Mainland Europe’s westernmost nation, Portugal has over 1,000 miles of coastline, a predominantly warm Mediterranean climate with plenty of sunshine, and a laidback lifestyle. Roughly the size of the US state of Maine, it has 15 UNESCO World Heritage Sites – from the wine-growing region along the Douro river to the former Templar Knights’ stronghold in Tomar and the island culture of the Azores. With historic cities and Moorish castles, expansive vineyards and breathtaking beaches, Portugal is experiencing a renaissance. Discover its rich and varied culture and natural beauty and savor its delicious local cuisine and world-class wines.
One can easily spend several days in the cosmopolitan capital Lisbon with its scenic location on a river estuary, maritime traditions, and cultural attractions. Climb the towers and walk the ramparts of the Castelo de Sao Jorge hilltop citadel, get lost in the warren of lanes and stairways of the Alfama neighborhood, and explore the Baixa downtown district which, after being devastated by an earthquake and fire in 1755, was rebuilt on a parallel grid and is now the commercial center of the city. Further north, with a strategic location on the Douro River, Porto is the country’s second-largest city, known for its UNESCO-protected historic center and the production of Port – a type of fortified wine.
First-time visitors to Portugal and those with a week or so to spare, often choose to explore the stretch of the Atlantic coastline between Lisbon and Porto, both of which have international airports. North of Lisbon, Obidos is a medieval hill town with whitewashed houses surrounded by walls and with a castle offering great views. Marvel at the Gothic Batahla abbey and the Alcobaca church (both UNESCO-protected) and step back in time at Conimbriga – the largest Roman site in Portugal. Explore Coimbra - a former capital, the birthplace of six kings, and the seat of the country’s oldest university, before reaching Porto.
Have a few more days to spare? From Lisbon, take a day-trip to Sintra – a beautiful hill town dotted with historic palaces and a gateway to the Sintra-Cascais Natural Park with dense forests, villages, country estates, and rugged coast - continental Europe's westernmost. Alternatively, continue from Porto and explore Portugal’s north: Guimaraes – the birthplace of its first king, the spectacular wilderness of the Peneda Geres National Park, and the Douro wine region with its distinctive landscape of terraced riverbanks covered with grapevines.
The Douro has become a popular river cruise destination, with many lines offering itineraries on this scenic waterway from Porto.