Our classic tour of Portugal's vibrant cities and cultural heritage, including Lisbon, Porto, Fatima and the flamboyant architecture of Sintra.
Our classic tour of Portugal's vibrant cities and cultural heritage, including Lisbon, Porto, Fatima and the flamboyant architecture of Sintra.
Exoticca Travel Stories
Creating unforgettable memories, one traveller at a time
At Lisbon Airport they came to pick us up though it was only my husband and myself. Throughout the entire trip, the guide explained everything & told us stories related to the tour. This was the third time we have travelled with Exoticca.
If you are planning your Portuguese getaway, you might be wondering 'when is the best time to visit Portugal? Portugal is a large and diverse country, with many different travel destinations to explore. The best time to visit Portugal depends on where you're planning to go. Generally, though, the best time to travel to Portugal is during the spring, when you can enjoy warm temperatures, beautiful spring booms and rising sea temperatures. Here's a more detailed look at the best times to visit Portugal, depending on where and why you are travelling.LEARN MORE
Known for its vibrant culture and traditions, a trip to Portugal would be incomplete without enjoying the numerous festivals that take place throughout the year. Whilst many Portuguese festivals are connected to religious celebrations, such as Easter and saints days, others celebrate the country’s rich cultural heritage, cuisine and architecture. So, if you’re planning a holiday to Portugal, don’t forget to include these unmissable events in your calendar!
Portugal’s Carnival can trace its roots back to the 16th-century and remains the most important popular festival in the country. Taking place every year 47 days before Easter, Carnival marks the beginning of Lent, traditionally a time where people would give up meat and other luxuries in preparation for Easter. Before this period of restriction, people would celebrate with gatherings and communal feasts and this is how Carnival was born! Today, Portugal celebrates Carnival over a number of days in February and early March. Costume parades, dances and street parties take place across Portugal and almost everyone gets involved in the festivities! Street vendors sell all kinds of traditional treats and snacks and music can be heard throughout the major cities, towns and villages in the country. If you travel to Portugal in February or March, it’s almost impossible to ignore the energetic atmosphere of this annual celebration.
Like many Christian countries across the world, Portugal celebrates the arrival of Easter with a week of festivities. Known as Semana Santa, across the country elaborate parades and processions take place in honour of this religious festival. The most famous festivities are held in Braga, in the north of the country. Here, the entire city centre is decorated with flowers and light, a truly beautiful spectacle! In the Algarve, the town of Loulé is famed for its large-scale processions. Wherever you travel in Portugal during Holy Week, you’re sure to witness all manner of festivities in honour of this special time of year.
Although pilgrimages to Fatima happen throughout the year, the one that takes place in May is of extra importance. On May 13th 1917, the Virgin Mary appeared in an apparition to three local children in Fatima, and to mark the date huge crowds gather at Fatima every year to pay homage to this miraculous event. On the night of the 12th, a candlelit procession takes place and the following day a statue of the Virgin Mary is carried down to the High Altar.
This cultural festival is held every summer in the UNESCO World Heritage site of Sintra. Famed for its fantastical architecture, Sintra welcomes some of the world’s finest ballet dancers, pianists and musicians for a celebration of music and dance held across multiple venues including palaces, churches, gardens and country estates. If you’re headed to Sintra on a tour of Portugal, be sure to purchase tickets for these world-class performances beforehand as it’s one of the most popular cultural festivals in the country!
This Midsummer celebration is in honour of an ancient pagan tradition that later became a Christian festival. A tribute to Saint John the Baptist, Festa de São João is most widely celebrated in the Portuguese city of Porto. An important part of the city’s identity, during the celebration the festivities usually begin with a family meal, followed by a remarkable fireworks display at D. Luís Bridge and partying into the small hours of the morning. Free concerts take place throughout the city and street vendors sell all manner of traditional snacks and drinks.
