Loading ...

What are the Best Cities to Visit in Portugal? [Mainland + Islands]

Looking for the best cities to visit in Portugal? Explore this curated list to inform your Portugal itinerary and make the most of your Portugal trip.

Planning a Portuguese adventure? Wondering what are the best cities to visit in Portugal beyond the usual suspects? 

In this guide to Portugal's cities, I'll provide a snapshot of each destination to provide some inspiration for your Portugal itinerary

Look at this post as your launchpad to an amazing city-focused trip to Portugal with curated summaries of Portugal's must-visit cities and hidden gems you may not have heard of

Each section of the guide links out to more detailed information about that destination to help you dive deeper as you plan your trip. Let's go!

Douro River and the city of Porto viewed from Vila Nova de Gaia

Lisbon and Nearby

Let's start our exploration of the best cities to visit in Portugal in and around the Portuguese capital. Lisbon is home to Portugal largest airport which means you'll most likely start or end your trip here.


This bustling metropolis offers a captivating blend of history, culture, and culinary delights. Explore the magical Castelo São Jorge, or take a scenic stroll along the harbor, soaking in the city's atmosphere.  

For a unique perspective, hop on the iconic Tram 28E, traversing the charming neighborhoods of Alfama and Bairro Alto. 

Indulge in Portugal's culinary scene, savoring Lisbon's signature pastel de nata (custard tart) and a diverse range of traditional and international flavors.

✨ Deep dive into Lisbon hidden gems or the Lisbon coffee scene

View of the city of Lisbon with a focus on Castelo São Jorge

Almada and Cacilhas

A short ferry ride across the Tagus River brings you to Almada, where the colossal Cristo Rei statue, reminiscent of Rio's Christ the Redeemer, offers panoramic city views. 

The journey itself is delightful, providing scenic vistas of the river, the April 25th Bridge, and the Cristo Rei statue for less than €3 (round trip).  In Cacilhas, a charming town accessible from Almada, explore the Farol de Cacilhas lighthouse, the Frigate Dom Fernando II e Glória, or take in breathtaking cityscapes from the Elevador Panorâmico da Boca do Vento.  

Foodies will love the fresh seafood options at Cacilhas' restaurants, while photographers will delight in capturing the town's colorful streets and historic buildings.

✨ Deep dive into a day trip to Almada by ferry

Two blue doors and Portuguese sidewalks in Almada


Cascais, a picturesque coastal town near Lisbon, offers a delightful escape. Explore Cabo da Roca, the westernmost point of continental Europe, and marvel at the dramatic coastline. Stroll along the coast from Boca do Inferno into the city of Cascais, enjoying the refreshing sea breeze. 

Indulge in fresh seafood at Moules and Gin, a popular spot located on a pedestrian-only street. Art enthusiasts will appreciate the town's cultural offerings, with a former fortress transformed into a vibrant artists' complex. 

If you visit in late December, be mesmerized by Cascais' festive transformation with charming Christmas decorations.

✨ Deep dive on Cascais for Christmas

Castle in the city of Cascais


Sesimbra, a short drive south of Lisbon, makes a perfect lunch stop on a day trip to the Setúbal region.  This charming city on the Atlantic Ocean is renowned for its fresh seafood.  Savor delicious dishes, like black swordfish, at a renowned restaurant like O Velho e o Mar. 

History buffs will appreciate exploring the Forte de Santiago de Sesimbra, a well-preserved fortress overlooking the sea. Sesimbra's compact size allows for easy exploration in 90 minutes, making it a great addition to your Lisbon itinerary. 

Pair your visit with a wine tasting tour in the Setúbal region. Sesimbra is not far from Azeitão, home to the oldest winery in the area.

✨ Deep dive on Sesimbra and a day trip to Setúbal

Beachfront in Sesimbra, Portugal


Sintra, a UNESCO World Heritage Site, is a popular day trip from Lisbon, offering a magical escape amidst the Sintra Mountains. Explore the dramatic Castelo dos Mouros (Castle of the Moors), a ruined fortress with stunning views. 

Choose from a variety of activities, including palace tours, hiking forested trails, hiring a tuk-tuk for a guided tour, and savoring Portuguese cuisine at local restaurants. 

Easily accessible by a 30-minute train ride from Lisbon, Sintra is a must-visit for those seeking a unique blend of history, nature, and charm.

✨ Deep dive on Sintra at Christmas

Sintra National Palace viewed through the trees

The Cities of Central Portugal

Now let's take a look at the cities in the Center of Portugal, a region that is often overlooked by tourists.


Glide along the canals of Aveiro aboard a moliceiro, a colorful boat traditionally used for harvesting algae.  This charming city, nicknamed the "Venice of Portugal," offers a unique perspective on Portuguese life. 

Art lovers will delight in Aveiro's Art Nouveau architecture, with detailed doorways and azulejos (painted tiles) adorning historic buildings. 

Indulge in ovos moles, a traditional Portuguese sweet treat, and savor fresh seafood dishes at Aveiro's waterfront restaurants.  

Photographers will capture stunning visuals of the canals, the Art Nouveau details, and the traditional Calçadas portuguesas (mosaic sidewalks).  

Extend your trip by visiting nearby Costa Nova, known for its colorful striped houses (and sometimes flamingoes!) or explore the maritime heritage at the Museu Marítimo de Ílhavo.

✨ Explore how to spend a weekend in Aveiro

Canal boats in the city of Aveiro Portugal

Castelo Branco

Castelo Branco, nestled amidst rolling hills, serves as a gateway to the majestic Serra da Estrela Mountains.  This city is a convenient base for exploring Central Portugal, with easy access to day trip destinations like the National Railway Museum and the vibrant Festa da Cereja (Cherry Festival) each June.  

Immerse yourself in history by exploring the ruins of the 12th-century Castelo de Castelo Branco, offering panoramic city views.  

Art enthusiasts can wander through museums showcasing local artists and the impressive Bishop's Palace gardens, a National Monument.  

Admire the unique architectural features of Castelo Branco, including the 15th-century doorways scattered throughout the town and the charming Praça de Camões with its historical facades.  

✨ Get to know Castelo Branco and the surrounding area

Staircase lined with statues in the Bishop's Palace Gardens in Castelo Branco


Coimbra, a historic university city conveniently located between Lisbon and Porto, offers a unique blend of history and academic charm.  Tour the halls of Coimbra University, a UNESCO World Heritage Site, and marvel at its architectural beauty and the historic library.  

Retrace the love story of Pedro and Inês at the Fountain of Love and Fountain of Tears, or delve deeper into history with a visit to the Igreja de Santa Cruz, adorned with intricate tile work and the tombs of Portugal's first two kings.  

Coimbra is a photographer's paradise, with whimsical architecture, elegant doorways, and vibrant squares like Praça da República.  

Seek serenity amidst the lush greenery of Coimbra Botanic Gardens, a perfect spot to relax and unwind after a day of exploration. 

Whether you have a day or plan to extend your stay, Coimbra promises an enriching cultural experience.

Historic city of Coimbra viewed from across the river

Caldas da Rainha

Caldas da Rainha, a charming town known for its, ahem, erotic pottery. You'll find a unique blend of artistic heritage and local finds. 

Browse the bustling Praça da Fruta, a thriving fruit market, and admire the whimsical sculptures by artist Raphael Bordallo Pinheiro. 

Step back in time at Mercearia Pena, a historic shop where you can purchase beijinhos das caldas (little cookie "kisses") and Roca Pera jam.  

Caldas da Rainha makes a perfect day trip from the nearby medieval town of Óbidos and is relatively easily accessible by taxi. 

✨ Learn more about Caldas da Rainha

Fabrica Bordallo Pinheiro in Caldas da Rainha


Tomar, steeped in history and natural wonders, is an ideal day trip from Lisbon.  Uncover the legacy of the Knights Templar at Tomar, a city that flourished during the 15th century.  

Explore the Tomar Castle and the Convent of Christ, key attractions showcasing the city's historical significance.  Immerse yourself in medieval architecture at Praça da República, a well-preserved town square, and visit one of the oldest synagogues in Europe.  

Experience the vibrant Festa dos Tabuleiros, a religious festival held every four years featuring women adorned with symbolic headdresses made from fresh baked bread.  

