Our Top 5 Favorite Cities in Portugal: Learn More

At Expats Portugal, we have an insatiable desire to explore Portugal’s diverse and beautiful cities. We’ve experienced the charming heart of the country’s quaint small towns and dipped our toes into the vibrant life of its bustling cities. We’d love to share what we believe are the top five best cities in Portugal. Perhaps you’ll find the next city to call home or your next holiday spot among our favorites.

Lisbon

As the nation’s capital, Lisbon beautifully blends traditional charm with modern vibrancy. This city offers an unmatched mix of stunning architecture, rich culture, and delectable cuisine that never fails to captivate us.

One of Lisbon’s distinctive attributes is its seven hills that provide numerous lookouts, or ‘miradouros’, each offering breathtaking panoramas of the city. The ancient Alfama district, home to the iconic St. George’s Castle, provides a glimpse into the city’s rich history with its narrow, winding cobblestoned streets. 

Foodies among us will appreciate the vibrant culinary scene, from fresh seafood to the delectable egg tarts, ‘pasteis de nata’. The city’s commitment to art is evident in neighborhoods like LX Factory and Mouraria, adorned with abandoned industrial spaces transformed into hipster hangouts and walls showcasing striking street art.

Hidden Gems

  • Jardim do Torel: A secret garden with beautiful views over the city.
  • Museu da Marioneta: A unique puppet museum.
  • The Carmo Convent Ruins: Remains of a gothic church housing an archaeology museum.

Popular Food Destinations

  • Time Out Market Lisboa: A lively food hall with various culinary options.
  • Ramiro: A renowned seafood restaurant.
  • Manteigaria: A favorite spot for ‘pasteis de nata’, Portuguese egg tarts.

Things to Do

  • Visit Belém Tower and Jerónimos Monastery.
  • Ride the historic Tram 28.
  • Explore the LX Factory, an artsy converted industrial complex.

Porto

Porto, Portugal’s second-largest city, charms us with its picturesque riverside setting, historical sites, and, of course, its world-renowned port wine.

The historic district of Ribeira and the Dom Luís I Bridge’s stunning views of the Douro River are must-sees. Exploring the unique Livraria Lello, known as one of the world’s most beautiful bookstores, the opulent Palácio da Bolsa, and the towering Clérigos Church adds a cultural flavor to your journey. 

Wine aficionados can steer towards Vila Nova de Gaia across the river, replete with sun-drenched terraces of world-famous Port Wine cellars offering tastings and tours. Porto’s dynamic food scene ranges from traditional ‘francesinha’ sandwiches to modern Michelin-star restaurants.

Hidden Gems

  • Serralves Museum and Park: A modern art museum set in lush gardens.
  • Foz do Douro: A picturesque neighborhood with beaches and sunsets.
  • The Crystal Palace Gardens: Beautiful public park with peacocks and great views.

Popular Food Destinations

  • Casa Guedes: Known for their delicious pork sandwiches.
  • Cantinho do Avillez: A renowned restaurant by Chef José Avillez.
  • Majestic Café: A historic Art Nouveau café.

Things to Do

  • Take a cruise along the Douro River.
  • Wander through the historic Bolhão Market.
  • Visit the Church of São Francisco and its ornate interior.

Evora

Evora is a captivating city in the heart of Alentejo, one of our favorite hidden gems. Recognized as a UNESCO World Heritage site, Evora is steeped in history, with Roman ruins, medieval structures, and whitewashed homes that remain remarkably preserved.

The Roman Temple and the Cathedral of Evora stand as sublime examples of the city’s rich architectural heritage. One of the city’s best-hidden attractions is the Chapel of Bones, a thought-provoking site lined entirely with human bones. We adore the tranquility of the city, intertwined with its surrounding vineyards and olive groves that inform the region’s fabulous cuisine. If adventurous beats are your thing, take a hot-air balloon ride over Alentejo’s sprawling countryside.

Hidden Gems

  • Almendres Cromlech: A prehistoric stone circle just outside the city.
  • Diana’s Waterfall: A peaceful and secluded waterfall.
  • The Royal Palace of Evora: A historic palace with beautiful gardens.

