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Attractions and things to do in Portugal

Panoramic views across the Douro's Vineyards

Visit the Capital - Lisbon

Lying along the Atlantic Ocean and the River Tagus is Portugal's capital and largest city. As one of the world's oldest cities, Lisbon has been of major importance in various sectors for centuries whether in finance, commerce, media, entertainment, art, international trade or tourism. Beautiful Lisbon indulges its visitors in numerous icons and traditions identified as "classically Portuguese" anywhere one might be - from the typical Calçada or Portuguese pavement to the smell of fresh coffee beans wafting from refined cafés on every street corner where many times you'll even hear the melancholic sounds of Fado being sung. Apart from gorgeous cityscapes, this booming world of its own is packed with diversity in terms of things to see and do to suit all ages too. Top highlights include the state-of-the-art Lisbon Oceanarium, an attraction within an attraction known as the futuristic Parque das Nações; admiring wildlife and watching animal shows at the Lisbon Zoo; photographing scenic landmarks like the Christ the King monument, the Belém Tower, St. George's Castle, the 25 de Abril and Vasco da Gama Bridges; attending museums exploring art, culture and history; or feeling like royalty in a fairytale palace like that of Pena or Monserrate Palace. After all has been seen, whisk yourself away from the busy metropolitan lifestyle and catch some rays by heading towards Lisbon's long sandy coastlines filled with both popular and secluded beaches.

 

Douro River Valley

The exquisite Douro River Valley is an UNESCO World Heritage Site famous for a number of reasons but mainly for its globally-celebrated reputation in the world of viniculture. Rising in Soria Province in north central Spain and ending in the Atlantic Ocean near the Portuguese city of Porto, the Douro River winds like a snake through mesmerising landscapes and mountains. Enjoy a soothing and picturesque boat tour through the gentle waters of the Douro as you take in the front-row views of vineyards, olive groves, almond trees and sun-draped slopes. The Rio Douro or River of Gold is a wonderful location to also experiment Porto's most illustrious Port wines and delicious local cuisine.

 

Madeira

Madeira, A Ilha das Flores, literally meaning the "Island of Flowers" is a wonderful Portuguese island packed with so much to offer in terms of culture, events, sightseeing, activities, food and drink. This colourful island, part of an archipelago comprising 2 other islands known as Porto Santo and the Desertas, is famous for its extraordinary natural features including its Laurisilva, the greenest of lofty mountains and the bluest of oceans surrounding it. Bursting with tradition on every corner whether you're in the island's popular capital of Funchal, or travelling through its most scenic countryside, you'll always come across something new and intriguing to watch, taste or listen to. Explore Madeira's Levadas or trail walks which will take you up and under, in and out, through and around the most hidden and peaceful parts of the island where the only things that exist are waterfalls, singing birds and amazing flora. Enjoy a daring Toboggan ride, a smooth catamaran tour, and botanical gardens with rare flowers or get high in the sky in a cable car.

 

Algarve's Beaches

The Algarve, Portugal's sunny southernmost province, is the country's top destination for those in search of sun, sea and sand. From small remote coves to miles-long sandy stretches, the Algarve's coastline has over 100 stunning praias or beaches to choose from. Banked by sand dunes and dramatic cliffs, this coastline also offers some of the cleanest and most picturesque beaches in all of Europe.

Apart from great climatic conditions and being dotted with popular family resorts, one thing the beaches of the Algarve have in common is that each offers something different to do, meaning you can find just the beach to suit your desires and holiday type. Some examples include: getting romantic on the secluded beach of Praia de Albandeira; going snorkelling or cave-exploring in Praia da Marinha; surfing the giant waves at Praia da Amoreira or Praia do Armado; visiting the "Anchor Graveyard" at Praia do Barril; soaking in the splendour of one of the Seven Wonders in Portugal's Beaches at Praia de Odeceixe; going surfing, body-boarding or playing volleyball on the Praia do Martinhal; kite-surfing or kayaking on the gentle waters at Praia do Alvor; enjoying delicious meals in great restaurants at Praia Três Irmãos whilst looking over the white sandy beach and beautiful coves in the distance; exploring rock pools at Galé Beach; smothering your body in yellow clay (argila) said to have medicinal properties that are great for your skin at Praia do Vau; or ending a perfect a day watching a perfect sunset at Praia da Falésia.

