Portugal has a long history, diverse landscapes, and many beautiful cities scattered from north to south. In this article, we will explore some of the most beautiful cities in Portugal, from north to south, including the islands.
Portuguese cities are characterized mainly by their beautiful and charming historical centers, sometimes still with defensive walls, but also by their colorful houses and impressive landmarks.
For the purposes of this article, we will only focus on towns with a considerable size, leaving out the small and beautiful villages of Portugal. Let’s also ignore the fact that some of them are not formally cities but towns.
But without further ado, let’s explore the most beautiful Portuguese cities.
Most beautiful cities in Portugal – North
Located at the mouth of the Douro River in northern Portugal, Porto is the second-largest city in the country and, without a doubt, one of the most beautiful.
The architecture of the city of Porto is one of the most impressive in Portugal. Due to its very long history, Porto’s buildings present an architectural diversity ranging from Medieval, Baroque, and Romanesque to Modern styles.
Porto’s historic center is undoubtedly the city’s most popular and beautiful area. There, we find most of the monuments, such as the Clérigos Tower, the São Bento station, the Cathedral and the Palácio da Bolsa, and the entire Ribeira neighborhood.
With its colorful houses, narrow streets, and alleys, Ribeira is one of Portugal’s most beautiful places. With the D. Luís I bridge in the background, Ribeira became one of the postcards of Porto. In addition to allowing you to cross the Douro to visit the Port wine cellars, the Bridge is also a beautiful viewpoint and one of the greatest symbols of Porto.
The historic center of Porto, the D. Luís I bridge, and the monastery of Serra do Pila in Gaia have been a UNESCO World Heritage Site since 1996.
Just 40 km north of Porto is Guimarães, the birthplace of Portugal. However, in addition to being fundamental to the country’s foundation, Guimarães is also one of the most beautiful cities in Portugal.
Inscribed as a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 2011, the historic center of Guimarães is an excellent example of the preservation of a medieval urban center and Portuguese architecture between the 15th and 19th centuries.
The typical streets of Guimarães are full of old granite houses with arcades, arches, and traditional balconies. The squares are equally charming, with delightful cafes and terraces and, of course, several churches and monuments.
Also in Guimarães and relatively close to the center, we have two impressive monuments, the castle of Guimarães with all its historical weight, and the captivating Palace of the Dukes of Bragança, one of the most important national palaces. Further afield, Monte da Pena serves as a sanctuary and a privileged viewpoint over the city.
In addition to being beautiful, Guimarães is one of the best destinations in Portugal. See here everything you need to know to visit it.
Very close to Guimarães is Braga, a city famous for its churches, history, and sanctuaries. Located 45 km north of Porto and just over 15 km from Guimarães, Braga is one of the largest cities in Portugal, but that doesn’t show when you visit the center.
As beautiful as it is ancient, the city of Braga was founded by the Romans in 16 BC as Bracara Augusta. Since its creation, it has been a fundamental city for the Roman presence and later for Portugal.
In the center of Braga, we must highlight its Cathedral, the first Portuguese cathedral, built even before the founding of the country. The parents of D. Afonso Henriques, the first king of Portugal, are buried here.
Braga is also well known for its Sanctuaries, Bom Jesus do Monte and Sameiro. Both have elegant churches at the top and offer beautiful panoramic views. However, the sanctuary of Bom Jesus do Monte is the most important and most popular.
Since 2019 it is also UNESCO World Heritage Site. When visiting, pay particular attention to the staircases; they are especially beautiful.
Viana do Castelo
Located at the mouth of the Lima river in the north of Portugal, Viana do Castelo is quite close to the border with Spain (less than half an hour). Travelers often overlook this city, but the reality is that it is quite beautiful and has many points of interest.
Viana do Castelo is a city rich in history and traditions, such as the feast of Nossa Senhora da Agonia or the tradition of cod fishing that can be explored on the Gil Eannes Museum Boat. But it is also a city of high natural and constructed beauty.
The Santa Luzia viewpoint is an example of both, as its basilica is imposing (based on the Sacré-Coeur in Paris), and the sights are breathtaking. It has even been considered one of the best in the world by National Geographic.
Find out what to visit in Viana do Castelo here.
Chaves is located in the northern interior of Portugal, right next to the border with Spain and 150 km from Porto. It is a relatively small town but has several fascinating attractions, namely the castle, the Roman Bridge of Trajano, and the various churches.
Rua Direita is the heart of Chaves and perhaps its main point of interest, with its rustic, colorful houses. However, it is the balconies that make the streets of Chaves so special, as they give a rustic, medieval look but with unique beauty.
