From Lisbon to Porto, and through Alentejo and Douro, Portugal offers an incredible diversity in experiences, history, culture, taste and colors. We have compiled, with the help of some fantastic articles out there, some of the best of Portugal. Discover the country’s inner and outer beauty, then join us on one of our curated journeys, or simply get inspired by having us create your very own.
Encounter natural beauty across its regions
Set against the ever-present backdrop of the Atlantic Ocean, the dainty sun-kissed city of Lisbon lives in a Latin fairytale of timeworn manners and traditions. Check out the century-old wooden trams and iron funiculars that still lurch and rumble their way through the city. Or witness the best of this bygone heritage by wandering through the Baixa district, where age-old herbalists, haberdashers and tailors rub shoulders in the baroque streets of the ornate city center.
Then, there is Porto, with its medieval heart, contemporary buzz, magnificent gold-leaf-laced churches. Portugal’s second city merits a visit at any time. Carved in two by the Douro river, downtown Porto has a faded sophistication, while the seaside suburbs have witnessed something of a renaissance in recent years, home as they are to a burgeoning collection of bars, restaurants and cafes, which offer an authentic slice of local life.
To the Southwest, find the Alentejo region, a landscape soft on the eyes and the senses. Sunlight slices through the cork trees. Pigs shuffle from one acorn (bellota) to another, foraging for the nutty flavor that gives Iberian ham its richness. Castles and churches dot the hilltops; they are relics from the past, yet they retain a power in the present. It’s shoulder season, and the streets are empty save for a couple of stocky men, with weathered faces and hands, walking home from the pub.
Then, there are Portugal’s islands. First, Madeira, which is NOT Ibiza. It attracts a more mature clientele, and raving is limited to enthusing about the island’s dramatic scenery and botanical wonders. Then, the Azores, floating in the Atlantic Ocean, some 850 miles from mainland Portugal. The islands are described as “the Hawaii of the Atlantic”.
Taste your way through Portugal
Portuguese cuisine rarely travels well. The cooking of mainland Europe’s westernmost country is deeply rooted in the freshest local ingredients.
Superlative seafood, sun-ripened fruit, lamb raised on flower-speckled meadows, free-range pigs gorging on acorns beneath oak forests. Without them, it just doesn’t taste the same.
So while diners worldwide crowd Italian trattorias, French bistros and Spanish tapas bars, Portuguese restaurants abroad generally cater to melancholy emigrants seeking in vain to matar saudades (kill their longing) for mom’s home-cooked food. Things are changing, though. The success of Portuguese chefs like George Mendes in New York and Nuno Mendes (no relation) in London is generating a global buzz about the cooking of their homeland.
Read more about some of Portugal’s quite essential foods by going to this CNN Travel article
Smaller towns boasting 1,000+ of history and diverse cultures
The influence of a very diverse set of cultures in Portugal’s history is evident in the drastic contrast offered by its cities. Portugal cities are treasure chests of a rich past. The Moors influence can be witnessed more prominently in Algarve, the southern most region of the country, in its fishing towns of Tavira, Faro, Olhão and Lagos, or in the town of Silves where the well preserved Moorish castle is a must visit landmark. The North has remained closer to the pioneering cultures of the Iberian peninsula with its cultural roots deeply embedded and intertwined with neighboring northern Spain. Porto claims its invincible past, not ever succumbing to Spanish and French invasions. Guimaraes holds claim of the birth of the Kingdom of Portugal. Braga relinquishes the title of the Religious capital of Portugal.
The center proudly claims to be the epicenter of Lusitania and the Lusitanos, trademark of the Portuguese culture. After all it was the great Viriato that fought the Romans to keep the identity that later was claimed to be Portugal. It has some of the most interesting landmarks to visit, from Aveiro, Viseu and Coimbra to the Estrela mountain range, Obidos, Marvao, Batalha, Alcobaca and the Catholic pilgrimage town of Fatima. Quaint towns such as Nazare, Peniche, Cascais and Sesimbra line up the coastline.
Why You Can't Miss Fado Music in Lisbon
Ask any Lisboeta and they’ll tell you that of one the city’s must-do experiences—and most seductive charms—is to thread the capital’s twisting alleyways, slip inside a steamy restaurant or bar, and listen to Portugal’s soulful national soundtrack: fado music.
In recent years, fado music has experienced a similar resurgence as the city that birthed it. Today, there are more than 40 fado houses sprinkled throughout Lisbon’s cobblestone streets, and hundreds of fadista singers perform every night in the city’s Alfama, Mouraria, and Bairro Alto neighborhoods.
With a series of high-profile concerts taking place inside the city’s iconic São Jorge castle in the spring, and Portugal’s biggest music festival (Nos Alive) featuring a fado stage in the summer, there’s never been a better time to get to know Lisbon’s UNESCO-inscribed music.
“Fado is the musical expression of the Portuguese people,” Sara Pereira, the director at Lisbon’s Museum of Fado, which chronicles the music’s origins, says. “It’s a mirror of our identity, culture, and history, and you won’t hear it anywhere else.”
© Conde Nast Traveler
And then, there is wine!
For a small country, Portugal packs a lot of grape vines. There are 13 different wine regions in total, if you count the exotic islands of Madeira and The Azores. And why wouldn’t you? With each region offering its own dazzling array of wines, the more there are to visit, the better. Since you probably can’t experience all 13 in one trip (at least without dying of euphoria), hit two of the regions that have brought the country on the map of some of the world’s best wines: Douro and Alentejo.
To the north, Douro, famed for its production of the sweet dessert Port and other wines, offers a spectacular landscape of unbelievably steep hillsides covered with vines and, here and there, wine-producing farms called quintas. Making the trip by car will allow you to visit the wineries, spend a night or two in one of the quintas or even join in the grape harvest en route. The valley itself is a Unesco World Heritage Site and the oldest demarcated wine region in the world.
The Alentejo region itself is huge and rural, with vast plains of wheat, cork oaks and olives stretching into the distance. The hot Mediterranean climate yields many easy-drinking wines, especially reds. And while it’s only in recent decades that the region has grown in international prominence, its viticulture history goes all the back to the ninth century BC. Estates like Adega José de Sousa and Herdade do Rocim even produce a type of wine called Vinho de Talha, which is made in huge clay pots using a technique that dates back all the way to ancient Rome.
If you get hungry while on the trail, pair your Alentejo red with one of the region’s beloved traditional dishes — like ‘porco preto’, succulent pork from free-roaming Iberian black pigs.