Are you a sucker for traveling? We will be looking at the 7 best cities in Portugal in this article.
Do extensive history and rich culture fascinate you? If that is true, then the cities in Portugal are for you.
Located on the Iberian Peninsula, Portugal is a wonderful country to visit. It shares its border with Spain alone. The language Portuguese is not just the official one but also the national language.
Of all the European countries, Portugal is deemed to be the oldest nation-state on the Iberian Peninsula.
You get to view some beautiful towns, simply stunning architectural styles, old churches, historic streets, colorful houses, and a lot more.
History of Portugal
What makes Portugal a historic center is perhaps that it has been under the rule of contrasting communities over the centuries. As far as etymology is concerned, the country gets its name from the Roman-Celtic place, Portus Cale.
This beautiful city is now in northern Portugal. The name has a Latin origin, with Portus meaning port; however, the latter remains unclear about what Cale signifies.
Having some of the oldest cities, the region was once occupied by Neanderthals. Later came the Homo-Sapiens, and that’s how Portugal gave birth to the peoples such as the Celtici, Gallaeci, and Lusitanians. Adding up, Phoenicians, Carthaginians, and even the Ancient Greeks paid a visit.
Interestingly it is said, after careful interpretation that a matriarchal society could have existed back in the day. The abundance that Portugal had to offer couldn’t go unnoticed by the Roman Empire.
Under the very ambitious Julius Caesar, the Roman Empire had control over the peninsula where Portugal resided.
Then came the German tribes, and around what is now known as the dark period, all accounts and written texts disappeared! Astonishing, isn’t it?
That’s right. The Visigoths made their mark over the country until the conquest of this beautiful country was initiated by the Umayyad Caliphate. The country was under Muslim influence as well. No wonder why it is a historic center, but this isn’t it.
The Moors ruled, their domination was overthrown by the Christians. A lot happened, and how can we forget Vasco de Gama, the one who was the first European to reach India via the sea. Thanks to that, not only did Portugal grow economically prosper but also left India with its culture.
Today Portugal attracts many visitors and has a good reputation in the world. It is a popular destination for nature lovers, wine lovers, and football lovers as well.
It’s time we now dig into the 7 best cities in Portugal for you to add to your itinerary when visiting Portugal.
Top 7 Exciting Cities in Portugal
1. Cities in Portugal: Lisbon
Lisbon is the capital city. It is the largest city on mainland Portugal and the 10th most populous city in the EU. It is a perfect combination of old and new. Amazing for a beach holiday capital, as Lisbon has the best of beaches on the Atlantic coastline.
Being one of the major cities in Portugal, it is considered an alpha-level global city. The city contributes a great deal to the economy, media, arts, tourism, and education. It has been a historical center since 1147, and nevertheless, it ranks second oldest capital city after Athens in Europe.
According to CNN, Lisbon is the coolest city in Europe. Its Portuguese heritage is best preserved in its architectural masterpieces. St. George’s Castle (a Moorish Castle) on the hill overlooking the entire city gives the most stunning view.
So, not only are the day trips to museums fascinating, but even the nightlife is thriving. Museu Nacional dos Coches houses coaches that belonged to the ruling authorities. They are rare items pretty exquisite to see.
How can we forget the food? For the best of local cuisine, Mercado da Ribeira is a must-visit. Some favorite items you ought to try to include Pastel de Belem, coffee in downtown Lisbon and the typical drink ginginha. In a small glass of chocolate, ginginha, a cherry liquor is served. It is known to make your taste buds feel an explosion of flavors.
The colorful buildings in pastel shades and tiles inspired by Moorish culture are yet another proof of the city’s architectural beauty. From all around the country, port wine made in different places can be found here.
Some of the most popular types include wines coming from the Alentejo region and Douro valley. The city has narrow streets, but every turn that you take exposes you to scenic views.
2. Cities in Portugal: Porto
Porto is the second-largest and one of the most populated cities in Portugal. It has authentic Portugal wineries in the Vila Nova de Gaia and the Ribeira District, recognized as a UNESCO world heritage site. It has various churches.
Sao Francisco Church is famous for its posh baroque interior. Its old town is picturesque. Mainly known for the Douro river, Porto has some beautiful nearby beaches. Many names have been given to the city of Porto, such as Cidade das Pontes, Invincible City, and Capital of the North.
