2 April 2024

Portugal, Portugal, Portugal…You might have heard the name, it is everywhere! In 2023 alone, this charming corner in Southern Europe welcomed around 16.8 million visitors (between January and July alone). With its name being referenced in some of the world’s most renowned magazines and publications, this Iberian gem has ascended the ranks of popularity, finding itself in the daydreams of thousands of first-time visitors!

Europe’s latest darling attracts with its sun-kissed shores and decadently delicious delicacies that make the cobblestone streets even more picturesque and inviting! Amid this destination’s countless treasures, the challenge arises: where does one begin?

Fear not, today, we are here to guide you through a curated list of the top 10 things to do on your first visit to Portugal. Each of these experiences will ensure your inaugural trip is nothing short of extraordinary!

1. Explore the neighbourhoods of Lisbon

1. Explore the neighbourhoods of Lisbon

Lisbon is the starting point for this exciting adventure! Imbued in a vibrant atmosphere that propels all five senses to work simultaneously, the city overwhelms with its multi-faceted identity splattered across its winding, colourful neighbourhoods that bustle with the rhythm of Fado Music and outstanding panoramic vistas.

With their own vibe and identity, each district that makes up the city offers an array of different experiences. If you’re looking for hip and trendy places perfect for a good night out or gathering with friends and family, then Bairro Alto and Cais do Sodré are the places to go. Bars, nightclubs and restaurants are the beating heart of this part of Lisbon where all generations come together. Taking a photo on Pink Street (with the floor painted in this vibrant hue) is obligatory!

1. Explore the neighbourhoods of Lisbon 2


Graça and Alfama, on the other hand, capture the attention with their hilltop vistas and friendly local people who live their lives among tourists, showing the way to authentic Lisbon. These neighbourhoods pulsate with energy, art and tradition. The sound of the Portuguese guitar is the perfect soundtrack to a visit to this corner of the capital.

Whether you are sipping the perfect espresso in a quaint café in Baixa, relishing the coastal breeze in Belém or admiring cosmopolitan constructions in Parque das Nações, the key is to ditch the conventional travel playbook and embrace the joy of experiencing the city through the locals’ eyes!


2. Admire Porto’s riverfront and walk along Ponte D. Luís

2. Admire Porto’s riverfront and walk along Ponte D. Luis

Welcome to Porto, where the riverfront is not just a scenic backdrop but a symphony of sights, sounds and sensations that make you feel like the protagonist of your own film! Marked by the Ribeira district, this Portuguese destination located in the north invites you to admire your surroundings through a cinematic lens.

Majestic and compelling, the Douro River and the iconic Dom Luís I Bridge are silent characters that confer Porto its unique allure. Therefore, a leisurely stroll along Ribeira and this remarkable metal-arched construction is a must-do! As you step onto this bridge connecting Porto to Vila Nova de Gaia, let the wind tousle your hair as you soak in the superb panoramic views. This is no ordinary experience; it is, instead, a harmonious dance with the skyline and a flirtation with the past.

From the top of Dom Luís, Porto reverberates even more in its glorious beauty. The Douro River meandering below, the lively buzz of local vendors filling the riverfront with their charisma and the fellow wanderers paint the most enthralling scenario that will make your trip to Portugal worthwhile!


3. Do a wine tasting in the Douro Valley

3. Do a wine tasting in the Douro Valley

Don’t you fret – we have not forgotten Portugal’s delicious wine! Nestled between the undulating hills of the Douro Valley, expansive vineyards make this UNESCO World Heritage site a coveted destination acclaimed for its soul-stirring essence and breath taking natural beauty. Wine tasting in this region is mandatory for any first-time visitor.

Across the lush green lands of small towns like Pinhão, Peso da Régua and Viseu, you will stumble upon century-old wine estates, which have been responsible for the progress and evolution of Portugal in this acclaimed industry. With the help of experts, you can learn more about the traditions and methods used and taste the country’s high-quality wines, including Port wine.

Picture this: you, basking in the golden glow of the sun-soaked vineyards, overlooking the bucolic countryside and majestic Douro River while sipping on a regionally produced drink. Each sip tells a story; one where robust reds and crisp whites share the magic behind the skilled hands that cultivate the vines. Cheers to a memorable adventure!


4. Taste the traditional sweets

4. Taste the traditional sweets

Sweet tooth are also taken care of in this lovely corner of Europe. Are you looking for a melting egg-based sweet? Perhaps a flaky almond delight? In the streets of Portugal, there is a place for all tastes and preferences. Tradition comes hand in hand with modernity, making the country’s sweet delights, a crown jewel of its identity and culture.

