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Top 5 Portugal destinations …to visit in 2018

| 07 Nov 2017

Portugal offers something for every kind of traveller but in addition to the known beach resorts of the Algarve, Portugal is a true gem for culture seekers. Here we list our top five favourite historical destinations to see in 2018.


Azulejos tiles presenting a historic view of Lisbon, Lisbon

Azulejos tiles showing a historic view of Lisbon in National Tile Museum

1. Lisbon

The capital is relatively small but there is plenty to see and do. Lisbon has interesting architecture, world-class museums, a lively cultural scene and excellent restaurants.

Alfama District, Lisbon

Alfama District, Lisbon

Visit Jerónimos monastery – the resting place of Vasco da Gama – and Belém tower, both Unesco world heritage sites. Explore the narrow, winding streets of the charming Alfama district – Lisbon’s oldest quarter – and visit the São Jorge castle for some of the best views over the city and the river.

Lisbon’s many funicular railways and trams are a great way to explore the city, but the city centre is also small enough to wander around on foot.

2. Sintra

Only 30 minutes’ drive from Lisbon, or a short train ride, Unesco-protected Sintra is ideal as a day trip. Set in the foothills of the Sintra mountains within the Sintra-Cascais Natural Park, which incorporates both lush forests and a dramatic coastline, the town is famous for its colourful and elaborate 19th-century villas and palaces. Using elements of gothic, Egyptian and Renaissance styles, Sintra became the first centre of European Romantic architecture.

Pena Palace, Sintra, Portugal

Pena Palace, Sintra

The must-see building in Sintra is Pena Palace, which was built in the 1840s. It has a medieval style of architecture and the interior is decorated with late-Victorian furnishings. Also visit the ‘Palace of Millions’ in the Regaleira Estate, built in a 19th-century gothic style.

3. Coimbra

Situated between Lisbon and Porto, the former capital of Portugal is home to the country’s oldest university. Coimbra’s old town boasts many exceptional historical buildings including its magnificent Romanesque cathedral.

The University of Coimbra, a Unesco world heritage site since 2013, was established in 1290, putting it among the world’s oldest universities.

Coimbra, Portugal

Coimbra University and the old town

Starting in the old town, wander uphill through the narrow, cobbled streets towards the university, which overlooks the city. Entry to the old courtyard is free, and from here you can enjoy excellent views. You may see pupils walk past in their traditional uniforms with long black robes, said to have been the inspiration for Harry Potter’s school uniform. Visit the university’s beautiful library and botanical gardens. We recommend booking these tickets in advance.

4. Porto & Douro Valley

Portugal’s second-largest city, Porto, has become increasingly popular to visit over recent years and for very good reason. The charming city centre is small enough to explore comfortably on foot and has plenty to visit. Many buildings are covered in colourful patterned tiles, a traditional Portuguese architectural feature.

The old city centre lies on the northern side of the Douro river while the southern bank houses many well-known port cellars including Taylor’s and Cálem’s, which offer walk-in tastings.

Must-see sights in Porto include the Romanesque-style cathedral, the Lello bookshop – which may have provided JK Rowling with further inspiration – the extraordinary Church of São Francisco with its gold interior, and Ribeira Square.

Traditional houses in the old ribeira district of Porto, Riverfront, Portugal

Traditional tiled houses in the old Ribeira district, Porto

A 90-minute drive from Porto is the picturesque town of Pinhão in the Douro valley.

One of the best ways to see the valley and sample the produce of this celebrated region is to take a cruise past the terraced vineyards that line the river.

Vineyards in the Valley of the River Douro, Douro Valley, Portugal

Vineyards on the banks of Douro river, Douro Valley

Read more about Porto and the Douro valley top 5 experiences.

5. Guimarães

Guimarães became the country’s first capital in the 12th century. Located about an hour’s drive north of Porto, this historic town has been referred to by Unesco as ‘the cradle of the Portuguese nationality’, who declared the city a world heritage site in 2001. Its well-preserved centre shows the development of traditional Portuguese architecture from the 15th to 19th centuries.

Its medieval centre is a warren of cobbled lanes and picturesque plazas surrounded by 14th-century buildings, while on an adjacent hill stands a 1,000-year-old castle and the vast palace built by the first duke of Bragança in the 15th century. Take the cable car (Teleférico de Guimarães) to Penha Hill on the south-eastern side of the city for superb views.

Toural Square (Largo do Toural), Guimaraes, Portugal

Toural Square, Guimaraes

Wherever you choose to visit in this fascinating and arguably underrated country, don’t forget to tuck in to some delicious Portuguese pastéis de nata (egg custard tarts) and a glass of port – or two!

Learn more about…
Porto and the Douro valley …top 5 experiences

Cox & Kings’ Europe expert Leah visited Porto and the Douro valley to experience the best of the north-west region of Portugal. Here, she shares her top five experiences including port tasting, river cruising and a fascinating bookshop. See more >

A long weekend in Douro
Mike Fleetwood spent three nights in the Douro Valley – Portugal’s famous port wine region. See more >

Recommended Cox & Kings tours
Porto & the Douro Valley

7 Days & 6 Nights from £2,095
Journey with a group of like-minded solo travellers from the coastal city of Porto inland to the major religious, historical and intellectual centres of Braga, Guimarães and Coimbra. Along the way, take a river cruise through the terraced vineyards of the picturesque Douro valley and sample the produce of this celebrated wine and Port producing region… See more >

Grand Tour of Portugal
10 Days & 9 Nights from £1,995
Discover the old-fashioned charm of Portugal on this 10-day tour from Lisbon to Porto. Along the way explore stylish seaside resorts; historic regional cities including Coimbra, Cascais and Obidos; and the picturesque terraced hillsides of the Douro valley, where Port, the world-renowned fortified wine, is produced… See more >


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