a travel GUIDE TO PORTUGAL
From sunny beach shores to rugged mountains that invite hikers from all over Europe, Portugal continues to be one of the top holiday destinations. In 2015, nearly 10 million people visited Portugal from abroad, which broke the country's previous tourism record. In all, nearly 18 million people travelled and stayed in Portugal's hotels during that year.
But why do so many people travel to Portugal? For one, the weather is stunning and its 800 kilometres of coastline offer visitors the chance to lay out in the sun during the entirety of their trip. However, another reason people are visiting Portugal is due to the relatively low-cost lifestyle you can enjoy while staying in the country that sits on the tip of the Iberian Peninsula.
Portugal has a rich history that oozes out of every nook and cranny in its cities. You are sure to find something to love while visiting the country. From the beaches to the mountains, prices to the food, there is something for everyone in the country of Fado, fatima and futebol.
Portugal is a proud country that jets out into the Atlantic Ocean from the tip of Europe. The country's location made it one of the top seafaring nations of yesteryear. Around the country you will find various nods to the Portugal's successful period of exploring the world. These symbols of national identity are important to Portuguese citizens.
Although the country excelled during the Age of Discovery, it hit hard times afterwards, and in the mid-1800s began a decline. By 1926, the monarchy that once ruled Portugal was no more and in its place was a dictatorship. During the early years under its new dictator Salazar, the Portuguese culture was on that centred around God, family and work.
The mid-1970s saw Salazar's regime overthrown and Portugal's African colonial system abandoned. Today, you will find the African influences to have grown in Portugal as immigrants from former colonies now reside in the country.
Portugal was the first unified national-state in Europe. The country has kept the same single language and religion throughout its history, which has helped give its people a truly Portuguese national identity.
Places to visit
The country's capital is also its main starting point. The city combines the old architecture with modern living. Lisbon is ideal for anyone wanting a city break or a beach escape. One minute you can be lounging in the cafes or bars of Lisbon and the next you are soaking in the surf on the Atlantic Ocean. The city's museums, churches and palace are all must-see attractions when visiting. But if you get stuck on the beach soaking up the sun, it is understandable.
Braga is considered Portugal's top religious city and its Bom Jesus do Monte is one of the grandest looking attractions in Europe. The Bom Jesus do Monte is one of the most important pilgrimage sites in Portugal, making Braga an important city to Catholics around the country. The city's architecture is a blend of Medieval, Roman and Neolithic. Head up to Picoto Hill to get a panoramic view of the gorgeous city.
Known as Portugal's second city, Porto is a collection of beautifully built Baroque and Neoclassical buildings. The highlight of the city is the Cais da Ribeira. Located next to the riverside, the area is a maze of streets and alleys. Get lost or sit at a café for a little while. The UNESCO World Heritage Site buzzes with life and is a great spot day or night.
Of course being located on the Atlantic Ocean, Portugal's cuisine is mostly centred around seafood. Foodies will find Portuguese cooking to be in line with Mediterranean diets, despite its location on the tip of the Iberian Peninsula. Thanks to the mountains and the farmland, the country also offers plenty of fresh produce for cooking. Portugal prides itself on fresh ingredients and most dishes will be cooked using items found at local markets.
If you want to try something different, order the Alheira de Mirandela when you are out for a meal. The dish is made up of fowl sausage, and it is cheap and easy to find. When you're in Porto, try the city's most famous dish Francesinha. Take two slices of bread and stack steak, ham, sausage and chorizo between them. Cover the meat with melted cheese and a spicy tomato sauce. Add some chips and a fried egg on top. Yum!
What to see?
The Castelo de Sao Jorge is one of the most iconic sites you can visit in Lisbon and it overlooks Lisbon's city centre. The castle dates back to the 12th century. Visitors are allowed to walk the ramparts and towers while visiting the site.
Still in Lisbon? Head over to the Mosteiro dos Jeronimos. Built to honor Portugal during the Age of Discovery, the UNESCO World Heritage Site is located in the gorgeous Belem neighbourhood. The building was built after Vasco da Gama's voyage to India, and the explorers tomb lies just inside the entrance.
On to Braga and you will find the imposing Se Cathedral. The cathedral's architecture reflects the time that parts and additions were built. It gives the Se a very different feel than other cathedrals built in Portugal. After visiting the cathedral check out Braga's great museums. The Dom Diogo de Sousa Archaeology Museum and the Museum of Sacred Art are all great spots to see the country's history.
Once you have exhausted Lisbon and Braga, why not head south to the Algarve? There is plenty of sun and fun there. You won't see the great historical attractions of the cities, but you will find beaches, beaches and more beaches.
Portugal's city nightlife is vibrant and exciting. Lisbon, Porto and Braga all have great nightclubs, bars and pubs for you to find a great time in. Similar to Spain and Italy, the Portuguese do not eat dinner until 8pm or 9pm, which means places won't fill up early. After you have had a day at the beach, head out to a café to sip a beer before gearing up for a night out. It may be wise to have a nap before hitting the town, so you can stay up late having a good time.
If you make it south to the Algarve, you will find a completely different nightlife vibe. Thanks to the plethora of resorts and holidaymakers there, the nightlife is turned up a notch.
Portugal provides relaxing evenings sipping drinks or all-night parties that don't end until the sun comes up. Budget travellers love the country for its prices, weather and great times.