Portugal

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Portugal, in Southern Europe, shares the Iberian peninsula at the western tip of Europe with Spain. Geographically and culturally somewhat isolated from its neighbor, Portugal has a rich, unique culture, lively cities and beautiful countryside. Although it was once one of the poorest countries in Western Europe, the end of dictatorship and introduction of democracy in 1974, as well as its incorporation into the European Union in 1986, has meant significantly increased prosperity. In fact, it may be one of the best value destinations on the continent. This is because the country offers outstanding landscape diversity, due to its north-south disposition along the western shore of the Iberian peninsula. You can travel in a single day from green mountains in the North, covered with vines and all varieties of trees, to rocky mountains, with spectacular slopes and falls in the Centre, to a near-desert landscape in the Alentejo region and finally to the Algarve, a glamorous beach holiday destination. The climate, combined with investments in the golfing infrastructure in recent years, has also turned the country into a golfing haven: Portugal was recently named "Best Golf Destination 2008" by readers of Golfers Today, a British publication, and fourteen of Portugal's courses are rated in the top 100 best in Europe. If you want a condensed view of European landscapes, culture and way of life, Portugal might very well fit the bill. (less...) (more...)

Population: 10,799,270 people
Area: 92,090 km2
Highest point: 2,351 m
Coastline: 1,793 km
Life expectancy: 78.85 years
GDP per capita: $23,800
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About Portugal

Climate

Portugal is one of the warmest European countries. In mainland Portugal, yearly temperature averages are about 15°C (55°F) in the north and 18°C (64°F) in the south. Madeira and Azores have a narrower temperature range as expected given their insularity, with the former having low precipitation in most of the archipelago and the latter being wet and rainy. Spring and Summer months are usually sunny and temperature maximum are very high during July and August, with maximums averaging between 35°C and 40°C (86°F - 95°F) in the interior of the country, 30°C and 35°C in the north. Autumn and winter are typically rainy and windy, yet sunny days are not rare either. Temperatures rarely fall below 5°C (41°F) nearer to the sea, averaging 10°C (50°F), but can reach several degrees below 0°C (32°F) further inland. Snow is common in winter in the mountainous areas of the north, especially in Serra da Estrela but melts quickly once the season is over. Portugal's climate can be classified as Mediterranean (particularly the southern parts of the Algarve and Alentejo, though technically on Atlantic shore).

Activities

Beaches: Surrounded by sea in almost its entirety, the Portuguese beaches are well worth visiting. A lot of activities are offered, from surfing, to kite-surfing, and during the summer months the most frequented beaches offer sand based activities such as aerobics. If you're not the type of breaking into a sweat during holidays, almost every single public beach will have a bar where locals sit. Some of the most popular beaches are (from north to south):

  • Espinho, near Oporto, in Costa Verde/Green Coast, northern region.
  • Figueira da Foz, near Coimbra, in Silver Coast/Costa de Prata, central region.
  • Peniche
  • Praia das Maçãs and Praia Grande[Sintra], Carcavelos and Estoril[Cascais], near Lisbon, in the Costa de Lisboa.
  • Zambujeira do Mar, in the Alentejo region/Costa Alentejana e Vicentina.
  • Salema, Praia da Rocha, in the Algarve.

Golf: The climate, combined with investments in the golfing infrastructure in recent years, has turned the country into a golfing haven. Portugal was recently named "Best Golf Destination 2006" by readers of Golfers Today, a British publication. Fourteen of Portugal's courses are rated in the top 100 best in Europe. Portugal is also a great location to learn the game and perfect technique. Many resorts offer classes with the pros. Courses can satisfy the most demanding golfer, while newcomers won't be intimidated, unless they find the beautiful landscapes and stunning vistas distracting to their game. Locals have mixed feelings about golf courses, namely due to the huge amounts of water required to maintain them and their apparent pointlessness.

The countryside also offers a great deal of possibilities, although you will have to incite the travel agent's advice a little more than usual, as they tend to just sell beach holidays. Cycling through the mountainous terrain of Geres or white-water rafting in the affluents of river Douro is an exhilirating experience.

