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Hiking in Portugal | Ridestore Magazine

There are so many beautiful sights to see if you’re planning a hiking trip in Europe this season, and with the Alps, the Pyrenees, the Sierra Nevadas, and the Dolomites, all available to visit, it may be easy to overlook Portugal. But if you did, you’d be missing out. Portugal is a wonderful place with a variety of landscapes, historical sights, mountains, forests, beaches and coastal cliffs, archipelagoes, and so much more on offer. So whether you’re travelling by car or bus, a great hike is always within easy reach. For your ultimate guide to hiking in Portugal, read on, and get excited to experience a multitude of amazing sights you won’t see anywhere else.

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The 10 best hikes in Portugal

Why hike in Portugal?

When it comes to hiking in Portugal, it may not seem that attractive at first with just one national park and little in the way of jagged, snow-capped peaks. But this unique, sunbaked landscape offers year-round sunshine, dramatic coastlines with unrivalled views of the Atlantic to the west and south, some of the most intense and amazing surf in the world, along with plenty of natural parks to discover, all of which are untouched oases of flora and fauna.

While the only national park is the Parque Nacional Peneda-Gerês, there are nine separate natural parks and nature reserves, all offering something unique including secluded lakes, sweeping valleys, and of course, endless, prehistoric cliffs falling away to the Atlantic.

Why hiking in Portugal

How to get there

Well, it’s as simple as heading West, and if you reach the end of Europe, you’re there. Portugal is hemmed in on two sides by Spain, and the other two by the ocean, and despite being a lot smaller than its neighbour, it still retains its own rich history, culture, and language. It also still has claim to several islands that run both adjacent to the mainland and are located pretty far away from the country itself. Madeira, 500km off the coast of North Africa is probably the most famous, but there are also the Azores, which lie 1,500km off the coast of Portugal in the middle of the Atlantic, both of which are autonomous regions of Portugal.

Closer to the coast, you’ll also find the Berlengas Islands, which while small, are worth the trip and are a natural reserve in their entirety. While a Madeira or Azores trip will require some extra planning, a day trip to the Berlengas Islands can add some serious uniqueness to any Portugal tour.

There are two major airports in Portugal, one at Porto and the other at Faro. Both are international hubs, with Porto in the north opening up the northern half of the country, with Faro servicing the southern half and world-famous Algarve coast.

Where to hike: The most beautiful areas

You’re certainly not going to be struggling for places to hike, but it can be difficult to take it all in. And while Portugal is a lot smaller than Spain, it still can’t all be done in a day, so we’ve broken our list of the most beautiful places to hike down into a few main categories to help you best decide and plan your hikes.

Where to hike - the most beautiful areas

National and natural parks

The Peneda-Gerês National Park straddles the northern border with Spain, and is the perfect place to start your Portuguese hiking adventure. Mountainous and wild, the park was formed in 1871 and is home to many species of plants and animals, including wild horses, feral cows, the European Wildcat, and the Iberian Wolf, a subspecies of the Grey Wolf. The park is also home to the Iberian Ibex, and is the perfect place to explore on foot thanks to the numerous trails running through it.

Many other Natural Parks can be found across the country, including the Parque Natural da Serra de São Mamede, which is home to some medieval villages that can be explored. The Park Natural do Vale do Guadiana is also well worth a visit, and is home to the sprawling and beautiful Castle of Mértola. The Parque Natural do Suodeste Alentejano e Costa Vicentina is also a must-see, and is located on the southwestern peninsula of the country. With steep cliffs falling away to the ocean, stunning Atlantic vistas and sandy beaches, and rocky dunes as far as the eye can see, it’s a magnificent place to spend some time.

Coasts

The coast of Portugal is definitely worth exploring, with lots of hiking and walking routes spanning the entire length of the country. From a walking tour of Lisbon and its attached Reserva Natural do Estuário do Tejo and its wooden walkways, to the 100ft high surf at Nazaré (yes, that’s correct, 100ft waves! And people surf them, too. The record officially stands at 79 feet, but a new, unofficial record was set in January 2022 at 97 feet! Thousands of people descend on Nazaré to watch this spectacular feat, and we recommend visiting regardless of the surf forecast to walk the beaches and cliffs and take it all in.

Archipelagos

The archipelagos of Portugal may not all be reachable on a day trip, but the Berlengas Islands can be, and are home to the Berlengas Nature Reserve, along with many castle ruins, caves, cliffs, and beaches. The islands can be walked in a day, but this is definitely a great add-on for any trip.