Pastel de Belém is the star of the show in this exciting voyage. Created around 1834, this flaky custard pastry has become, over the centuries, a symbol of the capital’s culinary identity. These are found in Lisbon’s enchanting Belém neighbourhood and are best enjoyed warm. So, get your taste buds ready and dare add a sprinkle of powdered sugar and cinnamon for extra flavour!


4. Taste the traditional sweets 2


Changing scenarios to picturesque Sintra, the travesseiros are a decadent puff pastry sweet stuffed with an almond and egg-yolk blend that confer them a pillow shape. These are an integral part of the experience of visiting this destination steeped in history and romantic corners. Accompanied by Portuguese coffee, this sweet is even better!

Moving further north, Ovos Moles dominate the scene with their mouth-watering thin shell and bursting sweet egg filling. Original from Portugal’s “Venice”, this sweet was first made by nuns in the town’s convents in order to use the egg yolks from the eggs whose whites were used to starch their clothes. Since then, Ovos Moles have become a symbol of Aveiro and a must-try in Portuguese gastronomy.


5. Visit one of the Palaces in Sintra

5. Visit one of the Palaces in Sintra

A day trip to whimsical Sintra and its fairytale palaces is a mandatory part of your first trip to Portugal. This small, quaint village boasts a collection of monuments that punctuate the lush green countryside with their architectural mastery and beauty.

Pena Palace is, undoubtedly, the top attraction. Vibrant hues playfully dance upon the turrets and towers of this construction built around 1854 to serve as a summer residence for the former King Ferdinand II. Part of one of Portugal’s Seven Wonders, the palace provides visitors with an immersive experience augmented by well-preserved furnished rooms with dazzling mystic ornaments and elegant pieces.


5. Visit one of the Palaces in Sintra 2

Less flamboyant, yet still mesmerizing, the National Palace catches the eye with its piercing white conical chimneys which contrast with the surrounding pastel-coloured buildings. With a combination of the Moorish and Mudéjar styles, the construction shows traces that date as far back as the 10th century; hence, being one of the oldest palaces in the whole of Portugal.

Still in Sintra, it is worth noting Monserrate Palace, unique and distinguished in its use of different architectural designs, and Quinta da Regaleira, formerly known as “Palace of the Monteiro Millionaire.” The latter is particularly recognized for its initiation well and the use of masonic symbols.

A wonder around these engrossing constructions will transport you away from the mundane world into a realm of regal opulence that transcends conventional beauty!


6. Soak up the sun in the Algarve beaches

6. Soak up the sun in the Algarve beaches

The awaited moment is here – sun-kissed shores, azure waters and warm inviting weather…There is truly no place like the Algarve and its dazzling beaches! With over 100 beaches, this region in Portugal is the ultimate summer hotspot, where nature, great food and rich culture come together in one only place. Here, each grain of sand holds the promise of an unforgettable adventure.

If you are looking for crystal-clear waters and jaw-dropping backdrops of dense green forests and dramatic cliffs, then the Praia da Amoreira in Aljezur, the Praia Dona Ana in Lagos, Praia do Vau in Portimão and Praia dos Alemães in bustling Albufeira must be included in your itinerary! Each marvel with its unique charm and unmatching relaxing ambience. Take this moment in the Algarve to enjoy the peace and quiet away from the country’s cosmopolitan cities and soak in the shimmering essence of Portugal’s coastal allure!

Despite its summer glow, the Algarve benefits from lovely mild weather which can be enjoyed any time of the year. Yes – even if you want to go for a nice leisurely stroll on the beach!


7. Relax in Alentejo

7. Relax in Alentejo

Located in the South of Portugal, between Lisbon and the Algarve, this oasis of tranquillity welcomes you into a treasure trove of natural beauty, historical attractions and flavourful wine. Surely, this is the place to wind down and uncover a new side to Portugal; one less cosmopolitan, yet equally guided by a strong sense of tradition.

As the capital of the Alentejo, Évora is an obvious visit. This city, encircled by medieval walls, is particularly renowned for its architecture and gastronomy. While you wander around in the historical centre, with the Roman Temple on one side and the Cathedral on the other, you will stumble across various restaurants and cafés, where you can taste the luscious traditional roast lamb or pork.


7. Relax in Alentejo 2

Only about 40 minutes from Évora, Estremoz rises from the horizon with its 1200s castle; a historical construction built as a military stronghold against foreign invasions. Today, this is a lovely hotel, ideal to unwind and enjoy the calm of this part of Portugal. From here, you can visit the antiquities market (usually on Saturdays) and explore the marble quarries.

Marvão, Portalegre and Castelo de Vide are three other exciting destinations to visit in the Alentejo. Located in the northern areas, these small towns are graced by the bucolic beauty of the Serra de São Mamede, a magnificent mountain range and nature park worth admiring.


