Best places to visit while in Portugal
Portugal is an increasingly popular tourism hotspot. In 2017 alone 12.7 million people came to the country to explore! As an international student your motivations are undoubtedly different to that of a tourist, but if you’re going to be spending your time studying here then you’d be crazy not to get out and explore everything this country has to offer. Whether you’re into cities, beaches, islands or mountains, we’ve got you covered.
Portugal has the oldest defined borders in Western Europe, so it’s no surprise that its cities are steeped in culture and history. Anyone coming to Portugal really should check out at least one of the following cities.
Lisbon – The capital and largest city in Lisbon, this city has it all. Whether you’re looking for beaches, festivals, museums or a vibrant nightlife, it’s a must see. As the capital it has a wealth of accommodation types and transport links.
Porto – No visit to Portugal’s second city would be complete without taking in some of the famous Port Wine and magnificent mix of gothic and modern architecture. Like Lisbon, it has extensive airport, road and rail links making it incredibly easy to arrange a day visit.
Faro – Most people only use this city for its airport, but that would be a mistake. In the summer the average daytime temperature is 27–35 °C and the city has a rich history having changed hands between many empires in its 2000 years of existence.
Once you’ve had your fill of museums and bars, you’ll probably want to relax on a sun-soaked beach. With over 270 days of sunshine a year, Portugal doesn’t disappoint on that front. Straddling the Atlantic and Mediterranean means that Portugal can offer you good conditions for swimming, surfing, scuba diving and sailing.
Falesia beach – Located in the south of Portugal near Faro, this offers long sandy beaches and colourful cliffs. It’s a photographer’s dream of colourful canyons while also remaining fairly close to a major city.
Praia Dona Ana – With beautiful blue waters this is one of the best places to swim in Portugal. Outside of the water, this is also one of the most picturesque beaches in the Algarve region.
If the mere thought of the beach makes your skin go burning red, then why not head for somewhere cooler? While not exactly famous for its mountainous geography, it is possible to ski and snowboard in Portugal, or just chill in the cool mountain air.
Serra da Estrela – This mountain range is the only place in Portugal where it gets cold enough to ski and snowboard, while in the summer the plus 40 temperature makes it a great place to cycle and relax. Make sure you also check out the nearby student-friendly town of Covilhã and try the cheese!
Mount Pico – This volcanic mountain is the highest in Portugal and one of the biggest in all of the Atlantic. Situated in the Azores, its summit can be reached in a 2-4 hour trek.
Portugal boasts 9 islands with their own distinct cultures, cuisines and styles. With two of these island chains as autonomous regions, you can escape the mainland and find a completely different take on the Portuguese experience.
Ilha da Culatra – This island in the Algarve is part of the Ria Formosa national park and is only reachable by ferry. In addition to pristine and untouched beaches, it also offers visitors undisturbed wildlife and sleepy fishing villages.
Madeira – This autonomous chain of islands is located to the south-west of the Portuguese mainland. It has its own distinct culture and dialect which is reflected in its music, cuisine and beverages. The various islands also offer excellent opportunities to do “levada” walking, mountain walks, hiking, sailing, dolphin and whale watching, scuba diving, big game fishing, canyoning, surfing and paragliding.
Azores – The other autonomous area of Portugal is located almost halfway between Portugal and Canada. Being so far away from the mainland has meant the development of a unique culture which needs to be seen to be believed. Like Madeira, there are ample opportunities to take advantage of the unique geography and wildlife too.
Portugal is in many ways a unique country in Europe. Due to its geography, history and autonomous areas, you can do and see so many things without ever leaving the country. Go to the autonomous areas to see a different culture without needing a passport. Go surfing on one beach and then sunbathe on another. Go to some of the oldest cities in Europe for museums in the day and cutting edge culture at night. Go to the mountains to ski in the winter and bike in the summer. It would be impossible to list all the things worth doing here, but this guide will give you a good idea of what to save for while you’re studying here!