20 of the best places to visit in September

September is one of our favourite months to travel. The school holiday rush is over, so sunny destination flight prices start to come down. Temperatures in Europe dip enough to make heat more comfortable and undiscovered Europe is in its element. The ‘stans come to life. Safari season is in full swing, if drawing to a close.

Whether you’re after a getaway with a difference, a life-changing wildlife experience or a long-term adventure to tick off the wish list, September’s an ideal month to get on the road.

Skip ahead to your chosen travel type by clicking on one of the below, or keep scrolling for the full list of recommendations:

Here are the 20 best places to visit in September…

The best September destinations for nature and ideal weather

1. Sicily, Italy

Sicily’s Valle dei Templ (Shutterstock)

Like many popular European hot spots, Sicily is still warm in September, yet less oppressively hot, cooler in the evenings and less busy thanks to the summer holidays drawing to a close. However, you might notice an influx of visitors this year, thanks to the hit series White Lotus introducing the Mediterranean gem to the set-jetting travellers of the world.

In the capital, Palermo, opera season begins again this month. It’s also typically an ideal temperature to take on the hike up Mount Etna, or to explore the volcanic Aoelian Islands.

Ensure time to explore the towns of Taormina and Castelmola. The former is where you can find the must-visit Greek-Roman theatre: the view here is one of the most striking with Mount Etna on the horizon. For more Greek ruins, the Valle dei Templ (Valley of Temples) in Agrigento is one of world’s finest archaeological examples of ancient art and architecture.

It doesn’t matter where you end up on the island: you’ll be able to end each day by parking yourself outside a classic Sicilian eatery to enjoy the hazy late summer evening.

2. Hokkaido, Japan

Jozankei is a picturesque onsen town near Sapporo (Shutterstock)

Just as the pale-pink cherry blossoms of spring draw locals outside to marvel at Japan’s natural beauty, its autumnal colours are just as prized.

But while the rest of the country waits to get its first glimpse of red and golden maple leaves, Hokkaido is ahead of the game. Japan’s chilly northern tip starts to turn towards the middle of September, making for a colourful road trip before the ice and bad weather sets in.

Pay a visit first to the pretty onsen town of Jozankei, just south of Sapporo, which has plenty of walkable forest trails and hot springs to relax in. Then make for the Blue Pond at the centre of the island, where impossibly teal waters reflect the reddening canopies of the surrounding larch and birch trees magnificently, making for a painterly setting.

But you don’t even need to leave the city to spy nature at its autumnal best. Sapporo’s Hiraoka Jugei Center is famous for its ‘red tunnel’, created by the rows of Japanese maples (Nomura momiji) that flank its walkways.

3. Corsica, France

The citadel of Calvi, Corsica (Sylvain Oliveira/Alamy)

Corsica’s Rencontres Polyphoniques de Calvi is one of those tiny cultural pearls that makes a trip to the old citadel of Calvi in mid-September utterly unique, as choristers and soloists from around the world join the A Filetta polyphonic choir in making the most of their cathedral setting.

By day, take the opportunity to explore the rest of the citadel, whose Genoese construction helped Calvi resist French control up until the 18th century. The former governor’s palace is particularly impressive and has a fine museum on the city.

It’s also a great time to visit if you want to take on any part of the GR20 – one of Europe’s toughest but most rewarding trails. The cooler weather of autumn makes this the perfect season to wander Corsica’s glacial lakes and imposing peaks before winter seals off many of the higher passes.

4. Maine, USA

Boats docked in pretty harbour town of Camden in Maine (Shutterstock)

September sees New England’s lobster shacks readying to close up shop for winter, so it’s the perfect time to go on a last-minute coastal food crawl. Hoover up Maine’s famed lobster rolls – overflowing, buttery sandwiches – in villages along the coast, and be sure to stop in Portland, where tours explore both its seafood scene and maritime history.

Further north, Camden takes the plaudits as one of the prettiest harbour towns in Maine, but is known for its fleet of windjammers (merchant-style sail boats). This stretch of Penobscot Bay is particularly sheltered, so it makes a great setting for the annual Labor Day Windjammer Festival, one of the largest meetings of sail ships in north-east USA.

