Portugal holidays overview
Portugal boasts a vast coastline, a glorious and little-explored interior, and sensual pleasures of sunshine and food. Yet this is a nation whose DNA is woven with saudade – a beautiful melancholia inspired by the wistful imprint of treasured past experiences and places. But saudade isn’t sadness, more a kind of love that manifests itself in a Portuguese hint of uncertainty about its own marvels. Reassure Europe’s loveliest people – adore their countryside, ancient villages and ruins, and atmospheric quays where fishermen land the day’s catch. Your reward is a country that is expansive but not expensive – rich pleasures for all in our Portugal travel guide.
Our top Portugal holidays
Best time to go to Portugal
With the centre and south getting 3,200 sunshine hours per year there’s no best time to visit Portugal. In summer, inland Alentejo hits 40°C but the coasts are cooler. Spring and autumn temperatures average around 20°C, making these the best seasons for walking and cycling. May brings wildflowers, while autumn has glorious colour plus harvest bounty. Even midwinter sees up to six hours a day of sun, albeit with occasional morning frost. In February, almond blossom lights up the Alentejo and Algarve. Snow-lovers, meanwhile, should head for the Serra de Estrela, snow-capped from October to May.
Map & highlightsFor many people, their first introduction to Portugal is Lisbon – the regally beautiful and perpetually sunny capital – and the nearby fairy-tale Sintra-Cascais Natural Park. In the south, the Algarve is a legendary family and golfing destination and one with many undiscovered charms. The rustic Alentejo region is an idyll for walking and cycling, as is the island of Madeira. Porto is the trendy second city, home of the famous port wine and gateway to the Minho region. And far out in the Atlantic, the Azores archipelago is wild about whales, and among the best places in the world to see these huge and graceful creatures.
Alentejo National Park
1. Alentejo National Park
The Parque Natural do Sudoeste Alentejano e Costa Vicentina is the largest protected coastal Natural Park in Europe - a rolling sea of verdant hills, river valleys, dramatically eroded cliffs and virgin beaches. This is the haunt of rare fishing eagles, the world’s only shore-living white storks and sea otters, while unique indigenous plants offer botanical treasure.
2. The Azores
The Azores - a rugged Portuguese archipelago 1500km out in the Atlantic – are an eco-tourism beacon for walkers and wildlife watchers. On land, active volcanoes and crater lakes vie with moss-draped forest and dramatic lava-shaped shores, while the surrounding ocean teems with A-list sealife – blue whales to the fore. Distinctive island culture and food await back ashore.
Founded by the Phoenicians, Lagos was an important Moorish port until captured by Christian armies in 1241. Despite summer crowds, it stills feels like a fishing and market town inside medieval walls, where historic mementoes include Europe’s first slave market. Boat trips venture to startling purple-tinted rock formations rising from the Atlantic, complemented by atmospheric sea caves piercing rugged seacliffs.
Portugal's capital is one of Europe's loveliest cities, draping contrasting neighbourhoods across historic hills by the wide Tagus estuary. Bairro Alto clusters chic boutiques and bars above the cosmopolitan bustle of Baixa, grandly rebuilt after the city's devastating 1755 earthquake. Alfama is a medieval melange of ramshackle cobbled streets enlivened by fado bars and outdoor markets – the vast Feria da Ladra (Tue/Sat) is a Lisbon institution.
1000km from mainland Portugal, the Madeiran islands – Madeira, Porto Santo and the uninhabited nature reserve of the Desertas - were claimed in 1419 by Henry the Navigator. Today these lush islands are famed for flowers, laurel forests, whale watching and historic viaducts (levadas) - plus New Year celebrations featuring some of the world's biggest firework displays.
Porto’s multicoloured old quarter tumbles to the Douro riverfront where historic warehouses sell wine from the surrounding Minho region as well as the eponymous port. Porto’s hard-working reputation belies an atmospheric beauty and cultural clout from outstanding modern architecture alongside fine museums. It’s also a springboard for pretty northern coastal resorts like Vila do Conde and inland gems like Guimaraes – Portugal’s beguiling first capital.
