywhere along the trail, though it officially starts in Porto Covo and ends in Odeceixe. 75 miles (120 km) long and easily accessible, hike as much (or as little) as you want. Pro tip: be prepared for strong ocean winds, occasionally steep paths, and beautiful scenery. If you end up at the bottom portion of the trail, consider heading to Sagres, one of Europe’s most southwestern points renowned for its sunsets.
5. Visit the Venice of Portugal
The perfect destination for a day trip from Porto, Aveiro is a charming little city famed for its colorful canals, Art Nouveau architecture, and moliceiros boats. Often referred to as the Venice of Portugal, Aveiro is a lovely spot to enjoy a traditional Portuguese town minus the hustle and bustle of the big city. And it doesn’t hurt that the beautiful beach of Costa Nova is a mere hop, skip, and jump away. After you’ve explored the beach, get a feel for Aveiro’s past on a walking tour. Discover the city’s historical center, fish market, and salt ponds before heading to the New Coast to soak up seaside views.
6. Discover breathtaking caves
The only thing more spectacular than the Algarve’s beaches are the stunning rock formations found along its coastline. Whether you explore by boat, kayak, or paddleboard, a visit to the Algarve is a must. The region’s highlight, the Cave of Benagil, is the star of many a traveler’s Portugal highlight reel. Head here for otherworldly hues as the turquoise waters of the Atlantic reflect against the light from the cave’s open roof. And if one cave isn’t enough, Lagos’ Elefante Cave in the Ponta de Piedade area is a dramatic rock formation well worth the trip.
7. Journey to the end of the world
We (hopefully) all know that the Earth isn’t flat, but standing on the cliffs of Cape St. Vincent, or Cabo de Sao Vicente, sure feels like you’re about to fall off the edge of the world. As one of the most southwestern points of continental Europe, this dreamy destination is one to tick of your bucket list by enjoying a “last bratwurst before America” at a local food stand of the same name.
8. Explore Europe’s trendiest capital
A trip to Portugal isn’t complete until you’ve visited its artsy capital. Lisbon’s age-old yellow cable cars will transport you from A to B in what may feel like the hilliest city in the world. No matter where the cable cars (or your legs) take you, you’ll soon realize there’s no shortage of things to do. Take in the views from Park Bar (an inexpensive rooftop bar in the city center), enjoy exhibitions at the Museum of Art, Architecture and Technology (MAAT, for short), and under no circumstances leave the without enjoying a pastel de nata from Manteigaria, a famous little bakery that produces fresh batches every hour.
9. Marvel at the almond blossoms
Japan has cherry blossom season, and it’s gorgeous (we know). A lesser-known destination for springtime splendor: the Douro Valley in northern Portugal. This lovely region completely transforms from late February until early March, when white flowers are in full bloom. Legend has it that a young king had the almond trees planted to woo a Nordic princess. He hoped that by covering the valley with white almond blossoms, she would be reminded of the snow back home. We’re not sure if it worked — but it did leave the Douro Valley especially lovely come springtime.