Finish at Acadia National Park’s Mount Desert Island, the highest rocky headlands on this stretch of the Atlantic coast. As well as trails and adventures, it is home to the annual Night Sky Festival in late September, when the Milky Way glimmers bright in the naturally dark skies overhead.

5. Portugal

Pena Palace, Sintra, Portugal (Shutterstock)

Portugal lands on our long-term list for the sheer volume of places to visit, because typically, it’s a classic short break destination. We admit: it’s far too easy to fly to Lisbon or Porto for a few days, or enjoy a wine tasting tour of Douro Valley, and then fly back home.

If you’ve weeks maybe even a month or two to spare, it’s well worth slowing down and soaking up Portugal. Spend time seeking out Lisbon and Porto’s up-and-coming neighbourhoods.

Go off-the-beaten-track to the majestic historical city of Coimbra, and explore the underrated Tavira and more of the eastern Algarve‘s quieter coast. Finally, give the fairytale town of Sintra what it deserves: a few days more than a day trip.

You can take your time enjoying the fruits of Portugal’s vineyards, too, and don’t forget the island of Madeira. It has more than just wine to enjoy, but you’ll still soak up Funchal’s world-class wineries at a slower pace.

Portugal may still be a tad too warm in September for travellers better equipped to dealing with cooler temps. However, it’s good to know that things tend to simmer down in the evenings, making strolls to local bars for drinks and petiscos (the snackier version of Spanish tapas) extremely pleasant.

The best longer-term travel experiences for September

6. Georgia

The Old Town of Tbilisi, Georgia (Shutterstock)

The capital, Tbilisi, may make an excellent long weekend destination, but there’s far more of the country to explore.

Batumi and Mtskheta cities are also well worth your time, both offering historical landmarks, monasteries and sensational views. The botanical garden in Batumi is a natural spectacle, too, especially as autumn’s oranges and yellows begin to take over the country.

Head to western Georgia and experience Kutaisi, or delve into Prometheus Cave. Experience local life in the Svaneti region among the Caucasus Mountains, and end your trip with all the Georgian food and drink you can manage, with a relaxing few days by the Black Sea.

7. Argentina

El Caminito neighbourhood in Buenos Aires, Argentina (Shutterstock)

Argentina’s winter draws to a close in August and early September, so mid to late September brings with it spring temperatures. They do vary, but you can hope for easygoing temperatures.

Spring blooms bring lush greenery to Argentina’s national parks, and overall, this vast South American country is certainly less crowded than in summer. Northern Argentina in particular is best visited during this season, where you can discover the little-visited Salinas Grandes salt plains, the multi-hued rock formations of Quebrada de Humahuaca, and swing by the mountain city of Salta.

Alternatively, take your time in the capital, Buenos Aires, enjoy the wineries of Mendoza, or head to youthful Córdoba: the gateway to Jesuit monasteries and mountain ranges.

8. Trekking in Nepal

Nepal (Shutterstock)

We’ve covered Nepal’s life-affirming treks in some detail on Wanderlust, and have to say that there’s few better times than September to take on a challenge.

This is because the weather is prime for easy trekking conditions. Rainy season has petered out, the skies are clear and temperatures are on the cooler side.. Time to get walking…

While most head to Nepal for its mountain trails, its also a brilliant country for culture-seekers. Head to Pokhara, the gateway to the popular Annapurna Circuit, but also somewhere you can learn more about Buddhism. Don’t forget to visit the city’s International Mountain Museum for exhibits on historic climbers and the people of the Himalayas.

Teej Festival also often falls in September. During this three-day Hindu festival and national holiday, women will fast and also dress in their beautiful red saris, creating a crimson spectacle on the streets.

9. China

China (Shutterstock)

Both September and October are popular times to visit China. Not least because the spectacular Mid-Autumn Festival takes place during this period, celebrating the end of the harvest. Dates vary, but the special day usually occurs between mid-September and the beginning of October.

Weather-wise, the northern regions are particularly fine to visit anytime in September, though humidity in the south can remain high until later on in the month.