Events

There are several Fairs, specially in the Summer months, particularly in Northern Portugal. During the summer, music festivals are also very common. In the north of the country two of the oldest festivals such as Paredes de Coura and Vilar de Mouros. The regions chosen for the festivals are most of the time surrounded by beautiful landscapes and pleasant villages. In the south, the most famous one is Festival do Sudoeste, in the west part of the south cost with a summer landscape and never ending beaches.

Major events of the year are listed at tourist board's official site, [6].

Food

This is potentially the most varied experience to have in the country and is clearly a favorite local hobby.

Portuguese cuisine evolved from hearty peasant food drawn from the land, the seafood of the country's abundant coast and the cows, pigs and goats raised on the limited grazing land of its interior. From these humble origins, spices brought back to the country during the exploration and colonisation of the East Indies and the Far East helped shape what is regarded as 'typical' Portuguese cuisine which, conversely, also helped shape the cuisine in the regions under Portuguese influence, from Cape Verde to Japan.

Soup is the essential first course of any Portuguese meal. The most popular is the Minho specialty, caldo verde, made from kale, potatoes and spiced, smoked sausage. It's here in the Minho that you can sample the best vinho verde, which rarely is bottled. In many places, especially near the seashore, you can have a delightful and always varied fish soup, sometimes so thick it has to be eaten with the help of a fork.

You will see another Portuguese staple bacalhau (salt cod) everywhere. Locals will tell you that there are as many ways to cook this revered dish as there are days in the year, or even more.

The most common of Portugal's delicious fish (peixe) dishes revolve around sole (linguado) and sardines (sardinha) although salmon (salmão) and trout (truta) are also featured heavily, not mentioning the more traditional mackerel (carapau), whiting (pescada), rock bass (robalo), frog fish (tamboril) and a variety of turbot (cherne). These are boiled, fried, grilled or served in a variety of sauces.

There are many varieties of rice-based specialties, such as frog fish rice, octopus rice, duck rice and seafood rice.

In most places you will easily find fresh seafood: lobster (lagosta), lavagante, mussel (mexilhão), oysters (ostras), clam (amêijoas), goose barnacle (perceves).

Depending on how touristic the area you are in, you'll see grills, thick with the smoke of charring meat, in front of many restaurants during your stay. Other than traditional sardines, Portuguese grilled chicken -- marinated in chilli, garlic and olive oil -- is world famous, although people tired of tasteless industrial poultry farm produce might opt for a tasty veal cutlet (costeleta de novilho) instead, or simply grilled pork.

In the North, you can find many manners of kid, and in the Alentejo, lamb ensopado and many types of pork meat, including the tastier black pork; the best considered parts of pork being the secretos and the plumas. In the Alentejo, you are likely to be served pork instead of veal if you ask for the ubiquitous bitoque (small fried beef, fried potatoes, egg). A widely found traditional dish is pork and clam, Carne de Porco à Alentejana, as well as fried, bread-covered cuttlefish slices (tiras de choco frito). Sometimes you can also find wild boar dishes.

Definitely a major specialty is Mealhada's (near Coimbra) suckling pig roast (leitão) with the local sparkling wine and bread. Much like the pastel de nata, you shouldn't miss it.

Vegetarians may have a tough time of it in Portugal, at least in traditional Portuguese restaurants. In most restaurants, vegetables (usually boiled or fried potatoes) are simply a garnish to the main meat dish. Even 'vegetarian' salads and dishes may just substitute tuna (which locals don't seem to regard as a 'meat') for ham or sausage. Usually, a salad is just lettuce and tomato with salt, vinegar and olive oil. However, the Portuguese really like their choose-5-items salad bars, and restaurants serving Indian, Chinese, Mexican, or Italian fare can be found in most cities. At any rate, just mention you're vegetarian, and something can be found that meets your preference although in the long run you might be unable to thrive on it.

