Blessed with an abundance of natural beauty, cultural heritage, and history, Portugal is fast emerging as a dream destination for travelers of all kinds. It’s really surprising that this fabulous country remained a destination preferred mostly by the Europeans for so long. However, the story is not the same today and the westernmost country of mainland Europe is making its presence felt as an easy, low-key yet fascinating destination to explore. There’s plenty to do and see in Portugal, however, some destinations and sights just cannot be missed. Here are some of the top-rated tourist attractions and best destinations in Portugal.
1. Oceanario de Lisboa, Lisbon
Opened in 1998 in Lisbon, Oceanario de Lisboa is the largest indoor aquarium in Europe. Built into the pier of the sea and shaped like an aircraft carrier, the Lisbon Oceanarium has an impressive variety of marine species. Immensely popular among kids and grownups alike the oceanarium is one of the top rated tourist attractions in Portugal.
2. Mosteiro dos Jeronimos, Lisbon
Designated by UNESCO as a world heritage site, the Jerónimos Monastery located at Belam parish in Lisbon is a fine example of Portuguese Late Gothic Manueline style of architecture. A gorgeous edifice which also served as a school and orphanage until about 1940 has delicately and beautifully scalloped arches and twisting towers in the shape of auger-shells. The intricate detailing of the carved columns is simply extraordinary making the monastery one of the top rated tourist attractions in Portugal.
3. Quinta da Regaleira, Sintra
UNESCO acknowledges this charming villa or romantic palace called Quinta da Regaleira as a World Heritage Site within the “Cultural Landscape of Sintra”. Built in the neo-Manueline style of architecture with frescoes, Venetian glass mosaic and exquisitely carved fireplaces, the property also has a beautiful garden and a chapel within its perimeter. The dreamy garden is adorned with fountains, grottoes, lakes, and wells. Also known as “The Palace of Monteiro the Millionaire”, the extravagant Quinta da Regaleira is a must-visit site in Portugal.
4. Ponte de D. Luis, Porto
When the government held a competition to construct a metallic bridge over the Douro River, nobody could predict that the double deck metal arch bridge by a student of Gustave Eiffel would become an iconic landmark of the country. Completed in 1886, the bridge connects the two cities namely Porto and Vila Nova de Gaia. The upper deck of the bridge is reserved for pedestrians and offers stunning views of the city.
5. Beaches of Cascais
Around 30kms west of Lisbon on the Estoril Coast lies this spectacular fishing village called Cascais. Although the ice cold Atlantic with sunny beaches has always been popular with tourists, Cascais’ real claim to fame was the due to the Portuguese Royal family which loved to take a dip here every summer in the late 19th and 20th century.
Sitting pretty by the banks of River Bensafrim, Lagos is one of the most popular tourist destinations in the Algarve and Portugal due to its fabulous tourist-friendly beaches, historic abundance, spectacular rock formations, cheery bars and restaurants, and above all the pulsating summer nightlife and parties. In 2012, TripAdvisor listed Lagos at the top as one of 15 destinations on the rise worldwide. This is the place from where many naval excursions were launched during the country’s extraordinary Age of Discoveries. The old town is undoubtedly pretty but the best thing about this city is, unlike many other historic cities struggling to balance between old and new, Lagos’ urban sprawl is appealing too. Some of the top-rated tourist attractions in Lagos are the Slave Market and Ponta da Piedade-dramatically contorted, polychrome sandstone towers and cliffs with a lighthouse to complete the picture.
7. Guimarães Castle
A medieval castle built in the 10th century to guard the monastery from Norsemen and Moors’ attacks, Guimarães Castle is an immensely popular tourist destination in Portugal. Perched on a small granite hill covered by a forest which can be accessed by pedestrian trails, the castle is a sight not to be missed in Portugal.
8. Cais da Ribeira, Porto
A romantic riverfront district in Porto ending at a riverfront square called Praça da Ribeira is one of the top rated tourist attractions in Portugal. The promenade with narrow medieval alleys, brightly painted homes and lovely cafes is also a UNESCO World Heritage Site. This gorgeous site comes alive after the sun sets into the horizon.
9. Pena National Palace, Sintra
Palácio Nacional da Pena, a fairy-tale palace emerging audaciously from a hilltop and dominating the skyline of Sintra can be seen from Lisbon on a clear day. This unique romanticist palace is not just a UNESCO World Heritage Site but is also one of the seven wonders of Portugal. Due a prominent use of pink and lemon colors and striking shape of onion domes the palace is certainly one of its kind and one of the top rated tourist attractions in Portugal.
Once a tiny bucolic fishing hamlet is one of the best destinations in Portugal today. Beautiful beaches, balmy climate, and plenty of pubs and bars showering their attention mainly to German and British tourists are the defining features of this gorgeous little town located in the south of Portugal. The town has two sides to it, ‘The Old Town’ and newer town or the ‘STRIP’, however, the cobblestoned alleys of the old town are also neon-lit now. Despite all its flaws, the city still has an invincible charm to allure a large number of tourists to it.
Little different from the typical Portuguese destinations which are loaded with history and where cobblestone alleys are bustling with tourists and packed bars, Sagres’ charm is in isolation. King Sebastian was believed to be enchanted by the serenity of this civil parish as he stayed at the convent of São Vicente do Cabo for months and spent his time listening to music along the cliffs overlooking the sea. Even today, Sagres has an unique end-of-the-world feeling with the dramatic cliffs and the mighty fortress perched high above the ocean. Simple and laid back with convivial cafes and cheery restaurants Sagres is most loved by travelers in search of some quiet time alone. Sagres is a civil parish in the municipality of Vila do Bispo, in the southern Algarve of Portugal.
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