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The 7 Most Charming Cities in Portugal That You Must Visit

Pena Palace in Sintra, Portugal

Posted by on 01 Nov 2019 , in Europe

Some countries lull you into taking it easy while others greet you with sensory feasts. Then there are those that just fire up your wanderlust right off the bat and inspire you to hit the road and get your feet moving. Portugal is one such country. Lisbon’s vibrant mix of old and new might have charmed you, but the centuries-old towns and cities of Portugal are bound to make the traveller in you swoon!

Here are some of the loveliest cities in Portugal you’ll probably want to make space for in your itinerary.

ANGRA DO HEROISMO

Situated in the island of Terceira in the Azores, the ancient city of Angra do Heroismo or simply Angra commanded the archipelago from the 15th century until the introduction of the steamship in the 19th century. It was an obligatory port of call for vessels taking the East and West Indies routes to and from Europe, and such powerful past is evident today in the well-preserved buildings that litter the city, including two impressive maritime forts and entire host of Baroque churches, convents and cathedrals. Stop by the Palácio dos Capitães-Generais, a former royal palace for Peter IV and Carlos I of Portugal and which is now the official residence of the President of the Regional Government, and the large Cathedral of Angra do Heroismo whose history goes back to the time the archipelago was discovered.

COIMBRA

One look at the historic, cultured city of Coimbra rising on the east bank of the Rio Mondego and you’ll know there’s magic in its streets. Known as the medieval capital of Portugal for centuries, the city is replete with old structures and important sites attesting to its glorious past. The Manueline Convent of Christ overlooks Coimbra from its hilltop perch, the ruins of Conimbriga beckon visitors curious about the city’s heritage, and there’s the National Museum Machado de Castro, a museum built on Roman tunnels that hook people with its religious art, Gothic sculptures and 11th century cloister. Spend some time in one of the cafes and bars and at night, listen as Portuguese guitars and fado singers breathe life to the city’s old stone walls.

EVORA

Travelling to Evora is like taking a trip to the past. A UNESCO World Heritage Site and one of the most ancient towns in Europe, Evora captures the essence of what life was like centuries ago in the heart of the district. The town’s old centre is astoundingly well-preserved that its medieval stone walls are still intact and partially enclosing present Evora. Go stroll inside its 14th century walls and you’ll probably lose count of the important monuments that adorn the Evora’s winding lanes, most dating from different historical periods. There’s even an authentic Roman temple from the 1st century! To those who plan to have a taste of Alentejan flavours, there are many attractive restaurants to choose from. Rustic wineries outside the town also make for great day trips!

GUIMARAES

The beautifully-preserved medieval buildings of Guimaraes make it one of the most visited cities in northern Portugal, and rightly so. The towering 11th century hilltop Castle of Guimaraes alone is reason enough to include this ancient city in tour itineraries. Founded in the 1000s to defend the city’s monastery from Moorish and Norse attack, the royal Romanesque fortress features thick stone walls that form a shield-shape perimeter, eight rectangular towers, a central keep and a military square. It is also believed to be the birthplace of Afonso Henriques, the founder and first King of Portugal. Picturesque plazas, 14th century edifices and labyrinthine lanes form the city’s medieval centre, and it will be a shame to miss the imposing Palace of the Dukes of Braganca which houses period interiors and noteworthy porcelain and tapestries.

MONSARAZ

This one is technically not a city but it’s just so beautiful it’s almost a sin not to include it in this list. Perched high on the right of the Guadiana River, the small quaint village of Monsaraz commands attention even from afar. Whitewashed cottages line the village’s narrow streets and spectacular views of the Alqueva Dam and surrounding landscape await travellers. Wander its sleepy streets and make your way to the looming 14th century castle standing guard at the village’s edge, past guesthouses, restaurants and artisan shops. Cars are not permitted into Monsaraz during the day so it is quite pleasurable to walk around.

PORTO

Once the base of shipping and trade in the country, Porto is now the capital of the north pulling in visitors with its charming districts like the Ribeira, Vitoria and Miragaia. Let Porto’s atmosphere tantalise your senses—see the city turn into a fantastical sight at sunset, sample the divine local food and wine, amble through its narrow cobbled streets, and chat with the charismatic locals. Don’t forget to check out the ornate gilded carvings and lavish baroque interior of the magnificent São Francisco Church, or the palatial Palácio de Bolsa, built in the 19th century to dazzle potential investors. If you do plan to travel to Porto, you might want to do so by train. Porto’s 1800s Sao Bento railway station is an attraction in itself and the ornate blue and white tilework is an absolute masterpiece.

SINTRA

Ah, Sintra. With its glittering palaces, exotic gardens and undulating mountains, Sintra is something straight out of a fairytale. Royal retreats, castles and estates dot Sintra, and a visit to this UNESCO Heritage Site is never complete without laying eyes on the riveting Palace de Pena. The 19th century Romanticist castle is a stunning shock of colour set in the Sintra Mountains, boasting vividly painted terraces, mythological statues and decorative battlements. It was also built to be seen from all directions in the park that surrounds it, and some even say it is visible from as far as Lisbon on a clear day! There’s also the Palácio Nacional de Sintra with its signature twin chimneys, notable for its whimsical mix of Manueline and Moorish styles in its interiors marked by arabesque courtyards and geometric azulejos from the 15th and 16th centuries. You should also not miss Quinta de Regaleira! The fantastical villa with elaborately detailed exteriors is where you’ll find the famous “Initiation Wells”, extraordinary underground towers said to have Masonic and Tarot origins that still puzzle and intrigue people around the world.

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