With Madeira & the Azores
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- Strategic, flexible itineraries including a ten-day tour of the best of Portugal and two days in Lisbon, designed for foodies, art lovers, history buffs, and more
- Must-see highlights and unique experiences: Relax on a beach sipping vinho verde and snacking on freshly grilled sardines (a Portuguese classic!). Shop for hand-painted tiles or authentic leather goods, visit the famous Port wine cellars, or browse contemporary galleries and museums along Lisbon's cosmopolitan avenues. Savor a romantic meal on cobblestone esplanades and catch a traditional fado show in an intimate bar. Explore the Roman ruins in Évora, trek majestic mountain ranges, cruise the Sado River, or soak in a volcanic hot spring
- Trusted advice from long-time Portugal resident Carrie-Marie Bratley
- Full-color photos and detailed maps throughout
- Background information on Portugal's landscape, history, and cultural customs
- In-depth coverage of Lisbon, the Algarve, the Alentejo, Porto and Northern Portugal, Coimbra and Central Portugal, and the Azores and Madeira
- Handy tools such as visa information, a Portuguese phrasebook, and tips for traveling with children or as a senior
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10 TOP EXPERIENCES
Planning Your Trip
THE BEST OF PORTUGAL
KING OF THE ROYAL ROADS
EXPLORE PORTUGUESE CUISINE
WINE COUNTRY GETAWAY
THE ALGARVE: EAST TO WEST
Tucked away in the far corner of the Iberian Peninsula, caressed by sunlight and ocean breezes, Portugal packs the best of Europe into one small package. The country’s size belies its historic significance as the birthplace of the Age of Discoveries and center of the first global empire. As the centuries have passed, it has also been one of Europe’s poorest countries, but its revitalized economy proves that the nation’s industrious and resilient spirit remains intact.
Today, much of the country’s allure is rooted in its old-world romanticism and laid-back ways of life, which seem untouched by the hands of time. Life stops for lunch, there’s always time for a café, and soccer is on a par with religion. Portugal effortlessly strikes a fine balance between quaint and contemporary. Bougainvillea-framed cobblestoned streets hide chic guest houses, modern art galleries, and award-winning eateries. Lisbon’s modern high-rises and high culture are not far from simple, white-washed hamlets. Porto’s weathered, hard-working soul feels a world away from the lush vineyards of the Douro Valley. The resorts of the azure Algarve coast give way to the rustic isolation of the rolling Alentejo farmland. All hold their own importance in the intriguing patchwork quilt that is Portugal.
Here you can do as much or as little as your heart desires. Trek along majestic mountain ranges or spend a lazy day tasting port wines. Explore fairy-tale castles or relax on golden sands. A visit to Portugal is a bit like its cuisine, as characterized by the humble grilled sardine: unfussy and surprisingly packed with flavor.
10 TOP EXPERIENCES
1 Lisbon: Home to soulful fado music and vivid nightlife, Portugal’s capital seamlessly blends historic charm with contemporary cool (click here).
2 Magical Sintra: A short trip from Lisbon, this magical town is crowned by the fairy-tale Pena Palace (click here).
3 Authentic Cuisine: From grilled sardines and chicken piripiri to port wine, Portugal’s cuisine is fresh, flavorful, and unassuming (click here).
4 Wine Tasting in the Douro Valley: Up-and-coming yet down-to-earth Porto is the gateway to the breathtaking Douro Valley, which can be explored by river cruise, car, or train (click here and click here).
5 Ancient Évora: The past is present in this Alentejo city, with Roman temple ruins and the chilling Chapel of Bones as highlights (click here).
6 Fado Music: Take in a performance of Portugal’s mournful folk music in the fado houses of Lisbon’s Alfama and Bairro Alto neighborhoods (click here and click here) and the alleyways and atmospheric venues of Coimbra (click here).
7 Beaches: Portugal has some of Europe’s finest beaches, ranging from the grotto-etched Algarve coast and the Alentejo’s endless stretches of sand to Lisbon’s cosmopolitan Estoril coastline and beyond (click here).
8 Island Getaways: Portugal’s two stunning archipelagoes—sunny Madeira and the verdant volcanic Azores—are slices of paradise (click here).
