Where to go in Portugal
Portugal offers everything you’re looking for in a European getaway and more. There are cities jam-packed with culture and history to explore like Lisbon with its impressive mix of old and new, as well as plenty of charming villages with cobblestone streets and picturesque coastal towns scattered between golden beaches.
Beach bums will find plenty of opportunities for soaking up the sun and riding the waves in the south, while history buffs will especially appreciate Porto, the medieval capital of the north. When it comes to wine, the Duoro Valley and its scenic vineyards are ideal for sipping the famous port. It’s also a fantastic place to delve into history with Celts, Romans, Moors, and Christians all leaving their mark.
In the Vila Nova de Foz Coa, you can even see 20,000-year-old stone carvings, and just outside of Evora are mysterious megaliths that provide an ideal vantage point for watching the sun go down. The number of UNESCO World Heritage Sites is impressive, from monasteries to historic town centers, including those in Porto, Evora, and Guimaraes, while enchanting palaces and medieval clifftop castles are open for tours.Read More
The capital of city of Lisbon sits atop seven hills alongside the banks of the Tagus River near the Atlantic. The sun is almost always shining and beautiful beaches can be reached in minutes for enjoying the pleasant weather. In town, alleyways snake between vibrantly painted, centuries-old buildings with elegant St. George’s Castle and its 18 towers peeking out above the skyline.
One of the most memorable ways to explore is to catch the famous Tram 28, a historic tram that travels through the historic streets, pasing gorgeous gardens on the way to the shopping districts of Chiado and Baixa before reaching the castles in the Alfama and Graca communities. It’s like a step back in time, with many trams used during the Second World War. The Time Out Market is a great place to sample some of Lisbon’s best eats all under one roof, including budget-friendly bites of dishes prepared by Michelin-star chefs.
Porto is world-famous for its wine, but there are many other reasons to visit. It oozes with charm, complete with historic streets that open to a beautiful riverfront with a bridge that can be crossed to take in jaw-dropping sunsets. At its heart if the atmospheric Ribeira, a pedestrian zone that winds alongside the river, lined with street vendors, cafes, restaurants, and live music venues. Much of its striking beauty can be found among the cobbled streets of the historic center with buildings that are true works of art, like the Church of Sao Francisco, a fine example of Gothic-style architecture.
Porto Cathedral, perched on a hilltop overlooking the city, dates to the 12th and 13th centuries and features a mix of architectural styles, including Gothic, Baroque, and Romanesque, with a Baroque porch and Romanesque rose window beneath a crenellated arch. The interior boasts centuries-old sculptures and magnificent stained-glass windows.
The so-called “Floating Garden of the Atlantic,” Madeira is a fertile island oasis in the North Atlantic. The archipelago is made up of four islands located off the northwest African coast, about 250 miles north of Tenerife in the Canary Islands. The main island carries the same name, lush and green with colorful garden, pebbly beaches and high cliffs. Funchal, its capital and largest city, is home to fortresses, historic churches, fortresses, restaurants, resorts, and the popular tree-lined Lido Promenade.
It’s known for its picturesque harbor and also hosts an elaborate New Year’s Eve fireworks show. It’s an outstanding place for kayaking, with opportunities to paddle to marine caves and secluded bays that can only be reached by watercraft, as well as for hiking. Trails lead to volcanic rock formations, colorful wildflowers, wildlife and panoramic ocean views in the Ponta de Sao Lourenco nature reserve on the island’s easternmost peninsula.
Evora may be a small town, but it has quite a bit to offer, including a more than 2,000-year-old history that can be witnessed in the well-preserved Old Town. It includes over 4,000 historic structures, with Roman temples, walls, and one of Portugal’s most important Gothic buildings, the Cathedral of Evora.
Its oldest parts date back to the 12th century, when the Moors were driven out by the Christians. Capela dos Ossos, or the Chapel of the Bones, is one of the town’s most famous. A small interior chapel, it lies adjacent to the entrance of the Church of St. Francis. The name comes from its walls that are covered with bones and skulls as the final resting place for hundreds of human bodies that were exhumed from city graves.
Braga is often called the spiritual heart of Portugal as for centuries the archbishops held both spiritual and temporal power. It’s best-known for its magnificent Baroque-style churches, such as the 17th-century Igreja de Santa Cruz with its intricate stone façade and the Cathedral of Braga. The cathedral is a Roman Catholic church with artistic significance and a long, rich history that makes it one of the country’s most important buildings.
Located in the historic center, the sprawling cathedral dates back to the 11th-century and was influenced by a combination of Baroque, Gothic, and Renaissance styles. Braga is also referred to as the ‘Portuguese Rome because of its links to the Roman Empire which can be seen in the numerous ancient ruins and monuments that are spread throughout the city. It was founded over 2,000 years ago by Roman Emperor Cesar Augusta, known as Bracara Augusta in ancient times, situated on one of the Iberian Peninsula’s most important Roman roads. The most visited attraction sits high on a hilltop to the east. Bom Jesus do Monte is a pilgrimage site that’s attracted religious devotees since at least the 14th century and offers jaw-dropping views over Braga.
Geres and Peneda-Geres National Park
Located in the extreme north region of Portugal bordering Spain, Peneda Geres National Park is wild, rugged, and beautiful with its mix of 300-million-year-old granite peaks, lush valleys, plateau peat bogs, and oak forests, with paved trails that once connected villages to upland summer pastures now serving as picturesque hiking trails. Unique wildlife can be spotted here, including some of Europe’s rare wolves along with wild boar, deer, ibex, fox, and wild ponies, the park’s most famous inhabitants.
Garrano ponies are native to this region and have been since the first millennium BC. There are also dreamy lagoons and cascading waterfalls hidden in the forest waiting to be discovered, along with spectacular viewpoints that can be reached by climbing the soaring mountains. If you’re here during the months of April or May, the spring flowers will be in full bloom, adding to the park’s incredible appeal.
Located in northern Portugal just a short drive from Porto, the Douro Valley is a UNESCO World Heritage Site and one of the world’s oldest wine regions, producing wine since 1756. It’s also one of the most beautiful, characterized by granite bluffs, terraced vineyards carved into mountains, 18th-century wine cellars, and whitewashed estates known as quintas. The wines and ports are what draw visitors from across the globe, along with postcard-perfect villages, picturesque winding roads, and outstanding local eateries.
Many quintas offer intimate tours that provide a first-hand look at what goes into making varieties of port and other wines. Some also host their own restaurants for enjoying lunch complemented by the local wine. Beyond the wine are ancient history and age-old traditions where people have been creating skilled handicrafts for generations Douro wine villages, along with remains of Iron Age settlements, Roman bridges and roads, palaces, and monasteries.
One of Portugal’s most stunning small towns, Sintra was even called the world’s most beautiful village by Lord Byron in a letter penned to his friend in 1809. It’s a fairytale-like place, with lush forest, mountains, exotic gardens, and colorful palaces.
The Romans made it a place of cult moon-worshipping and ever since 1840, it’s biggest draw has been Pena Palace, looking like it should be in Disneyland. A UNESCO World Heritage Site on the highest hill above Sintra, it includes two wings encircled by a third structure that’s a fantasized version of a castle, complete with walls, battlements, watchtowers, and a draw bridge.
The interior boasts elaborate Moorish and Manueline architectural details. It’s all surrounded by Pena Park, with fountains, ponds, black swans, and moss-covered trees, with trails that wind through it all. The unspoiled Praia de Ursa beach is nearby framed by cliffs that are stacked across the golden sands.
Aveiro is a hidden treasure along the Atlantic coast known as the “Venice of Portugal,” with its lovely setting that includes pretty canals dotted with colorful gondola-like boats called molceiros, linked by picturesque bridges. Trips can be taken in a moliceiro providing a unique perspective of the town and its impressive architecture. The city is home to several spectacular Art Nouveau-style buildings, many of which lie right along the main channel.
There are many highlights to discover here like Aveiro Cathedral, founded in the early 15th-century. It has a magnificent fade and an imposing bell tower, providing a stunning example of Portuguese architecture. Other highlights include the São Gonçalinho Chapel and the Convento de Jesus. The cuisine is fantastic too, with local cafes and restaurants serving mouthwatering local delicacies, including Portuguese coffee, fresh seafood, and sweets like ovos moles de Aveiro, a delectable pastry.
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