The island of Madeira may be closer to Africa than it is to Portugal, but this autonomous Portuguese region is a truly beautiful slice of paradise. Home to rich and lush forests, steep mountains, beautiful beaches, and picturesque towns, it’s definitely another stop to add to the itinerary if possible. The highlight is, of course, taking the cable car up from Funchal to the top of the Monte, which offers unrivalled views of the city and harbour. The whole island is a wonderful place to explore on foot, too, with many of the sights, like the towering Pico Ruivo mountain, only accessible via hiking path. What makes the island so special, however, is that it’s almost entirely a national park and protected wildlife reserve unable to be developed.

The Azores are the other islands you can visit, and lie a long way off the coast, in the middle of the Atlantic. A tropical paradise, the Azores are a set of volcanic islands characterised by their protected inlets and bays, formed in the mouths of extinct volcanoes. Reminiscent of the Hawaiian islands, the Azores are a true wonder to behold, and are an untouched, unforgettable paradise that is nothing short of breathtaking to explore.

Cities

The cities of Portugal should never be overlooked. While nature is beautiful, the colourful architecture, European and Mediterranean influences, and rich history make the cities of this stunning country a must-see for anyone passing through.

The capital, Lisbon, is home to 540,000 people, making it relatively small, but no less vibrant. It’s the cultural hub of the country, and offers up plenty to do. Take a streetcar ride through the streets, hike to a viewpoint overlooking the bay, or enjoy a night of dancing in one of the many squares dotted throughout.

Porto is a city on the sea, and is a veritable Venice of the Iberian peninsula. Both coastal and situated along and across the Douro River, 230,000 people call Porto home, and for good reason. A rich cultural heritage means that there are plenty of museums and galleries to explore, while the architecture itself is nothing short of a sight in itself.

Sintra is an often overlooked destination, but is a true hidden gem. The former summer residence of the Portuguese royal family, Sintra is home to the bright and colourful Palace of Pena, as well as the Castelo dos Mouros, a 10th century Moorish castle. But that’s not all. There’s also the Sintra National Palace to check out, as well as the Chalet of the Countess of Edla, Quinta da Regaleira, Park Liberdade, the eerie Initiation Well, and the Park and Palace of Monserrate. Whether you do it all in a day, or you spend a few exploring everything the Parque Natural de Sintra-Cascais has to offer, you’ll be so, so glad you made the time to visit.

Top 10 hikes in Portugal

While narrowing down all the hikes in Portugal is no small task, we’ve assembled a list of some known and little-known favourites. From longer loops to short out-and-backs, these ten choices span the country and offer up a variety of experiences. From rugged coasts to lush valleys, from mountain peaks to rivered gorges, these ten picks are sure to get your wheels turning and your engine roaring. If they don’t inspire you to dust off the hiking boots, nothing will!

 1. Sintra-Cascais Natural Park

Sintra - Cascais

The number one hike on our list is the Sintra Palace trail, and will take you on an 11km loop from the start point in Sintra town to the Cruz Alta peak at 528m, offering amazing views of the natural park, the palace, the Moorish castle, and soo much more. With 478m of elevation gain during the walk, this moderate hike should be something you absolutely make time for, and will take around three and a half hours to complete.

2. Pico Ruivo, Madeira

Pico Ruivo

Hiking to the Pico Ruivo in Madeira is a truly spectacular experience. Though this won’t be easy to include on a tour of Portugal’s mainland, the island of Madeira should definitely be one on your list to visit, and more than capable of hosting an entire hiking holiday on its own! The whole island is a national park, and from the Pico Ruivo at over 1800m, you’ll be able to see a full 360 degrees around, getting a top-down view of the entire island. With lots of routes up, you can make this trek as easy or difficult as you want, and can extend the length as far as your legs will carry you.

3. Percurso dos Sete Vales Suspensos

Percurso dos Sete Vales Suspensos

The Seven Hanging Valley’s trail is a famous out-and-back route along Portugal’s south coast, starting just south of Lagos. It winds along rugged cliffs for 6km, making the entire walk just shy of 12km. With stunning beaches and caves to explore, this relatively flat walk is one that really showcases the beauty of the Algarve coast.

4. Pontal da Carrapateira

Pontal da Carrapateira

This moderate 10km loop starts and ends in Carrapateira, and takes you on a tour of Southwest Alentejo and the Vicentine Coast Natural Park. While not an especially difficult walk, it sure is gorgeous, and takes you through coastal pastures filled with bees and butterflies, across endless sand dunes and beaches, along quaint wooden walkways, and past ancient rock structures and cliffs.

