Located on the west coast of the Iberian peninsula, Portugal draws droves of tourists to its shores each and every year with its fantastic weather and wealth of things to see and do.
While many come to delight in the lively and picturesque cities of Lisbon, Porto and Sintra, others head to the beautiful beaches that dot its coastline. Due to its varying landscapes Portugal’s countryside is fabulous to explore as are the idyllic islands of Madeira and the Azores.
Map of natural and nature parks in Portugal
Indeed the country is bathed in natural beauty and there are a plethora of unbelievable panoramas and views just waiting to be discovered. With that in mind, here are the ten most beautiful national and nature parks in Portugal.
Located in the northwest of Portugal this delightful park looks out over the wild Atlantic. The ferocious winds that blow in from the ocean have helped to shape the expansive sand dunes that characterize the area. The long grasses wave in the wind as seabirds soar dramatically by and the nature park is a haven for a wide variety of birds that come here to nest and breed. The desolate dunes pile high and behind them grasses begin to grow, protected by the buffer they provide from the winds. The secluded area makes for peaceful and scenic walks as the untouched and untamed nature surrounds you, welcoming you to discover its hidden delights.
With its lazy features that slowly and tranquilly descend from a height of 1,339 meters at its maximum down to only 260 meters, Alvao Natural Park comprises two distinct topographies and as such the varying landscapes are beautiful to behold. Although small in size, its two distinctive and very different ecosystems make this park well worth a visit. In the Upper Zone, the mountainous area full of hills makes for great hiking and the rocky cliffs and granite formations dramatically cut away to reveal the Bazal Zone down below. Demarcating this sudden schism is the beautiful Fisgal waterfall which plunges gracefully to the ground, covering its surroundings in a misty spray. The Olo River runs through the park and the rocky riverbeds are delightful to explore as they give way to forests that coat the banks to either side. Throughout Alvao you will find rocks and stones jutting provocatively out of the wild grasses and it is charming features such as these that make the park so lovely to wander around.
Located on the border with Spain, this park actually is the border as it is the path the river takes that marks Portugal from Spain; hence the name Douro International Natural Park. The river stunningly cuts its way through the landscape, winding its way through the cliffs and ravines that the water has eroded away over the centuries. With the banks of the Douro rising steeply on either side, the static rocky cliffs contrast beautifully with the fast-flowing river below them. The scenery is lovely to gaze out upon and the areas to either side of the river are covered in lush vegetation due to the life-giving water flowing by. Small watercourses and rapids punctuate the Douro from time to time and only add to the scenic feel of the nature park.
Popular with beachgoers and bird watchers alike, Ria Formosa Natural Park’s stunning scenery is a beautiful setting in which to bask in the sun and enjoy everything that the park has to offer. Located right down in the south of Portugal in the Algarve, the lovely warm climate entices visitors to its shores throughout the year. If lounging on the beach isn’t your thing then the lagoons, wetlands and endless sands of Ria Formosa are a real treat to explore as they are simply spectacular to behold. Birds flock to the area on their migratory routes and at these times of the year, the skies above the park are filled with flocks of birds flitting to and fro. An opera ensues before your eyes as the competing flocks play out a symphony above your head, moving as one to the sounds of the sea and wind around you.
A biodiversity hotspot, the beautiful scenery on show makes Montesinho Natural Park well worth a visit and, as one of the largest parks in the country; there is certainly a lot to see. Rolling hills and valleys give way to trickling streams and tranquil ponds before dense overgrown forests block your path. Trails weave their way up the mountain which gives the park its name and from the top there are lovely views over its surroundings. With a number of large mammals residing within Montesinho, lucky visitors may catch a glimpse of an Iberian wolf, lynx or the delightful common genet. Rare and elusive, the presence of these animals makes parks such as Montesinho all the more important as they protect their natural habitat.
This amazing nature park certainly has a lot going for it. Comprising the largest mountain range in the country, Serra da Estrela is also home to Portugal’s highest peak, Torre, which towers at just less than 2000 metres in height. Lovely valleys and ravines scar the countryside and due to the varied topography of the park, an abundant array of fauna and flora grows at its different heights. Lakes and forests are interspersed amongst the mountains and stumbling across crystal clear waters or delightfully secluded woodland paths make visiting this nature park a magical experience.
If you head right down to the southwest corner of Portugal you will find sea, sun, sand and this astonishing natural park all just waiting to be explored. The endless beaches of the Algarve are bewitchingly beautiful and, framed by the cliffs that overlook them; you will never want to leave this part of the coast. Bathed in sunshine the soft sands underfoot that at times give way to stony beaches make for some delightful walks with the sun glistening off the nearby water. Peaceful and relaxing, you will definitely feel rested and fresh after visiting this lovely natural park.
With lovely sandy beaches, beautiful rocky cliffs lining the shore and low-lying mountains covered in lush vegetation stretching inland, Arrabida Natural Park has a wealth of natural delights for visitors to revel in. The warm Mediterranean climate has given forth an abundant array of fauna and flora that paint the landscape in a myriad of colors. Inland, yellow plains give way to dark green patches of forest that cover the rolling hills which border the white coast down below. A popular getaway for people living in Lisbon the pristine beaches such as Figueirinha and Galapinhos are particularly nice amidst all the other riches on offer. Lovely peaceful walks abound in this scenic area and slowly strolling along the coastal paths will soothe your soul as the gentle breeze of the ocean cools your skin. Taking a boat trip offshore will allow you to marvel in the beauty of the coast from a distance and, out on the water beneath the dazzling sun, a stunning panorama will stretch endlessly before you.
Located right in the far north of Portugal is the country’s only national park: Peneda-Geres. Established to protect and preserve this unique range of landscapes, the inhospitable and wild Geres Mountains are fascinating to explore. While there are a few mountain peaks in the park, it is the two highest ones (so Geres and Altar doe Cabroes) that offer the best panoramic views of their surroundings. Trails and paths snake their way around the park’s pristine environment and there are a plethora of interesting sites to visit ranging from interesting rock formations to the distinctive old granaries that were built by early settlers to the area. There are a number of lovely waterfalls to visit within Peneda-Geres and one of the most memorable sights is the ruins of Vilarinho das Furnas. This old village was deliberately submerged when filling a local reservoir and the ruins emerge during the dry season when the waters recede. Eerie to behold yet strangely beautiful, the ruins are a must-see in this unforgettable park that so perfectly highlights the full range of Portugal’s natural wonders.
One of the most popular tourist destinations in Portugal, Sintra-Cascais Natural Park contains a number of amazing attractions that will delight and astound any lucky visitor. While the sweeping Serra de Sintra Mountain Range is spectacular, the park is primarily known for its unbelievable historical sites. Must-see sights include the incredible Castle of the Moors which dates back to the 8th Century and the fairytale-esque Pena Palace which rises dramatically above the trees surrounding it, perched prominently on top of a hill. Dispersed around its territory are a number of beautiful palaces such as the ones of Queluz, Sintra, Seteais and the distinctive and ornate Monserrate Palace. Nature lovers will also love the stupendous park for the diverse landscapes on show. For a lovely view out over the Atlantic, visitors should head to the Cabo da Roca which towers far above the cold waters below. The coastal town of Azenhas do Mar also has fantastic views as it is perched right on a cliff above the ocean. Simply breathtaking to visit, Sintra-Cascais Natural Park has more than enough incredible sights to fill a lifetime of discovery.