At the end of Rua Direita, we have the beautiful riverside area and the Trajano bridge, another of the most beautiful spots in the city. Crossing this stone bridge of Roman origin and enjoying the riverside area is a must in Chaves, as it is the most emblematic monument in the city.
We must also highlight the keep of Chaves Castle. The tower itself, despite being old and imposing, is not especially beautiful, but from the top, we have a beautiful view of the gardens, the historical center, the Tâmega, and of course, the mountains in the background.
Most beautiful cities in Portugal to visit – Centro
In addition to being one of the most beautiful cities in Portugal, Lisbon is one of the most beautiful in the world. Located on the Tagus estuary and spread across its hills, Lisbon is in a stunning natural setting.
Lisbon is one of the oldest cities in the world too. However, the buildings in its historic center are quite recent, as the city was completely destroyed by the earthquake and tsunami of 1755.
The city’s great attractions are the architectural richness, the harmony of downtown Lisbon, and the majesty of the buildings. But other areas of Lisbon are equally beautiful, such as:
- Alfama and its tight, sloping, and very “crooked” streets.
- Belém and the imposing landmarks (Belem Tower and Jeronimos Monastery).
- Sao Jorge’s Castle.
- The many viewpoints in the city, and particularly the Portas do Sol.
- Parque das Nações and the banks of the Tagus.
Lisbon is the biggest city, the richest, and the one with the most important landmarks in Portugal. No itinerary and no list of Portugal is complete without Lisbon. See our 3-day Lisbon itinerary here and the best neighborhoods to stay in Lisbon.
Located in the center of Portugal just 30 km north of Lisbon, Sintra is officially a village, but only because it doesn’t want to become a city. Village or city, Sintra is another place that could not be missing from this list, as it is undoubtedly one of the most beautiful in Portugal.
The majestic Pena National Palace is the ex-libris of Sintra’s monuments. It is the most famous, the most popular, and probably the most beautiful as well. Considered the highest exponent of romanticism in Portugal, it is the first palace of this style constructed in Europe.
But Sintra has many more beautiful things than just the Pena Palace. Visiting Sintra is visiting a city full of charm, magic, and elegance. That’s why we will also find Quinta da Regaleira, the National Palace of Sintra, Monserrate Park, and the very ancient Moorish Castle, among many other lesser-known places.
Located in the center of Portugal, between Porto and Lisbon, Coimbra is historically the third most important city in Portugal.
The University of Coimbra is the city’s main institution and monument. Built in the 13th century, it is one of the oldest universities in the world and has been a UNESCO heritage site since 2013.
Its main buildings were built over time from its foundation until the 16th century. They include the Manuelina portal, the Via Latina, the chapel of São Miguel, the Tower, and, of course, the fabulous Joanina library – considered one of the most beautiful in the world.
In addition to the University area, Coimbra has many other points of interest, almost all of them beautiful, such as:
- Botanical Gardens;
- Coimbra Cathedral;
- Both Monasteries of Santa Clara
- Quinta das Lágrimas
- Verde Mondego Park and riverside area
See all our suggestions for what to do in Coimbra.
Unlike most other cities on this list, Aveiro is an entirely flat city. Maybe that’s why it’s so different too. It is a lighter, more delicate city.
Known for its canals, bridges, and boats, Aveiro is sometimes compared to Venice. Although the differences are enormous, you can understand what kind of destination it is. One of the best ways to visit the city is undoubtedly to take a trip on a Moliceiro, the city’s typical boat.
Located on the Ria de Aveiro, at the mouth of the Vouga River, Aveiro is just 70 km south of Porto. Its estuary is a major source of beauty in the city. As it rises and falls with the tides, we can see its influence on the landscape and the city.
In addition to the estuary, canals, and boats, Aveiro is also known for Art Nouveau, which is characterized by innovative materials and techniques, ornate façades, and tile panels. The city has many buildings decorated in Art Nouveau, among which we highlight:
- Major Pessoa’s House;
- Yellow house;
- Rossio House;
- Bandstand at Infante D. Pedro Municipal Park
Do you want to discover more about Aveiro? Check our guide.
Óbidos is undoubtedly a charming place. Despite being one of the most touristy destinations in Portugal, it still retains its most picturesque characteristics, such as the maze of narrow streets, the white houses, and, of course, its imposing walls.
Located in the center of Portugal, 85 km north of Lisbon, Óbidos is one of those destinations that dazzles both from afar and from within. Walking through the pedestrian streets, enjoying the squares with terraces, discovering the Manueline details, and, of course, exploring the magnificent castle are things not to be missed in Óbidos.