✨ Deep dive on things to do in Tomar

Cloister in the convent in Tomar, Portugal

The Cities of Alentejo

Now let's take a look at the cities in Alentejo, Portugal's largest wine region and home to enormous portions of delicious Portuguese cuisine.


Beja, strategically located in the heart of Alentejo, is an ideal stop to stretch your legs and delve into history.  If you're road tripping from the Algarve to the majestic Alqueva Lake, Beja offers a welcome break and a chance to explore the past.  

Dating back to the Roman era, Beja boasts a rich web of historical influences.  The crown jewel is undoubtedly the imposing Castelo de Beja, a 13th-century Gothic fortress towering over the city.  

Considered a prime example of European Gothic military architecture, the castle features a formidable keep standing approximately 40 meters tall.  Explore the castle ruins for free, or climb the tower for a panoramic view and a deeper dive into Beja's history for a small fee.

✨ Stop in Beja on a road trip to Alqueva Lake

View of the keep of Beja Castle


Évora, a UNESCO World Heritage Site, is a popular city brimming with history and architectural wonders.  History buffs will appreciate Évora's well-preserved Roman ruins, including the majestic Templo do Diana (Roman Temple), a testament to the town's ancient past. The aqueduct and the arch that once served as a town gate further solidify Évora's Roman roots.  

For a truly unique experience, visit the Chapel of Bones, a structure adorned with human skeletons, offering a thought-provoking reflection on mortality.  

Easily accessible by bus from Lisbon, Évora is a perfect day trip or a charming starting point for a broader exploration of the Alentejo region.

Evora Cathedral

The Cities of Northern Portugal

Let's continue in the Northern reaches of Portugal where you'll find a variety of amazing Portuguese cities to explore and a more temperate climate.


Spark your senses in Porto, Portugal's second-largest city, renowned for its namesake Port wine and historic and gritty city center.  A UNESCO World Heritage Site, Porto boasts a colorful cityscape adorned with a dizzying array of Portuguese tiles and atmospheric architecture.  

Immerse yourself in the local culture by indulging in traditional Portuguese cuisine, or embark on a Port wine tasting adventure.  Take in scenic views of the Douro River from the Ribeira district, where historic rabelos (boats) bob on the water.  

Capture stunning photographs of the city's essence, from the intricate details of doorways to the iconic Dom Luís I Bridge spanning the river.  Getting around Porto is easy with affordable access from the airport via metro, a historic tram system, and a walkable city center.

Buildings on the riverfront in the city of Porto


Step back in time in Braga, the oldest city in Portugal, boasting over 2,000 years of history.  This authentic Portuguese city, unmarred by over-tourism, is conveniently located near Porto and Galicia, Spain. Braga is the perfect base for exploring the lesser known sites in Northern Portugal. 

Explore the well-preserved historic center without the crowds often found in most popular cities like Lisbon and Porto. Embrace the vibrant June festival season, where street performances and lively music fill the air during the Festas dos Santos Populares. 

Photographers will appreciate the city's architectural beauty, from the majestic Sé Cathedral to colorful street art adorning various facades.

Historic arches and garden in Braga


Guimarães, a short day trip from Porto, offers a glimpse into Portugal's medieval past.  Easily accessible by car or combined with a visit to Braga, Guimarães boasts a charming atmosphere with cobbled streets and quaint squares. 

History buffs will enjoy the city's well-preserved architecture, including the fabulous tiles adorning buildings throughout the town.  

Foodies with a sweet tooth can indulge in the local specialty, doces do Convento de Santa Clara, or explore shops selling artisanal jams and unique craft beers.  

Capture the essence of Guimarães on a photo walk, focusing on the intricate details of the architecture and the colorful tiles that adorn the historic center.

✨ Discover the best of Guimaraēs

Colorful doors in Guimarães


Matosinhos, a lovely seaside city and suburb of Porto, is ideal for travelers seeking sun, sand, and delicious seafood.  Relax on the beach, enjoying invigorating walks along the water's edge or marveling at the breathtaking winter sunsets. 

Indulge in fresh seafood at one of the many local restaurants.  

Art and architecture enthusiasts will appreciate the classic Portuguese architecture and the impressive doorways lining the streets. Explore the 17th-century Castelo do Queijo, a fort offering panoramic views from its strategic location atop a rock purported to be shaped like a wedge of cheese.  

Easily accessible from Porto by tram or ride-sharing services, Matosinhos is a perfect escape for those seeking a coastal retreat.

Statues on the beach in Matosinhos

Vila Nova de Gaia

Across the Douro River from Porto lies Vila Nova de Gaia, a city offering stunning panoramic views and a deep connection to Portugal's iconic port wine.  

Take in breathtaking awe inspiring views of Porto's historic center, the Dom Luís I Bridge, and the shimmering Douro River from various vantage points, including the Vila Nova de Gaia cable car. 

Immerse yourself in the world of Port wine at WOW, a sprawling complex housing museums, shops, and restaurants housed in renovated port wine warehouses.  

Explore historic port houses and tasting rooms dating back centuries to learn about the production process and savor the distinct flavors of this world-renowned beverage. 

Vila Nova de Gaia offers a variety of restaurants to suit all tastes, and easy access to Porto on foot, via metro, or using a Douro River Taxi.

View over Vila Nova de Gaia and Dom Luís I Bridge


Viseu, a charming city far removed from Portugal's tourist trail, offers a delightful stopover on a Portuguese road trip.  This compact city center, brimming with narrow alleys and beautiful architecture, is perfect for exploring on foot. 

Discover magnificent churches, such as the Sé Cathedral, a prime example of Portuguese Renaissance architecture.  

Foodies will delight in the Dão region's renowned wines and the opportunity to sample regional specialties. 

Viseu offers a tranquil atmosphere, a stark contrast to the hustle and bustle of larger cities like nearby Porto.  This hidden gem is ideal for travelers seeking a more relaxed and authentic Portuguese experience.

Street art featuring a woman's face in Viseu

Cities of the Algarve

Now let's head to Southern Portugal where you'll find a laid back beachside vibe all along the Southern coast.


Faro, the capital of the Algarve, offers a convenient starting point for an adventure in the South of Portugal.  Easily accessible by both national and low-cost airlines, Faro welcomes visitors with its unique blend of history and modern amenities.  

Animal lovers will be charmed by the storks nesting on rooftops throughout the city, including the iconic Arco da Vila, a gateway leading into the old town.  

Step back in time as you explore the lovely, walled old town adorned with orange trees.  Foodies will delight in sampling regional specialties at welcoming restaurants like Restaurante Taska, known for its traditional salt cod dishes. 

Explore the pedestrian shopping area to discover the perfect Christmas presents or indulge in a slice of dense and tasty fruitcake from a local bakery – a delicious and affordable treat.

Church in Faro


Loulé, a charming town located inland from the Algarve's coastline, offers a fun culturally-focused alternative to the bustling beach resorts.  Travelers can easily reach Loulé from Faro by train in just 10-15 minutes, making it a perfect day trip option.  

Experience the local culture at the Mercado Municipal de Loulé, a fun market to explore that is overflowing with locally made goods, especially handicrafts.

Market hall in Loulé


Portimão, popular with beach lovers, boasts stunning stretches of coastline perfect for relaxation or exploration.  Escape the crowds and enjoy the serenity of Portimão's beaches in the winter months. 

Stroll along the extensive boardwalk, ideal for keeping your feet sand-free, and marvel at the dramatic limestone rock formations lining the shore. 

Portimão transforms into a festive wonderland during the winter holiday season, with red carpets adorning the shopping streets. Indulge your sweet tooth with delicious pastries at A Casa da Isabel, a charming cafe with a welcoming atmosphere.  

Photography enthusiasts will delight in capturing the unique character of Portimão, with its colorful doors adding a vibrant touch to the streets.

Church with a yellow and white facade in Portimão


Tavira, my favorite city in the Algarve, is known for its traditional architecture and intricate tile work, and offers a glimpse into Portugal's rich history.  Admire the well-preserved examples of Algarve architecture lining the waterfront, and capture stunning photographs of some of Portugal's most beautiful doorways.  

Wander through the streets and discover ornate tile street labels, adding a touch of artistic flair to the cityscape. 

Foodies can savor the flavors of the region at local restaurants and cafes, or visit the Mercado da Ribeira to stock up on fresh produce, delicious pastries, and unique crafts.  

