Portugal captured my imagination when I heard it was one of the sunniest countries in Europe. With over 300 days of sunshine a year, Portugal is a captivating destination with a vibrant culture, striking scenery, rich history, flavorsome foods and friendly locals. I traveled there in April for three weeks and absolutely adored it.
There are many reasons why one should put Portugal on top of their bucket list – here are 7 reasons to convince you to visit and fall in love with Portugal.
1) The charm of cosmopolitan Lisbon
The best way to get your bearings in this sun-kissed capital is to head up to the hilltop Castle of Sao Jorge with its panoramic views over the city. Get in early and you can wander the ancient ramparts and stone courtyards before the crowds arrive.
From the castle, take your time to stroll down the narrow, winding cobblestone streets of Alfama. It doesn’t matter if you get lost – every little street has its own personality with hidden cafes, beautifully tiled houses and glimpses over red roofs to the sparkling river below. Keep an eye out for the old, rattling trams that rumble along; streets are narrow so you may have to breathe in as they pass!
Lunch at the Praca do Comercio – Lisbon’s huge town square is a must. You could spend a couple of hours here people-watching and feasting on salted cod fish cakes, crunchy Portuguese salad and refreshing mineral water.
Give yourself at least a couple of days to immerse yourself in the life of the city. Browse the local markets, buy some decorative Portuguese tiles, listen to haunting, mesmerizing Fado music and explore the nearby fairy-tale town of Sintra.
2) Portugal’s gorgeous beaches
Portugal’s exquisite 800 km coastline offers everything for the perfect beach holiday. From secluded sandy bays to rolling surf beaches, rugged cliffs, quaint seaside villages and swish spa resorts, the choice is yours.
My highlight was Cabo da Roca – the most westerly point of continental Europe, and not far from Lisbon. With its dramatic wild coastline, fragrant wildflowers and fresh sea breeze, you really feel like you are standing on the edge of the earth!
3) Bustling Porto
Porto is the gateway to the Douro River. Soak up the vibe at the atmospheric restaurants that spill out onto the waterside. With a backdrop of colorful houses, a reflective river and little fishing boats, it is a photographer’s paradise.
Venture up through the historic quarter to marvel at the grandeur of the Baroque cathedral, the old Stock Exchange Palace, the huge mosaics of the train station and a dynamic shopping precinct. Across the river do some wine tasting at the world famous Port houses. The view itself is worth it.
4) The delightful Douro River
The Douro River ranks as one of the most scenic waterways in Europe. Heading inland from Porto to the Spanish border, the riverside is dotted with sandy beaches, rocky gorges, terraced vineyards, stone farm houses and scattered villages.
A river cruise from Porto is the ideal way to see the river although a self-drive tour or scenic train up to Pocinho are other options.
The World Heritage wine-growing area of the Douro is the perfect excuse to wander the vineyards and taste the produce. Make time to explore traditional villages like Provesende, set high in the hills, or Pinhao with its characterful train station fringed with tile mosaics that showcase traditional life on the Douro.
Ships can only navigate up as far as Vega de Terron but from here you can hike along remote trails that take you past isolated churches, craggy hills and fields of poppies with spectacular views down to the river.
5) Mouth-watering cuisine
Char grilled sardines, spicy chicken, tapas, velvety wines, Portuguese custard tarts and good, strong coffee – what more could one ask for?
Portuguese food is locally grown, fresh, simple and tasty. Every town has an earthy produce market bursting with color, noise and tantalizing smells. You can stock up on crusty bread, smoked meats, cheese, olives and fruit for a bargain.
6) The lovely locals
The Portuguese people are a lively, proud and welcoming nation. We admired someone’s garden and they gave us a tour, along with some succulent oranges to eat later. We inquired about wine and the waiter gave us lashings of free tastings. Be genuinely interested and the locals will go out of their way to help.
7) A fascinating history
For history buffs this tiny nation is a treasure trove of archaeological sites, monasteries, medieval towns, hilltop castles and grand palaces.
A trip out to riverside Belem near Lisbon spotlights the achievements of the early Portuguese explorers. Study the well-trodden giant mosaic map of the world which shows the routes of the early mariners or explore the imposing 16th C Fortress towering over the Tagus River. Be sure to check out Jeronimo’s Monastery which was built to honor the early sailors. Its latticed roof, gold-embossed shrines and intricate statues will dazzle you.
My favorite historical site was the elegant pilgrimage town of Lamego with the “Lady of Remedies” church and the 686 steps zigzagging up towards it. Apparently devout pilgrims used to climb up the challenging staircase on their knees in order to be healed of whatever ailed them.
As you can see, Portugal has a little something for everyone. It is still a safe, affordable country. Best of all, it gives you the chance to soak up the sun and work on your tan. What’s not to love?
This is a guest post by Liz Noble.
Liz Noble is a Sydneysider with a passion for photography and a love of nature, dogs and adventure. Her favorite trips include exploring Africa, caravanning around Europe, backpacking in India, sailing the Aegean and immersing herself in Asia. Despite traveling to more than 50 countries, Liz is always planning her next escape – usually somewhere hot and exotic!
She runs a blog, TheEntranceTravel.com which showcases the beautiful coast north of Sydney, Australia.