Portugal is the oldest country in Europe. Four hundred years older than Rome, so it is said. Did you know that it also boasts the oldest bookshop in the world and that it is thanks to the Portuguese that we have the phenomenon that is barbequed chicken?
And let us not forget how someone from one of these cities in Portugal, gave life to the persistent favorite of so many for so long in the form of piri-piri. Derived from the Swahili Piri-piri which translates to pepper-pepper, peri-peri has somewhat of a controversial history that is worth a mention. It might be that Portuguese explorers invented it while in Mozambique in the 1400s, after happening upon the local African bird’s eye chili pepper. Add garlic, red wine vinegar, paprika, and some stuff from Europe to make a marinade and then introduce this delicacy to other Portuguese territories as piri-piri. Portugal had quite a presence in Africa where it owned colonies back in the days of colonization. In fact, Portugal owned half of the New World, and in 1494, was given not only Africa but also Brazil and Asia.
Back in Europe, Portugal holds the record for not only the longest-reigning monarch but also the shortest-reigning. Henrique of Portugal was king for over 73 years. Comparatively, Luis Filipe held the crown for a full twenty minutes.
Not to be outdone academically, it is here that one can find one of the world’s oldest universities. Established in 1290, the University of Coimbra is now a UNESCO World Heritage Site as of 2013. Visitors are welcome to peruse the Royal Palace and the Joanine Library within the auspices of the university.
Portugal actually has a claim to 17 UNESCO World Heritage Sites, all but one being cultural sites. As one of the top twenty most-visited countries in the world, what else is there to see in this interesting and surprisingly ancient country? Among all its wonders, the cities to visit in Portugal are well worth a look.
Lisbon (Capital City)
As the country’s largest city, Lisbon has more places and marvels of interest than can be covered in these lines. As is the case with a good many Portugal cities, the regional weather is worth mentioning as more than merely favorable. Its small-town feel, awash with cobblestones underfoot, neatly kept historical buildings, Gothic architecture, chocolate box scenery, and landscapes with picturesque value, combine to have something for every possible taste. Talking of taste, food and culinary delights of all variations are plentiful and just waiting to be appreciated in this, the capital city of Portugal.
Be sure to experience these while you are in Lisbon:
Bertrand Bookstore is a definite for book lovers, tucked away since 1732 in the city’s Chiado district. As the oldest bookstore in the world, appreciating its exterior façade of fascinating mosaic tiles is in itself worth the visit.
If the legacy is to be believed, the ruins that were once Carmo Convent, now standing roofless thanks to the earthquake of 1755, still qualify nonetheless as the loveliest church in all of Lisbon. The ruins remain a memorial to the earthquake that should never be allowed to be forgotten with its gothic arches standing firm and proud against the forces of nature. The church boasts architecture going back so far as the 14th century, punctuated with Manueline or Portuguese Gothic windows and additions from the 16th and 18th centuries. On the more macabre side, pay a visit to the two resident South American mummies. This young boy and girl, forever immortalized right here, hailed from Peru in a time long past.
Not to be outdone by the capital city, Porto should be more appreciated as a tourist destination. It is perfectly situated as a base from which to explore all of Northern Portugal. As one of the major Portugal cities and the largest in Northern Portugal, it is deservedly proud of its charm and character. Local churches of interest, timeless architecture, and quaint streets encourage visitors to enjoy. When the thirst finds you, Porto has a winery well worth wiling away the hours within.
Be sure to pay a visit to:
This bookstore has graced Porto for over a hundred years now, and it is stunningly beautiful! Livraria Lello boasts gothic details and art nouveau with stained glass and its impressive red staircase. Harry Potter fans might recognize the staircase from the one depicted in Hogwarts since JK Rowling did call Porto home at one stage of her interesting past.
Rising to an impressive 246 feet or 75 meters, this ornate bell tower stands vigil over all of Porto and is an inevitable iconic silhouette of the city. Climb the 225 steps to get an uninterrupted 360-degree view of the city below. Be sure to have your camera with you for those kodak moments to forever transport you back to the moment and the memories. Designed by the Italian designer, Nicolau Nason, Clérigos Tower was first revealed to the public in 1763, all of whom were certainly understandably impressed by the beautiful Baroque motifs.
Anyone wanna see a castle? Between Porto and Lisbon is Leira, this is the place to be for those with an interest in castles!
