The region between Lisbon and Porto is one of the richest areas of monuments in Portugal, with an exceptional architectonic, historical, and cultural heritage. University cities, picturesque towns, lighthouses on wild cliffs, forests and valleys, fishing villages and old monasteries full of charme.
You will discover the most authentic soul of Portugal among smiles, fishing nets, and steaming dishes of truly delicious traditional cuisine.
Central Portugal is a region boarded by the cities of Porto and Lisbon. This area of the country extends over 300 kilometers. It is possible to reach Porto from Lisbon in just three hours – or the other way around, of course. It is a place of great tourist importance, but also of historical and architectural interest.
Even if it may not be the first region of the country to come to tourist’s mind, Central Portugal has several attractions, monuments, and villages that deserve a visit.
Coimbra, located on the shores of the Mondego river, is a medieval town rich of history and art. It is home to one of the most important and oldest universities of Portugal; indeed it is known as the city of students.
That is why your first stop in town should be the University of Coimbra, founded in 1290 by King Dinis. The Cabra, that is to say the bell tower, watches the University and marks the rhythm of the academic life. Visit the baroque Joanina Library, and the Capela de Sao Miguel.
Coimbra is also home to numerous churches and religious buildings, including Sé Nova, a Jesuit church from 1598. The Queima do Grelo is celebrated around its square. Sé Velha is a romanic church with Renaissance portals and gothic cloisters built between 1164 and 1184. The Mosteiro de Santa Cruz was built in 1131 and it is home to the tombs of two kings. The Mosteiro de Santa Clara-a-Velha was built in Gothic style by order of Isabel of Aragon.
For what it comes to civil architectures, visit the Arch of Almedina, the main gateway to the old town, and Largo da Portagem, which is the main square of the city center. Nearby there are Santa Clara Bridge and Rua de Quebra Costas, with the Tricana statue depicting an allegorical figure.
Tomar is strictly connected to the Templars. It is very fascinating both because of its artistic and cultural heritage. The main attraction of this city is the Convento do Cristo, located inside the Templars Castle and which was declared a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1983.
There are many other places to visit in Tomar, such as the Church of São João Baptista, whose date of foundation remains unknown but whose reconstruction dates back to the end of the XV century in late gothic style. The Hermitage of Nossa Senhora da Conceição, built on a small hill next to the Templar Castle, is one of the most important examples of Renaissance Style in Portugal. In 1910 it became a national monument.
The Aqueduct of Due Pegões, built by the Italian architect Filippo Terzi in 1593, is also a very important attraction to see. It was built to bring fresh water to the Convent of Christ and it has a total of 180 arches. Lastly, the Church and the Convent of Saint Ira were built inside the Benedictine monastery of the XVI century, just where the martyrdom of Saint Ira took place. The interior of the complex was built in Renaissance style.
Obidos is a medieval village enclosed within tall city walls. The city is made of white houses with blue and ochre roofs, and it was declared UNESCO World Heritage Site. A visit around Obidos starts from Porta da Vila, its main entrance gate. Inside there is a beautiful chapel decorated with blue and white tiles.
The city walls of Obidos surround the whole city, and it is possible to walk through the entire perimeter. From the walls it is possible to admire a beautiful landscape. Rua Direita is the main street of Obidos, and it is full of shops. Here it is possible to purchase the Ginja, a typical local cherry liquor.
The Church of Saint Mary was built over the ruins of a mosque of the XII century, and it was seriously damaged during the earthquake of 1535. Among other interesting things to see there is the Aqueduct, built in the XVI century to bring water to the city. It was designed by Queen Catherine and today it remained perfectly intact.
Nazarè is the most famous fishing village of Portugal, thanks to its great location and its mild climate. At the harbor you can see fishermen fixing their nets while wearing their typical black hats, and their wives wearing colorful headscarves, wild skirts and clogs, selling fish and renting rooms for just a few euro. During summer months, you can’t miss a walk along the seaside on a Saturday in order to se the “Xàvega Art” show.
The city is divided into three urban centers:
Fatima is one of the world’s most famous pilgrimage sites. Many people decide to reach this place through the Camino de Fatima. Do not miss a visit to Cova da Ira, known also as the Sanctuary of Fatima. It located one kilometer away from the city and it is the place where the Virgin Mary appeared in front of the shepherds. The main center of this sanctuary is the Chapel of the Apparitions.
