Top 10 Unknown Places in Portugal
Top 10 Unknown Places in Portugal
1. Serra da Estrela
Deep in the heart of Portugal is the national park of Serra de Estrela, which contains the mountain range with the same name and Portugal’s highest point. Aside from climbing Portugal’s highest peak Torre, just walking through the park is absolutely stunning — some of the best scenery on the Iberian Peninsula can be found in the peaks and valleys of the national park. It is a bit of a drive away from Lisbon and Porto granted, but the natural beauty is well worth the road trip!
Driving westwards towards the coast from the ational park, you will come across the ancient city of Coimbra. Portugal’s third-largest settlement and former capital, Coimbra is also home to one of the world’s oldest universities (it was founded in 1290). The University of Coimbra is actually a UNESCO World Heritage Site — its architecture is astounding and world renowned. Aside from this, the town sits beautifully on the steep banks of the Rio Mondego, with its winding lanes and inviting squares the perfect way to see something different for the day. Coimbra is just an hour’s drive away from our community in Porto, and you can get a direct train from Lisbon, too.
Miramar is a small seaside village just up the coast from Portugal’s second-biggest city Porto, but it is too often overlooked. The beach is beautiful: gorgeous sand and dramatic rock formations make for perfect photo opportunities, as does Miramar’s quirkiest sight, the Capela Do Senhor da Pedra (“Chapel of the Lord of Stone”). The chapel stands on a stack of rocks, where it is continually battered by the raging Atlantic. How it continues to stand nobody really knows, but many believe the church has mysterious roots. Every year, a ceremony is held celebrating the Holy Trinity on the beach, and it is said that nocturnal figures visit the site at night. Take the short bus ride or drive from Porto and witness perhaps the oddest church you’ll ever see, while taking the opportunity to relax on another of Portugal’s amazing beaches.
Heading down Portugal’s Atlantic coast from Porto, you’ll come across the city of Aveiro, an ancient town dissected by canals and waterways. The city has always been an important seaport for Portugal, especially a few centuries ago when the Kingdom of Portugal was a world-leader in ocean exploration. Known as the “Portuguese Venice”, canals extend from the Aveiro Lagoon (which is also a handy natural harbor) providing access to the Atlantic all the way from the city center, where seaweed was (and is still) unloaded and traded. Learn about this town’s great and interesting history with a day trip from our community in Porto — just half an hour away by train.
5. Menino de Deus Church
Lisbon is of course well known to most travelers that visit Portugal, but there are still a few spots in the capital which remain untouched by mass tourism. One of these places is Menino de Deus Church, located just a few minutes north of the Alfama district of Lisbon. Commissioned by King Dom Joao V, the church is one of the most beautiful in the country — extremely ornate and full of beautiful artwork. The church is often closed, but you can have a look inside on some mornings. It might take a few attempts, but this is why the church remains unspoiled and usually quiet.
6. Livraria do Simão
Staying in Lisbon, we come across one of the country’s strangest sites. Livraria do Simão (literally the bookstore of Simão) is surely the smallest of its kind. Full of second hand classics, the shop consists of a tiny cupboard — and that’s it. In fact, the shopkeeper has to leave the shop and stand on the street in order for you to browse the surprisingly extensive collection. Around 4,000 copies can be found on the shelves (with a few rare finds, too), with prices ranging from spare change to quite a bit more if you come across a good find. Go through the arch onto Escadinhas de São Cristóvão from Rua da Madalena and you’ll find it — although bear in mind that you actually can miss it!
Head out from the busy city center of Lisbon towards the Atlantic and you will come across the classy suburb of Cascais. Made famous as a resort for the royal family, the town is a haven for surfers and other watersports — it even hosted the Sailing World Championships a few years back. Sunbathers have plenty to choose from in Cascais, with several beaches (especially to the east) providing long straights of lush sand to unwind and relax on. When you’re fully destressed, you can head into the old town and check out the palace of the former Count Castro Guimarães along with other historical sites. Cascais has plenty to offer and is a great day trip from our community in Lisbon — the Avenue Marginal is an excellent sea road from the capital.
8. Torres Vedras
About 50 km from Lisbon is the small bastion of Torres Vedras — a town which has been crucial to Portugal’s history over the centuries. The Moors started the fortification after their occupation in the late 9th century, and this tradition was continued by the Portuguese royal family and even the Duke of Wellington, who used the town during his war with Napoleon. Aside from several interesting history lessons, the town offers a quiet feel compared to bustling Lisbon or Porto and is the perfect way to escape for a day and relax.
Nearby to Torres Vedras is the Baleal peninsula and island — and some of the best beaches on Portugal’s coastline. A surfing hotspot, Baleal is more exposed to the battering waves of the Atlantic Ocean and so can draw quite a swell if the conditions are right. There are plenty of surf schools where you can hire boards and get some lessons — after all, Portugal is one of the best places in the world to catch a wave! Aside from this, the island provides beautiful scenery and the perfect place to relax on the beach. It’s a bit of a drive from Lisbon (just over an hour), but it’s one of Portugal’s best beaches so it is definitely worth it.
10. Cape St Vincent
If it’s scenery you’re after, then you need to make the trip to Cape St. Vincent. Portugal’s south westernmost point, the cape has been a sacred site for previous civilizations, as well as host to several large naval battles. Forgetting all of this though, it is a truly magical experience to look out over the Atlantic from one of the extreme points in Europe — if you set off by sea you’d hit nothing until you reach Florida! The dramatic landscape has been forged in a timeless battle between the harsh Atlantic and the rocky coastline, it’s simply one of the best views in Europe. It’s quite a drive from Lisbon or Porto, but reachable from Portugal’s southern coast, and definitely worth the journey.