8 of the most underrated destinations in Portugal
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Visitors flock to Portugal year-round to visit the country’s most popular destinations such as Lisbon, Porto and the beloved Algarve coast. Many travellers plan their holidays around catching rides on Lisbon’s emblematic 28 train, wine tasting along the Douro River and sunbathing on the golden sands of the Algarve.
But Portugal has so much more than just its most famous spots. If you’ve already done these top three hotspots, or want to add on a little local charm to a preplanned city break in Lisbon or Algarve holiday, visit some of these destinations. They’re a little more off-the-beaten-path and less touristy, offering you a true taste of Portugal.
Here are some of the best underrated wine regions, islands, cities, towns, regions and national parks to explore in Portugal. For more Portuguese travel inspiration, check out 13 of the best villages in Portugal.
Venice isn’t the only city in Europe with canals. Aveiro is a Portuguese town where you can see small, colourful boats drift along canal waters, or even ride in them yourself. These special boats, moliceiros, were once used to collect moliço, seaweed.
Beyond its canals, Aveiro is known for its design and architecture, which melds Portugal’s typical tiled buildings with the long lines and curves of decorative art nouveau facades. Nearby, visit the beach town of Costa Nova to snap iconic photos of the colourful and striped fisherman houses that line the cobbled streets.
Some people deem Sagres the end of the world, but really, it’s just Europe’s most southwesterly point. Technically, it’s on the edge of the Algarve region, but is often overlooked in favour of the popular golden-sand beaches closer to Lagos or Albufeira.
But Sagres’ wild seas make for some incredible surf spots and blustery beachcombing. Those who’d prefer to stay on drier land can hike the area’s towering cliffs and rugged shores. Don’t miss a sunset at the Cabo de San Vicente, a windswept headland with a picturesque lighthouse overlooking the sea.
While Sintra’s famed palace is one of the country’s most popular tourist attractions, Mafra’s regal Palacio Nacional is an alternative day trip from Lisbon. The palace highlights feature the basilica, a convent, an18th century infirmary, and an awe-inspiring library, which is home to more than 36,000 texts.
Mafra’s other attractions are rather spread out, but all worth visiting, especially if you’ve hired a car. Stop at the Iberian Wolves Recovery Center, where you can spot the endangered species through observation towers. Then visit the giant cliff rock Penedo de Lexim, which holds the remains of a volcanic rock chimney. Finally, end your day out at Europe’s only World Surfing Reserve, Ericeira. Its five-mile coastline has some impressive surf breaks and more than 1,000 different marine species.
4. Berlenga Grande
While the Azores and Madeira may sound familiar, it’s possible that you haven’t heard of the Berlengas Islands. These rocky islands sit just west of Peniche and are considered a natural reserve.
The best way to visit is a day trip from Peniche via boat. There are plenty of outdoor activities to enjoy, such as hiking the craggy cliffs, snorkelling, birdwatching, or swimming in coves and caves. Although you can spend the night in Berlenga Grande, there isn’t much to do in the evening, so a day trip might be best. And if the weather is iffy, it’s best to skip these islands or be ready for a bumpy Atlantic boat ride.
5. Peneda Geres National Park
Located in Northwest Portugal, the Peneda Geres National Park retains some real Portuguese old-world charm. Besides the natural wonders, which include mountains, forests, lakes and waterfalls, the small villages in the area seem almost frozen in time, a nod to Portuguese tradition and culture. Expect to see granite houses, castles and century-old stone walls.
The reserve is also an excellent place to view Iberian wildlife. If you’re lucky, you may spot Iberian wolves, ibex, and wild boars. The park is home to more than 100 different bird species — and you may even see one of 15 different species of bats.
Portugal’s southern interior Alentejo region isn’t as popular as some of the country’s other wine areas, but there’s plenty of reason to visit. For those into astrotourism, it’s one of the best spots to stargaze on the Iberian peninsula. Besides housing the only Dark Sky Reserve in Portugal, Alqueva, it’s also home to some of Portugal’s most up-and-coming vineyards.
The earthy, fruity Alentejo wine varieties are made with grapes such as Aragonez, Castelao and Trincadeira, or a blend of all three. The region also focuses on organic and biodynamic wines. Once you’ve cruised the rolling hills and had your fill of wine, visit the white village of Evora.
7. Serra da Estrela and the Schist Villages
Discover 27 different villages sandwiched within the Serra da Estrela, all made of a traditional stone called schist. Enjoy the twists and turns of a scenic drive through the hills, stopping to check out some of the villages, or plan to hike through the area.
Some of the most famous Schist Villages are Talasnal and Casal Novo, both located in the Lousã Mountain range. Or, for a trek from village to village, consider visiting the cluster of Aigra Nova, Aigra Velha, Pena and Comareira, all located in the municipality of Gois.
8. Viana do Castelo
Many visitors to Portugal don’t bother going much further north than Porto, but the Viana do Castelo region is worth the trip up. Close to the Spanish Galician border, Viana do Castelo’s most beautiful town to visit has the same name: Viana do Castelo, famous for its mountaintop Santa Luzia church and bridge designed by Gustavo Eiffel crossing the Limia River.
One of the best-kept Portuguese secrets in Viana do Castelo is the Costa Verde, a coastal stretch of sands named for its abundance of green along the sea. Check out beaches Praia do Cabedelo, Praia do Paço, or Praia do Camarido, which juts out into the sea and is backed by a pine forest.
We would never suggest that you skip a major Portuguese city like Lisbon, or forgo an epic tourist attraction, like Sintra’s palace. But if you’d like to add on a more underrated spot to your Portugal trip, or are visiting for the umpteenth time, consider adding one of these more off-the-beaten-path destinations to your itinerary.
Portugal has so many incredible villages, beaches, cities, towns, wine regions, and natural wonders to offer — your biggest problem planning your next Portuguese holiday will be deciding which to include.
(Feature image courtesy of Sean3810/Getty)
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