Choose from 168 Fun Things to Do in Portugal
Allegedly established by a Roman centurion named Amarantus, Amarante is situated between the steep sides of Serra do Marão and the curves of the river Tâmega, the longest tributary of the river Douro. Modern Amarante is actually rooted in the 13th century, when the Benedictine monk St. Gonçalo settled in the area after completing a pilgrimage to Italy and Jerusalem. He is said to have commissioned the original bridge over the river Tâmega, located in the same spot as modern times.
In addition to its centurion, saint and bridge, Amarante is known for its sweets and cakes, and these are easy to find in many of the region's cake-shops and cafés. However, during the Feast of Sao Gonçalo, Amarante’s baked goods become famous for a different reason: they’re baked in the shape of phalluses, Sao Gonçalo is the patron saint of marriage and lovers. As suggestively shaped confections are not the norm for a Catholic Saint’s day, the tradition is likely rooted in a pagan fertility ritual.
Visitors to Amarante will want to take advantage of the region’s natural beauty and outdoor activities. Not to miss: hiking up to Serra do Marão in order to admire its breathtaking landscape. Near this mountain is Ansiães Valley. Here you will find trout farms on the right bank of the Ovelha River, as well as gorgeous sylvan scenery.
The village of Travanca da Serra, which is reached by the road leading to Peso da Régua, is an extremely picturesque spot, offering a magnificent panoramic view of the whole region. On fine days, you can see the mountains of Marão, Gerês and Cabreira. In the village itself, your attention is drawn to the Casa da Levada, belonging to the family of the late Portuguese writer Teixeira de Pascoais. Currently, the house is used as high-end tourist lodging. Also nearby: a well-preserved dolmen (stone burial mound) at Chão de Parada.
- The Ajuda National Palace is a must for architecture lovers and royalaholics.
- Wear comfortable walking shoes to explore the entire palace and its dozens of rooms.
- Ajuda Palace is free for Portugal residents with proof of residency from 10am to 2pm every Sunday.
- The palace is accessible to wheelchair users.
Alcoutim is a hillside town of cobbled streets, small squares and a paved promenade, situated along the banks of the Guadina river, about 40 km (24 mi). This river promenade features a few cafes and restaurants that overlook the water. Here, the river narrows. If you need a breather in your vacation, watching the boats idle past this narrow point while sipping a coffee at a café is a great way to take a break from sightseeing; the backdrop of low, green hills is as good a substitute for historical points of interest as any. At the front of the river is a 16th century church bearing the coat of arms of the Marquises of Vila Real and the Counts of Alcoutim.
If your time is flexible enough to allow you a moment to watch the river go by, you may also want to explore the countryside. The hills are verdant and covered in wildflowers, providing a a pastoral landscape for Alcoutim’s neighboring towns (Pereiro, Martinlongo), as well the ruins of a 13th century castle and 12th century church in nearby Mértola, which is a mere 30 km (18 mi) drive away.
Another short drive to the south takes you to the town of Castro Marim. Of note here are the ruins of its Moorish castle, which offers a wide view of the surrounding salt pans and the Spanish countryside across the border. Castro Marim is also home to a nature preserve.
This area of Portugal, particularly the eastern end near the Guadina River, is a little underdeveloped, which makes for scenic drives through rolling green hills and serene countryside. The hillside overlooking Acoutim bears the ruins of a 14th century castle, which is now a small archaeological museum.
Alcoutim is also about a 30 minute drive to the golden beaches of the coast.
By day Bairro Alto’s attractions include the Port Wine Institute – the best place to taste and buy port in Lisbon – and it is accessible from the circular route taken by Lisbon’s famous touristy Tram 28. Don’t dismiss a visit to the Jesuit church of São Roque on Largo Trindade Coelho; built at the height of Jesuit power in Portugal in the 16th century, its bland, whitewashed exterior conceals an interior of breath-taking Baroque indulgence. The riot of ceiling paintings, gilded ornamentation and John the Baptist’s chapel, which is studded with mosaics of ivory, gold and silver, has earned it a reputation as the world’s most expensive church. Adjoining is a small art museum but São Roque really steals the thunder here. The nearby miradouro (viewing point) in the shady Jardim de São Pedro de Alcântara gives amazing panoramas across Lisbon’s rooftops towards the River Tagus.
By night a different character emerges in the bairro as the tattoo parlors, bars and cafés open although the weekend street party barely gets going before midnight. Music wafts from fado bars behind every graffiti-ed façade – if you want to experience authentic fado, ask a local to recommend a venue as places come and go with amazing rapidity – and edgy Lisboans bar hop from tavern to designer bar in remarkably laid-back high spirits.
Just to the left of the church doorway, the Hall of Kings is elaborately decorated with azulejo tiles depicting the history of the monastery up until the 18th century plus a cluster of royal statues in various states of repair. The massive Gothic church at the heart of the complex is an ocher-stone fantasia of flying buttresses, ornate roundels, lacy stone carving and statuary topped with two intricate bell towers.
The long wings that flank the church are much simpler in design, as is its barn-like interior, with unadorned pillars, a plain vaulted roof and bare walls. Simple it may be, but the nave is Portugal’s longest, at 330 feet (100 m). The pair of ornate tombs in the transept belong to King Pedro I and his murdered mistress Ines de Castro; other Portuguese monarchs buried here include kings Alfonso II and III, who are laid to rest in the Chapel of St Bernard, dedicated to the patron saint of the Cistercian order.
Access to the monastery from the church is through the vast three-tiered Cloister of Silence, which is planted with orange trees and contains an ancient fountain that once saw duty as washroom to the monks. It is one of three cloisters surrounded by the monks’ sparse refectory, dormitories and kitchens, which are decorated with traditional blue-and-white tiles.
- Wear comfortable shoes, as steep sidewalks and cobblestone lanes are the norm in the Alfama district.
- Getting around Alfama can be tricky for wheelchair users, so it’s best to book a taxi or join a tour.