5. Lagos to Porto de Mos Cliff Hike

Lagos to Porto de Mos Cliff Hike

The Lagos to Porto de Mos Cliff Hike is an 11km out-and-back trail beginning at the Forte de Bandeira on the Lagos coast, before traversing out to the Ponda da Piedade peninsula, and along Canavial Beach. The perfect walk to do in part or full if you’re in the city, you’ll be treated to jagged cliffs and towering rock structures, stepped walkways, hidden beaches, and crystal clear waters all the way along.

6. Corredor Ecologico: Rio Ferreira e Rio Simão

Corredor Ecologico - Rio Ferreira e Rio Simão

The Corredor Ecologico walk is a 10km loop that takes around three hours to complete, and winds through a rich and lush forest, across stonework bridges, and through quaint villages. Partially paved and partially trailed, some highlights include a rope and plank bridge, wide vistas from the hike’s peak, rushing white water rivers, and plenty of wildlife and flora to enjoy.

7. Poco Azul

Poco Azul

Poco Azul is one of the many, many trails cutting through the Peneda-Gerês National Park. At 8.7km, this out-and-back trail is one of the more compact options, but is very enjoyable as it guides you to the famous ‘Blue Well’. Ancient forests and wild landscapes accompany you the whole way as you wind along a fast-flowing river dotted with multiple pools and cascades, culminating in the Blue Well itself, a mystical enclosed body of water that has a unique blue hue. As it’s famous, this route does get busy, so slotting it into a wider tour of the park is recommended to get the most out of a visit!

8. Passadiços do Paiva

Passadiços do Paiva

This 16.7km out-and-back trek is a little longer than most on this list, but is well worth it. Starting to the east of Arouca, you’ll traverse a wooden walkway along the Paiva River gorge, following it the whole way, making use of the rope bridges that criss-cross it. Along the way you’ll see plenty of white water and cascades, all building up to the clear-bottomed suspension bridge that spans 480m, at a height of 150m off the valley floor, which is truly a sight to behold! Thousands visit this gorge every day, so booking ahead is recommended as they can close it if it’s too busy.

9. São Lourenço Lookout Post

São Lourenço Lookout Post

This short 5.5km out-and-back walk won’t take too long to complete, but nor will you want to rush! Meandering through tranquil forests not common to this part of the world, you’ll climb from a starting point just north of Manteigas to the peak of São Lourenço at 1176m, and have stunning views of the surrounding valleys.

10. Pico Island, Azores

Pico Island, Azores

Actually getting there is the biggest challenge for this entry. But if you can, boy, are you in for a treat! These isolated Atlantic islands offer some breathtaking scenery, and Pico Island offers perhaps one of the most rewarding experiences. Scaling Mount Pico will take a few hours and will have you climbing to more than 2300 metres where it serves up its caldera, a desolate, lava-burnt crater, right at its peak. From here, you get a panoramic view of the island, as well as of the neighbouring islands, São Jorge, Faial, Graciosa, Terceira, São Miguel, Santa Maria, and Flores and Corvo on a clear day. If you’re making the trip, make sure to visit every island, especially Flores the wildest and most exotic of them all!

Best times to hike in Portugal

While Portugal’s climate is very stable, and you can certainly hike all year round, the summer is hot and dry, and the risk of heatstroke is considerable. Many of the hikes above are on the shorter side for this reason. If you want to get the best of the weather, and a slightly cooler experience, late spring and early autumn are great times to visit. April to May and September-October will be temperate enough to sit out and enjoy the long evenings, but cool enough to walk in.

While a winter excursion to Portugal is also a great idea, the highlands and lusher parts of the country, especially to the north and east, do get a lot of mist and rain, as well as the occasional storm. If you’re heading to Portugal for the winter, you’ll find the coast, and in particular, the southern coast, to be the driest and warmest part of the country.

Top tips for hiking in Portugal

When hiking in Portugal, the heat will usually be your biggest challenge. As such, if you’re going to set your sights on this glorious destination, be sure to bring the essentials like sunscreen, hydration bladders, and clothes suited to sweat in! There are few dangers in terms of wildlife (except for the odd Iberian Wolf! But they don’t bother humans and are generally timid creatures preferring the less accessible parts of the parks) and the trails are often well-marked and maintained, meaning that changing plans on the fly and taking the road less travelled is always an option.

Our other main tip would be to keep an eye on your phone signal, as some parts of the country are still fairly remote and the landscape’s deep valleys can often mean you’ll drop in and out of signal frequently. Just something to bear in mind!

Top tips for hiking in Portugal

Conclusion

That’s it, all our best information, tips, and need-to-knows for the country of Portugal! While the Alps and Pyrenees will always be calling, if you want to try something different and mix up your next trip with some vibrant culture, some history and heritage, beaches, forests, city streets, and remote islands, there’s no better place to check out than Portugal. Obrigada for reading, and good luck with the planning!

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