Portugal is growing in popularity for cycling holidays, thanks to many magnificent coastal and inland routes, most of which seem to end in a sandy beach. Typically, these are tailor made, self guided trips with plenty of support and excellent route notes. Portugal’s wild and windswept Atlantic Coast from Porto to Lisbon is a popular route, and there are lush trails in the Peneda-Gerês National Park in the north of the country. And if you want a really different destination, look to the Azores, an Atlantic archipelago where you can combine cycling with world-class whale watching.
There’s more to Portugal than summer holidays, and one of the best ways to find that out is with a walking holiday. You can follow levada water channels through UNESCO-protected forest on Madeira, watching out for dolphins dancing in the waves. In the Azores, walking and whale watching makes for a sublime combination. And in the Alentejo region you can leave civilisation behind, exploring aromatic pine groves, traditional fishing villages on the coast, and plains of cork oaks, olive trees and grapevines. Expect to cover around 20km a day on Portugal walking holidays that are typically tailor made and self guided.
The Algarve might be known for family holidays, but there’s also plenty of fun to be had elsewhere in Portugal. You can explore Roman and Arabic ruins, and learn the stories of Europe’s first great ocean explorers. And while the most popular beaches of the Algarve can get crowded during peak season, Portugal boasts some 1,800km of extraordinarily diverse coastline – ideal not just for sunbathing, but for surfing, scuba diving and kayaking too. If you are set on the Algarve, there are many quieter, less touristy areas where you can get a taste of the real Portugal away from the resorts.
More holiday ideas
From £1006 to £16368 days inc UK flights
Small group walking tour of madeira
Small group2021: 4 Sep, 18 Sep, 2 Oct, 16 Oct, 30 Oct, 20 Dec, 27 Dec, 2022: 12 Feb, 5 Mar, 19 Mar, 2 Apr, 16 Apr, 14 May, 28 May, 18 Jun, 6 Aug, 3 Sep, 17 Sep, 1 Oct, 15 Oct, 29 Oct, 20 Dec, 27 Dec
From €4608 days ex flights
Independent coastal walking holidays in the Alentejo Coast
More about Portugal
Flight free holidays
Portugal is a lot closer than you might think, and you can easily get from London to Lisbon in under 24 hours if, like many people now, you’re joining the movement for flight free holidays. A typical journey from the UK might go through northern Spain by ferry and road from Portsmouth, or through Spain via Lyon or Paris by rail. And of course there are several scenic routes from other parts of Europe. Our partners, and our friendly Travel Team, are always happy to help with advice, and you’ll often find details of suggested routes and approximate timings on holiday pages.
Types of holidays
Most Portugal holidays focus on the Algarve or Lisbon, but the country is developing a fantastic reputation for both walking holidays and cycling holidays. These are usually tailor made trips but there are plenty of small group holidays to choose from too. And if you like to mix things up a little, you can also opt for multi activity holidays, whether that’s watersports in Alentejo or mountain biking with kayaking and whale watching in the Azores. Adventure holidays might involve swimming with dolphins in crystal clear waters off Madeira, or cycling and surfing your way around the Costa Verde.
Where to go in Portugal
Inland Algarve, and the southwest coast, are a world apart from the golf resorts, high rises, time shares and crowded beaches found in other parts of the region. Instead, expect sleepy villages and seaside towns, and great expanses of countryside to explore. The Alentejo region borders the Algarve, and is largely overlooked by tourists. It offers tranquil, undeveloped landscapes perfect for cycling and walking, plus windy beaches to tempt surfers. And Madeira, to the west of Morocco, is a volcanic island with a coastline fringed with reefs and an interior composed of mountains, plunging valleys and lush forest.
If you'd like to chat about Portugal or need help finding a holiday to suit you we're very happy to help.