When a country takes the ‘World’s Leading Destination’ crown at the World Travel Awards—beating a whole host of fantastic countries like Brazil, Morocco, New Zealand and the USA in the process—it’s worth paying it a little extra attention. So come with us as we take a closer look at seven of Portugal’s fabulous towns and cities…
To get a real sense of authentic Lisbon city life, sit yourself down at a street-side cafe, order yourself a bica (espresso) and a heavenly pastéis de Belém pastry—and watch the world go. Oh yes, and don’t forget to bring your shades with you, because the sun shines 290 days a year in Lisbon. You’ll see a city of contrasts, where modernity and history live side by side in cosmopolitan harmony. Explore a little further and you’ll find women selling fish from their doorways in the traditional working-class neighborhood of Alfama, see incredible views over the city from the Arco da Rua Augusta, and taste traditional bacalhau (dried and salted cod fish) in an authentic tasca (tavern). In the evening, listen to the emotional fado singers in Bairro Alto, or dance until dawn in one of the trendy mega-clubs on the waterfront.
Known for its picture-postcard medieval streets, its stately bridges and it’s out-of-this-world port wine, Porto is a charming coastal city with a refreshingly bohemian spirit. You’ll find the historic heartbeat of the city in the Riveira district, with its cobblestone streets winding down to the Douro River. In this marvelous maze of merchants’ houses, tascas and cafes you’ll stumble upon architectural gems like the lavishly-baroque São Francisco Church and the city’s former stock market, the palatial 19th-century Palácio de Bolsa. Alternatively, make your way to the beachy Foz do Douro district and enjoy the sea breeze with the chilled-out, sun-kissed locals.
Sitting on a lagoon, the ‘Venice of Portugal’ is one of the most attractive coastal cities in Portugal. Bring your sea-legs with you, because the best way to discover Aveiro is to hop on to a moliceiro (boat). These colorful boats are Aveiro’s version of the Italian gondola and they were originally used for transporting seaweed. Back on dry land you can wonder at the Art Nouveau elegance of the Igreja da Misericórdia and the Câmara Municipal, see some wonderful art at the Museu de Aveiro, dine on exquisite seafood on Praça do Peixe, or learn how to tango at the Mercado Negro, a trendy underground cultural association.
With its beautifully-preserved medieval old town, this exceptionally pretty riverfront city in central Portugal was the country’s capital city in medieval times. Today it is a lively and lovely city that reflects all the zest of its large student population. One of Europe’s oldest universities, which boasts a breathtaking baroque library, sits at the city’s heart. The university and the surrounding area is now a UNESCO World Heritage Site, and it tempts you down its dark cobbled lanes with the somber sounds of fado music as it rises through the air. Despite its ancient heart and soul, the city’s many student bars, cool restaurants and trendy shops give Coimbra a youthful vibe that defies its age.
Described as a “glorious Eden” by Lord Byron, Sintra is a town that will forever be associated with romanticism. A fairy tale UNESCO World Heritage Site at the foot of the Sintra Mountains, this is a place where the Celts worshipped the moon god, where kings and queens swanned around their opulent palaces, and where poets and artists found inspiration. Take a walk up to Pena Palace, which has to be the most romantic place in Portugal, and wander past the 14th century Vila Palace on the main square, before stopping off for some delicious travesseiros (almond pastries) at a local bakery.
An oasis of sophisticated beauty on the Atlantic, Cascais has a wonderfully regal air, partly due to the fact that it was the King of Portugal’s favorite hang-out in the 1870s. This gave the fishing village an element of kudos, so the nobility followed hot on his heels and promptly built their beautiful palaces and villas. Today Cascais is a cosmopolitan town of high-end stores and lovely cafes that’s somehow managed to preserve its somewhat aristocratic atmosphere. While you’re in town it’s also worth checking out the famous Boca do Inferno (Jaws of Hell), an inlet a little way along the coast where the power of the ocean never fails to amaze.
Nestled in the rolling hills of the Algarve countryside, the stunning town of old town of Silves has remained virtually unchanged for five centuries. Providing an authentic Algarve experience at an unhurried pace, the town’s traditional whitewashed buildings line the steep cobbled streets from the banks of the Rio Arade all the way up to the town’s huge red-stone castle. Take in the views of the Serra de Monchique mountains from the castle’s parapets, explore the beautiful cathedral which was built on the site of a grand mosque (Silves was once the capital of the Moorish kingdom of Algarve), snack on the fabulous local oranges, or tour one of the many local wineries.
Do you dream of exploring the “glorious Eden” of Sintra? Of sipping port in Porto? Of listening to traditional fado in Coimbra? Yes? Then come with us to Portugal. Not only will you have the experience of a lifetime, but you will have a sophisticated itinerary that has been lovingly-created by Indus’ Portugal experts. To find out more about our tours to Portugal, please feel free to contact us at any time.
About the Writer: Vickie Sam Paget
Vickie is a freelance writer and editor based in Vancouver, BC. When she’s not creating dynamic travel or tech content, globetrotting or gazing at the North Shore Mountains, you can usually find her curled up with a good book or sipping a pint of the good stuff in her local Irish bar.