Are you a nature enthusiast? Then Portugal is your go-to! From a heavenly shoreline with pristine waters and golden sand to superb green parks that boast the most striking and diverse landscape that you can imagine, this small yet rich country has it all. Embrace yourself for a journey where you can experience the country's splendid natural sceneries, smell the soft greenery all around you, and witness the vast wildlife that inhabits and gives life to these unique sites.
Listed below are 8 of the most popular natural parks in Portugal that you must visit!
The rocky yet green Parque Natural de São Mamede
Its Atlantic and Mediterranean influences are attested by the diversified landscapes of the Parque Natural de São Mamede, including a variety of habitats and animal species, like birds of prey and bats, and the largest community of amphibian and reptile species in mainland Portugal. This protected area located in the northeast of Portugal, near the border with Spain, covers approximately 55,000 hectares and houses many oak trees, chestnut woods, and cork oak, featuring broom, rockrose, and gorse fields.
You can explore the park's many trails, which lead to striking views and hidden waterfalls. There are many ancient sites around, from the Roman ruins of Ammaia, to the limestone ovens of Escusa, alongside with examples of military architecture.
You may also visit some picturesque villages as the park is home to several small towns, including Castelo de Vide, which has a rich Jewish heritage where you can wander the narrow streets of the old town and admire the whitewashed houses, the medieval castle, and some ancient synagogues; Marvão, another charming town suspended atop a hill, will give you the most spectacular views over the town. There is also a castle, which dates back to the 13th century.
The region is renowned for traditional Portuguese products you must savor, like olive oil, cheese, and wines. Visitors can sample these delicacies at local restaurants and wineries.
Wander around the marvelous Parque Natural da Serra da Estrela
Nature’s generosity is present in the freshest springs of the Parque Natural da Serra da Estrela, whose waters contain incomparable therapeutic and relaxing properties. This is a protected area of approximately 101,000 hectares located in the center of Portugal, and it includes the highest point in mainland Portugal, the Torre Peak, which rises to a height of 1,993 meters (6,539 feet) and is highly sought after by winter sports lovers.
The rugged park has mountain ranges, valleys, and deep gorges, and it is home to species such as the Iberian wolf, the golden eagle, the Bonelli's eagle, the Spanish ibex, and the wild boar. The park's landscape is dotted with blue rivers, streams, and lakes, providing habitats for aquatic species such as trout and otters. Here you may discover the springs of the main Portuguese rivers and the striking glacial valleys of Loriga and Manteigas, or the most fascinating bird species that nest here.
One of the most popular activities in the park is hiking. There are more than 300 km of trails in the Serra da Estrela Natural Park. Some of the most popular trails include the Rota da Estrela, which takes visitors to the highest point in mainland Portugal, and the Rota dos Pastores, which showcases the region's traditional pastoral way of life. You can also mountain bike, rock climb, and ski during the winter months.
The Serra da Estrela Natural Park is also known for its gastronomy, including local specialties such as the delicious Queijo da Serra, a soft, buttery cheese made from sheep's milk, and the regional dish of Chanfana, a stew made with goat or lamb meat.
Hike and marvel at the Parque Natural do Alvão
Parque Natural do Alvão is a natural park located in Vila Real, in the north region of Portugal. Extending approximately 70 square kilometers, it is filled with deep valleys and high mountains, housing a variety of flora and fauna that are unique to the region. One of the most notable features of Parque Natural do Alvão is the Fisgas de Ermelo waterfall. This impressive natural wonder is the highest waterfall in Portugal, with a height of around 200 meters. It is located in a deep ravine and surrounded by dense vegetation, making it a popular destination for hikers and those who love being outside.
While here, make sure to stop at the Interpretive Center, which offers a lot of interesting information about the history, geology, and ecology of the region, including guided tours and educational programs for visitors of all ages. If you want to explore the park's natural beauty, there are numerous hiking trails along the mountains and valleys which give you breathtaking views of the surrounding landscape and provide opportunities to spot some of the park's resident wildlife, including deer, wild boars, and eagles.
Dive into the stunning waterfalls of the Peneda-Gerês National Park
The mythical Peneda-Gerês National Park is a natural park of over 700 square kilometers located in the northwest of Portugal. As one of the most unique and beautiful parks in Europe, it boasts a spectacular array of 240 species of vertebrate fauna identified in the territory and 1100 species of flora, in addition to 500 sites of historical and archaeological interest. It’s easy to understand why this park is considered a World Biosphere Reserve by UNESCO.
Many people seek the Peneda-Gerês National Park for its various hiking trails, passing through the mountains, and offering breathtaking views of the surrounding landscape. Along these exciting trails, you may spot some of the park's wildlife, including deer and wolves. Some of the most popular hiking routes include the Pedra Bela Trail, overseeing the Cávado River, and the Mata da Albergaria Trail, which leads hikers through a dense forest of tall and imponent ancient oak trees.
