July 28, 2017

Towns and Villages of Portugal You Should Visit



Want to see more than Lisbon and Porto? These Portuguese towns are just want you need. There are plenty of places outside of Portugal’s main urban centers that are worth the trip. Below are some of the places where locals go when they want to get away from the hustle and bustle of the city.

Towns around Lisbon




Sesimbra

Sesimbra with the Moorish Castle, the city and the sea…

About a 45 min car ride from downtown Lisbon is the fishing enclave of Sesimbra. The town is most famous for its beaches, seafood restaurants and the ruins of an old Moorish castle. Consequently, these things have also made Sesimbra popular with many Lisbon locals, known as Lisboetas.

Santiago Fort. Photo from visitsesimbra.pt
Sesimbra retains much of its old world charm. Nestled within its narrow streets towards the center of town is the Santiago Fort (Fortaleza de Santiago), now a customs port with a good view of the sea. For an even better view, especially at sunset, one should climb (or drive) to the top of the city’s old Moorish fortress. Sesimbra is also known for its beaches, the most popular being Praia da California and Lagoa de Albufeira. There is also the more isolated Praia Ribeira do Cavalo, though this one is a bit tough to get to by foot.
Porto do Abrigo
Sesimbra is known for its seafood, especially swordfish. There are plenty great seafood restaurants alongside the town’s waterfront. One should also stop by Porto do Abrigo to see the colorful fishing boats that bring in their fresh catch daily.

Travelers’ Top Sesimbra Picks

Best Restaurants in Sesimbra

Sintra

Pena Palace in Sintra, Portugal

Sinta’s rocky hills, wooded ravines and springs tied in with it’s manmade wonders makes it one of Portugal’s most beautiful towns. The city served as a summer retreat for the kings and queens of Portugal and is popular with Lisboetas today.

Ramparts of Sintra’s Moorish Palace with the Pena Palace in the distance

Popular places to visit in Sintra are its Old Town and the Palácio Nacional de Sintra. Other attractions include the Quinta da Regaleira and the 8th-century Moorish castle that can be seen towering on a hill about the city. Probably the most famous structure though is the Palácio da Pena.

Travelers’ Top Sintra Picks

Best Restaurants in Sintra

Palácio de Queluz

Palácio de Queluz

Just outside of Lisbon is an exquisite former royal residence known as the Palácio de Queluz. Built by King João V’s son Pedro, this French-influenced palace was constructed after his marriage to Maria I, Portugal’s first Queen regnant. Known for being very pious, she also was known as “Maria the Mad” for her bouts of melancholia, especially in 1788 after the death of her son. She remained in this palace until Napoleon’s invasion of Portugal in 1807, after which her son King João, took her with him to Brazil.

Palácio de Queluz

There are many interesting rooms inside the palace, the most interesting ones being the Don Quixote Chamber, the Music Room, the Corridor of the Tiles, the Chapel and the Throne Room. The extensive gardens around the palace are also a nice place to take a stroll on warm days.

Largo Palácio de Queluz, 2745-191
Queluz, Portugal

Palmela

Palmela’s main claim to fame is the moderately sized castle that overlooks it. From this vantage point, one can get a superb view of the surrounding countryside for miles. That’s probably what the Moors and later the Portuguese were thinking when they occupied the fortress on this hill. As the Moorish threat subsided and peace became the norm, the castle was transformed into a monastery in 1423 for the Order of the Knights of Santiago. Today though much of the castle has been transformed into a boutique hotel and restaurant, the Pousada de Palmela.

In the town itself there’s not much with the exception of the Church of St. Peter (Igreja de São Pedro), famous for its 8th-century tiles depicting the life of St. Peter. Palmela also comes alive during its annual wine festival, the Festa das Vindimas.

