Top Recs for 11 Under the Radar Portuguese Cities
Updated: Jan 3, 2019
There is more to #Portugal than Lisbon and Porto. WARNING: You will probably have not heard of many of the cities on this list. However, they are some of the most unique, breathtaking cities that I have experienced. Hence, the reason why I am strongly recommending that you check out these 11 #undertheradarcities that are usually outshined by Lisbon and Porto.
Although I did not get a chance to spend a day at the beach, driving alongside miles of sand was very scenic. #Cascais itself is very small and walking-friendly, so it is very easy to explore. It has a ritzy ambiance due to the line of boutiques, restaurants, cafes, gelato shops and nicely lined palm trees. Apparently, it is the official summer residence of Portugal’s president, and understandably so.
RECOMMENDATION: For the best seafood rice, check out Cervejaria Luzmar. Filled with flavor and a variety of seafood including shrimp, clams, mussels, and lobster, it is pricier than some other places in Portugal, but for good reason. The dish easily fills up two people and the seafood is extra fresh. Be warned, however – they do separately charge you for bread and butter. Considering that even my boyfriend (who is the pickiest eater) enjoyed it, you will love it as well. He wanted to go to Burger King (which we jokingly call the emergency room) instead of here, and was so happy that he did not!
A small town north of Lisbon, #Sintra is known for its lavish, colorful castles and will have you feeling like a princes!. It is worth taking some time to explore the Royal Palace, which served as a residence during the 15th century as the tile work is impeccable! I absolutely loved the hilly views from the castles’ arches. We also hopped on a mini train in front of the palace to take a city tour and saw its ins and outs. However, there is no concept of time and the traffic is ridiculous.
RECOMMENDATION: Try the local pastry delicacy, known as travesseiros, which means “pillows” in Portuguese. It is an almond and egg cream filled puff pastry rectangle.
I had never heard of this city until we almost arrived at our destination. When I think medieval, I visualize #Óbidos as there are many alleys and steep streets of cobblestoned streets, whitewashed houses trimmed with blue or yellow borders and vibrant flowers. It is worthwhile to visit the Igreja de Santa Maria for its interior walls as almost every part of the interior is covered in tiles from 1600s and 1700s!
RECOMMENDATION: Try Ginja, the sour cherry liqueur. Although it is also produced in Lisbon, Óbidos makes it in a unique way: the cherries are picked at the town’s countryside orchards for at least one year. It is often served in an edible dark chocolate cup, making it an even more tasty experience. You will find it in about every souvenir shop.
This hidden gem is a city located in the Centro region. #Alcobaça developed along the valleys of the rivers Alcoa and Baça, hence its name. Visit the Church of Santa Maria Monastery, which is actually the first Portuguese building to adopt the Gothic style and the largest church in the country. In the church are the ornate tombs of King Pedro I and his mistress, Inês de Castro. The detailed carvings are impeccable.
RECOMMENDATION: There is a delicious, well-known bakery called Pastelaria Alcoa, which has a wide assortment of desserts that you are guaranteed to love! For a perfect scenery, have your dessert in the seats located right outside!
Only 80 miles north of Lisbon, #Nazaré is a small coastal town that evokes a distant feeling from the Lisbon crowds. Long known of its fishing, there is a long beach and plenty of restaurants.
RECOMMENDATION: Check out Aleluia Restaurante Esplanada for some of the best grilled fish. The seafood seemed to be fresh from the waters.
For Catholics, this is probably the most well-known city in Portugal. Although I had learned about the legend of Our Lady of #Fátima, I did not realize that it was a Portuguese city. Welcoming millions of pilgrims globally, I felt at religious peace. Your eyes can't help but to wander in different directions while standing at the huge plaza: one direction you see a massive rosary, another direction you see a basilica. You also spot many people crawling on their legs and knees as part of their pilgrimage.
RECOMMENDATION: Attend service at the Capela das Aparições, the first place of worship after the apparitions. Built to follow the request given by Mary to three shepherds, there are rows of benches and a statue of Our Lady of Fatima that exactly marks Mary’s apparition. Also, light a candle to pray for blessings.
This UNESCO captured my heart for many reasons. The Roman and medieval influence is very evident. Interestingly, the Romans were the first to settle the town. During the 1400s, Portugal's kings chose it as their home. There are many worthwhile things to explore in #Évora. The Corinthian style Roman temple, built in the first century, is known as the Temple of Diana. Considering that it was built long ago, it is impressive that much of it survived.
Walking distance from the temple is a great hilltop view of the city.
