Speaking of castles, how about visiting a city located within castle walls? Charming, picturesque, and romantic, Óbidos is a great place to bring a camera or smartphone and make your Instagram account more colorful. Expect clusters of white houses framed in bright flowers and souvenir shops ready for tourists. Don’t miss a taste of the Ginja de Óbidos, a cherry liqueur sometimes served in tiny chocolate cups. Once offered as the wedding gift from Portuguese kings to their queens, the city has developed a reputation as one of the most romantic destinations in Portugal. Óbidos has also been labeled a city for book lovers in large part due to the stunning Literary Man Hotel.
This destination is a little harder to get to, but still well worth the effort. Portugal isn’t all beaches, and Serra da Estrela is home to the highest mountain peak in continental Portugal (the highest in all of Portugal being in Pico Island, Azores). Nature-lovers should take note because the remote mountain range of Serra da Estrela has plenty to see and do, and is the only place to go skiing in winter. Sparsely speckled with tiny villages, including one of the Seven Wonders in Portugal for 2017, the mountain feels rather remote and nature is the main attraction, but foodies may enjoy tasting the homemade honey and the creamy, pungent cheese that are made there.
In the country’s center is a city that attracts more visitors than most others in Portugal. Coimbra is home to a high number of Roman and medieval ruins and is another historical center, having once served as the capital of the country. Among the most visited tourist attractions is the University of Coimbra, which is one of the oldest continually-operating, degree-seeking institutions in the world. But its greatest claim to fame is the library; the Baroque-styled Biblioteca Joanina has been listed numerous times as one of the most beautiful libraries in the world.
Nearly halfway between the American and Portuguese coasts is the Azorean archipelago, and each island is worth a visit. The largest, São Miguel, is the easiest to reach by air, and there’s plenty to see in this rolling green oasis for a thoroughly Azorean experience. Hiking trails, waterfalls, and the beautiful twin lakes called Lagoa das Sete Cidades are only the beginning. But one recommendation not to miss is Furnas. This small village is where visitors can experience the bright side to volcanic power, as the ground is both a place to relax and cook food due to the natural, mineral-rich hot springs and cooking holes called caldeiras.
Want to travel back in time? For travelers after a real feel for old Portugal, it doesn’t get better than visiting the most Portuguese village in the country, which has barely changed over hundreds of years. This hidden gem remains widely unknown, and its most special characteristic is obvious upon arrival. The village is built around, in and under huge boulders.
Portugal only has one national park and this is it. Located in Minho, a region known for its beauty, Peneda-Gerês National Park offers oak forests, a winding Roman road with ancient markers, bridges and waterfalls. Camping is allowed in specific parts of the park and some natural pools allow swimming during the warmer months. This is another excellent location to get in a good hike and also for bird-watching.
If you have extra time, use it to visit the country’s first capital. In the 12th century, Portugal’s first king, Afonso I, ruled from his birthplace, Guimarães. Since then the city has adopted the reputation and nickname of “The Birthplace of Portugal” and tourists can visit the castle where the king and many other historical figures once resided. Guimarães is easily accessible by car and bus and is only 50 kilometers from Porto.
Tying together old and new is Portugal’s fourth largest city, one of the oldest in the country with a strong, youthful following. In fact, it was labeled the European Youth Capital in 2012 and attracts students from the nearby University of Minho. Brimming with cafés, shops, restaurants and bars, the city is truly vibrant, but it’s also known for its religious side. In addition to the local cathedral being the oldest in the country, the stunning Bom Jesus do Monte is a religious retreat and the cathedral is quite unlike most others. Located on a hill in the woods and surrounded by gardens, visitors can climb the 116 meters of stairs and enjoy a breathtaking view at the top.