Portugal: off the beaten track



Although Portugal is one of Europe’s most popular tourist destinations, it is surprisingly easy to focus on the most popular areas like Lisbon and the Algarve. Fortunately, there are many more places to visit in Portugal than the major cities which still offer unique experiences and remain as authentic as they’ve ever been to. Here’s a list of places for you to see in Portugal that will make you feel like a local. 

Marvel at the waves in Nazaré

Located approximately in the mid-point of its Atlantic coast, Nazaré is the most traditional fishing village in Portugal and at the same time it conveys historic and colorful traditions, It is also a good spot for a party. But what the region is actually known for is because of the giant waves, both unique and uncertain. So If you are into surf be sure to visit Nazaré during the Big Waves season in Nazare, between October and March. Other than that,  the wild Atlantic waves and the huge community of surf camps should make a perfect fit, along with seafood and fish that are to die for. And if you’re going to spend a few days in town to make sure you see the giants waves and need to get some work done, the Village Coffe Shop is a good option for great food and wifi! 

Visit Tomar Castle

The center of Portugal is full of unique surprises and history, and Tomar may be the most iconic destination encompassing each of these amazing attributes. To get there, just hop on a train from Lisbon Oriente Station and enjoy a two-hour ride north. Spend a day surrounded by 12th-15th-century architecture, which includes the medieval square, the Tomar Castle, the Convent of Christ, and the other fortresses and churches that once served as residences and headquarters for the Knights Templar. 

Kayak the Mondego valley

The best way to explore the peaceful Mondego river valley in Central Portugal is by kayak. There are a few small rapids on the way, but generally, the river is calm all year and in summer you can stop at any number of small river beaches for a picnic and a swim. The waters run right into the center of the ancient small city of Coimbra, where you can stop for the afternoon and enjoy a typical Portuguese university town. O Pioneiro is a great local company that offers great tours. 

Explore the Magic Mountains 

Magic Mountains is the name given to the reunion of the mountains of Montemuro, Arestal, Freita and Arada. There are 7 cities that are part of this enchanted territory: Arouca, Castelo de Paiva, Castro Daire, Cinfães, São Pedro do Sul, Sever do Vouga and Vale de Cambra. They are one of the most fascinating and beautiful natural areas of this tiny, but incredibly charming country.

The area includes several mountains and is certified as a sustainable tourist destination since November 2013. With over 500 km of rural tracks and 40 walking routes, you could easily spend one month or even more exploring this area. 

Go wine tasting in Viseu

Viseu is one of the larger cities in the Dão region, where some of Portugal’s best wines come from. In the historical center of Viseu, visitors will find castles, beautiful gardens, and artworks by the country’s most notable Renaissance painter, Vasco Fernandes, which can be viewed at the Grão Vasco Museum. The gastronomy here reflects much of Portugal’s most traditional and comforting recipes and the cost is significantly lower than Lisbon, Porto, and the Algarve. And if wine is your thing, The headquarters of Dão wines Route, is located at the Dão Wine Manor in Viseu, in a designated space Welcome Center, and its management responsibility of The Dão Board Commission. The company Visituk offers a great tour through the vineyards and the city.

Explore Peneda-Gerês national park

Portugal’s only national park, the remote and spectacular Parque Nacional da Peneda-Gerês covers a stunning and varied landscape, from wooded valleys to steep granite mountain peaks. It’s very easy to head off the beaten track on foot here, with marked trails leading up to spectacular viewpoints, past gushing waterfalls tumbling down hillsides and tranquil, hidden swimming spots.

Some of the region’s stone cottages have been restored for visitors to stay in too, in villages such as the picturesque Soajo or Lindoso, close to the Spanish border, a stunning location with mountains glowering above it.

Go swimming in a volcano crater in São Miguel Island

São Miguel is the largest island in the Azores archipelago, in the mid-North Atlantic ocean. This group of volcanic islands is a true gem for nature lovers, with lots of opportunities to its explore lakes, cliffs, and hot springs.

Picture from: Ferdinand Stohr

Just off the shore of the island of São Miguel, is the small paradise that is the islet of Vila Franca do Campo. A result of the crater of an ancient submerged volcano, the tiny island became particularly when it held the Red Bull Cliff Diving world championship! Would you be up for swimming in a volcanic crater? 

Take the best Instagram picture in Costa Nova do Prado

Aveiro’s coastal rainbow-striped neighborhood, Costa Nova do Prado, is an old fishing village with a vibrant summer vibe. The main street that runs parallel to the beach is lined with colorful buildings that look like adult-sized dollhouses, which were once used by fishermen to store gear. Today, many of these buildings are used as summer cottage rentals. Although Costa Nova is sought out and visited by Portuguese residents on vacation or tourists exploring the area, it’s still considered one of Portugal’s underrated locations.