Get to know the Castlelo de Leiria in Rua do Castelo at your leisure. This medieval castle has been around since human occupation of the Iberian Peninsula. The views over the city from the castle are inspiring!
You just gotta see:
Leiria Cathedral is a National Monument dating back to the 1500s, boasting a Mannerist shell and interiors in the styles of both Classical and Baroque. The earthquake of 1755 almost leveled this historic building but it stood strong and its buttressed appearance today is as a result of its comeback and determination to stay standing.
When considering relaxation, of all the cities in Portugal, Cascais is the one in which to spend some time. Beaches, sun, seafood, and refreshing drinks make this a haven for peace and quiet. When inspiration kicks in and brings with it the need to discover, get up and explore the Estoril Casino, historic fort, and the historic center.
Have a look at:
Museu Condes de Castro Guimarães
Complete with Manueline-style moldings, impressive loggia or verandah, mullioned windows, and its imposing stone tower of Gothic revival form, this is a whimsical Revivalist palace. Museu Condes de Castro Guimarães was completed at the turn of the twentieth century and is tucked away at the back of a rocky creek.
Of all the Portugal cities, Braga is a historical destination by virtue of it being among the oldest in the country. The city center has an incredible history, an interesting mix of colorful buildings, and an assortment of family-owned restaurants. The plaza or Arcada in the center of historic Braga known by Praça da República is a long and grand square from the 1800s walled by 18th-century arcaded buildings and tall apartment buildings. This is a good starting point for exploring, housing as it does Braga’s tourist office, and putting its best foot forward with its radiating streets and sights such as Igreja da Lapa and the beautiful fountain.
The city is also of great importance as a religious center in the country and home to more than thirty churches. Among them is Portugal’s oldest church, the Braga Cathedral which was built in the 1100s.
Braga is also home to the popular pilgrimage site of the Bom Jesus do Monte Sanctuary, a Neoclassical Catholic church completed in 1834. It is here, high on a hilltop, that devout Catholic pilgrims ascend the six hundred or so steps of the baroque staircase on their knees to reach the church at the top. The devout have been doing this since the 14th century when this spot was occupied by hermits. Today, the stairs zigzag upwards, decorated with inspiring Baroque sculpting, and past the fountains that are themed on the five senses.
The Bom Jesus do Monte Funicular shuttles the less energetic up and down the side of the hill. This railway system has been up and downing since the early 1880s, taking over from the horsecar vehicles on rails that were hauled up the hill by horses. This is the world’s oldest funicular to use water counterbalancing, with the car doing the downward run weighed down with water, powering the lighter car up the track.
While enjoying the cities in Portugal, visitors should be certain to enjoy the national drink of port wine, a sweet, red fortified wine for which Portugal is so deservedly famous. Portugal’s UNESCO-listed Douro Valley is where Port Wine is exclusively produced, auspiciously the world’s third-oldest protected wine region. Maybe because of this, Portugal is the largest cork producer in the world! Maybe it is because Portugal has the largest cork forest in the world, producing more than 70% of the country’s cork exports.
Armed with information on these few cities to visit in Portugal, find out which countries’ citizens outside of Europe require the visa waiver known as ETIAS to be eligible to travel to Portugal. Portugal lies at the westernmost point of Europe, on the very edge of the Iberian peninsula. As a European country and a member country of the Schengen region, travelers wanting to visit may require completing an online application for the European Travel and Information Authorization System.
What time of the year is best to visit Portugal?
Depending on where in Portugal you want to travel to, popularity varies as to the best time of the year. May to August is the best time to spend time in the main cities in Portugal such as Lisbon and Porto. The hot summer months see an influx of tourists whereas numbers wane in the Spring and Fall months. Visit the wine country between April and June and from September to October when the scenery is at its best and the temperatures are amenable. The winter months in North America are an ideal time to be in the Algarve region in the South of Portugal when temperatures are very comfortable.
Is Portugal a good destination for a family vacation?
With extensive coastlines and plenty of beaches, Portugal is a great place for family vacations. Portugal’s wine region is a great place for family trips with adult children.
Is the Euro the currency used in Portugal?
Yes, the Euro (EUR) is the main currency of Portugal. Visa and Mastercard credit cards are widely accepted here, too.
What is the language spoken in Portugal?
Portuguese is the primary language spoken in Portugal but the locals tend to speak and understand one or more of either English, French, or Spanish.