Porto’s simple yet popular tradition is the event of St. John, wherein you are supposed to have a vase with bush basil and a small poem. People enjoy the dinner on the night of 23-24 June by eating sardines, boiled potatoes, and sipping red wine.
Over the city, there are various bridges, out of which the Maria Pia Bridge was designed by Gustave Eiffel, the man behind the infamous Eiffel Tower.
There’s a very lovely bookshop called the Lello Bookshop, which Harry Poter fans used to think inspired the Hogwarts library. While it didn’t, the bookstore is a good place to stop and admire.
You will find the white and blue tiles, which all beautiful cities of Portugal have scattered around the city on its cobbled streets. Guess the Douro river isn’t the only attraction.
3. Cities in Portugal: Coimbra
Peaceful gardens with colorful flowers blooming and history speaking old churches, Coimbra has it all.
Coimbra is a historical city known to have one of the oldest universities globally, which also makes it a university town. It was regarded as the intellectual capital city of Portugal.
The Botanical Garden of Coimbra and Penedo Da Saudade, originally known as Stone of the Winds, are two places first-time visitors should visit.
You can know the tragic and heartbreaking story of the two lovers Pedro and Ines, when in the city of Coimbra.
If you love to know the local history, then over local cuisine, you can realize it at Casa Costa Lobo. You cannot afford to miss paying a visit to the Biblioteca Joanina if you are a book lover.
The library of this charming town has a colony of bats. These bats are bred to eat insects that threaten the books. How cool is that?
Then there are various cathedrals and monasteries for sightseeing. A cleverly designed bridge, the Pedro e Ines Bridge is so colorful that it brightens up the area.
4. Cities in Portugal: Sintra
People call Sintra a page straight out of a fairytale, for it showcases the best of its Portuguese culture through palaces like you probably see in Disney movies. Located within the hills of Serra de Sintra, Sintra is a charming town. Some of the finest attractions are situated here, perfect for day trips.
You cannot miss the Palacio de Nacional da Pena, commonly known as the Pena Palace. The Pena Palace is regarded as one of the seven wonders in Portugal. The park of the palace sparks Romanticism. Nature lovers find it exciting to see distant trees in one place.
On the other hand, hinting mystical symbolism is the Quinta da Regaleira. Here you can find Knights Templar initiation well too! Like the other oldest cities, Sintra too has Moorish influence. This can be seen through the ruins of a Moorish castle.
Along the stunning coastlines lie beautiful beaches. If surfing is your strong suit, Guincho beach should be experienced. The best time to visit Sintra is either spring or autumn. Nevertheless, since Sintra is about 30 mins drive away from Lisbon, people who visit Portugal find it convenient to travel.
5. Cities in Portugal: Evora
Evora is the capital of the south-central Alentejo region. Making way for some Roman spice, Evora is the land where many monuments from distinct historical periods are present; however, the Roman Temple is the most unique. It is also known as the Temple of Diana.
Most visitors find the white-washed houses as the architectural highlight of the city. Interestingly, a Portuguese city in Brazil, Salvador da Bahia, was inspired by Evora. In 1986, UNESCO recognized the city of Evora as a world heritage site.
They say it is a museum city. Apart from being a historic center, gastronomy is deemed the most notorious in Portugal. The Alentejo bread, chicken hotpie, sargalheta, and prosciutto are, to name a few, delicacies.
Between January and April, an event in restaurants known as the Route of Traditional Flavours, foodies would relish this opportunity.
What’s a day trip without an adrenaline rush? Evora offers people visiting Portugal a chance to go skydiving at the Evora Airport. Speaking of adventure, a hot air balloon ride is possible in Evora all year round.
You can go in for trekking and mountain biking as well. Even the best towns can’t compete with the star observation opportunity that the city of Evora provides. Reserva Dark Sky Alqueva is the perfect getaway from the biggest cities in Portugal to see constellations and galaxies.
6. Cities in Portugal: Lagos
Lagos means lakes. Many visitors put Lagos on top of their wishlists for the tourist-friendly beautiful beaches that it offers and wonderful summer nightlife. Just like the other beautiful cities, Lagos is a historical center.
It is a historic center of the Portuguese Age of Discovery. Cities in Portugal are incomplete without the port wine. But, an interesting alcohol spirit made out of berries of strawberry trees is famous here alongside the Moscatel wine.
This alcoholic beverage is pretty strong and is locally known as aguardiente de medronho. Lagos boasts of its religious heritage as well.
