Deciding what to do in Alentejo will be easier after you read about the activities we suggest. A visit to Alentejo shouldn’t be simply a tourism trip to its main monuments. You have most certainly discovered this page “What to visit in Alentejo | Activities in Alentejo, Portugal” because you wish to visit the region and leave with your “batteries recharged” and a new soul after you live some of the many experiences in Alentejo. Genuine. Memorable.
We will help you decide what to do in Alentejo but also what to see, where to go, what to eat, what to drink, what to visit. This is an experience to live romantically, as a couple. But also as a family, with the children. Bring your friends or… come alone and make new friends among the nice people in Alentejo.
Before we check the list, since you are already curious, let’s look at the Alentejo Map. This way, you will have the notion of where you are in Portugal. Besides, you will also see the different sub-regions, as well as the cities and main villages. Looking at the map, it will be more simple to decide what to do in Alentejo.
|Alto Alentejo: Green||Alentejo Central: Yellow|
|Baixo Alentejo: Orange||Alentejo Litoral: Blue|
What to do in Alentejo? | Activities in Alentejo for everyone
The question “What to do in Alentejo?” has as many different answers as the number of people questioned. This is an area with an enormous diversity. Consequently, the experiences you will live will certainly meet your tastes and expectations.
1 – Visit several villages and cities
One of the obvious experiences to live while you visit Alentejo is to go through the central streets in the most iconic cities and villages. With no defined plan. This way, after every corner, you will find an architectural trace of the past. And you will also come across a tradition kept, a craftsman working, a nice alentejano ready to chat.
The Alentejo is a region with a very well-defined culture. But every village also has its peculiar stories, gastronomic traditions, customs that set it apart from the others.
Draw an Alentejo travel itinerary that includes your favourite spots. However, you should leave some time to discover small “gems” off the beaten track too. It wouldn’t take you too long to see them. But this isn’t the way to travel, especially in this region, known for the slow pace of time passing by…
2 – Try the food
Travelling is synonymous with tasting local food. Alentejo was once one of the poorest regions in Portugal. So, the imagination of the alentejanos had to create incredible flavours with the ingredients the soil provided them at every season of the year.
In high-end restaurants but also in the most modest and old typical taverns, you will discover a very rich traditional cuisine. To have as a snack or appetiser for your meal (and also take home) we have cheese, sausages, prosciutto, olives.
Many soups are called “açordas” because we add the wonderful Alentejo bread to the broth made with water and tomato, purslane, dogfish,… Additionally, we also find bread in the famous “migas” (crumbs), which can go with multiple meat dishes. There are a lot of seasonings, with a major highlight for the delicious olive oil.
In the Alentejo Coast, the specialties are the “cataplanas” (a casserole used to prepare Portuguese seafood dishes) and “caldeiradas” (fish stews) prepared with the very fresh ingredients that the Atlantic ocean provides. Throughout the region, for dessert, we have sweets such as “queijadas” (traditional cheese cake), “pastéis de toucinho” (lard pastry), “pão de rala”, “sericaia” (similar to sponge cake) and many more.
3 – Visit a wine cellar and taste the wine
What to do in Alentejo? Taste the wine, of course! One of the first activities that comes to our mind is to enjoy a marvellous meal with one of the excellent wines produced here. A large part of the 54,000 ac (22,000 ha) of vineyard planted in the region encompasses the eight sub-regions of Denominação de Origem Alentejo (Protected Designation of Origin): Borba, Evora, Granja-Amareleja, Moura, Portalegre, Redondo, Reguengos de Monsaraz and Vidigueira.
No wonder Alentejo is the wine market leader in Portugal, wins international awards every year and had a city (Reguengos de Monsaraz) considered European wine capital in 2015.
To visit cellars and taste the Alentejo wine is an extremely attractive experience for wine lovers. Enotourism allows for direct contact with the estates where vineyards grow and the cellars where grapes are transformed. Here, you can witness the whole process before your tasting.