9 Lost-in-time Villages: Time stands still in the Algarve’s fishing villages (such as Ferragudo, click here), the Alentejo’s rustic hamlets (like Monsaraz, click here), and the schist villages near Coimbra (pictured, click here).
10 Experience the Landscape: Kayak in the Algarve’s bird-rich Ria Formosa Natural Park (click here and click here), hike in the mountainous Peneda-Gerês National Park (pictured, click here), or take a dip in the Azores’ hot volcanic springs (click here).
Planning Your Trip
Where to Go
Located at the mouth of the Tagus River, Portugal’s buzzing, cosmopolitan capital was once the launch pad of the Age of Discoveries. Home to fado music and a vivid nightlife scene, the “City of Seven Hills” oozes charm and cool in equal measures. With tile-clad façades and red-brick roofs that tumble toward the Tagus, its historic neighborhoods beckon to be explored. The stunning Setúbal Peninsula, where the iconic statue of Christ the King stands with arms outstretched, is a short hop across the river. Less than an hour away are the fairy-tale town of Sintra and the chic coastal enclaves of Estoril and Cascais.
The Algarve is Portugal’s number one spot for sun-drenched holidays. Buzzing in summer and beautiful in winter, this year-round destination has stunning stretches of golden sand, crystalline coves, and heady nightlife. Golfers and road trippers flock to the Algarve in winter and spring, when almond trees flourish with snowy white petals.
Life in all of Portugal is laid-back, but nowhere more so than in the rolling plains of the Alentejo, where the rhythm is dictated by the slumbered sway of farm animals. Famous for its wine as well as its marble, this underrated area offers rural escapes, charming hamlets, and some of the warmest weather in the country, all under one big, blue sky. Its largest city, Évora, is home to its most distinctive monuments: the Gothic Évora Cathedral, the skeleton-packed Chapel of Bones, and the Roman Temple of Évora.
Coimbra and Central Portugal
A visit to Central Portugal can feel like a journey into the past. The region captivates with its ethereal schist villages, medieval monuments, and the Catholic pilgrimage site at Fátima. Yet Central Portugal is also about the future, boasting the largest university city in the country, Coimbra. Serra da Estrela Natural Park is Portugal’s only skiing destination, while the town of Nazaré is one of the world’s top spots for big-wave surfing.
Porto and the North
With a cooler, grayer climate, Northern Portugal also has a lusher landscape. It’s famous for producing Portugal’s most celebrated tipple: port. Cruises along the Douro River and through the wine-making Douro Valley are the number one pull, while cultural attractions, particularly in the up-and-coming city of Porto, are also popular. Farther north are Guimarães, the “cradle of the nation”; medieval Bragança; and lively fishing port Viana do Castelo.
Madeira and the Azores
These two archipelagoes are the jewels in Portugal’s crown. While Madeira has long been a favorite for Europeans seeking an offbeat nature destination, the volcanic Azores are one of Europe’s last, best-kept secrets. These unspoiled slices of paradise can be reached within two hours on domestic flights from the mainland.
Know Before You Go
When to Go
May-September offers the best beach weather. June-August constitutes the peak of high season, when Portugal (especially the Algarve) is at its busiest—and priciest. Most of the country’s major events are held summer.
Rural inland areas such as the Alentejo and Central Portugal can be sweltering (more than 40ºC) in summer, and are much more enjoyable in spring or autumn.
Spring, autumn, and winter are mild and mostly sunny, although Portugal does have rainy months, December being the wettest. Northern Portugal is generally cooler and grayer than the rest of the country and is less affected by seasonality. Lisbon and Northern Portugal are year-round destinations.
Getting to Portugal
Traveling to Portugal from anywhere within Europe is quick and easy—and even better, cheap, thanks to the growing number of low-cost airlines. Portugal is also served by regular direct flights from North and South America, the Middle East, Africa, and Asia.
The three main airports on the mainland are Lisbon, Porto in the north, and Faro in the south. Most flights from outside the European Union are to Lisbon. Porto also has regular direct flights from outside the EU, although far fewer than Lisbon. Faro has almost exclusively European flights.