Use this weather pattern to help guide your trip. Begin in Beijing, the electrifying 3,000-year-old capital. The Great Wall, a travel classic, is about an hour and 30 minutes by car. You’ll want several days to walk and explore this sheer wonder.

Then make your way south, stopping by all the must-sees: Chengdu (for giant pandas), Xi’an (one of China’s eldest cities, home to the Terracotta Army) and the Three Gorges mountain range on the Yangtze River.

10. Tajikistan and Turkmenistan

Monument in Rudaki Park, Dushanbe, Tajikistan (Dreamstime)

Geographically (and sensibly), it would be impossible and near-criminal to see the ‘stans and sack off the blue-tiled marvels of Uzbekistan. But since we’ve featured Uzbekistan as a highlight for several different months, why not use September to dig deeper into neighbouring Tajikistan and Turkmenistan, too?

Tajikistan, a landlocked country surrounded by mountains, is a hiker’s untouched dream. The capital, Dushanbe, is absolutely fascinating. Admire its unique architecture and monuments in Rudaki Park, then spend time acquainting yourself with the nation’s Soviet history in Tajikistan National Museum.

Turkmenistan’s jewel is its marble-dense capital, Ashgabat, reportedly one of the most expensive cities in the world for foreigners to live. Fortunately, you’re just visiting, so spend your time marvelling at its tombs, towers and mosques, or shopping in the city’s unusual bazaars.

It’s easy to go beyond the city, though. The white-sand coast spreads out before the Caspian Sea, and the Gates To Hell (the perpetually-burning Darvaza Gas Crater) lies in wait in the middle of the desert.

11. Malawi

The start of the Ruo Path in the Lujeri Tea Estate leading up to the plateau of Mount Mulanje (Shutterstock)

There are few bigger music festivals in Africa than Lake of Stars, which lights up the pale sands at the southern end of Lake Malawi in September.

It was created in 2003 to promote local Malawian artists, though it has since expanded its repertoire to take in acts across the continent. After the pandemic broke in 2020, the festival went on hiatus for a number of years, but its return in 2024 marks a new chapter in the life of ‘Africa’s Glastonbury’.

Combine a visit with trips to the surrounding wilderness and mountain areas. September marks the start of the hot season in Malawi, but driving up to see and stay in the family-run tea plantations of Mulanje Mountains offers a cool escape and glimpse of another world entirely.

Meanwhile, down in the bush of Liwonde National Park, the hotter weather soon rids the land of its wet-season greenery, making sightings of its Big Five far easier to sniff out as you drift the Shire River in search of large herds of elephant and sun-worshipping crocodiles roasting on the riverbanks.

Where to go in September for arts and cultural experiences

12. Munich, Germany

Traditional costumes at Oktoberfest in Munich, Germany (Shutterstock)

Oktoberfest has October right there in the title, but Bavaria’s beer-based merriment actually begins around the third week of September. So, why not get there early, before others may be aware?

Over the two-week festival, you can expect endless opportunities for eating German pretzels, wurstl (sausage) and knodel (potato pancakes), hop from tent to tent tasting the best in German beer, dress up in traditional dirndl dresses or lederhose, enjoy a carnival ride, toast your new-found drunken friends (it’s a friendly festival) and simply dance the night away.

13. Bohinj, Slovenia

The Cow’s Ball in Bohinj, Slovenia (Dreamstime)

A little more niche than Oktoberfest, Slovenia’s Bohinj region offers more than scenic beauty in September. It also offers the chance to witness the long-running, traditional ‘cow festival’, known as the ‘Cow Ball’.

It’s exactly as it sounds. Through a cloud of folk music, locals watch a parade of garland-wearing cows pass the gloriously blue Lake Bohinj. The event signifies the return of the cows from the hills in summer, where they’ve been munching and filling their four stomachs with green, green grass.

14. Villamartin, Andalucía, Spain

The beautifully landscaped plaza of Villamartin (Shutterstock)

There’s always a good reason to visit Andalucía, but the annual return of the region’s oldest agricultural fair in September is as good an excuse as any to head for southern Spain. Trust us – it’s more lively than it sounds.

