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Portugal Popular Places to Visit

Parque Nacional Da Peneda-gerês

Portugal's only national park, the magnificent Parque Nacional da Peneda-Gerês is one of the country's greatest natural wonders. Occupying more than 700 square kilometers in Portugal's northeast Minho region, near the border with Spain, the rocky terrain encompasses dramatic mountain scenery; lush, yawning valleys; tumbling waterfalls; and deep, crystal-clear lakes. 

Traditional villages, hamlets cut from granite and even an old spa resort, Caldas do Gerês, add personality to this bleak but beautiful landscape. Wolves and wild boar still roam the park's more remote regions, while above, golden eagles spiral effortlessly on mighty thermals rising over dramatic peaks. 

The park is a magnet for outdoor enthusiasts. Waymarked trails offer plenty of hiking opportunities, from two-hour romps to day treks. Scattered rural guesthouses and a few designated camping sites provide basic accommodation, though there are hotels in larger towns. Spring is an ideal time to visit, with the countryside already bursting into full bloom. 

Minho, Portugal

Elvas

The heavy, star-shaped walls that make up the military fortifications surrounding Elvas are among the best-preserved examples of military architecture in Europe. In fact this frontier town, set on a hilltop in the Alentejo, 15 kilometers from the border with Spain, is so remarkable for its mid-17th-century defences that UNESCO has declared Elvas a World Heritage Site.

It's a long drive east (and should perhaps be combined with a visit to the nearby Spanish city of Badajoz), but those making the effort to reach this fascinating destination will be rewarded with a truly imposing circuit of walls, deep moats, and star-shaped ramparts. Within this impregnable ring lies a warren of steep, cobbled streets and a number of worthy visitor attractions, notably the Igreja de Nossa Senhora da Consolação, whose nondescript façade belies a truly glittering interior. 

Elvas, Portugal

Parque Natural Da Serra Da Estrela

The highest peaks on mainland Portugal, the Serra da Estrela, are called the "star mountains." Rising to 1,993 meters above sea level at its highest point, the range, or more precisely the plateau, is a dramatic natural feature of central Portugal. It is often snowcapped in winter, when opportunistic skiers take advantage of what is probably the shortest ski season in Europe. Otherwise, the granite escarpments and glacier-cut valleys are classic hiking country, with a network of signed long-distance paths and tracks covering the terrain. 

Along the way, walkers can take in some absolutely stunning countryside and absorb the traditional character of the place, epitomised in villages like Linhares and Valezim. The mountains are home to the Serra da Estrela sheepdog, a breed unique to Portugal. You are bound to come across proud locals walking one of these powerful but mild-mannered dogs. The area is also known for the deliciously rich and creamy Serra cheese - arguably Portugal's finest cheese.

Algarve, Portugal

Coimbra

The historic hilltop university in Coimbra is just one reason to visit this venerated Portuguese city. But the wealth of additional visitor attractions, much of them clustered around the Velha Universidade, classified by UNESCO as a World Heritage Site, merits a full day's sightseeing.

The undoubted highlight of a tour of the old university campus is the stunning Biblioteca Joanina, a Baroque gem of gilded and marbled wood and frescoed ceilings. You can also climb to the top of the 18th-century clock tower for a giddy perspective over the entire area. Your exploration should include the imposing late 12th-century Se Velha (old cathedral). Back in the old town below, there are further historic buildings to discover, among them two former convents and the Igreja de Santa Cruz, consecrated in 1131, which contains the tomb of Portugal's first king, Afonso Henriques.

Elsewhere are a number of interesting museums; a botanical garden; and the fun-filled Portugal dos Pequenitos, a park containing scale models of the country's most prominent traditional buildings.

Coimbra, Portugal

Tavira

Cited by many a guidebook as the most captivating town in the Algarve, Tavira does indeed tick all the scenic boxes. The Rio Gilão cuts a smile through this pleasantly laid-back town, with a Roman footbridge connecting one side with the other.