It is home to some old churches. Church of Santo António is one such church that survived the massive impact of the earthquake that hit Portugal, Lisbon, in 1755.
In history, the Lisbon earthquake of 1755 is remembered as one of the most brutal and violent shakings that demolished architectural wonders and led to the death of over 60,000 in Lisbon alone.
Beautiful statues of polychrome, white and blue tiles, wood carvings, and six baroque paintings can be found in this extravagant church. The city has some other fascinating elements as well.
First-time visitors report the best experience of watching dolphins. Moreover, the city has many iconic rugged cliffs, tunnels, and caves, best explored by kayaking.
As far as surfers are concerned, Logas may be a mecca to them. Surfers who like challenges should go to Praia do Beliche. The consistent waters of Praia do Tonel and Praia da Luz is friendly to surfers too.
But of course, if you enjoy relaxing and sipping wine during sunsets, then Camilo Beach (Praia do Camilo) gives the most panoramic view of the coastline.
Enough of energy-consuming activities. Let’s talk about food. You find some of the best seafood in Lagos. In October every year, the festival of Rota do Petisco is held for you to taste some tapas-like dishes.
7. Cities in Portugal: Aveiro
We have already read a lot about cobbled streets, day trip worthy churches/cathedrals/castles and historic town center/s but Aveiro is unlike other cities and small towns. Also known as the Portuguese Venice, Aveiro is known for the barcos moliceiros, the colorful boats that catch anyone’s eyes.
Back in the day, this city was famous for its seaweed harvest, for it lies on the edge of Ria de Aveiro. Ria de Aveiro is a saltwater lagoon that is often thanked for the prosperity of this city and its almost destruction.
The Romans felt Aveiro was perfect for the harbor, but their perception was proved wrong in 1575 when a very powerful winter storm disrupted the seabed and created a sandbank over the harbor.
After this, the population fell, but the city regained its prosperity after industrialization and Art Nouveau architecture.
The Art Nouveau culture was brought to this city of Portugal through wealthy Brazilian families. The primary landmark, however, remains the 15th-century Monastery of Jesus. This monastery houses the tomb of St. Joana.
The vibrant boats that I mentioned before are not just for Instagram-worthy pictures. You can ride them and discover the canals of Aveiro. The historic center of this city is not too vast and can be covered in a few hours.
If you are fond of candy, then do not miss the Ovos Moles de Aveiro. These are very cute-looking little cakes made out of sweetened egg yolk. It is one of the best towns in Portugal.
Aveiro is not a beach city, which shifts the attention of tourists towards Costa Nova. The haystacks of Costa Nova are known to attract visitors with their bright colors. Costa Nova is located a few km away from Aveiro.
The stripe-colored haystacks are not the only sites of fascination. Costa Nova has many facilities and the neighboring beaches of barra, such as sailing, surfing, rowing, windsurfing, and water skiing.
Bonus Destination: Nazaré
If a chill, mellow vibes atmosphere is what you need, then visit Nazaré—being one of the most popular beaches seaside resorts. Does the name ring any bell? It is the Portuguese version of Nazareth, the holy land as mentioned in the bible.
Many visitors come to Nazaré during the festivals dedicated to Our Lady of Nazaré. We already talked about surfing spots, but the ones at Nazaré stand exceptional. This is due to the high breaking waves that have facilitated many famous surfers worldwide to set records.
There is a legend associated with this municipality known as the Legend of Nazaré, which involves a story of a man who was saved by the name of the Holy Lady. To this day, the legend is told to inculcate a sense of hope and belief amongst the youth.
Interesting facts about Portugal
- Sanctuary of Our Lady of Fátima to the north of Lisbon is believed to be where the Virgin Mary appeared in front of three children.
- World’s oldest bookstore, the Bertrand Bookstore, is situated in the capital city of Portugal.
- The heart-touching Fado music is a part of Portuguese heritage.
- There is a Portuguese version of the statue, Christ the Redeemer, at the Sanctuary of Christ the King.
- Portuguese is the official language of 9 other countries and is spoken in Goa, India as well.
Visit Cities in Portugal: Take the Next Trip to Portugal?
After reading about the beautiful cities and best towns in Portugal, I am sure the traveler in you feels the need to visit Portugal any time soon.
Did we miss any other cities in Portugal that should make a list? Are there other beautiful cities in Portugal that a few tourists only visit? Do let us know in the comment section.