Located on the Iberian Peninsula in Southern Europe, Portugal is one of the world’s oldest countries, steeped in history and boasts of a rich cultural heritage. You will be fascinated by the number of picturesque medieval towns and stunning architectural styles found all over the country. Portugal also features a diverse natural landscape defined by rugged mountains and a seemingly endless coastline.
Lisbon, the capital of Portugal is a coastal city with a hilly terrain, home to ancient ruins and stunning architectural wonders. This colourful and vibrant city is one of the most beautiful and picturesque European capitals. The capital is also famed for its delicious native cuisine and amazing nightlife fuelled by cheap booze. (And if you didn’t know already, Portugal is one of the top countries with really cheap alcohol!)
The iconic Belém Tower displaying a fusion of Romanesque, Moorish and Gothic styles, the National Tile Museum which displays impressive ceramic works of all shapes, sizes and colours and the St. George’s Castle which offers panoramic views of the city are the most popular attractions of Lisbon. Visiting the 16th-century Jerónimos monastery which houses the tomb of the great explorer Vasco da Gama and riding the Tram 28 which passes through the old town Alfama are other great things to do.
Just 30 km from the capital is the breathtaking resort town of Sintra, a popular holiday getaway. The lush mountainous terrain of Sintra is dotted with medieval castles, palaces and villas and was once a royal retreat. Today, most of these structures serve as boutique hotels and resorts for visitors to stay. The Palace of Sintra, Quinta da Regaleira and the Pena Palace are the most impressive structures in the town.
Around 80 km from Lisbon lies Obidos, one of the best Portuguese walled towns. Strolling through the town’s narrow cobbled streets lined with traditional houses and visiting the imposing Óbidos Castle (now a heritage hotel) will give you a glimpse of medieval Portugal.
The beautiful city of Evora, around 130 km from Lisbon, is known for its Roman heritage and medieval architectural marvels. The Roman Temple of Evora dedicated to Goddess Diana, the Gothic Cathedral of Évora and the Igreja de São Francisco with the Chapel of Bones are unmissable attractions in the city.
The Algarve region in southern Portugal is known for its Atlantic beaches and the central coast between the towns of Lagos and Faro is lined with villas, hotels and bars. The 13th-century Faro Cathedral with a Gothic tower that offers great views of the city and the lagoon, the neoclassical gateway Arco da Vila and the walled old town are the highlights in Faro. You can also explore the Ria Formosa lagoon on a cruise and here you will find numerous species of colourful sea birds. Some of the islands in the lagoon boast of lovely sandy beaches and are also great places to try Portuguese seafood.
Another popular beach destination in Algarve is Sagres, defined by its dramatic landscape of rocky cliffs, rough seas and a few pristine beaches. The town is popular among adventurous travellers and offers challenging surfing conditions and hiking trails that lead to ruined fortresses.
The small town of Batalha in central Portugal is best known for the Santa Maria da Vitória monastery, a UNESCO listed site that dates back to the 14th-century. It was built as a symbol of gratitude to the Virgin Mary after the Portuguese won the Battle of Aljubarrota. The imposing monastery is made of limestone and has Gothic styled carved windows, pinnacles and parapets. The interior is equally stunning with an octagonal chapel, high ceiling, elaborate stone carvings and stained glass windows.
Coimbra, a former capital of Portugal, is a charming medieval city on the banks of the river Mondego. The city is home to the University of Coimbra, the country’s oldest university where you can find the popular baroque library Biblioteca Joanina and Museu da Ciência, a science museum with displays on natural history, scientific instruments and others. Near the university, you will find the impressive 12th-century Sé Velha cathedral featuring Romanesque architecture and the Museu Nacional de Machado de Castro which houses an interesting collection of art and sculptures.
Monsanto is often called the most authentic Portuguese village and is located in eastern Portugal, along the slopes of a mountain. Here you will find traditional Portuguese houses with red roofs lined along cobbled streets. Some of the houses are sandwiched between massive boulders and seem like an extension of the boulder itself! As you walk around the village you can even find some buildings reflecting Romanesque or Portuguese Manueline architecture. The ruins of a Templar Castle lies on the mountaintop from where you can feast on views of the village, the surroundings and all the way to the Spanish border!
Porto, the country’s second largest city, is located on the banks of the Douro river. It is best known for its top-class cuisine which can be sampled in its many steakhouses, cafes, breweries, street food markets and port wine cellars. The stately bridges across the river, the charming old town with the spectacular Sé cathedral and the Gothic Church of São Francisco are popular attractions in the city. You can also go on a river cruise for a romantic dinner or even cruise to the scenic Douro Valley, one of the best and oldest wine producing regions in Portugal.
Around 75 km from Porto lies the coastal city Aveiro known for its canals and art nouveau buildings. Make sure you take a ride on the barcos moliceiros (traditional colorful boats) along the canal and visit the stunning Mosteiro de Jesus monastery with its museum. And of course, you can access the Atlantic beaches of Praia da Barra and Costa Nova which are good for surfing.
Braga, located in northern Portugal is famous for its historical monuments and excellent cuisine. The city is also known for its elegant baroque churches like the Braga Cathedral and grand religious events like the Semana Santa (Holy Week). Near the city lies the hillside neoclassical church, Bom Jesus do Monte, one of the country’s most iconic attractions.
The charming town of Barcelos, located just 22 km from Braga, is best known for the ceramic cockerels, a popular Portuguese symbol. The town hosts a massive market every Thursday, that is thronged by locals and tourists alike. Here you will find some of the best Portuguese artisan products and it is a great place for souvenir shopping.
Peneda-Geres National Park is Portugal’s only national park and is located along the border with Spain. The park protects the diverse landscapes of the region including rocky terrain studded with boulders and peaks, lush vegetation and pastures near the river banks, oak and pine forests and valleys. Among the abundant wildlife found here, wolves, foxes, deer, wild boar, otters and the native wild ponies are most popular. The park offers numerous hiking trails which will take you to the Castro Laboreiro and Lindoso castles, ancient churches, traditional villages, stunning waterfalls and viewpoints.
Portugal is hands down one of the most beautiful countries in the world, packed with splendid architectural wonders, charming old towns and lovely natural sights. The colourful country is a delight for photographers who will find it hard to put their cameras down for even a second! Such is the aesthetic beauty of Portugal. It is also one of the cheapest western European nations and will be a memorable delight for all kinds of travellers!
The Vasco da Gama Bridge in Lisbon is the longest bridge in Europe.