In Portugal, you are rarely far from a rugged coast with gleaming sand beaches, ancient architecture with dramatic history or fresh seafood paired with delicious wine. All the qualities of a summer holiday rolled into one delicious European country.
Lisbon, the laid-back capital, is a combination of fresh food, sweeping viewpoints, sparkling nightlife and cobbled alleyways lined with historic architecture. One of the most magnificent views over Lisbon is from the Castelo de Sao Jorge, standing majestically above the centre. Lisbon’s castle was the ancient seat of power for Portugal for over 400 years and its history dates back to the Roman era. The Castle has undergone much change over time, being modified to maximise its strength as a defensive position for the city. Shaded by ageing trees nestled into the cobbles are benches offering prime views of the myriad of red rooftops below. The Castelo de Sao Jorge is situated in Alframa, Lisbon’s most treasured neighbourhood. Alfama is made up of steep, narrow, smooth cobbled streets and holds the traditions of Lisbon dear. Alfama has historically been inhabited by Visigoths and the remains of the town wall remain. This neighbourhood is a gem, being one of the few to survive the earthquake in 1755 which shattered much of the city. Coffee shops and art galleries are in abundance and some of the most authentic souvenirs can be discovered here. Getting around Lisbon on the old rickety trams is an adventure in itself.
Much of the action takes place on the hills of the Baixa-Chiado district, the beating heart of the city. This area is crammed full of attractions, bakeries and authentic eateries and spills out onto the sea-front. Picnic by the waters in the Praça do Comércio, Lisbon’s grandest plaza and the historical gateway to the city. Take a ride up the Elevador Santa Justa, an artistic and stunning lift that transports you up one of the city’s steepest hills to the ruins of the Carmo Church. Dine in Rossio square, the bustling cafe centre of Lisbon. And of course, join the crowds around the winding city streets enjoying cheap drinks and lively bars and clubs. Lisbon’s wild nightlife is a complete contrast to its easy-going sleepy daytime. A less obvious spot for eating, unless you’re looking for it, is the Time Out food hall by the train station. Here live music, fresh cocktails and a diverse offering of Lisbon’s best cuisine can be found, being enjoyed by locals and tourists alike.
Only a short travel inland from Lisbon is the UNESCO heritage site Sintra, A cool mountainside town with a royal heritage, proudly the summer destination for Portugal’s royals. Their legacy has left extravagant palaces and residences situated in ornamental gardens around the town. Romantic architecture is at its best in Sintra, with elaborate 19th century design inspired by the mysticism of ancient cultures. Sintra’s setting is part of is elegance, situated in the beautiful natural scenery of the Parque Natural de Sintra-Cascais. Lush forest reach down to the steep cliffs of Portugal’s coast making Sintra a hub for outdoor activities.
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Porto is a historic city that is rapidly being driven into modernity. Famed for its production of Port, a fantastic way to delve into the city’s history is through a port cellar and port tasting tour showing the brewing processes and providing the chance to sample some of the finest port vintages. The oldest district, the Ribeira, is filled with these tours, as well as ancient houses, cobbled winding streets and family-run coffee shops and restaurants wafting sensational smells. After a morning spent wandering the ancient district, hop on a boat and pass through the Douro river, Porto’s scenic backdrop, under the city bridges.
For more outdoor beauty, visit the Jardim do Palacio de Cristal, a stunning landscape garden in the centre of Porto with an avenue or lime trees and a river weaving through its lush plant life. To hear some of Lisbon’s best live music, get tickets for a concert at the Casa da Musica, a state of the art concert hall which hosts a range of events from jazz, to theatre. Porto’s everyday life can be spotted in the Mercado do Bolhao, a vibrant market where punters are seeking fresh food as well as crafts and sweet flowers. Finally, a visit to Porto is rounded off wonderfully by catching a football match at the Dragão Stadium, home to FC Porto’s fans. FC Porto has won the World Club Championship and the Champions League twice and its fans are some of the most passionate in all of Europe.
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Of course, Portugal’s long alluring coast is its prime attraction for many. The coast of the Algarve is the southernmost region of Portugal and is famed for its Mediterranean beaches with sleepy fishing villages and dramatic cliffs. Lagos is an old walled town with sandy covers and old lighthouses. Fresh seafood is at its most delicious in Lagos and can be enjoyed with sweeping headland views. Further along the coast is Albufeira, a major holiday destination that was once a fishing village. The busy nightlife strip is, sandy beaches and diving and dolphin-watching boat tours make for an action-packed holiday. There is also an abundance of golf courses and the Aqualand and Zoomarine theme parks.
For a quieter setting, head to the tiny coastal village of Sagres. Sagres has an isolated feel, with rugged cliffs topped with an old fortress high above the crashing waves. Popularity with surfers is increasing and this adds to the laid-back vibe with friendly cafes and beach bars. Faro is the capital of the Algarve region. Faro has a different vibe to the rest of the region. Its peaceful ambiance is captivating and is centred around the pretty walled Old Town. Situated by the Ria Formosa national park, a series of saltwater lagoons and mud flats, Faro is a haven for wildlife. Faro also has stunning historic monuments and a chilled marina jutting out into the vast ocean.
Portugal is the perfect getaway. Why do you love visiting Portugal? Let us know in the comments below.