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Portugal Travel Guide

Updated on February 4, 2013

Centuries ago, Poland was a pioneer in exploring the entire world. Until recently though, it wasn’t very successful in the tourism industry. Besides Lisbon, Algarve and the Madeira Island, Portugal was undiscovered by most of the visitors. Today Portugal is flourishing as a pure gem in the European tourism. Its rich and troubled history, created by the discoveries in the 15th and 16th centuries and the leadership of the new State from 1932 to 1974, is an important part of the present country. 

Portugal has enough places enlisted as World Heritage Sites by UNESCO to attract every visitor’s attention, for a longer period of time. The country has a surprising diversity, an ideal climate and hospitable inhabitants, not to mention the postal card views of the craggy coastline, the primordial beaches and the fishermen, the cobblestone streets, the whitewashed houses and the fairytale castles. 

Portugal offers unlimited opportunities, from sophisticated parties in the seaside resorts, to medieval centers like Lisbon, Porto, Braga or Coimbra. To explore the more remote places spend a night in a romantic lodge, a monastery or a manor located in a fascinating landscape. 

Concerning the sports, Portugal is a great destination for golf, tennis, fishing, horseback riding, windsurfing and water skiing. Other unforgettable experiences include Fado, Portugal’s soul music, the countryside festivities, with centuries’ old folkloric traditions, wine tasting and delicious fish dishes.

Castelo de Almourol, Portugal
Castelo de Almourol, Portugal

Portugal Tourist Attractions

  • Wander on the capital city’s, Lisbon, hills to admire the city and the river Tagus’ estuary. Climb the highest of the 12th hills and visit the St George Castle, from the 12th century. 
  • Watch the sharks in the biggest oceanarium in Europe, have an overview of the Tagus River, from the gondola, and visit the Knowledge Pavilion in the Nations Park, 5km east of Lisbon. 
  • Explore Lisbon’s suburb, Belem, the place where Vasco da Gama left in the 15th and 16th centuries. Attractions that you should not miss are Torre de Belem and the Hieronymus Monastery, both enlisted as UNESCO World Heritage Sites, as well as the new Berardo collection of modern art. 
  • Visit Sintra, an alpine city filled with palaces, 25km away from Lisbon. Don’t miss the former summer residence of the Portuguese royal family and the beautiful gardens Monserrate. 
  • From Sintra head west, to the lighthouse in Cabo da Roca, and watch they waves that crush into the underneath rocks, in the westernmost place in Europe. 
  • Discover Evora, a virtual museum and a city that reached its golden age in the 15th century, when it became the Portuguese kings’ residence. Its monuments have had a profound influence on the Gothic and Manueline Portuguese architecture. 
  • Visit the St Mary Monastery, enlisted as a UNESCO World Heritage Site, which was constructed in king’s Joao I memory, over Castile in 1385. Visit also the St Mary d’Alcobaca Monastery, founded by the king Alphonso I in the 12th century. 
  • Explore the medieval history in the Templar Knights’ Castle in Tomar. The monastery Christ’s Order from the heart of the castle is one of the main artistic and historical structures in Portugal. 
  • Visit the historical center of the city Porto, with the Stock Market Palace, the Romanesque-Gothic cathedral, the Romanesque church Cedofeita, the Baroque tower Clerigos and Cais de Ribeira, located on the shores. 
  • Visit Porto and Gaia to taste the best Porto wine. The region Alto Douro is a place enlisted as a UNESCO World Heritage Site, due to the centuries of winegrowing which produces a cultural landscape of an unequalled beauty. 
  • In the north-east you will find the medieval capital city of Portugal, Guimaraes, an exceptional example of a medieval town that turned into a modern city, with a beautiful castle and the former palace of the dukes in Braganca. 
  • Admire a series of stone sculptures from the late Paleolithic period (22.000 – 10.000 BC) in the archeological park Coa Valley, which represents the most impressive primitive artistic expression of this kind in the entire world. 
  • Admire the Portuguese culture in the lovely city of Coimbra, where you will find the oldest universities in Europe, the Romanesque cathedral Se Velha, the Jesuit cathedral Se Nova and the Gothic church where the first king of Portugal rests, Santa Cruz. 
  • Discover the oldest city in the Algarve region. Built on the banks of Gilhao River, the scenic settlement Tavira can brag with a city hall with arcades, a Roman bridge with seven arcades, old fortifications and a beach. 
  • Enjoy the beaches and waters in Portugal – scuba diving and snorkeling, windsurfing, water skiing, fishing. 
  • Absorb the spiritual atmosphere in Fatima, an important pilgrimage center since 1917, when the Virgin Mary showed up in front of a group of children. Admire the torch procession that takes places on May 13th and October 13th
  • Go hiking, alpinism or canoeing in Peneda-Geres, the only national park in Portugal. Take part in a car or motorcycle race on the famous Estoril race track, located in a short distance from Lisbon, on the Atlantic coast.

Portugese Cuisine

The fish is the main ingredient in the Portuguese diet, and the cod is the most popular one. The fish is being prepared after so many recipes that it is said you can cook it in a different way in each day, during a year. Other sea specialties that are often consumed are the salmon, sardine, eel, octopus, squid, barbell, merluccius, brill and bass. Practically every Portuguese meal contains a soup. The most popular one is the green soup (caldo verde), made out of Gaelic cabbage (couve galega), sausages, potatoes and olive oil. Another popular soup is the sopa alentejana, with bread and garlic. Another traditional dish is called caldeirada, a stew made of several types of fish, onions and tomatoes. The most usual dessert is the rice pudding (arroz doce) with a cinnamon flavor.

Palcio de Monserrte, Sintra, Portugal
Palcio de Monserrte, Sintra, Portugal

Portugal's History

It is believed that the Lusitani, a Celtic tribe, were the first inhabitants of Portugal. The region was conquered by the Roman Empire in 140 BC. Towards the Roman Empire’s fall, the Visigoths invaded the entire Iberian Peninsula. The Portuguese had gained their independence from the Moorish Spain in 1143. Portugal’s expansion was excellently coordinated by the king’s Joan I son, Prince Henry the Navigator. In 1488 Bartolomeu Dias reached the Cape of Good Hope, proving that Asia was accessible by sea. In 1498 Vasco da Gama reached the western coast of India. In the middle of the 16th century the Portuguese Empire had extended towards the west and Eastern Africa, Brazil, Persia, Indochina and the Malaysian Peninsula. 

In 1581 king Philip II of Spain invaded Portugal and occupied it for 60 years, a fact that lead to a disastrous decline in commerce. Brave and cunning explorers, the Portuguese proved to be non-efficient and corrupt colonists. At the time when the Portuguese monarchy was restored, in 1640, the Dutch, British and the French had already taken over most of the colonies and the world commerce. Portugal was left with Angola and Mozambique in Africa and Brazil (until 1822). 

The corrupt king Carlos, who acceded to the throne in 1889, made Joao Franco the prime minister, with dictatorial powers in 1906. In 1908, Carlos and his heir were shot on the streets of Lisbon. The new king, Manoel II, was forced to resign his power during the 1910 revolution, Portugal becoming a French style republic. Having a traditional friendship with the United Kingdom, Portugal fought on the Allied side in the First World War, in Africa and on the Western Front. The weak post-war government and the revolution in 1926 brought Antonio de Oliveira Salazar to power. As a finance minister (1928-1940) and prime minister (1932-1968), Salazar ruled the country in a dictatorial way. He kept Portugal neutral during the Second World War, but he helped the Allies with naval and aerial bases after 1943. Portugal joined NATO as a founding member in 1949, but was accepted in the United Nations only in 1955. 

Starting with the 1950s, the international and colonial policy of Portugal encountered difficulties. The most blood-shedding wars against the colonialism in Africa took place against the Portuguese. In the next 13 years, Salazar and his successor, Marcello Caetano, fought against the independence movements, attracting world criticism. The leftist army troops managed to start a revolution in 1974 and the new military leadership renounced all its territories. Portugal was accepted in the European Union in 1986 and in the same year Mario Soares became the first civil president after more than 60 years.

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