The park features some landmarks, such as the Vilarinho das Furnas Dam and the Nossa Senhora da Peneda Sanctuary. The Vilarinho das Furnas Dam is an imposing building from the 1970s, and the Nossa Senhora da Peneda Sanctuary is a beautiful religious location that dates back to the 16th century. This park is also sought after for its thermal springs and spas, believed to have therapeutic properties.
Parque Natural de Sintra-Cascais, the fairytale-like park
Located between the ocean and the mountains, this park is one of the most important Nature Reserves in the center of Portugal. Towering cliffs, lavish forests, and a beautiful shoreline make the Parque Natural de Sintra-Cascais a total gem that covers an area of approximately 145 square kilometers. Its coastline boasts many stunning and raw beaches and coves, including Praia do Guincho and Praia da Ursa, which are popular among surfers, swimmers, and those chasing after the sun. The Parque Natural de Sintra-Cascais also features diverse wildlife, including the Iberian lynx, the red deer, and the Eurasian otter.
In case you want to learn more about Portugal’s history and cultural heritage, make sure to stop by the Pena Palace and the Quinta da Regaleira, and take the time to explore two of the main attractions of not only this area but the whole country. The Pena Palace is a magnificent and colorful castle planted atop a hill, which was built as a royal summer residence in the 19th century. The Quinta da Regaleira is a beautiful estate that dates back to the 18th century, known for its unique architecture, intricate gardens, and mysterious symbolism, blending the Gothic, Renaissance, and Manueline styles with elements of Masonic and esoteric symbolism. Both of them boast impressive architecture worth your visit, but the whole village breeds a magical atmosphere.
Enjoy the natural beauty of the Dunas de S. Jacinto Nature Reserve
Less green but just as superb are the Dunas de S. Jacinto Nature Reserve, a protected natural area located in Aveiro, in the central region of Portugal. Spanning approximately 12 square kilometers, it has extensive sand dunes, wetlands, and coastal pine forests.
These are some of the largest and most well-preserved dunes in Portugal, and they play an important role in the local and unique ecosystems, housing animal species such as the European chameleon, the European rabbit, and the Iberian lynx. Popular for its natural beauty, these dunes are great for outdoor activities, so visitors can enjoy hiking, cycling, and bird watching in the reserve, as well as swimming, surfing, and windsurfing on the nearby stunning beaches.
You can visit the Forte da Barra, a historic fort that was built in the 17th century to defend the nearby port of Aveiro, and the Igreja de Nossa Senhora da Nazaré, a beautiful church that dates back to the 16th century, which are located close by.
Relax by the pristine beaches at Parque Natural da Arrábida
With a magnificent and rocky coastline, and inviting turquoise waters, the Parque Natural da Arrábida is a stunning natural park located in Portugal, just south of Lisbon.
The most popular beach in the park is Praia da Figueirinha, which is sited in a sheltered bay. Other famous beaches include Praia do Creiro, Praia dos Galapinhos, and Praia dos Galapos. There is a wide range of outdoor activities that you can do, such as hiking, cycling, and rock climbing. The many hiking trails available offer stunning views of the surrounding countryside and coastline, such as the one across the Serra da Arrábida mountain, which rises to a height of 501 meters above sea level. This mountain is covered in opulent Mediterranean vegetation, including oak and pine forests, and it is inhabited by wild boars, foxes, and birds of prey.
If you are looking for a more cultural experience, you can visit the Convento da Arrábida, a 16th-century monastery that was once home to a community of hermit monks. The views here are top-notch. Arrábida also features the sweet Muscat wine (Moscatel), and the soft and savory buttery Azeitão cheese. If go there, you must try these delicacies!
Go kayaking in the river at the Parque Natural do Douro Internacional
This park is named after the Douro River, which flows through the region and forms a natural boundary between Portugal and Spain, covering an area of approximately 85 square kilometers. With deep canyons and impressive birdlife, the park is home to several rare and endangered bird species, including the black vulture, the Bonelli's eagle, and the Spanish imperial eagle. Birdwatchers from all over the world come here just to observe these majestic birds in their natural habitat.
Besides its striking natural beauty, the Parque Natural do Douro Internacional is also home to several historic sites, including the medieval castle of Mogadouro and the prehistoric rock art of Foz Côa. These places provide visitors with a glimpse into the rich cultural heritage of the region.
Several hiking trails are also available, which give you superb views of the river and the surrounding landscape. To experience the park from another perspective, there is the possibility for you to do guided kayaking trips down the Douro River.
Enjoy what nature has to offer you
Portugal is filled with hidden gems from top to bottom. Whether you are looking for a greener landscape or a turquoise shoreline, you are sure to find all kinds of natural paradises scattered across the country’s diverse set of parks. Explore some of the most stunning trails of Portugal and Europe alike, or simply take some time to unwind and soak up the invigorating atmosphere that nature so generously has to offer you.