Portugal sits on Europe’s most southwestern edge, sandwiched between Spain to the east and the crashing Atlantic to the west. In the north, the Douro River flows through terraced vineyards to Porto‘s labyrinthine Old Town and vibrant nightlife scene. Veer north to Braga‘s opulent churches and the Peneda-Gerês National Park‘s boulder-speckled peaks. Moving south brings you to the mountainous Serra da Estrela Nature Park, buzzing university town Coimbra, and its capital Lisbon for world-class galleries, street parties and fado music. Portugal’s south is given over to the Alentejo’s bucolic villages and olive groves, and the Algarve’s legendary golden beaches and golf courses.
Beach-goers head south to the Algarve to stretch out on golden, cliff-backed beaches and cool off in the Atlantic Ocean. The ragged coastline is studded with family-friendly resorts, sleepy villages, and championship golf courses like 18-hole, 72-par Quinta Do Lago. Divers plunge into southern Portugal’s clear, tingling waters down south, while surfers ride Atlantic waves in windy Lagos, Guincho and Ericeira. The little-known Alentejo coast is strung with fine sand bays and low-key fishing villages. Choose a Portugal hotel in Setúbal to take the kids dolphin-spotting in the marshy Sado Estuary.
Looking out across the Tagus River and up to a fortified castle, Lisbon invites exploration with its maze-like Moorish quarter, Alfama, dimly lit bars and lively nightlife. Spilling down the hillsides to the Douro River, Porto lures culture buffs to its Unesco-listed Ribeira district and relaxed plazas. For an upbeat student vibe, edge north to the cafés lining the cobbled streets of medieval Coimbra, Portugal’s oldest university city. The bells of ornate baroque churches ring in Braga, revered for its religious festivals and azulejos (hand-painted tiles). See a different side to the Algarve strolling through Faro’s winding alleys, lined with dazzlingly white houses.
Portuguese cuisine is generously portioned and prepared with fresh local produce. Feast on fig sweets, feisty piri-piri chicken, and rich cataplana seafood stews in the Algarve. In Lisbon, start your morning with an espresso and cinnamon-dusted pastel de nata (custard tart) in an old-world café, and end the day with a shot of ginjinha cherry liqueur at a hole-in-the-wall bar. The rural north pairs velvety Douro red wines and world-famous port with meaty dishes like roast suckling pig and tripe casserole. Fans of fish can tuck into charcoal-grilled sardines, açorda de marisco (bread and shellfish stew) and bacalhau (salt cod) on holidays in Portugal.
Inland Portugal’s turns rural and rugged. In the strikingly preserved medieval town of Evora, narrow lanes lead to Roman ruins. Ponder the meaning of Cromeleque dos Almendres‘ nearby megalithic stones. The Peneda-Gerês National Park is a northern wilderness of granite peaks, cool pine forests and waterfalls. Or step south to ski the 1,993 metre-high Torre mountain range peaks and hike sheep-grazed pastures in the Serra da Estrela Nature Park. Alentejo’s sleepy hamlets, cork woods and vineyards and the place for unhurried, back-to-nature holidays in Portugal,