Portugal is a country that is anchored by its rich past. Monuments, landmarks, and architectural spots all around the capital, Lisbon, glow in a golden glory of the nation’s once imperial domination. The trades that Portugal has done in the past has no doubt flourished the country historically, impacting today with the country’s signature tile designs (first brought over by the Arabs in the 13th century) and spices from the East Indies, Americas and Africa. But without simply relying on their laurels, the country continues to push forward with innovation. Lisbon has in recent years boomed as a city for start-ups and technology companies, becoming a thriving tech scene. On the national front. Portugal has been strongly investing in renewable energy - to the point that in 2016, the country ran solely on renewable energy powered by the wind, sun and water for five successive days.
Stretched along 800 kilometres of Portugal’s coastline is the Atlantic. This not only gives Portugal the most western point of continental Europe (with the edge of its Azore islands holding the title) but also makes for some gnarly waves. Thanks to those huge waves that constantly crash year-round onto the shore, Portugal sees many coming to its smaller towns like Nazaré, Peniche, and Ericeira for surfing. Ericeira is known as the surfing capital of Europe, while Nazaré is a permeant spot for the World Surf League Big Wave Tour. But if you’ve never surfed before - don’t get intimidated. Regions like the Algarve in southern Portugal is teeming with surf schools filled with beginners. And for those who love to catch a good session, the waves here - along with the bombastic culture surrounding the sport, make it an ideal country for surfing.
Soccer in North America, football in Europe, and futebol in Portugal - whatever you refer to this sport as it’s ubiquitous in Portugal. Almost everyone in each family has some version of the nation’s team iconic red jersey somewhere in their house, as the Portuguese are madly passionate, and perhaps to the brink of obsession, with the sport. Ever heard of Cristiano Ronaldo? Some names are just legendary within the football world, within Portugal as it is worldwide. When you’re wandering the streets of this country - either in big cities like Porto or small villages, you’ll either see the game being casually played amongst neighbourhood kids, hear it being blasted from a local store, or come across it in some form, one way or another. After all, you can’t separate Portugal from football - to get to know the country is to get to know its favourite past-time passion.
How does one even begin to sum up the multitude that encapsulates Portugal? It’s a country that’s packed with so much history and cultural heritage, presented in the forms of fairytale-like castles and palaces, cities that are booming with innovation and architectural gems as well as a coastline with one of the most pristine beaches on the whole continent. But that doesn’t even start to scratch the surface of this long-standing nation.
Long before Portugal started to left its mark on the world - through trade and imperialistic aspirations, centuries of other civilizations passed through and left an imprint on it’s land first. From the Romans to the Phoenician, Celtics, the Visigoths to the Moors, the cobblestone villages all over the country has a story tied to these roots. Today, you can explore those well-preserved sights left from Portugal’s time-spanning past. From Angra do Heroísmo - which is a whole town in the Azores, the awe-inspiring Monastery of Batalha on the grounds in Batalha to even prehistoric rock art sites in northern Portugal’s Côa Valley and Siega Verde.
Whether you’re looking for good wine and food, a welcoming art scene, vibrant nightlife, a thrill of sports or an ethereal feeling of being in nature, Portugal is blessed like a traveller’s dream come true. There's endless things to do - perhaps the 17 UNESCO World Heritage Sites around the country is a good place to start. Or, take a short jaunt of a flight from Lisbon to Madiera and the Azores. That's where it'll feel like you're in a whole different country, with each island having their own fascinating characteristic and dramatic landscapes.
Portugal is made up of 18 Districts and 2 Autonomous Regions
Viana do Castelo
Outside of mainland Portugal, there are 2 autonomous regions in the North Atlantic due to it’s geographical isolation and socio-economic circumstances that distance itself from the Peninsula.
Rich in tradition that has historical ties to its own monarchy and a once global empire that touches upon almost every continent (Americas, Africa, Asia and Oceania), Portugal is a force. Bigger cities like Lisbon and Porto sees its fair shares of film festivals and homegrown acclaimed artists. While smaller towns all throughout the country have some sort of unique museum, and ancient monuments.
While today, Portugal is a small country compare to its neighbours, each region of Portugal still retains its own special dishes. The pineapple and fried mackerel of the Azores won’t be easy to find in Costa verde, where duck with rice and pork filets are often served.
On this western end of the Iberian Peninsula, mainland Portugal looks compact in size - especially compared to its neighbouring country, Spain to the east. But the allure of Portugal has always been its ties to the Atlantic Ocean, that’s where the country continues to extend into. The flock of islands that make up the stunning archipelago known as the Azores and the set of Madeira islands, pushes the borders of Portugal beyond the shores of continental Europe.
These islands are filled with volcanic activity, surreal lakes and nature that it’ll feel like a whole different country on its own. While on the mainland, the long stretch of coastline provides golden beaches, while the Estrela Mountains hug north of the Tagus river.
Portugal is well-known within Europe as the destination to go whenever you want to escape winter. Not that the waters are swimmable or that the city is less frigid. But with strong unpenetrable grey skies and darker days during the winter on the continent, many flock to the ever sunny Portugal. In fact, Portugal gets on average 300 days of sunshine per year - on top of being one of the warmest countries in Europe with temperate climate year round.
This makes summer a blaze of glory, as well as the best season for long daylight. If you’re curious about surfing and want to learn - the summers are the best for calmer waves. If you have a grasp on surfing and want to conquer more, Portugal gets its biggest waves in the autumn - and that’s when it hosts its surfing competition too.
Descending from the Romance language tree, the language of Portuguese originated in the Iberian Peninsula that now makes modern day Portugal. While it’s the official language of Portugal, due to Portugal’s past of colonization and overseas rule the language is spoken officially in almost every continent. The Portuguese language is also ranked sixth in the world among the number of native speakers, with over 200 million Portuguese native tongues as far reaching as Macau, and as mammoth as Brasil.
Within cities like Porto and the capital, Lisbon, English is widely spoken along with Portuguese. But once you go to smaller towns and even the coastline, many locals only speak Portuguese. This is when some Portuguese and words will come in handy during your travels. To help you get started, here are some phrases.
There are several international airports throughout Portugal serving flights coming in from Continental Europe and all over the world. The biggest and busiest airports are the ones in Lisbon (Humberto Delgado Airport aka Lisbon Portela Airport) and Porto (Francisco de Sá Carneiro Airport).
All major towns have train stations. Some smaller towns often have one too.
Getting to Portugal via bus or coach is a super affordable option.
In Portugal, people drive on the right side of the road and overtake the left. Visitors driving in Portugal have to be aged 18 and older, holding a full valid driving licence.
Portugal has a solid public transport system. For travel within the country, Portugal has a well-connected railway system and you can get to pretty much anywhere by just a few connections. In the cities, you can stick to the buses and for bigger cities like Lisbon and Porto there are metro systems as an option too.
Going on foot is the easiest way to get around the cities. Use our map to find out what’s near you and walk or combine it with the tram or metro for an easy, hassle-free day out.