The Feast of St Matthew (Feria de Ganado y Fiestas de San Mateo) serves up Andalucían culture at its purest: cattle browsing before noon; horse displays, carriage races and folklore performances come nightfall. It’s a heady combination, with plenty of food and goodwill found on the streets.

The town lies on the cusp of Sierra De Grazalema, a lush natural park veined with walking trails, rugged limestone peaks and pretty mountain villages such as Benaocaz and Benamahoma. Be sure to strike out into the countryside before heading to the historic streets of nearby Cadiz and Seville for a culture fix.

15. Diriyah & Riyadh, Saudi Arabia

At-Turaif UNESCO World Heritage site illuminated at night (Shutterstock)

The end of the month (23 Sep) marks the National Day of the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia. Celebrations gather around Riyadh’s huge Masmak Fort, where a 21-year-old Abdulaziz Ibn Saud – exiled at the age of eight – led an against-all-odds attack against Ottoman forces in 1902 to take back the fort and proclaim himself the ruler of Riyadh.

If you want to delve into the origins of the Kingdom, take a trip to the ‘original’ capital in Diriyah, on the western fringes of Riyadh, where the ancestors of today’s Saudi royal family first arrived in the 15th century – although the first inklings of the state didn’t emerge until hundreds of years later.

You can explore this history in the restored 18th-century mud-brick walls of the UNESCO-listed At-Turaif citadel and its elegant Salwa Palace, where evening light shows depict the moment in 1818 when the Ottomans rode in and put a violent end to the First Saudi State.

The best places to visit for wildlife watching in September

16. KwaZulu-Natal, South Africa

A giraffe roams Hluhluwe-IMfolozi Game Reserve (Shutterstock)

September is traditionally the end of game viewing season inKwaZulu-Natal, making it the ideal month to visit if you want to avoid the mass safari crowds, but still see the Big Five and more.

Expect the opportunity to see lions, elephants, rhinos and giraffes, as well as rare bird species. Hluhluwe-IMfolozi Game Reserve is a must for any wildlife fan, said to be the oldest reserve in Africa. Elephant lovers must head to the north-east to see the creatures roaming Tembe Elephant Park, which is close by to Ndumo Game Reserve.

Birders rejoice at uKhahlamba-Drakensberg Park, which is protected for its significant population of endangered or rare species, including the wattled crane, vultures (bearded and cape) and the yellow breasted pipit. Over 164 birds have been spotted in the region. It’s also a UNESCO World Heritage Site, as it’s the home of San Rock Art, a large collection of rock paintings dating back to the 1800s.

17. Tarangire and Serengeti National Parks

Elephants in Tarangire National Park, Tanzania (Shutterstock)

East Africa also offers ample wildlife opportunities in September. Of course, the earlier you visit in September, the better, so you’ve missed the August rush, but you’re also not risking early rains washing the animals out of the park and into the outskirts of the reserves.

Tanzania has two national parks you simply must visit, if you love animals. Tarangire National Park provides wildlife watchers with an excellent chance of enjoying an elephant sighting in the wild, as they group together around the Tarangire River. The Serengeti can still be busy in September and you won’t have much luck with the wildebeest migration (June to July) across the Grumeti River, but you will have better luck with the overall wildlife population. Leopards, lions and more of the Big Five await.

18. Atlantic provinces and British Columbia, Canada

Puffins shotting in Newfoundland, Canada (Shutterstock)

Chances are you’ll want to take a warm jacket with you on a wildlife excursion in the eastern provinces of Canada.

Here, you’ll say goodbye to safari-style wildlife watching and instead admire whales by boat. Take your birding binoculars too as it’s prime time for puffin sightings along the coast.

You can see native black bears in Newfoundland, too. The season lasts until November, so you’ll be there at the right time. There are approximately 6,000 to 10,000 in the region – which is a pretty high concentration.

On the opposite side of the country in British Columbia, it’s prime time to see wild grizzlies in their natural habitat. September and October also offer a great chance to catch the salmon run, where millions of salmon swim and leap upstream to spawn in the places they were born. It’s arguably one of nature’s most fascinating spectacles.

19. Gorongosa National Park, Mozambique

A desert warthog in Gorongosa National Park, Mozambique (Shutterstock)

For something a bit different, embrace the beautiful spring season in Mozambique’s premier national park, the so-called ‘Serengeti of the south’.

In spring (September and October), the park’s diverse array of flora and fauna blossom into a lovely shade of green. This month is also peak season for seeing the elephants, wildebeest, warthogs, hippos, lions and buffalo that call the park home as they all flock to watering holes to quench their thirst.

Birders won’t be disappointed either, and you may spot a Nile crocodile or two around Lake Urema and its varying lagoons. Fourteen African wild dogs were also re-introduced to Gorongosa in 2018, so keep your eyes peeled. One creature you may not spot? A zebra. They’re rare – apparently, there are just a few roaming the park.

20. Falsterbo, Sweden

500 million migratory birds pass by the Skanor-Falsterbo peninsula (Shutterstock)

Sweden’s south coast isn’t especially known for its wildlife. The exception is the Skanor-Falsterbo peninsula (aka Naset), home to a pair of small towns on the south-western tip of Skåne that are wrapped by pencil-thin shores. In September, it also becomes the perfect viewing spot to see 500 million migratory birds pass by, including a huge number of raptors.

The rooftop of the bird observatory is a great place to bag a spot. And when you’re done, a short walk away lies the Måkläppen reserve, where a year-round colony of harbor and grey seals hang out on a hook-shaped isthmus. SUP and kayak tours can take you near, but these creatures are so curious that they often swim up close to inspect paddlers.

If you have the time, combine the above with a cycling trip along the Sydkustleden (260km), which runs the flat coastal paths of Skåne and takes in standing stones, medieval cobbled villages, pirate castles, the canals of Malmo and plenty of fikas (afternoon tea).

Portugal trip planner: Discover culture, nature and sensational scenery

There is a fresh candidate to join the premier league of ‘Great Swimming Pools of the World™’. Cool, sparklingly clear and shimmering in dappled shade, the pool is formed by granite boulders and fed by a waterfall on the Regueiro dos Enxurros stream. I chanced upon this sublime spot on a hot afternoon while hiking through the wild Serra d’Arga range of hills in Portugal’s northern Minho region.

Actually, I have a water snake to thank for the find. My walking companions and I disturbed the coiled creature while we forded a stream. It slithered away, but we followed it around some rocks to the pool. The water looked so inviting, even harbouring a hidden snake in its shadowy depths, that we peeled off sweaty T-shirts and jumped in.

Having grown up in northern Portugal, I’m frequently asked for tips on exploring the region. If my questioners are hikers, nature lovers or merely adventurous, it is the chain of craggy mountains, running parallel with the coast between Porto and the river Minho to the north, that comes to mind. The Serra d’Arga, one link in this chain, rises 825 metres out of the sea and is deserted save for wild ponies and the ruined São João monastery. There are few marked walking trails, but over the years I have followed countless ancient shepherds’ paths across these wild uplands where birds of prey wheel overhead and boar scrabble in the scrub.

As with so many parts of Portugal there are always wonders and fresh discoveries, so I should really not have been surprised to come across enchanted rock pools of a kind that in other places would feature in brochures and have railings and drinks stalls. But there was something unusually elating about this hidden spot. Not even water snakes could keep me away.


Lisbon’s iconic yellow tramway (Sean Hsu/Shutterstock)

Best for: History, architecture, food, music

Route: Lisbon

When to go: Year round.

Why do it: To revel in the location, and for the palaces, castles and monasteries that tell the story of a proud and ancient nation. To savour gourmet meals and be transported to other realms by the music. And because laid-back Lisbon, sprawled over hills on the wide Tagus estuary, is a beauty and it knows it.

The most eye-catching part of town is the Moorish Alfama quarter of cobbled alleys, miniature squares and whitewashed houses with wrought-iron balconies, rising in tiers from the great Tagus river. You will probably hear the drums of Mozambique and Cape Verde as you stroll through the Alfama, reminders of when this small country commanded the sea route to the east and ruled an Empire.

Unimaginable wealth flowed Lisbon’s way while Portugal controlled the spices trade. The trappings of this era are most evident in Belém district, reached by a tram ride along the Tagus estuary. It was from here that Vasco da Gama and other navigators sailed during Portugal’s golden age of exploration.