In Evora, the Vinhos do Alentejo association (Alentejo Wines) has its own space, which you can visit. If you decide to follow the Rota dos vinhos do Alentejo (Alentejo Wine Route), independently or by contacting us to do a personalised tour (you are on holiday, after all!), you will encounter many cellars with tastings, guided visits, restaurants and even accommodation. Among many others, some of the most well-known cellars where we regularly take clients are: Tiago Cabaço, João Portugal Ramos, Esporão, Cartuxa, Quinta do Quetzal, Herdade do Freixo,…
4 – Get to know the Alentejo megalithic sites
Today, the megalithic monuments create a great deal of curiosity over people who visit Alentejo. In Evora district alone, we know more than 10 megalithic sites! Moreover, there are more than 100 isolated menhirs, close to 800 dolmens and around 450 megalithic settlements.
Nevertheless, the megalithic monuments don’t exist only in Evora but throughout Alentejo. There is a big concentration in Sierra d’Ossa and near Monsaraz, for example. The reason is simple: part of the Alentejo region touches the river basins of the Tagus, Sado and Guadiana, the largest rivers in southern Portugal. Therefore, it was a vital point of passage and settlement for the hunter-gatherer communities.
If you are near Evora looking for what to do in Alentejo, explore some of the most important prehistoric monuments of the whole region. These are called Anta Grande do Zambujeiro (a large dolmen), Menir dos Almendres (Almendres Menhir) and Cromeleque dos Almendres (Almendres Cromlech). The latter is the biggest megalithic monument in the Iberian Peninsula. Cromeleque dos Almendres is also one of the oldest in the world, 2000 years older than Stonehenge. It was built considering the astronomical phenomena related to the yearly movement of the Sun and Moon.
Being someone who is interested on the subject, you can visit the Núcleo Interpretativo do Megalitismo (in Convento dos Remédios, Evora) or the Museu Interactivo do Megalitismo (in Mora). However, don’t waste the opportunity to see the monuments with your own eyes. This is the only way to really get to feel the “vibes” and the environment around them.
5 – Understand UNESCO nominations
In the last few years, Unesco has been recognising the importance of Alentejo, by considering as World Heritage some of the places and practices in the region. The list below could almost be regarded as a short synopsis of what to visit and do in Alentejo.
Alentejo World Heritage Sites
- Historic centre of Evora
- Garrison Border Town of Elvas and its fortifications
Intangible Cultural Heritage of Humanity in Alentejo
- Cante Alentejano, polyphonic singing from Alentejo, southern Portugal
- Craftmanship of Estremoz clay figures
- Mediterranean diet
Intangible Cultural Heritage in Need of Urgent Safeguarding
- Manufacture of cowbells (Alcáçovas)
6 – Appreciate nature more closely
Alentejo is a huge region with a low population density. In other words, nature takes a key role in the territory. Consequently, on its own, it becomes a must on your list of activities in Alentejo.
With a guaranteed well-deserved rest by the end of the day at the accommodation of your choice, go off and explore pedestrian and bike trails. Look into sierras, hills, valleys and streams. Visit some of the locations below if you are a nature lover. They are perfect to breathe in the fresh air and observe the animals and plants you come across.
- Parque Natural da Serra de São Mamede
- Parque Natural do Sudoeste Alentejano e Costa Vicentina
- Parque Natural do Vale do Guadiana
- Reserva Natural do Estuário do Sado
- Reserva Natural das Lagoas de Santo André e da Sancha
Bear in mind that a “parque natural” is a “natural park” and that a “reserva natural” is a natural reserve. Apart from these areas, be sure to get in touch with the quintessential Alentejo ecosystem, the “montado” (cork forest).
7 – Have a good time in the interior Alentejo waters
Moving around by car towards your next activity in Alentejo, you will notice that there are many dams and lakes along the roads. They store water for household consumption and farm lands. Apart from this purpose, the lakes are increasingly irresistible for visitors who look for either tranquility or the emotions of water sports. Good examples of the latter are waterski, rowing, sailing, canoeing, SUP,…
Being the largest lake in Europe, Lake Alqueva is the most well-known in Alentejo. For its size but also for its beauty, up close or from a vantage viewpoint such as Monsaraz.
Visit or sleep in one of the Alqueva’s “aldeias ribeirinhas” (waterside villages): Luz, Estrela, Alqueva, Amieira, Juromenha, Monsaraz. There won’t be any shortage of activities around here. Try fishing. Rent a boat or go on a small cruise starting from Cais da Barragem, Marina da Amieira or Centro Náutico de Monsaraz.
As if Lake Alqueva was not enough, take the chance to get to know other lakes and dams perfect for the activity which you seek. Montargil and Maranhão are good examples. Further south, memorise the names Divor, Vigia, Odivelas, Alvito, Santa Clara. If you are into river beaches, follow the Alentejo fields to your ideal spot and refresh in the hot Summer months: Praia Fluvial de Monsaraz, Praia Fluvial de Mourão, Praia Fluvial da Tapada Grande (Mina de S. Domingos, Mértola), Praia Fluvial da Ponte do Paço (Mora), several beaches in Montargil.
8 – Participate in pop/rock music or popular festivals
Participating in an event is certainly one of the best things to do in Alentejo. Why? Because this is the way for you to easily get in contact with the population who is proud of Alentejo traditions. There are many events in Alentejo, throughout the whole region. Throughout the year, you will always have a celebrating municipality. This will certainly give you a sample of the best things the village has to offer. For those who live there and the ones who visit.
Expect to find medieval and Arab fairs and markets. Get ready for specific events dedicated to handicrafts, gastronomy, arts (music, cinema, theatre), agriculture, wine,… In the 3 district capitals, events such as Feira de S. João (Evora), Ovibeja (Beja) and Feira de Portalegre have been part of tradition for decades. In many cities and villages, there are weekly markets where you will see (and taste!) the best products in Alentejo.
For those who love music, festivals happen essentially closer to summer time (June to September). The obvious highlight goes to MEO Sudoeste, in Zambujeira do Mar, for the perfect communion between both Pop/Rock international and national artists by the beach in the Alentejo Coast. Also by the sea, do not miss the festival Músicas do Mundo (World Music), in Sines. Further into the interior, make plans to go to Andanças (an international traditional music and dance festival in Castelo de Vide), Festival de Lavre and Festival do Crato.
If what you are looking for what to do in Alentejo and you appreciate classical music, go to Festival Pedreira dos Sons (Viana do Alentejo), Festival Internacional de Música de Marvão (Marvão) and Festival Terras Sem Sombra (several locations in Alentejo).
9 – Visit museums, castles, palaces and other places of cultural interest
The presence of so many peoples in Alentejo over centuries left the region an enormous spoil of ancient remains. These are priceless in terms of culture. As a result, we suggest a few visits in this top of best things to do in Alentejo.
Drawing your route in Alentejo, include some of the following places in your road map. The list is not complete, of course. But it is meant to be only the starting point for other discoveries, equally or even more interesting.
Museums in Alentejo
There are 47 municipalities in Alentejo. Each one values culture and has, at least, one museum where you will know the history of the municipality more closely. However, there are so many museum that it would be exhausting to enumerate them in detail.
So, here is a short list of themes: sacred art, horses, tapestry, embroidery, terracotta, olive oil, carpets, soap, rurality, archeology, military, photography, marble, watches, frescoes, wine, coffee, arbutus, flour, rice, ethnography, miners, firemen, contraband, contemporary art,…
Still with regard to museums, we have to mention one for its uniqueness in Portugal. We are talking about Capela dos Ossos (Bones Chapel), one of the ex-libris of Evora. Don’t forget that some Alentejo libraries are also interesting places at historic, architectural and (obviously) cultural levels.
- Norte Alentejano – Alegrete, Alter do Chão, Amieira do Tejo, Arronches, Avis, Belver, Cabeço de Vide, Campo Maior, Castelo de Vide, Elvas, Marvão, Nisa, Ouguela, Portalegre
- Alentejo Central – Alandroal, Arraiolos, Borba, Estremoz, Evora, Evoramonte, Juromenha, Monsaraz, Mourão, Montemor-o-Novo, Portel, Redondo, Terena, Veiros, Viana do Alentejo, Vila Viçosa
- Baixo Alentejo – Alvito, Beja, Mértola, Moura, Noudar, Serpa
- Alentejo Litoral – Alcácer do Sal, Pessegueiro, Santiago do Cacém, Sines, Vila Nova de Milfontes
If you are interested in military architecture, it is important to have a close look at the donjons in Beja and Estremoz, as well as visit the chapel/fortress of Nossa Senhora da Boa Nova de Terena. You shouldn’t also miss the above mentioned “Garrison Border Town of Elvas and its Fortifications”, world heritage according to UNESCO.
In addition to some small palaces spread throughout the whole south of Portugal, all Alentejo palaces are located in Evora district.
- Evora – Galeria das Damas (Ladies’ Galleries) in Palácio D.Manuel, Antigo Palácio Arquiepiscopal (old Archepiscopal Palace, Museum of Evora today), Palácio dos Condes de Basto, Palácio dos Duques de Cadaval
- Vila Viçosa – Paço Ducal de Vila Viçosa (ducal palace)
Roman Ruins in Alentejo
The Romans dominated the Iberian Peninsula completely until the 3rd century AD. Consequently, they left a big amount of remains of their presence in Alentejo. Many are still in excellent state of conservation considering their age. The following are the most obvious highlights.
- In Evora – Roman Temple, Roman Baths in Evora City Hall, Cerca Velha (Old Wall), Porta de D. Isabel (Queen Isabel Door), Casa de Burgos (house)
- Villa Romana de Nossa Senhora da Tourega (Evora)
- Ruínas Romanas de Troia
- Ruínas Romanas de Miróbriga (Santiago do Cacém)
- Ruínas Romanas de Cucufate (Vidigueira)
Be sure to also get to know one of only four buildings of the Muslim heritage in Portugal, the Igreja Matriz de Mértola (main church).
10 – Discover the Alentejo Coast
Considered by many as the last wild coast in Europe and perhaps one of the most beautiful in the world, the whole Alentejo Coast is a territory for you to explore. From the Peninsula of Troia until the Algarve, there is a practically untouched coastline with incredible sceneries. You will find many long and welcoming beaches, beautiful dunes, rocky cliffs, imposing lighthouses, inspiring capes, small islands, river estuaries,…
If you are looking for what to do in Alentejo by the ocean, you will be surprised with the numerous options. Other than, evidently, being able to rest in the sand enjoying the hot Alentejo sun, there are a lot of other outdoor activities. Practise water sports, watch the birds, go fishing, ride a horse, go scuba diving near the coast, go trekking, explore the countryside on a mountain bike,…
Nature lovers can visit several natural reserves and parks: Reserva Botânica das Dunas da Península de Troia, Reserva Natural do Estuário do Sado, Reserva Natural das Lagoas de Santo André e da Sancha, Parque Natural do Sudoeste Alentejano e Costa Vicentina (which extends all the way to the south coast, already in the Algarve).
From Santiago do Cacém until near Cabo de S. Vicente, a cape in the Algarve, you can trek or ride a mountain bike around some of the 28 routes in the Rota Vicentina (Vicentine Route). If you play golf try the course in Troia Resort for the sport itself but also for the contact with nature.
On cultural, historical or architectural levels, the highlights in this Alentejo area go to the charming cities and villages; the many castles and forts; the Roman ruins in Miróbriga and in Troia. Near the latter, also visit the peculiar Cais Palafitico da Carrasqueira (a pier on wooden stilts). It was built by fishermen in mid 19th century as a dock to allow access to boats during low tide.
11 – Follow the tourist routes of Alentejo
Tourism in the region is extremely easy. Not only due to the vast array of activities in Alentejo but also because the endless plains have good roads. These will drive you to special places. If you want to know what to do in Alentejo and have specific interests in the areas we show you below, add these suggestions to your travel plan.
Rota do Mármore (Marble Route)
The so-called Alentejo white gold shows itself to visitors through the Marble Route. The secrets of this raw material hidden in the soils are revealed in the municipalities of Alandroal, Borba, Estremoz, Sousel and Vila Viçosa. The available activities include going to the bottom of quarries and visits to underground exploration galleries. Another pretty interesting aspect is that you can see the methods of working the marble to include in the Alentejo monuments, in terms of architecture and sculpture.
Rota dos Vinhos do Alentejo (Alentejo Wine Route)
The objective of the Alentejo Wine Route is that it becomes much more than a map corresponding to a tourist circuit. With the enotourism in Alentejo theme always in mind, the goal is that people visiting the region can absorb other sides of what is a little bit of the Alentejo soul. Some examples are the patrimony, the tourist and cultural events in the various municipalities, the people we find in the villages and the countryside. We cannot forget, of course, the gastronomy associated to the tasting of the different wine grape varieties picked around here.
Wine cellars are part of the route. You can visit them and have a wine tasting. Some of these cellars are also hotels/rural tourism houses or even restaurants. A good way to finish or start your itinerary is to visit the tasting room in Evora.
Rota do Fresco (Fresco Route)
The Fresco Route takes you through the municipalities of Alvito, Cuba, Portel, Vidigueira and Viana do Alentejo searching for murals painted in chapels, hermitages and churches between the 15th and 19th centuries. These mural paintings were painted over, covered by Alentejo lime, because they were considered vulgar and non-artistic.
Today, they are recovered and can be visited in some religious temples like, for example, the old Convento de S. Cucufate (Vidigueira), the Igreja Matriz de Nossa Senhora da Assunção and the Ermida de S. Sebastião (Alvito), the Igreja de Faro do Alentejo (Cuba), the Ermida de S. Geraldo de Alcáçovas (Viana Do Alentejo), the Capela de S. Brás (Portel).
Rota Vicentina (Vicentine Route)
The Rota Vicentina, already mentioned above, is the perfect way to fall in love with the Portuguese Southwest. Taking these suggested paths in the Alentejo coast (a total of 280mi/450km) allows you to get in touch with nature. In addition, it also lets you explore the historic and cultural heritage in this particular region. Head to the tracks on foot or on a mountain bike. They have been followed by the locals for a long time and go from Santiago do Cacém, in the Alentejo coast, to Cabo de São Vicente, in Algarve.
- Historical Way (12) – originally followed by pilgrims, it goes through the main towns and villages in a rural itinerary.
- Fishermen’s Trail (9) – can only be walked, like the locals have always done to go to fishing spots and beaches.
- Circular Routes (7) – these start and finish in the same location, allowing for shorter trekkings with less logistics involved.
12 – Finding the people’s roots in Alentejo crafts
Like in any other trip, the research to decide what to do in Alentejo entices our curiosity to the ways of life of its people. Crafts are a manifestation of the legacy left throughout the centuries in the whole region for the manufactured of pieces that were once everyday objects.
For many travellers, it is not enough to take home a piece of handicrafts as a souvenir. They want to see and feel the places where they are made, as well as meet the artisans and talk to them. The manifestations of Alentejo handicraft are vast. Below, we give you some examples and the areas where each stands out.
- Pieces in cork and traditional Alentejo clothes – around Alentejo
- Pottery and Painting – Crato, Estremoz, Nisa, Redondo, S. Pedro do Corval (largest pottery centre in Portugal), Viana do Alentejo
- Carpets, blankets and tapestry – Arraiolos, Mértola, Nisa, Portalegre, Reguengos de Monsaraz
- Rattles – Alcáçovas
- Furniture and decorative objects in forged iron – Campo Maior and Ferreira do Alentejo
- Leather garments – Alcácer do Sal, Almodôvar, Alter do Chão, Cuba, Nossa Senhora de Machede, Terrugem
To this short list, we can also add tilling, calabash, basketry, cutlery (Azaruja), pieces made of horn (Nossa Senhora de Machede), etc.
As you could see if you were brave enough to read this long text until the end, there is no shortage of activities in Alentejo. All you have to do now is choose and book your trip. Perhaps even trips… See you soon!