15 great spots but then there are so many more ... what's your hidden gem recommendation?
One country in particular is on everyone’s lips lately: Portugal. Breathtaking shores, world-class cuisine, fabled architecture, and a wallet-friendly economy only scratch the surface when describing this dynamic and lively country. Portugal has it all – a rich history, innovative art, stunning views and super friendly, layed back locals. Luckily, visiting has never been easier now that TAP Portugal, the country’s main airline, has opened new routes and begun offering free stops in Lisbon and Porto. It’s one of the safest countries in the world (not to mention the most relaxing), making it one of the top countries on our bucket lists. Planning a trip in 2017? Here is a breakdown of the best places you have to see.
At first glance, Portugal’s second largest city may seem a lot like the capital. Both are characterized by old, colorful buildings sprawled across hilly streets and they sit beside major rivers. Porto, however, is the yin to Lisbon’s yang. Where Lisbon is literally bright and sunny, Porto shines in culture. Anyone who loves Portugal’s azulejos (public art) shouldn’t miss the São Bento railway station, which offers a stunning mosaic of tiles, decorating the walls into memorable works of art. There is no shortage of gardens, medieval palaces and cathedrals, and the cuisine is worth making note of. Porto is also home of the famous, sweet Port wine, and is close to stretches of vineyards that make up most of the nearby Douro Valley.
Porto, Portugal’s second largest city | © Gregorio Puga Bailón/Flickr
Don’t expect over-crowded streets or inflated prices in this capital city; it’s one of the most tranquil and affordable capitals in Europe. Navigating Lisbon is very easy, especially on foot, and visitors can anticipate winding, narrow roads and phenomenal lookout points. What else should you expect from the ‘City of Seven Hills’? Walking at night is also a treat and in Alfama, Lisbon’s old district, mouthwatering aromas and wistful melodies (known as fado) drift from cozy restaurants that line the narrow, cobblestone labyrinth of streets. Don’t miss Chiado, the trendy district with the oldest bookstore in the world, or boho-chic Bairro Alto, which comes alive at night. Great weather and lots of sun means there is never a bad time to visit Lisbon.
Lisbon, Portugal | © Pixabay
A main attraction in Portugal continues to be surfing, and Ericeira is a small fishing village with a big reputation for catching waves. It’s also easy to get to from Lisbon, and while it’s not the closest beach town to the capital, it’s one of the busiest. However, sitting along the cliffs that fringe the coast and watching surfers (or surfing yourself) isn’t the only thing to do here; Ericeira’s restaurants are among the top spots for indulging in fresh, delicious seafood.
Algarve is the place to go for warm weather, hiking expeditions, trendy beaches, and a trendier social scene. Each of its major cities is worth visiting – including Lagos, Faro and Portimão – and a weekend away may convince anyone that heaven exists on Earth. Tiny treasure troves of jewel-bright waters and mesmerizing cliffs – like Camilo Beach in Lagos – are sprinkled across the region, while larger beaches attract equally larger groups of visitors. There’s no way anyone can miss the plethora of markets selling freshly-caught seafood either, and don’t worry about not speaking Portuguese. Many neighborhoods in Algarve (if not most), are more English-speaking than Portuguese these days, especially around Albufeira and Vilamoura.
Camilo Beach, the Algarve, Portugal | © Natalia/Flickr
Considered one of the ‘scarier’ destinations, Évora won’t make you jump and scream at first glance. Actually, it’s another lovely city with a rich history, but it does make a great Halloween destination for one very good reason: the Capela dos Ossos, or Chapel of Bones. Inside (and on) the walls of this 16th century church are approximately 5,000 human bones. Of course, tourists shouldn’t miss the other historical sites, like the Roman Temple or Cathedral of Évora.
The most famous author of children’s fairy tales once lived in a house in the woods. The writer was Hans Christian Andersen, the woods were in Sintra and pleasantly-surprised visitors still stumble across the house while trekking downhill from the city’s many palaces and fortresses. A living fairy tale itself, there is no shortage of inspiration for imaginations like Andersen’s. Located approximately 30 kilometers from Lisbon, getting to Sintra is easy and makes a great day trip, though you may prefer two or three days to see everything in detail. From the romantic 19th century Pena Palace to the exquisite Monserrate Palace and medieval Castle of the Moors, the city will overwhelm the senses and transport minds to Camelot or Westeros.
