written by
Cori Sutton


Portugal’s capital is ramshackle, trendy, and charming all at once— an endearing mix of now and then. Vintage trolleys shiver up and down the hills, statues mark grand squares, taxis rattle and screech through cobbled lanes, and Art Nouveau cafés are filled equally with well-worn and well-dressed locals — nursing their coffees side-byside. It is a city of proud ironwork balconies, multicolored tiles, and mosaic sidewalks; of bougainvillea and red-tiled roofs with antique TV antennas; and of foodie haunts and designer boutiques. To enjoy all that this world-class city has to offer you must experience its elegant outdoor cafés, exciting art, fun-tobrowse shops, stunning vistas, delicious food, entertaining museums, and a salty sailors’ quarter with a hill-capping castle.

While it is worth taking the trolley to Lisbon’s Belém neighborhood just to visit the Pasteis de Belém bakery, this district has many more big attractions. The Praça do Império is one of Europe’s biggest plazas, the National Coach Museum holds one of the world’s biggest collections of royal coaches, and Jerónimos monastery has arches and columns as intricately carved as the filigree silver at every Lisbon jewelry store. In its cloisters are two museums: The Navy Museum, which is devoted to navigators of the golden age; and The National Archaeology Museum, with Roman mosaics and Bronze Age metalwork. Also impressive is the private art collection of 20th-century masterpieces at the Berardo Collection Museum inside the Belém Cultural Center. All of this should be combined with a visit to the iconic 16th-century Torre de Belém, resplendent on the wide and dazzling waterfront.


The capital of Portugal’s north and the country’s second city is less polished than its rival, Lisbon. But block for block, it may be even more full of Old World charm. Houses with red-tiled roofs tumble down the hills to the riverbank, prickly church towers dot the skyline, mosaic-patterned stones line streets, and flat-bottomed boats ply the lazy Douro River. Porto offers two high-impact sightseeing thrills: the postcard-perfect ambience of the riverfront district and the opportunity to learn more about (and taste) the port wine that ages just across the river. The city also features sumptuous Baroque churches and civic buildings, a bustling real-world market hall, atmospheric lanes of glorious azulejo-tiled houses, a variety of good restaurants and appealing boutiques, and quirky but worthwhile museums.

On the night of June 23rd, the Portuguese take to the streets to celebrate the festival of São João. While you can find celebrations in cities around the country, Porto is the place to be for the festivities. On this night, you will find people throwing plastic or inflatable hammers or garlands of garlic at those they find attractive. The party starts early in the afternoon of June 23rd and usually lasts until early the next morning. The traditional attractions of the night include street concerts; popular dancing parties; jumping over flames; eating barbecued sardines, Caldo verde, and other meats; drinking wine; and releasing illuminated flamepropelled balloons into Porto’s summer sky. At midnight, party-goers take a short break to look to the sky for a fireworks spectacle.

The illustrious Douro River has sculpted one of the most dramatically beautiful landscapes in all of Europe, and Porto just happens to be situated where the river empties into the Atlantic Ocean. It is on the Douro where you will discover the magnificent regions boasting delicious wines and delectable gastronomic specialties. Rippling vineyards snake through the valley at all elevations, tracing endless lines of terraced vines that have been cultivated for over 2,000 years. Visitors can uncover one of Europe’s renowned wine-growing regions with a Douro River cruise. In the scenic north, the Douro River delivers you to hillside vineyards and wine estates, passing boats laden with casks and bobbing on the Douro’s current to immersing you in the cultural centers of the Portuguese wine-making industry.


The Algarve

Tavira is a coastal town near the Spanish border with vestiges of ancient Phoenician and Roman settlements lurking under its streets. Whitewashed buildings with wroughtiron balconies fill narrow lanes, along with numerous Renaissance and Baroque churches — testaments to the town’s wealth generated long ago from the fishing and salt trades. Even today, the shallow, shimmering tidal pools of the salt pans do their quiet work just outside the town. Above, atop a hillside, the ruins of a medieval castle and the clock tower of the 18th-century Santa Maria do Castelo church lords over a sea of orange-tile roofs.

Portugal’s least commercialized region, the western Algarve has nationally protected nature reserves, pristine beaches, wild coastlines, jagged cliffs, and is home to Europe’s southwestern most point, Cabo de São Vicente. From fresh seafood caught daily by local fishermen and some of the best beaches in Portugal, to relaxing spas, coastal activities, and access to nature preserves, this region is the perfect wild retreat for those looking to escape from it all.

One of Portugal’s protected natural parks, the Southwest Alentejo and Vicentine Coast Natural Park, wraps around the Algarve’s cliffy coastline along the Atlantic Ocean and into the Alentejo, covering a stretch of over 75 miles of lush greenery and wild fauna tucked amidst steep coastal landscapes. The coast, characterized by rugged rocks, boulders, sea stacks, and sand stratified cliff faces caused by centuries of erosion, is perfect for long walks. At the tail end of the park sits the village of Sagres, surrounded by wide sandy beaches, including Praia do Martinhal. One of the area’s best public beaches, Martinhal has powder-soft white sands, mild and clear greenish blue waters, and fewer crowds than other parts of Europe. Strong winds coming off the Atlantic Ocean make the coast around Sagres ideal for active sports such as windsurfing, paragliding, and surfing.

Tucked away in Europe’s most southwestern corner, Portugal is a conveniently compact travel destination offering gorgeous historical cities, a charming and low-key vibe, and delicious seafood and wine — not to mention some excellent beaches.

Whether you are looking for a jam-packed city stopover in Lisbon, a week spent village hopping along the coast, or a spectacular Douro River cruise, a visit to Portugal has much to offer the curious traveler.



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