Destinations in Portugal

While it's true that Portugal is no longer the Iberian Peninsula's best-kept secret, it's fairly easy to escape the crowds. Even at the busiest resorts in the Algarve, it only takes a short bus ride or a walk across countryside to reveal rarely visited places that still offer the feeling of discovery - a sentiment close to the Portuguese soul. Portugal has an old-fashioned charm, with medieval castles and picture-perfect villages scattered over meandering coastlines and flower-covered hillsides. From the ancient university town of Coimbra to Lord Byron's favourite Portuguese haunt, Sintra, the country's proud history can be felt everywhere. Sun-kissed beaches like Cascais and Sagres offer enticements of a more hedonistic sort. Indeed, the dramatic end-of-the-world cliffs, wild dune covered beaches, protected coves and long sandy islands of Portugal’s coastline have long enchanted visitors and locals alike. Meanwhile, the country’s capital, Lisbon, and its northern rival, Porto, are magical places for the wanderer with riverside views, cobblestone streets and rattling trams framed by looming cathedrals.



Spread across steep hillsides that overlook the Rio Tejo, Lisbon offers all the delights you’d expect of Portugal’s star attraction, yet with half the fuss of other European capitals. Gothic cathedrals, majestic monasteries and quaint museums are all part of the colourful cityscape, but the real delights of discovery lie in wandering the narrow lanes of Lisbon’s lovely backstreets. As bright yellow trams wind their way through curvy tree-lined streets, the citizens stroll through the old quarters. Village-life gossip in old Alfama is exchanged at the public baths or over fresh bread and wine at tiny patio restaurants while fadistas (proponents of fado, Portugal’s traditional melancholic singing) perform in the background. Meanwhile, in the other parts of town, visitors and locals chase the ghosts of Pessoa in warmly lit 1930s-era cafes or walk along the seaside that once saw the celebrated return of Vasco da Gama. Yet, while history is very much alive in centuries-old Lisbon, its spirit is undeniable youthful. In the hilltop district of Bairro Alto the visitors will find many restaurant, bars and nightclubs. The Lisbon experience gathered together so many things from enjoying a fresh pastry and bica (espresso) to window-shopping in elegant Chiado or watching the sunset from the old Moorish castle.


With richly hued palaces, mist-covered forests and the ruins of a craggy Moorish castle overlooking a sleepy village, Sintra is like a page torn from a fairy tale. The Portuguese royals summered here, as did the Moors before them. This was also one of the few places in Portugal that Lord Byron liked and the city inspired his travel epic Childe Harold’s Pilgrimage. In addition to its bizarre and beautiful palaces, mansions and finely manicured gardens, Sintra boasts a historic centre that’s listed as a Unesco World Heritage site. The early Iberians made it a site of cult worship; the Moors built the castle; the Middle Ages brought monasteries; the nobility bolted here after the 1755 earthquake; then, in the 19th century, it became one of the first centres of European romantic architecture.


The attractive seaside town of Cascais, with its lovely beaches and youthful air, is an ideal destination for travellers. While its resort status is undisputed – many shops and cafés all around– it remains an active fishing port, with an appealing old town full of narrow, winding lanes to be discovered. Cascais was once a fishing village, but in 1870 the royal court spent there a summer, with a trail of nobility in its wake. Such patronage has left it with some grand pastel-coloured buildings and a striking citadel. Apart from beaches, Cascais has a few quirky museums, some wild gardens and a lively fish market.


Estoril used to be a significant fishing port and one can still see the remains of Romans mansions dating back around 2.000 years. Due to the vision of Fausto Cardoso de Figueiredo and his business partner Augusto Carreira de Sousa, it became an international tourist destination both during and after the Second World War. During this time a high number of dignitaries in exile came to Estoril: Mikols Horthy, the regent of Hungary, lived and died in exile in Estoril after the Second World War. Juan Carlos I of Spain, Umberto II of Italy and Carol II of Romania also lived in Estoril during this time.