Portugal’s archipelagoes, Madeira and the Azores, are within a two-hour flight from the mainland, with direct flights from Lisbon and Porto. In addition, there are direct flights to Madeira from European destinations outside Portugal, including London, Amsterdam, and Paris. There are also direct flights to the Azores from Europe as well as the United States (Boston and Newark) and Canada (Toronto and Montreal).
Bus and train services connect Portugal with Spain, France, Belgium, the Netherlands, and the United Kingdom. Driving to Portugal from within Europe is also possible thanks to a good international road network and the EU open-borders policy.
Getting Around Portugal
Thanks to its compact size and a good road network, Portugal is easily traveled by car. Hiring a car also provides greater flexibility for exploring off the beaten track. But an efficient bus and train network also connects most major towns and cities. Train travel can often be more scenic and cheaper than bus, but train stations can sometimes be located far outside the town centers. Bus travel is almost always quicker than train.
Visas and Officialdom
All travelers entering Portugal are required to have a valid ID.
European Union nationals traveling within EU or Schengen states do not require a visa for entering Portugal for any length of stay. They do require a valid passport or official ID card. European citizens traveling between Schengen countries are not required to present an identity document or passport at border crossings, as an open-borders policy is in effect. However, it is recommended that travelers have ID documents with them, as they may be requested at any time by the authorities.
Citizens of the United Kingdom and Ireland must produce a passport to enter Portugal, valid for the duration of the proposed stay, and can stay for up to three months.
People from non-EU countries always require a passport, valid for at least six months; some may require a visa. Australian, Canadian, and U.S. travelers require a valid passport but do not need a visa for stays of up to 90 days in any six-month period. While it is not obligatory to have an onward or return ticket, it is advisable.
South African nationals need to apply for a Portugal-Schengen visa. This should be done three months before travel. Applicants must have a South African passport valid for six months beyond date of return with at least three blank pages.
The Best of Portugal
Not so long ago, Portugal was seen predominantly as a beach and golf destination, with the Algarve taking center stage for tourists. However, after carefully honing its assets, it has carved out several appealing niches that add to its appeal as a holiday destination boasting wine, nature, and adventure tourism. Both Lisbon and Porto have also achieved an enviable status as two of Europe’s most up-and-coming getaway cities. Here are some ideas for building your itinerary.
Lisbon, Sintra, and Évora
DAYS 1-2: LISBON
Start your exploration of the city at the bustling riverfront Comércio Square (Praça do Comércio). From here, you can catch the famed yellow tram 28, which trundles through Lisbon’s most historic neighborhoods. (The closest stop is a couple of blocks from the square on Rua da Conceição Street.) A 24-hour pass allows you to jump on and off the tram to explore at leisure; it also includes trips on the Santa Justa Elevator and Glória Funicular. Worthwhile stops along the way include the Lisbon Cathedral and the Portas do Sol viewpoint, which has a café where you can enjoy lunch with a view. In the afternoon, choose between a climb to the São Jorge Castle, for still more amazing views, or head to the elegant Estrela Basilica and Gardens. Then spend the evening in the atmospheric Alfama neighborhood for dinner and a fado show (make your reservation well in advance).
The next day, get an early start for sightseeing in Belém, a short trip west of the city center (from Comércio Square, catch Tram 15). Admire the city’s most iconic monuments—the sprawling Jerónimos Monastery, riverside Belém Tower, and the Monument to the Discoveries. Stop for lunch and indulge in a pastel de nata custard tart at the famous Pastéis de Belém bakery for dessert. Return to Lisbon for a little rest at your accommodation before heading out again for a sunset cocktail at a rooftop bar, such as the one at Hotel Mundial. Then make your way to the bohemian Bairro Alto to enjoy dinner and hit some nightspots.
DAY 3: SINTRA
Head out to Sintra as early as possible to beat the commuter rush-hour traffic. It’s a 30-minute drive via the A16 motorway, but parking is a challenge; taking the train may be the best option (40 minutes). Sintra’s historic center is a pleasant stroll (1.5 km/0.9 mile) from the railway station. The 434 tourist bus runs circular loops between the station and Sintra’s main sights, including out-of-town attractions like Pena Palace; investing in a day pass allows you to hop on and off.
