Summer can be a bit of a nightmare when it comes to tourist hot spots. Every place is crowded, filled with visitors looking for the most famous places in Portugal where they can take the perfect Instagram picture. Now that you are more of a local than a tourist, you might want to escape all this hustle and bustle…
We have travelled the country in search of summer destinations and plans that are great alternatives to these tourist hot spots, so you can enjoy your sunny days with a bit more peace and quiet.
1. Leave Sintra and head to Viana do Castelo
Sintra is renowned around the world for its neighbourhoods filled with romantic castles and unique palaces. Being one of the country’s jewels, classified as a World Heritage site by UNESCO and located just 27 kilometres (17 miles) from Lisbon, it’s especially busy during the summer.
But what you might not know is that in the north of Portugal you can find another city just as beautiful: Viana do Castelo.
This city is filled with stunning architectural treasures and isn’t as overcrowded as Sintra. The most impressive building is perhaps the 20th-century Byzantine Santuário de Santa Luzia, looming over Viana do Castelo from its hilltop perch, with panoramic views of the city and coast. Visitors can climb the steps to the church or take a cable car for a scenic round trip. Also, if you are looking for a souvenir, make sure to check out the amazing gold jewellery pieces which are created in the area.
2. Go to the Azores instead of the Algarve
If you've ever been to the Algarve you might already know that its beaches, while stunning, are filled to bursting with sunbathing tourists and locals.
Trade this famous summer destination for a marvellous, calm and far less populated stay in the Azores. Comprised of nine islands, even the largest island São Miguel is full of sleepy towns and peaceful paradises.
Another advantage is the prices: if you book your trip in advance you can find great deals and the price of accommodation and food aren’t as inflated as in the Algarve.
3. Discover Praia da Luz or Sagres
If you just can’t help but head to the Algarve it might be a good idea to just skirt around the major tourist and expat zones like Albufeira and Lagos.
Sagres and its neighbouring villages offer some well-liked local surfing schools, lots of rugged coast, rolling waves and natural forest scenery, perfect for more outdoorsy activities. Give it a chance and discover a new, less touristic side of the Algarve.
4. Visit Lisbon and Oporto but don’t leave Coimbra behind
Lisbon and Oporto are absolute mandatory stops on your tour to get to know the country but make sure you also dedicate a few days to Coimbra.
Did you know that Coimbra was once the capital of Portugal? With windy and cobbled medieval streets and historic treasures like the burial site of the country’s first two kings, King Afonso I and King Sancho I in the Monastery of Santa Cruz, Coimbra is also the home of the oldest university in the country (and one of the oldest in the world), a landmark sought out for its history, unique traditions, and beautiful Baroque library (the Biblioteca Joanina).
Fado is another surprise waiting in Coimbra. Although this famous Portuguese musical style originated in the streets of Alfama and Mouraria in Lisbon, Coimbra has its own style known as fado de Coimbra, developed by students at the university.
5. Buy books at Livraria Academica instead of Livraria Lello
Livraria Lello is one of Porto’s most famous destinations for the lovely art deco, art nouveau, and Gothic interiors, as well as the bragging rights for being an inspiration for author JK Rowling when writing the Harry Potter series.
With an entrance fee and lines that go up the whole street, this tourist trap, surprisingly, might not be the best place to buy a book if you are a classic book lover.
Head over to the Livraria Academica instead and fall in love with beautiful classic and rare books without loud crowds around.
6. Discover Portugal’s countryside
When we hear about Portugal, a lot is said about its cities but not much is said about its countryside. If you want to escape the regular tourist-friendly activities, try getting lost in the countryside, hiking through the mountains and tasting local dishes in traditional restaurants.
If you love wine, you can visit the many vineyard areas the country has. Visit the Douro Valley to taste locally-produced sweet port (the country’s famous dessert wine), head to Minho for a sip of crisp vinho verde wine, or pay a visit to the Alentejo, covered in rustic vineyards surrounded by cork trees (where a variety of reds and whites are produced).
Also, UNESCO has recognised many villages for their role in protecting the country from across-the-border invasions, and the fortifications are standing memorials that double as unforgettable landmarks. Monsanto, Almeida, and Castelo Novo are just a few of the ones worth visiting, and Piódão in the Serra da Estrela is another beautiful spot, classified as one of the most beautiful remote villages in the country and famous for its schist rock houses.
7. Visit the Convent of Christ instead of the Jerónimos Monastery
Connected to the Age of Discoveries, and known as the birthplace of pastéis de nata, the Jerónimos Monastery is very popular. But, before standing in hour-long lines and paying out the entrance fee (10 euro), see if you can fit Tomar into your itinerary.
Obviously, the Jerónimos Monastery is an amazing landmark and a beautiful architectural masterpiece that took 100 years to build, but the Convent of Christ is equally spectacular and was once the headquarters of the Knights Templar in Portugal. Walk through the castle, church, and gardens where this mysterious group once lived, organised, and changed their identity to the ‘Order of Christ’. Entrance tickets are almost half the price (6 euro) of the Jerónimos Monastery and you’re much less likely to find a crowd.
8. Already know Nazaré? The head on over to Figueira da Foz
If you have been to Nazaré, a beautiful fishing village in central Portugal, you know how crowded it can get. But the crowd is not the typical touristic crowd you can find in the Algarve. Over here, the beaches are filled with surfers from all around the world who come to face the massive waves you can find in one of the country's best surf destinations.
The beaches in Figueira da Foz are just as extensive but the waves are less intimidating. Here you can also find surfing tours and championships if you are a fan of the sport, a long boardwalk perfect for running and cycling, and seaside restaurants where you can taste delicious seafood.
9. Shop at the Mercado do Livramento instead of the Mercado da Ribeira
The Mercado da Ribeira is Lisbon’s famous food market (and has been since 1892), converted by Time Out Magazine into a food court and remote-working offices opened on the upper level.
The new Time Out Market offers a unique experience with Portuguese flavours served in many stalls and some of them even belong to Michelin chefs. It’s always filled with tourists and it is easy to get distracted by all the amazing food you want to try and spend a lot of extra money here. Luckily, the Mercado do Livramento in Setúbal is about 50 km (31 miles) away and well worth the drive.
Considered one of the best markets in the country, the long rows of fresh fish and produce are two main magnets that attract residents from different parts of the region, while the spectacular selection of cheeses, sausages, olive oil, and other staples sweeten the deal. It’s also a beautiful building – the bright orange-red facade is hard to miss, and the azulejo mosaics inside are picture-perfect.