Another outrageously ornate church, the Convent of Christ at Tomar, homebase for the Knights Templar, with an altar (above) designed to be ridden around on horseback (if you were in a hurry to get back to Jerusalem). Photo by Alvesgaspar.
Even atheists will enjoy many of the madly magnificent religious structures scattered around the country.
Some notable ones are the Convent of Christ at Tomar where the Knights Templar were based, Batalha Abbey, Alcobaca monastery, Evora’s Misercordia and the bone chapel of Sao Fransisco, Mafra’s Palace/Monastery, Lisbon’s Jeronimos monastery for the ultimate Manueline decorand Sao Vicente de Fora Monastery (NOT a church as some guide books say! ) for the best in story telling azulejos.
The unfinished cloister of Batalha Abbey, aka Mosteiro de Santa Maria da Vitoria. Love the place, incredible stonework, a spacious tranquil setting, catastrophically and permanently incomplete. Sic transit gloria.
With superb EU funded motorways and excellent signposting fast intercity travel in Portugal is easy, though few drivers observe the 120kph (75mph) limit, many moving well in excess of 160kph (100mph).
So DON’T force your little rental car to slowly overtake another vehicle unless you fancy a lunatic 4×4 or BMW sitting on your bumper at high speed; DO keep your eyes on the mirror and give those nutters plenty of space, they cause a lot of accidents.
Old town driving is another matter entirely! Streets are often medieval, extraordinarily narrow, complicatedly one way, and traffic jammed.
Suddenly six straight, empty lanes becomes one wiggly little one, well stuffed, and you find yourself lost, sitting for precious hours gasping fossil fuel and unable to park.
So. . . if you plan to stay the night in high season in any of the country’s old towns, in other words just about all of them, either book a hotel in advance that includes a parking space or leave the infernal machine outside the city walls where there will usually be a large, free car park, and get the legs into action. And don’t forget to conceal any kind of valuables.
Not a Portuguese pastime and mostly lacking in spectacular views, determined walkers can nevertheless find good trails. The most scenic are in the north e. g. Parque Natural da Serra da Estrela, Parque Nacional da Peneda-Geres and Parque Natural de Montesinho. The Algarve has many walks, but lacks natural beauty unless you hike along the coast.
August-February, a couple of days a week is hunting season, so check locally if you might be walking into a shooting arena.
Mountain biking is fashionable and bikes can be rented in many tourist areas. Some locations even offer guided bike tours e. g. the Algarve, Sintra and National Parks.
One of Europe’s best surfing destinations due to a high level of sunshine and consistent (though not necessarily huge) waves along the whole west coastline as well as the west end of the Algarve coast at Sagres.
Commonplace and often sharing space with board surfers at beaches like Guincho and Rocha.
Pros especially enjoy regular high winds on Portugal’s SW tip, near Sagres.
Buckets of great beaches with soft sand and lots of character, see Algarve, right.
Snorkelling/Scuba: cold and fairly dull.
Golf: The south of the country is where most of the great courses are, with the Algarve leading at 26 championship courses.
Feb/March, Carnival. Various colourful festivities during the last days before Lent.
March/April: Easter Week Festival in Braga, with bizarre processions.
From 1st Thursday of May for 2 (? ) weeks, Coimbra, Queima das Fitas, wild end of year celebrations at ‘Portugal’s Oxford’.
12-13 May, Fatima Romarias (in Fatima). Severely religious mass pilgrimage event.
12-13 June, Festa de Santo Antonio, a night long street fair, esp. in Alfama and Mouraria districts.
20-24 June, Festa de Sao Joao, nationwide (23-24) but longer in Porto.
Around 20 August, Festa da Nossa Senhora da Agonia, Viana do Castelo, a very lively celebration with parades, fireworks and art shows.
12-13 October, Fatima Romarias (in Fatima). Severely religious mass pilgrimage event (again! ).
For some precise dates see: European Festivals or Arts Festivals.
Electric sockets are 230v and take 2 round pin plugs.
Crime is uncommon, though as usual, pickpockets are active in areas frequented by tourists. Be especially careful on Lisbon’s famous Tram 28!
There have been rare attacks/robberies by gangs in Lisbon, Porto, Estoril and Cascais, so be sensible about flashing valuables and where you walk late at night.