1. Warm people and proud culture
To embrace century old traditions, visit the urban centers. Backdrops of brightly colored buildings, with paths of preserved cobblestone, and paved dance floors marking the center of all the activity. During the frequent fairs and markets, you’ll often hear Fado and other traditional music resonating through small accordions, bagpipes, violas, and Portuguese guitars. The region you’re in will determine the dances you see and the songs you hear, but one common thread throughout the country is their innate love of dancing. Little shops and restaurants featuring authentic flavors, rustic seafood, and juicy slow-cooked meats are perfectly topped off by fresh wine from the country’s vineyards.
When you travel, consider attending one of the many extravagant festivals throughout the year. Carnival, held in late February, offers the ultimate opportunity to experience the rich cultural traditions of its prideful people. Witness stunning displays of Rio-style feathers, brightly colored spandex, and sequin attire, throughout the four days. Feast on decadent meats and sinful pastries before Shrove Tuesday which marks the somber beginnings of Lent.
In early March attend Volta ao Algarve, the biggest cycling event of the year or if you’re lucky enough to score tickets, attend a professional soccer match to become a part of Portugal’s favorite pastime. Who knows, you may catch the first game with Christiano Ronaldo as the opponent! During the peak of the summer, catch the four-day, two-week music festival inspired by its Brazilian counterpart and held in downtown Lisbon, draws thousands of music fans from all over the Iberian Peninsula.
2. Rustic seafood and decadent desserts
Bacalhau, affectionately nicknamed “O Fiel Amigo” (The Faithful Friend), is the national dish of Portugal. This salted and dried codfish dates back to the 1500s and offers an extraordinary flavor profile with a dense texture that’s simply unrivaled. Delicious grilled or broiled, in salads, or added to stews, there’s a dish to appease every palate. This is a must for any traveler looking to embrace an authentic dish steeped in history.
If you’re left wanting more after a satisfying meal, reach for a Pastel de Nata, a 19th century original and the most famous of Portuguese desserts. This crunchy tart made with a delicious egg cream, roasted in the oven, and then topped with cinnamon, icing, or sugar satisfies any sweet tooth. It is just one of the hundreds of Portuguese pastries and breads best served with a shot of espresso or a glass of Portugal’s finest port wine.
Douro Valley of northern Portugal offers more than just an enchanted landscape. In fact, the only authentic port wine in the world comes from the vines grown on the terraced hillside. Sweet in nature, it is often served with dessert and depending on the grapes used can have notes of blackberry, caramel, raspberry, cinnamon, and chocolate sauce. Whether you’re relaxing after a tour of the vineyard, or sipping on a glass under the starlit sky, you cannot leave Portugal without treating yourself to a glass (or two).
3. Mild climate
Portugal’s precipitation is minimal and it averages 300 sunny days a year (great news for travelers visiting for a short stay!) The water provides subtle breezes during the day and the escape from sun at night, brings a slight chill to the air setting the perfect ambiance for a peaceful night of rest.
4. Beautiful Cities with Old World Charm
The largest of all cities and the capital of Portugal, Lisbon is compact making it easy to navigate in a short amount of time. Enjoy the steep, narrow, cobbled alleyways of Alfama, tour the Tower of Ulysses offering a 360-degree view of Lisbon, and enjoy the rich history of Mosteiro dos Jeronimos, a monastery built in 1833 and used as a school and orphanage until about 1940. From ancient ruins to white domed cathedrals crafted over centuries, three days is plenty of time to appreciate the heart of Portuguese culture. If you’re interested in history told through exploring buildings centuries in the making, this is the place for you.
In the stunning coastal region about an hour south of Lisbon sits the small coastal town of Comporta. When you arrive by rented car (since there’s no public transportation here), this location’s goal is to ease your mind and soul. Take in the fresh saltwater air on the golden sand beaches, dine on world-class cuisine, and enjoy small crowds (home to only 1500 residents). Take a boat through Sado Estuary Natural Reserve to see bright pink flamingos and pods of dolphins, saddle up for an afternoon horse ride, or snag an e-bike to cruise around the 50 sq. ft. region. If you’re looking for a relaxing getaway free from the hustle and bustle of city life, this is a destination worth driving for.
Located in the southernmost region, and surrounded by water on three sides, the Algarve sits atop soaring cliffs and sea caves. You’re sure to find the perfect Instagram spot as you walk the golden beaches, kayak through the calm crystal-clear waters, or explore the clifftop lighthouses. Hike to Benagil Cave, bird watch in the Formosa lagoons and islands, or take a dip in the “Hidden Beach”. If you’re looking for that Mediterranean feel only seen in the movies, then come experience Algarve in person.
To take a break from the sun and heat and travel to Porto, Portugal’s second biggest city. With a rich history dating back to the Middle Ages, there’s plenty to see among the mountainous backstreets of Miragaia, Ribeira, and Massarelos. Travel on foot through the cobblestone lanes looking up at the intricately detailed architecture. Be sure to catch a glimpse of the Douro River which runs beside Porto – It’s a sight to see, especially at sunset. After a long day of exploration, dine on authentic Latin cuisine at Ribeira Square and then partake in a traditional mass at the exquisite Palacio da Bolsa. If you’re interested in the rich religious culture, this stop will not disappoint.
Sitting on the border of Spain and Portugal, this lush region is packed with majestic riverbanks and spectacular slopes covered with quintas (vineyards). Whether you explore this northern region by car, boat, train, or helicopter, you are guaranteed an unforgettable experience all your own.
If you’re a wine lover, take a tour through Quinta da Roeda, the oldest vineyard in the region and one of several that have been producing world-famous Port wine for centuries. Visit the Parque Natural do Douro International, one of Portugal’s 13 natural parks and take a trek to the remote O Carrascalinho Lookout for a spectacular view of the valley below. Looking for something more relaxing, take a dip in the cool waters of A Congida Beach or rent a kayak for a serene journey along the banks of the Douro River. No matter how you vacation, Douro Valley has something for everyone.
