The gardens at Monserrat Palace

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One of my favorite parts about living in Portugal is that there are so many amazing things to do. You can’t go wrong with popular spots like Lisbon, Porto, and the Algarve, but go a bit off the beaten path and you can find some incredible Portugal hidden gems too.

After living here for +2 years, here are 28 of my favorite lesser-known and unique things to do in Portugal that are totally worth it.

28 Portugal Hidden Gems and Unique Places to Visit

Monserrate Palace in Sintra

Close up view of the Palace of Monserrate

Visiting the town of Sintra is a must when visiting Portugal, and the cultural landscape is considered a UNESCO World Heritage Site for its incredible royal architecture. Sintra’s palaces and castles look like they came straight out of a fairytale, and the area has fantastic hiking trails with amazing views of the Portuguese countryside.

I definitely recommend checking out popular Sintra attractions like the Pena Palace (the rainbow castle at the top of the hill) and Quinta da Regaleira (home to the famous Initiation Well that’s rumored to have ties to the Knights Templar).

But if you want to get off the beaten path in Portugal, there’s another spot in Sintra you should add to your list. 

Just a short drive drive outside of the Sintra historic center you’ll find the Park and Palace of Monserrate, a stunning villa with elaborate gardens.

Inside, you can see architecture and art inspired by cultures around the world. Upstairs, you can watch an interview with the groundskeeper’s son who talks about what it was like to grow up in an artist’s paradise. The gardens are a great place for a picnic, and nature lovers will adore wandering among plants from all over the world. 

I’ve been to Monserrate a few times now and it’s never crowded. There’s parking right across the street and the entrance fee is around 8 Euros. This is the perfect place to spend some time if you need a break from the crowds of Sintra, or just want a castle more or less to yourself for the afternoon. 

Stay nearby: 

Secret Beach on Sesimbra 

Sunbathers on the secret beach in Seisembra, one of the best Portugal hidden gems

Recently, some friends and I wanted to go on an adventure, so we traveled down to Sesimbra in search of the secret hidden beach. Sesimbra itself is beautiful, and there’s a remote beach called Praia do Ribeiro do Cavalo that’s only accessible by boat or rigorous hiking trail.

We opted for the boat taxi and it was just about a ten-minute ride from the marina in the center of town.

Once we got there, the beach was perfection. You feel like you’re in the middle of nowhere and the water is crystal clear. There are majestic cliffs all around and the crowds are minimal because the beach is hard to get to.

We spent a whole day swimming and sunbathing, and it was totally worth the journey. Just make sure to bring everything you’ll need for the day (umbrella, sunscreen, water, snacks) because there are no facilities or amenities on the beach. You can visit as a day trip from Lisbon or stay the night to have even more time in this cool little beach town.

Stay nearby: 

Cathedral Rooftop in Évora 

View from the Cathedral in Evora Rooftop

Évora is a fantastic small town in Alentejo with a history that dates back thousands of years. Évora is an amazing weekend trip from Lisbon and your journey will be filled with food, natural beauty, wine, ruins, and unique experiences.

You can visit the Chapel of Bones (which is made of actual bones), hang out around beautiful Romain Ruins, or my personal favorite, enjoy the panoramic countryside view from the rooftop of the medieval Évora Cathedral.

You can buy a rooftop ticket at the Cathedral door, then hike up a few flights of stairs to the roof to see one of the best views in the village.

I took a guided tour of Évora when I visited and it was so helpful for learning more about the history of the city.  

Stay nearby: 

  • Valeriana Exclusive Guest House: I stayed in this hotel during my visit to Évora and loved it. It’s centrally located with a stunning rooftop terrace in a cool building that used to be a pharmacy.

Take a tour: 

  •  Évora Guided Tour: You can take a guided walking tour to learn more about the city and see hidden gems you might otherwise miss. In a town with as much history as Évora, this is so helpful!
  • Guided Évora tour from Lisbon: If you don’t have time to stay the night in Évora, you can take a guided tour from Lisbon to see the main sights with transportation to and from your accommodation.

Cromeleque dos Almendres in Alentejo  

Cromeleque dos Almendres in Evora

While you’re in Évora, make sure to stop by the nearby megalithic site called Cromeleque dos Almendres. These stones are believed to be from the Early Neolithic period (around 5,000 BC) and can be found throughout the countryside in Alentejo.

