Most visitors choose one of three week-long type programs centered on three different regions: North, Center and Algarve, each one served by an airport.
Taking advantage of the diversity of landscapes and culture, a surprising wealth in such a small country, when travel time allows longer plans, it is easy to combine two or more of these programs, using the connections between them to explore remote areas, many of them not yet touched by touristy industry.
Portugal is a small big country. Small, because you may cross it from north to south in 6 hours and east west in 3. Big, because it can provide interesting motifs for all kind of visitors, and, with everything at a short distance, to surprise with its contrasts.
In these pages I will collect my experiences in my country, trying to deliver then as organized as possible.
Each district will have its own entrance, linking to the pages of the places that I think will deserve your visit, with a classification from zero to three stars, according only with my opinion.
If what you want is not there…sorry. I don’t know all the country, I don’t remember most of the old visits, and, really, I don’t think that everything deserves our attention.
However, there are still many places and information to come, so, time is what I need, to keep posting and enriching the information. It will be slow, because there’s a big world out there, and it also calls my attention.
The North is Portugal’s greenest zone, with a preponderance of mountains and lakes, and a traditionalist culture, based on hospitality and a strong and rich gastronomy.
Encompassing the districts of Viana do Castelo, Braga, Porto, Vila Real and Bragança, the most emblematic destinations are Porto and Guimarães.
Porto has for centuries been a dark and somewhat gloomy city, and since it has become a top tourist destination, it “washed the face”, and today it displays gallantly the richness of its artistic and cultural heritage.
Indispensable in the visit of Porto is crossing to Gaia side of the river, to visit one of the many cellars of Port Wine, crossing that can be easily made on foot, by the inferior board of the D. Luís bridge. Almost unavoidable also is the ascent (or descent) of the Douro, to the wine region, with return by train. Most of the trips end in Peso da Régua, but those who may should continue to Pinhão, crossing the river segment with the richest landscape.
With some choice, the huge Douro Azul fleet dominates the market.
Together with the Douro Valley and the historic center of Porto, Guimarães is the third UNESCO World Heritage place in the north.
The visit to Guimarães is usually accompanied by Braga, a city of immense religious tradition, with its sanctuaries in the surrounding hills, and a considerable historical wealth.
The center of Portugal is a wide area that, to be rigorous, we should also divide in three main areas: the north center, encompassing the districts of Aveiro, Viseu and Guarda, generally visited from Porto, the south center (Leiria, Santarém and Castelo Branco), closer to Lisbon, and in the middle Coimbra, a common overnight place when travelling between the two biggest cities or for an express visits from one of them.
In the southern tip of the central region,Lisbon is the main destination, and, given its favorable location, the regular hub for most travels in Portugal.
Obviously, Lisbon is the main attraction in this central area, but the coast area is dotted with many interesting points, allowing several day trips from Lisbon and a few different paths to Coimbra to justify return trips.
UNESCO Heritage sites are many in this region: in Guarda district, its possible to visit the Prehistoric Rock Art of Coa Valley; in Coimbra the University, in Leiria district the monasteries of Alcobaça and Batalha, In Santarém district Christ convent, in Tomar, and finally, in Lisbon district, Belém Tower and Jerónimos in the city and the landscape of Sintra are classified. Waiting for classification, Lisbon’s historic center is a top destination while Mafra convent and Santarém are less visited.
The southernmost district of Portugal is a totally different region, with different weather and landscape.
With some of the best beaches in Europe (and also some of the most beautiful), with a mild temperature in the air and water, allowing bathing for more than half the year, it is a top destination for people from north and central Europe.
Differently than in all the other regions of the country, here everything is aimed at tourism. However, it is still possible to discover the cultural diversity originated by the long Muslim domination.
Between Lisbon and Algarve, the wide planes of Alentejo, are divided in the districts of Setúbal, south of Lisbon, Évora, Beja, and, in the remote interior, Portalegre , and are generally visited from both sides. Setúbal district, with the known sites of Arrábida and Sesimbra is a common day trip from Lisbon, as it happens with Évora, a little bit more distant.
A deeper visit to Évora (advisable) generally includes Monsaraz, the new artificial lake of Alqueva, and the less known towns of Moura, Mourão, and other. In the coast, Sines and Porto Covo have good beaches, generally chosen by locals.
Not me, however, always postponing the desired trip, with the regular determination – I will go very soon. I´ve been twice in Madeira, always nice, always welcoming, always… the same!
It’s a visit that I surely recommend, and you will not get tired or bothered in three or four days. Funchal is the mandatory center of all visits, the the island is not seen while you don’t visit Porto Moniz, Encumeada, the many and fabulous sightseeing points, Santana and… well, just go!
The last parcel to visit in Portugal were the Azores, with a so great pleasure that in two years I made three visits to the islands, two of them to São Miguel and the third one to Terceira. Yes, Azores is, really, a wonderful different world.