The Pena Palace in Sintra | © F Mira/Flickr
Speaking of castles, how about visiting a city located within castle walls? Charming and picturesque, Óbidos is a great place to bring a camera or smart phone, and will make your Instagram account suddenly more interesting. Expect clusters of white houses framed in colorful flowers and souvenir shops ready for tourists. Don’t miss a taste of the Ginja de Óbidos, a cherry liqueur sometimes served in tiny chocolate cups. Óbidos has also been labeled a city for book lovers by Condé Nast Traveler.
Óbidos: a picturesque city guaranteed to make your Instagram 100% more attractive | © Pixabay
Serra da Estrela
This destination is a little harder to get to, but still well worth the effort. Portugal isn’t all beaches, and Serra da Estrela is home to the highest mountain peak on continental Portugal (the highest in all of Portugal being in Pico Island, Azores). Nature-lovers take notes, because this remote mountain range is uniquely beautiful and the only place to go skiing in winter. Sparsely speckled with tiny villages, nature is the main attraction on the mountain, but foodies may enjoy tasting the homemade honey and creamy, pungent cheese.
In the country’s center is a city that attracts more visitors than most others in Portugal. Coimbra is home to a high number of Roman and medieval ruins and is another historical center, having once served as the capital of the country. Among the most visited tourist attractions is the University of Coimbra, which is one of the oldest continually-operating, degree-seeking institutions in the world. But its greatest claim to fame is the library; the Baroque-styled Biblioteca Joanina has been listed numerous times as one of the most beautiful libraries in the world.
Biblioteca Joanina at the University of Coimbra | © Serge LAROCHE/Flickr
Nearly halfway between the American and Portuguese coasts is the Azorean archipelago and each island is worth a visit. The largest, São Miguel, is the easiest to reach by air, and there’s plenty to see in this rolling green oasis for a thoroughly Azorean experience. Hiking trails, waterfalls, and the beautiful twin lakes called Lagoa das Sete Cidades are only the beginning. But one recommendation not to miss is Furnas. This small village is where visitors can experience the bright side to volcanic power, as the ground is both a place to relax and cook food due to the natural, mineral-rich hot springs and cooking holes called caldeiras.
Lagoa das Sete Citades on the island of Sao Miguel | © Bob Kuhn/Flickr
Want to travel back in time? For travelers wanting a real feel for old Portugal, it doesn’t get better than visiting the most Portuguese village in the country, which has barely changed in hundreds of years. This hidden gem remains widely unknown, and its most special characteristic is obvious upon arrival. The village is built around, in and under huge boulders. In addition to large rocks, Portuguese Manueline architecture is visible throughout the tiny streets.
Peneda-Gerês National Park
Portugal only has one national park and this is it. Located in Minho, a region known for its beauty, Peneda-Gerês National Park offers oak forests, a winding Roman road with ancient markers, and bridges and waterfalls. Camping is allowed in specific parts in the park and some natural pools allow swimming during the warmer months. This is another excellent location to get in a good hike.
Tower of Belém | © Guido Sorarù/Flickr
So close to Lisbon that it’s considered an extension of the city, Belém is perhaps the easiest tourist destination to visit outside the capital’s center. Located on the Tejo river and home to the Jeronimos Monastery and Belém Tower – 16th century landmarks that showcase Manueline and Renaissance influences – this is another good place to up your Instagram game. It also comes with a rite of passage – ordering the delectable Pastéis de Belém, creamy custard cakes made from a 200-year-old recipe.
Behold, the first capital of Portugal! In the 12th century, Portugal’s first king, Afonso I, ruled from his birthplace, Guimarães. Since then the city has adopted the reputation and nickname of ‘The Birthplace of Portugal’ and tourists can visit the castle where this king and many other historical figures once resided. Guimarães is easily accessible by car and bus, and is only 50 kilometers from Porto.
Bom Jesus do Monte in Braga | © Sohrab Amid-Hozour/Flickr
Tying together old and new is Portugal’s third largest city, one of the oldest in the country with a strong, youthful following. In fact, it was labeled the European Youth Capital in 2012, and attracts students from the nearby University of Minho. Brimming with cafés, shops, restaurants and bars, the city has a vibrant vibe, but it’s also known for its religious side. In addition to the city’s cathedral being the oldest in the country, the stunning Bom Jesus do Monte is a religious retreat and the cathedral is quite unlike most others. Located on a hill in the woods and surrounded by gardens, visitors can climb the 116 meters of stairs and enjoy a breathtaking view at the top.