Why Travel to Portugal?
This little country is loaded with superb beaches, good surf, amazing
castles, churches and monasteries and has unique architectural art
in the shape of Manueline decor and azulejos tiling.
Great summer weather is guaranteed, seafood is excellent and reasonable
value and locals are reserved but friendly, especially towards people
NOT speaking Spanish.
Crime rates are low and fast long-distance driving is easy on magnificent
new, well-signed motorways.
- The countryside is often unattractive and disappointing, especially
the Algarve away from the beaches.
- The sea, being the Atlantic Ocean, is on the cool side.
- Car transport in many towns is a nightmare of narrow one-way streets
and endless traffic jams caused by medieval roads trying to handle
a recently affluent 4-wheel society.
High speed .5m from your bumper at
160kph/100mph tailgating outside towns.
Portimao beach, Algarve
Best weather: June - September, and you can expect it to be very
OK: April, May, October. This is a maybe time. Maybe wonderfully
sunny and warm, maybe rainy and cool, it's a gamble.
Worst: November - March. Cool and often wet, including the
Minimum worthwhile stay, not incl. flights: Lisbon for a weekend.
Recommended time: A couple of weeks to see Lisbon, some of
the nearby towns such as Sintra, Obidos, Evora or hit the beaches
around Cascais (west) or Caparica (south).
***Lisbon has a lot to offer, though
it's not quite up to the capital standards of some bigger neighbours.
See more information in our Lisbon
***Sintra. Not so much for the old
town, but for various parks, gardens and four spectacular buildings
in and around it - the 14thC twisted gothic Palacio Nacional, the
fantastical Quinta da Regaleira, and up a cool forested hill, the
superbly atmospheric Moorish Castle and the totally Disney Palacio de Pena - with a fascinating
royal family life museum. 45 minutes by train from Lisbon.
***Obidos. The most striking of Portugal's
hilltop walled towns, Obidos is perfection, within easy distance of
Lisbon and well worth an overnight stay in a cute little pensao to enjoy the ramparts and streets without the company of packaged
people. Book ahead!
***Evora. Probably the most interesting
town after Lisbon; World Heritage Evora is stuffed with a variety
of sights and a mere hour from Lisbon. Don't try and drive into the city! Park outside the
Nearby is the largest group of prehistoric stones in Europe, the
95 monoliths (Almendres) of Cromeleque. Accessed through a gorgeous
cork forest, these are smaller stones than Stonehenge,
but totally devoid of commerce, restrictions or even other people
most of the time.
***The Algarve is culturally a near
desert and a scenic dead loss apart from some pretty fishing villages in the far west (e.g. Olahao, Fuzeta, Sagres) and around the Guadiana River in the far east (e.g. Alcoutim). The strands
of sand, however, are huge, clean and often characterful, though
the water is cool and may be choppy too.
*** Marvao. Another gorgeous walled
hilltop town, in a prettier landscape than Obidos and with fewer
tourists, but a little distant.
**Scenic countryside. Not much around,
but the rolling hillocks and cork trees of Alto Alentejo are lovely,
especially carpeted with yellow and purple flowers in May.
The terraced valley and gorge of Douro, popularly seen via a rickety
railway, is stunning, and could be combined with a trip to Porto
(below) and Stone Age art at Vale do Coa, where thousands of Palaeolithic
drawings can be seen on 17km of rocks.
Minho, in the far north is wet, green and mountainously rural, with
good beaches and featuring Portugal's religious capital Braga. Braga's
35 churches include a popular pilgrim's target - Bom Jesus do Monte.
** Porto. Portugal's
second city sports some arresting buildings, a World Heritage district
of tiled terraced houses beside the river and a barrel load of wine
*Coimbra: A pretty
riverside university town and Portugal's capital in the 1145 AD,
but Coimbra hardly deserves the hordes it gets.
Another outrageously ornate church, loaded with azulejos
***Churches/Monasteries. Even atheists will enjoy some 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 in Sao Fransisco, Mafra's
Palace/Monastery, Lisbon's Jeronimos monastery for the ultimate Manueline
Sao Vicente de Fora monastery (NOT the church as some guide books
say!) for the best in story telling azulejos.
Motorways: 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 4x4 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.
Towns: Old town driving is another matter entirely! Streets are often medieval,
extraordinarily narrow, complicatedly one way, and traffic jammed.
Traffic stuffed Evora town
Hiking: 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.
Biking: 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.
Surfing: 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.
Wind/kite surfing: commonplace and
often sharing space with board surfers at beaches like Guincho and
Pros especially enjoy regular high winds on Portugal's SW tip, near
Swimming: 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
Guincho beach, near Lisbon
Festivals in Portugal:
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
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
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!).
some precise dates see: European
Festivals or Arts
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
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.
Portuguese is similar to Spanish in many ways, though they are not
over-fond of their Spanish neighbours so English is in some ways
better to use than good Spanish. Or start with English and switch
to Spanish if necessary?
Whatever, at least learn Bom Dia, Boa Tarde, Desculpe, Por Favor,
Obrigado and Adeus/Chao.
Portuguese cuisine tends towards the solid and not particularly
cheap in tourist areas, but pick the right place in one of Portugal's
more sophisticated areas, such as Lisbon's Bairro Alto or the Algarve's
Lagos, and you can have an excellent, interesting meal for a reasonable
Seafood is particularly impressive and sardines are
the best value. Bacalhau - salted cod - is the national dish and is served in a
thousand different ways, many of them edible.
Away from Lisbon and the Algarve food is much better value; good value snacks are commonly available, including filling soups
for lunch - though soup is not normally served alone.
One of the Portugal's most unique customs is the almost obligatory cover charge for bread, butter, olives and some kind of paste.
Coffees are wonderful and house wines are drinkable by all but connoisseurs.
Try a glass of cold white port too. Local beers are OK, and the black/stout beers are better than OK.
Guide | Lisbon
Photos | Portugal
Photos | Europe
Map | Portugal Map