Portugal is most certainly a tiny nation. It clocks in at just about the size of the state of Indiana. You could drive from end to end in about seven hours if you were really in a rush, but in doing so, you’d miss everything that makes this country great. Namely, you’d drive right by all the adorable small towns that make Portugal such a spectacular travel destination.
Rather than hurry through, plot out a lengthy stay so you can come and visit these seven small towns sprinkled across Portugal that will have you falling in love with this place over and over again.
Sintra, located just a 30-minute drive outside Lisbon, is an absolute must-see destination on any trip to Portugal. The historic town is home to several spectacular castles that will make you feel like you’re in the center of a fairy tale. Chief among them is the colorful Pena National Palace. The UNESCO World Heritage Site’s history dates back to the 12th century. However, the original building was left in ruin following the earthquake of 1755. The palace was rebuilt in the 19th century and became a beacon of colorful hope thanks to its bright yellow and red facade. Beyond visiting the many castles in the area, try to take some time to hike through its lush forests, stroll through town, and book a stay inside one of its luxury hotels like the Tivoli Palace or the Penha Longa Resort.
To feel the full force of Mother Nature, make your way to Nazare. Thanks to its massive waves, the seaside community located halfway between Lisbon and Porto has become rather famous. The waves can become so massive that they are considered the largest surfable waves in the world. Though really, when we say surfable, we mean by professionals only. Come watch real-live daredevils attempt to surf down 100-foot waves at the lighthouse on Praia do Norte. From this vantage point, you can see both the tip-top of the surf and the powerful seafloor below. Just be ready to get wet as the ocean spray spews even further into the air. (There’s even a small surf museum inside the lighthouse to explore too.) After spending time by the shore, make your way into town for delicious Portuguese cuisine and for a stay at Hotel Miramar Sul, a hotel overlooking the water whose suites come with oversized balconies so you can relax and watch the waves from sunup to sundown.
Get a unique history lesson by spending a little time in Coimbra. As the center of academics in Portugal, the town is replete with monuments and sites dedicated to scholars and leaders throughout the nation’s history. Here you’ll find the burial sites of both Afonso Henriques and Sancho I, the first kings of Portugal, alongside the Joanine Library, a Baroque library often considered one of the most beautiful in Europe. The town is also home to the University of Coimbra, one of the oldest universities in the world. Come feel like a student again, then rest your head at hotels like Hotel Quinta das Lágrimas, a 5-star hotel in the middle of a palace that comes with every modern amenity you’d ever desire.
Head north, beyond Porto, to the city of Braga. As one of the oldest cities in Portugal, it’s a place where you can find plenty of history and plenty of religious relics. In 1089, Braga opened its first cathedral and has remained the religious center of the nation ever since. You’ll easily be able to walk about the city and step into some historic attractions, but just make sure to carve out a little time to hike to Bom Jesus do Monte, a sanctuary that sits on top of a hill built in the late 19th century. The sanctuary includes a massive stairway lined with symbolic fountains and baroque details. Those who need a little assistance to the top can also ride the Bom do Jesus Monte Funicular, which happens to be the oldest in the world. After playing tourist for the day, check into the Vila Gale Collection Braga, a gorgeous castle-like hotel housed in a building dating back to 1508.
Head all the way south to the Algarve coast and make your way to the quaint community of Tavira. The tiny beachside town is located just 15 miles from the Spanish border, making it a prime spot to see both Portuguese and Spanish influences in the art, architecture, and culture. Here, you’ll find plenty of white-washed buildings topped with those red terracotta roofs the region is so beloved for, alongside other historical landmarks like the Igreja de Santa Maria do Castelo. While here, make sure to also pay a visit to the beaches, where you’ll find plenty of sugar-sand shoreline butting up to crystalline seas, but pay special attention to Barril Beach, home to the Cemetery of Anchors. The art installation includes hundreds of abandoned ship anchors that are meant to pay homage to the tuna fishing industry that once thrived in the area. Spend a few nights in Tavira at the Conversas de Alpendre, a luxury boutique retreat ideal for families or small group getaways.
Attention surfers: This town is for you. Ericeira, located just 40 minutes outside of Lisbon, has become the “cool kid” neighborhood that surfers, artists, and expats adore. It’s a feast for the senses thanks to its position perched atop the cliffs, which provides your eyes with spectacular views from just about every inch of town, and the community’s bustling restaurant scene delights the taste buds. Lean into the vibes here by taking a surf lesson with Surfriders, a surf school promising a welcoming environment for all levels, or head out for a longer adventure with Surf Camp Portugal, a glamping retreat that includes surf lessons, activities, food, and more. After working up an appetite in the waves, head to spots like TikTapas and Uni Sushi for a bite to eat. And if you need a more luxurious stay, check out You and the Sea, a seaside hotel that’s just as stylish as the town itself.
Indulge in one more history-filled town with a visit to Evora. The tiny town in the Alentejo is most well-known thanks to its perfectly preserved walled old town that is filled with thousands of historic buildings. In town, wind your way along the narrow streets to discover artisan shops, cafes, and charming restaurants, but don’t miss the 13th-century Cathedral of Evora, a Gothic cathedral that will take your breath away. Also, make a little time to visit the Evora Roman Temple, which dates all the way back to the early 1st century A.D. Keep with the historical angle and book a stay at the Convento do Espinheiro, Historic Hotel & Spa, a luxury getaway with a history dating back to the 15th century.