Despite its small geographic footprint, Portugal has had a rich past, which included a colonial empire that had holdings around the globe, from the Americas to the Far East. In the mother country, there is much to see, from impossibly intricate Gothic architecture in Lisbon, to lush vineyards that produce some of the world’s finest wine.
You might come here expecting to see this country in a week, only to find yourself extending your stay multiple times as you get happily lost in this attraction rich corner of Europe.
What To Do
Most trips to Portugal will begin in the historically rich city of Lisbon, where many cultural attractions await. If you have plans to explore the entire country, you may not be able to see everything this city have to offer, but be sure to not miss seeing São Jorge Castle, as it boasts some of the best views of the urban landscape beneath it, to say nothing of the highlights that are contained within its walls.
While the most recent form of this mighty keep was built up by the Moors in the 10th century, a castle/fort had existed at the top of Lisbon’s highest hill since the 2nd century BCE, as the Romans built a defensive post here to protect their holdings in the region.
Surrounded by a mighty citadel and with lush gardens and the ruins of the former royal palace present here, you’ll spend the better part of an afternoon exploring this top highlight of Lisbon.
If you have a bit more time, be sure to check out Jerónimos Monastery before departing the capital of Portugal. While fans of religious structures will no doubt love this place, it is of particular interest to architecture geeks, as there is no better example of a Late Gothic Manueline style building in the entirety of Lisbon.
Considering the grandeur of this structure, it will come as no surprise to anybody that it took the entire 16th century to construct this monument to the Christian God. As impressive as the exterior facade is, the interior arches, tombs, and open air courtyard featuring a peaceful fountain will make it easy to know why Jerónimos Monastery was designated as a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1983, making it among the first sites worldwide that were bestowed with this honor (it is #7 on UNESCO’s all-time list).
When you make your way out into the Portuguese countryside, construct your itinerary so that you have an opportunity to visit the Roman Temple of Évora. Despite being located well west of the centre of the Roman Empire, their influence reached all the way to most westerly points on the Iberian Peninsula, as the lonely remains of this shrine have been dated back to the 1st century AD.
Sitting among well-manicured gardens, this UNESCO World Heritage Site is the highlight of an old city filled with numerous other historical and cultural highlights, so if you are confused with what to see in Portugal outside the heavy-hitting tourist draws, make Évora one of your stops.
Those looking for a glass of Portugal’s pride and joy would be well advised to make a beeline for the Douro Wine Region, as it is here where this nation’s world famous Port is bottled and aged to perfection. Other table wines apart from this region’s famous fortified export are also available here, so even if you aren’t a fan of it, a visit here is well worthwhile for the oenophiles out there in the travel community.
Those looking to unwind will want to spend part of all of their time in The Algrave, as it is here where Portugal’s most scenic beaches can be found. Often located beneath picturesque eroded limestone cliffs, these seaside havens have made the region into a popular summer and honeymoon getaway, and with some of Europe’s best golf course, duffers have been flocking here as well.
What To Eat
Like its bigger neighbor Spain, Portugal has a robust food culture, with many interesting stories and traditions surrounding some of its most prominent dishes. Tripas à moda do Porto (tripe with white beans) is a perfect example of the former, as this meal came about during the days when the Castillians were attempting to conquer Lisbon via an extended military siege in the 14th century.
With food rations exhausted within the fortified walls of Lisbon, word got out to Porto of the plight that their capital was facing. Porto summarily sent all the best meat they could find to Lisbon, leaving nothing but tripe for the citizenry.
It was from this war time sacrifice that white beans and tripe were cooked together to create a dish that has endured to this very day.
Another dinner time meal that you should seek out while in Portugal is Cozido à Portuguesa, which is a stew that contains shins of beef, pork, tripe, sliced Portuguese sausage, and chicken, along with veggies that include cabbage, carrots, turnips, and collard greens. Served with rice or potatoes, it is just the dish you’ll need if you find yourself in Portugal in the cooler days outside of the summer season.
When the time of dessert rolls around, don’t deprive yourself of the chance to try some Pastéis de nata, or egg tarts. Consisting of pastry shells filled with egg custard, this bite-sized treat can be found not only in Portugal, but in all its former territories, from Brazil to Macau.