- Beginners looking to catch those friendly and infrequent whitewater swells should travel in May – September.
- More experienced surfers eager to ride gently rolling waves should plan a trip for September – April.
- If you’re a pro (or think you are), winter will give you the gnarly waves perfect for that Netflix experience.
There are dozens of spots to surf up and down the coast. Viana do Catelo, located in the far north of Portugal is known for its beautiful panoramas, friendly waves, and small crowds. If surfing conditions aren’t ideal, enjoy authentic fresh seafood at Polvo a Lagareiro or reward yourself with a hike in the great North to view the waves from a different perspective.
Feeling adventurous? Visit Pria do Norte beach in Nazare Portugal. It was here that Antonio Laureano rode the biggest wave in history, topping out at 101.4’. After you set the newest surf record, stop by the Farol da Nazare, to get a picture with the infamous lighthouse featured on the show. Hungry? Grab a quick bite at Restaurante Gil Vicente, promising the freshest seafood for the best bargain. If you’re looking for something more upscale with a 5-star review, reserve a spot at the family owned and operated Pangeia Restaurante known for their authentic grilled octopus served three ways.
6. Captivating landscape perfect for hiking
Perhaps the most famous (and spiritual) hike you can take while in Portugal is the Camino Trail. Dating back to the 9th century, this path has paved the way for pilgrims and travelers alike. With different routes to this hike and each with their own unique perks, most people choose to start in Porto, the Central Route, and travel the 162 miles (260 km) for an average of 12-14 days. With a bit of planning however, you can create your own unique journey to explore a diverse range of scenery spanning old towns filled with historic architecture, to breathtaking views of the coast, forests, and mountains.
Seven Hanging Valleys Trail in Algarve is a linear trail (11.5 km and 6 hours round trip) that journeys across the top of rugged, sun kissed canyons on the Algarve coast. Take a dip along the way to cool down in one of the lovely bays or sandy beaches. Pose for a picture with the naturally-carved arched cliffs, or journey through a tunnel leading to the Benagil Cave (the most famous cave in Portugal). Each stop provides a different perspective. With the promise of a mesmerizing photo op makes short climbs up the rocky terrain seem less daunting.
If you’re looking for a shorter excursion (5.9 km), travel to Sintra’s most popular tourist destination, Santuario da Peninha Trail. This easy, circular path is filled with whimsical palaces and ornate gardens. A surprise to discover around every corner, the undisputed highlight is catching a glimpse of the 17th century remote Peninha Sanctuary tucked into the hillside, overlooking the Atlantic Ocean, and speculated to be one of the sites that the Virgin Mary appeared to a young shepherdess centuries before.
7. 17 UNESCO spots
Convent of Christ
The first must see spot is the Covenant of Christ Catholic Convent in Tomar. Built in 1160, it sits perched high on a hill overlooking the Atlantic Ocean and if you’re a Game of Thrones fanatic, there’s something very King Landing about this place. Whether you take a private tour, or wander through on your own accord, the sheer magnificence is nothing to scoff at. Greeted by Manueline-style arched entrance, take in the detail of Renaissance-age Gargoyles decorating the exterior. As you enter, appreciate the gold decorated arched ceilings towering over hand-carved religious statues hanging next to floor to ceiling murals. Stroll through the lush, aromatic gardens and try to envision what religious life looked like over the five centuries this masterpiece took to build. If you have time, stay for a mass which is still held on the premises.
Alto Douro Wine Region
Next, immerse yourself in the Douro Valley, a beautiful region near Porto that has been harvesting grapes and producing wine for over 2000 years. A vineyard perched on the top of a rocky-soil hill mixed with a hot, dry climate, has created ideal conditions for growing the sweetest grapes. While you’re there, take a river cruise to view or visit the vineyard and two wineries. Then stay the night for an unforgettable view of the lush greenery.
Historic Center of Evora
Be sure to make a stop at the Historic Center of Evora, a beautiful city located an hour and a half away from Lisbon by train. Submerse yourself in Portuguese culture by exploring the palaces, universities, and religious monuments scattered throughout the city. Take in the whitewashed houses with latticed balconies contrasting the bright blue skies. Stroll down the uneven sidewalks, visit the Bone Chapel decorated with the bones of Franciscan monks who once lived in the monastery, or climb atop the cathedral roof for an unforgettable town view. Then, shop for regional crafts, indulge in the rustic cuisine, and be sure to enjoy the world-renowned wines from the region.
8. Safe to travel
Of course, with any travel destination there are always dangers to be aware of. According to Portugal’s Annual Internal Security Report (RASI), violent and petty crime account for 68% of all reported issues followed by domestic violence. Petty theft has been a huge issue especially in cities like Lisbon and Porto where tourists flock in the biggest numbers.
Though the stats can be a red flag, the numbers still make Portugal a generally safe country. Grouped with the likes of Iceland, Demark, and Ireland for safety, violence is quite rare and traveling alone is deemed safe in most places throughout the country.
It’s no secret that Portugal’s history, architecture, and landscapes can compete with any country in Western Europe. However, by choosing Portugal, you may even be at an advantage. With smaller crowds, safe streets, and inexpensive opportunities, there is a lot for travelers to get excited about.
Are you interested in booking a trip to Portugal? Enjoy all the perks of a Virtuoso booking by using the hotel booking tool featured on the Partenza Travel website. If you’re interested in a fully-planned travel itinerary, then contact Partenza Travel to find out more about our personal travel planning services. We can create a luxury Portugal vacation built on the experiences described in this article.