Top 10 Landscape Photography Locations in Portugal
Portuguese landscapes were what first made me fall in love with landscape photography. More than 10 years after and having photographed some of the world’s most spectacular landscapes, I’m always eager to return to some of the best landscape photography locations here in Portugal.
Portugal is one of the oldest countries in Europe but is still quite unknown as a landscape photography destination. The country has a privileged situation, on the western-south edge of the Iberian Peninsula, with more than 800km of Atlantic coast, and comprising the archipelagos of Madeira and Azores in the North Atlantic Ocean.
Despite its small land area, Portugal has a wide variety of natural landscapes, from beaches and cliffs to wide plain fields, to mountains and volcanos. Its mild and warm weather invites outdoor activities all year round.
In addition to its natural marvels, it also has plenty of heritage sites, from mystical castles to charming historical villages and towns.
For this article, I’ve chosen my 10 favourite locations for landscape photography in Portugal, including natural and urbanised landscapes. It was not an easy task, as there are many more wonderful places to visit and photograph. But I hope this selection may inspire you and make you want to visit this wonderful country.
1. Net-shaped rocky beach near Vila Nova de Milfontes, Alentejo Coast
Close to the picturesque village of Vila Nova de Milfontes you can find a wide variety of photography subjects, including the beautiful beaches close to the mouth of River Mira. One of my favourites is called Praia do Farol – it is covered by a kind of rocky net that connects the white sand dunes with the ocean.
Depending on the weather and the season, these rock formations can be totally covered by sand or by the tide. From my experience, they are usually visible during springtime, at low tide and with a calm sea.
The beach is westward-oriented, making it perfect to photograph at sunset. Although the beach is easily accessible, you should be careful while moving over the rocks; they could be sharp and slippery.
Read more: How to Use Water in Your Landscape Photos
2. Flysch cliffs in The Southwest Alentejo and Vicentine Coast Natural Park (Parque Natural do Sudoeste Alentejano e Costa Vicentina)
The Southwest Alentejo and Vicentine Coast Natural Park is the best-preserved stretch of European coastline, with several unique species of fauna and flora, and a landscape marked by steep cliffs and untouched beaches.
Geologically, most of the coastal rocks are formed by flysch – layers of sandstone and shale/mudstone. These formations are visible along the west coast of Alentejo and Algarve, forming beautiful shapes on the cliffs and on the beaches.
Some of the best places to photograph them are:
Cabo Sardão: Cape with huge cliffs over the ocean. It’s the only place in the world where storks nest in sea cliffs. Bring your telephoto lens to this location!
Praia da Amoreira: Beautiful white sand beach surrounded by flysch cliffs. The flysch rocks in the ground are more likely to be visible in spring and at low tide. Bring all your lenses for this spot, along with a good pair of waterproof boots!
Praia do Canal: It’s a stunning rocky beach, covered by flysch horizontal layered ground and mossy round rocks. This location is better at low tide, but be careful as the rocks are very slippery. I recommend you bring all your lenses, as well as a tripod and trusted waterproof boots.
Read more: How to Photograph the Coast
3. Algar de Benagil and Algarve limestone cliffs
Along the south coast of Algarve, between Cabo de São Vicente and Faro, there are countless sea stacks, arches and caves created by the erosion of the sea in the limestone cliffs.
Near the village of Carvoeiro is the most beautiful of these caves: the Benagil Cave (Algar de Benagil, in Portuguese).
The Benagil Cave is a geological marvel; an open-sky cave with a surreal sand beach inside. From above on the cliffs, you can see the beach below through its hole, but it’s not possible to go down into the cave.
The cave is only accessible by the sea, so to visit the inside, the best and safest option is to book a boat tour at the nearby Benagil Beach. The boat tours usually include a visit to other caves in the area as well as to the beautiful arches of the neighbouring Marinha Beach (another great location for landscape photography).
Avoid the high season, between June and September – Algarve is a very popular destination in summer and its beaches are usually crowded.
Don’t forget to check the tides – at low tide, you can reach some arches and caves that are not accessible at high tide. Bring all your lenses to this location.
Read more: The Best Lenses for Landscape Photography
4. The Great Lake of Alqueva and Alqueva Dark Sky Reserve, Alentejo
The Alqueva dam is built on the River Guadiana and is one of the largest artificial lakes in Europe. It covers about 250 sq km and has many photographic points of interest: scenic castles, historic villages, and spectacular viewpoints over the reflecting pool.
Near the villages of Luz and Estrela, you can capture the reflections of the fields of olive trees, cork oaks and holm oaks, some converted into islands by the dam.
From the historical walled village of Monsaraz, you have the most stunning views over the lake. The best time to photograph from the walls of Monsaraz is at sunrise when the first sunbeams illuminate the waters through the morning mist.
5. Mina de São Domingos, Alentejo
Mina de São Domingos, near Mértola, is a mining village founded from the exploration of copper and sulphur until 1966 when the mine was abandoned.
The small village is surrounded by water: at the west by Tapada Grande lake and at the east by Tapada Pequena lake. At the south lies the open-cast mine, which has formed a lake with very intense colours due to the contact of the minerals with the oxygen of the atmosphere.
The village and its surroundings have a wide variety of interesting points for landscape photographers: the abandoned mine ruins, the colourful mine lake and several smaller pounds along the mined area, the fields of cork oaks, olive trees and vineyards nearby, and the beautiful views over Tapada Grande lake and its small islands between the morning mists.
The best time of year to visit and photograph this area is between October and May. Spring is a wonderful time in the Alentejo interior, as the fields are green and blooming, and the weather is pleasant. In the summertime, it can be extremely hot and the chances to get mist on the lakes are small.
Bring all your lenses to photograph this location.
6. Quinta da Regaleira in Sintra
Hidden among a majestic pine forest, Sintra combines exotic and traditional architecture with wonderful views. Listed by UNESCO as a Cultural Landscape, Sintra offers a wide variety of beautiful locations to visit and photograph – extravagant palaces and villas, impressive castles, gardens, and woods.
One of my favourite places to photograph in Sintra is The Quinta da Regaleira, a neo-gothic palace and its gardens that are full of magic and mystery. The best time to photograph it is as early as possible in the morning, as that is when the site is quieter. The opening hours can vary according to the season.
This is a very popular tourist attraction and is quite difficult to take photos there without people. To “erase” people in your frames, you can consider doing long exposures (with ND filters) or using multiple exposures.
A wide-angle lens would be a good choice for this location.
7. Promenade on the Tagus River in Lisboa
Lisbon is the capital and largest city of Portugal. Also known as the city of the seven hills, it has plenty of viewpoints and beautiful locations to photograph.
One of my favourite places is the promenade on the Tagus River, from Santo Amaro dock to the Torre de Belém, which is separated by a 3 km walk.
Santo Amaro area is one of the best places to photograph the remarkable red 25 de Abril Bridge with the huge statue of Cristo Rei in the background. While walking to the west, you will find different points of interest, like the modern MAAT Museum (dedicated to the Arts, Architecture and Technology), whose facade beautifully frames the bridge.
Following westward, you’ll find the Padrão dos Descobrimentos, an enormous stone caravel that honours the great Portuguese navigators. A little further, there is the Torre de Belém, one of the best-known symbols of Portugal, and the perfect scenario for photographs at sunset.
To capture a foreground reflection of the Torre de Belém on the waters, you should go at high tide and if possible on a windless day. Bring your wide-angle lens and a tripod!
8. Ribeira of Oporto
Oporto is a coastal city in northwest Portugal, known for its magnificent bridges and the Port Wine production. The Ribeira district, by the Douro River, is the historical centre of Oporto. Its narrow cobblestoned streets lined with traditional colourful buildings have privileged views over the river and Oporto’s most famous bridge, the Don Luis I Bridge.
You can have the best views of Ribeira from Gaia, the city that lies on the south bank of Douro River. From the Gaia Pier (Cais de Gaia in Portuguese) you can capture the colourful facades with the Oporto behind. From the viewpoint of Serra do Pilar, you’ll have the most stunning views over the Ribeira, Don Luis I Bridge, and the Douro River bends.
The best time to photograph Oporto from Serra do Pilar is after sunset when the city lights turn on but it’s not too dark to appreciate the colours and shapes of the city.
9. Sete Cidades Volcano in São Miguel Island, Azores
São Miguel is the largest island of the Azores archipelago and also the most populated. It’s known for its stunning volcanic landscape, its flora, and its wide variety of marine life. Most of the island is formed by three main volcanoes: Sete Cidades, Fogo and Furnas.
The Sete Cidades Volcano, known as Lagoa das Sete Cidades, is a natural wonder formed by a huge caldera that contains two beautiful lagoons inside – Lagoa Azul (Blue Lagoon) and Lagoa Verde (Green Lagoon). The lagoons are connected by a narrow passage and surrounded by the caldera green walls covered by hydrangeas.
There are several viewpoints around the caldera, but one of the best views is from Vista do Rei Viewpoint, from where you can capture both lagoons and the amazing scale of the crater.
São Miguel is a landscape photographer’s wonderland: volcanic cones and lagoons, black sand beaches, waterfalls, idyllic hot springs, huge cliffs, and historical villages. It’s definitely a destination to put at the top of your list!
Due to its location in the middle of the Atlantic, expect the weather in the Azores to be a little tricky. Although it’s more probable to have sunny weather during the Summer, it’s almost impossible to predict the weather conditions in advance. Be prepared for changing weather despite mild temperatures all year around.
I recommend you bring all your lenses to this location.
10. Pico Island landscapes, Azores
Pico Island, the second largest of Azores archipelago, is dominated by the shape of the huge Pico Volcano that gives it its name. But besides its majestic stratovolcano, in Pico, you can find the most perfect symbiosis between traditional agriculture and nature in the vineyards in the north-western part of the island.
In the middle of the vineyards (listed as a World Heritage Site by UNESCO), you can find some traditional red and white windmills, which contrast with the green and dark landscape, creating unique and timeless scenery.
Tips: Pico Volcano can remain hidden in the low clouds for some days, so reserve some extra days to explore the island and better your chances to photograph it.
These locations are just a small sample of all that Portugal has to offer to landscape photographers.
There are many more to explore, and unique creative opportunities to discover. I invite you to come and see for yourself through your own camera!