Located in southwestern Europe and home to a sweeping Atlantic coastline of more than 800 kilometres, Portugal is a thrilling travel destination, whether you are planning a city-break, a sightseeing tour or an all-inclusive beach vacation. Although it shares the Iberian Peninsula with Spain, Portugal has its own unique history and culture, which is sure to surprise and enchant anyone who takes a trip to Portugal.
As well as the western part of the Iberian Peninsula, the Azores Archipelago and the island of Madeira are also part of Portugal, one of the oldest European nations. Boasting a diverse landscape, a tour of Portugal will take you from windswept Atlantic beaches to the verdant mountains of the north and the near-desert landscape of the Alentejo region. On a vacation to Portugal, you can go surfing, explore hilltop villages, soak up the nightlife in the cities or simply kick-back on the golden sand beaches of the Algarve.
The historic capital of Lisbon is famed for its landmarks and vintage tram system, but other notable cities to discover on a tour of Portugal include ancient Porto, the university city of Coimbra, spiritual Fatima, coastal Faro and Funchal, which is the capital of Madeira. Portugal’s most famous beach destination is the Algarve, situated in the south of the country, with towns such as Lagos and Albufeira establishing themselves as some of the best-loved beach vacation destinations in Portugal.
Portuguese is the official language and Portugal is well-known for its fascinating cultural heritage and world-class gastronomy. Portugal is proud of its gastronomic heritage and any trip to Portugal is sure to be filled with mouth-watering delights, such as the creamy Pastel de nata, velvety Port wine from the Douro Valley and some of the best seafood in the world, fresh from the Atlantic Ocean. Needless to say, all foodies should travel to Portugal!
The home of the melancholic melodies of Fado, iconic azulejos glazed tiles and festivals such as Santo António, São Pedro and São João, Portugal’s rich cultural heritage is ever-present, whether you’re admiring the hand-embroidered skirts of Nazare’s fishermen or deciphering the stories painted onto the azulejos tiles of the breathtaking Chapel of Souls in Porto.
History of Portugal
As one of the oldest nations in Europe, Portugal is a treasure trove of historic landmarks that tell the stories of the events, cultures and traditions that shaped this fascinating country. The territory of Portugal has been inhabited since prehistoric times, firstly by Celtic peoples, followed by Ancient Greeks, Romans, Visigoths and the Moors. As a result of the early Christian Reconquest, Portugal was first founded as a nation in the year 868. The early history of this nation is still evident in a number of ancient sites such as the prehistoric rock art of the Coa Valley, the medieval Castle of Moors in Sintra and the Roman architecture of Evora. Travelling to Portugal is a journey through a diverse and eventful history.
Perhaps the most famous era in the country’s long heritage is between the 15th and 18th centuries, a period dubbed the ‘Age of Discovery’. During these centuries Portugal rose to prominence as a great maritime and commercial empire. After discovering the Atlantic archipelagos of the Azores, Madeira and Cape Verde, Portuguese explorers ventured as far afield as Africa, Asia and South America, colonising countries such as Brazil and sending missionaries as far afield as China and Japan. In 1498 the great explorer Vasco da Gama became the first European to reach India by sea, a source of immense pride to the Portuguese people and marking the beginning of a very prosperous time in the nation’s history and the beginning of the Portuguese Renaissance.
If you visit Portugal you’ll find many of the most elegant and opulent landmarks can be traced back to this period in the countries history. The Belem Tower in Lisbon is an ornate symbol of Portugal’s maritime prowess, once acting as the ceremonial gateway to the city during the height of Portugal’s trading empire. If you visit Portugal you’ll be able to trace the impact of this era in the grand squares, opulent palaces and historic trading ports found throughout the country.
A number of events contributed to the end of Portugal’s prosperous ‘Age of Discovery’ such as the devastating Lisbon earthquake of 1755, the Napoleonic Wars and the independence of Brazil in the early 19th-century. Revolution came to Portugal in 1910 when the monarchy was deposed and replaced by the democratic Portuguese First Republic. An authoritarian regime, known as the Estado Novo was later established in 1933 and endured until 1974 when democracy was finally restored after the Carnation Revolution. This was the end of Portugal’s colonial legacy as almost all the overseas territories were granted independence, ending one of the longest-lived empires in history.
Nature in Portugal
Portugal has a Mediterranean climate, despite its location on the Atlantic Ocean, and is one of the warmest countries in Europe, with mild winters and long, hot summers. The best time to visit Portugal depends on your intentions, as the summer might be too hot for sightseeing but perfect for lounging on the idyllic beaches of the Algarve region. Of course, the further south you travel, the warmer and drier the weather will become.