In many Portuguese restaurants, if you order a salad it will come sprinkled with salt - if you are watching your salt intake, or just do not like this idea, you can ask for it "sem sal" (without salt) or more radically "sem tempero" (no seasoning).

A few restaurants, particularly in non-tourist areas, do not have a menu; you have to go in and ask and they will list a few items for you to choose from. It is wise to get the price written down when you do this so as to avoid any nasty surprises when the bill comes. However, in this type of restaurants, the price for each one of the options is very similar, varying around from €5 to €10 per person.

Most restaurants bring you a selection of snacks at the start of your meal - bread, butter, cheese, olives and other small bites - invariably there is a cover charge on these items, around €5. Do not be afraid to ask how much the cover charge is, and get them to take the items away if it is too much or if you are not planning to eat as much. It can be quite reasonable, but occasionally you will get ripped off. If you send them away, still, you should check your bill at the end. Better restaurants can bring you more surprising, nicely prepared and delicious small dishes and bites and charge you more than €5 for each of them; you can usually choose those you want or want not, as in these cases the list is longer; and if the price is this high and you make an acceptable expense, opt for not ordering a main course.

If you have kitchen facilities, Portuguese grocery stores are surprisingly well-stocked with items such as lentils, veggie burgers, couscous, and inexpensive fruits, vegetables, and cheeses. If you like hard cheese, try "Queijo da Serra", if you prefer soft cheese, try requeijão. Unfortunately, the success of the "Queijo da Serra" also allowed the proliferation of industrial and taste-devoid varieties, unrelated to the real thing. On larger shops mostly found in the principal cities, you can also find many unusual items such as exotic fruits or drinks.

In some grocery stores and most supermarkets the scales are in the produce section, not at the checkout. If you don't weigh your produce and go to the checkout, you will probably be told Tem que os pesar or Tem que pesar,"tem que ser pesado" ("You have to weigh them"/it(they) must be weighed).

Portugal is famous for its wide variety of amazing pastries, or pastéis(singular: pastel). The best-loved pastry, pastéis de nata (called just natas further north), is a flaky pastry with custard filling topped with powdered sugar (açúcar) and cinnamon (canela). Make sure you try them, in any "pastelaria". The best place is still the old Confeitaria dos 'Pastéis de Belém' in Belém, although most "pastelarias" make a point of excelling at their "pastéis". For once, all the guide books are right. You may have to queue for a short time, but it'll be worth it. Some people like them piping hot and some don't.

Also nice, if dryish, are the bolo de arroz (literally, "rice cake") and the orange or carrot cakes.

From the more egg-oriented North to almond-ruled South, Portuguese pastry and sweet desserts are excellent and often surprising, even after many years.

On October/November, roasted chestnuts (castanhas) are sold on the streets of cities from vendors sporting fingerless gloves tending their motorcycle driven stoves: a treat!

The Portuguese love madly their thick, black espresso coffee (bica), and miss it sorely when abroad.

Specials found in individual regions

  • Aveiro: special cake from the town: "Ovos Moles"
  • Porto: "Francesinha", a special sandwich, considered by AOL Travel the best sandwich in the world [9]
  • Sintra: queijadas de Sintra or the travesseiros
  • Mafra: specialty bread, Pão de Mafra
  • Mafra: special cake from the town: "Fradinhos"

Drinks

When traveling in Portugal, the drink of choice is wine. Red wine is the favorite among the locals, but white wine is also popular. Also Portugal along with Spain have a variation of the white wine that is actually green (Vinho Verde). Its a very crisp wine served cold and goes best with many of the fish dishes. Drinking wine during a meal is very common in Portugal, and also after the meal is finished people will tend to drink and talk while letting their food digest.

Port wine may be an aperetif or dessert. Alentejo wine may not be worldwide known as Porto, but is quite as good. Portugal as also other defined wine regions (regiões vinhateiras) which make also some of the very best of wines like Madeira, Sado or Douro.

