When I first told people I was going to Portugal on my honeymoon, the first question I got a lot of the time was "why"? I have to say that this response shocked me a little; ever since I was a little kid and saw pictures of the cliffs around Cabo de Sao Vicente I’ve had the urge to go. Even my wife took a little bit of convincing, she was more interested in Greece or Croatia (I’ve never been to either but heard they are amazing), but after showing her a few pictures of different spots around Portugal, she too was convinced it was a good idea.
We spent two weeks travelling around the entire country and one of the things I was struck by was the vast differences between the different regions. In the south there are amazing beaches, sunshine and warm weather. In the North there are mountains and wine country (though admittedly worse weather). On the West coast there are beaches surrounded by beautiful cliffs, as well as two amazing but very different cities, Lisbon and Porto. In the east of Portugal along the Spanish border, there are cork and olive trees along the highways that are beautiful in a strange way. There are beaches on every coast of Portugal, with some of the best surfing in the world at Peniche (has hosted the World Surf Championships), and more relaxed places like the beach of Tamariz in the Estoril district.
There is fresh and local seafood, olives, cheese, and what I think is much underrated regional wine (though I think that is beginning to change). Salted cod, or bacalhau in Portuguese, is a dish that I wasn’t fond of at first, but after a few tries I really started to enjoy it. One of the best dishes I’ve ever tasted was a clam dish cooked in a cataplana in a restaurant called Estalagem de Santa Iria in Tomar. I have to admit port wine is not my favorite thing, but if it’s yours then there is no better place in the world to be than Porto (more on that later).
Here is a list of five must see places in Portugal:
- Lisbon: One couldn't write an article about traveling to Portugal and not write about Lisbon. There is stunning architecture, a huge number of different neighborhoods each with their own unique feel. There are clubs, restaurants, and museums, something for everyone really. One must see is the Estoril district, which has the beautiful beach of Tamariz. Another great part of Lisbon is the public transportation; the trams can get you anywhere in the city in relatively short order.
- Sintra: Sintra is the kind of place that reminds a Person of a fairytale. There are three different castles from three different time periods among the hills. It is a short train ride out of Lisbon, and a person would have to be crazy to miss it. There is the Castle of the Moors that was built during the 8th to 9th century where you can climb on walls overlooking the ocean that are over a thousand years old. The Pena National Palace is spectacular in a different more blow you away with its opulence kind of way. The third of the palaces in Sintra, which is the least spectacular but still worth a look is called the Sintra national Palace and was built in the early 15th century. There are tons of great restaurants and the town itself is a great place to spend the day. Sintra is a place where Portuguese royalty spent their off time, and it is easy to see why.
- Porto: Porto is the second largest city in Portugal, and is a UNESCO World Heritage Site.The touristy part of town, the old town, is built along the Douro river. There is beautiful old architecture, river tours, and plenty of restaurants in the river valley to soak in the views. For those that are so inclined, there are many different port cellars where you can tour and taste different types and qualities of port wine. Although I am not a big fan of port, the tours were interesting, and for 2 drinks for 4 Euro, the price is unbeatable.
- Marvao: Marvao is not a place for those of you looking for wild clubs and super parties, but for those more interested in relaxing and spectacular scenery it's unbeatable. It is a hilltop town located on the eastern border of Portugal about three kilometers away from the Spanish border. There is a castle that is open to the public for exploring, but for me it wasn't the main attraction. There is just something very relaxing and peaceful about just walking around the town, and the surrounding hills. There is a historical hotel on the hill called the Poudsada de Marvao with an amazing restaurant with a spectacular view of the Spanish border. For those looking for a place to kick back for a day or two, I'd highly recommend a night or two at the hotel.
- Lagos: In complete contrast to Marvao, Lagos is a busy, touristy city in the Algarve. The Algarve is the region of Portugal that has the most beaches, and the sunniest weather. This is not the place to visit if you are looking for traditional Portuguese culture, I met more people from England than Portugal, but in all the places in the Algarve I liked it best. I was there in the summer, and down south in Portugal it is HOT in the summer. Lagos, because of its location, is often several degrees cooler than some of the other popular cities in the Algarve like Faro. On my honeymoon my wife and I went to a beach that was a one hour drive west from Lagos which at the time was a perfect 30 degrees Celsius. When we got to the beach, the temperature was 39, way too hot for a northerner like me. Lagos is also very close to Cabo de Sao Vicente and the amazing cliffs I spoke about earlier in the article, as well as a ton of great surf spots. There are also very interesting rock formations just outside the city center along the ocean, and if a person is interested in seeing them up close there are boat trips leaving from the marina constantly.
These were my five favorite places in Portugal, if you have anything else to add please feel free to comment below! I know there are many more great places to see, and this article has just scratched the surface.