The waterfront makes for a wonderful walk, before or after you've uncovered the rest of Tavira's historic treasures. The castle walls provide glorious views across the old town and the nearby coast. You can also explore the Igreja de Santa do Castelo, the grandiose church where warrior knights are entombed. The town also boasts a fascinating museum, the Núcleo Islâmico.

Algarve, Portugal

Parque Natural Da Ria Formosa

The Algarve is justly famous for its pristine coastline, and one of its natural wonders is the Parque Natural da Ria Formosa. This protected marine habitat constitutes a 60-kilometer stretch of marshland, saltpans, shallow water lagoons, and sand dune islands that run from Quinta do Lago east past Faro all the way to Cacela Velha.

A haven for an abundance of flora and fauna, the park is crisscrossed by a series of nature trails with close proximity to some of the animals associated with this region of Portugal. From observation hides built on the lakes, birdwatchers can spy species like the rare purple gallinule, while out on the mudflats, flocks of greater flamingo can be admired. On land, look out for the delicate sea daffodil and flourishing goosefoot and, if you're lucky, the Mediterranean chameleon. One of the walks passes the renowned San Lorenzo golf course, itself a draw for all sorts of birdlife. 

Algarve, Portugal

Óbidos

Óbidos is an artist's dream. An assortment of whitewashed cottages, cafés, and handicraft stores lining a series of narrow, cobbled streets are completely enclosed by sturdy medieval walls. There's also the Igreja De Santa Maria, which features a wonderful interior of blue and white 17th-century azulejos (tiles). A museum on the town's attractive square includes rare works of art by the 17th-century painter, Josefa de Óbidos. 

You can walk along the top of the battlements for lovely views over the terracotta rooftops and the lush plains beyond. The fortifications form part of the landmark castle, whose keep looms guardian-like over the charming scene below. The castle itself is now a pousada, an upscale period hotel.

Óbidos, Portugal

Oporto

With its robust granite architecture and commercial disposition, Oporto, Portugal's second city, rewards visitors with a very different experience to that of the capital. Sited at the mouth of the River Douro and blessed with a waterfront - the Ribeira - acknowledged by UNESCO as a World Heritage Site, Oporto is a destination endowed with Baroque churches and Neoclassical buildings that number some of the best examples of their kind in the country. 

Oporto, Portugal

Jeronimos Monastery

The Jerónimos Monastery is the most accomplished example of the very Portuguese Manueline style and the decorative use of the symbols of the great Portuguese expeditions of the 15th and 16th centuries. The style represents a late Gothic expression, showing influences of the then modern Renaissance movement. It also reflects the manifold influences from other overseas cultures with which the pioneering Portuguese came into contact. See, for example, the Islamic-inspired solution for the vaulted ceilings in the church and the columns in the cloister, to name just a few of the many examples of architectural solutions and decorative elements.

Lisbon, Portugal

Sagres Fort

Located on the Cape of Sagres, the Promontorium Sacrum famous for its unparalleled beauty, Sagres Fortress owes its origins to Prince Henry the Navigator who created the town and died here in 1460. 

There is little left of the walls that the father of the Discoveries ordered to be built, as the fortress was rebuilt in the 16th century and during the second half of the 18th century, at which time it was altered to the "Vauban" defensive system. The entrance to this bastioned fortress is a good example of neoclassical architecture. On the inside can be seen cannons, a 16th century tower and also the Church of Nossa Senhora da Graça (Our Lady of Grace), built in the 16th century on the exact spot where previously the Church of Santa Maria had stood, which was founded by Prince Henry but was destroyed by the English privateer Francis Drake in 1587.

One of the most important attractions of Sagres Fortress is without doubt the "rosa-dos-ventos" (the wind rose), a sundial which many think dates from the time of Prince Henry and the nautical school he founded in Sagres. 

A place of great historical and symbolic value, this monument offers visitors an opportunity to revisit the glorious period of the maritime Discoveries and to enjoy one of the most beautiful landscapes in the world.

Algarve, Portugal