Folks might find it a bit difficult to refrain from drinking, even if there are very good reasons to do so (such as the above mentioned driving). Nowadays the "I have to drive" excuse works ok. The easiest way is to explain that one can't for health reasons. The Portuguese aren't as easily insulted as others when it comes to refusing the obvious hospitality of a drink, but a lie such as "I'm allergic" might make clear a situation where one would have to otherwise repeatedly explain a preference in some regions of Portugal; but it won't work in other regions where obviously made-up excuses will tag you as unreliable ("I don't want to, thanks" might then work). Drinking is considered almost socially intimate.

Be careful of 1920 and Agua Ardente (burning water), both pack a mighty punch.

Portugal is well known as the home of Port wines.

The legal drinking age in Portugal is 16. For nightlife Lisbon, Porto and Albufeira, Algarve are the best choices as they have major places of entertainment.

Port Wine

Porto is famous for the eponymous port wine, a fortified wine (20%) made by adding brandy to the wine before fermentation is complete. According to EU laws, port wine can only be named as such if the grapes are grown in the Douro valley, and the wine is brewed in Porto. The end product is strong, sweet, complex in taste and if properly stored will last 40 years or more.

There are many, many grades of port, but the basic varieties are:

  • Vintage, the real deal, kept in the bottle for 5-15 years, can be very expensive for good years. It is, nevertheless, worth it.
  • Late-Bottled Vintage (LBV), simulated vintage kept in barrel longer, ready to drink. Nice if you are on a budget.
  • Tawny, aged for 10-40 years before bottling, which distinguishes itself by a more brownish red color and a slightly smoother bouquet and flavor. As with any wine, the older it gets, the more rounded and refined it will be.
  • Ruby, the youngest and cheapest, with a deep red "ruby" color.
  • White port is a not-so-well-known variety, and it is a shame. You will find a sweet and a dry varietal, the latter of which mixes well with tonic water and should be served chilled (if drunk alone) or with lots of ice (with tonic), commonly used as an aperitif.

Vinho Verde

  • Another good choice is the ubiquitous vinho verde (green wine), which is made mostly in the region to the north of Porto (the Minho.) It's a light, dry and refreshing wine (approx. 9% -9.5% in volume), made from region specific grapes with relatively low sugar content. Mostly white, and sometimes slightly sparkling. Very nice, and very affordable.

Shopping

Currency, ATMs, exchange

Portugal uses the euro (€, EUR) as its money. It is one of 24 European countries that use this common European currency: Austria, Belgium, Cyprus, Estonia, Finland, France, Germany, Greece, Ireland, Italy, Latvia, Luxembourg, Malta, the Netherlands, Portugal, Slovakia, Slovenia and Spain (which are all eurozone countries of the European Union or EU) together with the six non-EU members Andorra, Kosovo, Monaco, Montenegro, San Marino and the Vatican that also solely use euros but have no say in eurozone affairs. These 24 countries together have a population of more than 330 million.

One euro is divided into 100 cents. Except for Kosovo and Montenegro, all issue their own coins with a distinctive, national face. However, all the coins' obverse looks the same, as do all bills or banknotes and all are legal tender in all 24 countries.

ATMs accepting international cards can be found everywhere, and currency conversion booths spring up wherever there is a steady flow of tourists (although typically, the closer they are to tourist attractions, the worse the rates they offer).

Credit cards

To authorize your payment with a credit card, you are frequently presented a device with a keypad where you should type PIN code and also confirm amount--even for Visa Classic or MasterCard. This is different from many other countries in Europe where a card is taken, and tends to be safer as the card doesn't go out of your sight and there's therefore no chance that its magnetic strip will be copied and someone steal your money months later.

Haggling

In smaller (non-high-street) shops you can try some haggling, especially if you offer to buy multiple items. You might want to check your change, though: although not a widespread practice, some shopkeepers might "accidentally" overcharge tourists.