Algarve is an extensive and pleasant one Portugal region, with a Mediterranean climate, marked by the smell of the sea at low tide and the scent of wild flowers. A stroll through the tangled web of narrow streets, alleys and steps to be found away from the coast is the best way of getting to know this part of the region. But you can also easily lose yourself in the vastness of the coastal strip. Here the backdrop is composed of some of Europe's most beautiful beaches, from where you can admire the rocky coastline and the playful shadows they cast on the sand. After the enchantment of the landscape, you can discover the aromas and flavours of the traditional Algarve cuisine. As you travel across the Algarve, amidst its hills and plains filled with places of great ecological interest, rich in biodiversity and ecosystems, you will feel as though you are passing through an area full of different traditions, unchanged for many centuries. The handicraft is skilfully manufactured by the local craftsmen, who make use of longstanding, ancestral techniques and produce an excellent range of pottery, woven baskets, copper and brass articles, or other pieces made of linen and jute. Only a step away from the tranquil peace of the inland region is the excitement of the Algarve nightlife. Bars, discos, marinas and casinos guarantee visitors the very best kind of merrymaking. The region's built heritage is something you cannot afford to miss. The architecture of the whitewashed houses, with their brightly-coloured mouldings and remarkably beautiful chimneys, the church belfries and the museums, all reveal particular memories of the ancestors of the Algarve people and help to make this such a special destination. Also to be recommended is the range of outdoor sports that are available.


Algarve’s capital has a more distinctly Portuguese feel than many other resort towns. Faro has an attractive marina, well-maintained parks and plazas and an old town full of outdoor cafés and pedestrian lanes. Marvellously preserved medieval quarters harbour curious museums and churches (along with a bone chapel) and a vibrant nightlife – more local than expat. Nearby beaches, including island sands of Ilha de Barreta, add to Faro’s allure.


This charming village of white houses on the hill is surrounded by fourteenth century’s walls. During these period was an important port, but in the sixteenth century lost its importance. Today it retains its picturesque charm and is a very popular tourist destination. The name Óbidos probably derives from the Latin term oppidum, meaning "citadel", or "fortified city". Roman occupation of the area was confirmed by archaeological excavations, revealing the existence of a Roman city near the hilltop on which the village and castle were established. After the fall of Rome, came under the influence of the Visigoths, although specific records are missing. The Roman town was abandoned in the 5th century for the more secure hilltop where today the principal settlement is located. Sometime after 713 the Moors established a fortification on this mountain, while a Christian community of Mozarabs lived in the Moncharro neighbourhood. The area was taken from the Moors by the first King of Portugal, Alfonso Henriques, in 1148. Tradition states that one knight, Gonçalo Mendes da Maia, was responsible for the successful storming of the Moorish castle. The retaking of Óbidos was a final stage in the conquest of the Estremadura region, after the settlements of Santre, Lisbon and Torres Vedras. Following the control of the region Óbidos has often been patronized by the Queens of Portugal, giving rise to its informal title as Vila das Rainhas; several royal consorts enriched the village with donations from the middle Ages until the 16th century. The castle and walls of Óbidos were remodelled during the reign of King Dinis. The limestone and marble structure was strengthened and elaborated, while the keep was created in the 14th century, by King Fernando. By the time of the first remodelling project, the settlement had also grown beyond the gates of the castle. The Church of Santa Maria in Óbidos was the setting for the wedding of King Afonso V to his cousin, Princess Isabella of Coimbra, on 15 August 1441, when they were both still children aged 9 and 10, respectively.


Nazare is an old settlement that has become a popular tourist attraction, advertising itself, internationally, as a picturesque seaside village. Located on the Atlantic coast, it has long sandy beaches (considered by some to be among the best beaches of Portugal), with lots of tourists in the summer. The town used to be known for its traditional costumes worn by the fishermen and their wives who worn the traditional headscarf and embroidered aprons over seven flannel skirts in different colours. These dresses can still occasionally be seen. The original settlements were in Pederneira and in Sítio above the beach. They provided the inhabitants with safe bases against raids by Algerian, French, English and Dutch pirates that lasted until as late as the beginning of the 19th century. According to the Legend of Nazare, the town derives its name from a small statue of the Virgin Mary, a Black Madonna, brought by a monk in the 4th century from Nazareth (Holy Land) to a monastery near the city of Merida (Spain), and was brought to its current place in 711 by another monk, Romano, accompanied by Roderic, the last Visigoth king. After their arrival at the seaside they decided to become hermits. The monk lived and died in a small natural grotto, on top of a cliff above the sea. After his death and according to the monk's wishes, the king buried him in the grotto where he left, on an altar, the statue of the Black Madonna. The first church in O Sítio, was built over the grotto to commemorate a miraculous intervention (1182) by the Virgin Mary in saving the life of the 12th century Portuguese knight Dom Fuas Roupinho, possibly a templar, while he was hunting deer one foggy early morning. This episode is usually referred to as the legend of Nazare. In memory of the miracle he had a chapel (Capela da Memória) built over the small grotto, where the miraculous statue had been left by king Roderic after the monk's death. Beside the chapel, on a protuberant rock 110 meters above the Atlantic, one can still see the mark made in the rock by one of the hooves of Dom Fuas' horse. In 1377, King Fernando I of Portugal founded a new more spacious church which was totally transformed between the 16th and 19th centuries. The Church of Nossa Senhora de Nazare is a rich baroque building, with splendid tiles on its interior. Behind and above the main altar visitors can see and venerate the miraculous statue of our Lady of Nazaré.