The city’s museum is located in the main square. A former episcopal palace from the 1500s, it currently holds nearly 20,000 items relating to Évora’s history ranging from paintings, jewelry, ceramics, textiles and sculptures. The most epic thing to visit is the Ossuary chapel, which is attached to the Church of São Francisco. The walls, arches, and pillars are all lined with bones and skulls from about 5,000 skeletons – fascinating! At the entrance, there is a Latin inscription that translates as "We bones that are here, for yours await”. The chapel was meant to symbolize that no matter how rich or poor, we all die and turn to bones. It is definitely a creepy way to get that message across!
RECOMMENDATION: A great way to view the city is with a horse drawn carriage ride. It is truly a very scenic and romantic way to experience the city; adding to the medieval feels.
#Tomar gave me life! Epitomizing medieval times, we were coincidentally there around the same time a medieval fair was held (Festa Temp Laria). Founded by the Knights Templar in the 12th century on land granted by Portugal’s first king, it was created to be the shape of a four-armed cross, with each arm pointing to one of the city’s convents.
A convent was actually set up on a hill known as the Convent of Christ. With its Gothic and Renaissance influence, it is worth exploring! If you are looking for some nightly entertainment, the main square is worth checking out.
RECOMMENDATION: Take a walk down the steep cobblestone da Rua Joaquim Jacinto. You will find a mid-15th century synagogue turned Jewish museum. When I think of Portugal, a Jewish community does not come to mind. However, there is a small population. Sadly, the synagogue was not in use for more than for 50 years as the Jews were driven out or forced to convert by King Manuel I at the end of 1400’s.
#Coimbra is the third-largest city in Portugal and is renowned for one of the oldest universities in Europe, the University of Coimbra. The university actually has more than 700 years of history! You feel the prestige standing in the center of the university. The university is built on a high hill in the middle of the city, which explains why you can get some of the best views of Portugal was from the balcony.
RECOMMENDATION: Check out the Biblioteca Joanina. However, it is very hard to get tickets to see inside the library and you must make sure you are on time. The Baroque library was apparently used as the inspiration for the ones used in the current Beauty and the Beast movie. Because it is so breathtaking, it is no wonder that they do not allow you to take pictures! There are apparently more than 250,000 volumes here, dating from the 1500s to the 1700s and dealing with history, geography, medicine, law and science. The study tables and shelves are made from dark hardwood imported from Brazil.
#Braga is one of Portugal's oldest cities. Formerly a center of religious power in the 4th century (Bracer Augusta), it is one of the oldest on the Iberian Peninsula and was also the headquarters for the Christian missionary effort in Gallaecia (Northwestern Iberia).
The most worthwhile site in Braga (and all of Portugal) is the Bom Jesus do Monte sanctuary. We took the 19th century funicular on the way up, and the winding staircase on the way down. The sea of orange rooftops from up top is a sight to be seen! This sanctuary is actually a pilgrimage site that people have flocked to since the 14th century. The very devoted climb the 640 zig zag steps. There are numerous sculptures embedded in the stairway to inspire you as you climb.
There is definitely more to Braga than this sanctuary! The main square is colorful and lively, filled with tons of restaurants, cafes, and souvenir shops.
The most notable church worth exploring is Braga Cathedral, which is actually the oldest in Portugal. Built in 12th century, one is able to see the tombs of the parents of the first Portuguese king. The architecture has a mix of Romanesque, Gothic, Renaissance and Baroque elements. The interior is impeccable with its gold statues.
RECOMMENDATION: Try vinho verde! It literally translates into “green wine,” not referring to the color of the drink, but the young age of the wine, best enjoyed soon after it is bottled.
#Guimarães is considered to be the birthplace of Portugal. The city was founded in the 9th century and became the first capital of Portugal in the 12th century as well as the birthplace and home of Portugal’s first king. The twisting cobblestone streets add to the medieval feel, making you feel like you took a step back in time.
The castles and churches are actually a World Heritage Site. Home of the first king, the castle was built to protect the region from two major threats: the Vikings and the Moors.
Another cool spot to check out is the square, known as Largo da Oliveira. It is a great place because there are bars, cafes, and houses with balconies centrally located to lots of history.
RECOMMENDATION: Take some picturesque photos in front of Castelo de Guimarães, Church of São Miguel do Castelo, or Rua de Santa Maria. The most breathtaking and mouth dropping is the Igreja do Senhor dos Passos, which has beautiful grass and flowers leading up the entrance of the church; an introduction to Guimarães!