The Center of Portugal is an amazing region, a place where you can discover villages of rare beauty frozen in time, breathtaking landscapes, cities that know how to preserve their history and at the same time embrace modernity. Visiting this region is definitely one of the things to do in Portugal so don’t miss the opportunity!
Here are the 10 places to visit in the Center of Portugal:
1. Paiva Walkways
Our journey through the Center of Portugal begins in the Paiva Walkways, an 8 km route just 14 km away from Arouca. The majority of the route is made on wooden walkways (hence the name) in the middle of the mountain and along Paiva river, a river that flows into Douro.
The route was inaugurated in July 2015 and was the main attraction in Portugal in the summer. More than 8 000 people per day visited this marvelous place.
During my visit, in September, the route was devastated by a wildfire, causing the destruction of more than 600 metres of wooden walkways.
After some months of restoration, this gem reopened to the public with more strict access conditions.
Now, this route is limited to 3 500 people per day and they have to pay one euro fee – this money will be used to maintain the route in good condition.
In the route you’ll find help points (like those in the higway), 3 river beaches (one in the middle and two at both ends), one snack bar at both ends as well and, of course, the most beautiful landscape.
The level of difficulty of this route is hard so, if you can’t go from one end to the other and back (16 km), you’ll find taxis that will take you to the starting point. It will cost you around 15 euros.
Visit the official site to get the necessary information (GPS coordinates, map, opening hours and buying tickets).
In the center of Portugal you can also visit Aveiro. This city is considered to be the “Portuguese Venice” because of its canals, where you’ll discover the city by “moliceiro”, a sort of gondola that was used for harvesting seaweed or “moliço”, underwater vegetation in Ria (Aveiro lagoon).
You should visit the historic center of Aveiro to admire Art Nouveau houses and taste the magnificent “ovos moles” (literally soft eggs), a local delicacy. While in Aveiro, don’t miss the opportunity to visit Costa Nova beach, well known for its colourful fishermen houses.
Coimbra is one of the most beautiful cities in Portugal. Here, you can gaze at the magnificent University, Unesco World Heritage, and its sumptuous Joanina library, considered to be the most beautiful in Portugal and one of the most beautiful in the world.
Visiting Coimbra is also discovering unique monuments, such as the Church and Monastery of Santa Cruz. Don’t leave town without hearing Coimbra “fado”, performed by men, as opposite to Lisbon “fado” that is performed mainly by women.
4. Serra da Estrela
Serra da Estrela Natural Park is the largest protected area in Portugal, with 101 000 hectares. When you visit the park you may stroll around the incredible landscape, similar to the Alps , discover the highest point (Tower) in mainland Portugal (1993 metres) and ski in the only ski slope in Portugal.
Don’t leave without tasting the “Queijo da Serra” (a sort of cheese) and without visiting Manteigas, Sabugueiro and Linhares da Beira villages.
5. The 12 Historic Villages of Portugal
The 12 historic villages are located around Serra da Estrela Natural Park and the Spanish border.
Most of these villages were built in order to strengthen this region and prevent the enemy to settle in.
These are the 12 historic villages of Portugal: Almeida, Belmonte, Castelo Mendo, Castelo Novo, Castelo Rodrigo, Idanha-a-Velha, Linhares da Beira, Marialva, Monsanto, Piódão, Sortelha and Trancoso.
If you don’t have the time to discover all of them (you’ll need at least 3, 4 days), than you should visit Monsanto, Sortelha and Piódão villages.
Monsanto is considered to be the most Portuguese village of Portugal since 1938. You’ll know why when you visit it! Lose yourself in the narrow streets and admire the houses that were erected between rocks, visit the castle, São Miguel chapel and the community oven.
Piódão is one of the most beautiful villages in the center of Portugal, mainly because of the schist houses that are displayed in an amphitheatre way. With the sunset and lights turned on, you’ll feel like watching a Nativity set.
Lose yourself in the narrow streets and visit Foz de Égua to admire this beauty.
Sortelha village was the one that enchanted me the most when I visited the historic villages. When you visit this village you’ll go back in time, to the medieval period, and admire the granite houses that blend in the rocks and the beautiful castle.
The main attraction of the city of Tomar is the Convent of Christ, Unesco World Heritage.
The Convent of Christ belonged to the Order of the Knights Templar, an order dissolved in 1314 due to the persecution of the king of France.
The people, goods and privileges of the Portuguese part of this order were transferred to a new order (Order of the Knights of Our Lord Jesus Christ) created by king D. Dinis I.
When visiting the beautiful city of Tomar, stroll around the historic center, the narrow streets, the synagogue (that turned into a museum), Pegões aqueduct and the National Forest of Sete Montes.
7. Mira de Aire Caves
Portugal has a dozen of caves, but if you must visit one, than go to the Mira de Aire caves.
Mira de Aire caves were elected in 2010 as one of the 7 natural wonders of Portugal. This complex of rare beauty has 11 km and was found in 1947.
During your visit you’ll discover 600 metres of this natural beauty going down 683 steps which means 110 metres deep. Don’t panic, at the end of the tour you won’t need to climb your way back – there’s an elevator that will take you back to surface.
8. Batalha Monastery
If you must visit just one monastery in Portugal, than my suggestion would definitely be Batalha Monastery.
Batalha Monastery is one of the most beautiful architecture gems in Portugal and in Europe. The construction of this amazing monument began in 1386 and ended in 1517.
During your visit you’ll have the chance to discover the beautiful church, free of charge, but don’t hesitate to pay 6 euros to visit D. João I and king Afonso Cloisters, the founder chapel and the unfinished chapels also known as the imperfect chapels.
Nazaré village is known worldwide because of its huge waves that many surfers would love to surf but only few dare to. In 2013 Garrett McNamara set a new world record when he surfed a 30 metre high wave, the equivalent to a 10 storey building.
If you’re not a surf lover, than know that Nazaré has much more to offer!
Nazaré was a fishing village but as time went by it became a tourist village thanks to its beautiful beach, the fishing traditions and its history
After visiting the lower part of the village, take the funicular to Sítio to discover the most beautiful landscape of the region (see photo), the Nossa Senhora da Nazaré Shrine and if you have time attend a bullfight.
The beautiful village of Óbidos ends our list of the places to visit in the center of Portugal. Conquered from the Moorish by the first king of Portugal, D. Afonso Henriques, this village is a must see for tourists and you shouldn’t miss it!
Óbidos is a fortified village where you can visit the castle (from the outside), stroll through a maze of streets surrounded by houses painted in white and decorated with beautiful flowers and walk along 1,5 km over the city walls.
In this article you found the 10 places you must see when you visit this beautiful region, but the center of Portugal has much more to discover: Alcobaça, Peniche, Fátima, National Forest of Buçaco, Buddha Eden Garden and many other places.
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