As you all know, Portugal holds a special place in my heart. It truly has it all, scenery, amazing people, great tourist spots, and the food is some of the best.
Not only does Portugal offer everything to make it a dream vacation every time, but it is also so affordable. I feel like I know a secret that the rest of the world doesn’t whenever I go there.
In this post, I will cover some of the top places to visit as well as the best things to see and do if you are in the central Portugal area.
Aveiro is one of the best day trips from Porto. Aveiro is a charming seaside city in central Portugal and Costa Nova is a town located just a few kilometers away.
Aveiro is one of the most colourful towns in Portugal and has a cool network of canals. It’s known as the Venice of Portugal and instead of gondola rides, you can hop on the traditional boats known as mouliceiros. It’s also known for its traditional sweets, Ovos Moles de Aveiro which are some of my absolute favourites.
Things to do in Aveiro
- Eat ovos moles.
- Mouliceiro cruise + walking tour.
- Mouliceiro boat tour.
- Take a tour to Costa Nova, Ilhavo and Vista Alegre museum.
Costa Nova is one of the prettiest places in Portugal: it looks like a colorful postcard! Many colorful, striped houses make for a great backdrop and fun photo ops. Costa Nova is full of culture and there are plenty of great restaurants and markets to take breaks at as you stroll around town.
Costa Nova do Prado is one of the best places to lounge on the beach, it’s perfect for watersports and sunbathing.
PS: do not miss their famous tripas! They’re a type of crepe typical in this area.
Things to do in Costa Nova
- Take lots of photos!
- Eat tripas, traditional sweets from Costa Nova.
- Enjoy the beach
- Visit Farol da Barra lighthouse.
- Visit Vista Alegre ceramics museum.
Recommended stays in Costa Nova
Igreja de Válega
This 18th-century church Greja de Valega, also known as the Church of Sao Pedro de Válega is dedicated to Saint Peter.
The church panels are extra colorful and impressive, depicting scenes from biblical imagery, all done in the form of azulejo tile art.
Do not miss its interior, it’s as colorful on the inside!
Igreja de Cortegaça
The churches in central Portugal have the most incredibly striking features, which is why there are so many on my list. The Igreja de Cortegaça has an iconic bell tower and also a one-of-a-kind sacristy featuring incredible wood carvings and art highlighted with gold leaf.
Passadiços do Paiva
The Passadiços do Paiva trailway is is a scenic wooden trail that runs 8 km along the Paiva River n Arouca. Although there are many stairs, there are also lots of places to rest and even a swimming hole. This trail is such a beautiful walk and you will get stunning views of the Paiva valley.
- Click here to visit Passadiços do Paiva on a day tour from Porto
- Where to stay in this area: Octant Douro
Estarreja is a small town in central Portugal located in the district of Aveiro. It is most famous for its BioRia nature reserve which is home to thousands of water birds, including the largest colony of Purple Heron.
The annual Estarreja Carnival is also held here every February. Along with the traditional carnival parades, there are festivals, live music, and other events and celebrations at the lively festival.
Estarreja is also known for its great festivals and street art. The whole city is pretty much a gallery, decorated with beautiful works of art and the community embraces the unique vibe that the artwork brings.
Portugal is known for its beautiful tiles throughout the region but in the city of Ovar you will find an open-air Azulejo (tile) museum. It’s an artistic expression of this unique art form and highlights the importance that the tiles play in Portuguese culture.
It’s really fun to walk through the streets of Ovar and try to identify all the different tile patterns and styles.
Another unique museum you will find near Ovar is Casa-Museu Egas Moniz.
The museum is dedicated to Egas Moniz, a famous Portuguese neurologist and Nobel Prize winner. The museum is in Moniz’s former house and going there is like travelling back in time. A quite interesting visit!
This Monastery is one of the coolest places to visit in Portugal. You can find it in the district of Leiria and it is magnificent beyond belief. The sheer artistry and detail carved into every corner are impressive and the entire area is also rich in history.
You can also head over to check out the other UNESCO sites around Leiria while you are here – Alcobaça and Tomar.
Nazaré is a beautiful coastal town in central Portugal that is known for having the biggest waves in the world.
A giant underwater canon allows the ocean swell to form these waves and it’s truly a wonder to watch. The town is beautiful and besides surfing, there is also plenty of history and cultural monuments to explore.