Explore the National Palace in the morning, then enjoy lunch at one of Sintra’s many quaint eateries. In the afternoon, make your way to the whimsical Pena Palace. Opposite Pena Palace, the ancient Moorish Castle is also worth a look before heading back to Lisbon. With more time, squeeze in a visit to the spooky Gothic Regaleira Estate, a five-minute walk from Sintra’s center.
DAY 4: ÉVORA
Historic Évora lies in the heart of the rustic Alentejo, about a 1.5-hour drive east from Lisbon via the A6 motorway. Direct train and bus services run regularly from Lisbon (both also take 1.5 hours). Évora’s charming walled city center is best enjoyed at a leisurely pace. Take in the grand Évora Cathedral with its splendid rooftop views, the regal columns of the well-preserved Roman Temple of Évora, and the morbidly fascinating Chapel of Bones.
After lunching on local delicacies like cured meats and regional cheeses, explore one of the upper Alentejo’s wine farms. Located a 30-minute walk (5-minute drive) north of Évora’s city center, the Cartuxa Estate is one of the most revered names among Alentejo wines. The century-old organic vineyard offers guided tours and tastings. For an unforgettable overview of the vast rolling plains of the vine-meshed Alentejo, book a sunset hot-air balloon ride.
Despite its sleepy feel, Évora has a youthful buzz, thanks to the local university population, which means there are a good selection of hip eateries and cool bars to try out before you turn in for the night.
Southern Loop: Sun and Sand
DAY 5: TAVIRA
Head to the eastern Algarve to enjoy its long, golden beaches and warm, shallow waters.
A 2.5-hour drive from Évora via the IP2, Tavira oozes authenticity. Park the car and explore the quaint cobbled streets that flank the Gilão River. Admire the old Roman Bridge, and enjoy lunch at an alfresco café. Be sure to check out the weird and wonderful camera obscura at Tavira Tower observatory.
In the afternoon, jump on a ferry boat to Tavira Island. Set in the beautiful Ria Formosa lagoon, this barrier-island serves as Tavira’s main beach. Relax on the shimmering sand bar and take a dip in the crystalline water.
In the evening, make the short trip east to Vila Real de Santo António (a 30-minute drive on the A22), to enjoy dinner at one of the many tavern-like seafood restaurants hidden among the backstreets. Take a moonlit amble along the waterfront, gazing over the Guadiana river toward Spain twinkling in the distance, before heading back to Tavira.
DAYS 6-7: FARO AND CARVOEIRO
Head west to Faro, about a 35-minute drive from Tavira via the A22. There are also frequent trains (40 minutes) between the two. Spend the morning exploring the beautiful walled Old Town. Wander the riverside and climb to the rooftop of the 13th-century cathedral for magnificent views.
Make a side trip to the fortified city of Silves to admire its wonderful hilltop castle (a 45-minute drive west from Faro via the A22). Then continue on toward Carvoeiro via Lagoa, a 20-minute drive south from Silves via the N124-1. (If traveling by public transport, skip Silves and take a 1.5-hour bus ride to Lagoa. Carvoeiro is a short bus or taxi ride from Lagoa’s main bus terminal.) Settle in at the charming fishing village of Carvoeiro for the night. Choose from the colorful selection of bars and restaurants for dinner and a cocktail (or two) before turning in.
The next morning, take a grotto trip from Carvoeiro Beach to see the amazing sea caves along the coast. After lunch, hit the sand at Marinha Beach, one of the most famous and beautiful in the country. Once you’ve fulfilled your beach quota, clean up for dinner, where you’ll toast to your last night in the Algarve.
DAY 8: MONCHIQUE AND NORTH TO LISBON
If you’re driving, pass through the Monchique mountain range before heading back to Lisbon. Spend the morning enjoying the winding climb through eucalyptus-laden hills. From Carvoeiro, follow the M1272 toward Lagoa, then join the A22 in Lagoa, heading west to the Portimão/Monchique turnoff. From there, follow the N124 and N266 up to Monchique town. It’s about a 40-minute drive (37 km/23 mi).
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