One of the biggest stone circles is in the middle of a cork farm where cork trees are grown and harvested. It’s worth the trip to see the monoliths and spend some time in the peaceful nature of the area.

When I visited Évora, I went on this tour with Pedro, a knowledgeable local guide. He picked me up in the city and we drove out to a few different megalithic sites while he told me all about the area and even showed me a few stones that are farther off the beaten path. 

Take a tour: 

Ancient Walled City of Óbidos 

The ancient walled city of Obidos is the perfect place to explore Portugal off the beaten path

Located just a short drive outside Lisbon, the ancient walled city of Óbidos is considered a UNESCO World Heritage Site. When you arrive, you’ll see why.

There’s a medieval castle on one end of the tiny village, and the entire town is surrounded by a high stone wall that you can actually walk along. It’s a little nerve-wracking in places since you’re several stories up and there aren’t guard rails, but you get such a unique perspective on the city and surrounding area.

This is also a great place to try the famous Portuguese Ginja de Óbidos, a sour cherry liqueur served in a dark chocolate shot glass which you can eat.

There are a fair number of tours that come through Óbidos during high season, so if you want to beat the crowds I recommend arriving early or staying overnight to have this Portugal hidden gem all to yourself.

Stay nearby: 

  • Torre de Maneys: If you want to feel like you’re staying inside an actual castle, check out this boutique hotel in the heart of the old town.
  • Casa da Travessa – Obidos: This two-bedroom townhouse is located just steps from the castle inside the Medieval walls.

Take a tour: 

World Surf Reserve in Ericeira 

The blue water of Ericeira below a cliff with grass and plants on it, The Ericeira World Surf Reserve is a hidden gem in Portugal

Ericeira is a paradise for surfers and beach lovers, and it’s definitely worth a trip if you’re looking for unique places to visit in Portugal. The fishing village is about a 45-minute drive from Lisbon and once you arrive, you’ll be met with sweeping ocean views and some of the best waves in Europe.

Explore the charming white and blue buildings of the old town, hike along the seaside cliffs, take a surfing lesson, or relax by the beach — no matter what you do, Ericeira’s laid-back surfer vibes make for a great little getaway.

Because the coastline in Ericeira is protected as a World Surf Reserve, the land near the cliffs and water can’t be developed. There are tons of great walking paths and hiking spots, and I’d recommend starting in town and walking north to Ribeira D’Ilhas beach to see the surfers and grab a bite at the popular beach bar.

Ericeira is also a foodie city, so make sure to swing by Mar das Latas (upscale dining), La Popular Taberna (Spanish tapas), or Balagan (beachfront Mediterranean) for an amazing meal. During the high-season summer months, there’s live music nearly every night and a festive party scene too.

Stay nearby: 

  • You and the Sea: A luxury hotel near Praia do Sul with sea-view rooms, a spa, and a beautiful outdoor area for watching the sunset
  • FLH Reserva: This is a centrally located hotel in a historical building downtown
  • Laneez Surf House: A surf hostel with an amazing terrace and dorms, private rooms, and shared villas 

The Library and Gardens at the Mafra Palace 

The Mafra Palace is a Portugal hidden gem with a library and garden

The enormous Mafra Palace dates back to 1755 and is also considered a UNESCO World Heritage site. Inside, you can see beautiful gardens, a basilica, and chapel towers.

But my favorite part was seeing the great library with over 36,000 books. And the priceless books are protected from insects by bats that live inside the library. It’s less than 10 Euros to enter the palace and it makes a quick and easy day trip from Ericeira or Lisbon. 

Take a tour:

Santiago do Cacem, Alentejo 

Nicola sits in the window of a castle in Santiago, a hidden gem in Portugal

Santiago do Cacem in Alentejo was such a fun surprise. Alex and I booked a weekend in this area on a whim last November, and we were so impressed by the quiet countryside, cool historical sites, and wine!

There is an amazing archaeological site with partially excavated Roman Ruins nearby and we spent the day wandering around virtually to ourselves. There’s also a castle at the highest point in town, and you can walk around the castle walls and pretend you’re in Game of Thrones.

Overall, a fantastic little town for a weekend in the Alentejo region with warm weather, delicious wine, and rich history.  