Things to do in Nazaré
- Suberco viewpoint
- Forte de São Miguel Arcanjo
- Santuário de Nossa Senhora da Nazaré
Recommended stays in Nazare
Alcobaça is a town in the central region of Portugal, located in the district of Leiria. It’s known for its beautiful monastery, the Mosteiro de Santa Maria de Alcobaça, which is one of the largest Gothic churches in Portugal and has been declared a UNESCO World Heritage Site.
In addition to the monastery, Alcobaça is also known for its delicious traditional pastries, such as the famous pastéis de nata.
It’s worth visiting Alcobaça combined with a trip to Nazare.
The ancient walled town of Óbidos is one of the most unique places to visit in Portugal and can be fully explored in just a few hours. The medieval architecture, and cobblestone streets are a sight to see and it is one of the most popular and enchanting towns in central Portugal.
This medieval town is mostly visited on day tours, however, we encourage you to stay for the night. Obidos is extra magical in the early morning and during sunset, when it’s all quiet without the crowds.
Things to do in Óbidos
- Visit Óbidos castle
- Rua Direita, the Main Street in Obidos
- Walk around the medieval village
Recommended stays in Óbidos
Coimbra, located on the banks of the Mondego River, is one of the oldest cities in Portugal. Known for its rich history, stunning architecture, and prestigious university, it’s one of the most visited cities in the country.
The University of Coimbra, is one of the oldest universities in Europe and is considered one of the most prestigious in Portugal. The university is located in the heart of the city and is home to beautiful buildings, such as the Baroque-style Biblioteca Joanina, which is one of the most stunning libraries in the world.
Coimbra is also known for its beautiful historic center, which has been designated a UNESCO World Heritage Site. The city’s old town is full of winding streets and alleys, beautiful plazas, and historic buildings, such as the Sé Velha (Old Cathedral) and the Santa Cruz Monastery.
Another attraction in Coimbra is the Portugal dos Pequenitos, a miniature park that features scaled-down replicas of famous Portuguese buildings and monuments. The park is a great place for those traveling with kids.
Things to do in Coimbra
- Visit Coimbra’s university
- Visit Biblioteca Joanina
- Fado show with wine tasting
- Traveling with kids? Visit Portugal dos Pequenitos.
Recommended stays in Coimbra
Lousa is a small village in Central Portugal, perfect for those looking for nature, peace & quiet.
Over in the Lousa Mountain range, you will find a popular attraction known as Baloiço da Lousa (Lousa Swing). This swing is on a wooden platform and provides spectacular panoramic views of the mountains.
There is tons of great exploring to do and see in the valley while you enjoy some of the best scenery in Portugal.
Things to do in Lousa
- Visit Lousa castle
- Schist villages day tour (aldeias do Xisto)
- Lousa swing
Recommended stays in Lousa
Aldeias do Xisto
For another tour back in time, the Aldeias do Xisto is a revitalized network of over 20 traditional villages located in the mountains. You can explore these stone villages by foot or car and there are many places to explore throughout each one.
Sanctuary of Fatima
Fatima, together with Braga, are the main religious sites in Portugal.
The iconic tower of the Sanctuary of Fatima is a coveted Marian shrine that annually welcomes hundreds of thousands of pilgrims and tourists. The sanctuary symbolizes the Miracle of Fatima that occurred in 1917, when 3 shepherd children reported visions of the Virgin Mary.
The Sanctuary of Fatima is the biggest pilgrimage site in Portugal. The esplanade is really impressive.
Serra da Estrela
The highest point in Mainland Portugal is Torre which is located in the Serra da Estrela mountain range. This is a great destination in both the summer and the winter with lots of activities to do and beautiful sights to see.
Whether you want to go horseback riding, mountain biking, or paragliding, Serra da Estrela offers it all. They even have synthetic snow pistes that allow for skiing or snowboarding at any time of the year!
It’s the perfect escape if you’re looking for peace and quiet into the woods.
PS: one of the most delicious cheese in Portugal is created here!
Things to do in Serra da Estrela
- Hike Torre mountain
- Visit the village of Piodao
- Visit the Cheese museum (Museu do Queijo) in Peraboa village
Recommended stays in Serra da Estrela
From the town of Peniche, you can hop on a ferry and take a short cruise over to the Berlengas Islands, a small group of islands in the Atlantic Ocean. These islands feel like a tropical paradise with its dolphins, seabirds, and crystal clear waters.
If you head over to the Berlenga Grande Island, you will find the Fort of Sao Joao Baptista, a fortress from the 17th century that was built to protect the
You can visit Berlengas islands on your own, but I highly recommend joining a day tour from Peniche. It includes a roundtrip on a glass-bottom boat, a tour to the caves and a savvy guided walking tour in the island.