Portugal is often underrated, yet remains one of the most beautiful countries in the world. Aside from its fascinating history and rich culture, one of the reasons why it’s such a tourist hotspot is because of its stunning beaches. One of the best ways to take advantage of the Portuguese waters is by kayaking. We’ve taken on the task of checking out the best kayaking tours, so you are selecting among the cream of the crop. Let’s get started!
Best Kayaking Tours in Portugal
|Lisbon: Sesimbra Kayak Discovery Experience||From Albufeira: Benagil Hidden Caves Tour by Kayak or SUP||Algarve: Benagil Sea Cave Sunrise or Sunset Kayak Experience|
|Departure Point:||Meet at the Harbour of Sesimbra||Meet at SeaAlgarve Ticket Office in Albufeira Marina||Meet at Praia de Benagil Beach on side of O Pescador restaurant |
|Departure Time:||Pickup optional||Pickup not included||Pickup not included |
|Duration:||3 hours||4 hours||5 hours |
|Includes:||Includes snacks and water, along with a pro instructor||Includes kayak/SUP/catamaran transport||Includes kayak, life vest rentals |
Quick Answer: The 5 Best Kayaking Tours in Portugal [2022 Reviews]
- Lisbon: Sesimbra Kayak Discovery Experience
- From Albufeira: Benagil Hidden Caves Tour by Kayak or SUP
- Algarve: Benagil Sea Cave Sunrise or Sunset Kayak Experience
- Arrabida: Kayaking and Snorkeling Experience
- Benagil Beach: Kayak or SUP Coastline Caves Tour
Best Kayaking Tours in Portugal Reviews
#1. Lisbon: Sesimbra Kayak Discovery Experience
- 3 hours
- Pickup optional
- Includes snacks and water, along with a pro instructor
- Meet at the Harbour of Sesimbra
To start off, the tour is very convenient as it offers various pickup points such as your hotel, the airport, or just about any other address in the Lisbon area. Just make sure you’re at the agreed upon pickup point one hour before the tour starts.
Once you’re picked up, you’ll start off at the Bork Outdoor Center in Sesimbra Harbour. The harbor itself is absolutely gorgeous, and has a charming, old-school feel to it. Your guide is there to offer help when needed. If you’ve never kayaked before, they’ll also show you the best techniques so you have nothing but fun!
Traveling along the breathtaking coast of the Arrabida Nature Park and Luiz Saldanha Marine Park, it’s been a protected area since the late 90s. Thanks to the help of local communities, they place huge importance on recovering and conserving these valuable marine ecosystems.
As you explore, your guide will fill you in on why it’s so important to protect these delicate ecosystems and animals. Not only that, but you’ll learn all about the cliffs, caves, and other wonders.
You’re sure to burn off some calories kayaking around, so the tour will make a stop at Praia do Ribeiro do Cavalo to rest and snack. Known for its milky-blue waters, it’s the perfect place to just relax and take it all in or get some photo ops. Once you’ve rested, you’ll then paddle back to Sesimbra Harbour. Afterward, the tour will drop you off back at your hotel or lodging.
For tour prices, transportation and availability:
#2. From Albufeira: Benagil Hidden Caves Tour by Kayak or SUP
- 4 hours
- Pickup not included
- Meet at SeaAlgarve Ticket Office in Albufeira Marina
- Includes kayak/SUP/catamaran transport
We noticed that the SUPs and kayaks provided are of excellent quality, and are very well taken care of. The crew pays special attention to safety, and because of this, we also felt it was a great tour for older children all the way up to older adults.
The tour is overall very relaxing and educational, as opposed to high-energy and adrenaline-filled. Life vests are provided, which is essential, as you’ll be traveling to the caves by catamaran. The ride there is about 40 minutes, and once you arrive you’ll transfer to a single-person, 2-person kayak, or SUP, depending on which one you’ve selected.
This is your opportunity to paddle around and check out all the different caves and caverns. While there are countless boats and tourists in and around these caves, this tour is the chance to freely see them without all that distraction. The tour offers you quite a bit of time, so a lot of people enjoy taking a dip in the water before you start to head back. Once you board the catamaran to go back to shore, you’ll get a refreshing, ice-cold drink to replenish your energy.