Popular Food Destinations

  • Taberna Típica Quarta-feira: Traditional Portuguese food in a cozy setting.
  • Páteo: A superb rooftop restaurant overlooking the city.
  • Pastelaria êvora: Delicious pastries in the heart of the city.

Things to Do

  • Explore the Roman ruins, including the iconic Temple of Diana.
  • Visit the Chapel of Bones, a thought-provoking site lined with human bones.
  • Take a hot-air balloon ride over the Alentejo countryside.

Sintra

Nestled in the foothills of the Sintra Mountains, Sintra is known for its picturesque landscapes and historic palaces. As such, this town offers a fairytale-like atmosphere that captures our imagination.

A key highlight is the Pena Palace, standing atop a hill with its vivid colors and eclectic architectural styles. The historic center, packed with charming pastel-hued buildings and traditional Portuguese cafes, is an absolute delight to wander. 

The mysterious Quinta da Regaleira is another site that is not to be missed with its lush gardens and symbolic structures, including the infamous initiation well. For nature enthusiasts, Sintra-Cascais Natural Park is perfect for hikes and offers stunning views of the Atlantic coastline.

Hidden Gems

  • Chalet da Condessa D’Edla: A lesser-known but charming 19th-century villa.
  • Praia da Ursa: A secluded beach with stunning cliffs and views.
  • Cabo da Roca: The westernmost point of continental Europe.

Popular Food Destinations

  • Lawrence’s Hotel: A historic hotel with an exquisite on-site restaurant.
  • Azenhas do Mar: A cliffside restaurant offering fresh seafood and stunning views.
  • Piriquita: A popular pastry shop known for their ‘travesseiros’, a local specialty.

Things to Do

  • Explore the Pena Palace and its lush gardens.
  • Visit the whimsical Quinta da Regaleira.
  • Hike in Sintra-Cascais Natural Park.

Coimbra

With its roots as a former medieval capital, Coimbra essentially serves as a living museum. Home to one of the world’s oldest universities, we admire Coimbra for its rich intellectual history and vibrant student culture.

Wandering through the ancient University of Coimbra, you’ll find impressive collections in the Joanina Library and the University’s Science Museum. Venture to the preserved Old Cathedral of Coimbra and the modernistic Convent of Santa Clara to appreciate architectural contrast. The city’s vibrant “Republica” student houses and lively fado music scene keep the city’s spirit youthful and engaging. Culturally significant activities, like the annual Queima das Fitas (Burning of the Ribbons) parade celebrating university students’ graduation, make Coimbra a fascinating visit.

Hidden Gems

  • Ruínas de Conímbriga: A Roman archeological site just outside the city.
  • Jardim Botânico da Universidade de Coimbra: A beautiful university botanical garden.
  • Portugal dos Pequenitos: A charming miniature village showcasing Portuguese traditional architecture.

Popular Food Destinations

  • A Cozinha da Maria – Coimbra: A traditional Portuguese restaurant.
  • Arcádia Coimbra: A local chocolaterie and coffee shop.
  • Ze Manel dos Ossos: A well-known tavern serving local dishes.

Things to Do

  • Explore the historic University of Coimbra and its Joanina Library.
  • Visit the Monastery of Santa Clara-a-Velha and the Convent of Santa Clara-a-Nova.
  • Wander through the ancient streets of Coimbra’s historic center.

Conclusion

Remember, these are just a few of the wonderful cities that Portugal has to offer. Whether you’re a newbie seeking a new home, a long-time resident interested in exploring, or considering a visit, we’re here to help you engage more deeply with Portugal’s vibrant offerings.

For continued engagement with the Portuguese lifestyle, culture, recommendations, and more, join us at Expats Portugal.

Cities hold stories, and Portugal’s cities are bursting with narratives waiting to be discovered. There’s a Portuguese city ready to welcome you, so why wait? Discover the beauty and diversity Portugal has to offer.

Are you ready to tell your Portuguese story?

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