Central 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 Central Portugal:
1. Berlengas Archipelago
Listed since 2011 as UNESCO’s World Biosphere Reserve, Berlengas Nature Reserve was the first protected area in the country, decreed by king D. Afonso V who, with that, banned hunting in the biggest island of this archipelago, Berlenga Grande (1.5 km long and 800 m wide).
Before I talk more about this small paradise, watch this short video shot by Manuel Melo and discover what awaits you:
The human occupation of this island dates back several centuries, to the times of Vikings and Muslim explorers and French and British privateers.
In the beginning of the 16th century, the queen D. Leonor requested for some monks of the Order of St. Jerome to establish themselves on that island with the purpose of helping navigation and helping shipwreck victims.
Despite their good intentions, the truth is that the monks didn’t stay there for too long due to the harsh conditions of living in this island as well as the constant raids of privateers.
Even before I stepped foot on the island, I had the opportunity to admire part of the natural beauty of this archipelago, composed of granite islands.
The visitors started by disembarking close to the only beach of the island with a stretch of sand, Carreiro do Mosteiro beach. Many visitors use their summer holidays to spend some days here, sunbathing and swimming in the crystal clear waters of the Atlantic Ocean.
Aside from enjoying the beach, you should also take this opportunity to explore the rest of the island and get to know the wonderful fauna and flora. Here, you’ll find many seagulls and other birds that nest in the cliffs as well as dozens of botanical species.
To discover Berlenga Grande island, you can take two small, very easy and different hiking trails (in a total of 4 km).
To finish your trip to the archipelago, visit the amazing Fort of São João Baptista das Berlengas. This fort was built during the 17th century, after the demolition of the old monastery located there and where the monks of St. Jerome Order used to live.
The Fort of São João Baptista played an important role during the Portuguese Restoration War, during the Peninsular War and, finally, during the Portuguese Civil War that took place during the 19th century.
During the 20th century and after a period of abandonment, the fort was restored and it can now be visited; it is one of the few places on the island where you can also spend the night (apart from Bairro dos Pescadores and a small camping site).
For more information about this paradise, please read my article: Things to do in Peniche – from Berlengas to the most beautiful beaches
In Central 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 de Aveiro.
You should visit the historic centre 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.
Information: are you staying in Porto and don’t want to hire a car nor lose too much time in public transportation? If so, consider going on a guided tour to Aveiro and the Paiva Walkways (affiliate link)!
In this 9-hour activity leaving from Porto, you will start the day with a walk on one of the most beautiful walking routes in the world and prize-winner several times at the World Travel Awards. Take your camera and get ready for an adventure in nature, on wooden walkways that follow the Paiva river in a unique valley that is worth exploring!
After lunch in a typical Portuguese restaurant, you will continue to Aveiro where you will have the opportunity to stroll through the streets. This will be followed by a moliceiro tour to see the city’s canals and admire the buildings from a different perspective. To finish this guided tour (affiliate link), nothing like a last stop in the Costa Nova location, well known for its houses painted with horizontal or vertical stripes.
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 biggest 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 in Central Portugal, 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 Central 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 amazed me the most when I visited the historic villages. When you visit this village you’ll travel 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, a religious 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 centre, the narrow streets, the synagogue (that turned into a museum), Pegões aqueduct and the National Forest of Sete Montes.
Information: are you staying in Lisbon and want to discover Tomar in the company of an experienced guide and without having to worry about hiring a car? If that’s the case, take the opportunity and travel back in time to the origins of Portugal with a tour to the land of the Knights Templar (affiliate link).
Start this unique experience with a visit to the castle of Almourol, a 12th century castle located on an island in the middle of Tagus river. Continue to the beautiful town of Constância, located just 6 km away and from there head north to the magnificent city of Tomar.
This city was considered the headquarters of the Knights Templar in Portugal and there you will find a beautiful historic centre as well as the magnificent castle and Convent of Christ, listed by UNESCO as a World Heritage Site. Book this 9-hour experience (affiliate link) and travel back in time!
7. Mira de Aire Caves
Portugal has many caves but, if you must visit one, go to 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 is 11 km of extension and was found in 1947.
During your visit, you’ll discover 600 metres of this natural beauty climbing 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 for the ticket 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 Central Portugal.
Conquered from the Moors 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.
Information: are you staying in Lisbon and want to discover Óbidos, Nazaré and Fátima without having to worry about preparing an itinerary nor hiring a car? If that’s the case, don’t hesitate and book this 9-hour activity (affiliate link) that will take you to those places and tell you more about their history, culture and religion.
In this article you found the 10 places you must see when you visit this beautiful region, but Central Portugal has much more to discover: Alcobaça, Peniche, Fátima, National Forest of Buçaco, Buddha Eden Garden and many other places.
Are you going to visit Central Portugal? Then don’t hesitate to book your hotel room, your car or the best activities by clicking the links below. This way you are helping me in the development of my blog and I’ll be able to offer you free tips and travel guides so that you can better prepare your visit to Portugal. Thank you!
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