Tipping

Tipping in restaurants is optional. Waiters earn wages in Portugal and a 'tip' is considered a note of appreciation, not a means to make up for a tiny salary - if you are not too happy with the service, don't tip. Keep in mind that whilst tipping, most people in Portugal would just round up the total bill to the next euro. Even in expensive restaurants more than 2 to 3 euro would be hardly justified.

Tipping taxi drivers and daily tips for hotel staff are not customary in Portugal.

What to buy

Designer clothes Although not widely known internationally, Portugal has several independent fashion designers. The list includes: Fátima Lopes [7], Maria Gambina [8]. Some of them have dedicated shops in Lisbon. There is an amazing number of other things you can buy, either at sophisticated commercial facilities or at fairs and more popular places. Handicraft is a good example. Handmade leather purses or clothes, toys, home utensils, glass items, decoration, etc. You can find them at popular touristic places or at better prices in fairs and popular parties in small towns. Almost all major brands can be bought in major cities, all luxury articles are available, but there is not a clear advantage in buying them here as prices are equivalent to all other places.

Regional specials Dolls in Nazaré, also the Galo de Barcelos.

This article is based on Creative Commons Attribution/Share-Alike 3.0 Licensed text from the article Portugal on Wikivoyage.

Popular cities in Portugal

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The capital of Portugal, Lisbon has experienced a renaissance in recent years, with a contemporary culture that is alive and thriving and making its mark in today's Europe. Perched on the edge of the Atlantic Ocean, Lisbon is one of the rare Western European cities that face the ocean and uses water as an ... (read more)

Interesting places:

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Albufeira is a city in the Algarve, in the south of Portugal. Once a small fishing village it has now developed to be a very touristic area. Many holiday makers return year after year because of the lovely beaches, very good climate, proximity of many restaurants, bars and pubs. The town is divided into 2 ... (read more)

Interesting places:

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Funchal is the capital and main city, of the autonomous region of Madeira, on the island of Madeira, situated in the south between Santa Cruz and Camara de Lobos cities. The city's name comes from the abundance of fennel (funcho) found on the island. It was an important shipping center during the 15th-17th ... (read more)

Interesting places:

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Porto is Portugal's second largest city and the capital of the Northern region.

Interesting places:

  • Porto Cathedral
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Cascais is a small beach town in Portugal next to Estoril coast in the greater Lisbon area. Cascais, former residence of the royal family and pioneer of tourism in Portugal, is a very charming village. Dominated by the bay and the imposing Cidadela fort, the historic centre is brimming with architectural ... (read more)

Interesting places:

  • Nossa Senhora da Assuncao Church
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Vilamoura is an area, not strictly a town, in the Algarve on Portugal's south coast.It is in the Loulé municipalaty boundaries,close to the cities of Quarteira(over developed),Loulé and Albufeira. Vilamoura is the biggest touristic complex in Europe. It has a Marina, a Golf Academy, 6 Golf Courses, a casino, ... (read more)

Interesting places:

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Lagos is a city in the Algarve, in the south of Portugal.

Interesting places:

  • Santo Antonio Church
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  • Batata Beach
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  • Arch of Sao Goncalo
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Alvor is a city in Portimao, in the southern Algarve of Portugal.

Interesting places:

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Ponta Delgada is the largest city in the Azores and on the island of São Miguel.

Interesting places:

  • Ponta Delgada City Gates
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Carvoeiro is a village in Algarve. Carvoeiro, or more commonly known as Praia de Carvoeiro (although this is no longer its formal name), is a Portuguese civil parish/freguesia in the municipality/concelho of Lagoa (Algarve), about 5 km south of the city itself (on the Atlantic Ocean), 14.12 km² in area with ... (read more)

Interesting places:

  • Carvoeiro Beach
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States in Portugal

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Points of Interest in Portugal

Historic towns & architecture

Once a mighty colonial nation, many of Portugal's lively cities still have an atmosphere reminding of those Old World times. They're packed with remarkable monuments and with just a little bit of effort, you'll discover traditional cafés and craftsmen who's families have run their businesses for generations.