Stay nearby: 

  • Octant Hotel Santiago: We stayed here during our visit and it was so peaceful! They also have a cooking school onsite where you can learn to make local dishes.

Ride horses on the beach in Melides 

Horseback riding on the beach in Sines

Riding horses on the beach in Melides, Alentejo has definitely been one of my most memorable experiences in Portugal. Melides is located near Santiago de Cacem, and you can reach one of the most remote places in Portugal by horseback.

We met up with our guide at Passeios a Cavalo Melides and rode horses through the forest until we reached a completely empty beach.

The beach was a quintessential paradise beach and it was a dream to ride beside the crashing waves and sand dunes. I’m not sure if you can even access that beach except for the forest, and we had the whole beach to ourselves for the afternoon. 

Take a tour: 

Terra Nostra Park in Furnas Azores

Terra Nostra Botanical Gardens in Furnas Azores

Visiting the Azores Islands should be on everyone’s Portugal bucket list. It’s a bit harder to reach since you’ll have to fly from one of the big cities like Lisbon, Porto, or Faro, but well worth the trek if you have the time in your Portugal itinerary.

The main island of the Azores is called Sao Miguel, and one of my favorite places to go is Terra Nostra Park and Botanical Gardens. You can spend a whole day exploring the different areas of this giant botanical garden and there are also hot springs for swimming.

It’s located in the town of Furnas, Azores which is known for geothermal activity, and make sure you try the Cozido stew while you’re in town — it’s cooked in a volcano! 

Stay nearby: 

  • Octant Furnas: Stay in style in Furnas with two swimming pools, a tasty Azorean restaurant, and a spa and wellness center.
  • Victória Guest House: A cozy traditional house close to the botanical garden and Furnas pools.

Take a tour:

Sete Cidades Azores

Nicola overlooking Sete Cidades in Azores Portugal

On the other side of Sao Miguel Island in the Azores is a natural wonder called Sete Cidades. Sete Cidades is a crater lake that was once a volcano, and you can drive around the top or bottom to see breathtaking natural beauty.

You can also book ATV tours and canyoning experiences in this area to go even further off the beaten path. There are lookout points all around the top road and plenty of places to stop and take a picture or go for a hike. 

Stay nearby: 

Take a tour: 

Lighthouse at the End of the World in Sagres

The view from the light house at the end of the world in Sagres, a must see in Portugal off the beaten path

​In the fishing and surf town of Sagres in the Algarve, you can take a little excursion to the lighthouse at the end of the world, or so it appears anyway! The Farol do Cabo de São Vicente lighthouse sticks out over the Atlantic Ocean so all you see around you is the deep blue sea.

This was one of my favorite stops on my 10-day Portugal road trip in 2019. It’s windy and wild, and when you look out it feels like you’re standing right at the edge of the world. (I made sure to wave to my family back home on the East Coast, of course!)

Stay nearby: 

  • Memmo Baleeira: A luxurious beachfront resort located just steps from downtown Sagres with surfboard storage, a pool, and a spa.

Take a tour: 

Blissful beaches at Costa da Caparica

The coast at Costa da Caparica Portugal at sunset

When I first moved to Portugal, Alex and I lived in Costa da Caparica. The beaches here are giant with soft sand and plenty of swimming spots, and the town is just a short drive from Lisbon over the Ponte 25 de Abril bridge.

(But a word of warning, if you’re visiting on the weekends when the weather is warm, make sure you go early because bridge traffic gets congested fast!)

The main beaches of Costa have lots of beach bars, restaurants, sun beds, and umbrellas, but if you want to go off the beaten path, you can follow the beach south for miles into a natural park.

Park at the southernmost end of the boardwalk, hit the beach, and start walking. Before long you’ll leave the crowds behind and have the massive beaches to yourself with nothing but nature around you.  

Stay nearby: 

  • TRYP Lisboa Caparica Mar: This hotel is right on the water in Caparica with an amazing rooftop terrace and sea-view balconies. Great if you want to surf and explore the Caparica boardwalk.

Palace Fronteira in Lisbon

Palace and Gardens in Lisbon

If you’ve already seen the main attractions of Lisbon and want to see something unique in the city, head to the Palace Fronteira. This grand estate is located off the beaten track near Monsanto Nature Park and has beautiful citrus groves, fountains, tile work, and countless nooks and crannies to explore.

