The Highlights of Portugal: Lisbon, Porto and the Douro Valley

The Highlights of Portugal: Lisbon, Porto and the Douro Valley

Perched on the western edge of Europe, Portugal is a culture-rich country brimming with colour, flavour and abundant old-world charm. This vibrant country has a diverse beauty and a rich and complex history, closely tied to the sea.

Compared to Spain, it’s a relatively small country but it’s packed full of treasures. There are mountains crowned with castles and eclectic palaces, swathes of glorious coastline dotted with quaint fishing villages, and vineyards stretching for miles. Historic cities blend modern architecture with ancient monuments, and everywhere you go you’re assured of delicious cuisine, world-class wine and a very warm welcome.

But where do you begin?

We’ve spent time traversing the country in order to create a new tour, designed to introduce first-time visitors to the highlights of Portugal. Here’s a taster of what’s in store.

One of the highlights of Portugal: the capital, Lisbon
One of the highlights of Portugal: the capital, Lisbon

The Magic of Portugal

The inaugural tour of The Magic of Portugal departs in May 2025. Accommodating a maximum of twelve people, this small-group tour takes a luxurious look at some of the country’s finest sights.

From the enchanting capital of Lisbon to picturesque Porto, you’ll delve into the culture, food and heritage of the country’s two major cities. This contrasts beautifully with a trip into the majestic landscapes of the Douro Valley, where steep riverbanks are sculpted by centuries-old vineyards.

Scattered throughout this 11-day tour are side trips to explore some lesser-known highlights of Portugal – the wonders of Sintra, Cascais, Óbidos, Nazaré, Aveiro and Coimbra. We’ve arranged accommodation in a selection of fine hotels, and of course they’ll be plenty of opportunity to savour the tastes of Portugal through gastronomic meals and wine tastings.

Let’s explore The Magic of Portugal in more detail.

Exploring Aveiro in a traditional moliceiros boat
Exploring Aveiro in a traditional ‘moliceiros’ boat

Oh-so-Lovely Lisbon

One of the undisputed highlights of Portugal, Lisbon is Europe’s second-oldest capital city. Draped across seven hills, this elegant place whispers of the past, as buttercup-yellow trams and ancient funiculars rattle through cobbled alleys and up and down hills, past old-fashioned shops and buildings adorned in exquisite azulejo tiles.

Our base for the first four nights is a boutique hotel in downtown Lisbon, with luxurious rooms inspired by the hues of those iconic tiles. Get your bearings as we go on a guided walk past landmarks such as Praça do Comércio and Santa Justa Elevator, before a welcome dinner in the Baixa gives you a flavour of the Portuguese table.

Over the next few days, you’ll gain a deeper insight into life in this captivating city. Explore local neighbourhoods on a walking food and culture tour, learning about local history, architecture and city life while tucking into some icons of Portuguese cuisine, including the melt-in-your-mouth pastel de nata (flaky custard tarts).

Learn to shop, cook and eat like a local on a market-to-table cookery experience that covers everything from shopping in a local market to cooking – and eating – traditional Portuguese dishes. And enjoy an authentic Lisbon night out at a small fado club in Bairro Alto where good food, an intimate atmosphere and the melancholic tones of fado combine to mesmerising effect.

We’ll also whisk you out of the city to Sintra and Cascais, the one-time summer playground for Lisbon’s aristocracy. Perched on a hilltop in Sintra, the National Palace of Pena is a living fairytale. This romantic building is a magical mix of turrets, ramparts, gargoyles and domes, set amid a verdant landscape that rolls down to the ocean.

After exploring the palace and gardens, it’s off to the peaceful Quinta do Pisão in the heart of the Sintra-Cascais Natural Park for a picnic in the countryside. Then we’ll drive on to the chic coastal town of Cascais to wander its historic centre and stroll along the beach.

The magnificent Praça do Comércio in Lisbon
The magnificent Praça do Comércio in Lisbon

Dreamy Douro

For your next adventure, we’ll take you to the north of Portugal. The Douro Valley is your port of call, but we’ve time to squeeze in two lesser-known highlights of Portugal en route. First, we’ll travel back in time to the medieval fortified town of Óbidos, where all signs of modernity – TV aerials, traffic, etc. – have been eliminated from the tangle of narrow streets and alleyways.  

We’ll also stop at the former fishing village of Nazaré, where quaint fishing traditions have been superseded by a wave of surfers, drawn here in a quest to surf the world’s largest waves.

Then we’ll leave the cool breeze of the Atlantic behind and head inland to the Douro Valley, one of the world’s oldest demarcated wine regions and a UNESCO World Heritage Site. Home for the next two nights is an 18th century wine lodge turned boutique hotel, set in the pretty village of Pinhão. Grab a glass of Douro’s finest and settle on your balcony to gaze at panoramic views of the River Douro as it winds through the valley.

The following day is dedicated to the flavours and landscapes of this glorious region. First to a family-run winery responsible for some of the 20th century’s most renowned ports. After a vineyard tour, tasting and lunch overlooking the vines, you’ll hop on a boat to drift slowly along the river, drinking in dreamy views of vine-clad terraces and picturesque riverside towns. Round off the day in style with an evening meal of contemporary, regional cuisine at a local restaurant, accompanied by Douro wines and river views.

Terraced vineyards and the sinuous river running through the Douro Valley
Terraced vineyards and the sinuous river running through the Douro Valley

Picturesque Porto

Our final destination on this tour of Portugal’s highlights takes us to the mouth of the Douro and the country’s sublime second city. Rising on both banks of the estuary and joined by a network of dramatic bridges, Porto is a patchwork of colourful, tumbledown houses, grand Baroque churches, soaring bell towers and quaint cobbled streets.

Our hotel for the last four nights has a truly spectacular location in the Vila Nova de Gaia neighbourhood next to the iconic Dom Luis I bridge. It’s perfectly positioned, both for getting around the city with ease and visiting the famed port cellars we know you’re eager to explore!

Porto has an ever-growing reputation as a paradise for foodies, so what better way to experience this spectacular city than through its food? Accompanied by an expert, you’ll set off into the gastronomic heart of the city, the Mercado do Bolhão, and through local bars and delis, sampling a variety of traditional and lesser-known dishes, washed down with an array of local wines.

Of course, no visit to Porto is complete seeing one of its world-famous port lodges, and we’re taking you to one of our favourites for a double bill of tasty treats. First a guided tour of the cellars and a tutored tasting, then to the on-site restaurant for an evening meal of traditional Portuguese cuisine with a contemporary twist.   

You’ll have pockets of free time to explore Porto at your leisure, plus we’ve one more day trip in store to two fascinating towns located south of the city. First to the atmospheric college town of Coimbra, with its hilltop university dating back to 1290 and an array of historic monuments set within its medieval heart. Then to pretty Aveiro set on the edge of a coastal lagoon, often referred to as the ‘Venice of Portugal’ thanks to a small network of canals dotted with colourful ‘moliceiros’ boats.

Porto and the spectacular Dom Luís I Bridge
Porto and the spectacular Dom Luís I Bridge

Discover the Highlights of Portugal with Just Explore

If you’re interested in exploring the highlights of Portugal, keep your eyes peeled for our new tour, The Magic of Portugal, which will soon be listed on our website. To find out more or ask about joining a waiting list for the May 2025 tour, contact Just Explore today.  

One of our highlights of Portugal: a river cruise on the Douro
One of our highlights of Portugal: a river cruise on the Douro