Top 5 Portugal destinations... to visit in 2018
A country that is growing popularity, there’s something for everyone: whether you like to delve into the local culture, taste the famed wines and port or take in the spectacular sights and scenery, all the while enjoy warmer temperatures. Discover Cox & Kings’ five favourite destinations in Portugal, from the lively capital city, Lisbon, to the more tranquil hills of the wine valleys.
Azulejos tiles showing a historic view of Lisbon in National Tile Museum
The famed Portuguese capital has been high on the list for many travellers in recent years due to the city's photogenic cobbled streets, houses embellished with colourful tiles, the iconic yellow trams and progressive food scene. With plenty of things to see and do, admire the beautiful architecture that contrasts from the more traditional 16th-century Jerónimos monastery and Casa dos Bicos to the eccentric MAAT museum (Museum of Art, Architecture and Technology), designed by Amanda Levete.
The art galleries and museums offer a journey through the history of art. The MNAA (National Museum of Ancient Art) dates back to the Middle Ages, showcasing Portuguese and European paintings while the Berado museum has a more modern collection featuring Picasso and Jeff Koons, and the Gulbenkian Foundation focuses on Oriental and Western art. Once you've seen the collection, you can relax in the landscaped gardens.
Must-sees include Unesco world heritage sites Jerónimos monastery – the resting place of Portuguese explorer Vasco da Gama – and the Manueline-styled Belém tower that played a crucial role in Portuguese maritime history. Walk through the narrow, winding streets of the charming Alfama district, Lisbon's oldest neighbourhood and visit the São Jorge castle for some of the best views over the city. Lisbon's city centre is small enough to wander by foot, but if you are starting to tire from the hills, the funicular railways and trams are a great way to explore the city.
After a days exploring, the Time Out food market while entice you with its eclectic mix of cuisines and gourmet dishes, but before you leave you should try ginjinha, a cherry liqueur shot that's often served in chocolate cups, delicious!
Alfama District, Lisbon
A perfect day trip from Lisbon is the town of Sintra, just 30 minutes’ drive or a short train ride. Further inland, the town is set in the foothills of the Sintra mountains amid the forests of the Sintra-Cascais Natural Park. Famed for its colourful and elaborate 19th-century villas and palaces, it was popular summer destination with Portuguese royalty. Looking like somewhere from a Disney film, the elements of gothic, Egyptian and Renaissance styles and cobbled streets made Sintra the first centre of European Romantic architecture.
The Pena Palace is the highlight, flourescent in colour, you can't miss it standing tall on the top of a hill. Built in the 1840s, it has a medieval style of architecture and the interior is decorated with late-Victorian furnishings, both of which add to the magical charm. The ‘Palace of Millions’ in the Regaleira Estate is another lavish building that was built in a 19th-century gothic style. Get lost in the gardens and seek out the hidden tunnels, grottoes and step into Alice's wonderland.
Pena Palace, Sintra
Situated between Lisbon and Porto, Coimbra was Portugal's medieval capital for over 100 years and is home to the country’s oldest university. The University of Coimbra was established in 1290 by King Dinis and is still in operation today, with eight faculties from arts to natural sciences and sports. You can enter the courtyard for free and enjoy scenic views over the city. During term time, the city comes alive with students congregating in cafes and bars, wearing black cloaks that could have been thought to inspire JK Rowling. Cox & Kings recommends visiting the university’s extravagant library and botanical gardens.
Coimbra University and the old town
Porto & Douro Valley
Portugal's second-largest city, Porto, has become increasingly popular to visit over recent years and for very good reason. The charming city centre is small enough to explore comfortably on foot and has plenty to visit. Many buildings are covered in colourful patterned tiles, a traditional Portuguese architectural feature. The old city centre lies on the northern side of the Douro river while the southern bank houses many well-known port cellars including Taylor's and Cálem’s, which offer walk-in tastings.
In the heart of the city, you will find the Romanesque-style cathedral that was built in the 12th and 13th centuries, the Lello bookshop – which may have provided JK Rowling with further inspiration – the extraordinary Church of São Francisco with its gold interior, and Ribeira Square.
Traditional tiled houses in the old Ribeira district, Porto
A 90-minute drive from Porto is the picturesque town of Pinhão in the Douro valley. One of the best ways to see the valley and sample the produce of this celebrated region is to take a cruise past the terraced vineyards that line the river.
Vineyards on the banks of Douro river, Douro valley
Porto and the Douro valley ...top 5 experiences
Cox & Kings’ Europe expert Leah visited Porto and the Douro valley to experience the best of the north-west region of Portugal. Here, she shares her top five experiences including port tasting, river cruising and a fascinating bookshop. See more >
A long weekend in Douro
Mike Fleetwood spent three nights in the Douro Valley - Portugal’s famous port wine region. See more >
Guimarães became the country’s first capital in the 12th century. Located about an hour’s drive north of Porto, this historic town has been referred to by Unesco as ‘the cradle of the Portuguese nationality’, who declared the city a world heritage site in 2001. Its well-preserved centre shows the development of traditional Portuguese architecture from the 15th to 19th centuries.
Its medieval centre is a warren of cobbled lanes and picturesque plazas surrounded by 14th-century buildings. On an adjacent hill stands a 1,000-year-old castle and the vast palace built by the first duke of Bragança in the 15th century. Cox & Kings recommends taking the cable car (Teleférico de Guimarães) to Penha Hill on the south-eastern side of the city for superb views.
Toural Square, Guimaraes
Wherever you choose to visit in this fascinating and arguably underrated country, don’t forget to tuck in to some delicious Portuguese pastéis de nata (egg custard tarts) and a glass of port – or two!
Recommended Cox & Kings tours
Porto & the Douro Valley - 7 Days & 6 Nights from £2,095
Journey with a group of like-minded solo travellers from the coastal city of Porto inland to the major religious, historical and intellectual centres of Braga, Guimarães and Coimbra. Along the way, take a river cruise through the terraced vineyards of the picturesque Douro valley and sample the produce of this celebrated wine and Port producing region... See more >
Grand Tour of Portugal - 10 Days & 9 Nights from £1,995
Discover the old-fashioned charm of Portugal on this 10-day tour from Lisbon to Porto. Along the way explore stylish seaside resorts; historic regional cities including Coimbra, Cascais and Obidos; and the picturesque terraced hillsides of the Douro valley, where Port, the world-renowned fortified wine, is produced... See more >
- Tags: Adventure, Art & Architecture, City Guide, Cox & Kings Staff, Cruise Journeys, Culture & History, Europe, Facts, Food & Wine, Landscape, Short Breaks