As a destination for hiking, Portugal is mainly known for its dramatic islands and coastlines, contoured by dramatic limestone cliffs and constantly battered by the Atlantic waves.
But you may be surprised by what Portugal has in store for you inland as well. After living in Portugal for several years, I keep discovering great new hikes with a great diversity of landscapes.
Given that Portugal has a surface area of more than 90,000 km², I wouldn’t claim these are the only best hikes in Portugal. I still haven’t seen it all! Since I’m based in Lisbon I’ve also mostly hiked in the south- and center of Portugal.
Still, since I live in Portugal I’ve had the pleasure of going on numerous hikes here. These are the top trails in Portugal I love to recommend!
1. Serra da Lousã (and the Schist villages)
The Lousã mountains in Central Portugal don’t seem to be so well-known among international tourists, but they are absolutely one of my favorite places in Portugal to go hiking.
The atmosphere is quite different here from the coast, perhaps making you feel like you’re some kind of Medieval fantasy world.
You can start your hike at the Lousã Castle, a small fortification from the 11th century once used to defend the valley against Moorish invaders. From there, several trails will take you to scenic half-abandoned mountain villages where you can stop for a coffee or lunch.
The villages look different from elsewhere in Portugal; they’re not made with whitewashed plaster, but constructed from stacks of schist shale rocks.
Trail PR2 will take you to three of the villages in a 3-hour loop, but many other routes are possible, and you can chain several together for a longer trek. The paths and directions are well signposted but there is no color-coding for any of the routes, so it’s helpful to know your route or use an app like Maps.me.
The Serra da Lousã gets more rainfall than more southern parts of Portugal, so the vegetation is especially lush. You’ll find fields of ferns, paths with moss-covered stone walls, and lots of gnarly oak and cork trees.
Getting there: it’s easiest to drive there, but you can also take the train to Coimbra, then take a 50-minute bus to Lousã
2. Rota Vicentina
The Rota Vicentina is a network comprising over 700km of trails in the Alentejo region (between Lisbon and the Algarve). The trails run through some of Portugal’s most beautiful coastal landscapes, earning international recognition and known as one of the best areas for multi-day trekking in Portugal.
Walking the whole way north to south (or vice versa) would take you about two weeks, but you can cherry-pick the best parts of Rota Vicentina if your time is limited. There are two major routes: the Historical Way (more forests and rural landscapes) and the Fisherman’s Trail (coastal). Some of the best parts of the Fisherman’s Trail are between the towns of Almograve and Odeceixe.
Most walkers go for the Fisherman’s Trail but don’t discount the beauty of the Historical Way; I loved hiking through the cork oak forests, traditional farmland, and past creeks and little towns with white-washed buildings with colorful windowsills.
The best time to walk the Rota Vicentina is spring when the temperatures are mild, flowers are blooming, and when white storks nest on many of the rocky cliffs along the shore (this is the only place in the world where this behavior can be seen).
The trails were extended in 2020, meaning you can now hike from Cabo de Sao Vicente all the way to Lagos, adding a technical but rewarding section through the Algarve.
More info: the excellent official Rota Vicentina website has tons of information. All the trails are very well signposted and maintained. I also wrote about the 6 things you need to know about the Rota Vicentina.
Getting there: it depends on your route, but buses from the Rede Expressos network can take you from Lisbon or Lagos in the Algarve to many of the towns that can serve as a starting point for your hike.
3. The magical forests of Sintra
The Serra de Sintra is the most beautiful forested area that’s close to Lisbon. Sintra is actually mainly known as the site of many beautiful palaces, castles, and gardens, and it’s a popular day-trip from Lisbon, but I think it’s secretly the forests that also make it a great place to go.
In Sintra you’ll find tranquil pine forests with moss-covered granite boulders, cork oak trees among ferns, and sequoia trees covered in ivy. Several small lakes dot the center of the mountain range and there are some great viewpoints all around.
I’ve been hiking in Sintra many times. Once, I even went on a night hike through the forest when it sparkling with the pulsating lights of fireflies everywhere (they can usually be seen around June and July).
You can find a long list of Sintra hikes on Wikiloc.com. I did the Lakes of Sintra hike, which is a pretty stiff one but very nice. You can also improvise a route — at the heart of the park, all the trails kind of cross-cross everywhere.
If you’re looking for some nice landmarks to target for a hike, consider hiking to the Convento dos Capuchos or to the Sanctuary of Peninha. This is a ruined palace and chapel located at 448m from where you can get panoramic views of the coast including Cascais and Lisbon.
More info: the official site lists many hiking trails
Getting there: drive or take a train from Lisbon (regular departures from Rossio station and take about 40 minutes)
4. Islands of the Azores
The diverse volcanic landscapes of Portugal’s Atlantic islands make them a true hiking paradise. All islands on the Azores have some great hikes, but I’d like to give a special recommendation to the island of São Jorge.
It’s not as well-known as the main island of São Miguel (where about two-thirds of visitors to the Azores go), but that just means you’ll have it more to yourself when you hit the trails. It’s a real hidden gem.
A central mountain range runs along almost the entire length of São Jorge, forming more or less an elongated plateau. Down the shoreside cliffs are so-called fajãs, which are small plains once formed by lava flows or landslides. At these fajãs you’ll find tiny villages that can be reached only by windy roads or sometimes by walking trail only.
I can highly recommend the Caldeira de Santo Cristo trail on São Jorge, which is marked as trail PR01 SJO and is easy to follow. You’ll walk via paths surrounded by seas of blue hortensias and yellow ginger-lilies, passing by lush landscapes, waterfalls, and tiny hamlets backed by massive cliffs.
Another Azores island with great hikes is Pico island, which also features Portugal’s highest point — the 2351 meter tall dormant volcano of Mt. Pico. It’s a highly challenging 6-hour mountain climb, which you can do either independently or with a guide from the local agency Epico.
But the island with by far the most trails is the largest island of São Miguel. Don’t miss my top trails on São Miguel.
More info: the official site lists many hiking trails
Getting there: the islands of São Miguel and Terceira have flights from mainland Portugal and international destinations including the UK and US. You can read my detailed guide to visiting the Azores.
5. Pedrógão Grande
When I went hiking the Serra da Lousã (described above), I actually stayed in a town 45 minutes further south called Pedrógão Grande. This area is home to an amazing river lake formed by the Cabril dam and some less-known but beautiful hikes.
I should mention that the area was badly affected by the 2017 forest fires in Portugal and some forest parts are still recovering, but the PR2 Zêzere Trail is completely unaffected and I can highly recommend it.
The 2-hour hike starts in the cute town of Pedrógão Pequeno, goes down a cobblestone road lined by moss-covered walls, and into a river valley. You pass by the granite stone Philippine Bridge, which is over 400 years old and is at the site of an ancient Roman road. The trail goes through a mysterious tunnel, then back up the canyon cliffs for some wonderful vistas.
How to get there: easiest reached using your own transportation, though Pedrógão Grande does have a bus station and a path connecting to the PR2 trail.
6. The Berlengas Islands
The Berlengas Islands are located just off the coast from the surfer town of Peniche, which is about an hour’s drive from Lisbon. A 30-minute boat ride will take you to these barren and rocky islands, which are sure to make you feel like you’re on a pirate hideout. (In fact, it was long known as a place of shipwrecks and pirate raids.)
Many of the activities around Berlengas take place on the water, such as SUP, kayaking, or scuba diving. However, it’s also a popular place to go walking and enjoy a bit of sea breeze. There’s a gorgeous fortress on the largest island, the Fort of São João Baptista, which now serves as a basic pousada (hostel) where you can stay the night.
Visitor numbers are now capped at 550 per day in order to protect the flora and fauna and maintain sustainable levels of tourism. In the summer high season, you may wish to buy a ticket ahead of time.
The main island is just 1,5 km across, so don’t expect to do very long hikes here. Still, it’s great to take a walk in this nature reserve, possibly followed by a refreshing swim at the Carreiro do Mosteiro beach.
How to get there: travel to the surfer town of Peniche, then take a ferry boat
7. Serra da Arrábida
This natural park south of Lisbon is a fantastic example of Portugal’s coastal landscapes. You’ll see bright blue seas, gnarly limestone coastal cliffs, and some amazing hidden beaches and coves — and it’s just a 40-minute drive from the capital.
Parts of this region have tree cover, but most of it is low shrubland, so keep in mind that it can be quite exposed to the sun. It’s best for a spring or autumn hike. If you go in summer, bring lots of water.
The Serra da Arrábida is sadly one of those hiking areas in Portugal that lack good signage, though there are plenty of good paths to choose from. I had the fortune of doing hikes here with a hiking group from Lisbon. My friend Joao, who is a local hiking devotee, took us through plenty of narrow bush-covered paths and even showed us a hidden cave away from the main paths (it’s called the Lapa da Cova and it’s on Maps.me).
If you’re not so lucky to have a guide, you can still do some great self-guided hikes along the Arrábida coast. Key landmarks include the Cabo Espichel, a cape with epic cliffs and a picturesque lighthouse, and the Serra do Risco mountain top.
How to get there: an easy way to get started is to travel to the seaside town of Sesimbra from where you can follow coastal trails either west or east.
8. The Algarve Coast
Portugal’s southern Algarve coast may be known mostly as a beach holiday destination, but there are some fantastic trails along the coast here as well.
The Seven Hanging Valleys Trail is the most noteworthy, as it gives you amazing vistas of coastal limestone cliffs where ages of erosion have created numerous sea caves, sink holes, and pillars.
This beautiful route runs from Praia da Marinha in the east to Praia de Vale Centeanes in the west. It has a moderate difficulty and a length of 11.5km roundtrip (though the route is not circular, so you’ll have to come back the same way).
Expect it to take between 4 and 6 hours. The hike is highly exposed so bring plenty of water in the summer heat.
Keep an eye out for the Praia da Marinha double arches. You can also make a stop in Carvoeiro from where you can take a boat tour to the sea caves, most famously the stunning Benagil caves. It’s best to visit in the spring or fall when there are fewer boats crowding around this sight.
9. Serra da Estrela
Finally, no list of best hiking trails in Portugal would be complete without mentioning the Serra da Estrela, which is the tallest mountain range in mainland Portugal.
Unfortunately, it’s also one of those natural areas in Portugal where trails are not so well signposted or developed, so hiking Serra da Estrela is usually recommended to well-prepared walkers who are comfortable going off the beaten path. Still, it has to be mentioned as one of the great places for walking in Portugal.
That said, if you’re just looking for a nice day-hike in the area, then consider the hike from the town of Manteigas to the small waterfalls of Poço de Inferno. While I think the vegetation is not as varied as the Serra da Lousã, the pine forests of the Serra da Estrela and granite rock-strewn landscapes are sure to give you a relaxing break.
When you arrive back in Manteigas all sweaty and tired after a long walk, you can get pampered at the INATEL Manteigas Hotel spa, where you can get a hydro massage and swimming pool access for just €15.
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