The New York Post called Portugal “Europe’s Newest Darling,” and we wholeheartedly agree. Stunningly beautiful valleys and coastlines, a wealth of historic sights, wine cruises and cute trolleys—what’s not to love? Portugal has long been overlooked for its flashier neighbor Spain, and obvious attractions of France and Italy—our only question is: really, why did it take so long?
1. Lisbon: The Tram and the Coffee.
Portugal’s adorable capital has all the charming trappings of any historic European city, but without the fanfare, the crowds or the crazy prices. Considering Paris or Rome this fall? Why not opt for Lisbon, where a night at a five-star hotel will set you back less than a measly 100 euros? Plus with postcard-perfect architecture, cute cobblestone streets and vibrant food culture, Portugal has a wealth to offer the “been-there-done-that” traveler to Europe. Did we mention the cutest tram that’s been operating for nearly a century? Oh yeah—and the pasteis de nada, custard tarts, that are said to be so mouth-watering its more like a religious experience.
2. Porto: Wine and Bookshops.
Porto is famous for its eponymous wine, winner of numerous vinous awards, but did you know the town also plays a part in Harry Potter history? The cute bookstore Livraria Lello and its grand staircases were reportedly inspirations behind Rowling’s architecture in the HP series. Potter pilgrims have flocked to Lello for years, and the crowds are so thick that the store has begun to charge each person four euros for entry. The staircases were designed by one Xavier Esteves, an engineer with a passion for literature. Built in 1906 by the brothers Lello, the bookshop houses a sumptuous collection of bound books and a staircase so iconic, that it continues to inspire authors of all creeds and nationalities to this day.
3. Sintra and its Coral Palace.
A mere 40-minute train ride from Lisbon, the hilltop town of Sintra is more fairytale dream than anything. Here the traveler will find spectacular castles and elegant palaces in the midst of the Sintra-Cascais Natural Park. The Palácio da Pena was a modest chapel before it was transformed by King Fernando in the 19th century into a picturesque palace more akin to an underwater fortress. With its pink, yellow and gray facade, stone triton statue, Moorish tilework and stone columns resembling a coral reef, the palace is the pinnacle expression of aquatic grandeur if I ever saw one.
4. The Endless Coastline.
The famous, West-facing coastline of Portugal means that there are idyllic sunsets nearly every evening. With over 800 km of coast, it’s no wonder that here you’ll find some of the best seafood dishes, world-class surfing hotspots and marine biomes in Europe! From volcanic sands of the Azores, to sandy beaches of Costa Vicentina, to the magnificent cliffs of the Algarve, Portugal’s beaches are no laughing matter. Seafood is always fresh, from the octopus salad to the Carne de Porco à Alentejana (pork with clams). Speaking of surfing, this is where some of the world’s best surfers come to practice—Nazaré is home to the largest surfed wave in recorded history—that’s a whopping 30m!
5. The Beautiful, Timeless Azores.
Azores have been dubbed the “European Hawaii” and the “Next Iceland” and while we don’t know about that, it’s certainly a place for tropical adventure. Popular islands for free diving, waterfall rapelling, volcano hikes and whale-watching. Located 1500km off the coast, it’s a tropical island in Europe, with lakes, volcanoes and mountain.
6. The Tour Guides are Amazing.
Okay, we’re biased with this one, but because Willamette Intl Travel has an awesome contact based in Portugal! Our local guide Anselmo Goncalves has been our go-to guide in Portugal and Spain for years! Our clients always rave about him. Join him for an unforgettable day tour through Lisbon and Sintra, or embark on a multi-day trip that celebrates wine in the Douro Valley.
7. A Millennium of History.
Portugal has had the same borders since the 11th century—that means incredible historic preservation, and plentiful old castles and sites. Coimbra is home to one of the oldest universities in the world. And who can forget the mighty ramparts of Moorish-inspired Sao Jorge Castle that overlooks Lisbon?
- Azulejos tile art.
- Melancholic Fado music.
- Madeira’s non-volcanic pools surrounded by lava rocks and aquamarine waters.
- Sea Cave Tours in the Algarve.
- Ride a gondola in Aveiro with picturesque waterways.
And the best part? It’s still relatively undiscovered by tourists! Which means the crowds aren’t there yet. Expect to find many authentic and tranquil places, a far cry from Venice and Barcelona.
Read more about Portugal on our blog: