Exploring the Past in Portugal

Portugal is the westernmost sovereign state on mainland Europe, with two archipelagos in the Atlantic Ocean – the Azores and Madeira. Having being established early in the Christian Reconquista, Portugal is one of the oldest nation states in the world. Certainly it is the oldest on the Iberian Peninsular. The name Portugal comes from the Roman name for what is today Vila Nova de Gaia, then Portus Cale. The country has an impressive although little explored prehistory, from the Stone Age art in the Côa Valley and the intriguing megalithic sites throughout Portugal to the impressive hill-forts of the Iron Age. Since these early times Romans, Visigoths, Moors and Christians have all left their mark on an enormously diverse landscape.

Summer 2020 Travel to Portugal

The Portuguese Tourist Board have instituted a ‘Clean & Safe’ label for tourism companies. These stamps of approval are only awarded to businesses who provide anything from activities to accommodation and have demonstrated that they are compliant with hygiene and cleaning requirements set out by the health authorities in Portugal. For your own assurances, you can read more about the scheme here. The tourism board in Portugal also has pages that have more specific information and FAQs about regulations and measures for travelling to Portugal and health advice while in Portugal as a visitor.


Thinking about travel to Portugal and looking for inspiration? Our Portugal travel guide for history lovers starts with our suggestions for the best things to see in Portugal.


Planning a trip to Portugal? Use our interactive map to find the best sites and museums, book travel, activities and accommodation with our trusted partners.


With so much to do, we have handpicked activities that focus on Portugal’s history and archaeology, from walking tours to self-guided tours, multiple day trips to cruises.

Events and Exhibitions 2020

Identity and Culture:
Archaeology of Sharjah (UAE)
Until the end of 2020
Museu Nacional de Arqueologia, Lisbon

A temporary exhibit that runs through the human occupation from Prehistory to contemporary times in the territory of Sharjah, a part of the Arabian Peninsula – including the arrival of Portuguese explorers in the Arabian peninsular during the 17th century. On display are over 170 objects.

Click on the black triangle, then once the application has loaded click on the square icon in the bottom right and explore this exhibition on your desktop or mobile device. Although explanatory texts are included in the application itself (click on the yellow dots), you can also read the text panels used in the exhibition.

Map of Archaeology and History Sites and Museums in Portugal

Map of archaeology and history sites and museums in Portugal.

Interactive Map of Portugal

With over 400 individual sites and museums pinpointed on our interactive map, you are able to decide and plan in advance what you want to see when you visit Portugal, or discover what other sites and museums are near you when you are in Portugal (as long as you have access to the internet). Sites included range from Stone Age to Medieval castles.
Go to the Interactive Map >>

Themes in Portugal’s History

Palaeolithic engravings in the Côa Valley, northern Portugal.

Prehistoric Rock Art in Portugal

The Côa Valley has an extraordinary collection of rock art sites, discovered during construction for a dam. Ranging in date from the Palaeolithic to the Iron Age, the images are engraved onto rock surfaces that were rubbed smooth by glaciers. There is more Stone Age rock art to see at Escoural Cave in the Alentejo region of Portugal.
Guide to Rock Art Around the World >>

Imposing walls of the Medieval Castle of Guimarães in northern Portugal.

Castles, Watchtowers and Tower-Houses

Castles are the quintessential symbol of Medieval Portugal, they had and still have a deep impact on the psyche of everyone that comes across their imposing figure. These warriors of stone have shaped the country’s landscape and helped in defending its territory since the establishment of the Portuguese Kingdom and throughout the Middle Ages.
Guide to Castles and Fortifications in Portugal >>

Find the Best Archaeological and Historical Sites and Museums in Portugal

Portugal is generally divided into seven different regions. Five of these cover mainland Portugal, and two are groups of islands. These are as follows:

  • Northern Portugal – the mountainous north has an extraordinary history, including the founding of modern day Portugal in Porto, or Portus Cale as it was called in Roman times.
  • Central Portugal – from frontier castles and historic, mountain villages in the east, to the Roman and Medieval settlements in the plains along the ‘Silver Coast’ in the west.
  • Lisbon Metropolitan Area – Portugal’s capital city is on the Tagus River estuary that forms a natural harbour that has played a crucial role in the development of the city and the nation.
  • Alentejo – vast open plains in south-central, southern Portugal the region is best known for the production of cork, Neolithic cromlechs and picturesque hilltop towns fortified during battles and disputes of the Medieval period.
  • Algarve – long, wide sandy beaches make this region a popular summer destination, but its history is just as attractive – many port towns were key Moorish settlements that went on to play a crucial role in Portugal’s Age of Discovery.
  • The islands of the Azores – these islands first appeared on European maps in the 14th centuries.
  • The islands of Madeira – there is no evidence of human occupation before the islands were discovered in the early 15th century.

UNESCO World Heritage Sites in Portugal

As of 2019, there are 11 UNESCO World Heritage sites in Portugal. Of these, 16 sites are recognised for their cultural significance, and one for its natural importance. There are a further 19 sites, including the historical centre of Lisbon and the Santiago de Compostela Routes in Portugal, on the tentative list. Full list of UNESCO World Heritage sites in Portugal >>

Historic Centre
of Évora

Monastery of

Monastery of the Hieronymites and Tower of Belém, Lisbon

Cultural Landscape
of Sintra