The town was founded by King Joao of Portugal, jointly with the Monastery of Santa Maria da Vitoria na Batalha, to pay homage to the Portuguese victory at the Battle of Aljubarrota (August 14, 1385) that put an end to the 1383-1385 crisis. It took over a century to build, starting in 1386 and ending circa 1517, spanning the reign of seven kings and it took the efforts of fifteen architects. The construction required an enormous effort, using extraordinary resources of men and material. New techniques and artistic styles, hitherto unknown in Portugal, were deployed. The earthquake of 1755 did some damage, but much greater damage was inflicted by the Napoleonic troops of  Marshal Massena, who sacked and burned the complex in 1810 and 1811. When the Dominicans were expelled from the complex in 1834, the church and convent were abandoned and left to fall in ruins. In 1840 king Ferdinand II of Portugal started a restoration program of the abandoned and ruined convent, saving this jewel of Gothic architecture. The restoration would last till the early years of the 20th century. It was declared a national monument in 1907. In 1980 the monastery was turned into a museum. The Batalha convent was added in 1983 by UNESCO to its list of World Heritage sites.


The name of the town and parish actually evolved from the Arabic name Fatima, the name of Moorish princess. The history of Fátima is associated with three children: Lúcia and her cousins, Francisco and Jacinta Marto who, on 13 May 1917, while guarding their sheep in Cova da Iria and witnessed an apparition of a lady dressed in white (today occupied by the Chapel of Apparitions). The lady, later referred to Our Lady of the Rosary indicated that she was sent by God with a message of prayer, repentance and consecrations, and visited the children in the next few months (all on the 13th of each month). The last apparition occurred in October, and was witnessed by 70.000 pilgrims, who saw the Miracle of the Sun. In addition, Our Lady of Fátima sent a message that consisted of three secrets: first, a vision of Hell where the souls of the sinful would travel without prayer; the second, prophesied the beginning of the Second World War; and ultimately, the mysterious third secret, which was written down by Lúcia dos Santos in 1944, and held by the Vatican, since 1957. Much later, sister Lúcia (she had become a nun), recounted visits between April and October 1916, by an angel to the children (three times) twice in Loca do Cabeço and the other by the well in Lúcia's garden, who invited them to pray and penitence. Jacinta died in 1919 and Francisco in 1920 from the Spanish flu Epidemic of 1918-1920, and were later beatified on 13 May 2000 by Pope John Paul II. Lucia lived until 2005. In order to mark the location of the apparitions, a wooden arch with cross was constructed in Cova da Iria. The faithful began to travel in pilgrimage to the site, and on 6 August 1918, with donations from the public, a small chapel was begun, built from rock and limestone and covered in tile and it began to become a centre of Marian worship, receiving names such as a fé. Fátima, cidade da Paz (the faith of Fatima, City of Peace), or Terra de Milagres e Aparições (Land of Miracles and Apparitions).


