Altough one of the great destinations in Europe and in the world, Portugal is affordable to visit - transportation, lodging and food is reasonable - in fact it is much less expensive than most of western Europe. The food is fantastic and some of the oldest vineyards in the world call Portugal home. Beaches, mountains, castles and ancient Celtic villages can all be visited within a single day. Here are the top 7 things to do while visiting Portugal.
Top Things to do in Portugal
1) Stroll the Dom Luis I Bridge
The Ponte de Dom Luis (The Dom Luis I Bridge) is a double- decker metal arch bridge that connects Porto and Vila Nova de Gaia across the Douro River. The Dom Luis I Bridge is the iconic image of Porto and was the longest bridge of its type when it was built in 1886.
The bridge has two levels – the top level is for the Porto Metro trains and pedestrians (watch you step as the train and pedestrian walkway are very close to each other!
Make sure to walk across the bridge to Porto for amazing photo opportunities! Once across in the Ribeira area in Porto, consider taking the Funicular dos Guindais, out to the Batalha district to continue exploring Porto and its surrounding areas.
Also read: Blogpost on “Discover Europe By Train”
2) Wind Your Way Through Alfama
Alfama is one of the oldest districts of Lisbon,largely unaffected by the earthquake in 1755. Alfama is known for its bohemian feel, it is virtually a maze of narrow roads, eclectic alleys and steep staircases.
Although it is slow and sometimes noisy, Tram 28 provides a great way to explore Alfama and get a sense of this amazing area. The Tram stops at many of the most popular stops such as Castle of St. George, The Cathedral, and Church of St.
Antonio and viewpoints in Alfama including Miraduoro das Portas do Sol and Miraduoro de Santa Luiza. While in Alfama, take time to visit a fado restaurant where amateur and professional fado performers alike perform while you dine.
3) Contemplate the Beauty of Lisbon at the Jeronimos Monastery
The Mosteiro dos Jeronimos is one of the most picturesque churches in Portugal and is rich in history as well. Vasco de Gama spent his last night at the Jeronimos Monasterybefore his journey to the Far East.
The iconic southern entrance to the monastery faces the Tagus riverfront and is known for its ornate features such as its gables, pinnacles, carved figures and statues.
The monastery is one of the most prominent examples of the Portuguese Late Gothic Manueline style of architecture and is a World Heritage Site, along with the nearby Tower of Belém.
4) Go Back in Time to a Celtic Village
Did you know that Portugal is rich in ancient Celtic archaeology sites? There are many sites across the country, one enjoyable site to visit is the Citânia de Briteiros. Located just outside Guimarães, this archaeological site is important for its size, "urban" form and developed architecture and is one of the most excavated sites in Portugal.
These excavations have revealed Bronze age activity that even pre-dates the Celts and was also occupied by the conquering Romans.
5) Find the Killer Waves of Nazaré
Nazaré is only 80 miles north of Lisbon, heavily influenced by its roots as a fishing village, but firmly a beach town and the world capital for massive surfing waves. Known for its beaches, stone buildings, orange roofs and great views. The main beach is Nazaré is the Praia da Nazaré and has been voted one of the best beaches in Portugal.
Praia da Nazaré is a crescent shaped beach with golden sand that is largely protected from the Atlantic winds. Nearby lies the Nazaré underwater canyon which is the largest in Europe and creates the huge waves where surfers regularly break records. The North Beach or Praia do Nortelies just to the north but feels like a completely different place because of the strong winds that make sunbathing and other beach activities more difficult.
The O Sitio portion of Nazaré is on top of the cliff – a steep walk or a fun ride on the funicular – take your choice! O Sitio provides one with great views and is a little less hectic than beach side during the summer months and more affordable lodging and dining. Check out the city square and nearby areas for hand-made souvenirs.
6) Go Back in Time in Sintra
Sintra is a beautiful town in the hills of the Serra de Sintra in the Parque Natural de Sintra-Cascais one of Portugal’s most popular national parks. You will feel like you have stepped back in time to a fairytale town ruled at different times by the Celts, Romans, Moors and the royal family of Portugal in the 19thcentury.
Sintra is an easy day trip from Lisbon and can provide a welcome respite in the summer months with its cooler mountain climate. The area around Sintra is known for hiking, mountain biking and rock climbing.
Above all, make sure you visit some of the amazing castles such as the Quinta da Regaleira, the Pena Palace, recently named one of Portugal’s “Seven Wonders” and the Castelo dos Mouro occupied in turn by the Romans, the Moors and the Portuguese after the Reconquista. Skip the line tour Castle of the Moors.
7) Scale the Stone Walls of Óbidos - Óbidos will make you feel like you are experiencing an episode of the Game of Thrones! The historic part of Óbidos truly feels like it belongs on a movie set and no cars are allowed on the streets within the main walls of the medieval castle.
This town was the home of Portugal’s queens starting in the 1200s and many historical buildings, statues and monuments were built by one of the different queens. The Óbidos Castle was originally built by the Moors in the 700s and then further improved and fortified starting in the 1200s by the various queens that have lived there.
Óbidos is full of artisan shops, museums and history and makes a great day trip from Lisbon via train or rental car.
Don’t forget to visit the Praça de Santa Maria, the city square and take in the living history. Beneath the fountain in the square is the town’s aqueduct. In the 1570s, the Aqueduto de Óbidos was built by Catherine of Austria and served Óbidos for more than 200 years. The most impressive stretch is just at the southern entrance to Óbidos.
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Annalie Coetzer Travel Oholic and Lifestyle Blogger
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