Top Ten Places to Visit in Portugal

November 22, 2009

Portugal was one of the five super powers of the colonial era, along with Great Britain, Spain, Netherlands and France. It embodies the heart and soul of ancient Europe, with castles, forts, bridges and historic city centers. Cobble-stone streets, red-tile roofs and great seafood exemplifies the ancient and modern fusion that is Portugal.

Map of Portugal

Map of Portugal

A visit to Portugal deserves at least 10-12 days and renting a car is highly recommended. Not that public transportation is absent or unreliable. On the contrary, Portugal does have a very reliable and consistent public transportation system, but to save time on getting around the country, a small automobile is your best bet.

Following are the best places to visit on your trip to Portugal.

Lisbon – The capital of Portugal will most likely be your first stop on your visit to Portugal. It has the perfect blend of history, culture and nightlife. Your points of interest for Lisbon should include:

  • Belem – this historic center of Lisbon includes the Discovery Monument, Torre de Belem and Jeronimos Monastery.  Also check out Pastelaria de Belem, home of the original Portuguese pastry (Pasteis de Belem).
  • Castelo Sao Jorge – In the heart of Alfama, the Castle of St. George is a remnant of the Moorish reign in Portugal. From the towers of the castle, you can see the entire city with its red-tile roofed buildings.
  • Rossio/Baixa – A few minutes from Alfama lies the commercial district of Portugal. Like its French, Italian and Spanish counterparts, this commercial district is nothing like the downtowns of the major cities in the US. With piazza-style squares and its cobble-stone streets, Rossio is the gateway to Lisbon.
  • Cristo Rei – The statue of Christ is only two of a kind with its sister statue in Rio de Janeiro.
  • Fado – this traditional music, made famous by Amalia Rodriguez, is specific to Portugal. No trip to Portugal is complete without a night at a local Fado club where you can enjoy a fancy dinner complemented by some live Fado music.
  • Cabo da Roca – a few minutes drive to the west of Lisbon lies the western most point of mainland Europe . This point is called Cabo da Roca and it boasts fabulous views of the coast of Portugal.
  • Cascais – Cascais is an upscale beach area of Portugal. Think of it as the Malibu of Lisbon, but with casinos and amazing night life. Restaurants overlooking the ocean, clubs boasting today’s top charts and a gambler’s paradise, make it the ideal place both for high rollers and for people simply looking for a good time .

Sintra – a UNESCO world heritage site for its Romantic architecture, Sintra is some 20 miles from Lisbon and home to some of the most historic buildings in the area. Castelo dos Mouros (the Moorish Castle) and Palacio da Pena, both nestled in the mountains of Sintra are popular tourist attractions in Sintra. Additionally, consider visiting the Sintra-Cascais National Park and Palacio Nacional de Sintra. Travesseiros de Sintra is a dessert local to Sintra and a must-have treat before you leave. Piriquita is one of the oldest and most famous pastelarias in Sintra.

Evora – This historic city, with its fortress like walls is ninety minutes from Lisbon. Evora is a university town, and catching a student studying in the gardens or reflecting on a bench is not a rare sight. For tourists, there are a few must-see sites. The most popular and historic is the Temple of Diana, which is remnant of the Greek influence on the city. The pillars are a miniature version of the Temple of Zeus in Athens. The Castle of Bones, located in the Church of Sao Fernando, is the only one of its kind. The walls of this temple are made of real human bones. Apparently, even the ground would not accept the bones of these mortals. The entrance reads “We bones that are here, We are waiting for yours”. Not for the faint of heart, this place is a must see if your stomach can handle it. Evora is a great place for a day long trip from Lisbon. It embodies a part of historic Portugal that is often forgotten.

Figueira da Foz – Undiscovered beaches, soft sand and surf mark the coastline of Portugal in Figueira da Foz. A sharp contrast from the beaches of the Algarve, Figueira is quieter but be aware the the water is a little cooler as well. Hotel Bela Figueira is a quaint B&B a block up from the beach and is an ideal place to make your stay in Figueira special. While there, make it a point to indulge in some gelato at the famous Emanha.

Porto – The land of the Port wine, Porto is Portugal’s riviera. The Douro river snakes through Porto with houses and wineries on either side of the river. Without a doubt, this is Portugal’s most romantic city and a great honeymoon destination. The Clerics Tower provides a great view of the city of Porto. In addition, Porto also has Palacio da Bolsa and the historic Porto Cathedral. Of course, no trip to Porto is complete without wine tasting and there are plenty of wineries that offer tours and wine tasting along the banks of Douro.

Algarve – Portimao, Lago and Frangos da Guia. That makes the ideal visit to the Algarve. Some of the best coastline in Europe can be found here, with beach-goers flocking to the sandy, clean beaches of Algarve. Frangos da Guia, is a Portuguese-style barbecued chicken, and the original place that came up with the recipe is right here in Algarve – Teodosio. Oh and there is a famous gelataria also local to Algarve called Nuovo Italiano.

Coimbra – The cultural center of Portugal, this former capital of Portugal is home to the famous University of Coimbra. Visconde da Luz Street in the Baixa of Coimbra is similar to the Rossio area of Lisbon, with plenty of good shopping and restaurants. The Monastery of Santa Cruz and the Old Catheral (with its Roman architecture) are the two major buildings I recommend seeing while in Coimbra.

Batalha – Located less than two hours by car from Lisbon, Batalha is one of Europe’s greatest Gothic masterpieces. It was built in the 14th century to commemorate King João’s victory over the Castillians in the Battle of Aljubarrota. A statue of Nuno Alvares Pereira, the king’s commander at the battle, stands at one end of the monastery. The magnificent stained glass inside complements the Gothic decor and the tomb of King João lies inside the Founder’s chapel.

Fatima – 30 minutes from Batalha, lies Fatima, a place of great religious and spiritual significance. The name Fatima, derives from a local Arabian princess named Fatima, who was captured and converted to Catholicism, and baptized before marrying the Count of Ourém in 1158. The Marian shrine in Fatima attracts a large number of Catholics, and every year pilgrims fill the country road that leads to the shrine. Fatima is one of the largest catholic churches in the world and a sight to see with its large sprawling grounds and its white stone walls.

Portvgalia – Portvgalia (pronounced Portugalia) is a chain of restaurants in Portugal that serve some of the best, and most traditional food in Portugal. While not cheap, Portvgalia is definitely not expensive and the food is nothing short of amazing. Bitoque (steak with eggs), Prego (steak sandwiches) and Acorda de Camarao are just some of the delicious recipes cooking at Portvgalia. Oh and if you like seafood, they have tiger shrimps the likes of which you have never seen.

So you see, Portugal, in all its beauty and diversity, offers a vast array of activities and opportunities to make your vacation there memorable. Don’t skimp on your days in Portugal. It offers more than some of its better known counterpart countries in Europe, yet offers it for a lot less.

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17 Responses to Top Ten Places to Visit in Portugal

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