In addition to several bustling cities, Portugal boasts a variety of landscapes and idyllic natural wonders. The country is also home to a host of amazing natural parks that contain jaw-dropping scenery and endless opportunities for adventure.
To make the most of this unrivaled natural beauty, you should start your trip with a visit to the best national parks in Portugal. To that end, we’ve compiled the following list of the most impressive national and natural parks in the country.
Peneda-Gerês National Park
Kicking off our list is the only official and the most beautiful national park in Portugal. Peneda-Gerês National Park, locally known as Gerês, is located in the north of the country and offers abundant wildlife, waterfalls, thermal baths, and mountain peaks. It’s also home to plenty of historic gems, including Neolithic tombs and ancient Roman relics. One of its most popular attractions is the submerged village of Vilarinho das Furnas, which becomes visible during the dry season.
The park’s diverse plants and wildlife include unique native flowers, wolves, and even golden eagles. You can walk along several trails that wind through small settlements, striking rock formations, and medieval ruins.
Gerês is easy to get to, as it’s just an hour north of Porto, and the villages inside offer great accommodation options. Whether you’re visiting for the nature, the history, or a bit of both, Gerês is the perfect choice for a day trip or weekend getaway.
Arrábida Natural Park
Although the official list of Portugal’s national parks consists only of Gerês, the country is also home to 24 nature parks, and Arrábida Natural Park is one of the most impressive. This protected coastal area encompasses about 70 square miles of striking blue seas and lush mountains.
The picturesque beaches in the park are some of the most stunning on the continent, and the idyllic surrounding scenery is guaranteed to take your breath away. Take a stroll in the soft sand, drive to an elevated viewpoint, or hop on a boat for a day of fun in the sun. No matter how you spend your time, Arrábida Natural Park is one destination that will keep you coming back for more.
Serra da Estrela Natural Park
Portugal’s first natural park, Serra da Estrela, is home to the country’s largest mountain range and highest peak, which reaches almost 2,000 meters. The park also features the only ski course in Portugal and boasts a seemingly endless array of crystal-clear lakes and dazzling woodland.
Unique rock formations draw in visitors from all corners of the world, and several hiking paths cross through sheep pastures where you can try out a delectable selection of local bread and cheeses. With leisurely walking paths as well as exciting off-road routes and climbing opportunities, Portugal’s largest protected area truly has something for everyone.
Sudoeste Alentejano e Costa Vicentina Natural Park
Another great spot for exploring the magnificent nature of Portugal, this coastal park in the southwest of the country (also known as Southwest Alentejo and Vicentine Coast Natural Park) features golden sand beaches and glistening turquoise waters. Colorful cliffs serve as the backdrop to the brilliant coastline, which offers all sizes of beaches and surfing hot spots.
The park is also home to several rare species of plants and wildlife – including white storks, sea eagles, and marine otters – and the unspoiled natural scenery has earned it the reputation as one of the most beautiful in Europe. You’ll find a quiet atmosphere full of quaint villages in the surrounding area, making this the perfect destination for a peaceful escape into nature.
Ria Formosa Natural Park
One of the seven natural wonders of Portugal, Ria Formosa is known for its diverse wetlands, salt marshes, and relaxing beaches. As a vital stop in the migration routes of several bird species, it’s also one of the best natural parks in Portugal for bird-watching. Bird lovers flock to it in droves every year to observe thousands of colorfully feathered creatures, including the resident flamingos. Other wildlife in the park includes chameleons and the rare Portuguese water dog.
The park offers boat tours on traditional fishing vessels, as well as guided walks and bike rides. With its expansive area, unique geography, and wonderful biodiversity, you have an endless array of activities, historic sites, and natural wonders to enjoy here.
Sintra-Cascais Natural Park
Where gorgeous natural scenery meets mesmerizing historic attractions, Sintra-Cascais is one of the most popular nature parks in Portugal. This park on the west coast is overflowing with striking rock formations, lush vegetation, vertical cliffs, and stunning views of the Atlantic. Historic palaces and romantic castle ruins will make you feel like you’ve stepped into a fairy tale, and the park even boasts some dinosaur footprints.
Sintra-Cascais also encompasses Cabo de Roca, the westernmost part of the continent. Further inland, you’ll find a ton of natural attractions and fewer tourists. The town of Sintra, the historic Monserrate Palace, and the residential seaside village of Azenhas do Mar are just a few of the park’s notable sites.
Montesinho Natural Park
Make your way to the north of Portugal for a visit to Montesinho Natural Park, one of the country’s most popular spots for nature tourism. The moderate climate makes this a great year-round destination, though the best times to visit are the spring, summer, and early fall. Montesinho is another perfect choice for bird-watchers, and it’s also home to larger majestic animals such as wolves and wildcats.
Gorgeous walking trails and challenging hiking treks wind through the park’s many rolling hills and river beaches, one of the most notable being the 34-mile trail that takes you through the surrounding area of Vilarinho. If you want to stay in the park for a night or two, you have your pick of over 80 villages that offer boutique hotels, small rural accommodations, and cozy bed-and-breakfast lodgings.
Douro International Natural Park
Known as an international natural park because of its location on the Spanish border, Douro is one of the best possible spots for taking in the spectacular scenery of Portugal. Its plethora of must-see cultural attractions includes Bronze Age engravings and Roman ruins, and the area’s agricultural prosperity has earned it a reputation for producing delicious wines and olive oil.
Named for the Douro River, which marks the border between Spain and Portugal, the park is also known for its steep cliffs, rugged terrain, and thrilling rapids. Adding to its beautiful natural scenery are thick blankets of fresh greenery and the diverse flora and fauna.
Litoral Norte Natural Park
Characterized by white sand dunes, soaring rock formations, and abundant farmland, Litoral Norte Natural Park is another protected area of Portugal that offers an unforgettable nature experience. As the name suggests, Litoral Norte is in the north of the country and boasts phenomenal views of the Atlantic Ocean. Its famous sand dunes serve both an aesthetic and practical purpose, their unique shapes forming a barrier between the ocean and the area’s essential agriculture.
The park is also known for its historic windmills, which were once used to grind corn and now serve as unique accommodation options. The area’s many pine forests offer exciting opportunities for hiking, and the magical scenery is often referenced as the setting of Portuguese folklore.
Alvão Natural Park
Wrapping up our list of the best nature parks in Portugal is a stunning section of protected land in the country’s northeast corner, known for its adventure-packed mountains and lower-lying water bodies. Alvão Natural Park’s iconic rushing waterfalls give way to energetic rivers and natural pools, letting you embark on a rafting adventure or take a refreshing dip.
The park also contains ancient villages known for their slate and granite homes, and the land hosts expansive orchards, vineyards, and olive groves. Sustainable farming practices and the area’s isolation behind towering mountaintops has allowed the park to remain rich with vegetation and wildlife.
There you have them, the best national and natural parks in Portugal. Though the country has other gorgeous parks, you simply can’t go wrong with a visit to any of these vast and varied hubs of natural beauty.