The best places to visit in Portugal

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Jenny Cahill-Jones
1/2/2019

Lisbon has been getting a whole lot of press recently, and visitors numbers are higher than ever. And while you really should visit Lisbon if you haven’t been before, there’s a whole lot more to Portugal than its capital city. For people looking a little further afield, we’ve rounded up some of best places to visit in Portugal, places that will give you a whole new perspective on this small yet mighty country.

The best places to visit in Portugal

For Serious History: Evora

With a history that dates back more than 5,000 years, Evora in central Portugal is a fascinating place to visit. The whole historic centre is a UNESCO World Heritage Site, and you’ll find medieval city walls, a very-well preserved Roman temple and more. A great place to start is the seriously creepy Capela dos Ossos or Chapel of Bones, built by a Franciscan Friar in the 16th century to represent the brevity of the human lifespan. The walls of the chapel are entirely covered with skulls and bones, while the ceiling is painted with morbid motifs. Up to 5,000 human remains are thought to have been used in the church’s construction, supplied by the town’s graveyards.

Shake off the chapel gloom with a brisk walk to see the Roman temple, built in the 1st century AD to honour Emperor Augustus, in what was once the town’s main square. In the Middle Ages the temple was incorporated into the town’s castle, although this structure no longer remains. Head to the nearby Evora Museum for greater insight about the town’s Roman past.

History aside, Evora also has plenty of restaurants offering hearty Alentejan cuisine, a couple of stylish boutique hotels, and the wines from the area are among the best in Portugal.

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Evora old town is filled with charming streets © RossHelen/Shutterstock

For Big Wave Surfing: Nazare

Nazare, a small town on the Atlantic Coast north of Lisbon, has emerged in recent years as one of the world’s top destinations for big wave surfing. An underwater canyon offshore disrupts the waves as they break, creating monster sizes. Intrepid travellers have been surfing at Nazare since the late ‘60s, but it only started to gain international acclaim in more recent years., when big wave surfer Garrett McNamara arrived to challenge the wave in 2010. Since 2016, Nazare has hosted a WSL Big Wave Championships and the destination looks set to keep growing in popularity. To see the big wave surfers for yourself head to Nazare in mid-November.

The town has kept its sleepy fishing village feel, and you’re guaranteed to find fresh seafood and local Portuguese dishes at one of the traditional tascas in town. There are two beaches to choose from – north beach, where the surf action happens, and Nazare beach, a wide half-moon of sand great for chilling out on. If you’re up and about in the early morning head down to the harbour to see the fishermen unloading their catch of the day.

A big wave surfer in Nazare, Portugal © Albert Russ/Shutterstock

For a Fun City Break: Porto

Porto – city of Port wine and Harry Potter inspiration – has been on the travel radar for a few years now. Its combination of charming streets, buzzy restaurants and proximity to the Douro wine region make it great city break choice. In summer, festivals like Primavera Sound (held in June) bring top-name alternative acts like Sigur Ros and PJ Harvey to the city, along with a music-loving crowd, while in winter wine bars draw romantic couples to their cosy corners.

The city is a great starting point for a drive into the Douro valley to taste full-bodied wines or learn how the famous port is made. The terraced vineyards winding along the river are delightfully picturesque as you drive by.

Back in town the famous Livaria Lello bookshop is said to be the inspiration behind JK Rowling’s Ollivander Wand Emporium (Rowling lived in the city for a short while), while the long gowns of the university’s students seemingly also made their way into the Potter books.

Porto – one of the best places to visit in Portugal for a city break © Benedikt Saxler/Shutterstock

For Top-Notch Seafood: The Algarve

OK, so the Algarve has a reputation for rowdy sunburned Brits, but outside of the major resort areas the region has a whole lot to offer. Especially when it comes to seafood. There are now 8 Michelin-starred restaurants in the region, enough for a week-long gourmet road trip. For us, that's reason enough to make the list of best places to visit in Portugal

One of our favourites is Henrique Leisin Almancil, a restaurant housed in a chic Swiss Chalet and run by a Brazilian cooking up a twist on French cuisine. Having been awarded a Michelin star every year for the past 18 years Leis is a giant on the food scene here, and his tasting menus look to both his South American heritage and French training combined with local, seasonal ingredients. You’ll find delicious dishes like a duo of red snapper and sea scallops and the wine list is hard to beat. The restaurant has two dining rooms – a cosy one for winter, and a breezy open room for the summer – so you’ll enjoy the experience no matter when you visit. Reservations are recommended.

For something more relaxed (no star here), yet equally delicious, head to Noélia & Jeronimo in Cabanas, near Faro. The restaurant is named for the couple that run the pocket-sized restaurant, and the chef, Noélia serves up delicious seafood dishes like octopus fritters and melt-in-the-mouth tuna belly.

Top image: Porto town © Vector99/Shutterstock

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