Need help? Find out more about our Covid Cover, how to update your policy online & the latest travel updates in our Covid Help Centre

5 Most Beautiful Regions in Portugal

Posted on June 16, 2021 by Jennifer Hudson
Old university city of Coimbra in Portugal

Looking to explore the best regions and find out what to do in each area of Portugal?

As one of Europe’s top holiday destinations, Portugal has plenty of beautiful locations dotted across the country.

Find out where they are below, to help plan your next trip when it’s safe to travel.

1. Algarve

The Algarve is one of the best regions to visit in Portugal if you’re looking for a sunshine-filled beach break. Stretching from Monte Gordo in the east to Costa Vicentina Natural Park in the west, the coastline is a mix of wild, deserted bays, long swathes of golden sand and beach towns with plenty of nightlife.

If you’re looking for peace and quiet with natural beauty, head to the westernmost corner of the region, where you’ll find rocky coves and beaches backed by sandstone cliffs.

For a livelier beach holiday, the seaside towns of Albufeira and Lagos have buzzy marinas, bars and restaurants serving fresh local seafood.

This region has plenty more to offer besides beaches. There are captivating Moorish towns like Silves, with its terracotta-roofed houses and red-brick castello perched on a hill.

Tavira is home to azulejos-filled churches and a maze of cobblestone streets you can get lost in. Faro, with its tiny medieval centre, pretty squares and pavement cafes, is also worth a trip.

The miles of walking and cycling trails make the Algarve an ideal destination for anyone seeking an active break. Hike or cycle along the coast between small towns and fishing villages where tourists are barely seen! And if you love golf, there are more than 40 courses to choose from.

View of Lisbon from the Tagus River

2. Lisbon and the Tagus Valley

Lisbon is the most varied of Portugal’s regions, and has something for everyone whether you’re into culture, history, food, wine or nature. As well as the cosmopolitan capital city, there’s the royal town of Sintra, the beach resorts of Cascais, Estoril and Ericeira featuring nature reserves, vineyards and more.

The capital city, Lisbon, should be your first stop. Catch an impromptu fado session in the old neighbourhood of Alfama, stroll along the lively waterfront and take in city views from a miradouro at sunset, with a drink in hand!

Only an hour from Lisbon by train is Sintra, the summer holiday resort of Portugal’s kings, where you can explore extravagant nineteenth-century palaces.

Travel west along the coast and you’ll reach Estoril and Cascais, popular seaside resorts with wide sandy beaches to enjoy. Further along the Atlantic coast is Ericeira, a beach town with pretty whitewashed houses and fresh seafood aplenty.

Lisbon is a fabulous region for wining and dining. The capital is full of fantastic places to eat, ranging from fine-dining restaurants and cool joints serving modern Portuguese cuisine to typical tabernas serving petiscos (small tapas-style dishes) and cevicherias.

To the north and west of the city you’ll find a growing number of vineyards producing everything from sweet fortified wines to refreshing whites and award-winning reds.

To the south is Costa Azul (the blue coast) with seafood restaurants, golf courses and miles of beaches. This area also has two natural reserves. Sado Estuary Natural Reserve is a marshy wetland that is home to 250 bird species. Arrabida Natural Reserve is a hilly coastal park with hiking trails and sheltered coves perfect for snorkelling and diving.

Medieval village of Monsaraz in Alentejo

3. Alentejo

Alentejo is the rural heart of Portugal, filled with wheat fields, olive groves, pastures and vineyards. Foodies love this region for its hearty soups, meaty casseroles and cheeses. Many towns have their own specialities – in Almeirim, try sopa de pedra, a rustic soup with beans, potatoes and cured meat. Don’t forget to try sericaia, a dessert of egg custard with sugar plums, in Elvas.

Wine lovers can follow the Alentejo Wine Route north from Beja to Vidigueira, Evora and Estremoz to sample the region’s aromatic whites and full-bodied reds.

Alentejo’s towns and villages are worth exploring too. Marvao and Monsaraz are romantic fortified villages with breathtaking views over the surrounding hills into Spain. In the world heritage cities of Elvas and Evora there are chapters of history going back centuries to discover.

Extending from Costa Vicentina Natural Park to the Sado River estuary, Alentejo’s coastline is perfect for hiking, birdwatching, with many wild beautiful beaches and authentic fishing villages. In the middle of the region, the Alqueva Dark Sky Reserve is the go-to spot for walking, canoeing and horse riding trips under a blanket of stars.

City of Porto in Portugal

4. Porto and Northern Portugal

Northern Portugal was the birthplace of the Portuguese nobility who ruled the country for almost 900 years, making it the perfect place for history lovers. Home to one of Europe’s top national parks, this region also offers plenty in the way of outdoor adventures too.

Delve into Portuguese history in the towns and cities of the north. Porto is a shipbuilding city with more than 1700 years of history. Guimaraes was the first capital of Portugal, and has a well-preserved medieval centre. Braga is an ancient Roman town filled with churches, palaces and mansions.

Don’t miss the region’s many architectural gems, from the baroque palaces of Minho to modern landmarks like the Casa da Musica in Porto, designed by Rem Koolhaas.

Tour the wine-producing villages of the Douro Valley, where port wine comes from. Originally, wine was transported down the river to Porto where it was aged in the wine cellars of Vila Nova de Gaia. The best time to visit would be in September and October, during the grape harvest.

The mountainous north is fantastic for outdoor activities. Peneda-Geres National Park encompasses four mountain ranges, where you can hike, bike, swim in natural pools and soak in thermal springs. Arouca Geopark, an area of mountains, deep gorges and fast-flowing rivers, is where to go for canyoning, canoeing, river-rafting and mountaineering.

View of Coimbra at night

5. Central Portugal

Central Portugal is perhaps the least known but most authentic of Portugal’s regions. This is where to come to discover local produce and Portuguese crafts. There’s also plenty for nature lovers and hikers to enjoy.

Coimbra is the largest city in the region, and home to Portugal’s oldest university, which was founded in 1290. Aveiro is a city built on a network of canals and waterways which you can explore in a moliceiros, a colourful boat traditionally used for gathering seaweed. Tomar, with its 850-year-old monastery that was once the headquarters of the Knights Templar, is also worth visiting.

The central region is a fantastic place to discover Portuguese crafts and produce. In the towns of Aveiro, Ovar, Alegre and Caldas da Rainha, you can see wonderful examples of Portuguese azulejos and visit porcelain factories where they are made.

Local produce worth hunting for includes artisanal sheep’s cheese from Serra da Estrela and red wines from the Dao Valley. Throughout the whole region you’ll find bakeries selling cakes, pastries and sweets that originated in local convents and monasteries.

The windswept Atlantic-facing coast has many authentic fishing towns, where boats bring in the local catch and restaurants dish up mouthwatering seafood casseroles and shellfish soups. Visit Nazare, where top surfers tackle enormous waves, or Ilhavo, a cod fishing port and an excellent place to try the famous Portuguese salted cod dish, bacalhau.

For hiking, head to Serra da Estrela, Portugal’s highest mountain range, where you can follow miles of marked trails through beautiful valleys concealing medieval villages made entirely of schist and slate. The Ria de Aveiro Estuary, Tagus International Natural Park and Sao Jacinto Dunes Natural Reserve are all excellent spots to go birdwatching.

Looking to plan a trip to Portugal? When it’s safe to travel, travel insurance for Portugal can give you the confidence you need to set foot back on a plane and embrace your next adventure.

Jennifer Hudson

by Jennifer Hudson

Jennifer Hudson is a freelance travel journalist and content creator. Her favourite UK city break experience is a food tour of London’s Borough Market.