You can’t help but notice that Portugal feels different from its Western European neighbors. Yeah, it has romantic cities with the usual tourist zones, but get into the wild and you’ll find hiking trails where you can amble for hours without passing another hiker and unlittered beaches with waves you can catch alone. Portugal still feels unchartered in some ways. There are adventure opportunities ranging from hiking to campervanning to surfing at every edge of the country. The uncrowdedness of Portugal’s natural areas lends some adventure back to getting outside, and that’s something worth recognizing.
Want to experience some of the best outdoor experiences in Portugal? Let’s go.
Walk Really, Really Far Along the Coast
Best Walking Trail: The Camino Portugués
While most travelers are familiar with the Camino de Santiago, the Camino Portugués is a less well-known alternative where you can still wind up at the famous Santiago de Compostela. The Camino Portugués technically starts in Lisbon (616km) but you can avoid some of the less enchanting parts of the journey by starting your trek up north in Porto (240km). Pilgrims walking independently on this route will have the benefit of fewer crowds (about a third as many as you’d see on the Camino Frances) and a trail well marked with yellow arrows. Tip: Want someone to show you the way? Check out the walking routes offered by Walk Hike Portugal!
Surfing Pointbreak Waves on the Southern Coast
Best Surf Spot: Algarve Region
The feedback I’ve gotten on surfing in Portugal is that if you go to Portugal but you don’t go surfing in Portugal, why did you even bother going in the first place? Ok, so even I didn’t go, but everyone raves about the Southern coast of Portugal for a surf trip. Legendary beaches like Arrifana and Sagres are just a few hours from each other by car, and the diversity of pointbreak, jetty break, and beach break waves makes surfing in Portugal manageable for any level of surfer.
Cover Lots Ground in a Campervan
Best Campervan Spot: Alentejo Region
Traveling Portugal by campervan is a right of passage for any self-proclaimed adventure traveler. Just load up your van with everything you need for an adventure and set off along the cork tree-lined backroads. While all of Portugal is well established for campervan travel, perhaps the best drives are in the Alentejo region between Lisbon and Sagres. You’ll see dramatic coastlines and plenty of beaches that hug up with the Atlantic, plus, there are plenty of places to park your van and explore. You can only trouble will be waking up with sand in your bed, and that, my dear, isn’t so bad at all.
Wanna learn more about campervan travel in Portugal? Check out this post on everything you need to know about exploring Portugal by van.
Stand On Water on a Stand-Up Paddleboard
Best SUP Spot: Cascais
If you’re not quite up for surfing, stand up paddling (SUP) is the next best way to get time on the water. The bigger board makes for greater stability so you have fewer chances of getting dragged under by a big wave. Head to some of the nice beaches in Cascais – Carcavelos, Guincho or Praia Grande – to give SUP’ing a shot. Tip: No idea what you’re doing on a stand-up paddleboard? Get a lesson with Beyond Boards.
Go Wherever the Wind Takes You On a Kitesurfboard
Best Kitesurfing Spot: Esposende
Kitesurfing has never really taken off in the US, but Europeans are INTO it. If you want to try kitesurfing in Portugal, the best place to go is Esposende. There, kiters will find consistent wind all summer, and year-round good waves. Tip: There’s a Kitesurf Camp at Cable Park where the water is flat and ocean waves are just a few meters away. You can stay here for one to two weeks during the summer months and really get into the sport.
Explore Fairytale Castles on Foot
Best Hiking Spot: Sintra
Sintra Natural Park is best known as the park with the fairytale castle on the hill (Pena Palace). Perhaps less acknowledged is that the 145 km² park is packed with hiking trails. Sintra Natural Park is easy to access as you can hike from Sintra straight into the park. Once you’re in, a walk in any direction will take you somewhere new. You can hike up the Santa Maria trail (1.5 hours) to Pena Palace and the Moorish Castle or get all the way out to Cabo da Roca (6 hours) without ever hopping in a car.
Get Stuck Between Rock [Climbing] and a Hard Place
Best Rock Climbing Spot: Pedra do Urso
Since the 1950’s, climbers have been coming to Portugal for its many single and multi-pitch routes. There’s a huge variety of spots for rock climbing in Portugal, ranging from the granite mountains of Portugal’s North to the emblematic routes on the Western side of the Moorish Castle in Sintra. Pedra do Urso is by far the largest bouldering area in Portugal, with thousands of climbing routes to choose from.
Traveling in Portugal? You might also like:
- Road Rules: Portugal by Campervan
- 9 Reasons You’ll Never Want to Leave Cascais
- What is Portuguese Food, Anyway?
- Stay Strange: The Eclectic Bungalows in Estoril