Explore Tavira's fascinating history at the Castelo de Tavira, an 11th-century castle with lush gardens.  Learn about the castle's Moorish origins and its transformation over the centuries.

Clock tower viewed from the castle wall in Tavira

Vila Real de Santo António

Nestled in the far southeast corner of Portugal near the border with Spain, Vila Real de Santo António offers a festive atmosphere, particularly during the holiday season.  Explore the Christmas market at Praça Marquês de Pombal in December, which brims with holiday cheer.  

Look for hidden secrets in Portugal's largest nativity scene. Nature enthusiasts will appreciate the birdwatching opportunities offered by the nearby salt pans, where flocks of seabirds and flamingos can be spotted.  

Lace up your hiking boots and explore the Esteiro da Carrasqueira, a natural area featuring modern art sculptures and additional birdwatching opportunities.  

Enjoy a leisurely walk along the beach to the Farolim de Vila Real de Santo António lighthouse, a scenic 40-minute stroll from the city center.

Bell tower and rooftops in Vila Real de Santo Antonio

Portugal's Island Cities

Let's move beyond mainland Portugal to the Azores and Madeira which also boast some vibrant Portuguese cities to explore.

Angra do Heroísmo

Step back in time in Angra do Heroísmo, the capital of Terceira Island in the Azores.  This UNESCO World Heritage Site boasts an extensive array of 16th and 17th-century architecture, a testament to the island's rich history. 

Start your day amidst the vibrant flowers of Jardim Duque da Terceira. History buffs can delve into the past at the Museu de Angra do Heroísmo, the final resting place of Vasco da Gama's brother.

Keep your eyes peeled for Terceira's colorful impérios, small colorful churches that are unique to the island.

View of Angra do Heroísmo with clouds threatening


Experience the energy of Funchal, the heart of Madeira Island.  Mingle with locals at the Mercados dos Lavradores, the city's vibrant produce and fish market, and savor the island's exotic fruits. 

Explore Funchal's white-washed churches and the charming Old Town, where the Painted Doors Project transforms wooden doors into open-air works of art. 

Venture beyond Funchal's Old Town for breathtaking views of the sea and the city's colorful buildings.  For a truly unique experience, take a thrilling downhill ride on a traditional wicker toboggan. 

✨ Spend a weekend in Funchal and experience the best of Madeira food

Toboggans in Funchal, Madeira

Ponta Delgada

Ponta Delgada, the capital of São Miguel Island in the Azores, offers a unique blend of history and natural beauty.  Admire the city's traditional Portuguese calçadas and the historic Portas da Cidade gateway.  

Immerse yourself in the tranquility of Jardim Botânico António Borges, or explore the vibrant flora and historical azulejo panels at Jardim Botânico José do Canto. 

Ponta Delgada boasts a variety of churches to explore, and foodies can savor fresh produce and local specialties at Mercado da Graça. 

Enjoy Azorean cuisine at Stages, featuring seafood dishes and local favorites. For drinks with a view, visit Cantinho dos Anjos, Wine & Art, or Provisório Bar.

✨ Explore things to do on São Miguel Island (even when it rains)

Calçadas portuguesas and historic buildings in Ponta Delgada in the Azores


There you have it: a curated list of the best cities to visit in Portugal. Which places will you choose to add to your Portuguese itinerary? Mix and match different experiences to plan the perfect trip.

Did you enjoy this post about the best cities in Portugal that I've encountered on my travels? Sharing is caring...


#DrJSabbatical,38,Adriatics,5,Africa,12,Americas,52,Argentina,7,Asia,40,Asia Pacific,25,AUNZ,21,Australia,13,Austria,5,Baltics,4,Barcelona,1,Belfast,1,Belgium,13,Berlin,3,Best of,405,Best of Europe,2,Beyond Dublin,31,Bologna,3,Boston,2,Brazil,2,Bruges,2,Brussels,2,Bucharest,2,Budapest,1,Buffalo,3,Bulgaria,2,California,13,Cambodia,6,Canary Islands,1,Canterbury,2,Cardiff,1,Central America,3,Central Europe,69,Chile,7,China,5,Christmas Market,4,Copenhagen,1,Cork,3,Costa Brava,3,Costa Rica,2,Croatia,2,Cyprus,1,Czech Republic,1,Denmark,3,Dresden,1,Dublin,51,Dusseldorf,1,Eastern Europe,8,Edinburgh,3,El Calafate,1,England,19,Essen,1,Estonia,1,Europe,236,Faversham,1,Featured,5,Financial District,1,Finland,3,Fisherman's Wharf,1,Flanders,1,Florida,3,France,19,Galway,2,Gdansk,1,Germany,19,Girona,1,Granada,1,Greece,4,Greece and Cyprus,5,Hamburg,1,Hangzhou,1,Hanoi,3,HCMC,2,Helsinki,1,Ho Chi Minh City,2,Hobart,1,Hoi An,2,Hungary,1,Hurling,1,Hyderabad,2,Iceland,5,India,5,Ireland,93,Ireland & UK,122,Ireland Road Trips,16,Italy,14,Itinerary,3,Jackson Square,1,Japan,12,Kaunas,1,Kilkenny,1,Kuala Lumpur,1,Kyoto,1,Languedoc,2,Lanzarote,1,Latvia,1,Leipzig,1,Liechtenstein,1,Lima,1,Limerick,1,Lisbon,17,Lithuania,2,Ljubljana,1,Lloret de Mar,1,London,9,Los Angeles,2,Louisiana,1,Lucerne,1,Luxembourg,2,Machu Picchu,1,Madeira,3,Malaga,1,Malaysia,1,Malta,1,Marrakech,1,Marrakesh,1,Massachusetts,2,Mendoza,1,Menton,1,Miami,1,Midwest,3,Modena,2,Monaco,1,Montpellier,1,Morocco,1,Muenster,1,Munich,1,Naples,1,Netherlands,4,New England,3,New Orleans,1,New York,9,New Zealand,8,Nice,2,Noe Valley,1,Nordics,19,Norrkoping,1,North America,43,North Beach,1,Northern Ireland,1,Norway,5,Nuremberg,2,Ollantaytambo,1,Osaka,1,Palafrugell,1,Panama,1,Paris,1,Parma,2,Patagonia,3,Pennsylvania,6,Perth,1,Peru,5,Philadelphia,1,Pingyao,1,Piran,1,Pittsburgh,5,Poland,9,Porto,1,Portugal,42,Puerto Natales,2,Punta Arenas,1,Queensland,1,Recent,102,Regensburg,1,Reykjavik,1,Riga,1,Rio de Janeiro,1,Rochester,1,Romania,3,Rotterdam,1,Rovinj,1,Russia,2,San Francisco,4,San Sebastian,1,Santiago,1,Scandinavia,10,Scotland,5,Seattle,3,Segovia,1,Seoul,2,SF - Further Afield,7,Sicily,3,Siem Reap,2,Singapore,1,Sligo,3,Slovakia,1,Slovenia,2,South Africa,1,South America,19,South Beach,1,South Europe,1,South Korea,2,Southeast Europe,14,Southern Europe,75,Spain,19,St. Petersburg,2,Stockholm,2,Strasbourg,1,Stuttgart,1,Sweden,3,Switzerland,12,Sydney,3,Taipei,2,Taiwan,3,Tallinn,1,Tasmania,4,TBEX,1,Telegraph Hill,1,Texas,3,Thailand,1,Tipperary,1,Tokyo,2,Top World Destinations,4,Torres del Paine,1,Transylvania,1,Trieste,1,Uganda,10,UK,29,Union Square,1,United States,46,Uruguay,1,Valparaiso,1,Vietnam,9,Vilnius,1,Wales,2,Warsaw,2,Washington,3,Western Australia,1,Western Europe,39,Westfield,1,Whitsundays,1,Wicklow,2,Wroclaw,1,WWI,1,Xi'an,1,Zurich,5,
Sidewalk Safari | Part-time Travel Blog: What are the Best Cities to Visit in Portugal? [Mainland + Islands]
What are the Best Cities to Visit in Portugal? [Mainland + Islands]
Looking for the best cities to visit in Portugal? Explore this curated list to inform your Portugal itinerary and make the most of your Portugal trip.
Sidewalk Safari | Part-time Travel Blog