Central Portugal – big waves, bigger heart

The central area of Portugal can feel a little underrated, but I’ll argue it’s much more than just the place to pass on the way from Lisbon to Porto or vice versa.

Central Portugal is vibrant and varied. Here you can zigzag from Portugal’s only snowy peak to hot, golden beaches. From the mega waves at Nazarè to the former capital Coimbra, from surfer’s haven Peniche to medieval Obidos, from the canals of Aveiro to the mountains of Serra de Estrela. Adventure awaits in Central Portugal.

Essential Central guides

36 hours in Coimbra

Best things to do in Aveiro

Monsanto, Portugal’s rock village

Best places to visit in Central

1. Aveiro, the Art nouveau town

Canals, colourful historic boats, Art Nouveau buildings and the famous striped fisherman’s shacks by the coast, define charming Aveiro.

2. Obidos, the walled village

Inside the medieval fortified walls find a village of typical white-washed buildings and taste the local liqueur.

3. Nazaré, for the waves

Chase the world’s biggest waves at Nazarè. If the waves aren’t pumping the town itself is still super cute.

4. Coimbra, Portugal’s medieval capital

Set on a hill, spend time getting lost in the old winding cobbled streets of Coimbra and visit the country’s oldest university.

5. Monsanto, the rock village

Close to the Spanish border, Monsanto is a village of giant boulders looks like a living movie set.

6. Serra da Estrela

Visit the mainland’s highest mountain for cheese, wool blankets, giant dogs and hiking.

Monsanto Historic Rock Village Portugal

More places to visit in Central Portugal

  • Chase the surf at Peniche
  • Day trip to Berlengas Island
  • Eat suckling pig in Bairrada
  • Visit the 12 historic villages, such as Belmonte or Trancoso
  • Storm the castle at Leiria
  • Find dinosaurs in Lourinhã

Tip… Central Portugal is a huge and varied region, from the big-wave surf at the coast to medieval fortresses lining the border with Spain. There’s so much to see and do so you’ll have to plan ahead and take your pick.

Where to stay in Central Portugal

There are some brilliant places to stay throughout Central Portugal, from cosy guesthouses to expansive palaces and grand hotels (without the huge price tag too). You can get more bang for your buck out Lisbon, Porto and the Algarve.

In Coimbra, I adore the three-star Art Deco Hotel Astoria, or if you have the budget Quinta das Lagrimas is the spot to stay. Aveiro is super walkable, so stay in the historic centre at Avenida 60 ApartmentsVera Cruz Suite Apartment or Aveiro Rossio. If you’d prefer to be in Costa Nova by the beach, check out three-star Costa Nova Hotel, or sleep in a striped fishermen’s hut at Palheiro Costa Nova.

Nearby a bucket-list stay for me is the Bussaco Palace, a historic tile-filled stay in the middle of a forest.

In Figueira da Foz I love Bacharéis Charming House with its remodeled interiors and brilliant breakfast. In Tomar try Hotel República on the central square, or try Casa dos Oficios nearby. In Caldas da Rainha try the four-star SANA Silver Coast Hotel, or book a room and workshop with 19 Tile Ceramic Concept.

For a super unique stay, sleep overnight in Monsanto Village, where the old stone houses have been built around giant boulders. Check out Sun Set House, Old House, and Casa da Ti Maria Pereira.

Alternatively, take a look at all accommodation in the Central region.

What to eat in Central Portugal

Near the coast, eat fresh seafood plucked straight from the icy Atlantic Ocean. Visit fish markets in the mornings to check out the catch of the day, or better yet hope to see a traditional Arte Xávega. In the summer you can find dried fish for sale on the beach at Nazare.

Around Coimbra and the Xiste Villages I love to eat chanfana, a rich and hearty goat stew. Nearby the Bairrada area is famous for leitão, or roasted suckling pig.

Keep going inland and you’ll reach mountainous Serra da Estrela. Here find one of Portugal’s favourite DOP cheeses, the stinky, gooey Queijo Serra da Estrela.

How to get around

Personally, I think renting a car is the best way to explore the Central region of Portugal. This gives you the freedom to stop off at quieter beaches, visit remote towns like Monsanto, and explore the winding roads of Serra da Estrela or the Xiste (Schist) Villages. You can compare car rentals here.

If public transport is your only option, you can take the train to Coimbra, Tomar and Aveiro. Private coach companies, such as Rede Expressos and FlixBus, will give you connections to smaller or more remote towns like Nazarè or Obidos.

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