 

Serra Da Estrela Natural Park

Continental Portugal's largest mountain range and natural conservation area is known as Serra da Estrela Natural Park which is of glacial origin. Sublime in so many ways, Serra da Estrela is located in the central mountainous massif tilting towards the North-East of the country. Characterized by rocky landscapes, gorges, snowy summits, natural lagoons, long rivers and gentle streams, the Serra da Estela also contains the highest peak on the mainland known as Torre or Tower which is easily accessible by a paved road. The Serra da Estrela is a popular destination for tourists and Portuguese alike. Apart from wanting to soak in the region's outstanding panoramic vistas, many head towards Serra da Estrela's renowned ski resort, the Vodafone Ski Resort. Here you can take family or friends to practice adventurous outdoor activities from skiing, snow-boarding, rock climbing, hiking or kayaking down the famous Mondego river. An extraordinary excursion through the heart of Serra da Estrela's Natural Park is another must that will reward you with many memorable moments. Don't leave without sampling the region's Queijo Serra da Estrela, a soft cheese made from a recipe over 2000 years old using the raw milk of sheep that pasture on the mountains of the park.

 

Historic Centre of Porto

Registered as an UNESCO World Heritage Site since 1996, the city of Porto is high up in the chain of world-famous cities belonging to the Iberian Peninsula like Lisbon, Madrid, Barcelona and Valencia. Its most celebrated icon is its Port Wine produced exclusively in the illustrious Douro Valley. Sometimes referred to as Oporto, this visually stunning urban city located along the Douro River has one of the most scenic townscapes in all of Europe and is a favourite among photographers, painters and writers seeking inspiration. With over 2000-years-worth of history to explore in the form of historical buildings, monuments, cathedrals, bridges, old remains and conserved foundations there is always something to interest you in this glorious Portuguese city. Bursting with evidence of various historical periods from Roman to medieval and Almadas; the Historic Centre of Porto has managed to preserve its rich architecture representing a variety of cultural values from periods such as Romanesque, Gothic, Renaissance, Baroque, neoclassical and modern. Porto lives and breathes everything old and what's great is that you can also expect to find a range of modern and innovative attractions related to arts and entertainment scattered throughout the metropolitan area.

 

Walled Town of Óbidos

Elected a wonder of Portugal and one of its best free tourist attractions, the Walled Town of Óbidos is a fairytale-like medieval town situated in the Estremadura province in central Portugal. Once designated the "Town of Queens", as Kings would traditionally offer it to their wives as a marriage gift, Óbidos, continues to be regarded somewhat as a royal town. Inside its impenetrable tall walls, this fortified city with its small population is laden with iconic white houses bordered by blue and mustard-coloured lines and crowned with orange rooftops. Completing the town are charming small churches; mazes of winding cobbled alleys; masses of trees and brightly-coloured flowers; and dozens of classical historical features belonging to Portuguese culture and tradition. The alluring Walled Town of Óbidos is a perfect location for a quiet day-trip away from metropolitan cities like Lisbon just south of the region; or a rather unique destination for a romantic or luxurious getaway where you can stay within a Moorish fortress atop a hill overlooking this wonderful town and its attractive outskirts. Sunsets are known to be quite magical in Óbidos as the walls which encompass the town turn a golden colour which then reflects upon the enclosed old white houses - a perfect example of the word picturesque.

