As the oldest country in Europe with 800 years of history, Portugal has a rich culture, beautiful beaches along the coast, and delicious cuisine. It’s no surprise that millions of tourists travel to Portugal throughout the year, with numbers on the rise.
If you’re planning your visit, you might be wondering what the best things to do in Portugal are. Not just some pleasant activities but the most memorable and once-in-a-lifetime experiences.
Let’s take a look at the 9 unforgettable things to do in Portugal in 2023.
1. Spot the waves in Nazare
Nazare is a magical place, home to the largest surfable waves on the planet, particularly in Praia do Norte. Garrett McNamara actually discovered and surfed on the biggest wave in the world in Nazare.
But a great – and perhaps safer – way to experience these waves is to head to the perfect place to observe these huge waves. The best place to spot large waves is in sitio da Nazare, right next to the lighthouse. This is also a safe place to observe the waves. Make sure not to go down to the beach at these times, as tourists have drowned before doing so.
2. Try the best Portuguese custard tart in the world
You can get tasty Portuguese custard tarts in New York and London, but let’s be real… It’s not the same. And the same can be said within Portugal. There are thousands of bakeries with delicious pasteis de nata but only one place truly makes the best custard tart in the world.
Pasteis de Belem is the place to go as they own the original monk’s secret recipe. This 19th-century shop welcomes hundreds of thousands of visitors annually, a short walk from the Jeronimos Monastery, selling over 20,000 tarts daily.
While it first opened as a factory, today, it features a shop with take-out service and a cafe to sit down and enjoy the specialty. In 2011, The Pastel de Belem was announced as one of Portugal’s Seven Wonders of Gastronomy.
3. Ride the 28 tram
One of the best ways to experienceLisbon as a local is on the number 28 tram. Although the tram is a public transport service, due to the places it rides through, think of it as an affordable but cooler tourist tour.
This tram line connects Martim Moniz with Campo do Ourique. The tram stops in popular tourist districts such as Alfama, Baixa, Estrela, and grace.
In a traditional yellow tram, you will ride a scenic route through Lisbon’s narrow and steep streets, along with the other Lisbon locals who are on their daily commute.
We recommend riding the train early in the morning to avoid crowds. Make sure to beware of pickpocketers!
4. Explore the UNESCO cultural landscape of Sintra
Receiving its UNESCO Cultural Landscape classification in 1995, Sintra is one of the most unforgettable places in Portugal. The classification includes a mountainous strip with gardens, parks, and monuments.
Sintra was swept up in the Romantic movement in the 19th century, when most of the town’s well-known landmarks came about. The Romanticist period can clearly be seen in not only the architecture and gardens of Sintra but its charm.
Today, it is a town known for its romantic forested terrain and astonishing palaces that once belonged to royal families and aristocrats. Despite the royals being gone, you still feel transported back into this time period.
The most famous monument is the Pena Palace, a romanticist style palace from the 19th century, as well as Quinta da Regaleira, Sintra National Palace, Seteais Palace, Castle of the Moors, and more.
5. Tour one of the oldest universities in the world
Along with the city’s uptown, the University of Coimbra was made a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 2013 due to its historical significance. First founded in 1290 in Lisbon and then relocated to Coimbra in 1537, the University of Coimbra is among the world’s oldest in Portugal.
In order to really explore the University of Coimbra and its multiple buildings, we recommend booking a guided tour.
This way, you can not only admire the architecture of the university’s most important buildings but also learn everything about its history. Do not miss the Royal Palace, St. Michel’s Chapel, and the Joanine Library.
The latter is perhaps one of the most beautiful libraries in Portugal, which is set to leave you speechless. Bear in mind you are not allowed to take photos in the Joanine Library.
6. Visit the most beautiful bookstore in Porto
We might be biased, but we truly believe Lello bookstore is one of the most beautiful in the world (The Guardian agrees). Founded in 1906, it is also one of the oldest and plays a large role in the cultural heritage of Porto.
If you’ve heard of this bookstore through the JK Rowling myth, sorry to burst your bubble. The author herself confirmed that Harry Potter was not written here. However, it still holds an undeniable Harry Potter-like appearance.
The bookstore’s exterior has Neo-Gothic and Art Noveau elements and the two-story interior reflects Art Deco elements. The ample staircase and the stained glass windows make for beautiful photos.
Unfortunately, while entrance to the bookstore used to be free, this is no longer the case. Today, there is a small €5 fee to enter Lello.
7. Drink wine in the Douro valley
A UNESCO World Heritage site, the Douro Valley is a cultural landscape of vineyards where Douro wines are grown and produced in traditional wine cellars. Departing from Porto, the Douro river flows in the middle of these green hills with vineyards.
You will find the highest quality cuisine and wines here, as well as incredible hotels. The most unique experience is visiting various vineyards. Many have been in the hands of families for generations.
Our three favorite vineyards to visit in the Douro Valley are Quinta da Roêda (Pinhão), Quinta do Crasto (Sabrosa), and Quinta do Seixo (Valença do Douro).
We also recommend exploring the Douro Valley by boat, as the heart of the valley is the river itself. Douro boat tours provide you with the best views of the valley, as well as stop at the best vineyards so you will get to learn about the region’s wine production.
8. Swim in the Benagil sea cave
If you’ve googled the Algarve, you have seen photos of the Benagil sea cave. The Algar de Benagil is a unique seaside cave that can only be reached by boat, known for a sky-light-like hole in the roof. The cave has been featured in top destination lists all over the globe.
The only way to reach it is to book a tour, allowing you to swim in sea cave and maybe even do some kayaking. There are boat tours from Benagil beach, but these are often too busy during the summer.
Therefore, we recommend booking a tour from another beach where not only do you get to see the Benagil cave but also the beautiful rock formations along this stretch of the coast.
9. Hike up the highest mountain in Portugal in the Azores
Pico mount gives its name to the island of Pico in the archipelago of the Azores. Pico mount is over 2,000 meters high, making it the tallest mountain in Portugal. The mountain stands tall in the middle of the island, almost calling you to find out what’s at the top.
Luckily, you can hike up Mount Pico. However, keep in mind this is a tough hike, one that is not to be done alone. The hike is only around 8 hours, but the rocky terrain is quite hard to walk, particularly on the way down.
However, the view at the top makes it all worth it. You will literally be above the clouds with an incredible sight, especially at sunrise.
You have to do the hike with a Certified Pico Mountain guide to avoid any injury or challenges, as there have been accidents on the mountain. You can book a guided hike here, where you will also learn about the geology, fauna, and flora of the mount.