If you’ve chosen Portugal as your next holiday destination, prepare yourself for a trip filled with wonderful culture, fantastic food and some of the most beautiful beaches in Europe.
It’s not difficult to see why Portugal attracts travellers from all over the world, with its charming, cobbled villages and bustling metropolises. There really is something to satisfy every kind of traveller.
With so much to see and do in this country, it can be difficult to plan a visit if your time is limited. We’ve put together a list of what we think are the top 5 must-see destinations, to help you make the most of your time in Portugal.
In 2012, the mediaeval city of Guimaräes was named one of European Capitals of Culture and the site is also a UNESCO World Heritage Site. So this is the one for travellers in search of tradition and history.
A particular highlight of the town is the Ducal Palace. Built in the 15th century, the palace now functions as a museum, housing artefacts from as far back as the 10th century. The city is referred to as ‘the birthplace of the Portuguese nationality’ – it was the place of birth of the country’s first king, Alfonso I – and it’s wonderful to experience how proud Portuguese residents are of this magnificent city.
Parque Nacional da Peneda-Gerês
Travellers in search of a more active experience should head to the imposing granite peaks of Portugal’s Parque Nacional da Peneda-Gerês. This is the country’s only national park and can be found in the very north, on the border with Spain.
This location offers some of the most fantastic hiking and walking opportunities in the Mediterranean. As well as peaceful forest trails and challenging mountain routes, walkers will find fascinating archaeological sites dotted around the park, such as abandoned villages and remnants of early settlers. This is also one of the last places in Portugal to get a true insight into village life, which is sadly disappearing.
Naturally, the area is somewhat remote, so you’ll need you own means of reaching the park. The easiest way of doing this is by car. Companies such as Economy Car Hire offer airport pickup as part of their Portugal car hire deals, so you can begin making your way to the park soon as you arrive in the country.
If you’re a lover of all things chocolaty, look no further than the picturesque, white-washed town of Óbidos. For most of March, the town is transformed in a chocoholic paradise, as the town hosts the world-famous ‘International Chocolate Festival’. This is a great activity for food lovers and families.
The winding medieval streets of this beautiful, town are lined with stalls and exhibits, doing just about everything you can think of doing with chocolate. There’s even the chance to learn the secrets of making chocolate yourself!
The event attracts around 200,000 people each year, although 2014 is the 20th anniversary of the event, so it’s sure to bring even more people from around the globe. You can find out more information about the festival, at the official website. This site is written in Portuguese, but you can translate it using the tab on your browser.
The second biggest city in Portugal offers a sample of everything that is fantastic about Portuguese culture.
The city is another of Portugal’s many UNESCO World Heritage Sites and combines picturesque streets with historic architecture to create a distinctly cosmopolitan atmosphere. Visit the Cais de Ribeira, on the banks of the Douro River, for a truly magical evening. After the bustling activity of the working day is over, this area takes on a more relaxing vibe. Take a seat in one of the numerous bars and restaurants, enjoy the music and wonderful smells of grilled seafood and drink in the romantic atmosphere of this charming port.
If you feel the need to escape the hustle and bustle of the mainland, why not consider making your way south to the island of Madeira? Lying around 250 miles north of the Canaries, this Portuguese archipelago prides itself on a more relaxed pace of life and boasts beaches that rival anything the Caribbean has to offer.
EasyJet operate a daily flight from Lisbon to Madeira, priced at around €50. The flight takes around an hour and a half, so this is a great way to incorporate two dramatically different destinations into one trip.
This is just a sample of what Portugal has to offer and there are hundreds of other places that deserved a spot on this list. However, this selection combines locations to satisfy every kind of traveller; if you don’t manage to see them all, visiting just one will prove to be a truly memorable experience.