The Basilica of Our Lady of the Rosary was built in 1928 and it was consecrated in 1953. The Basilica is dominated by a 65-meter-high tower with a bronze crown at its top. Inside the Basilica it is possible to admire some magnificent altars, walls, and religious images. Here there are the tombs of the three shepherds.
The square of the Basilica can gather up to 300.000 people, who come together during the most important dates of the year. At the center of the square there is the Monument to the Sacred Heart of Jesus. At the entrance of the Sanctuary is it possible to see a piece of the Berlin Wall, which was brought here to acknowledge God’s will for the fall of communism.
Lastly, the Church of the Holy Trinity was inaugurated in 2007. It is located in front of the Basilica and it was built in modern style by the architect Alexandros Tombazis.
Aveiro, also called the Portuguese Venice, is a town known because of its beautiful canals sailed by the Moliceiros, a kind of local gondolas used almost exclusively by tourists. Along these picturesque canals it is possible to admire a series of houses built in art nouveau style.
It is interesting to visit the Cathedral of Aveiro, built in baroque style. It is the seat of the Diocese of Aveiro. It was consecrated in 1464; at first it was connected to the Dominican Convent, which was lately destroyed into a fire. Among other religious buildings it is worth to visit the Jesus Monastery, founded in 1458 and home to the Museum of Aveiro, where it is possible to admire server paintings, sculptures, carved objects, tiles, and jewels.
The Jardim do Rossio is a very beautiful garden located near the lagoon; it is perfect to relax and enjoy some free time. It is a neighborhood garden with a very traditional atmosphere, boarded by several Art Nouveau buildings. Lastly, you can’t have a full tour of the city without visiting the Vista Alegre Museum, located a few kilometers away from the city center. It is the museum of one of the world’s most famous ceramic brands, purchased by the Queen of England and the King of Spain Juan Carlos. The place is very beautiful, although it looks like a ghost city; in the past it was a walled city that housed the company’s workers.
Lastly, if you want to enjoy some fun and relax, Praia da Costa Nova is the beach of the city and it is famous because of its picturesque houses painted with colorful, vertical stripes.
Cabo Carvoeiro is located on the westernmost point of the Peniche peninsula, in front of the Berlengas archipelago, inside a natural reserve. This 25 meters tall cliff is characterized by a majestic lighthouse. It is a very suitable place for marine birdwatching. The lighthouse dates back to 1790 and it is one of the oldest of Portugal.
In the area there is also the Chapel of Nossa Senhora dos Remedios, whose construction date is unknown, but it is supposed date back to the 16th century. It can be reached through a staircase made of 617 steps. The facade is made of white plaster with elegant curves of granite and it is decorated with azulejos.
It is also interesting to visit the Gruta da Furninha, a natural cave where archeological evidences have been found, such as traces related to Neanderthals: hunting tools and pieces of ceramics.
The Alcobaça Monastery, located in the town of Alcobaça, represents one of the most important examples of cistercian architecture in Europe. Thanks to its architectural beauty and its artistic value, in 1989 it was declared a UNESCO World Heritage Site.
It represents one of the first monuments of Portugal belonging to the Cistercian Order in Portugal. It was founded by King Afonso I, and it was built thanks to the donations of the lands of Alcobaça to the Order to commemorate the victory over the Moors during the conquer of Santarém.
The realization of the interior of the Church followed the design of the Abbey of Clairvaux, which is a Latin-cross building with a transept and three aisles, with decorations and a row of windows. For this reason this building will conquer you because of its size and its feeling of elevation and spirituality.
At the center of each branch of the transept it is possible to admire two medieval masterpieces: the tombs of Dom Pedro I and Dona Inês, located one in front of the other in order to meet again on the Day of Resurrection.
Do not miss a visit to the Refectory, the Dormitory, the Monk’s Hall, the Dinis Cluster, the Kitchen, and the Kings’ Hall.
If you are visiting the Alcobaça Monastery, you can stay at a small yet lovely hotel: the Real Abadia Hotel.