Portugal is awash with natural beauty, from the towering mountains of Geres to the verdant Azores Islands and the turquoise waters of the Algarve, boasting a rich and diverse array of landscapes. As a meeting point between the Mediterranean and the Atlantic, it also boasts rich biodiversity, in both flora and fauna. Some of Portugal’s best-known species include the fearsome Portuguese Man O’War and the beautiful Iberian Lynx. Portugal also plays host to a large number of migratory birds, found in abundance around the marshes of the Algarve and the Douro River Valley.
If you travel to Portugal you’ll find plenty of areas of outstanding natural beauty if you venture from the usual cities and beach destinations. The Serra da Estrela Natural Park is one of the most spectacular, home to the Serra da Estrela Mountain, reaching 1,993 metres above sea level. It is also the only place in Portugal where you can go skiing, as in the winter months this immaculate landscape is blanketed in a thick covering of white snow, perfect for winter sports enthusiasts. This natural park is also excellent for trekking, horse-riding or mountain biking and has 375km of marked trails to suit all levels.
The Peneda-Geres National Park is another highlight to include on a trip to Portugal. The largest national park in the country, this haven of untouched wilderness is situated in northern Portugal. Here, walking and hiking trails lead you through forests, beside picturesque rivers, past waterfalls and up granite mountains.
Another must-see natural attraction to visit on a tour of Portugal is Cabo de Sao Vincente, the most southwesterly tip of Europe. This rocky peninsula boasts breathtaking views out into the depths of the Atlantic Ocean and evokes memories of the Portuguese maritime explorers of days gone by, who would have passed this landmark on their way to discover unknown lands.
Culture of Portugal
With centuries of history, Portugal has a distinct and colourful national culture. Some of the most characteristic cultural treasures to discover on a vacation to Portugal include the moving musical tradition of Fado, born out of the old fishing songs of yesteryear, fortified Port wine and a number of delicate handicrafts such as embroidery and bobbin lace.
Portugal is a Roman Catholic country, and although religion is no longer at the forefront of society in Portugal, there are still countless annual festivals in honour of various saints and important religious events. Pilgrimage is also a long-standing part of Portuguese culture, with thousands making the devoted walk to the Sanctuary Of Our Lady Of Fatima every year. In fact, if you see walkers by the side of the road wearing yellow jackets, you can safely guess that they are on their way to the holy city of Fatima, a place of supreme importance to followers of the Catholic faith, and a fascinating place to visit if you are travelling to Portugal.
Portuguese people are known for their warm hospitality towards visitors, so don’t be surprised if you are offered a drink within mere moments of meeting a new Portuguese friend! Having a busy social life is of great value in Portuguese culture and whether you’re spending an evening bar-hopping in Lisbon or enjoying a romantic meal at a beach-side taverna in the Algarve, you’ll always find groups of Portuguese families or friends, eating, drinking and enjoying each other’s company late into the evening. In fact, it’s said that a night out in Portugal only ends when the sun comes up!
Port wine has been produced in Portugal since the 17th-century from grapes grown in the fertile Douro Valley before being transported upriver to the charming city of Porto. Here, countless wine cellars keep the wine in barrels, where the ageing process takes at least two years. This is a proud part of Portuguese culture and all the port in the world is produced in Porto. You cannot travel to Portugal without sampling these delicious tipples, be it velvety port wine or refreshing vihno verde, literally green wine, made from young grapes.
Just as important as Portugal’s wine-making heritage is the nation’s fierce love of gastronomy. A mouth-watering national cuisine, Portuguese food is some of the best in Europe. Whether you’re a fan of sweet pastries or prefer a fresh catch of cod, a firm favourite on Portuguese menus, Portugal doesn’t disappoint with its culinary culture. Portuguese cuisine is simple, yet delicious and with such a bountiful ocean and fertile countryside, produce is almost always fresh and delicious. Portuguese gastronomy is sure to be the star attraction of the trip to Portugal, especially if you consider yourself a foodie.
Travel to Portugal to experience a vibrant country, filled with diverse sights and landscapes, the result of centuries of cultural heritage. On a vacation to Portugal, you can kick-back on sunkissed beaches, explore rugged landscapes, sample some of the finest wines on earth or take in the sights of the major cities. There’s something for everyone to explore on a package tour of Portugal.