Whether you’re a history buff, enjoy snapping pictures of medieval architecture, or prefer sipping on a fruity drink by the beach, Europe has something to tickle your fancy. But, with so many countries rich in culture, gastronomy, and landscapes, how do you decide which one to visit? For the past few years, Portugal has seen a rise in popularity, welcoming an increasing number of tourists from around the world. And, since it isn’t known for a strong economy, it’s fairly cheaper to visit than its European neighbours. Located on the Atlantic Ocean, it offers hiking with captivating views, deliciously smooth wine, tasty signature dishes, and breathtaking pink sunsets.
If you are looking forward to some rest and relaxation, the Algarves, located in the South, should be at the top of your list. Clusters of small cities and towns along the coast featuring signature white stucco homes perched atop majestic cliffs, overlooking miles of sandy beaches. Since the sights are spread out, the easiest way to get around is with a rental car.
A hike along the Seven Hanging Valleys is a must. Six kilometres of coves and turquoise waters offer the most memorable walk along the vibrant coastline—a quintessential Algarvian seascape. What you will need: sneakers, a hat, water, sunscreen, your camera. Bring a towel if you plan on heading down to the beach to cool off mid-hike. If you don’t pack a snack, don’t worry, there is an abundance of local cafés along the way. If you are not the hiking type, opt for a boat tour to zoom in and out of the caves. Then grab a beer, and call it a day.
A typical dish consists of grilled sea bass or fresh garlic and lemon crustaceans, served with potatoes, and vegetables. But I bet you’d never dream of finding the best butter chicken or curry you’ve ever tasted. Think again, the Indian classics are go-to in Portugal, from the time the Portuguese colonized a small piece of land in India.
Although Lisbon offers stunning structures and a glimpse into the past, it can be summed up into two words: nightlife and pastries. A lively bunch of locals and the buzzing of tourists venturing the streets lend a vibrant atmosphere day or night. An ideal day is spent sightseeing, occasionally stopping to sample drinks, food, and music.
White and blue Azulejo tiles, unique to their country offer a fresh laid-back feel to the metropolitan city. Tip: avoid eating the mass produced dishes in overpriced touristy locations. To find quality authentic cuisine, head a few blocks from the city centre. Walking, or taking public transportation and taxis are the best ways to get around the narrow, cobblestone streets. You won’t regret going to Sky Bar to watch the sunset, drink in hand, while admiring the panoramic views. When the sun goes down move to SEEN restaurant next door for a late night meal. They serve a mix of sushi and classic Portuguese cuisine. Tip: Make a reservation in advance for both spots.
You can’t possibly leave Lisbon without taking a streetcar ride to Belem, a coastal neighbourhood, home to Pastéis de Belem, the bakery that first invented Natas. Delectable flaky pastry filled with custard and cinnamon, a desert that is just sweet enough. If the bakery is too crowded (as it often is), take a glimpse of the elegant interior, grab a box of those little Portuguese delights and have yourself a picnic by the water.
The West coast of the country offers beautiful homes, gigantic trees, lush gardens, and whimsical castles sitting on top of a mountain. Reminiscent of a Disney kingdom in the middle of an enchanted forest, Sintra screams couple’s retreat. If you want to take in nature, do some hiking, and find the most scenic spot to sit and read a book, this is a great option. Pena Palace, built in the romantic era, is the largest structure and lies on the tallest peak. The castle, passed down from generations of kings and queens during the larger part of the 17th and 18th centuries, is now open to visitors.
Sintra is the richest municipality in Portugal and being there will make you feel like a royal (minus the scrutiny). A luxury getaway, with Michelin star restaurants, and quaint boutique hotels. If you are pressed for time, make it a day trip, Lisbon is only a short train ride away. However, you won’t get to experience everything the town has to offer. Bus tours and taxis are available to take you up and down the mountain, and from palace to palace. I would refrain from driving here, as roads are windy and parking is very challenging.
Wine enthusiast? Porto, a smaller city in the Northern region, neighbouring countryside filled with vineyards and rolling green hills, where Port wine is made. The main attraction is the famous Port wine cellar tours, where you get to sample a yummy selection of distilled grape spirits.
But, that’s not the only thing there is to see. You can also visit a variety of museums and a few spectacular churches. Bookworms will definitely want to experience Livraria Lello bookstore, the popular landmark that inspired J.K. Rowling’s Harry Potter books. And if you have an adventurous side, I recommend the new bridge climb attraction. Feeling a little more low-key? There is nothing wrong with sitting down for a meal along the river.
Portugal is a diverse country with a welcoming, relaxed feel. A great place for a getaway whether you are with your spouse, your entire family, or friends. And, like all other European countries, the summer months can get overcrowded with the hustle and bustle that comes with high season, so choosing between spring or fall is your best option. You are still guaranteed great weather, succulent food, and all the wine you can drink.
Have you been to Portugal? Tell us about your experience!