The Monastery of Batalha, also known as the Convent of Santa Maria da Vitória, was realized in Gothic- Manueline style between the XIV and the XV century. It was constructed in 1385 in commemoration of Battle of Aljubarrota against John I of Castile.
The exterior of the Monastery is made of white stones from Porto de Mós, which now turned yellow because of the passing of the time. The church has no bell tower, which is a common characteristic of all the churches built by Dominican monks. The interior is long and narrow, simple and with just a few decors. The light comes through the central aisle thanks to its ten windows and two more windows located on the side walls. Inside the monastery there are five chapels, including the central apse.
Also this monastery of Central Portugal was declared a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1983 because of its architectural beauty and its historical significance.
Belmonte is probably the area of Portugal with the strongest Jewish presence. This culture arrived here at the beginning of the XVI century and today it is still present. Do not miss a visit to the Museu Judaico, the first Jewish museum of Portugal which exhibits the history of this people, their integration in the society and their role in the local culture.
Speaking of museums, the Museu do Azeite shows the production technique of olive oil and the importance of this product in the local economy. The Museu dos Descobrimentos exhibits one of the greatest achievements in the history of the Portuguese discovery: Brasil. Lastly, the Ecomuseu do Zezere showcases the history of the Zezere river, which was built within the ancient Tulha dos Cabrais.
Do not miss a visit to Belmonte Castle, located at the top of a hill on the Zezere river. The history of this medieval castle is linked to the Portuguese discoveries.
Viseu is an ancient, welcoming, lively city; it is also gray because of the color of the granite used to build many of its buildings. Visit the Cathedral, located on a rocky hill dominating the whole city; it was made in granite around the XIII century, following a mix of architectural styles.
The Church of Mercy, built in 1775, is also very beautiful. The exterior is in rococò style, with a facade made with contrasting white walls and gray granite pillars. The interior is sober, in Neo-Classical style, creating a strong contrast with the facade. The Church of São Francisco dos Terceiros is another interesting religious architecture built in baroque style in the XVIII century. Inside the church there are several baroque decors and a collection of tiles depicting the story of Saint Francis.
Museum lovers should not miss a visit to the Grão Vasco Museum, located inside the Paço dos Tres Escalões and exhibiting the works of the Renaissance painter Grão Vasco. It is also worth to visit the Almeida Moreira Museum to see its antique furnitures and a collection of works of art featuring paintings, sculptures, tapestry, and ceramic tiles.
Costa Nova became a very popular beach destination during the nineteenth century, thanks also to the politician José Estevão who built his palheiro (a typical construction of this coastal region), where intellectuals and other politicians used to gather. Today it is famous for its houses painted with colorful stripes, from white to red, green, blue, yellow, or brown.
There typical structures, which were initially used by fishermen to store their fishing gear, were rented by fishermen on summer time. In order to give to this structures a better appeal, fishermen began to paint the exterior tables with glittering colors.
Costa Nova is the ideal destination for those who want to spend a relaxing day among restaurants, cafes, beach walks, and the fish market.
Sortelha is a beautiful medieval town surrounded by a perfectly preserved city wall. In order to access to this village it is necessary to walk through the Varanda de Pilatos, an ancient gothic gateway. Among the main points of interest of this village, there are the Castle and walls: the castle dates back to the XII century and it was built on a rocky hill, while the walls have moorish origins.
It is also interesting to see the Pelourinho, or pillory, built in 1510 by order or King Manuel I, known as the Adventurous or the Lucky. It is made of a column with an octagonal base and a capital with the national arms.
Do not miss a visit to the Menagem Tower, located inside the castle, which was built in Romanic style. Lastly, the Matriz Church, dedicated to Nossa Senhora das Neves, is worth a visit: it is possible to admire an interesting ceiling carved in Spanish-Arab style, and the gilded woodwork of the high altar.
Monsanto is known for being “the quintessentially Portuguese village in Portugal”. It is a fortress-village that was never conquered. The first thing to visit is its castle, located at the top of the village, offering a beautiful view. The castle probably has Roman origins, following the standards of Templare architecture.
Do not miss the Church of Sao Miguel, a small church of Roman origins from where you can admire the view over the valley as well as the Torre do Lucano, which represents the remains of the castle. It is also known as the clock tower and it is topped by silver rooster, a trophy awarded in 1938 to Monsanto for being the most quintessentially Portuguese village in Portugal.