Tomar is the jewel in the crown of Central Portugal. It is a magical city bursting with handsome architecture and historical significance. Visitors from Portugal and overseas arrive throughout the year to stay in its charming hotels, sample its tasty regional cookery, visit its famous monuments and explore the lush green mountains that surround the city. Tomar is home to some of Portugal’s most significant historic sites. The Convento do Cristo was the medieval headquarters of the charismatic Templar Knights and subsequently of the Order of Christ. Henry the Navigator planned most of his New World Explorations from here in the 15th Century. It was justifiably designated a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1983 for its significance in Portuguese history and Christian culture. The city is a feast for the eyes, a collection of attractive streets and well-preserved architecture, divided in two by the pretty Mouchão Park and the River Nabão that runs through its heart. There are restaurants and hotels in Tomar for every taste and budget and we give you our pick of the best, from quirky restaurants, popular amongst the glitterati to restored manor houses, ideal for a relaxing retreat against the backdrop of the Ribatejo. Tomar’s charm does not stop at the city boundaries. It is set in a landscape of deep valleys, winding rivers and rolling mountains swathed in pines and eucalyptus trees. Stunning vistas, rural guesthouses and a whole host of Templar monuments are just begging to be discovered.


The Bussaco Forest Park, 105 hectares with a diameter of 5 km, is classified as a National Monument in Portugal. The park is widely praised by botanists from all over Europe. The Buçaco Forest is a dense wood, many centuries old, where the trees are of a gigantic stature and are rich in essences, fragrances and brilliance. It is a half hour drive from Quinta da Abelenda to the Serra do Bussaco and is also easy to reach by train from Quinta da Abelenda.


There are many archaeological structures which date to the Roman era, when Coimbra was the settlement of Aeminium, such as its well-preserved aqueduct and crypto-porticos. Similarly, buildings from the period when Coimbra served as the capital of Portugal (from 1131 to 1255) still remain. During the Late Middle Ages, with its decline as the political centre of the Kingdom of Portugal, Coimbra began to evolve into a major cultural centre, helped by the university finally established there in 1537. The university, one of the oldest in Europe, apart from attracting many European and international students, is visited by tourists for its monuments and history. The city, located over a hill by the river Mondego, was called Aeminium in Roman times. During late Antiquity it became the seat of a Diocesis substituting the nearby city of Conimbriga, which had been captured and partially plundered by invading Germanic peoples in 465 and 468, adopting later the name of the destroyed city. After the Roman city of Civita Aeminium, between 586 and 640, the Visigoths altered the name of the town to Emínio. The Moors occupied Coimbra around the year 711, turning it into an important commercial link between the Christian North and Muslim South. The city was re-conquered by Ferdinand I of Leon in 1064. After that, Coimbra became the capital of a new Country, governed by the Mozarab Sesnando, later incorporated into the Contury of Portugal. In the mid-12th century, the first Portuguese King, Afonso Henriques, turned Coimbra into the capital of the new Kingdom, a condition the city would keep until the year 1255. Many important monuments of the city date from this early period, like the Old Cathedral, the Church of St. James and the Santa Cruz Monastery, which was the most important Portuguese monastic institution at the time. As early as the Middle Ages, Coimbra was divided into an upper city (Cidade Alta or Almedina), where the aristocracy and the clergy lived, and the low city (Cidade Baixa) by the Mondego River, where most commercial activities took place. The city was encircled by a fortified wall, of which some remnants are still visible like the Almedina Gate (Porta da Almedina). The most important work in Gothic style in the city is the Monastry of Santa Clara-a-Velha, founded on the left side of the river Mondego by Queen Elizabeth in the first half of the 14th century. The Monastery was located too close to the river, and frequent floods forced the nuns to abandon it in the 17th century, when the Monastery of Santa Clara-a-Nova was built uphill. The Queen's magnificent gothic tomb was also transferred to the new convent. The ruins of the old convent were unearthed in the 2000s, and can be seen today in the left bank of the river. In the 15th and 16th centuries, during the Age of Discovery, Coimbra was again one of the main artistic centres of Portugal thanks to both local and royal patronage. Coimbra bishops, religious orders and King Manuel I supported different artists, who left important manueline and renaissance works in the town. Dating from this period are the remodelling (in manueline style) of the Santa Cruz Monastery, including the tombs of Kings Afonso Henriquez and Sancho I, the renaissance Manga Fountain, the altarpieces and triumphal portal of the Old Cathedral, among other works. The University of Coimbra was founded as Studium Generale in Lisbon in 1290 by King Dinis I. The University was relocated to Coimbra in 1308, but in 1338 the King D. Afonso IV make the University return to Lisbon. The University was definitively transferred to the premises of Coimbra Riyal Palace in 1537 byKing John III. Since then, the city life has revolved around the state-run university, and for many decades, several colleges (colégios) created to provide an alternative to the official form of teaching and established by the religious orders in the city, which were later gradually discontinued through the times with the secularization of teaching in Portugal. Built in the 18th century, the Joanina Library (Biblioteca Joanina), a Baroque library, is other notable landmark of the ancient university. In 1772, the prime-minister of king Jose I, the Marquis of Pombal, undertook a deep reform of the University, where the study of the sciences assumed vast importance. The collections of scientific instruments and material acquired since then are nowadays gathered in the Science Museum of the University of Coimbra, and constitute one of the most important historical science collections in Europe. Apart from the monuments already mentioned, it is also worth a visit to the New Cathedral of Coimbra (17th century) and the Machado de Castro Museum, the second most important one in Portugal, housed in the former Palace of the Bishops. The city also houses the University of Coimbra General Library, Portuguese second biggest library, after the National Library in Lisbon, and the Botanical Garden of the University of Coimbra from the 18th century.


