Portugal has a rich and fascinating history reflected in its architecture, art and culture. Add wonderful beaches, stunning walks, friendly people, mouthwatering food and a range of quality wine and you have the recipe for a perfect holiday!
During the Age of Discovery in the 15th century much of the known world was mapped and colonised by Portuguese explorers and traders. Throughout Portugal you will find tiny medieval villages with cobbled streets and whitewashed dwellings, ancient seaports, castles, cathedrals and monasteries, monuments and museums rich with the past.
Built to honour Vasco da Gama's epic 1498 voyage to India, and funded by the lucrative spice trade of the time, the 16th-century Jerónimos Monastery is as much an example of the enormous wealth of Portugal during this period as it is a church.
The intricately carved limestone walls, red tiled roofs and soaring dome are surrounded by lush symmetrical gardens with hedges, fountains and cool hidden spaces. The carvings feature many maritime, Christian and naturalist symbols and statues that will hold your gaze for hours. The tomb of Vasco da Gama is also located here.
The Museu do Oriente displays Portugal’s long trading relationship with the Far East (India, Japan, Myanmar, Macau, and Timor) in a stunning collection of costumes, armaments and artefacts from the Age of Discovery.
The hilltop retreat of Sintra is often known as ‘the fairy village’, with its many glittering palaces and castles as well as some of the most beautiful scenery in the region. The buildings are an intriguing mix of Roman, Arab and Portuguese architecture, while the lush gardens and imposing landscapes add to its charm.
The picturesque, crumbling and fascinating Ribeira riverfront of Porto is now a World Heritage Site. The brightly painted houses, steep winding streets and traditional fishing boats combine with the many restaurants, cafes and bars for a postcard-perfect and lively neighbourhood.
Portugal is famous for its fortified wines (Madeira, Port), and its red wine regions, as well as the light, slightly sparkling vinhos verdes, young wines normally quaffed with a meal.
The local food style is earthy and natural – hearty soups, stews and casseroles. Portugal has wonderful fish and seafood dishes – often grilled sardines or octopus. Snacks feature pasties stuffed with meat or cheese, croquettes and fishcakes. There is a version of tapas – olives, cheese, small fried fish, octopus salad or crunchy pig’s ears for the adventurous. A specialty is Pasteis de Belem, delicious little custard tarts served warm and sprinkled with cinnamon and icing sugar.
There is also huge variety of artisan sheep, goat and cow’s cheeses to be found including the smooth, creamy if pungent Azeitão and Amarelo da Beira Baixa varieties, and the softer-flavoured Nisa.
You will also find African, Asian and Brazilian dishes in many restaurants, reflecting Portugal’s colonial past.
Although you may not be looking for a beach holiday, the beaches of the Algarve in particular are worth a visit, with miles and miles of rolling Atlantic waves, golden sand, hidden caves and warm seas.
Other coastal spots include the Rota Vicentina with a charming little village, wild cliff tops and clear blue water, Faro for a combination of amazing surf, historic cathedrals and music, and Albufeira if you’re after nightlife.
Portugal’s climate is temperate, with maximums rarely above 28oC even in the height of summer. Although it rains in winter, you are unlikely to experience frost or snow with the temperatures rarely dropping below 10oC even at night. Long days in summer make for an idyllic holiday.
Portugal is one of the cheapest places to visit in Europe so it is possible to stay, shop, eat and drink very well on a budget.
There are regular flights into Portugal from most major cities in Europe. It is also on many major cruise lines’ itineraries. You can get there by train (a charming way to travel, best from Paris with an overnight train or via Madrid), or with a combination of flight, train and ferry.
As Portugal is a member of the EU and uses the Euro currency, accessing cash is quite simple, though some of the smaller places may not take credit cards so you may wish to take a small amount of Euro notes and coins.
Many people also speak English.
Portugal suffered a devastating earthquake and massive tsunami in 1755, and some sources predict that at least the lower Tagus Valley region may be due for another one. Warning systems and more robust building methods have been adopted since then, but it is wise to familiarise yourself with earthquake procedures as soon as you arrive.
When swimming at Portuguese beaches, pay attention to the flags as you would at home, and avoid swimming at unattended beaches (you may be fined for disobeying the signs). Also follow cliff erosion signs, as falling rocks and crumbling edges can be a hazard particularly in the Algarve.
Driving in Portugal can be hazardous and not for the fainthearted. Locals tend to speed and drive competitively on motorways and while roads are well signed in the cities, they are often non-existent outside urban areas. You may encounter pedestrians, cattle or bikes on the road. The cities’ winding narrow roads can be tricky to negotiate.
Some petty crime occurs around tourist attractions and at museums, beaches, restaurants and hotel foyers. Bag snatchers and pickpockets also work in the larger towns especially on public transport. Look out for bag snatchers travelling on scooters in crowded places. Ensure your passport and travel documents are locked away in the hotel safe and that you have a copy securely stored elsewhere. Take the usual precautions with cash and jewellery.
Portugal’s private medical centres in the cities compare well with Australian standards, but standards in rural and regional areas may vary. Treatment costs are high for tourists, and you are expected to pay at the time of treatment. Some private hospitals will require travel insurance certification or a guarantee of payment before treating you. Also, ensure you are up to date with your standard vaccinations.
Worldcare Travel Insurance: Worldcare and Allianz Global Assistance are trading names of AWP Australia Pty Ltd ABN 52 097 227 177 AFSL 245631 which issues and manages travel insurance as agent of Allianz Australia Insurance Limited ABN 15 000 122 850 AFSL 234708. Terms, conditions, limits and exclusions apply. We do not provide any advice on this insurance based on any consideration of your objectives, financial status or needs. Before making a decision please consider the Product Disclosure Statement. If you purchase a policy we receive a commission which is a percentage of your premium - ask us for more details before we provide you with any services on this product.
Worldcare Emergency Home Assistance: Terms, conditions, limits and exclusions apply. See Worldcare Emergency Home Assistance Terms & Conditions for details. Worldcare Emergency Home Assistance is provided by AWP Australia Pty Ltd ABN 52 097 227 177 trading as Allianz Global Assistance.