Why Go? 10 reasons to visit Portugal this year!
Every year there seems to be one vacation destination among all others that becomes the one most-sought-after, whether by the glitterati, weary parents lugging toddlers behind them or sun-and-thrill seekers. In the last few years, Portugal has become the trendy place to visit. History, great food, and picturesque scenery are just the beginning. Here are 10 reasons why this country—forgotten for decades in the shadows of European giants like France, Italy or Spain—should be on your bucket list.
Lisbon: Calling all History Buffs
It is one of the oldest cities in the world (it dates back to Julius Caesar and earlier.) No visit to Lisbon is complete without exploring Jeronimos Monastery (classified as a Unesco world heritage site) or Castelo de Sao Jorge (11th-century castle experience with sublime views of the city.) Another architectural monument not to be missed is the Torre de Belem—built in 1515, the Manueline period architecture of this 16th-century tower epitomizes the Age of Discoveries era.
2. Lisbon: Budget-friendly
Shhhh. Don’t jinx it or complain about it. Just enjoy the city and what you get for your dollar. Lisbon is one of the cheapest cities in all of Western Europe, and it offers different experiences from world-class galleries and museums to the seaside and charming nearby villages. In a recent survey, Portugal was named #1 in a survey of the world’s cheapest destinations. (Ref: https://www.telegraph.co.uk/travel/news/portugal-named-the-cheapest-holiday-destination-for-this-year/)
3. Lisbon: The ideal city for Foodies
While you are in Portugal prepare to taste the sea like you never have before. Like seafood itself, Portuguese cuisine is fresh and comes in different and flavorful combinations. Clams, shrimps, lobster, crab and other kinds of shellfish and seafood are widely available. Feast like a local on Lisbon’s outstanding (and underrated) food and wine.
4. Lisbon: Pastries
The Portuguese love their Pasties de Nata (custard tarts) and for good reason. They are 75c each and the pastry shop we went to (Pasteis de Belem) states they sell around 60,000/day and I believe it! Served warm, you can sprinkle cinnamon and powdered sugar on these small tarts. Bite into one and be prepared for the best taste you’ve experienced—the flakiness of the pastry, the perfect texture, and sweetness of the custard, muaaah . . . perfection!
5. Lisbon: Trams
Ditch the Hop-on, Hop-off bus! Vintage yellow trams in Lisbon offer the ultimate spin of the city’s blockbuster sights—from the Basilica da Estrela to the tree-lined lanes of Alfama for the price of $3.00 a ticket. The route from Campo Ourique to Martin Moriz is 45 minutes of astonishing views and absurdly steep climbs. Keep in mind that many locals use this as their only transport; be kind and offer a seat to seniors, and avoid riding at peak hours.
6.Lisbon: Fado music
In Lisbon, Fado (a melancholic musical style generally performed by a male or female singer accompanied by the Portuguese guitarra, a pear-shaped guitar unique to Portugal) is a living art, heard in tiny restaurants like A Buluca and music halls alike. Fado houses are where you can sample traditional Portuguese cuisine with interludes of authentic Fado. “In those places, at the time of Fado show, the lights go down, the artists take their place, the conversation stops in the room, and there is silence, the silence is part of the show. So the old saying: ‘Silence, the Fado is about to be sung.’” (Taken from the menu of the Fado house, O’ Faia.)
7. Sintra: Real-life experience of a Disney Castle
Only a 40-minute train ride from Lisbon, this little hilltop town is an impressive display of elegant palaces, castles, and fortresses in the spectacular setting of the Sintra-Cascais Natural Park. The romantic architecture of Palacio de Pena is not to be missed! Trivia question: Why are the colors of the palace red and yellow? Answer: Because the King loves ketchup and mustard! As tour guides are fond of saying, Portugal is the condiment capital of the world!
8. Porto: Europe’s must-see city!
Set aside the Douro river, Porto—Portugal’s second-largest city—was named European Best Destination 2017 and is definitely a place you should visit once in your lifetime. Explore Cais da Ribeira on foot—Porto’s riverside area is a very picturesque piazza where tourists and locals mingle. There are bars and restaurants around every corner and they line the riverside walk too. Or, do what we did and take a boat cruise that gives you a tour of the eponymous 6 bridges, which connect Porto and Vila Nova de Gaia. (Tip: make dinner reservations at Porto Cruz and visit the private room terrace for 360° views of Porto and Ribeira across the river.)
9. Hello, Harry Potter!
If you’re a Harry Potter fan, visit Lello Livaria. Rumor has it that Lello Livaria used to be the bookstore of choice for J.K. Rowlings while she lived and taught English in Porto in the 90s. The queue outside the bookstore can be daunting, but its Neo-Gothic interiors are worth a visit. (Tip: Ask your hotel concierge for Fast track passes to jump the line.) Don’t miss the elaborate forked staircase which is said to have inspired Hogwarts!
10. If you like port wine, Porto is for you!
Visiting the port wine cellars even if you are not a fan is a must-do in Porto or Oporto as it is locally called. From Taylor’s self-guided audio tour to the venerable Graham’s guided port tour, there’s something to appeal to everyone’s tastes and budget. Here’s a fun fact: Did you know wine can only be called Port wine if it comes from Duorto Valley, which is 100 km away from Porto? Yet, it is the city of Porto that gives the name to the wine. Why? Because that’s where the wine ages and is shipped from to all over the world.
I miss you more every day, till we meet again, Portugal!