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An Introduction to Portugal -
The best holiday destintion of Europe
Portugal is a country that effortlessly combines culture, heritage and liberal attitudes to create one of Europe’s finest holiday destinations. The relatively small size of Portugal conceals a country that is rich with diversity, which will ultimately appeal to a wide variety of tourists, including families, young couples or the more mature visitor.
The traditional port boats and the Dom Luís I bridge in Porto
Portugal has been blessed with a glorious climate and stunning natural scenery, and this includes the beautiful sandy coastlines which summer time tourists flock to. As a people, the Portuguese are welcoming and hospitable, but they still retaining their traditional heritage and values, which centre around the importance of the family.
Lagos is on a stunning coastline
Portugal’s economy relies heavily on tourism and the country has actively encouraged investment to ensure there are modern facilities, excellent hotels and outstanding tourism services. This improvement and maturity of Portugal’s tourism will ensure a sell-out year for 2017, but the country still provides exceptional value for money, especially when compared to other European holiday destinations. Portugal is a fantastic location for a holiday and this guide will provide a high-level introduction to Portugal with links to further in-depth guides.
A quick overview of Portugal’s popular holiday destinations
(Please click on the underlined links to be taken to the destination guide - each link opens a new window.)
The Best Cities:
Lisbon and Porto
Historical and Cultural Towns:
Evora, Coimbra, Sintra or Fatima
For a Family Summer Holiday:
The Central Algarve or the Cascais-Estoril coastline
Picturesque and Traditional towns:
Tavira, Sesimbra and Silves
The Western Algarve, the Serra da Arribida or the Douro Valley
Party Destinations: Albufeira, Praia da Rocha, Lisbon or Porto
The Algarve’s main resort towns:
Albufeira, Lagos, Vilamoura, Praia da Rocha and Alvor
Escape the Summer Crowds:
Sesimbra, Vila Nova da Milfontes, the Alentejo coastline or Porto
Sagres, Nazaria or Penechie
Best Day trips from Lisbon:
Sintra, Cascais, Obidos and Mafra
Best day trips from Porto: Guimarães, Braga and Espinho
Best towns between Lisbon and Porto:
Coimbra, Tomar, Fatima, Nazaria (or Penechie) and Obidos
Useful Guides for Planning a holiday to Portugal
Suggestion for a 1 week holiday or tour of Portugal
Top 10 of Portugal
A weekend in Portugal
An Overview of the Regions of Portugal
One article could never hope to provide enough detailed information to plan a holiday to Portugal, but this section will try to summarise the main holiday regions of the country. Our key advice for visiting Portugal is to just to stick to one region and explore it in-depth, never plan to see the entire country in just a single week.
The majority of visitors wanting a beach based holiday head to the glorious southern coastline, which is known as the Algarve. The central Algarve (between Praia da Rocha in the west and Vilamoura in the east) is the most popular section, with huge hotel complexes and a vast array of restaurants, bars and other tourist services.
These resort towns have an enjoyable buzz during the summer season but due to their popularity need to be booked far in advance as they do sell out. The central Algarve towns still retain their traditional character and charm but for a more authentic Portuguese experience head to the eastern Algarve (primary Tavira) or the far western side, around Lagos. For a guide to the Algarve please click here.
Lisbon is the vibrant capital of Portugal and offers delightful historical districts, an extensive history and lively nightlife. There is a lot to love about Lisbon and the city is starting to become a year-round holiday destination. A typical visit to Lisbon is three days, ideal for a city-break, while the numerous excellent day trips can easily extended a trip to one week. Lisbon is surrounded by a beautiful coastline of sandy beaches and this can make for a suitable alternative to the Algarve. For a guide to Lisbon please click here.
The Rua Augusta in central Lisbon
Porto is the second city of Portugal and is famed for the alcoholic drink Port, which is matured in the vast cellars that line the banks of the Douro River. Porto is a historic city, with a completely different ambience to Lisbon, and takes around two days to fully explore while the day trips can again extend a holiday to a week. For a guide to Porto please click here.
The ancient Ribeira district of Porto
Outside of these three main tourist areas visitor numbers quickly drop off but they only cover a fraction of Portugal, other highly recommended regions to explore include the Alentejo, Coimbra, Central Portugal and the Douro.
The Alentejo are the arid lands of eastern Portugal that are filled with rolling hills of olive trees, fortified towns and picturesque villages. The Alentejo is one of the most traditional regions of Portugal and the infections unhurried pace of life is far removed from hectic life style of the cities or the Algarve. There are many historic towns in the Alentejo and the region is ideal for a touring holiday. Standout towns include Evora and Elvas; Evora is a pretty walled city while Elvaz is a heavily fortified town that defended Portugal from Spanish aggression. For a guide to Evora please click here.
The traditonal streets of Evora
Coimbra is the fascinating university city of Portugal and is one of the oldest universities in the world. Coimbra comprises of narrow cobbled streets that lead up from the river up to the university complex. In these alleys students, with their distinctive black gowns, can be spied rushing to classes or lounging in the cafes. For a guide to Coimbra please click here.
The university of Coimbra
Coimbra makes for a great base to explore Central Portugal and this includes Fatima, Nazira and Tomar. Fatima is the location that the Virgin Mary appeared to three shepherds and since become an important pilgrimage destination. Nazira is charming resort town that is famed for its incredible surfing waves, having produced the largest wave ever surfed on. Tomar was the ancient religious centre for the Knight Templar.
The deserted beaches of the Alentejo coastline
To truly escape the summer time crowds considering visiting the virtually unknown Alentejo coastline partway between Lisbon and the Algarve. The coastline surrounding Vila Nova de Milfontes and Porto Cova is wild and rugged with absolutely no tourist development as it is protected by a national park. A car is need to explore the Alentejo coastline as there is limited public transport but this is one of the most beautiful regions of Portugal.