However, Óbidos is just as fabulous from a distance. Built on top of a hill and with walls all around, Óbidos is practically picture-perfect and very popular with tourists. It is naturally one of the most beautiful places in Portugal.
Most beautiful cities in Portugal – Alentejo and Algarve
Located in the heart of Alentejo in the south of Portugal, Évora is another beautiful walled city with several famous monuments. Despite being the largest and most important city in the Alentejo, the center of Évora is relatively small, which allows you to visit it all on foot.
The historic center of Évora has been a UNESCO World Heritage Site since 1986 due to its architectural complex, with white houses, tiles, metal balconies, and, of course, imposing monuments.
Despite being an ancient city dating back to Roman times, its golden age occurred in the 15th century when it became the residence of the Portuguese Kings. It was at this time that most of its majestic buildings were built. Some of the places not to be missed in Évora include:
- Temple of Diana (Roman);
- Cathedral Cathedral;
- Giraldo Square;
- Chapel of Bones;
- Évora University;
Also in Alentejo, but close to the border with Spain, we have Elvas. The privileged hilltop location close to the border made Elvas an important defensive fortress in Portugal.
For centuries, dozens of defensive constructions were built, making Elvas a perfect example of what a border town was. That’s why UNESCO declared Elvas a UNESCO heritage site in 2013.
Naturally, a large part of the tourist attractions in Elvas are of military origin and include forts, walls, and the ruins of the medieval castle. The main ones are:
- Medieval castle
- Our Lady of Grace Fort
- Fort of Santa Luzia
- Walls of Elvas (the various levels)
In addition to these military buildings, we must also highlight the monumental Amoreira aqueduct that served to bring water to the city (also crucial in times of war) and its beautiful historical center, full of white houses and pleasant squares such as Largo de Santa Clara and Praça of the Republic.
Want to know what to visit in Elvas? Click here.
The Algarve is much more known for its beautiful beaches than its beautiful cities, however, Lagos is an exception. In addition to having some of the best beaches in the Algarve and rugged coast, it is also a historic city full of charm. As such, it has to be mentioned on any list of the most beautiful cities in Portugal.
In addition to being one of the main cities in the Algarve, Lagos is also one of the most popular tourist destinations. The main reason that attracts people to Lagos is undoubtedly the beaches and the beautiful Ponta da Piedade.
Lagos beaches are famous for the warm colors of the cliffs, small sands, and stunning water. The most prominent are Dona Ana Beach and Camilo Beach. Also, on the coast and throughout the area as far as Ponta da Piedade, it is possible to see some of the most spectacular rock formations in Portugal.
However, it is also a city full of monuments, a beautiful historic center with many restaurants and bars, and a beautiful marina with a 16th-century caravel. The main monuments in Lagos are:
- Caravel Boa Esperança;
- Santo António Church;
- Ponta da Bandeira Fort;
- The Governor’s walls and castle;
All information about Lagos can be found here.
Most beautiful cities in Portugal to visit – Islands
Funchal is quite different from all the other cities on this list. Located on the south coast of Madeira, Funchal has a mild climate all year round and a natural setting that is unique in Portugal. It is a city spread across the island’s hills, built almost like a natural amphitheater.
One of the best places to see all of Funchal’s natural beauty is to take the cable car to the upper part of the city and enjoy the views from up there. Up there, we have the beautiful Monte Palace Hotel Gardens and the Botanical Gardens. Both are worth a visit.
In the lower part of the city, there are also many attractions, including:
- marina and waterfront
- farmers market
- historic center
- Sao Tiago Fort
- Santa Catarina Park
Angra do Heroísmo
Located on Terceira Island, Angra do Heroísmo is the representative of the Azores in this list of the most beautiful cities in Portugal.
Founded in 1478, Angra do Heroísmo was the first city to be founded in the Azores and, for a long time, remained the largest and most important city in the archipelago. During the liberal wars, it even became the capital of Portugal for some time.
This historical importance and all the beautiful built heritage led to it being classified as a universal heritage by UNESCO in 1983. In addition to all the historical importance, Angra do Heroísmo is also a beautiful city with an exuberant contrast between the white houses and the black volcanic stone used in its construction.
Some places and monuments not to be missed in Angra do Heroísmo include:
- Moinhos Castle
- Public garden
- Captains Palace
- Angrense Theater
Portugal is undoubtedly a country full of beautiful and remarkable cities. We chose these 15, but we could have included many others like Ponta Delgada, Peniche, Vila do Conde, Tomar, or Silves.
If you want to continue exploring the wonders of Portugal, see: