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Discovering Portugal's Nature Parks - hidden gems and thrilling outdoor adventures

There are a lot of reasons to choose Portugal as your holiday destination. While some people come to enjoy the lively cities of Lisbon and Porto, many are attracted by the magnificent beaches that are spread over the coastline. Yet, the country is also filled with natural beauty and has some amazing nature parks where to experience some of the country’s most striking scenery. You can hike rugged cliffs high above crashing waves, make riverbed walks deep in the forest, or put on your skis for winter adventures on Portugal’s highest peaks.

Here are our 7 favorite natural parks in Portugal with plenty of adventures and hidden spots to discover.

1. Sintra-Cascais Natural Park

Sintra-Cascais Natural Park is located on the western coast of Portugal, near the towns of Sintra and Cascais. It covers an area of approx. 145 square kilometers and offers a combination of natural and cultural attractions.

The park encompasses a diverse range of landscapes, including rugged cliffs, sandy beaches, dense forests, and rolling hills. One of the park's most iconic landmarks is Cabo da Roca, the westernmost point of Portugal and mainland Europe, with stunning views of the ocean. Next to Cabo da Roca is Praia da Ursa beach. As it takes some effort to reach it (you have to follow a trail that goes down a cliff), it’s still wild and unspoiled and often deserted… A real gem!

Sintra-Cascais Natural Park is also an excellent destination for outdoor enthusiasts. It provides numerous opportunities for hiking, cycling, and nature walks along its well-maintained trails.

Cabo da Roca, Sintra-Cascais Nature Park, Portugal, The Small Adventure Company - Adventure and Family Holidays in Europe

2. Ria Formosa Natural Park

Ria Formosa Natural Park is set along the southern coast of Portugal in the Algarve. Established as a natural park in 1987, Ria Formosa is a designated protected area characterized by its network of lagoons, wetlands, marshes, sandbars, dunes, and barrier islands that create a biodiverse ecosystem. It serves as a habitat for numerous plant and animal species, including migratory birds, fish, shellfish, and marine mammals.

One of the park's primary attractions is its stunning beaches with fine golden sand, such as Ilha de Faro, Praia de Faro, and Ilha Deserta. Besides you can embark on boat tours, kayaking trips, or visit the park's visitor centers for educational exhibits and information about the park's ecology. Apart from its natural attractions, you can also immerse in the local lifestyle by visiting the traditional fishing communities that have preserved their cultural heritage and traditional fishing practices. Here you can learn the craft of making shellfish traps and fishing nets, a unique experience.

Ria Formosa, Algarve, Portugal, The Small Adventure Company - Adventure and Family Holidays in Europe

3. Peneda-Gerês National Park

Peneda-Gerês National Park is unique for being the only national park in Portugal. Located in the northern part of the country, it is named after the Peneda and Gerês mountain ranges that dominate the landscape.

Peneda-Gerês National Park is renowned for its stunning natural beauty with a wide range of landscapes, including rugged mountains, deep valleys, crystal-clear rivers, cascading waterfalls, and dense forests. You can explore the park's natural wonders on its hiking trails, ranging from leisurely strolls to more challenging routes. Discover hidden gems like the iconic Soajo village with its unique granaries known as "espigueiros." The park's rivers and reservoirs are ideal for swimming, canoeing, and fishing. Along River Adrão you can even embark on an adventurous riverbed walk!

The park is also known for its historical and cultural heritage. Within its boundaries, you can find ancient Roman roads, medieval castles, and traditional villages where locals maintain their customs and way of life.

Soajo region, Peneda-Geres National Park, Portugal, the Small Adventure Company - Adventure and Family Holidays in Europe

4. Douro Internacional Natural Park

Douro Internacional Natural Park is set in the northeastern part of Portugal, along the border with Spain. It covers an area of approximately 85 square kilometers and is named after the Douro River, which flows through the park. The river's flow has carved out the rocks over centuries, resulting in impressive canyons and gorges for which it earned the title of “Grand Canyon” of the Iberian Peninsula. Kayaking is a popular activity in the Douro Internacional Nature Park as from the river you get stunning views from the surrounding landscape and you might spot local fauna while you peddle through the river. One of the park's highlights is the viewpoint at Miranda do Douro, which provides panoramic views of the Douro River and the surrounding cliffs.

Douro Internacional Nature Park, Portugal, The Small Adventure Company - Adventure and Family Holidays in Europe

5. Serra da Estrela Natural Park

Serra da Estrela Natural Park is the largest natural park in Portugal, located in the central part of the country. The park is characterized by its high mountains, deep valleys, and glacial landscapes. It is home to the highest peak in mainland Portugal, Torre (1,993 m). During the winter months, Serra da Estrela is a playground for winter sports enthusiasts. The park offers skiing and snowboarding opportunities, with resorts and facilities available.

In the summer, you can find fantastic opportunities for hiking and mountaineering on its extensive network of trails that lead through stunning landscapes and traditional rural communities, where you can learn about traditional cheese making.

A hidden gem in Serra da Estrale is the Covão da Ametade, a wide, flat valley surrounded by towering mountains. The valley was formed by glacial activity during the Ice Age, and it is traversed by the Zêzere River, which adds to the picturesque charm of the spot. During the winter months, Covão d'Ametade transforms into a winter wonderland and is a popular spot for skiing and snowboarding.

Serra da Estrela Nature Park, Portugal, The Small Adventure Company - Adventure and Family Holidays in Europe

6. Arrábida Natural Park:

Arrábida Natural Park is a stunning natural park located in the Setúbal District of Portugal, along the southwestern coast of the country. It is characterized by its rugged limestone cliffs, crystal-clear turquoise waters, pristine sandy beaches, and secluded coves, such as Portinho da Arrábida and Galapinhos, which are considered some of the most beautiful beaches in Portugal.

The park's landscape is also marked by the Serra da Arrábida mountain range, which rises abruptly from the sea. The mountains are covered with dense Mediterranean vegetation, including cork oak and pine forests. Arrábida Natural Park is a haven for wildlife, both on land and in the sea. It is home to various bird species and the waters surrounding the park are a habitat for dolphins, seahorses, and a wide variety of marine life. The park offers excellent opportunities for hiking. Snorkeling and diving lovers can explore the park's marine ecosystems and enjoy its crystal-clear waters. If you are in for more adventure, try coasteering. You can experience unique moments of adventure while cliff-jumping and swimming.

Arrábida Natural Park's proximity to Lisbon, about an hour's drive away, makes it easily accessible for day trips or as a short break with Portugal's capital as a home base.

Arrabida Nature Park, Setubal, Portugal, the Small Adventure Company - Adventure and Family Holidays in Europe

7. Southwest Alentejo And Vicentine Coast Natural Park

The Southwest Alentejo and Vicentine Coast Natural Park is a protected area located in the Alentejo and Algarve regions of southwestern Portugal. It is one of the country's most pristine coastal areas, stretching along approximately 110 kilometers of the Atlantic coastline.

The park offers a wide range of outdoor activities, with most importantly its network of well-marked hiking trails including two long-distance routes. The 230-km-long Historical Way runs mainly in the region's interior, while the 120-km-long Fishermen's Trail follows the coast. All trails are well-marked, suitable for hikes without a guide, and adjustable to the needs of all kinds of walkers, including families. The park's beaches are ideal for surfing, with well-known surfing spots such as Porto Covo, Vila Nova de Milfontes, and Praia do Carvalhal, attracting enthusiasts from all over Europe.

Costa Vincentina Nature Park, Alentejo, Portugal, The Small Adventure Company - Adventure and Family Holidays in Europe

Contact us and discover more hidden gems of Portugal and find some inspiration for your next Portugal holiday in our Portugal Adventure Weeks, Portugal Family Adventures and Portugal Adventure Getaways.


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