Travelers Top Palmela Picks

Best Restaurants in Palmela

Cascais

Cascais is like the Beverly Hills of Lisbon, only with a beach. The town started out as an ordinary fishing village but gained popularity and prestige when Portuguese King Luis I started to spend his summers here in the mid 19th century. Soon after this, many wealthy Lisboetas followed suit and established their own mini-mansions along the town’s coast. Now a wealthy suburb of Lisbon, Cascais is filled with golf courses and expensive apartment blocs overlooking the sea along with some really good traditional seafood restaurants.

The highlight of Cascais is arguably Praia do Guincho, a beach just outside of town. Another attraction is the Museu do Conde de Castro Guimarães, a small villa (more like a castle) with interesting rooms showing how the wealthy of Lisbon society used to live during the past 150 years. There is also the Casa das Histórias Paula Rego which houses the works of the painter and illustrator of Paula Rego.

Visit Cascais’ Official Site

Estoril

Estoril

A wealthy town with a nice beach and golf courses, Estoril is similar to Cascais in many ways (see above). What differentiates it though are the town’s modern office parks and casino, Estoril, the latter reportedly being the largest of its kind in Europe. It was here that the James Bond film Casino Royale was shot.

Traveler’s Top Picks in Estoril

Best Restaurants of Estoril

Ericeira

Photo courtesy of all-about-portugal.com

Ericeira is a sleepy little fishing village perched high atop a 30 meter cliff. The town really comes alive in July and August when roughly 20,000 people come to enjoy the sea and the town’s other attractions. In Ericeira, the beaches are clean, the seafood excellent and the town’s cobblestone streets and quaint little neighborhoods fun to explore. Most of the action happens around Praça da República, the place where Ericeira’s most famous bars and restaurants are located.

Ericeira; Photo source unknown

The beach, Praia des Pescadores, is probably the most popular place in Ericeira. The waves are great for all types of surfing (traditional, kite and wind). When not on the beach, it’s worth checking out is the Museu da Ericeira, a museum dedicated primarily to the town’s seafaring history.

August 16th is Ericeira’s Fisherman’s Festival. It is on this night that candles are lit throughout the town’s harbor to bless the boats of local fishermen.

A fun fact is that it was from Ericeira in 1910 that Portugal’s last king, Manuel II, sailed to permanent exile in England.

Travelers’ Top Picks in Ericeira

Best Restaurants of Ericeira

Ericeira was also rated one of the best beach towns by Men’s Journal Magazine.

Palácio de Mafra

Not too far from Ericeira is the Palácio de Mafra, a large palace and former monastery. Started in 1717 for the extravagant King João V, the palace took nearly 38 years to build (it was considered complete in 1755). The lifespan of the palace as a royal residence was relatively short. Just a few decades after its completion, it was abandoned in 1807 as the royal family fled Napoleon’s invasion of Portugal. Though they stayed there upon their return a few decades later, the palace was permanently closed in 1910 when the country’s last king, Manuel II, was exiled to England.

Ericeira; Photo source unknown

Along with the King and Queen’s apartments, the palace’s basilica is really impressive, especially the marble statues that line its atrium. There is also a pharmacy with old medicine jars that’s interesting to see. My personal favorite? That would be the awesome library with its patterned floor and 40,000 rare and old books. The grounds near the palace were popular spots for members of the royal family to hunt deer and wild boars. Today though these areas have been turned into a wolf conservation project.

Palácio de Mafra Official Site

Alcochete

The marshes around Alcochete

Overlooking the Tagus (Tejo in Portuguese) River, Alcochete is a picturesque town that is best known for its age-old salt industry. The town is also the birthplace of Portuguese King Manual I, who was born here on June 1, 1469.

Alcochete is a good place to use as a base to see the Reserva Natural do Estuário do Tejo, a marsh that is filled with various water birds, bulls and other wild life.