Aveiro is nicknamed "The Portuguese Venice", due to its system of canals and boats. There are several attractions in the city of Aveiro, including cathedrals, canals and the beaches of the Peninsula de São Jacinto. Attractions near Aveiro include the Ílhavo ceramica de Vista Alegre and the beaches of Barra, Costa Nova do Prado, and Gafana de Nazare. The city dates back at least to the 10th century when it was known by its first Latin name of Alavarium, literally, "a gathering place or preserve of birds." The Moors invaded and then held it until the 11th century, after which it became popular with Portuguese royalty. In the winter of 1575, a terrible storm closed the entrance to its port, ending a thriving trade in metal and tiles. The same storm also created a reef barrier at the Atlantic Ocean.


The Douro is one of the major rivers of the Iberian Peninsula, flowing from its source near Duruelo de la Sierra in Soria Province across northern-central Spain and Portugal to its outlet at Porto. The Douro vinhateiro, an area of the Duoro Valley in Portugal, has been classified by UNESCO as a World Heritage Site. Traditionally, the wine was taken down river in flat-bottom boats called rabelos to be stored in barrels in cellars in Vila Nova de Gaia, just across the river from Porto. In the 1950s and 1960s, dams were built along the river ending this river traffic on Spanish and border sections. Now Port wine is transported in tanker trucks.


Porto, also known as Oporto, is the second-largest city in Portugal, after Lisbon, and one of the major urban areas in Southern Europe. Located along the Douro River, Porto is one of the oldest European centres, and registered as a World Heritage Site by UNESCO in 1996. Its settlement dates back many centuries, when it was an outpost of the Roman Empire. One of Portugal's internationally famous exports, port wine, is named for Porto, since the metropolitan area, and in particular the adegas of Vila Nova de Gaia, were responsible for the production and export of the fortified wine. The history of Porto dates back to the 4th century, to the Roman occupation of the Iberian Peninsula. Celtic and Proto-Celtic ruins have been discovered in several areas, and their occupation has been dated to about 275 BC. During the Roman occupation, the city developed as an important commercial port, primarily in the trade between Olissipona (the modern Lisbon) and Bracara Augusta (the modern Braga). In 1387, Porto was the site of the marriage of John I of Portugal and Philippa of Lancaster, daughter of John og Gaunt; this symbolized a long-standing military alliance between Portugal and England. The Portuguese-English alliance is the world's oldest recorded military alliance. In the 14th and the 15th centuries, Porto's shipyards contributed to the development of Portuguese shipbuilding. It was also from the port of Porto that, in 1415, Prince Henry the Navigator (son of John I of Portugal) embarked on the conquest of the Moorish port of Ceuta, in northern Marocco. This expedition by the King and his fleet, which counted amongst others Prince Henry, was followed by navigation and exploration along the western coast of Africa, initiating the Portuguese Age of Discovery. The nickname given to the people of Porto began in those days; Portuenses are to this day, colloquially, referred to as tripeiros (English: tripe peoples), referring to this period of history, when higher-quality cuts of meat were shipped from Porto with their sailors, while off-cuts and by-products, such as tripe, were left behind for the citizens of Porto: tripe remains a culturally important dish in modern day Porto.