As travellers, whose experience of a country is often finite, we can never truly experience everything that country has to offer. However, we can experience just enough to leave a lasting impression. In this round up of 10 things we love about Portugal, we attempt to capture some of our experiences to date from this beautiful country.
Because we cannot in all honesty lay claim to being resident experts about Portugal, we called on a few creatives to help us compile this list.
Paul Richardson, writing in the April 2016 issue of Condé Nast Traveller, describes Costa Vicentina, a section of Portugal’s Atlantic coast between the Algarve and Alentejo regions as ‘low-key and unpretentious’.
This statement captures what we believe to be true of much of Portugal and is an underlying reason for our strong interest in the country.
We hope that this list of the top 10 things we love about Portugal will serve as a useful guide for planning your own trip!
#1. Portugal is good value for your holiday time
Portugal is made up of 7 diverse regions (Porto e Norte, Centro de Portugal, Lisboa, Alentejo, Algarve, Madeira Islands and Azores), each with its own distinct character.
For discerning travellers who may be tight on time, Portugal offers a great selection of experiences including surf, beach, city, wine vineyards, architecture and culture.
Credit: Ariana del Rio of Qu-een.org in Baleal, Portugal
Compared to neighbouring Spain, Portugal is a small country covering just over 90,000 square kilometres. With decent road, rail and air connections between the main cities, with careful planning, it is possible to get a feel for Portugal in one trip.
HDYTI Travel Tip: See this list of essential driving tips from destination expert Julie Dawn Fox.
#2: Portugal is good value for money
For what you get in return, we consider Portugal to be great value for your travel money. Travellers will find options for every budget, including families, backpackers and luxury connoisseurs.
Credit: Jiahui of Faith, Joy, Hope visiting Sintra, Portugal
Cost of living, transportation, accommodation, food and activities are comparatively cheaper than much of Western Europe. See cost of living calculator here.
Portugal is one of the few European countries where you can find decent hotel accommodation for less than US$100 per night
HDYTI Travel Tip: Book hotels in Portugal here
#3: The Portuguese people
We usually get asked how different cultures react to us as black travellers.Our experiences as travellers of colour in Portugal have been nothing but positive.Click To Tweet
We found our hosts to be hospitable and the locals generally friendly, approachable and helpful (despite our inability to speak Portuguese).
Portugal’s history as a nation of explorers may have played a role in what we see as the country’s open attitudes towards people of other races and cultures.
#4. Sun, sand and sea in the Algarve
We love the Algarve!
Portugal’s southern coast offers visitors long stretches of coast and spectacular limestone cliffs. From being the epicentre of a devastating earthquake in 1755, the Algarve is now the epicentre of Portugal’s tourism.
Unfortunately, while tourism may be good for the region’s economy, it has resulted in a proliferation of resorts which destination expert Mary Lussiana describes as ‘soulless, concrete monstrosities’.
If hordes of tourists and all-inclusive resorts are not your thing, we suggest heading west towards Cape St. Vincent to witness the eternal conflict between sea and land. Alternatively, drive into the hills of Monchique to experience the healing powers of the spa waters of that region.
HDYTI Travel Tip: Condé Nast Traveller recommends going off-the-beaten track along the southwestern coast to experience the wild and unspoiled beauty of the Costa Vicentina, an area described by Uruguayan painter Walter Rosso as ‘immune to globalisation’.
#5. Lisbon, the port city with a cool vibe
Lisbon, Portugal’s capital and largest city is synonymous with the country’s history as a 17th century maritime super power. This city combines modernity and history with ease.
Credit: Rachael Sandon, Every Where and Back, in Lisbon
In the morning, walk or ‘tram surf’ through the city’s historic districts. Break for lunch to hang out with tech entrepreneurs and in the evening, dance kizomba in African night clubs.
Travel writer Julianna Barnaby recommends visiting the LX Factory, a creative hub in Lisbon.
“The site was an old textile factory that has been transformed into a hub of restaurants, bars and shops,” she says. “Checking out the awesome street art on the site while popping into boutiques and eateries is the perfect way to spend an afternoon.”