For tour prices, transportation and availability:
#3. Algarve: Benagil Sea Cave Sunrise or Sunset Kayak Experience
- 5 hours
- Pickup not included
- Meet at Praia de Benagil Beach on side of O Pescador restaurant
- Includes kayak, life vest rentals
As you do travel by kayak, it’s recommended that all who partake in the tour weigh less than 243 pounds due to their weight capacity. This tour is quite short, so a pickup is not included. However, you will meet along with the rest of your group at Praia de Benagil Beach.
We absolutely loved this tour, due to the sheer beauty of the area, along with the fact that the water and caves are practically always empty at this time! This means that you’ll get to really explore instead of waiting for others – also great for taking timeless snapshots!
Before you head into the water, you’ll spend the first few minutes in a safety briefing with your guides. This is to ensure that everything goes as smoothly as possible and that there are no accidents. They’ll also provide you with a duffel bag so you can keep your valuables safe and bring them along with you.
While there are various times you can take this tour throughout the day, by far the best is just after sunrise? Why? First off, it’s a great way to start off your day. Secondly, there is hardly anyone out there at this time – no boats nor tourists to speak of. Once you get to the caves, you’ll get to just relax on the beach, take photos, or simply explore or swim around.
For tour prices, transportation and availability:
#4. Arrabida: Kayaking and Snorkeling Experience
- 2 hours
- Pickup not included
- Meet next to Creiro Beach parking lot at Portinho da Arrabida
- Includes gear rentals, insurance
With certified instructors to guide you, you can rest easy knowing that you have professionals there to keep safety at the forefront. They are incredibly friendly and knowledgeable, making it a wonderful experience each time. You can feel confident in asking them just about any question and they’ll likely know the answer.
To start off, you’ll head to the Arrabida Natural Park and the Marine Park Luiz Saldanha. This area is a protected one, and places special importance on keeping their marine life and ecosystems safe. As you can imagine, it’s rich in all kinds of beautiful creatures. With nearly-transparent waters, you’ll be able to get incredible views of them, too.
While it’s never 100%, this area typically has ideal conditions for kayaking. You’ll spend a full 2 hours of paddling along the coastline, taking in the natural rock formations, hidden caves, and little beaches.
Later on, you’ll stop at Pedra da Anicha, or “anchor stone”, loosely translated. This zoological reserve is booming with all kinds of diverse plants and animals! The island is surrounded by crystalline waters, which are perfect for taking a dip and snorkeling with them! Some people enjoy checking out the underwater rock formations and cavities, though we only recommend this if you’re a more confident swimmer.
For tour prices, transportation and availability:
#5. Benagil Beach: Kayak or SUP Coastline Caves Tour
- Time varies
- No pickup included
- Meeting point varies
- Includes kayak/SUP rental
You’ll meet in front of the O Pescador restaurant, which is basically right in front of the Benagil beach. Once you check in, you’ll get started right away as there’s no time to waste! Hotel drop off/pickup is not an option due to the shorter tours.
You can expect small groups, gorgeous coastlines, and a great way to get your body moving! We experienced guides who explained just about everything you could want to know about the area, as well as the proper techniques for kayaking/paddle boarding. Not only that, but they know all the little nooks and crannies, and can show you all the best hidden caves.
The famous Benagil Cave is the star of the tour for most, but in our experience, there are many other caves. And hidden beaches that are just as captivating and fun to explore. There are tons of hidden gems along the Algarve coast, and you get to choose if you’ll venture along by either SUP or kayak. If you are tired, you’ll be able to just take a dip in the water or rest on a beach, so there’s a lot of variation here.
All in all, this is a beautiful experience that will make you feel like you’re living in some kind of fairytale. It’s definitely a tour worth repeating!
For tour prices, transportation and availability:
Portugal Travel Guide
Portugal’s importance in world history is often overlooked in favor of surrounding countries more prominent in modern history, such as the United Kingdom or Spain. However, Portugal formed the first global empire in history.
During the Age of Exploration, when European maritime nations raced to create colonies worldwide, Portugal was the first off the starting blocks and soon became the most powerful and influential country in the world.
Although its colonial ambitions began in north Africa, Brazil was by far its most successful colony. Today, Brazil is the largest Portuguese speaking nation in the world, and the largest country in Latin America.
Evidence of Portugal’s past wealth and power can be seen in the many monuments and structures surviving from its heyday. In Porto to the north and Lisbon to the south, impressive fortresses, grand palaces, and lofty cathedrals stand proudly and steal away their visitors’ breath.
But a fascinating history and culture are not the only features Portugal has to offer. Its unique position as the most westerly nation in Europe provide it with many unique natural landmarks, such as Peneda-Gerês National Park to the northeast of Porto, Arrábida Natural Park just south of Lisbon, and the Tagus River.
Dolphin and Whale Watching in Portugal
Portugal is an excellent country to indulge in whale watching and dolphin watching. The warm waters off the mainland coast provide a perfect environment for cetaceans (whales and dolphins) year-round. Whales and dolphins are often seen in the North Atlantic Ocean off the Portuguese shoreline.
The three places you can most easily watch whales and dolphins are off the mainland Portuguese coast, around the islands of the Madeira Archipelago, and around the islands of the Azores Archipelago. Over 25 cetacean species have been identified in Portuguese waters. Bottlenose dolphins and pilot whales can be observed year-round, especially in Madeira and the Azores. Other rarer species can be observed seasonally.
Off the Portuguese mainland, the Sado Estuary 25 miles south of Lisbon is renowned for its high population of bottlenose dolphins. Both common dolphins and bottlenose dolphins are also seen off the coastline of the Algarve. You may also see humpback whales, pilot whales, and harbor porpoise. The peak time for dolphin activity is from June through September.
Dolphins and whales are spotted year-round in Madeira, but the best time to see them is from spring through to the fall. You will see short-finned pilot whales, sperm whales, bottlenose dolphins, and striped dolphins at any time of the year.
Other species, such as killer whales, Risso’s dolphins, minke whales, and humpback whales sometimes make an appearance. Some tour boat companies employ spotters to keep watch atop the high Cabo Girão sea cliffs and direct the boats to any whale pods that appear.
Traveling in the time of COVID
Like many destinations, some tours and visitor attractions in Portugal have adopted special precautionary measures during the pandemic.
Face masks are mandatory in some locations, notably in enclosed public areas such as travel hubs and shopping malls. You are expected to supply your own mask and wear it when you enter buildings.
It is in your own interest to keep your distance from other visitors who are not in your family group or bubble. You are expected to keep your distance inside boats, coaches, train compartments, and other vehicles and when seated in restaurants.
At the time of writing, Portugal welcomes visitors and visas are not required for US citizens. However, with the exception of children aged 12 and under, every person arriving in Portugal must provide a negative SARSCoV-2 test certificate of nucleic acid amplification test (NAAT) or rapid antigen test (TRAg). This certificate must be time stamped within 72 hours for NAAT or 48 hours for TRAg before boarding.
You can obtain the most up-to-date information directly from the Portuguese government immigration department website. During these relatively uncertain times, it is wise to also consult the US Department of State website for current travel advisories.
Airports & Entry
You can enter Portugal by ferry, road, railway, or air. Except for air, all the methods of travel involve traveling through or from Spain. By far the easiest and quickest way to travel to Portugal is by airplane.
Most visitors fly to Porto Airport in the north, Lisbon Airport in the middle, or Faro Airport in the south. To compare, in 2017 Porto saw 10.8 million passengers, Faro 8.7 million, and Lisbon 26.7 million, making the capital by far the most popular entry point into Portugal.
If you are interested in beautiful scenery and wildlife, you’ll likely want to be in the north. For history and culture, Lisbon. And for “Mediterranean” beach vacations, Faro.
Lisbon International Airport (LIS, or Humberto Delgado Airport) is located inside the city and only 4.3 miles northeast of the historic center. Before the pandemic, the airport saw annual increases in passenger traffic, handling 31.2 million visitors in 2019. Because it is a travel hub for Ryanair, TAP Air Portugal, and TAP Express, it is the 20th busiest European airport.