Find the Torre de Belém fortress at the water’s edge. This most photogenic of landmarks was built in the 16th century to guard the maritime headquarters. Centrepiece of the district is the astounding Jerónimos monastery, the most exuberant example of Manueline architecture. This is the flamboyant, Portuguese style that celebrates the seafaring exploits with stone-carved extravagances such as sails and sea-monsters and here, royal sarcophagusi rest on marble elephants.

Bohemian Bairro Alto is the district to listen to fado, Lisbon’s soulful, homegrown music. Fado gives expression to the notion of saudade – an ethereal longing for something lost or unattainable. Fado houses, most of which are also bars and restaurants, can be found amid the Bairro Alto’s stone stairs and steep streets. Follow your ears.

The Alentejo

Giraldo Square at the heart of Évora (Shutterstock)

Best for: Scenery, open spaces, castles, history, archaeology

Route: Lisbon • Évora • Marvão • Estremoz • Monsaraz • Grândola • Mértola • Faro

When to go: Spring and autumn are best. Summers can be baking.

Why do it: For a multi-stop tour through sun-baked plains of cork-forest, historic towns, whitewashed villages, Moorish citadels and hilltops crowned with castles.

Over the last several years, the Alentejo – literally ‘beyond the Tagus’ – has become suddenly and unexpectedly popular. However, the region covers a huge area, about a third of the country but with barely a tenth of the population, so it still feels empty and in parts remote.

A journey across the region between Lisbon and Faro in the Algarve, is the practical way to make the most of it.

The unmissable marvel is Évora, a UNESCO World Heritage Site and sightseers’ dream. Treasures, all tightly packed within massive city walls, range from Portugal’s best-preserved Roman temple to a chapel lined with human skulls. Then there are gleaming towns built from the locally-quarried marble: Estremoz where a legendary queen worked miracles; and Vila Viçosa, seat of Portugal’s last royal dynasty.

Marvão and Monsaraz are spectacular walled hill villages dominated by medieval castles. Further south you can stay on a cork-growing plantation near Grândola, or by tranquil Lake Alqueva, a vast expanse of water, artificially created by a dam.

Mértola, on a rocky gorge of the Guadiana river in the far south, has a fabulous fortress and Portugal’s only surviving Moorish mosque.

The Algarve’s extremities

The beaches fringing Ria Formosa NP (Michael Schroeder/Shutterstock)

Best for: Bird watching, nature, elemental high drama

Route: Faro • Ria Formosa Natural Park • Tavira • Ilha de Tavira • Sagres • Cape St Vincent • Arrifana • Aljezur

When to go: Spring and autumn are best. Winter can also be wonderful for birding.

Why do it: Because there is so much more to the Algarve than the thronging beach resorts – explore its nature-rich east-end and ruggedly wild west.

Slice Portugal’s deep south into three, roughly equal, pieces and you find a trio of quite distinct Algarves. The idea here is to forget the touristy middle section, and instead explore both the bird-rich flatlands of the east, and the wild, sea-surged west.

Eastwards, beyond Faro, the coastline splinters into marshy wetlands, salt flats and sandy islands which emerge and disappear with the tide. Spoonbills, flamingos, and waders that winter in West Africa find their way to Ria Formosa NP in huge numbers.

The waterfront at Tavira, on the Gilão estuary is lined with elegant, 18th century classical facades built on the prosperity of tuna fishing. Have lunch at a quayside seafood restaurant before catching the ferry out to Ilha de Tavira island, an 11km-long strand of tide-washed, desert island-esque sand.

Around Sagres over on the western side of the Algarve, gulls swirl and hover over sheer 75m cliffs. The furthest promontory is Cape St Vincent, the very corner of continental Europe, punctuated with a lighthouse. Turn right here and you are on Portugal’s west coast, where a track off the main road leads to Arrifana beach where waves crash onto expanses of sand overhung with reddy- brown bluffs. A short way inland, you’ll find the Moorish town of Aljezur, all whitewashed walls and red tiles topped by a ruined castle

The far north

Vineyards of Douro valley (Shutterstock)

Best for: Hiking, wildlife, scenery and wine

Route: Porto • Pinhão • Côa valley • Bragança • Montesinho Natural Park • Peneda-Gerês National Park • PontShelve dee Bs of grarca • Papesorto

When to go: Avoid winter

Why do it: To meander through one of Europe’s most isolated and forgotten corners. For vinous treats and hiking in far-flung mountains.