Also known as the Feast of Saint Anthony, the patron saint of Portugal, this summer festival celebrates not only the 13th-century saint but also one of Portugal’s most prized seafood ingredients: the sardine! Most famously celebrated in the Alfama district of Lisbon, the Festival of Sardines also has a theme of romance, as Saint Anthony was known as the ‘matchmaking saint’. Men offer ladies love poems and everyone has a joyful day dining on freshly grilled sardines and watching the colourful street parades!LEARN MORE
The flavours and dishes of Portuguese cuisine are heavily influenced by both the Mediterranean and Portugal’s situation on the Atlantic Ocean. With many seafood dishes, Portuguese cuisine puts fish and shellfish at the centre of many dishes. Furthermore, the food in Portugal has historically been influenced by Portugal’s spice trade and therefore uses a variety of spices in some of its most famous dishes. The Mediterranean influence shows itself in the liberal use of olive oil, onions and garlic, whilst each region in Portugal has its own traditional dishes.
Truly, a trip to Portugal is a gastronomic journey, and wherever you travel you’ll encounter flavoursome and delicious dishes! From mouth-watering pastel de nata to spicy chicken dishes and moreish port wine, let Portuguese cuisine delight you on your next tour of Portugal!
Perhaps the most famous food in Portugal, these bite-sized treats are now available at cafes and coffee shops around the world. A perfect tea-time accompaniment, pastels de nata are an integral part of Portuguese cuisine and culture. These egg-custard tarts can trace their history back more than 300 years, to Jerónimos Monastery in Belém, Lisbon. The story goes that the busy monks of Jerónimos Monastery used to use egg whites to starch their laundry. Therefore, there were plenty of egg yolks to make use of, and hence, the pastel de nata was born! If you travel to Lisbon today, eating a pastel de nata from the cafe beside this monastery is a must-do foodie experience!
The national soup of Portugal, Caldo Verde is heralded for its health-giving properties. With its origins in the northern Minho region of Portugal, Caldo Verde is a soup containing potatoes, onions and leafy greens. Combined together to create a hearty soup, Caldo Verde is one of the most traditional dishes in Portuguese cuisine and has long been a budget-friendly dish accessible to the entire population. Today, you’ll find Caldo Verde on the menus of almost all of the country’s eateries, from humble cafes to luxury hotels, making it an unmissable dish to try on a holiday to Portugal!
Most often served grilled, sardines are a staple in Portuguese cuisine. What the sea provides in abundance, Portuguese cuisine celebrates in its most simple yet delicious form. Traditionally, sardines are roasted whole over an open fire and seasoned with plenty of salt. You’ll most likely encounter sardines on the menus at traditional Portuguese restaurants as well as during summer festivals, most notably the Feast of St. Anthony, also known as the ‘Sardine Festival’.
One of the most internationally celebrated Portuguese dishes, Piri-Piri Chicken has become famous in recent years due to the proliferation of a number of international restaurant chains that serve this traditional Portuguese dish! Consisting of a grilled butterflied chicken, the chilli variety known as ‘Piri-Piri' is used to glaze the meat, creating a deliciously moreish flavour that tantalizes the taste buds of all who try it! The roots of this dish can be traced back to the Portuguese colonists who visited African countries such as South Africa, Angola, and Mozambique and brought back the prized chilli species used in this dish. Usually served up with a side of french fries or salad, you can’t miss this simple yet delicious Portuguese dish if you travel to Portugal!
Everyone loves a good sandwich, and the Portuguese sandwich known as bifana is a must-eat for foodies who visit Portugal. Deceptively simple, a bifana consists of a bread roll filled with marinated pork cutlets. The secret is in the spiced marinade that is used to season the cutlets, which usually involves garlic, white wine and spices such as paprika. Of course, as you travel around the country you’ll find regional varieties of this simple sandwich, with each restaurant offering its own take on this classic Portuguese dish. Furthermore, bifanas are usually eaten as a snack or light lunch and are considered a cheap dish, with some places selling this satisfying sandwich for as little as 1.50€!
Portuguese cuisine is famed for its fantastic seafood, and Portuguese cod is one of those quintessential dishes you cannot miss out on if you travel to Portugal! Cod, also known as Bacalhau is available in almost every restaurant in the country. Served in a variety of ways, salt cod, baked cod, fried cod and boiled cod are just some of the hundreds of ways in which this simple white fish is prepared. Most often, cod is served with potatoes and accompanied by traditional Portuguese green wine.
Although a beverage rather than a food, Port is an integral part of Portuguese cuisine. Famously, the city of Porto is where this fortified wine is stored and aged in barrels housed in cellars along the banks of the River Douro. From here, this tasty tipple is exported throughout the world. The grapes that produce port wine are grown in the Douro Valley, upriver from Porto, and many who travel to Portugal relish the opportunity to taste the various port varieties in the wineries of this famous region!LEARN MORE
If you travel to Portugal, you’ll probably find it hard to resist a spot of shopping during your trip! With cosmopolitan cities, filled with shopping streets as well as the authentic craft markets found in some of the smaller towns, you’ll be spoilt for choice when it comes to finding the perfect keepsake of your time in Portugal. With a rich cultural tradition of arts and crafts and an array of delicious edible delights, choosing the best Portuguese souvenir can be tricky. Some of the most popular things to shop for in Portugal range from embroidered goods and handpainted ceramics to tinned foods, so there will be plenty to fit into your suitcase!
If you’ve visited the major cities of Porto or Lisbon, you’ll likely have come across the beautiful Azulejos tiles that decorate many of these cities' most emblematic buildings, such as churches and train stations. The Azulejos tile has a long history in Portugal, dating back to the Moorish invasions of the 13th-century and today these tiles are an integral part of Portuguese culture. Available in an array of intricate and eye-catching designs, the small size of these souvenirs make them the perfect keepsake to take home with you. Both Lisbon and Porto are home to a number of authentic tile shops where you can buy traditional Azulejos.
Portuguese embroidery is famous throughout the world and the intricate designs have been replicated in modern fashion for years. For authentic embroidered goods, there’s no better place to buy Portuguese embroidery than in Portugal itself, and you’ll find all manner of embroidered souvenirs if you go shopping in Lisbon, Porto or any other major city. In terms of the most popular designs, colourful stripes and Barcelos Roosters are two favourite motifs you’ll see time and time again. Tea towels, tablecloths and scarfs are just a handful of the embroidered souvenirs you can take home to remember your trip to Portugal.
A national symbol, the Barcelos Rooster is one of the must-buy souvenirs in Portugal! Although you’ll find this cheerful little chicken on all kinds of Portuguese wares, the ceramic statue is the most sought-after souvenir and is sold in gift shops across the country. Colourfully painted with hearts and patterns, the rooster has its origins in a popular folktale from the town of Barcelos and symbolises the Portuguese passion for life.
A little taste of Portugal that can fit in even the smallest suitcase, tinned sardines are one of the most popular Portuguese souvenirs! As one of Portugal’s most quintessential dishes, sardines are an important part of the local culture and there’s no doubt you’ll have fallen in love with these salty fish by the time your trip to Portugal comes to an end. Sold throughout the country in supermarkets, delis and petiscos bars, many sardines are canned in pretty packaging and make the perfect gift for foodie friends back home!
If you visit Porto during a tour of Portugal, you cannot miss the chance to taste the authentic Port wine that is produced here in the cellars that line the banks of the Douro River. From traditional ruby to rarer white varieties, choose your favourite before purchasing a couple of bottles to take home with you and enjoy the rich flavours of Portugal long after your trip has come to an end!
The world’s leading producer of cork, you’ll find this versatile material used in all manner of products if you travel to Portugal! Popular cork souvenirs include handbags, backpacks, pursues, jewellery and footwear. In fact, if you travel through the Alentejo countryside of southern Portugal, you’ll spot large plantations of cork trees and be able to see where these popular souvenirs come from. Cork products are the ideal Portuguese souvenir since they are eco-friendly and sustainable.
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 holiday. 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 holiday 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 holiday 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.
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.
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.
With centuries of history, Portugal has a distinct and colourful national culture. Some of the most characteristic cultural treasures to discover on a holiday 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 holiday 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.
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Other useful information
The price of petrol is much higher than in Spain.
There are no mandatory vaccinations for travellers from EU countries.
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