Portugal is the westernmost country in continental Europe. It is located to the west of Spain on the Iberian Peninsula and is bordered by the Atlantic Ocean to the west. It has many attractions including a fascinating history, excellent cuisine, numerous palaces, castles, buildings, monuments, and towns of historical significance, important nature reserves and more. It is commonly associated with port wine, which is produced in its Douro Valley, and the fabulous beaches of the Algarve in southern Portugal. While these are worthy of their acclaim, visitors will quickly discover that Portugal has much more to offer than port wine and great beaches.
The Atlantic archipelagos of the Azores and Madeira offer boundless opportunities for outdoor discovery and adventure. On these islands and along Portugal’s coasts one can find world class whale watching, ancient Laurisilva forests, hundreds of species of birds, and abundant marine life.
The natural beauty of Portugal’s nature parks, reserves, beaches, rolling vineyards and winding rivers is matched by architectural beauty and artistic reminders of the country’s long and sophisticated heritage. There is the Palace of Sintra with its Moorish, Manueline, and Mudéjar -style designs, the Monserrate Palácio with its elaborate Gothic interior, Pena National Palace with its medley of styles, historic Belém Tower on the banks of the Tagus, and countless other monuments of historic and architectural importance around the country.
Surfers can ride the waves of Nazaré (if they dare), and adventurers can rappel down waterfalls into pristine natural pools, explore sulphur caves, or go coasteering or canyoning in the Azores.
- When to Go
- Top 10 Sites
- Top 5 Things to Do
The people of Portugal are mainly Portuguese. There are also Roma people, and many immigrants and descendants of settlers from around the world including from Africa, Eastern Europe, South America (especially Brazil), India and China. Portugal has a high literacy rate.
In the north of the country there are similarities between the north western Spanish province of Galicia, and the northern Portuguese culture. In the southern regions Moorish and Arab influences are evident. On the islands of the Azores, whaling was a traditional pastime, and there the lifestyle and culture developed uniquely from the mainland.
There is a long tradition of immigration and emigration between Portugal and former Portuguese colonies and throughout the world.
Portuguese cuisine is excellent and features fresh seafood in coastal areas as well as sausage, game, meat, rice, bread, olive oil, vegetables, and bacalhau (preserved salted cod). There are endless regional dishes to choose from.
Specialties of the cuisine include feijoada (slow cooked stew with beans and meat), bacalhau prepared in a various ways, arroz de marisco (rice with seafood), cozido à portuguesa (hearty meat and vegetable stew), and caldo verde (soup with kale, potatoes, and sausage).
Espetada is a specialty of Madeira (beef rubbed with seasonings and marinated in Madeira wine, vinegar and olive oil and grilled). Madeira is also known for its sugarcane, molasses, and honey based sweets, such as Bolo de Mel (honey cake).
In the south of Portugal there are many almond and citrus groves (a legacy of the Moors). Wheat, grapes, and other crops are cultivated throughout the country. Rice is a common side dish, and Portuguese bread, often freshly baked, is served at nearly every meal.
Portugal has a rich pastry tradition. Some of the tastiest treats to be found include the famous egg tarts of Lisbon (pastéis de Belém). Other sweets to seek out include the delicate ovos moles from Aveiro and queijadas de Sintra (small cheese cakes from Sintra).
The wine regions of Portugal are many, with each region producing unique and excellent wines. From the Vinho Verde DOC of the verdant north west, to the hillside cultivated vines of the Douro Valley (where Port wine is produced), to the island of Madeira with its famed fortified wine and the challenging but fruitful volcanic soils of the Azores, wine is an important part of the Portuguese culinary compendium.
Approximately 10.4 million
*Note: The Mirandese language is also recognized; it is spoken by a few thousand people in some regions of north eastern Portugal
When to Go
Portugal enjoys plenty of sunshine from June through September. July and August are the hottest months, and many of the main tourist attractions can be crowded during this time. The southern regions enjoy pleasant mild conditions year round, while the northern regions receive some snow in the winter and are at times considerably colder than the south.
Portugal is generally a pleasant place to visit year round, though late spring and early fall are some of the best times to go.
Dress in Portugal is similar to other European countries. Dress is generally casual, though locals tend to dress smart. Portugal culture is very social. There are many opportunities to experience nightlife, shows, festivals, and dining out, which may call for semi-formal attire. Most visitors inevitably end up enjoying the country’s beautiful beaches at some point, so beachwear and sun protection are recommended.
Some northern regions receive snow, cold temperatures and lots of rain in the winter, so be prepared. Climate varies across the country, so what you pack will depend partially on where you are going and at what time of year. The southern regions are generally warmer than the north, receiving plenty of sunshine year round.
Visitors should bring good walking shoes and clothing suitable for outdoor activities if they plan to go hiking, biking, climbing, etc.
Getting to Portugal is easy, with many connecting flights from major hubs across Europe and North America. The main Portuguese airports are in Lisbon, Porto and Faro. Visitors can arrive from Spain by train, car, or bus. Within Portugal it is possible to get around by rental car, bus, taxi, or train.
Portugal has a good public health care system and sufficient health facilities around the country, though facilities may be limited in rural areas. The main and best equipped hospitals and medical facilities are located in Lisbon and other large cities.
Portugal is a relatively safe and healthy place to visit. The sun can be very strong, so adequate sun protection is recommended when outdoors and at the beach. There are basic pharmacies in most towns and cities. Basic travel insurance may be a good idea in order to cover expenses or loss in the case of an emergency or illness.
Tourists should be aware of their surroundings in crowded spaces, at major tourist sites, and at bus and train stations, which could be potential sites for theft or pickpocketing.
A visa is not required for entry for citizens of the US, Canada, Australia, New Zealand, and EU countries. Citizens of other countries may need to obtain a visa before visiting. Entry regulations can change so it’s best to check with your local embassy to find out whether a visa is required prior to travel. A valid passport is required for all non-citizens.
Top 10 Sites
1. Peneda-Gerês National Park
2. Conimbriga Roman ruins (near Coimbra)
3. Padrão dos Descobrimentos (Monument to the Discoveries)
4. Pena National Palace (Sintra)
5. Belém Tower (Lisbon)
6. Jerónimos Monastery (Lisbon)
7. Monsaraz (Alentejo)
8. Batalha Monastery
9. Monserrate Palace (Sintra)
10. Castelo de São Jorge (Castle of Saint George) (Lisbon)
Top 5 Things to Do
1. Go wine tasting in the Douro Valley
2. Experience Portugal’s soulful Fado music; spend an evening at a “casa de Fado” (Fado restaurant) in Lisbon
3. Experience the magical Flower Festival in Madeira (April)
4. Sample pastéis de Belém tarts at the famous Pastéis de Belém pastry shop in Lisbon
5. Soak in the sun and the sea on the beautiful beaches of the Algarve in southern Portugal
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