Castelo Rodrigo is a medieval village probably founded by Alfonso IX of León, surrounded by majestic walls keeping the identity of the village that was attacked several times from both its borders. It is possible to visit the Palace of San Cristóvão de Moura, a residence built by King Dom Dinis; after three wars of Independence today it seems completely destroyed, but its defensive structures and palaces have been preserved.
In a Portuguese village you can’t miss the Pelourinho, that is to say the pillory. It was probably built in the XVI in Manueline style, and it is made of a octagonal column with a square base and a cone-shaped cage. A bell tower was added to the old wall that protected the fortress, which originally had a clock with granite weights. It is also possible to visit the cistern, which played a key role in providing fresh water during war and siege times.
Sabugal is a lovely medieval town, showing off all its charm especially in the evening. It is located along the Coa river, and it has a majestic fortified castle with beautiful crenellated walls. One of the main points of interest of the city is the beautiful Serra da Malcata Natural Reserve, where there are many protected animals and plants.
The castle represents the major point of interest of the city. It is one of the best preserved castles of Portugal, and it is located on the top of a hill. It was built in 1296 and later restored by order of King Manuel I. The fortification has four towers at each corner and along the walls it is possible to see the several cracks used to shoot against the enemy. You can’t miss a visit at the top of the tower to admire the landscape.
It is also possible to visit the Church of Mercy, the Pelourinho, and the three gardens Jardim das Poldras, Jardim do Largo da Fonte and Jardins da Ponte.
Linhares da Beira, located on the western side of Serra da Estrela, is a medieval town of the XII century. It represents the architectonical and artistic result of different times.
The castle, which represents the symbol of the city, was built during the kingdom of Don Dinis: it respects the geology of the territory and it is located on a huge rocky hill where you can admire a spectacular view. Two big crenellated towers, one to the west and one to the east, rise at the corners of the perimeter wall.
It is possible to visit the Igreja Matriz, built in Romanic style and rebuilt during the XVII century. Inside the church there are three valuable wood paintings attributed to Grão Vasco. It is also interesting to observe the small tribune near a table stone, which represents a unique example of the mediaeval forum used to announce important decisions to the population. Next to it there is the 16th-century granite pillory, surmounted by an armillary sphere.
You can’t miss Serra da Estrela if you love nature. The park offers a series of activities, historical villages, and food tasting. The Serra indeed is made of a series of glacial valleys, rivers, forests, historical villages, natural springs, wild animals, and much more.
Serra da Estrela, also known as “the roof of Portugal“, is the highest mountain range of continental Portugal. Thanks to the beauty of the landscape, the abundance of water resources, and the uniqueness of its fauna, this park was labeled as a biogenetic reserve by the European Council.
The landscape of the Serra changes according to the altitude; the lowest slopes are covered with green pasture lands and are mostly used to breed sheep and for agricultural purposes, while the upper cliffs and slopes are bare and offer spectacular views over valleys and glaciers.
There is much to do and see in the Serra da Estrela from hikes and trekking, to mountain-biking, paragliding, and winter skiing. It is such a spectacular place to explore and it features a series of marked paths within the Park.
It is also possible to go on a 13 km walk to the glacier Zêzere, or to reach the glaciers of Comprida and Escura.
The paths passing trough the most isolated villages of the Serra offer a great opportunity to discover the heritage of this region and taste its delicacies, including the famous sheep cheese also known as “queijo da serra“.
In the following map you can see the location of the main places of interest mentioned in this article
Central Portugal is characterized by very different types of landscape. It can switch from mountain to ocean, from natural parks to century-old monasteries.
There are some great hotels in the city of Coimbra, which could be the perfect base as its central position will allow to visit its surrounding area. Also the city of Tomar could be an interesting choice, with the Hotel dos Templarios, the Hotel Cavalieros de Cristo and the Hotel Trovador offering great services.
A great idea for those who visit the city of Obidos is to spend at least one night inside the castle, sleeping at the Pousada do Castelo.
Lastly, if you decide to stay at Nazarés you will have plenty of choice of great hotels and small guesthouses. This city attracts many tourists, therefore it could be a little less authentic compared to the rest of the area.