 

Historic Centre of Évora

Explore the photogenic Historic Centre of Évora in the Alentejo region and prepare yourself for a journey of architectural, cultural and historical excellence. Known as the "museum-city" with whitewashed houses, sinuous alleys and monumental landmarks at every turn, the Historic Centre of Évora has been an UNESCO World Heritage Site since 1986. Loaded with centuries-old extraordinary highlights, it is no easy task creating a short-list of must-visit attractions. Starting with the 1st Century Roman Temple of Évora comparable with ruins that exist in both Greece and Italy you can then move on to palaces and castles of different styles and eras including the Royal Palace of Évora, the Palace of the Dukes of Cadaval, or the Palace of the Counts of Basto. Then there are cathedrals like that of the grandiose Cathedral of Évora; or churches and convents decorated with the famous azulejo (painted ceramic tiles depicting particular Portuguese traditions and periods). Other important attractions include Giraldo Square, Praça do Giraldo, in the heart of the city; the University of Évora originating from the 16th-18th centuries; the 16th century Renaissance fountain at Largo das Portas de Moura referring to the Age of Discovery; and the beautiful Aqueduto da Água de Prata (Aqueduct of Silver Water) originating in the 16th Century with its gigantic arches stretching for 9 kilometres. Évora is also a distinguished and renowned city for its profound influences on Portuguese architecture in Brazil.

 

The Azores

Settled in the mid-Atlantic ocean, west of mainland Portugal, is the verdant Azores archipelago with its characteristic rolling fog and picturesque landscapes. Comprised of 9 islands; São Miguel, Santa Maria, Terceira, Graciosa, São Jorge, Pico, Faial, Flores and Corvo; the Azores are one of Portugal's natural tourist delights that surprisingly few know about. This little Portuguese jewel, alluring in so many ways, is volcanic in its origins meaning you can expect incredible high and low mountains, luscious valleys, large flower-fields, dreamy lagoons and even hot mineral springs where you can take a dip and warm up from the cooler airs of the surroundings. Apart from nature walks and excursions, the Azores is a fantastic destination for all kinds of sports and stimulating activities. Surfing, windsurfing, water skiing, jet skiing, body boarding, sailing, kayaking, or kite surfing are examples of fun watersports available whilst you can also spend an afternoon whale-watching looking out for sperm whales or orcas. Boasting with natural wonders, these almost virgin islands of the Azores have some of the most peaceful and scenic spots in the world. Blended with the warmth of its inhabitants it is also one of the most inviting tourist destinations in Portugal.

 

The Sanctuary of Fátima

Known as one of the most beautiful and important shrines of the world dedicated to the Virgin Mary (Our Lady of the Rosary), the Sanctuary of Fátima is Portugal's most visited attraction that belongs to the Roman Catholic faith. According to the Church, it was here, at what used to be called Cova da Iria, where the Apparitions of Our Lady of the Rosary took place only being witnessed by three shepard children known as Lucia Santos and Jacinta and Francisco Marto. These apparitions which began in 1916 culminated in what is considered as a miraculous event called the "Miracle of the Sun" on October 13th 1917. On this day some tens of thousands of people gathered to the region after word had spread of the apparitions and confirmed having observed extraordinary solar activity lasting ten minutes. During this time, the three children claimed to have seen Our Lady of the Rosary along with other visions of Jesus, Our Lady of Sorrows, Our Lady of Mt. Carmel and Saint Joseph who were there blessing the people. Today, the Sanctuary of Fátima is a pilgrim destination that welcomes millions of people from across the world, Catholic or non-Catholic. Its ground comprises various buildings, monuments and holy sites and includes particular highlights that include the Chapel of Apparitions in the heart of the Sanctuary; The Recint where four statues of Portuguese Saints stand; the Basilica of Fátima with its 15 altars; the House of Our Lady Dolours destined to receive the sick; a part of the ruins of the Berlin Wall; The Big Holmoak tree; the Via Sacre or Holy Way composed of 14 small chapels; the High Cross; monuments to Pope Paul VI and Pope Pius XII; Loco do Anjo where the children received the first and third visit; the Homes of the Little Shepards; and an Ethnographic Museum.

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