If you’ve recently searched for a holiday to Portugal, chances are you’ve probably come across a few breaks promising to take you to a certain southern enclave known as the Algarve. Am I right? It’s a popular destination, and its popularity is justified – it’s great value, chock full of fabulous beaches, and packed to the rafters with lovely little resorts that seem heaven sent for the budget traveller.
But there’s more to this incredible country than its little southern coastline – much more – so we’ve decided to round up our favourite spots to show you the delights of a Portugal less travelled.
Porto – The Dom Luis I Bridge,
The second largest city in Portugal isn’t a show-off – it doesn’t seduce like Paris, shout like London or shimmy like Rome – but it certainly has its own unique appeal. We recommend walking across the Lius I bridge over the Douro – it links the old town with Vila Nova de Gaia, the gorgeously elegant iron structure built by one of Gustav Eiffel’s students (yes, he of towering Parisian monument fame). It was the largest arch bridge in the world when it opened in 1886 – if you can handle the heights, take the furnicular up to the upper level for vertigo-inducing views of Porto’s historic Cais da Ribeira neighbourhood.
Parque das Nacoes, Lisbon
Lisbon’s newest neighbourhood was created from scratch for the Expo 98 world fair, and it is a taste of a future-Portgual that is beguiling in its contrast to the rest of the country. It has a lovely oceanfront setting with futuristic architecture – a welcome change from the (admittedly delightful) winding cobbles and elaborate cathedrels and churches of the city centre. Walk along the waterfront promenade, join locals as they dine on the freshest seafood or visit the Oceanarium – arguably one of the worlds greatest aquariums build around a tank the size of four Olympic swimming pools!
Sintra, near Lisbon
If a town is described as a ‘glorious Eden’ by Byron, you sit up and take note. Beauty, after all, is a poet’s everyday currency, so you’d imagine that their standards are pretty high. Today Sintra is one of the most popular day-trip destinations from Lisbon but, despite the hoards, it holds on to its idiosyncratic charm and quaint appeal. It was once a summer retreat for Portuguese aristocracy, and the architectural fruits of such salubrious holiday guests include stunning palaces like the Palacio Nacional de Pena, with turrets straight out of a fairytale and candyfloss-coloured walls!
Santo André, Alentejo
The town of Santo Andre itself is worth a visit – it’s charmingly authentic and throbs with local life – but the real treasure trove lies around a mile away in the untouched surroundings of the Alentejo and Costa Vicientina natural park, where you’ll find a glorious stretch of fine sand beaches! The beaches are a surfers dream, with walking trails aplenty among the dunes and two lagoons for blissing out in that gorgeous Portuguese sunshine.
It’s not exactly off the beaten path – it certainly still attracts its fair share of tourists – but it’s certainly worth a visit. The UNESCO protected walled city is a veritable treasure chest of treats, from the Roman temple, medieval chuches, countless palaces and Moorish alleyways, it’s a warm and sultry cupboard of history! There’s an exuberant student population, too, which keeps proceedings lively and ensures the streets are peppered with packed, cosy restaurants and humid, chattering bars. We’d suggest getting yourseld down to the Botequim da Mouraria where the food may make you consider uprooting your life and setting up home next door.