Travelers’ Top Picks in Alcohete

Best Restaurants of Alcochete

Reserva Natural do Estuário do Tejo Official Site

Outside of Lisbon

Ok, now it’s time to step outside of our Lisboa comfort zone. Portugal may be a small country, but there are a lot of little towns and historic hideaways outside of the capital. For example…

Nazaré


Probably the best thing about Nazaré are its beaches. In fact due to the monstrous waves that crash along its shores, the Nazare is one of the most popular surf spots in all of Europe. Why such large waves? This phenomenon is due to an underwater canyon just off the coast. In addition to great waves, Nazaré is also known for its wonderful seafood.

Portugal’s Nazaré: A Beach Town with Traditions

The Monster Waves at Nazare, Portugal

Best Restaurants in Nazaré


Alcobaça

Alcobaça Monastery
Alcobaça is a low key city with one exception: the great Alcobaça Monastery. Declared as a UNESCO World Heritage site and one of the seven wonders of Portugal, this Cistercian Abbey was begun in 1153, shortly after the area was conquered by the Portuguese from the Moors. In fact legend has it that Portugal’s first king, Afonso Henriques, laid the first stone. The monastery contains Portugal’s largest church and is a masterpiece of Gothic architecture. Along with monks and clergy members, the monastery houses the final resting place King Pedro I and his mistress, Inês de Castro. She was allegedly killed by father, Afonso IV. The king and his mistress lie in intricately-designed tombs that face each other.

Monastery of Alcobaça

Other things too see in Alcobaça include a ruined old castle and a few museums, one of them, the Museu do Vinho de Alcobaça, dedicated exclusively to grape cultivation and wine.

Monsaraz

Photo Source: www.traveler.es
Monsaraz and the surrounding areas are some of the oldest known places of human settlement in Portugal. In fact, the countryside just outside this border town is littered with prehistoric megalithic monuments whose date go back at least 10,000 years. In the 13th century, Monsaraz held a very important position as a frontier outpost that helped to guard Portugal from both the Moors and later, the Spanish. Thus, the city’s prominently-placed hilltop castle has changed hands several times between Christians, Moors and Templar Knights. Today though, Monsaraz is a picturesque town with windy old streets, quaint cottage-like homes and less than 800 people. What it lacks in size though it totally makes up with charm as well as authentic Alentejo cuisine.

Monsaraz, A Picture Perfect Village in Portugal’s Alentejo Region

Castelo de Vide

Castelo de Vide; photo source unknown
This is the place to visit if you want to experience small town Portuguese life. As the name implies, Castelo de Vide is a town that is dominated by a castle. The hilltop view of the Spanish and Portuguese countryside is amazing. Though small and remote (it has a population of barely 4,000 people and is on the eastern frontier with Spain) Castelo de Vide is an absolutely beautiful place. Along with its well-preserved medieval castle, Castelo de Vide is famous for it’s crystal-clear and refreshing mineral water that can be accessed via small fountains throughout.


Sortelha

Photo by Pajares Photography on Flickr
Like many medieval small towns of Portugal, Sortelha too is defined by its castle and once towering walls. The castle is fun to explore and offers great views of the village and surrounding areas.
Photo source unknown
It’s also worth walking through the Sortelha’s windy streets and sampling some of the region’s best cuisine in one of the town’s local eateries.

Sortelha, One Of The Best Historical Villages in Portugal

Almeida

The fortified village of Almeida
Also located a stone’s throw from the border with Spain is Almeida. This town of roughly 1,500 was once a village inhabited by the Moors until Portugal’s second king, Sancho I, conquered it. Due to its strategic location on the frontier with Muslim Almohads and Castile, Sancho fortified the city with new walls and a castle. During what has been called the “Peninsular War” with Napoleon, the castle and town suffered massive damage from a freak gunpowder accident that killed 500 of the village’s defenders.
The gates of São Francisco, one of the many entrances to the ramparts of the Almeida fort.
If you do come here, definitely visit the Museo Historico-Militar de Almeida. Inside, you’ll learn a lot of interesting information about both this region of Portugal and the Peninsular War with Napoleon.

Sources and Further Reading:


Go to the main page