You could easily spend a few hours here wandering the grounds and taking photos, and it feels like there’s something new to see around every corner. When I went, there were only a handful of visitors the whole day. We more or less had the place to ourselves, and it’s just as impressive as the more visited palaces in Lisbon and Sintra.

Estufa Fria Botanical Garden in Lisbon

A view inside Estufa Fria, an indoor botanical garden in Lisbon

Have you ever been to an indoor botanical garden? I didn’t even know that was a thing until I visited Estufa Fria in Lisbon.

This “cool garden” is lightly enclosed with a shade roof, and there are several rooms you can explore with trails, benches, and amazing plants from around the world. It costs 3,25 € to enter, and it’s free to visit on Sunday if you arrive before 2:00 pm.

Visit Estufa Fria:

The Hidden Roman Bridge in Lagos

Hidden Roman Bridge in Lagos Portugal

Lagos is a charming seaside town in the Algarve, and one of the best things to do in Lagos is to take a walk along the cliffs to find all the amazing (and sometimes hidden) beaches.

If you go down to the beach called Praia dos Estudantes, you can walk along the coast to the right of the stairs toward the opening in the cliffs. This cave is actually a walkway that will take you to a secret beach that’s only accessible at low tide. There, you can find the hidden Roman Bridge and a secluded spot to watch the waves.

Just make sure to keep an eye on the tides because the cave is only accessible when the water is low enough.

Stay nearby:

  • Cascade Wellness Resort: An upscale spa resort that’s perfect for a special occasion or a relaxing break by the sea with golf, tennis, and several pools. The food here was AMAZING!

The Big Wave at Nazaré

A crowd gathers on the cliff at Nazare to watch the big wave

If you’ve seen the 100 Foot Wave documentary, you’ve probably heard about the giant wave at Nazaré. If you’re visiting Portugal when it’s working (it’s not big 24/7, you have to have the right swell conditions), it’s definitely worth making the trek up the coast to see it for yourself.

The town of Nazaré is beautiful and you can get an amazing view of the giant wave from the lighthouse. When the wave is working, it looks more like an avalanche covered with impossibly tiny surfers doing stunts that don’t look real.

We went in January a few years back and even saw the surfers from the 100 Foot Wave documentary out in the water. If you happen to visit on a particularly big wave day, the atmosphere feels like a festival with food trucks, beer tents, and lots of excited spectators.

That said, the town of Nazaré is a special place to visit regardless of the wave conditions, and it’s known for having incredible seafood and a charming fishing village atmosphere. 

Take a tour: 

Batalha Monastery in Batalha 

The exterior view of the Batalha Monastery, a Portugal hidden gem

My parents and I visited this gothic monastery on a whim while we were driving from Lisbon to Porto. The signs from the highway looked interesting and it was only about a twenty-minute detour, so we pulled off to stretch our legs and check it out.

What we saw was so much more impressive than we could have imagined. The Batalha Monastery is located in the region of Leiria in central Portugal. It dates back to the 1400s and when we went, there weren’t many people there at all. We nearly had the whole place to ourselves!

You can see the grand cathedral and monastery in an hour or two, and I’d recommend seeing this as part of your drive when heading up to Coimbra or Porto from the south. 

Fine Dining at the Port Wine Caves in Porto 

Fancy dessert with three glasses of Port wine at the Taylor Wine Caves in Porto

Fine dining at Barão Fladgate Restaurant in Porto was definitely a highlight when some friends visited last summer.

We booked a table at this upscale restaurant at the Taylor’s Port Cellars and it was luxurious beyond our wildest dreams. The dining room had a panoramic view of Porto from across the river, the sommeliers made custom cocktails and port recommendations to pair with our meal — which had multiple courses. Best of all, we got to watch the sunset over the city throughout the whole experience.

Just make sure to book in advance because seating is limited for this delicious and truly one-of-a-kind experience.

Stay nearby:

  • RVA Porto Central Flats: I stayed here with my parents when we visited Porto and it was so comfortable and centrally located. Great space for the three of us, and a beautiful option for a longer stay.

Pastel de Nata Cooking Class in Porto

Home made pastel de natas in Porto

You can eat pastel de natas in nearly every cafe around Portugal, but for a more unique experience, try making them!

