Activities in Portugal

Blessed with a prime location on Europe’s south-west coast, Portugal offers visitors a great variety of leisure options with a wide range of sports activities to match, not to mention a temperate climate with plenty of year-round sunshine.

The country’s many golf and tennis facilities have become well established over the years, particularly in the south where the mild weather means that both of these very popular pursuits can be enjoyed at any time of the year.

Tennis courts can be found all over Portugal, particularly at the many tourist resorts located up and down the country. Most courts are hard-surfaced but many clay courts also exist. The larger resorts in the Algarve, Madeira and the Lisbon Coast offer tennis holidays with coaching available for groups and individuals alike.

Other activities such as walking, cycling, horse-riding and all types of water sport are also widely practiced in Portugal and there are plenty of opportunities for anglers with good fishing conditions found right along the country’s Atlantic coast and inland at the many freshwater lakes and rivers.

Deep-sea fishing for blue marlin and other large species is another popular activity in the tourist hotspots of Madeira, Azores and the Algarve.

Many of Portugal’s top tourist resorts are famous for their golf courses with many of Europe’s finest found along the sun-drenched shores of the Algarve.

The majority of golf courses in Portugal offer coaching for players of all abilities and golfing packages are often available in local hotels.

Although most of Portugal’s best golf courses exist in the southern and central regions of Portugal (most notably in the Greater Lisbon area), more courses are being built in lesser-known regions such as the north and the Atlantic archipelagos of Madeira and the Azores.

Most famous of all is the long, green ribbon of courses in the Algarve, made famous by leading course designers like Sir Henry Cotton, Frank Pennink and Robert Trent Jones. Golf has long been an established pursuit in the Algarve, having drawn golfers from around the world for decades. The region has gained a reputation as one of Europe’s prime destinations, with golf playable on first-class courses for almost twelve months of the year.

The Cascais Coast is another well-established golfing region, with several championship courses within easy reach of the capital. Further north lies Praia D’El Rey with two challenging links courses on Portugal’s rugged west coast.

Ever since British Port wine producers built the first course near Porto in 1890, the acclaimed Oporto Golf Club (indicated on the map below), Portugal has been a true paradise for visiting golfers. The oldest golf course in the Iberian Peninsula, it has improved over the years by renowned architects Mackenzie Ross and Frank Pennink.

It’s not difficult to see why Portugal and golf go so well together. Besides the mild year-round climate, the country’s varied topography gives each course a character all of its own, meaning that every region offers a different type of golfing challenge.

The volcanic islands of Madeira and the Azores are popular for their lush, green courses boasting unparalleled views, while the Cascais Coast’s unique micro-climate ensures high-quality golf all year round.

Playing at an altitude of 500 metres certainly makes Madeira Island one of the most unusual golfing destinations in Europe. Set in eucalyptus trees high up in the mountains, the Santo da Serra course affords spectacular views of the ocean and surrounding landscape, while the opening of Palheiro golf course in October 1993 considerably enhanced the island’s reputation as a first-choice golfing destination.

But Portugal’s biggest golfing asset is its wide range of accessible accommodation, particularly in the Algarve where luxury resorts intertwine with some of the best courses in Europe. Likewise, the Cascais Coast and Madeira boast quality hotels within easy reach of many championship golf courses.

Surfing, windsurfing and sailing are extremely popular activities along Portugal’s 800-plus kilometres of coastline, as well the Atlantic islands of Madeira and the Azores. One of the best beaches for competent surfers is the world-famous Guincho just outside Cascais in the Lisbon Coast region, a regular venue for  international championships.

Calmer conditions for surfing in Portugal can be found in the Algarve where windsurfing and sailing are also available in abundance. Also in the Algarve, the modern marinas at Lagos and Vilamoura are important yachting and deep-sea fishing centres where vessels can be hired.

Canoeing and kayaking are popular pursuits on many of the country’s rivers, especially the Mondego, Zêzere and Cávado, while other modern sporting activities such as stand-up paddling and canyoning are also becoming more abundant.

Hikers are well catered for in the Montesinho Natural Park and the Peneda-Gerês National Park, but some of Portugal’s best walks are found on Madeira and the islands of São Miguel and São Jorge in the Azores.

In Madeira, visitors can walk alongside the levada irrigation channels, some of which date back to the 15th century. Following the levadas allows access to parts of the island where no roads can penetrate.

Other areas are well suited to mountain biking, particularly in the Peneda-Gerês National Park which has many scenic routes. Portugal also enjoys a famous riding tradition as a result of the country’s fine Lusitano horses.

In the Serra da Estrela mountains near Penhas da Saúde, ski tows and lifts serve Portugal’s main ski resort. Conditions are best between January and March, but the resort is sometimes closed due to too much or too little snow.