Portugal stands out amongst European countries for its vast array of spectacular hiking opportunities. Considering the size of Portugal compared to neighbouring France and Spain, out-and-about nature lovers are spoilt for choice here. Today’s article highlights the best hikes in Portugal on both the mainland and the islands.
The Best Southern Portugal Hikes
Let’s start in the South of Portugal, and a journey back in time. One of the most mesmerising experiences in the Algarve is the 14-stage Via Algarviana.
The 300km route trips through traditional Portuguese villages, and has its origins in an ancient religious trail, followed by pilgrims for centuries.
The route has been designed so as to arrive in a different village, with hotels and local shops, at the end of each leg. Between the villages, you’ll explore gorgeous nature, with resplendent landscapes. As you reach the culmination of the route, untamed vegetation is succeeded by the welcoming smell of the sea.
The route finishes in the Costa Vicentina Natural Park, the best-preserved stretch of coastline in Europe.
If you’re looking for a shorter hike that offers a highlights package of the Algarve, check out the circular Castelejo Trail, not far for the beach of the same name.
The trail, which can be completed in a couple of hours, has a car park at the start of the route. There’s a road that leads straight to the beach from there too, so after you’ve enjoyed the hike, you can chill out on the beach before heading back to the hotel.
If wildlife fascinates you, this will be a rewarding hike. Depending on the season, you’ll meet the Western Spadefoot Toad, Woodpeckers and Eurasian Jays as you complete the trek. Keep your eyes peels for families of rabbits skipping in and out of the shrubs too.
The Fisherman’s Trail is a structured four-day hike along the untouched Atlantic coastline. Experience the drama of the ocean, from atop majestic cliffs, and up close and personal along stretches of uninterrupted beach.
The Fisherman’s Trail is lauded as not only one of the best hikes in Portugal, but in the whole of Europe. If your heart longs for the open seas, this will be the trip for you.
There are places to stay in each of the fishing villages you stop off at along the route, and a handy luggage ferrying service frees you of your heavy bags so you can enjoy the hiking without the backache.
If the Fisherman’s Trail grabbed your attention and you want even more, then you’ll love the extended Historical Way route, also in the Costa Vicentina Natural Park.
You’ll need a bit more time to spare, and some extra power in your legs, because this hike can take a couple of weeks to complete, if you want to cover the full length.
The route winds through traditional villages and farmland, before connecting with the Fisherman’s Trail for the coastal elements of the hike.
Local public transport links between villages are reliable and it’s possible to skip sections of the route if you’re tight for time, or want to enjoy a shorter hike as part of a more extensive trip to the area. Jump on the bus in any of the villages along the route and create your own customised itinerary.
The Best Northern and Central Portugal Hikes
Via Geira Roman Road
In the North of Portugal, bordering Spain, you’ll find a notable piece of Roman history. The Via Geira Roman Road is an ancient Roman road that once stretched 320km between Braga and Astorga (in Spain).
The route has been awarded World Heritage status, and dates back to the first century.
Throughout the route, you’ll spot original Roman mileposts, many inscribed with the Emperor who ruled over the Roman Empire at the time of construction.
For the most beautiful portion of the route, start at Portela de Homem (milepost XXXIV) and head into the Mata de Albergaria Forest. For a leisurely 10km round-trip, turn back when you reach the Albufeira do Homem reservoir.
Serra da Lousã
Not far from Coimbra, this is a secret destination that even the Portuguese marvel at. It feels like an ancient fantasy kingdom. Rustic stone houses hide in stacked formation behind a mountainous wall of green.
These Schist Villages are as much a highlight of the route as the marvellous nature. Hand-crafted signs point locals to the village highlights. Many of these villages once faced total abandonment, and are enjoying a new lease of life as locals and expats have returned, seeking the joys of traditional village life.
There are a number of different routes recommended on their region’s website, depending on how long you want to be out exploring. The smallest loop will take you around 3 hours, whereas the longer treks will give you a whole day of outdoor fun.
Be prepared for some unconventional river crossings. From straddling a fallen tree, to traversing a charmingly hand-made bridge, these hikes will remind you of what true vitality really is.
The Best Portuguese Island Hikes
Levada das 25 Fontes Hike in Madeira
Of course, we mustn’t forget that Portugal stretches far into the Atlantic Ocean, with its spectacular islands. Madeira is a colourful island neighbouring Spain’s Canary Islands, and its vibrant vegetation and flowing water offers a welcome contrast from the stark, volcanic landscapes of her neighbours.
The Levada das 25 Fontes hike is extremely popular, and it’s clear to see why. Fontes means fountains, and the fountains in question are in fact a magical collection of waterfalls.
The hike starts in the Rabaçal nature reserve on the southwest of Madeira. You start in a valley and you’ll quickly lose yourself in another world as you enter the forest, peppered with foaming waterfalls. This one is 11km of pure natural fantasy; it’s like living in a fairy tale!
Ribeira do Faial da Terra in the Azores
Another popular Portuguese island destination is the Azores. Further into the centre of the Atlantic, the Azores is a collection of islands that make up the final land mass before Portuguese explorers of years-hence would have reach the shores of America.
The Ribeira do Faial da Terra hike, on São Miguel, offers a moderately challenging afternoon hike, following the stream of Faial da Terra and ending up in the Recreational Forest Reserve of Água Retorta.
The route typically takes a couple of hours to complete, though it’s one of those routes where you could bring a book and nestle up against the trunk of a towering tree for a few hours before heading back.
More of the best hikes in Portugal include:
- Ponta da Piedade
- Serra do Topo-São Jorge, Azores
- 7 hanging valleys
- Santa Maria Hiking Trail in Sintra
- Trilho dos Currais in Peneda-Gerês National Park
- Portuguese Way (Camino de Santiago)
If you enjoyed this article you might also like to read about Hiking in Sintra