While Lisbon and Porto are often the starting point for most tourists heading to Portugal, it’s worth branching out to experience all the country has to offer. To help you plan your trip, we’ve rounded up nine lovely small towns in Portugal that’ll make your vacation truly special.
Located in the Algarve, Lagos has a rich history, beautiful architecture, and vibrant nightlife. But above all, its most famous attraction is Ponta de Piedade, a stunning rock formation in the Atlantic Ocean. Caves, grottoes, and arches can be explored by boats, kayaks, and stand-up paddleboards. Ancient Moorish walls surround the town, which has been home to Moors, Romans, and Phoenicians over the years, and statues of figures like Henry the Navigator are speckled throughout. Lagos is also a great destination for folks who love the water, as its location on the Atlantic is prime for enjoying water sports, dolphin-spotting, and lounging on the beach.
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Once called the “most Portuguese town in Portugal,” Monsanto is unlike other towns in the country. The picturesque village hangs off a mountaintop, offering stunning views, and structures are built into the boulders that make up the landscape. Monsanto, which features cobbled streets, has also been designated as a “living museum,” allowing it to retain its historic charm.
Dubbed the “Venice of Portugal,” Aveiro sits on the edge of Ria de Aveiro, a lagoon on the Atlantic coast that’s one of Europe’s last remaining untouched coastal marshland. Brightly colored moliceiros (local boats) drift through a network of channels in the city. Aveiro is relatively flat, making it easy to wander around on foot or by the bikes made available by Aveiro City Council. There are also a number Art Nouveau-inspired buildings strewn throughout the area that shouldn’t be missed.
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4. Costa Nova
If you’re a fan of fishing, head to Costa Nova. Here, the haystacks were built as storage and shelter for fisherman when they moved to the area in the 19th century. Today, many of them have been transformed into beach houses and painted in a variety of bright colors. The beach at Costa Nova is popular among surfers and provides ample opportunities for water sports, like sailing, rowing, and waterskiing.
Known for its surrounding star-shaped 17th-century walls, Almeida was once one of Portugal’s strongholds, facing many sieges due to its location near the Spanish border. The only time the fortress was ever conquered was when Napoleon’s armies came in after it had been abandoned for 30 years. The village has two entrances, which are bomb-proof double gates. Fun fact: Almeida is part of Aldeias Históricas de Portugal, a network of 12 inland historical villages. This is all a roundabout way of saying history buffs should certainly plan a trip here.
Looking to hang ten? Head to Nazare where the Guinness World Record for largest wave ever surfed was awarded last November. An underwater canyon produces the enormous waves that surfers from around the world flock to. Plus, the mild climate and sandy beach allows for the continuation of a long-standing fishing tradition. On Saturday afternoons during the summer, you can watch Arte Xávega, a tradition where nets full of fish arrive from the sea and women scream out the goods they have for sale. The crescent-shaped beach is great for relaxing as well.
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If charm is what you’re after, head to the cobbled streets of Monsaraz, where bougainvillea drape over whitewashed stone cottages. Due to its low light pollution, Monsaraz, which is situated on the Great Lake Alqueva, is part of the world’s first place to receive a Starlight Tourism Destination certification. Telescopes and binoculars are available at key locations in the area, and guides are on hand to provide more information for stargazers. Monsaraz is home to monoliths and stones dating back centuries, as well as Portuguese folk art and photo exhibitions. Make it a point to visit Castelo de Monsaraz, which offers visitors beautiful views of the rooftops.
Located near the Spanish border, Marvão is surrounded by nearly intact 13th-century walls and provides stunning views across the Alentejo region below. The 2,838-foot climb up to the village — the highest in Portugal — ends at a beautiful old castle that sits on a pedestal of granite. During sunset, the feldspar and quartz in the granite are especially stunning. With a population of less than 1,000, Marvão is a great escape for those looking to go back in time.
Thanks to a tradition of being owned by the Queen of Portugal, Obidos has maintained its delightful historic charm. This translates to quaint homes, cobbled streets, and a medieval castle. The latter, Pousada di Óbidos, has been transformed into a luxury hotel, making it a unique place to spend the night. A great day trip from Lisbon, Obidos is also home to a gorgeous chapel with blue-and-white tiles. Plus, visitors can walk the town walls to see the terra-cotta-tiled roofs of houses below. Don’t forget to taste Ginja de Obidos, a cherry liquor produced in the region.
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