Portugal’s Hidden Gems: 5 Best Places to See if You Visit Portugal
Until very recently, Portugal was Europe’s unsung destination. Eclipsed by larger and flashier neighbours, it has remained in the dark for too long. But not anymore.
Make room, Spain and France, for Europe’s most vibrant and eclectic country is ready to take centre stage!
So, what makes Portugal so great?
Mild climatic conditions and a variety of natural spots will make your visit to Portugal warm, interesting and exciting. By now, it’s no secret that Lisbon, with its rugged hills, iconic trams and lovely architecture, is an old-world charm at its best. But Portugal’s biggest surprise are its hidden gems.
Below, you’ll find 5 little-known destinations that you can’t miss if you decide to visit Portugal. But before you continue reading, remember that if you want to make the most of your stay you will need to learn Portuguese since, outside Lisbon, many of the locals don’t speak English! Why don’t you get started with our post on essential Portuguese words?
If you love ancient architecture and historical sites, Guimarães is the place for you. Built in the 10th century, the Guimarães castle offers visitors the chance to learn about the history of Portugal and a panoramic view of the city and Penga mountain from the top of the castelo’s highest tower.
After that, you can visit Largo da Oliveira, which is the social centre of the city. Named after the ancient olive trees that grow in the area, this square is both historically rich and socially active, as it boasts some of the liveliest cafés and the most interesting historic monuments in the region.
Now, if you want to combine your cultural curiosity with a bit of recreation, you have to see the Jardins Do Palacio De Vila Flor. This is a palace surrounded by quiet and welcoming gardens which embody all that makes Guimarães unique, by combining human artistry with natural beauty.
If you visit Portugal next summer, you can’t miss Ponte de Lima. This picturesque town by the serene Rio Lima owes much of its charm to its colourful markets spread along the riverbank.
It’s also a great spot for photographers and those seeking a romantic holiday thanks to its vineyards, medieval bridges and golden sunsets.
Now, if you’re looking for a truly unique experience, then you must see the Museu do Brinquedo (the Toy Museum) an exciting exhibit of Portuguese toys dating from the 19th century until 1986, the year in which Portugal joined the European Economic Community. Get a twinge of nostalgia as you see the toys that Portuguese children used to play with and learn about old manufacturing techniques!
Are you planning to visit Portugal with your teenage children? Then you might want to add Peniche to your list. This is an exciting holiday spot with supreme beaches and paradisiac natural reserves.
Praia dos Supertubos, one of the most famous beaches on the south peninsula in Portugal, attracts hundreds of surf lovers every year and has been named as one of seven must-see natural wonders in the country thanks to its high, perfectly hollow waves.
If you have smaller children, you can take them to Sportágua, a waterpark with steep slides, multi-lane racers, and pools of multiple sizes for bathing or swimming. While some of these attractions provide adrenaline-pumping fun, there are also shallow, gentle pools that are safe even for your toddler.
This national reserve is located in the north of Portugal, just an hour away from Porto. If you love quaint old villages and you enjoy learning about lost traditions, you will love this park, as it’s dotted with granite streets that haven’t changed a bit since the founding of Portugal almost ten centuries ago.
Are your parents the kind of people who are always talking about how old times used to be better in every way? Then make sure you take them to Peneda-Gerês. In these old villages, you will see long-bearded shepherds walking through the meadow with their livestock, and women dressed in beautiful medieval clothes as they take their cows along paved stone streets.
Apart from its old customs, in the park, you can see wild and domesticated animals, admire its waterfalls, and even spend a relaxing afternoon at a thermal village.
What’s more, the Peneda-Gerês national park has some wonderful viewpoints from where you can see mountain peaks, valleys, hidden villages, serpentine streaks and ancient sanctuaries. Some of these are:
- Vale da Peneda Viewpoint, from which you can see the Nossa Senhora da Peneda Sanctuary, mountains and hills covered by forests, and a river that separates Spain from Portugal.
- Rocas Viewpoint, from which you can admire the Gerês mountain range and the Valley of the Arado River
- Pedra Bela Viewpoint, from which you can see the Caniçada lagoon, the delightful place where the river Cávado meets the river Caldo, and some of the rarest and most luxurious vegetation in Portugal.
As it happens with most of Portugal’s hidden gems, arriving in Óbidos is like time-travelling to the middle ages. One of the reasons why the streets of this little town look so traditional is because cars are not allowed except for food deliveries. Do you love taking photos of typical streets but often wish you could photoshop modern cars out of your pictures? Then Óbidos is the perfect place for you if you happen to visit Portugal.
However, the ultimate reason why you need to come to Obidos if you happen to visit Portugal is to drink a glass (or a bottle) of Ginjinha.
What is Ginjinha? It’s the second most famous alcoholic drink in the country after Porto.
It’s a delicious liqueur made by infusing cherries in aguardente and adding sugar together with other optional ingredients such as cloves or cinnamon sticks.
Although Portugal has good weather all year round, you should avoid travelling in July or August, as they are the hottest and most crowded months. May, June and September are still warm but they are rarely unbearably hot, which makes these months a great time to visit Portugal.
Remember that Portugal is a very eclectic country. Whether you are into food, art, history or sport, there will be a great holiday spot to suit your interests and needs. So, instead of going for the most obvious choices, find the place that will make your visit to Portugal truly memorable.
Although most Portuguese people know a little English, especially in Lisbon, you will have a much more fulfilling experience if you learn Portuguese. By speaking to locals in their own language you show them that you truly care about their culture and will make it easier for you to make new friends. So, if you’re planning to visit Portugal, make sure you learn all the essential Portuguese words and phrases for travellers before you book your flight.
Do you need help with that? On our website, you’ll find information about interactive,one-to-one lessons taught by native teachers who are passionate about their language and believe that the best way to learn Portuguese is by speaking it!