Now that Portugal has reopened its borders to US tourists, there’s no better time than the present to begin planning your next Iberian vacation. However, for those unfamiliar with the nation, your knowledge of Portugal may end and begin with its capital city.
There’s no denying that Lisbon is a pretty spectacular destination in itself, but for a truly memorable vacation, it’s best to explore more than just one municipality. Fortunately, Portugal is packed with a wide variety of fascinating cities stretching from the outskirts of Lisbon up to the northern reaches of the country. As you plan your next voyage to the westernmost edge of Europe, don’t miss out on these charming—and often underrated—cities.
The second-largest of Portugal’s cities, Porto has earned widespread acclaim over the years for its spectacular food and drink scene, stunning architecture, and historic city center. From the stately Bolsa Palace to the unmistakable Torre dos Clérigos to the vibrant Chapel of Souls, Porto is a veritable treasure trove of gorgeous structures unlike any other found on earth. Thorough exploration is sure to build up a serious appetite, so tourists should be sure to try a francesinha at some point during their journey. Composed of bread and ham slathered with a thick layer of cheese and a rich sauce, this Porto staple is one of the tastiest creations to come from the Iberian peninsula.
For those who prefer the finer things in life, few destinations in Portugal compare to Cascais. Once frequented by the Portuguese royal family, this opulent city is renowned today as one of the wealthiest communities in the Iberian Peninsula. After a short 30-minute drive from Lisbon, visitors are welcome to explore the coast’s idyllic beaches and then head downtown to sample some ginja, a native liqueur that’s flavored with sour cherries. For a truly spectacular view of Portugal’s seaside cliffs, head just southwest to the Boca do Inferno, a massive sea arch carved into the earth from centuries of pounding waves.
Equipped with Roman-era ruins and the oldest university in Portugal, Coimbra is a veritable paradise for fans of intricate architecture and preserved historic landmarks. Beginning at the banks of the Mondego River, head north to find the Barbican Gate, a historic arch that once served as an access point into the walled interior of Coimbra. There’s no shortage of elaborate towers and churches to visit both inside and outside its walls, ranging from the 1100s-era Old Cathedral of Coimbra to the Monastery of Santa Cruz, an iconic structure that houses the remains of Portugal’s first king.
For any Portuguese history buffs planning a trip to Iberia, no visit is complete without spending a day in Guimarães. Known as the “Birthplace of Portugal”, this historic city is believed to have been the birthplace of Alfonso I, the first king in Portuguese history. While the city center is home to the 1300s-era Padrão do Salado monument as well as the verdant Gardens of Brazil, no trip to the city is complete without visiting Guimarães Castle. Built some time around the 900s, this massive fortress was constructed to defend against Moorish armies seeking to conquer the city.
After centuries of bloody battles at the hands of the Visigoths, Moors, and the Portuguese monarchy, the historic city of Santarém has become one of the nation’s top destinations for a peaceful and leisurely day trip. Upon arrival, visitors can take a stroll through the city center and marvel at the splendid Cathedral of Santarém before heading to the Church of Grace, a small house of worship adorned with an intricate rose window carved from a single stone. After exploring the downtown district, the cliffside Portas do Sol offer a truly spectacular view of the Tagus River and the surrounding Portuguese countryside.