Things We Love about Portugal
From the sun-kissed coast of the Algarve (home to some of the best beaches in the world) to the ancient Roman ruins of Beira (where you’ll also find some of the country’s top wines), Portugal is one of Europe’s best-kept secrets, and we have fallen in love! Here are a few of our amazing local expert’s favorite things.
The best place to get an authentic taste of Portugal is a place called “Catinho da Rute”. A cute little family-owned restaurant in the Alfama neighborhood of Lisbon. They specialize in petiscos (Portuguese tapas) like choriço assado (grilled sausage), cogumelo Portobello (stuffed Portobello mushrooms), and of course the famous sardinhas (sardines). The owners are lovely, the décor is colorful, and it’s a fantastic local experience!
Local luxury is easy to find!
There are so many options, but it is really hard to beat São Lourenço do Barrocal, a gorgeous farm estate in the Alentejo region. With cozy cottages, an on-site winery, and one of the best spas in the world (at least according to Monocle magazine), it’s one of the most authentically Portuguese luxury experiences you can find. If you’re looking for something a bit more familiar, it’s hard to go wrong with Six Senses Douro Valley, which is a few hours east of Porto. Both are so wonderful!
Fabulous places to cocktail!
For the best ambiance in town in Lisbon, you must experience the rooftop bar at Tivoli Liberadade. The panoramic vistas from this 5-star hotel are amazing, and their cocktails are some of the best in the city! Pro tip: Try the Moscow Mule. Porto is loaded with trendy bars like Caso do Livro, or “The Book House,” which feels like an old-time speakeasy.
Relax and be pampered!
Oh, where to begin! Let’s start with Porto: the Yeatman Hotel which has one of the best spas in the country (their day retreats are heavenly) with an amazing view of the city. Just outside the center, you’ll find the Vila Foz Hotel. It’s right on the ocean, and it feels like you are staying in a modern, well-appointed castle.
If you’re heading down the coast toward Lisbon, the boutique hotel Areias do Seixo is well worth a stop. Rustic, modern, gorgeous, what more could you want?
Keep going south, and you’ll come to the tiny village of Comporta, where celebrities like Madonna and Christian Louboutin come to relax. There’s a lovely resort there called Quinta de Comporta that has relaxing views of the rice fields and a superb spa.
If you’re gastronomically inclined, you might like the Herdade da Malhadinha in the southern region of Alentejo—it’s a great fabulous place to relax by the fireplace and enjoy an excellent glass of wine and Mediterranean cuisine prepared by a Michelin Starred chef.
Finally, in the Algarve, you have a choice between two incredible options: the simple-but-elegant Vila Monte Farm House and the Grand House, a magnificent “Grand Dame” hotel that oozes Old World luxury and charm.
Heaven for history buffs!
To begin, there’s the University of Coimbra in Lisbon. Founded in 1290, it’s a UNESCO World Heritage Site and one of the oldest universities in the world. The architecture is stunning—the Joanine Library in particular will take your breath away.
If you’re a fan of Dan Brown’s novels, you might like the Convent of Christ in Tomar, too. The Knights Templar constructed it in 1118, and today it’s filled with magnificent paintings and sculptures from the Romanesque, Gothic, Manueline, and Renaissance eras.
Last but not least, there’s the Monastery of Batalha. Built to commemorate the Portuguese victory over the invading Castilians of modern-day Spain, it took over a century to build (1386-1517). Once you’ve seen it in person, you’ll understand why it took so long—it’s hard to find a better example of Late Gothic architecture anywhere in Portugal.
Plenty of places for photographers to explore!
Start the morning with a cup of coffee and a leisurely stroll through the neighborhoods of Alfama and Graça. The winding narrow streets and colorful clothes hanging from the windows make the perfect backdrop for those “golden hour” shots.
Then, check out a rooftop terrace like Lumi for a bit of lunch and some great panoramic shots of the city.
Once you’ve refueled, it’s time to go hunting for some of Lisbon’s famous street art. You’ll find it almost everywhere, but neighborhoods like Belém, Bairro Alto, and Chiado are especially perfect (the renovated industrial complex known as LX Factory should also be on your list).
To end the day, take a sunset cruise on the Tagus River. You will not be disappointed!
Loaded with hidden gems!
Without mentioning any names, there are several lovely small towns—some outside of Porto, others outside of Lisbon. You won’t find many tourists in these places, but there is a laid-back charm where you can enjoy a quiet stroll among ancient buildings, try some authentic regional dishes, and spend the whole afternoon people-watching. It’s a nice way to spend a day without feeling like you’re checking the boxes of “The Top 10 Things to See In Portugal.”
In the interior of the country, there are some incredible medieval towns that are a must-see for anyone who wants to get off the normal tourist routes. They’re hard to find, but if you’re interested in visiting, call us and we will point you in the right direction.
Oh, one more thing! There’s a place not far from Lisbon where you can watch the fishermen in their traditional clothes (long wool hats, checkered clothes) as they bring in their daily catch with old-fashioned nets. Maybe it’s not exactly a hidden gem, but it sure is cool if you can find the spot!
Foods you must try before you leave Portugal…
In Lisbon, the bifana (a sandwich of pork cutlets and piri piri sauce on a crusty roll) or the prego (imagine the best steak sandwich you’ve ever had in your life).
In Porto, you have to try the famous pastel de nata, or Portuguese custard tart. And you can’t forget the francesinha, the ultimate meat-and-cheese lovers’ sandwich—it’s a Portuguese delicacy!
Finally, no matter where you are, you can’t leave Portugal without trying the bacalhau, the oh so delicious salted codfish!
Portugal: Five Fast Facts
Population: 10.3 million
National food: Bacalhau (cod)
Best time to visit: Spring and Fall