We first discovered Portugal in 2015 on a whim, as a side trip from Barcelona. However, Portugal stole our hearts immediately, and it is now our favorite place in the world.
Since that first visit, we’ve come to Portugal more than ten times. It’s a small country the size of Indiana, but it really packs a punch. We love Lisbon and Porto. We’ve bought a condo in the Algarve, Portugal’s jaw-dropping southern coast, and have explored many of the towns here. We’ve traveled by car to towns in other regions, including Évora in the sumptuous Alentejo, Coimbra and Óbidos, further north, and Braga and Guimarães in the north. The stunning Azores Islands, right in the middle of the Atlantic, are a unique blend of Iceland and Hawaii, and the gorgeous garden isle of Madeira may be even more spectacular. One day I’d love to sit on the cliff at Nazaré and watch some of the world’s largest waves roll in. We’ve also applied for a residency visa with the intention of spending even more time here in this truly amazing country.
What’s so great about Portugal? For us, just about everything. The people are friendly, the food is simple but healthy (mostly) and delicious, it’s one of the world’s safest countries, English is widely spoken, the terrain is gorgeous, the weather is mostly warm and sunny, and the wine is cheap, plentiful and of a very high quality.
I can’t describe to you how much I love Lisbon. Europe’s oldest capital, four hundred years older than Rome, Lisbon is built on seven hills and will give you a workout. Upon our first visit, I was struck not only by all the buildings covered in colorful tiles (azulejos), but also by the pavements of limestone calçada, arranged in a mosaic pattern. Everywhere. It is stunning! Once we discovered vinho verde and pastel de nata, it was all over but the crying. We were hooked.
Avenida Liberdade is the grand boulevard, similar to the Champs-Élysées but with mosaic pavement. We love the neighborhoods of Graça and Mouraria and strolling up the hill to the Castelo São Jorge for the panoramic view. Speaking of which, Lisbon has loads of miradouros – viewpoints – as well as rooftop terraces from which you can enjoy the city’s gorgeous vistas. Essential places to visit in Lisbon include Belém for the famous tower and monastery (and pastel de Belém pastries), the Oceanário (aquarium), the castle, and the MAAT and Gulbenkian museums. A day trip to Sintra to see the Pena Palace and Quinta da Regaleira is highly recommended, as is a visit to the beaches of Cascais and Estoril. We love the TimeOut Market in Lisbon where you can get a sampling of foods from many great restaurants.
Portugal’s second largest city, Porto is located in northern Portugal at the mouth of the Douro River which originates in Spain. It can be reached from Lisbon by car or a three-hour coastal train. While Lisbon offers the larger, more cosmopolitan atmosphere of a capital city, Porto provides a more intimate and authentic experience with its medieval charm, riverfront location, and proximity to the renowned Douro Valley. Plus, that bridge! Porto is said to have inspired J.K. Rowling to write the Harry Potter series. Check out our post for 14 reasons why Porto is worth a visit.
Portugal’s sunny southern coast is called the Algarve, a name which harks back to the Moors. It comes from al-Gharb, which means “the West” in Arabic, and refers to the portion of land to the west of Andalucia. The Algarve extends from Vila Real de Santo António on the Spanish border to Sagres at the western tip. It is a far-flung collection of 16 municipalities connected by a freeway, so a car is essential for getting around. The airport in Faro receives flights from all over Europe. Some of our favorite towns are Lagos, Carvoeiro, Silves, and Portimão. You definitely don’t want to miss Ponta da Piedade in Lagos and Benagil Cave near Carvoeiro.
The Azores is an archipelago of nine volcanic islands located in the north Atlantic about a third of the way from Lisbon to New York. We have visited the largest island, São Miguel, which has the Azores’ largest city, Ponta Delgada. Wild and verdant, the island features volcanos, calderas, lakes and geothermal springs and vents. It’s a great place for hiking and whale watching. Green pastures make for happy cows, and the Azores are known for its dairy products, particularly cheeses. In fact, half of Portugal’s cheese comes from here.
Madeira is a volcanic island located in the Atlantic Ocean off the coast of Africa, not far from Spain’s Canary Islands. Rugged and mountainous, it is famous for flower-filled valleys, madeira wine and as the birthplace of footballer Cristiano Ronaldo. Don’t miss the chance to take a thrilling toboggan ride down the mountain!