Until recently. Portugal has long been kept a secret from holidaymakers. The more we find out about the country, the more we realise just how much it has been underestimated. With diverse and exciting food, drink and culture, it’s easy to see why this is our new favourite European destination.
1. Delicious pastéis de nata
Everyone raves about Portuguese food so it’s no surprise this is one of our favourite things about the country. Before we start singing its praises about some of the best traditional foods, take a look at Zara’s ultimate Lisbon Food Guide for Lisbon in 100 Bites. The cream of the crop has to be the Pastel de nata; an egg custard tart with crisp pastry and a dusting of cinnamon, which we promise will change the way you think of desserts. Wondering where to find the best of the best? Check out GastroGays’ guide to the best pastéis de nata in Lisbon for some serious food envy. For us, it has to be the Pasteis de Belem, just outside the city centre. The maze-like cafe has been baking and perfecting these treats since 1837 and never fails to impress. For more mouth-watering food, you have to read about which authentic dishes to try in Portugal in this post by Lauren from Spanish Sabores.
2. Decadent port
Portugal was known as the home of the Roman wine god, Bacchus, during the Roman empire, so you know the wine must be good. Port, a sweet dessert wine, originates in the Douro valley which you have to visit for an authentic tasting in a wine cellar. If you can only visit one, then make it Graham’s Port Lodge. Located on the Douro River, the 19th-century lodge is still a working cellar where you can eat, drink and discover the history of Graham’s Port. It’d be rude not to!
3. Aromatic coffee
Maybe wine isn’t your thing but coffee tickles your taste buds. Cafe culture is a big part of everyday life. Ask for ‘um café’ (one coffee) or ‘um bica’ (one espresso) and you’ll get a rich, dark flavour that packs a punch. Coffee aficionados will not be disappointed. With their close links to the beans from Brazil, the coffee here is definitely underrated.
4. Influencing Cuisine Across The World
The history of the food is as fascinating as the flavours. Due to their great developments in transport and trade, the Portuguese are often credited with bringing chilli to India, and tempura to Japan, as well as inventing marmalade. Even England’s obsession with drinking tea came from the Portuguese Royal Family. The Chinese may have introduced it but Catherine of Braganza (daughter of Portugal’s King John IV) married King Charles II and made it popular in England.
The first people that someone will turn to in Portugal if they need help is their family. The family is at the centre of everything in Portugal. Most people will live near the parents, even when they move out, and many households are home to three generations as grandparents will sometimes move in to care for their grandchildren. Whenever you visit, you feel like you have been welcomed into their unique circle and it makes you want to celebrate your own family. We could all learn a thing or two from how close-knit the Portuguese family is.
6. Vast History
Portugal has an amazing past that you might not know about. Did you know that the capital, Lisbon, was formed around 1200 BC, making it four centuries older than Rome? When you walk through the streets of some of the smaller towns, you feel like you’ve stepped back in time. Part of the historic charm comes from the azulejos which decorate the walls of churches, buildings and even the train stations. North-African invasion in the South of the country introduced the mosaic tradition in the 13th century, but these intricately-designed tiles were made popular in Portugal by King Manuel I in 1503 after he saw them in Spain. Read more about these beautiful tiles on the Culture Trip website. One of the highlights of a trip to Portugal is taking the time to slow down and appreciate how even the smallest details in the architecture are works of art and labours of love.
And if that’s not enough, then you can’t deny how beautiful Fado music is. In 2011, it was added to the UNESCO Intangible Cultural Heritage list. The poetic lyrics about love, loss, and the struggles of daily life, are accompanied by guitars and violas, creating a melancholic, lamenting sound. Each region has its own take on the folk music tradition, which means each fado experience will be unique. Usually performed in restaurants and pubs, fado is an unmissable part of Portuguese culture.
7. Fabulous Festivals
But if you think that it’s a country stuck in the past, you couldn’t be more wrong. Amazing festivals happen all year round where saints and folklore are celebrated. Carnaval in February gives you that Rio vibe, but our favourites are Santos Populares in June, when Santo António, São João, and Pedro are celebrated across the country. St. Anthony’s festival in Lisbon is something that you have to experience once in your lifetime. On the evening of 12 June through to 13 June, the city turns into a street party. Barbecued sardines and fresh basil might not sound particularly appetising but the smell is all part of the celebrations. Find out more about the Santo Antonio Festival on the Portugal Travel Guide.
8. Vibrant Nightlife
The Portuguese know how to party. Algarve is the usual clubbing destination but the rest of the country adopts a more chilled approach to a night — and we love it! Different from the stereotypical European hotspots, you can take your time to enjoy a few drinks, catch up with friends and listen to music. Check out this guide from Withlocals.com for advice on where to go for your perfect Portuguese party. However, this doesn’t mean everywhere is a clubbing paradise (or nightmare, depending on your preference). For example, Madeira is slower, quieter but equally as enjoyable. With incomparably beautiful scenery and luxurious food and wine, Portugal has a perfect place for everyone.
9. Wonderful Weather
300 days of sun guaranteed each year and 497 km of coastline for surfing? Yes please! One of the best places to hit the waves is in the southwest of the Algarve in a little town called Sagres, which is popular with lots of beginners or families with kids.
10. Lovely Locals
Everyone who says how friendly the Portuguese are is right – they’re the best thing about the country. Strangers become friends so easily and you don’t feel out of place, regardless of whether you are in the capital or a rural town on the coast. You may come for the sun, the food, and the parties, but you’ll stay for the people.
What’s your favourite thing about Portugal? Tweet us @_transfertravel or comment on our Facebook page to share the best parts of one of our favourite destinations! Head over to our travel marketplace to find great deals on flights to and from Portugal.