Portugal’s best cities to visit

Portugal is among our top recommendations in Europe, whether you’re looking for a couple’s break, a family holiday, a foodie experience, a cultural escape or a beach getaway. And while it’s perhaps best known for the many Blue Flag beaches of its sun-drenched Algarve region, we also think it’s the perfect spot for a city break, in the following fantastic destinations.

Portugal’s best cities to visit

Porto

We rate this north-western coastal city for its port wine, of course – a tasting should be first on your to-do list (and perhaps a side trip into the wine-producing Douro region).  But we also love its hidden squares, baroque churches and leisurely pace – ideal for those who like their travel to be slow and authentic. Portugal’s second city, Porto is centred on its UNESCO-listed medieval Ribeira (riverside) district with its cobbled alleys lined by old merchants’ houses, churches and cloisters – perfect for ambling and people-watching over a traditional pasteis de nata in a café.

Lisbon

Ranked among the happiest cities in the world in the Expat City Ranking 2022 for its 2,800 hours of sunshine a year and short working week, the Portuguese capital is both timeless and modern, laidback and exciting. Many of its greatest pleasures are simple ones – eating grilled sardines in the Alfama district, or riding the tram or funicular to discover different neighbourhoods. Another big attraction is just how close you are to the surfing beaches of the Atlantic and to beauty spots such as Azenhas do Mar ('Watermills of the Sea').

Funchal

The Madeiran capital delights us with its museums, Mercado dos Lavradores market, cable car and marina, but most of all with its famous subtropical gardens – including the Madeira Botanical Garden and the Quinta da Boa Vista (there are other gardens within easy reach of the city too) – and its annual Flower Festival each April/May. Among our other favourite things to do here are whale-watching, hiking the levadas (irrigation channels), eco tours, diving and golf – and sampling the delicious fortified and other wines.

Faro

The compact Algarve capital is underrated in our opinion – overlooked in favour of the nearby world-class beaches of southern Portugal, it’s a lovely town with its own excellent stretches of sand, a pretty cidade velha (Old Town) encircled by medieval walls and fabulous food. It’s also the gateway to the lagoons of the Parque Natural da Ria Formosa with its fishing communities and its unique local experiences – try clam- and oyster-picking, or ask about bird-watching tours.

Evora

This UNESCO World Heritage listed city is something else, with its ghoulish but impressive Capela dos Ossos with its walls and pillars covered with skulls and bones, its Roman ruins including a temple, and its cathedral. It’s also the capital of the Alentejo, Portugal’s most sparsely populated region and a great place for stargazing in the Alqueva Dark Sky Zone, boating on Lake Alqueva and Atlantic beach life on the spectacular Tróia Peninsula.

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