A Guide to Central Portugal: 10 Must-Visit Towns & Cities

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Written by: | Last updated on September 22, 2023 | Est. Reading Time: 7 minutes
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Embracing the heartland of Portugal, the Central region is a living tapestry of the country’s rich and diverse heritage, enveloping vibrant cities, ancient castles, serene mountains, and verdant vineyards. Steeped in history and culture, Central Portugal seamlessly blends the old and the new, the rural and the urban, the serene and the exciting. From the time-weathered university town of Coimbra to the enchanting mountain villages of Serra da Estrela and the blissful beaches of the Silver Coast, this region is a medley of contrasting yet harmonious landscapes.

This region’s appeal is characterised not just by its scenic beauty but also its history, brimming with UNESCO World Heritage Sites, age-old ruins, and well-preserved medieval towns. Castelo Branco’s famous embroidered bedspreads and Guarda’s ancient Jewish Quarter reveal the region’s deep-seated artisanal and cultural traditions. Central Portugal is also home to the country’s highest peak, Serra da Estrela, beloved for its natural beauty, hiking trails, and artisanal cheese.

Useful Resources for Your Trip to Central Portugal

Here’s our top tips and tricks for getting the best deals for your trip to Central Portugal. 

  • Accommodation: Booking.com and Airbnb are the two most comprehensive websites for finding hotels, hostels, apartments, and other types of accommodation in Central Portugal. 
  • Car Rental: Discover Cars and Rental Cars are the two most useful sites for booking local car rental, particularly from Lisbon and Porto Airport. 
  • Airport transfers: There are taxis and Ubers at Lisbon and Porto Airport, but you can also pre-book an airport transfer with Welcome Pickups
  • Tours & Things to Do: Both Get Your Guide and Viator list lots of local tours and activities in Central Portugal and the rest of Portugal. 
  • Luggage Storage: Luggage Hero and Bounce are two great sites for finding places to store your luggage in Portugal, including Central Portugal. 
  • Public Transport: Cp.pt is the main website for trains in Portugal. For longer distance buses, see Rede Expressos. Flixbus.pt often has cheap tickets between cities in Portugal. 
  • Flights: Skyscanner and Google Flights are the two most useful websites for finding flights to Portugal. The nearest airports to Central Portugal are Lisbon and Porto Airport. 

Towns & Cities to Visit

Coimbra

view of Coimbra from the river

Located roughly halfway between Lisbon and Porto, Coimbra is home to one of Europe’s oldest universities and exudes a vibrant academic atmosphere. Explore the historic University of Coimbra, visit the stunning Joanina Library, and stroll through the charming old town. Don’t miss the Fado ao Centro, a unique cultural center where you can experience traditional Portuguese fado music.

Nazaré

Nazare beach from above

Located approximately 120 kilometers (75 miles) north of Lisbon, Nazaré is a picturesque fishing village turned popular seaside resort. Famous for its gigantic waves, it attracts surfers from around the world. Don’t miss the opportunity to witness the awe-inspiring spectacle of the Praia do Norte waves. Explore the colorful narrow streets of the village and savor delicious fresh seafood at local restaurants.

Peniche

bridge in Peniche

Situated about 90 kilometers (56 miles) north of Lisbon, Peniche is a coastal town renowned for its beautiful beaches and incredible surfing conditions. It is also known for its historic fort, Fortaleza de Peniche, which served as a prison during the Portuguese dictatorship. Take a boat trip to the Berlengas archipelago, a stunning nature reserve with crystal-clear waters, ideal for snorkelling and diving enthusiasts.

Aveiro

View of Aveiro Canal

Known as the “Venice of Portugal,” Aveiro is a delightful coastal city situated about 75 kilometers (47 miles) south of Porto. Its picturesque canals, colorful Moliceiro boats, and stunning Art Nouveau architecture make it a must-visit destination. Indulge in local specialties, such as ovos moles (sweet egg yolks wrapped in wafer paper) and soft saltwater taffy, known as tripas de Aveiro.

Fátima

Fatima Sanctuary

A renowned pilgrimage site, Fátima attracts millions of visitors each year. Located approximately 130 kilometers (81 miles) north of Lisbon, it is famous for the apparitions of the Virgin Mary that occurred in 1917. Visit the Basilica of Our Lady of Fátima and the Chapel of Apparitions. The Candle Procession, held on the 12th and 13th of every month, is a moving experience.

Serra da Estrela

Situated in the eastern part of Central Portugal, Serra da Estrela is the country’s largest mountain range and a paradise for nature lovers. Explore the stunning landscapes, hike through picturesque trails, and during the winter months, enjoy skiing and snowboarding at Portugal’s only ski resort. The region is also renowned for its delectable Serra da Estrela cheese.

Batalha

Front entrance of batalha monastery

Located about 130 kilometers (81 miles) north of Lisbon, Batalha is home to the awe-inspiring Monastery of Batalha, a UNESCO World Heritage site. Immerse yourself in the intricate Gothic architecture of this grand masterpiece. Nearby, you can also explore the beautiful medieval village of Óbidos, known for its well-preserved castle walls.

Caldas da Rainha

square in Caldas da Rainha

Positioned roughly 85 kilometers (53 miles) north of Lisbon, Caldas da Rainha is a charming town famous for its thermal waters and ceramic traditions. Visit the vibrant daily fruit market at Praça da Fruta and explore the ceramics quarter, where you can find unique hand-painted pottery. Don’t miss the beautiful Parque Dom Carlos I, a peaceful park perfect for a leisurely stroll.

Óbidos

obidos castle

Óbidos is a charming medieval town in Portugal, encapsulated by well-preserved fortified walls. Known for its picturesque streets, whitewashed buildings, and historical landmarks, the town offers a glimpse into Portugal’s rich past. Visitors can explore the old town, walk along the ancient walls, visit the impressive castle, and indulge in local specialties like ginjinha. With its romantic ambiance and unique blend of history and culture, Óbidos is a must-visit destination for travelers seeking a truly authentic Portuguese experience.

Belmonte

Belmonte-View

Nestled in the heart of the Cova da Beira region, Belmonte is known for its rich Jewish heritage. Explore the beautifully preserved Belmonte Castle, the Jewish Museum, and the historic Jewish quarter. Take a journey through history and discover the story of the Belmonte Crypto-Jews.

Viseu

viseu buildings

Situated approximately 290 kilometers (180 miles) north of Lisbon, Viseu is a historic city with a charming medieval center. Admire the grandeur of the Viseu Cathedral, stroll along the Rua Direita, and visit the Grão Vasco Museum, home to an impressive collection of Portuguese art.

Regional Foods

Central Portugal boasts a mouthwatering array of traditional dishes that reflect the region’s culinary heritage. Don’t miss the opportunity to indulge in delicacies such as roasted suckling pig (leitão assado), codfish fritters (pastéis de bacalhau), black pudding (morcela), and traditional rice pudding (arroz doce). Wash it all down with a glass of Dão wine, renowned for its robust and fruity character.

Nearest Airports

For those traveling to Central Portugal, the nearest airports are Lisbon Airport (LIS) and Porto Airport (OPO). Lisbon Airport is well-connected to major international destinations, while Porto Airport is another convenient gateway with a growing number of international flights. From both airports, you can easily reach the various towns and cities in Central Portugal via public transportation or by renting a car.

When to Visit

Central Portugal is a year-round destination. The summer months from June to September offer warm temperatures and are ideal for beach lovers. Spring and autumn, from March to May and September to November, respectively, provide pleasant weather for outdoor activities and sightseeing, with fewer crowds. Winter months from December to February are perfect for experiencing the snowy landscapes of Serra da Estrela.

Central Portugal beckons visitors with its captivating towns, breathtaking landscapes, and a tapestry of rich history and culture. Whether you’re seeking vibrant city life, coastal adventures, or serene mountain retreats, this region offers a delightful blend of experiences that will leave you enchanted and yearning for more.