Head about 15 minutes outside of Porto for a 2-hour pastel de nata cooking class, hosted in the instructor’s home. The host Johanna has turned her living room into a kitchen where she teaches groups of around 8-10 students how to make this classic Portuguese pastry using her grandmother’s recipe.

Definitely a one-of-a-kind experience and you’ll leave with a happy tummy!

Take a tour: Book a pastel de nata baking class with grandma’s recipe in Porto

Drive through the Douro Valley

A view of the douro river in the Douro Valley surrounded by vineyards

I’d always heard good things about the Douro Valley, but it was so much bigger, brighter, and more impressive than I could have imagined.  

The Douro River flows through miles and miles of winding hills and vineyards and cute little towns. You can drive to the Douro Valley from Porto, or take the train that runs along the river.

As you can imagine, this is the perfect destination for wine fans, but also an amazing place for peace, quiet, and relaxation in nature. I loved waking up in the morning and seeing the farmers harvesting grapes, and the train chugging along the riverside. 

Stay nearby:

  • Vila Gale Douro Vineyards: My family and I stayed in the Vila Gale Douro Valley and it had an excellent pool area and view from the hotel. Remote and quiet for a peaceful getaway. 
  • The Vintage House Douro Valley: A historic hotel set on the Douro River, built in an 18th-century wine estate and close to one of the main villages in the Douro Valley.

Take a tour: 

Next on my List for Exploring Portugal Off the Beaten Path: 

This section has hidden gems in Portugal that I haven’t been to yet, but they’re next on my list. I’ll update this post with more details as I check them off.  

Nature and swimming at Arrabida Nature Park

Arrábida Nature Park has beautiful beaches and crystal clear waters, and this area is known for being a great road trip from Lisbon if you want to do some swimming, kayaking, or hiking. 

Take a tour:

Benagil Caves in Algarve 

In the small village of Benagil in the Algarve region, you can take a boat trip out to see the Benagil Caves. The iconic cave has a dome shape with a hole in the roof, and you can book kayak tours or guided boat tours to access the beach. You can also look into the cave from above for a different view. 

Take a tour:

Canal City of Aveiro 

Nope, it’s not Venice! It’s the canal city of Aveiro, Portugal. This historic seaside town is known for having canals throughout the historic center with fleets of colorful boats. 

Take a tour:

Reserva Natural das Berlengas in Peniche

Accessible from the small fishing village and surf town of Peniche, the Berlengas are an archipelago that juts out into the Atlantic Ocean. Visitors can take a boat out to Berlenga Grande Island to see the S. João Baptista fort, hike through the nature reserve, and in the summer, go for a swim.

Peneda-Gerês National Park

Peneda-Gerês National Park is a nature reserve in the mountains with hiking trails and amazing wildlife. It’s located in northern Portugal near the Spanish border, and it’s the perfect place to see fall leaves, find hidden waterfalls, stargaze, birdwatch, explore unique rock formations, and any of your other favorite outdoor activities. 

Take a tour:

University of Coimbra 

This university has been in Coimbra since the 1500s and it’s one of the oldest universities in continuous operation in the world. Visitors can explore the grounds and see the Joanina Library, Saint Michael’s Chapel, Royal Palace, Science Museum, and botanical garden. 

Take a tour:

Santana, Madeira Island 

Santana is located on the north coast of Madeira, and it’s known for its unique architectural style. Houses in this area are triangle-shaped with thatch roofs, and many consider this one of the most beautiful villages in Portugal. 

Take a tour:

Off the beaten path Portugal, unique things to see and do
Discover the best Portugal Hidden Gems for a unique visit

Final Thoughts: Hidden Gems in Portugal

You really can’t go wrong when visiting Portugal, and the highlights of Lisbon, Porto, and the Algarve are an incredible place to start. My recommendation? Weave in some of these hidden gems in Portugal to add variety to your visit, and see parts of the country that most travelers miss.

And when you find more cool spots that should be on this list, let me know in the comments!

Plan your trip to Portugal

About the Author

Hi! I'm Nic. Let's chat about remote work and ways to incorporate more travel into your life. Whether you're here to find an online job or need some tips for planning your next trip, I've got you covered! More about me

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