From Porto, wind eastwards up the Douro valley into the heart of port wine-growing country where vines and silvery olive trees grow on terraces hewn out of precipitous mountainsides. Stay at Pinhão for winery tours and tastings, before continuing up to the remote alley of the Côa tributary where Europe’s most extensive array of Palaeolithic rock engravings was discovered in the 1980s.

Then head north for Tras-os-Montes – literally ‘behind the mountains’ – in the far right-hand corner of the map. Montesinho Natural Park, which begins just beyond the region’s fortress-city capital Bragança, is Portugal’s wildlife-richest area. Hares leap through the heather blanketing this giant hump of wild and exposed upland, and you might spot foxes and genets, or otters in the streams. Wolves are rarely seen but their spine- tingling howl is sometimes heard at night.

Return westwards through the Minho region where Peneda-Gerês NP has superlative hiking. Much of it is on newly-waymarked trails through dramatic mountains such as the Trilho dos Moinhos de Parada (Trail of the Mills) near Ponte de Barca.

Historic centre

Alcobaça Monastery (Shutterstock)

Best for: Culture, history, scenery

Route: Lisbon • Alcobaça • Batalha • Tomar • Serra da Estrêla • Coimbra • Porto

When to go: Spring and autumn are best.

Why do it: The central regions, between the Tagus and Douro rivers, offer a window on Portugal’s national story, while some magnificent landscapes unfurl along the way.

Driving north from Lisbon, sightseeing spectacles arrive thick and fast. Start with Alcobaça Monastery, raised in gratitude for victory over the Moors and best known for its effigies of star-crossed noble lovers Pedro and Inês, buried toe-to-toe. Next comes honey-coloured Batalha, the monastery built to give thanks for defeating the Castilian army in 1385. It holds some extravagant ‘Manueline’ architecture and the tombs of kings and queens.

Head inland to Tomar, a riverside town dominated by the Knights Templar stronghold where Prince Henry (‘the Navigator’) held court. For some relief from the sites, deviate next through the glaciated valley of the Zêzere river into the wilds of the Serra da Estrêla, mainland Portugal’s highest mountain range.

Last stop before Porto, has to be Coimbra (pronounced ‘Queenborough’), one of Europe’s oldest University cities, humming with activity during student terms. At other times, the hilly old town feels more like a huge museum; do not miss the university library, a trio of baroque rooms with expanses of gilt wood and more than a million books.


Porto old city skyline from across the Douro River (Shutterstock)

Best for: Architecture, boat trips, markets, museums, cycling, food and wine

Route: Porto.

When to go: Year round.

Why do it: To revel in the energy of an ancient trading city that has rediscovered its mojo. For graceful bridges, hidden courtyards and alleyways, art nouveau cafés, gilded churches, captivating museums…and for the port wine (of course!)

Portugal’s second city hardly knows what has hit it, so rapidly has it zoomed up the city break stakes to find itself one of Europe’s most buzzing destinations. Most of the action is within a tight kernel of the historic centre and tarted-up waterside Ribeira district. The port wine ‘lodges’ where there are tours and tastings, are across the river in Vila Nova de Gaia.

But there is so much more to Porto. From the modern new Casa da Música opera house to the Serralves contemporary art museum, this is a city consciously showing its 21st century face. However, for a glimpse of Porto before the high-tech age, you can find boisterous bartering of food and handicrafts in Mercado do Bolhão covered market.

Further afield are some districts still little touched by tourism. One option is to hop on the clunking old tram hugging the north bank to Foz do Douro at the river mouth. Another is to hire a bike and pedal a new cycle route along the same route. The path continues along the salty-aired Atlantic seafront to the Parque da Cidade, beautifully landscaped with lakes, woodland and sculptures.

Want to discover more inspirational journeys? See more trip planners below: