The capital of Portugal has changed hands many times over the past couple of millennia, and the architecture traces this development: the Greeks, Romans and Moors have all left their influence on this fabulous city.
Top sights include the beautiful Jerónimos Monastery with its perfectly serene cloisters and the winding old streets of the Alfama district. As well as this rich history Lisbon remains a modern and vivacious city rather than a monument to a past age. The nightlife is loud and late (the clubs only kicking into action after midnight), and the daytimes are busy and bustling. Perhaps not a city to come to for relaxation but one that is definitely worth exploring.
Porto (Oporto in English)
The largest city in the north of the country; Porto is renowned for the famous port wineries of the Vila Nova de Gaia on the south side of the River Douro that have been producing port here for 300 years.
All of the wineries happily welcome visitors, and will let you sample some of the produce before you buy. Don’t leave the town without taking in some of the fantastic baroque and Gothic architecture, most notably the 12th-century Convent of Santa Clara.
The best known, hyped, developed, and visited area in the country, the Algarve is what most people will think of as definitive “Portugal”.
Beaches, watersports, package tours and extremely late nights typify this series of resorts, scattered along Portugal’s South Coast. Different from the Spanish “Costas” in that it’s not quite so thoroughly developed, the Algarve is popular with everyone from partygoers, to families and retired couples seeking a quieter coastal resort.
The third largest settlement in Portugal is Braga, in the far north. Braga is known as the “Portuguese Rome” because of the 300 churches dotted around the city, although ironically the city was a Celtic town before the Romans occupied the region.
The Empire eventually established its regional capital here in around 250BC. It is undoubtedly one of Portugal’s most architecturally rich cities with every corner of the town hiding some magnificent building from any of several great periods of architecture. Make sure that you visit the Igreja de Bom Jesus do Monte, with its impressive baroque stairway up the mountainside.
Just to the north-west of Lisbon lies Sintra, an astoundingly beautiful historical town much beloved of English Romantic poets such as Lord Byron who visited it as part of his grand European tour.
The town is centred around the three palaces, Palácio da Vila, Palácio de Queluz and the magnificent Palácio da Pena. All three are national monuments, famed for the richness of their treasures they have on display inside. The town is surrounded by picturesque countryside and woodlands, with walks that take you past other palaces and churches from various times in Portugal’s history.
Many people come to this incredibly beautiful country and spend the entire time on the golf course. Mind you, who can really blame them?
Portugal is one of the world’s favourite holiday-cum-golfing destinations with the varied undulating terrain and fantastic weather having led to a proliferation of golf courses. In the Algarve alone there are literally hundreds of miles of fairway for holiday golfers to head for. Estoril near Lisbon is the most famous of the country’s championship courses, and the course often hosts international competitions with European Tour professional players.
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