Travelers who come to Portugal for short durations often find themselves enticed into longer stays by the windswept coastlines, quiet fishing villages, sophisticated beach resorts and historical ruins. The locals are friendly and welcoming. In fact, the less you speak Spanish, the more likely they are to embrace you. With sunny days and blue skies, the weather alone is likely to put a smile on your face, not to mention the olive groves, vineyards and wheat fields. Don’t forget to roll that ‘zzzhhhh’ when pronouncing local words!
Why You Should Go
What’s Cool: Beaches, friendly locals, country fairs, Fado (traditional folk music), seafood dinners, Port wine, cheap car rental and fast, easy driving.
What’s Not: Cold water in the Atlantic Ocean, traffic jams on narrow one-way streets, summer heat and crowds, street dogs, and speeding tickets.
When to Go
Portugal, and especially its southern beaches, can be enjoyed at almost any time of the year. Peak season, with the most crowds, is in June and August, but the summer season lasts from March to October.
Getting There & Away
There are direct flights from Europe and North America to the international airports in Lisbon, Oporto and Faro. Internal flights are available between Lisbon, Faro, Madeira, Porto Santo, Oporto and the Azores. Lisbon is connected by rail to most major European cities. The Portuguese rail system connects every town in Portugal and offers a fast and comfortable way to travel. Discounts are available for students and seniors.
Health & Safety
You’re more likely to suffer from an overdose of sun and wine than you are any serious health concerns. Be sure to drink a bottle of water after every bottle of wine and take advantage of the great excuse to have someone slather lotion on your back when you hit the beach. In general, Portugal has a relatively low crime rate however there have been an increasing number of incidences of petty theft and pick-pocketing in tourist areas, particularly in Lisbon.
Food & Hospitality
Lunch is generally eaten late in the afternoon at around 14:00 and is usually followed by a siesta period. This is not a good time to get anything done as many businesses shut to escape the heat of the day. The evening meal is accordingly later, usually eaten at around 21:00. You shouldn’t have any problem finding entertainment options, particularly in the larger towns and seaside resorts. You can catch theater, stage shows, folk dancing and live music at many clubs and restaurants.
You could easily spend a month exploring the five regions of Portugal in depth, but if you only have two weeks, here’s what you can cover:
Three days in Lisbon.
One day in Sintra.
Three days in the Porto region and the Douro Valley.
One week on the islands of Madeira and Faial.
Three days on the beaches in the Algarve.
Two days in Aveiro and Evora.
Spend a week on a beach of your choice, with nearly 2,000kms of coastline to choose from.
Lisbon: the capital is built on several steep hillsides looking out over the River Tagus and features a 12th century castle, a medieval palace and the Torre de Belem.
Porto and the North: the main city of the region, Porto is famous for its wine. Drink enough and you may forget about the rest of the country entirely. The Douro and Minho valleys and the Serra Da Estrêla mountain range, however, are worth remembering.
The Algarve: is one of the most popular destinations for tourists in Portugal due to its large number of excellent beaches. The only things more attractive than the natural beauty are the bodies on the beach.
Aveiro: this fishing port is often referred to as the ‘Venice of Portugal’ and is surrounded by beaches, salt flats, lagoons and a network of canals.
Evora: the quaint town is set atop a hill, protected by ancient fortified walls and declared as a World Heritage site.
Sintra: is a UNESCO World Heritage site in the mountains near Lisbon where you can explore the former summer residence of the Portuguese royal family and Monserrate gardens.
Madeira: an island of terraces, bridges and strenuous hiking (if you want to explore the lush valleys and steep gulfs on foot).
Faial: island is home to several active volcanoes and an explosive night scene.
Wine tasting: whether it’s Port from Oporto or Madiera, you simply cannot pass through Portugal without sampling some of the local wines.
Golf: golfing is good all over Portugal almost any time of year although the south is particularly known for its championship golf courses.
Bull fighting: in the Azores, it is possible to view an event much like the running of the bulls in Pamplona, Spain and your best bet for catching a fight is in the southern regions.
Tennis: courts all over the country boast high quality lessons and interesting tournaments.
Horseback riding: the Peneda-Gerês National Park in the north has some excellent horseback riding, as do many of the resorts around the country.
Water sports: windsurfing, waterskiing, swimming, snorkeling, sailing and diving are all widely available at many locations along Portugal’s massive of coastline.
Festivals & Events
Many of Portugal’s festivals are religious. In addition to these, country fairs are held all over the country throughout the year, mostly on Sundays.
February/March: celebrate the last days before Lent at Carnivale.
March/April: Braga celebrates Easter week with a festival of peculiar parades.
June: Festa de Santo Antonio is celebrated in Alfama and Mouraria districts with a night-long street fair.
August: Festa da Nossa Senhora da Agonia involves fireworks, art shows and parades in Viana do Castelo.