Head to the delightful harbour town of Porto to linger along the picture-perfect Cais da Ribeira. Recognized as a Unesco World Heritage Site, this beautiful riverfront area is characterized by ancient buildings and streets and of course the views of the Rabelo boat filled harbour. The country's scenic capital, Lisbon, is bustling with contemporary culture but also boasts countless monumental limestone buildings. Don't miss the gorgeous cloisters of Jeronimus Monastery and make sure to climb up the battlements of St George's Castle for some excellent panoramic views of the city. For a royal daytrip from Lisbon, head to the surroundings of Sintra and its famous castles, including the Romanticist Pena National Palace. Then there's the enchanting medieval university town of Coimbra, considered by many to be the most romantic city in Portugal. Get lost in its labyrinth of ancient alleys and don't skip the university building and its fine views over the river. For a more intimate experience, head to the romantic and very well-preserved village of Óbidos, once a traditional personal gift from Portuguese kings to their beloved wives. Go to monument-heavy Tomar or follow tens of thousands of religious travellers to Fátima, the most-visited pilgrimage site in Iberia. The 12th century Portuguese capital Évora is an excellent place for ancient architecture, combining Roman ruins with Moorish and Portuguese architecture, or head to Guimarães, the cradle of Portugal. If you can't get enough of Portugal's towns, the list of places worth visiting continues. Try Viana do Castelo, Braga, Aveiro, Amarante, Bragança, Chaves, Lamego, Viseu, Vila Real, Lagos, Silves, or Angra.

Natural beauty and beaches

The most popular beaches are in the Algarve, which has stunning coastlines and gobs of natural beauty. For decades, it's been a major holiday destination. The water along the southern coast tends to be warmer and calmer than the water along the west coast, which is definitely Atlantic and doesn't benefit of the Gulf Stream. For surfing, or just playing in the surf there are great beaches all along the west coast, near Lisbon and Peniche. Don't forget also some of the almost deserted beaches along the Costa Vicentina, in Alentejo.

If you want to spend your holidays in the countryside, you might want to visit Viana do Castelo, Chaves, Miranda do Douro, Douro Valley, Lamego, Tomar, Leiria, Castelo Branco, Guarda, Portalegre, Évora, Elvas or even Viseu.

And even if you wish to observe wild life in its natural state, Madeira and Azores Islands are places to remember, not forgetting of course the Peneda-Gerês National Park, the Douro Valley and Serra da Estrela Natural Park.

Museums

Portugal has a rich cultural tradition, and gained fame for its art in the country's Golden Age, the late 15th and early 16th centuries. A number of world-class museums offer an insight in both domestic and foreign riches, and not only in the form of paintings. The best ones can be found in Lisbon. The Museu da Fundação Calouste Gulbenkian holds an impressive collection of both Asian and European sculptures, paintings, carpets and more. The Museu Nacional dos Coches showcases wonderfully decorated state carriages and the Museu de Marinha, nicely housed in a wing of the Jeronimus Monastery, is considered one of the most prominent maritime museums in the world. Sintra is home to the Museo de Brinquedo, a remarkable toy museum, and the Sintra Museum of Modern Art. For religious treasures, try the museum about those in Evora, or head to Coimbra for another excellent arts collection, in the Museu Nacional Machado de Castro.

Castle of Sao Jorge - Lisbon

Porto Cathedral - Porto

Sandeman Cellars - Vila Nova de Gaia

Sintra National Palace - Sintra

Funchal Farmers Market - Funchal

Praca do Giraldo - Evora

Roman Bridge - Tavira

Coimbra University - Coimbra

Igreja de Nossa Senhora da Oliveira - Guimaraes

Praca da Republica - Aveiro

Fatima Basilica - Fatima

Vila Arch - Faro

Santa Barbara Garden - Braga

Sagres Fortress - Sagres

Nazare Beach - Nazare

Ponte de Lima Bridge - Ponte de Lima

Santo Antonio Church - Lagos

Silves Cathedral - Silves

Obidos Castle - Obidos

Fisherman\'s Beach - Albufeira

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