8. Have a Fado evening in Lisbon or Coimbra

8. Have a Fado evening in Lisbon or Coimbra

Silence, it is time to listen to Fado! Let evocative performances transport you to another realm, where melody meets emotion in a dance that will leave your senses spellbound. Fado isn’t just a performance or musical style; it is an invitation to immerse yourself in the very essence of Portugal.

In its origins in the bustling neighbourhoods of Lisbon, namely Alfama, and the historic Coimbra, Fado was mainly sung by the poor and the suffering, mostly in front of their doorsteps or in small social gatherings. Today, the scenario has evolved into picturesque taverns and restaurants, known as “Casas de Fado”, which welcome performers from all walks of life. These spaces offer a unique experience in which traditional tapas are combined with the moving harmonies of the Portuguese guitar.

As you listen to weaving tales of love, loss and life, you will feel ever more connected with Portugal’s moving culture. Be prepared to enter an emotional rollercoaster of laughter, profound connection and, perhaps, even tears that will make this trip memorable and unique!


9. Go on a panoramic boat trip

9. Go on a panoramic boat trip

Sailing into splendour is a direct way to admire Portugal’s beauty from a new point of view. A panoramic boat trip is, therefore, an exhilarating escapade and a transcending experience that will allow you to discover the charm behind the country’s sun-kissed shore. From the iconic Porto skyline to the majestic Tower of Belém in Lisbon, the options to sail away across Portugal’s legendary waterways are endless.

A boat tour across the Douro Valley is the most iconic and classic thing to do while in Portugal! If you have a romantic in you, then I believe this must be your first choice. Lasting around one hour or more, these trips departing from the small town of Pinhão take you along the punctuating vineyards and enchanting slopes in the region, painting the dreamiest scenario as you go along.

9. Go on a panoramic boat trip 2

Now, if you are a sunset lover, who never ceases to enjoy watching the sun slowly hide away in the distant horizon, then a panoramic boat trip on the river Tagus is the way to go. Departing from Belém, you will witness the capital’s daily hustle and bustle wane from afar as you get privileged views from the iconic 25 de Abril bridge and, if you’re lucky, you might even see dolphins swim alongside you.

Further south, let the turquoise waters unveil the coastal wonders on a captivating boat trip in Lagos, Algarve. Glide along the dramatic cliffs, exploring hidden grottoes and golden beaches. Feel the ocean breeze as you navigate through the iconic Ponta da Piedade, marveling at the stunning rock formations.

So, Douro, Tagus, or the Algarve…the choice is yours! Get ready for a nautical adventure that will redefine your perception of Portugal!


10. Try the seafood with a view

10. Try the seafood with a view

Like any Mediterranean country, Portugal has a reputation for being a hotspot for seafood cuisine. North to south, along the coastline, restaurants guide you along the country’s luxurious gastronomy and resplendent beauty. In each and every one of them, dining transcends the food, becoming an immersive experience that engages all senses.

Starting in the North, Viana do Castelo pops up as a go-to place to try the popular “Polvo à Lagareiro”. This dish is made from tenderly boiled and then roasted octopus, accompanied by potatoes drizzled with olive oil and garlic. Such a recipe is originally from this Portuguese city surrounded by Atlantic waters from which the seafood is sourced.


10. Try the seafood with a view 2

On the opposite end, in Setúbal, the cuttlefish is a sacred treasure that beckons visitors from all corners of the country, but also the globe. In this southern city, on Lisbon’s south bank, this product has spanned generations and permeated its way into the local cuisine. The most popular dish is “choco frito”, fried cuttlefish in a special batter, served with fries and fresh salad.

Clams and oysters are the Algarve’s crown jewel. Mostly sourced from the Ria Formosa’s waters, these bivalves are widely appreciated in the local region in their simplest form – steamed with a drizzle of lemon. Modern variations see it included in pasta dishes and risottos.

Imagine savouring each one of these dishes while relishing the romantic vistas of Portugal’s coastal gems! With every bite, a new story is unearthed.


Experience Portugal to the fullest

Amid this destination’s popularity, we’ve created this incredible list of the ultimate 10 fun experiences first-timers must try. From the wine-drenched Douro Valley to the lively, buzzing streets of Lisbon and Porto, each handpicked adventure guarantees a voyage right to the heart and soul of this European dazzler. North to South, West to East, Portugal will surely enchant you with its multifaceted identity and compelling culture. Here’s to an adventure in a destination of dreams!



Topics: portugal, self-drive, porto, lisbon, Visit Portugal, travel agency, self-guided, Algarve, Alentejo, history, gastronomy, wine, culture, fado, sweets, sintra, coimbra, tourtailors, Travel Portugal, Douro Valley

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