Portugal is best known by tourists for Lisbon and the Algarve, but the rest of the country is definitely worth a visit. There are countless places to choose from that remain relatively untouched by tourism, and there are 22 UNESCO World Heritage sites to visit.
In-between vast stretches of rolling hills, valleys, farmland and rivers lie quaint towns and cities where you can enjoy a taste of authentic Portugal. Once you get out of the major cities, you’re in road trip heaven. One day driving through countryside roads and you’d be forgiven for thinking the entire country is made up of white-washed houses and vineyards.
Nestled in central Portugal, the city of Evora is one of the most historic cities in the country and a UNESCO World Heritage site. It’s home to the well preserved Roman Temple, named after the Roman goddess Diana, the Sé cathedral and the Chapel of Bones (see picture), which is lined with the bones of more than 5,000 bodies exhumed from the city’s graveyards. If that’s a bit too morbid for your liking, you can stroll through the centre’s cobbled streets and traditional houses, sampling the best of the country’s deserts.
Just an hour’s drive from Lisbon, the city has a lot to offer, but it’s also very laidback, with summers that can reach over 30 degrees. The centre is quite compact, with the The Praça do Giraldo square serving all your cultural and culinary needs.
Evora is a city packed full of history, culture and authentic cuisine – but with a serenity that’s hard to find in other cities.
For a really special detour, take a trip to one of Portugal’s most historic – and peaceful – villages, where there’s a castle right in the middle to prove it. Built on top of a hill, a simple walk through this beautiful village and UNESCO heritage site will give you an insight into its history, as you pass manor houses, fountains, churches and old gallows.
Vila Nova de Foz Côa
This valley city, nestled in north-eastern Portugal, near the border with Spain, is also a Unesco World Heritage site. Top of your list should be seeing the nearby prehistoric rock art site at the Côa Valley, an open-air Paleolithic archaeological site featuring drawings of animals from the period. There are three visitor centres where you can visit the rock etchings – since it’s a working archaeological site, you’re unable to view it without booking a tour guide.
The Douro Valley
The Douro Valley is arguably one of the most beautiful parts of the entire country, with an exceptional landscape steeped in history. You can admire the views over the river, and visit vineyards for a spot of wine tasting in another World Heritage Site. The wine region here produces the famous Port Wine, grown in the oldest demarcated wine region in the world.
There are many points along the river worth a visit, while you’re in the area, to take in the scenery, including São Leonardo da Galafura and Quinta do Noval. The area has become a lot more accessible in recent years, with the construction of a new road – so visit it soon.