Credit: Julianna Barnaby, The Discoveries Of, in Lisbon
HDYTI Travel Tip: Foodies may want to plan their trips around food related festivals such as Peixe em Lisboa (April) and Santo Antonio (June).
#6. Sintra: The romantic home of Portuguese royals
A trip to Sintra, the ‘love nest’ of the Portuguese aristocracy, is worth at least one day of your time.
Easily accessible from Lisbon, our Sintra highlight was a visit to Palácio da Pena. This palace sits on one of the highest peaks in the Serra de Sintra mountain range and is an eclectic mix of architectural styles built in the 19th century as a lover’s paradise by Queen Maria II.
Heather Rader of Ohio Girl Travels recommends checking out Quinta da Regaleira, with its underground tunnels and ancient well.
Credit: Heather Rader, Ohio Girl Travels, Sintra
#7. The authenticity of Porto
The great earthquake of 1755 created a Portugal of two halves.
Its epicentre was close to the Algarve. This resulted in southern Portugal suffering more damage than the north. Therefore, the further north you travel in Portugal, the more likely you are to find pre-1755 Portuguese architecture.
Porto in northern Portugal is classified as a World Heritage site because of its authenticity.
Credit: Helen Rapp, Helen on Her Holidays, Porto
Digital marketer Helen Rapp captures our feelings for the city beautifully as follows:
She says, “In Porto, even on the smartest streets, and in locations with killer views, you’ll find abandoned buildings and graffiti, but this just adds to the city’s charm.”
“There’s one place in Porto that really summed this up for me. Up on the Vittoria hillside, there’s a huge house with a view over the famous bridge, the Port wine lodges and the waterfront.”
“In any other European city, it would be a hotel and to take in the view would cost you an overpriced coffee. In Porto, the house is derelict, the vibe is unthreatening and the view is absolutely free. Go now before it changes!”
#8. The Douro Valley and port wine
London’s CityAM travel writer Laura Ivill describes the Douro Valley (in northern Portugal) as ‘Tuscany before the crowds…a land forever locked in an annual cycle of wine making, olive picking and almond harvesting.’
The geography and man-made terraces in the Douro Valley provide the perfect backdrop for wine tourism.
Northern Portugal is wine country where the grapes for port and vinho verde wine are grown. Harvesting is done by hand – the terrain makes mechanisation too difficult – and in some quintas processing is still done using traditional foot pressing methods.
HDYTI Travel Tip: From Porto, we recommend taking a river cruise up the Douro. Get off at Pinhão. To explore the region intimately, find accommodation at a quinta.
HDYTI Travel Tip: Wine lovers may want to plan their trip around harvest season (vindima) which is typically between August and September.
#9. Portuguese food and Lisbon’s nightlife
With its long stretch of Atlantic coastline, many places we visited served up some of the best fish dishes we have ever had. The Portuguese love their ‘bacalhau’ (dried salted cod) and have perfected over 1,000 recipes based on this staple.
The Portuguese seem to spend less time making food pretty and more time filling it with flavour and wholesomeness. Don’t expect pretty displays for the perfect Instagram flat lay.
Lisbon’s rich nightlife offered us a chance to experience a melting pot of African and Portuguese cultures at an Angolan night club.
Fado music is something we discovered after our trips to Portugal. This traditional mix of poetry with songs of longing and unrequited love is both beautiful and haunting.
HDYTI Travel Tip: If you’re keen to experience Fado music, see this guide from TimeOut Lisbon.
#10. All the other places we haven’t been
Her ability to charm while retaining an air of mystery is one of the 10 things we love about Portugal.
Our dream is to visit Madeira, a group of breath-taking islands off the south west coast of Portugal and another UNESCO World Heritage site.
Credit: Yishyene, Small Crazy, in Madeira
We want to visit the archipelago of the Azores with its black sand beaches, Alentejo with its olive groves and cork trees, and Minho where green wine (vinho verde) is produced.
There is still so much of Portugal we have not seen…which makes her all the more exciting!
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