The airport’s 2 terminal buildings are dated and busy, but they do contain all the amenities you would expect from a major international airport. All arrivals and most international departures are handled by Terminal 1.
Note that passport control on departure is after the duty-free shops, and the queues for immigration control can be long. So, don’t get so excited in the stores hunting out last minute bargains that you miss your flight.
Just because you arrived in Terminal 1, it does not mean that you will depart from there. To avoid unnecessary complications on departure, check your ticket carefully and ensure you know which terminal you are flying from before heading for the airport.
By far the easiest way to transfer from the airport to any location around Lisbon is on the metro. The metro is affordable, safe, and efficient, with stations all around the city. To use the metro, you will need to purchase a reusable Viva Viagem card for €0.5 and then pay a €1.50 fare for your journey around Lisbon.
If you are in more of a hurry, or you have children to watch and luggage to carry, consider taking a taxi. The typical taxi fare for a 4-seat taxi to the historic center is between €10 and €15 during the day. In a larger vehicle or at night, fares increase by 20%.
Alternatively, you can hire a car at the airport. All the major international car rental companies are represented in the Terminal 1 arrivals hall. But be warned that the car rental car park exits immediately into a busy urban area, and accidents do happen.
Portugal is a beautiful country that boasts a rich history and culture, which is why it is one of the most visited tourist destinations in Europe. Here are a few specific tips to help you get the most out of your vacation in Portugal.
If you have tips of your own about this beautiful country, please share them with other readers in the comments below.
Tip #1: Travel Off Season
In high summer (July and August) the streets of Lisbon and beaches in the Algarve are crowded. Not only is this when many local schools break for summer, but it is also the time when the Portuguese think the weather is best for sea swimming.
If you delay a little and travel to Portugal in the fall, you will benefit from fewer crowds while there is still plenty of sunshine and the average seawater temperature in the Algarve in October is 700F. You may also benefit from lower, off-season prices and tours are less likely to be fully booked.
Tip #2: Explore Beyond the Typical Tourist Traps
Most tourists head to Lisbon, Porto, or the Algarve. However, there is much more to see in Portugal that’s off the beaten trail.
In the border regions between Portugal and Spain, historical tensions led to the construction of many picturesque fortified hill towns and castles, such as Estremoz and Marvão. And the north of Portugal around Porto is famous for its bountiful vineyards.
If you’re visiting off-season in the fall, the grape harvest typically occurs around September and October. At some vineyards, you can arrange to take part in the grape harvest and traditional foot stomping. Crush the grapes beneath your feet to assist the locals in their traditional wine manufacturing process.
Tip #3: Plan Ahead
Whenever you visit Portugal, the day trips are popular. Sometimes they become fully booked weeks in advance. To avoid disappointment, book before you travel.
If your main interest is history and culture, note many museums and art galleries that usually charge for admission typically have one free admission day each month, or sometimes each week. Do your research and decide which museums you wish to visit. You may then be able to organize your vacation around the free days and save a lot of money in entrance tickets.
Tip #4: Consider Surfing While you’re in Portugal
When you think about taking a surfing vacation, Portugal isn’t a country that immediately springs to mind. It should be.
You don’t have to be a genius to recognize that it offers an identical situation to southern California. It is the westernmost country in Europe, and its entire shoreline is exposed to the Atlantic Ocean.
Portuguese beaches boast rolling Atlantic waves perfect for surfing. Experienced surfers looking for a challenge should head to Nazaré on the central Portuguese coast. Beginners and intermediate surfers will be more comfortable surfing in the Algarve where the beaches are slightly more sheltered.
Tip #5: Buy Local Crafts
In Portugal, you’re spoiled for choice when selecting suitable souvenirs as gifts for your family and friends back home or as a memento of your vacation. Portugal is noted for its fine ceramics. For the finest traditional glazed pottery, visit the historic town of Caldas da Rainha on the central Portuguese coast north of Lisbon.
The town of Arraiolos in south-eastern Portugal is famous for both its picturesque castle and its fine hand-stitched rugs. However, you don’t need to take a special trip to buy Portuguese textiles. Throughout the country, you will discover unique textile products that make a wonderful keepsake to remind you of Portugal when you return home.
Restaurants & Eating Out
Given Portugal’s extensive coastline, it is no surprise to discover that seafood is an important food source. However, red meat and poultry are also important in many traditional dishes. In common with nearby Mediterranean countries, olive oil is typically used to fry and to flavor dishes.
Like France to the north, bread is important in Portuguese meals, and there are several traditional varieties found across the country.
Where Portuguese cuisine differs from neighboring countries is in its extensive use of exotic herbs and spices. Due to Portugal’s long-lasting colonial empire, cooking techniques and flavorings from its former colonies have become an important element of many popular dishes.
Dried and salted cold known as bacalhau is a staple part of many Portuguese diets. Historically, the drying procedure was a means of preserving the fish for consumption over the winter months. However, now it is done to create a revered taste and texture. This can be grilled, fried, boiled, or baked. You’ll see it served as a snack in paper pouches.
A thick seafood stew called cataplana is popular in the Algarve. It is cooked in a special, clam-shaped cooking pot and traditionally features the fish of the day.
A francesinha is a popular variety of sandwich. Multiple kinds of meat are piled between two slabs of bread. This provides a hearty meal that is often flavored with surprisingly spicy sauces using ingredients such as paprika, saffron, piri-piri, and black pepper.
Watch out for alheiras on menus across Portugal. These traditional sausages were originally made by members of secret Jewish communities using only kosher meats. Instead of pork fat, bread was used as a main ingredient. These bready sausages can be served grilled or baked and with a fried egg and a side of rice.
In bygone days, not everyone could afford large quantities of meat. Hence a cabbage and potato-based soup called caldo verde is popular in rural communities. However, vegetarians should beware. These soups are flavored using a small amount of chorizo spicy sausage. It is rare to find caldo verde without at least a little spicy sausage flavoring.
If you have a sweet tooth, you’ll be happy to hear that sweet and flaky pastries are important in Portuguese cuisine. Popular varieties include bolos de São Gonçalo and pastel de Nata, both involve generous amounts of custard as a filling or topping.
Nightlife & Entertainment
In northern and central Portugal, the nightlight is focused around the main cities of Porto and Lisbon. However, in the south, the Algarve region is noted for its lively nightclub scene, live music venues, and popular beach bars.
As with any city with a large student population, Porto is a wonderful destination for nightclubbing and music venues year-round. Portugal’s second largest city is also host to some wonderful cultural festivals that amaze visitors.
The university students traditionally celebrate the end of their exams in style during the first half of May. During this time, expect to find 50,000 students flooding the bars and nightclubs in search of fun. And in the Queimódromo square adjacent to City Park, you can attend live concerts every evening.
During the midsummer solstice, the São João Festival involves some quirky local traditions, such as displaying a vase decorated with a poem and eating sardines and potatoes alongside locally produced red wine.
As the cultural capital of the nation, you’ll find a broader range of options in Lisbon. It is twice the size of Porto and houses a more diverse, international population. The nightclubs are less aimed at students and more toward younger tourists.
You’ll find that the nightlife starts late but goes on until after dawn. The narrow labyrinth of streets in the Old Town contains many popular bars that fill with the younger crowd nightly, especially around the Avenida da Liberdade and Rossio.
The Bairro Alto is the heart of the Lisbon night scene. You’ll find traditional Portuguese folk music played in tiny tavernas neighboring live rock and jazz music venues. The bars don’t close until 2 am and the clubs remain open until around 7 am. The night spots in this area are always crowded and typically reach capacity soon after 11 pm.
In the Algarve, the city of Albufeira is renowned for its nightlife. In fact, although it is a small city when compared with Porto or Lisbon, it is reputed to contain the best nightclubs and bars in Portugal.
Young tourists from around Europe and the rest of the world flock to Albufeira to spend their days playing on the beaches and nights playing in the clubs. During the summer months, The Strip is a prime destination for hen and stag parties and students looking to get drunk and maybe get lucky, too.
The big name clubs that attract the famous DJs and crowds are Kadoc outside of town, Kiss on Rua Vasco da Gama, and Club Heaven, Club Vida, and Liberto’s Lounge Club on The Strip.
