Ultimate Portugal Travel Guide: From ‘Up And Coming’ To A Thriving Destination

by Sarah

It’s no secret that Portugal is a hot destination. Last year, here at Point Me, we covered travelling to Portugal in no less than ten posts. From the Algarve to Porto, pasteis de nata to Douro Valley wines, we talked about it all. And now, we are pulling together for you in one big massive, mega ultimate Portugal travel guide post. If you missed any of our original posts, you’ll find them all linked in here, but also all the relevant details here.

Porto’s barcas rabelos once carried port down the Douro River; some are still in operation, but mainly as a tourism vessel.

Visiting Portugal — Hot Hot Hot

Portugal enjoyed a meteoric rise to fame in the last five years. Don’t misunderstand — Portugal has always attracted pilgrims and those seeking more off-the-beaten track travel, kind of like New Zealand in the early 1990s. But where as it was once a sleepy, overlooked country attached to Spain, it’s now one of the fastest growing mainstream travel destinations in Europe.

Lisbon reminds us of San Francisco, while the Douro Valley draws wine lovers galore. It’s the oldest demarcated wine region in the world (although, not the oldest wine-growing region). Predominantly a Roman Catholic nation, Portugal also attracts pilgrims to Fatima. And our British friends have long visited the Algarve for its famous golf courses and golden beaches.

Hotels in Portugal range from traditional boutique hotels in old palaces to modern, chic, and sustainable properties like Six Senses.

Hotels in Portugal range from traditional boutique hotels in old palaces to modern, chic, and sustainable properties like Six Senses.

Two things are happening simultaneously in Portugal. One, it’s no longer flying under the radar, probably thanks to the meteoric rise of Instagram. But, more than likely, it’s thanks to being slightly more affordable than Barcelona, Paris, or Rome. Two, as tourism grows, the luxury travel sector is growing by leaps and bounds. Lisbon has five Virtuoso hotels alone, while there are still two more within an hour’s drive. Porto has two Virtuoso properties, the Douro Valley has one (Six Senses Douro Valley), and there are a few in the southern heartland and the Algarve. There are also 12 Small Luxury Hotels across Portugal.

Cherkasov / Shutterstock.com

How To Get To Portugal

Airlines are making it easier than ever to get to Portugal. Earlier this year, TAP Portugal introduced four new routes, and in 2020 will begin at least four more. TAP is expanding rapidly in the U.S. in part thanks to the new aircraft it is taking delivery of, including the Airbus A330-900neo and single-aisle Airbus A321LR. That means direct service to Porto is possible now, instead of connecting onwards from Lisbon.

All the major U.S. carriers also fly into Lisbon or Porto. Some are seasonal flights right now, but as they become more popular, I would not be surprised to see daily or at least weekly flights year round. You can also connect into Lisbon, Porto, and Faro via most European gateways.

The coast of Portugal is littered with exquisite, charming towns like this one.

The coast of Portugal is littered with exquisite, charming towns like this one.

How To Get Around Portugal

Portugal is best enjoyed by car. Winding coastal roads give way to sleepy fishing villages on the Atlantic coast while the Douro Valley offers breathtaking vistas and plenty of wineries. There is a great high-speed rail network also, which connects Lisbon to Porto, Coimbra, Braga, and Faro, as well as Spanish destinations (and from there into continental Europe). And to maximise your time, you can fly from Porto to Lisbon or Faro.

To get to the Azores, fly from Lisbon or Porto (or from the US; see above article). Once in Sao Miguel, it is best to hire a car to explore.

Lisbon is a great year round city, with plenty of exciting events.

The Best Time To Visit Portugal

Portugal’s coastal location makes it a great destination all year long. The Algarve remains fairly warm and dry year round, while Lisbon and Porto have four seasons. Expect a subtropical Mediterranean climate in Lisbon – short winters and hot summers – and a much more coastal, rainy climate in Porto. In the Douro Valley and the mountains of Central Portugal, expect snow into spring. And while Portugal is one of Europe’s more temperate year-round destinations, it’s also one of the wettest.

Go between March to May or in September and October for dry, warm weather across much of the country.

The Douro River is home to the oldest demarcated wine region in the world.

The Ultimate Portugal Travel Guide

With heaps of history, culture, leisure activities, excellent food and wine, and more, it’s no wonder that Portugal is rising through the ranks of must-visit places. But what to do once you’re there? Our ultimate Portugal travel guide has some great ideas for you.

Portugal is easy to get around, and a week affords enough time to visit Porto and Lisbon or Lisbon and the Algarve. Go wine tasting in Porto and the Douro Valley, and visit Tomar, Coimbra, and Fatima – all important historical towns for various reasons. In Lisbon, explore the oldest parts of the city, view the castle, see Jeronimos Monastery and the Tower of Belem. Head for Sintra, former playground of the rich and famous nobles, to visit the many palaces that adorn the town. The most famous is the Pena Palace, though there are plenty of others.

ultimate portugal travel guide

Porto enjoys a stunning location at the mouth of the Douro River, where boats still come downstream with barrels of port.

Events in Portugal

Events-wise, Portugal celebrates a wide variety of festivals and holidays. There are two pilgrimages to Fatima, one on May 13 and the other on October 13.

Lisbon celebrates Saint Anthony’s Day (Dia de Santo Antonio) on June 13, while Festas de Lisboa takes place across the month of June.

In November, celebrate Saint Martin in the Algarve over the week of November 11 (his feast day). This festival has been going on for centuries and features street foods and carnivals. Over the festive period, expect events big and small for Christmas (Natal) and New Years.

Madeira’s flower festival rings in spring with the streets covered in bright blooms.

Spring in Portugal means watching the country come to life after a rainy winter. Madeira’s Flower Festival is truly a spectacular sight on the island, while in Porto there’s a big motor car rally. Brave adventurers can also hit the water – kitesurfing and surfing are popular activities along the coast. In the fall, visit to try the year’s first wines. Be sure to snag some roasted chestnuts from a street vendor as well.

Conimbriga is an incredibly well-preserved Roman town in Central Portugal. It is well known for its mosaics.

Conimbriga is an incredibly well-preserved Roman town in Central Portugal. It is well known for its mosaics.

Portuguese History + Culture

Portuguese history stretches back to Neanderthal times; pre-Celtic tribes arrived in the 7th Century BCE, while the Romans inhabited much of the Iberian Peninsula in the 3rd century BCE. A subsequent Arab invasion led to several centuries of Arab caliphate control across Spain and Portugal, but in the 9th century, several regions claimed independence. By the early 12th century, most of what is modern day Portugal was also independent under King Henry and his son Afonso.

Guimaraes was the first capital of the country; it is where Afonso revolted against his mother Teresa, who styled herself Queen of Portugal. Tomar, home to the Knights Templar, is several hours away. Coimbra, site of the Roman city Aeminium, later Conimbriga, was also the site of the first Portuguese university. And in Fatima, an image of the Virgin Mary allegedly appeared to three children in 1917. Today, Fatima attracts pilgrims from around the world.

Portuguese food is fresh and flavorful, often using local ingredients and fresh-caught fish or locally sourced meat.

Portuguese food is fresh and flavorful, often using local ingredients and fresh-caught fish or locally sourced meat.

Portuguese Food + Wine

Port, the namesake of Portugal, is one of the largest exports, but Portugal’s food and wine scene is so much more. So much of the food in Portugal is influenced by exotic herbs and spices from the east, as well as from the proximity to the sea. Bacalhau, or salted cod, is a popular dish, as are sardines. Fresh fish – typically cod – is among the country’s top dishes. It’s easy to find and always cooked to perfection. However, many are surprised to find that there’s more than just fish on the menu. Wild boar, while rare, is a delectable dish mainly in the north of Portugal.

Can’t beat the pastel-de-nata and espresso combo!

Pasteis de nata, a rich custard tart, is a popular sweet treat, arguably one of Portugal’s most famous dishes. The best place to find these are at a local bakery; they’re best devoured straight from the oven, sprinkled with a bit of cinnamon and served with either a dark port or a rich dark coffee.

And the wine… Portuguese wines range from rich ruby ports to vinho verde, all grown in the terraced hills of the Douro Valley. The world’s oldest demarcated wine region (1756), the Douro is unique in its terraces, which have led to its being listed as a UNESCO World Heritage Site.

Sintra's Pena Palace is a popular day trip from Lisbon. It was inspired by Bavaria's Neuschwanstein Castle, but the colors are much more reminiscent of Spain's Antonio Gaudi.

Sintra’s Pena Palace is a popular day trip from Lisbon. It was inspired by Bavaria’s Neuschwanstein Castle, but the colors are much more reminiscent of Spain’s Antonio Gaudi.

The Upshot

Portugal is totally worth it. We love its old world vibe mixed with the up and coming atmosphere of a new global destination. Lisbon’s art scene, underground music scene, and food scene rivals that of any other major European city, Porto’s wine industry is just as amazing as that of France or Italy, but far less crowded, and the mild weather is a nice bonus.

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10HighTech June 23, 2019 - 2:27 pm

One of the most beautiful country in Europe! I discovered it this summer and fell in love with it, I will definitely visit it again.

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Lara S. June 24, 2019 - 12:38 pm

Loved my overnight in Lisbon in December (Christmas fair!) so much I am doing it again in August. I just schedule the overnight connecting flight from Casablanca when possible for work.

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