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The secret’s out. Everyone knows just how awesome Portugal is now. After a lull, this small country in western Europe has come back with a vengeance. Long favoured as a beach getaway for certain nationalities, the rest of the world has finally caught on to this unquestionable gem. So, if you haven’t been yet, it’s time you plan your first Portugal trip pronto!
Naturally, you’ve probably got a lot of questions like where to go in Portugal or what to see. The best place to start planning then is right here. I’ve put together a collection of just 21 photos that shows you exactly what you’ve been missing out on. Leading you through the country’s different sides and the best places to visit in Portugal, you should find more than a few ideas of where to start.
If you’ve yet to visit this special and genuine country, hopefully these photos will offer some insight and inspiration.
The Epic Coast and Beaches
What first comes to mind when you think about Portugal? I bet there’s a good chance that it’s the country’s epic coast. Portugal is simply spoiled with incredible beaches and picturesque coastline. No matter where you go, whether it’s the north, the country’s middle or the southern Algarve, you’re in for a treat.
People may be most familiar with the cliffs and rugged beaches of the Algarve, but its really not the only destination for a Portugal beach holiday. Cities on the central coast like Nazare have their own great beach spots and cliffs. Then there are all the city beaches and potential day trips from Porto, for instance. Your first trip to Portugal can easily combine a city break with beachtime, just part of the reason Portugal is so beloved.
Grand Castles and Palaces
Portugal’s a land with a long past, one whose deep history is easily explored through its most impressive landmarks. I’m speaking, of course, of the myriad of awesome castles and palaces that are dotted throughout. It seems that no matter where you go in Portugal, a grand old palace or castle is not far off.
These mighty buildings often reflect either Portugal’s period of Moorish occupation or the days when the nation of Portugal was forged. Both of these eras can be found in places like Sintra, which when visited as a day trip from Lisbon, offers more castles and palaces than you could hope to expect.
Then there are the likes of Obidos and Leiria, each humbly defined by their castles and city walls. Even the birthplace of Portugal, Guimaraes has a palace and castle to delight, among its many sights. Since the past is so well preserved in Portugal, it really is the ideal destination for history lovers.
Fantastic Portuguese Tiles
If there’s one design element that catches people’s eyes on their first Portugal trip, it’s the local tilework. From the streets, to the walls of chuches, to houses, basically everywhere; you can’t help but become enchanted by Portugal’s tiles. The most common traditional design of these tiles is white and blue tile mosaics, known as azulejos.
In truth they’re also found in Spain and can be all sorts of colours, but I find the white and blue pieces the most memorable. While this brilliant design flare could be reserved for homes and private spaces, that’s not the case in Portugal.
Azulejos liven up countless public spaces in cities like Viseu and Porto, not to mention landmark attractions like the terraces of the staircase in Lamego. Perhaps the greatest challenge with these tile mosaics is deciding which is your favourite!
Captivating Nature and Landscapes
One side of Portugal that doesn’t get its due is its rugged nature and sweeping landscapes. No, Portugal is not just beaches, as the dry terrain is also home to sun-kissed fields, hills and wild forests. It’s one side of the country that I’d love to explore more of the next chance I get.
It’s not like it’s particularly hard to quickly find yourself amongst nature on your first Portugal trip. Simply head out towards the vineyards and hills along the Douro Valley to sample some wine and you’ll also get quite the view to go with it. Nearby places like Vila Real reinforce that this isn’t a one off with their deep and dramatic valleys.
Alternatively, you can enjoy forest walks along the trails in the hills just above both Sintra and Guimaraes. Even further afield are the wide range of hiking trails on offer in Peneda-Geres National Park and other quiet, inland spots. Finally there’s the calm rural fields spread throughout, that can offer a simple, rustic escape like outside Obidos.
Incredible Urban Destinations
Now perhaps, the best to last – Portugal’s cities. In a world where cities are constantly modernizing and being redeveloped, Portugal is refreshingly “old world”. Nearly every major or minor city you visit here genuinely feels like it has stuck to its traditional roots.
Talk to people that have visited and they’ll often bring up the atmosphere of places like Lisbon and Porto and an overwhelming feel of cultural authenticity. Oh and that they’re drop-dead gorgeous. You can look beyond the “big two” as well, since Portugal is home to a number of exciting destinations. What’s more, they each have decidely different appeals to them.
The central city of Coimbra for instance is home to a remarkable university and riverfront. Braga on the other hand, has a small old town wrapped up within the parks and boulevards of the modern city. No matter where you go though, you’re bound to find charming streets to walk down and superb cityscape views.
Planning your First Portugal Trip
- Getting There: For flights to Portugal one of your best options is to fly with TAP Air Portugal.
- Accommodation: Here you can find hotels, apartments and guesthouses for across Portugal.
- Tours: There are countless day trips and sightseeing tours available in Portugal.
- Car Hire: If you want to travel more independently, consider renting a car to drive yourself about.
- Guide Books: Lastly, if you’re after a physical guide to take with you then you can’t beat a Lonely Planet Guide.
With which place or feature would you choose to start your first Portugal trip? If you have already visited Portugal, what do you hope to see next visit? Please share your thoughts in the comments below.