If you seek something quieter and more sophisticated, head for the pedestrianized old town center where the restaurants and cocktail bars cater for an older crowd with more refined tastes.
The strange thing about Portugal when compared to many other countries is that it’s often quicker to travel by bus than by train. My wife recently needed to travel from Lisbon to Porto, which is 195 miles. The time quoted for both long-distance coach and high-speed train was 3 hours 15 minutes, but the coach cost €5.00 and the train €23.31.
Hiring a car is a great option if you want to visit those remote fortified hilltop towns or vineyards around Porto. However, you must be a confident driver. The number of car accidents in Portugal is higher than average in Europe, though, to be fair, there are fewer road fatalities in Portugal than in the US. Note that driving while intoxicated is a problem in the evenings, so take special care if driving after dark.
Despite their lack of speed, Portuguese trains are modern. Some rail services pass through scenic areas and provide excellent views, such as the service from Porto to Pochinho. However, you should be aware that train stations are often a long distance from the town center or village they serve.
The services are divided into Intercidades (IC), Interregionais (IR), Regionais (R), and Urbanos. IC services are the fastest linking Lisbon to the major cities, but they are also more expensive. Urbanos services are aimed at commuters around Lisbon and Porto, which also both have underground metro systems.
Tickets are purchased from the station on the day of travel, but be aware that long queues form so you must arrive early to ensure you don’t miss your train. The tickets are affordable compared with other nations and you can choose between primeira classe (first class) and conforto (economy).
The bus services across Portugal reach more places than the railway, deliver you to the center of the towns, are cheaper than the train, and often faster. If you want to travel from one large city to another, you need a Rede Expressos coach.
Unlike with the trains, it’s a good idea to book bus tickets online in advance. You can also buy them at ticket desks in cafés near the bus stop or at central bus stations. You can get travel information from bus stations. However, note that many assistants outside of the Algarve speak poor English or none.
Portugal has surprisingly good main roads that have been improved and extended in recent years. That’s why the buses are as quick as the trains. These major routes are called Estrada Nacional (EN or N).
However, when visiting remote rural areas, you can expect poorly maintained and narrow roads. And you may need to share them with loose animals, so drive carefully.
There is a freeway network between major cities — Auto-Estrada (A). These are 4 or 6 lane roads, but they have toll gates, and you must pay to use them. DO NOT use the lane labelled Via Verde because this is for prearranged automatic payment.
Unlike most countries, the Portuguese police will accept foreign driving licenses, so you won’t require an international license to drive here. The Portuguese police are empowered to enforce on-the-spot fines for poor parking, speeding, and other misdemeanors.
Parking at cities is at a premium, so you may struggle to park near popular attractions. Consider using park-and-ride schemes where they are available.
Within cities, the taxis are relatively affordable. This is a good thing since railway stations are often a long way from the town center, so you may need a taxi.
If you plan to explore the Portuguese countryside, you’re in luck. Outside of Porto, Lisbon, and the Algarve, accommodation is very affordable. In towns and villages, you can find twin rooms in small hotels and guesthouses for around €40 per night. And if money is no object, there are many upscale hotels, historic manor houses, and even castles, such as the Pousada Castelo de Óbidos just 53 miles north of Lisbon.
Pousadas, such as the one in the castle above, are a class of comfortable hotels typically either located in beautiful historic buildings or situated in an area of outstanding natural beauty. No matter where you want to stay in Portugal, locating affordable and comfortable accommodation is not a problem.
However, if you plan to stay in Porto, Lisbon, or the Algarve, you need to plan ahead. All the best and most affordable accommodations in these areas are typically booked up days, if not weeks in advance. Reservations are essential to ensure you don’t end up staying in a crumbling dump and paying through the nose.
For travelers on a budget, Portugal has a great range of youth hostels and campgrounds to choose from. RVers are especially welcome. There are also many one-star hotels that offer the minimum of facilities but at a low, low price. Be aware that youth hostels and one-star hotels may not have air conditioning, which may become a problem in high summer.
Self-catering villas are an option for larger groups of family and friends. When the bill is shared between many, a large villa can prove more comfortable than a hotel but for a lower price. Note that for villas and hotels alike, it is a good idea to book ahead in high season to avoid disappointment.
Portugal’s weather is dependent upon two factors — its latitude and its position at the south-westernmost point of Europe sticking out into the Atlantic Ocean. The ocean moderates Portugal’s temperatures, resulting in relatively mild winters and warm summers.
There is a significant variance between the north and the south of the nation. Around Porto in the north, the annual average temperature is 550F. In the Algarve in the far south, this rises to 640F. While the mountains in northern Portugal do see snow, with a ski resort at Serra da Estrela, the rest of the country misses out completely.
The mild winters provide average temperatures of 490F in Porto, 52.50F in Lisbon, and 53.50F in the Algarve. There are spells of poor weather with high winds and heavy rainfall. Occasionally, the winds grow to gale force. But overall, the weather is mild from December to February.
The warm summers are sunny with average temperatures of 700F in Porto and 74.50F in Lisbon and the Algarve. Some coastal areas in the west experience relatively cool weather because of the ocean breezes. Due to its more sheltered location, the Algarve avoids those breezes and maintains high summer temperatures.
Though Portugal is a small country, it is packed with many wonderful natural and historic attractions. These are separated into three distinctive regions: the north, the central region, and the Algarve in the far south.
The most famous natural attraction in Portugal is found in the far north, and it is Parque Nacional da Peneda-Gerês. The rocky landscape of this beautiful mountainous area is noted for its lush vegetation, picturesque waterfalls, clear blue lakes, and breathtaking valleys.
This national park is popular with hikers and other outdoor pursuits enthusiasts. Watch out for golden eagles soaring over the tree tops while wild boar and wolves wander through the foliage. There are marked trails, designated campsites, and quaint villages with unique guesthouses.
Porto is the second largest city in Portugal and the main tourist destination in the north. Some tourists come to view the unique architecture featuring fine Neoclassical and Baroque churches. Look out for the granite walls and pretty blue and white ceramic tiles used to decorate buildings such as the beautiful main railway station.
Other visitors come to visit the surrounding vineyards and take part in the harvests or sample the wines. River cruises are also popular and provide access to the beautiful Douro Valley where you can see traditional terraced hillsides and pretty hamlets.
Midway between Porto and Lisbon you can find Coimbra and its famous hilltop university. Founded in 1290, Velha Universidade is one of the world’s oldest educational establishments. The Baroque library is a particularly popular attraction containing over 250,000 books, some dating to the 12th century. The whole university campus is a UNESCO World Heritage Site.
Lisbon is the cultural capital of Portugal. The best way to explore the old city is by jumping on the historic tram #28 that takes you up the steep streets. This vibrant city is home to many world-class museums and fascinating historic buildings.
The most iconic building in the city is the ancient Torre de Belém fortress guarding the entrance to the city from an island close to the northern bank of the Tagus River. But if you are especially interested in history and architecture, it is worth taking a day trip to nearby Sintra.
Sintra is a renowned hilltop retreat containing palaces and other historic buildings. Its most popular attractions are the Palácio da Pena, the Castelo dos Mouros, and Palácio Nacional. Sintra is especially popular for walking tours because of its hills and the many breathtaking vistas they offer.
Most people who head down south are more interested in sunbathing on the beaches and partying at night than any historic or cultural attractions. But they are missing out on some amazing sights.
Faro’s old town is built on Roman foundations and is filled with a selection of medieval buildings gathered inside a 16th-century city wall. The 13th-century cathedral is noted for its tall tower providing panoramic views across the Parque Natural da Ria Formosa.
You may also enjoy the Museu Municipal de Faro, a fascinating museum inside a medieval convent. Those who love the macabre will be drawn to the infamous Igreja do Carmo, noted for its Bone Chapel decorated with the bones of over 1,000 monks who prayed here over the years.
If you want to explore beyond Faro, Tavira is a popular destination. This picturesque town in the Algarve contains a well-preserved castle, a grand medieval church filled with knights’ tombs, and a captivating riverside walk featuring a surviving Roman footbridge.
There are quite a few kayaking options in Portugal due to its long coastline and varied terrains. We chose the Sesimbra kayaking tour as our Editor's Choice and it is accessible from Lisbon.