For any traveler wanting to get off the beaten track in Europe, Portugal has infinite possibilities to experience small towns and diverse landscapes that remain very much like they were a hundred years ago. Portugal is a small, compact country, whose history and customs are deeply influenced by its proximity to the Atlantic Ocean. The Portuguese are proud of their seafaring past, as Vasco de Gama, Columbus and others were pioneers of exploration in Africa, the Americas and India. Portugal was a major colonial power until less than twenty years ago. Following the independence of several of Portugal’s African colonies (1974-1975) over a million refugees moved into the major urban areas of Portugal. The immigrants have integrated well into Portuguese society which has led to a fascinating multi-cultural atmosphere in the major urban areas, especially in Lisbon .
For such a small country, you have many options from which to choose: A San Francisco-esque city, spreading over seven hills which descend into the Rio Tejo (Tagus River)- Lisbon is perhaps Europe’s most pleasant and affordable city. Its fantastic architecture, diverse population, delicious seafood, intriguing tile-work and non-stop night-life bring together the best elements of Portuguese life. Don’t miss an evening bar-hopping in the Barrio-Alto listening to African music and Portuguese blues-fado!
Tour beautifully restored towns and well-preserved architecture of UNESCO’s World Heritage sites in Evora , Batalha and Alcobaça . If you are interested in monuments, Evora and Coimbra are must-sees.
The most beautiful natural areas lie in the Minho , Lima, and Douro valley. You can explore the verdant beauty and rural customs of the Minho Valley, or check out the spectacular gorge in the Douro valley .
The city of Oporto is located at the end of the Douro Valley, on the sea, and is famous for its port wine. It is an excellent base for exploring the region.
If it’s the beach you are after, the Algarve coast offers highly developed stretches of beach. The rest of the coast (with the exception of the area near Lisbon and Porto) remain relaxing, totally Portuguese and isolated. Great stretches of sand are there for the relaxing, especially along the northern Costa Verde , near Viano do Castelo . The beaches near southern Alentejo are the most remote and least populated.
Transportation and accommodation are excellent and very reasonable, perhaps the cheapest in Europe. The wine is excellent and don’t forget to try some vinho do Porto (port), Portugal’s most famous export. If you are interested click here.
Lisbon is a fascinating of old-fashioned and funky art, architecture and traditions. Its one of Europe’s most enjoyable capitals with its relaxed atmosphere, cultural diversity, reasonable prices and charming architecture. Lisbon is set on seven low hills next to the Rio Tejo. The city’s atmosphere is rich with wonderful old buildings, Europe’s longest suspension bridge, and fascinating museums and monuments. Despite the city’s muscle-aching hills, Lisbon is compact enough to explore on foot. If your legs get tired, Lisbon has very convenient, bus, trolley and subway lines as well as funiculars to take you up the steeper hills.
The capital of Portugal is currently in the middle of a building boom which began after it was chosen as the host city for Expo 98. Metro lines have been extended, mosaic sidewalks have been re-paved and medieval facades have been restored. One of the most urgent works is the saving and restauration of the “Alfama”, the old town.
The city moves to pulsing new rhythms, as African music clubs are all the rage. Contrasting to this modern diversity, Portuguese fado songs continue to be heard, the soulful music (which originated here) is still hitting notes of passionate melancholy.
A good way to orient yourself and enjoy a panoramic view is to climb one of the seven hills – Penha de França, Senhora do Monte, Graça, São Jorge, São Pedro Alcantara, Santa Catarina, Estrela. São Jorge is topped by a famous castle, Castelo de São Jorge, and has the most spectacular picturesque view – as the sun sets over the Rio Tejo. Generally speaking, you can spend an unlimited time discovering and re-discovering this charming city, however if you are on a tight schedule, don’t miss exploring the Alfama District, Bairro Alto, and Belem (see under sights for more information). Lisbon is really a wonderful place to explore, anytime of the year. If you are lucky, the sky is blue and the sun is shining even in february and november.
Built on the right bank of the Douro river, Oporto (or Porto) is a city where the old features contrast with the new. Its winding, hilly, narrow streets in the old town are a complement to its wide modern avenues which spread out to the suburbs. As capital of the north, Porto is very unpretentious and unashamedly commercial. As a Portuguese saying goes: “Lisbon shows off, Braga prays, Coimbra studies and Porto works”.
That this saying is true you will immediately recognize. For the year 2001 Porto shares the title of the “European Capital of Culture” with Rotterdam in the Netherlands. It seems that the people of Porto thought that 2002 would be their turn, because the whole city still is full of construction sites and roadworks. There is dust and noise everywhere, but still, Porto is a fascinating city with lots of unknown treasures to discover by just strolling around.
Here, at the delta of the Douro River, the second heart of Port wine beats. The wines, that are produced in several “quintas” up the river on step hills, are here bottled and shipped to all over the world. Vila Nova de Gaia, the city opposite of Porto on the left bank of the River, is the home to all the famous Port wine companies like Taylors, Dows, Offleys, Calem etc.
Porto and Vila Nova de Gaia are directly connected through the Ponte de Dom Luis I, a steelwork construction build in the 19th century. This bridge, dominating the skyline of the two cities, is a double bridge that connects on the one hand the upper towns of Porto and Vila Nova de Gaia and on the other hand the river banks. The most direct route to the wine lodges is across the lower level from the Cais da Ribeira, but if you have a head for heights it is an amazing sensation to walk over the upper deck, otherwise take bus no. 32, 57 or 91 from Sao Bento train station. Standing on the upper bridge and looking eastwards you will see the second steelwork construction bridge of Porto, the railway bridge Ponte de D. Maria Pia, designed by Théophile Seyrig and contracted by Gustave Eiffel in 1876 / 1877, length 160 m.
Viana do castelo
This is no World66 image. It was found using an Internet search. more..
Viana do Castelo was founded in 1258 but it also has a pre-roman evidence of human occupation in the ruins of a city at the top of Santa Luzia hill, which you can visit. In the centre you will find many small streets with old houses.
The main attractions include the Cathedral (15 th century) and the surrounding streets, the Misericórdia (16 th century) and the Old Town Hall right in the main old square. And obviously, dont miss the neo-Byzantine Church of Santa Luzia, located on top of the Santa Luzia hill and with an astonishing view of Viana do Castelo, the river estuary and the sea.
Albufeira is about 40 km west of the Faro airport, which will cost you half an hour via the highway IP1. Although Albufeira is known as a major tourist resort, it is amazing that you still find hardly any tourists in the old center. When coming from the Tunnel (every tourist will end up there) turn right and you will arrive at the central place of Albufeira with all its restaurants. From there you may continue through the narrow touristic streets, back to the beach. Shortly before you arrive at the old fish market and “The Ruin” you find a street at your right hand. This will lead you to the old part of Albufeira, from where you have a mignificent view in both directions. The side streets are untouched by tourists and you still may see the local people chatting with each other from their windows.
Madeira island is one of Europe’s oldest travel locations and many thousands of tourists return year after year. Why?
Madeira offers not only a pleasant year round climate and wonderful fauna and flora – Madeira is also virtually crime free and one of the safest holiday destinations in the world!
Coimbra is the third largest portuguese city with 150.000 inhabitants and it is the biggest city in the central area of Portugal. Coimbra, the first capital of Portugal, is home of Coimbra University, one of the oldest in Europe, founded in Lisbon in 1290 by king Dinis and then transferred to Coimbra in 1537 by King João III. The old University buildings are situated on the top of a hill, which overlooks the city and the river. It is well worth a visit. You enter the old part of the University through an Iron Gate with stone works from the XVII century in manierist style. Inside the gate is the enormous University Patio, with a large statute of João III. Beside the gate, to the left when entering, you will see the long low palace wing with several rooms that worth a visit.
The University Library from the biginning of the XVIII century is in the far-left corner and is well worth taking the tours that are provided. The wood work is realy fascinating. If you’re here in the end of April or beginning of May make it a point to see the students party Queima das Fitas, with all the students singing Fado and burning their ribbons at the end of the school year. It is the biggest student party in Europe with the participation of all the 30.000 students of the University
The University’s Eighteen-century clock stands in the right hand corner of the courtyard, domineering the skyline. Next to it is a double staircase leading to other parts of the University. Some of the students still wear their black suits and capes, pinned with a colorful ribbon indicating the student’s course of study. There are also tears on their capes, which indicate the student’s romantic conquests.
Another highlight in Coimbra is the Baixa, on the way there you will visit the old cathedral from the XII century, in tipical portuguese romanesque style. The Baixa is the part of the city down by the river with most traditional shopping. It is full of narrow streets and crowded shops, banks, churches, cafés, hotels and walks to stroll along the Mondego rivers’ banks.
Around Coimbra within an hour drive there are several places that worth a visit: Buçaco, Luso, Curia, Figueira da Foz, Condeixa, Conimbriga, Montemor…
You can settle in Coimbra for four or five days and visit all this area.
Sintra is a small town that looks straight out of a fairy tale. Made famous by Lord Byron, Sintra was once the royal town of Portugal, and many castles and palaces can be found in its vicinity. One of them is Pena Castle, perched on a steep hill and straight out of Disney Land. It is a yellow heap of small domes and turrets filled with a wide array of decorative arts. The most notable palace is the Sintra National Palace, whose white twin towers are the most distinctive landmark in Sinta. It is a combination of Moorish, Gothic and Manuelin styles. Inside is a beautiful collection of ancient and rare tiles and murals.
Sintra also has a fine collection of international contemporary art in the Sintra Museu de Arte Moderna. Other museums include the Toy Museum, the International Sculpture Centre, with Portugese sculpture, and the São Miguel de Odrinhas Museum and Archaeological Site. In fact, the whole town looks a bit like a museum, filled with the most amazing buildings.
A good way to get to Sintra is by taking the train from Lisbon. You will get a good view of the Águas Livres Aquaduct (built in the 18th century, and still in use) and arrive in the magnificent, cathedral-like station. From there, it’s only a short walk into the old town with its many shops and restaurants.
“Evora is the finest example of a city of the golden age of Portugal after the destruction of Lisbon by the earthquake of 1755.” is the way the UENSCO described Evora when they put it on the World Heritage list.
A city of Portugal’s interior, Evora is located at the intersection of three river basins. About 100 km. east of Lisbon , it is constructed high above the surrounding plain. The founding of the city dates back to the dawn of the Christian era.
Under the Aviz Dynasty (1385-1580), Evora became the second most important city of the kingdom after Lisbon. In the 16th century, Evora reached its golden era as witnessed by a number of architectural realisations. This was also the beginning of great Portuguese maritime expeditions, when the ports of call on the world’s maritime route – Madeira, the Azores, and the Cape Verde Islands – were discovered.
In the 17th century, a Vauban-type fortification was constructed. In the 18th century, the Company of Jesus, which had spread intellectual and religious enlightenment since the 16th century, was expelled, and Evora went into decline.
Nowadays Evora is a real treat. The walls and the vestiges of walls, which are bordered with gardens are nice. The low white houses with their tile roofs, cast ironwork and azulejos look great. Furthermore there are numerous palaces and convents, there is an aqueduct which dates to 1537 and numerous fountains. Even if you are not a history buff, Evora should be on your itinerary.
Braga is the home of Portugal’s Archbishops. It is hardly surprising that there are many churches here to see, as well as the palace of the Archbishop dating from the 14-th century. But there are also many remains going back to per christian times, when the town was one of the more importnat ones on the Iberian peninsula.
The 14th Century Torre de Menagem that stands in the City’s square is all that remains of the original fortifications. The much altered and extended 12th Century Cathedral was built on the site of an older church destroyed in the 6th Century. Another importnat sight is the 16th Century Palácio dos Biscainhos.
Just east of the town is one of Portugal’s most famous tourist attraction, the Igreja de Bom Jesus de Monte. It is an impressive Baroque staircase symbolic of the 14 Stations of the Cross that leads upwards to a late 18th Century Church. Ornately carved figures and wall-fountains and Chapels decorate the steps according to the various stages of Christ’s last journey. You can either climb up or take a small funicular railway dating from 1882 that runs-up alongside the steps.
Photo by Wikimedia Commons.