If it’s an incredibly diverse holiday for 2017 you’ve been pining for, then Portugal will provide in spades. Whether it’s an all-out sun holiday filled with sea and sand, or a jam-packed city break you’re after, look no further than one of our packages. Blessed with some of the finest year-round sunshine in Europe and cheaper than its neighbour Spain, Portugal is an enduringly popular spot with holidaymakers.
You could abscond to the Algarve for some well-deserved ‘me’ time, brush shoulders with the locals in bustling cities like Lisbon and Porto, or leave your worries behind on the majestic island of Madeira. It’s all just a few clicks away. With an incredibly diverse landscape stretching over towns awash with history and gorgeous golden beaches, you can dip into some fascinating local history, or drink in the stunning surrounding vistas. So whether you’re on the hunt for culture, world-class nightlife or just to put your feet up for a while, Portugal is sure to work its magic on you.
At a glance
- Currency: Euro
- Language: Portuguese
- Time Zone: GMT +0
- Average flight time: 3h 0m
When to go
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A trip to Portugal has plenty to offer no matter what you’re looking for, with each city having its own unique quirks and charm. For the ultimate city escape, why not split a week between lively Lisbon and captivating Porto? With day trips to the magical town of Sintra and the gorgeous white sandy beaches of Cascais easily achievable, you’ll be able to break your holiday up and pick and choose from the best of what this alluring country has to offer.
If you’re looking for your own personal slice of paradise, don’t miss out on a trip to the beautiful island of Madeira, home to a jaw-dropping coastline, stunning scenery and the bustling capital of Funchal. You really can’t beat Portugal for its diversity of atmosphere and ease of access to range of other hotspots, no matter where you choose to base yourself. So if you came for the nightlife and caipirinha cocktails, but decide on a whim that you want to hit the beach or get stuck into some culture, Portugal is a solid choice.
Wine and Dine
If you’d like nothing more than tucking into some hearty local dishes, then you’ll never be far from a good feed in Portugal. Specialising in traditional recipes that take cues from the cuisine of neighbouring countries, modern cities like Porto and Lisbon serve up international favourites with a unique Portuguese twist. In Lisbon you’ll find local culinary delights in the Chiado district, or for a truly unforgettable experience – which may even be the highlight of your trip – brush shoulders with the locals at one of Bairro Alto’s quaint Fado bars. Listen to musicians from the area play and sing beautifully nostalgic folk songs as you tuck into a delicious meal. The price range in these bars offers incredible value, with four or five courses and wine going for about 20 euros per person. Be wary though, the music takes centre stage in these local gems, so follow our advice and simply let the songs and food stimulate all your senses.
There’s no shortage of things to do with the little ones no matter where you decide to holiday in Portugal, but for a non-stop list of things to do your best bet is to head for the Algarve region. Offering several pristine beaches, your kids will enjoy splashing around on the beach and having fun in the sun. But if it’s even more thrills they’re after, the Algarve has it in spades. For an action-packed day head for one of the country’s finest water parks, such as Aquashow, for slippin’ and slidin’ galore. The Armacao de Pera area also holds a number of excellent water parks like Aqualand and Zoomarine, to keep your clan entertained for hours on end while you kick back on a sun lounger. The stars may just align if you pay a visit to Calouste Gulbenkian Planetarium in Lisbon, while the animal lovers in your family will love a visit to Maia’s city zoo.
Action and Adventure
If you’re of the adventurous persuasion, Portugal has plenty of spills and thrills to offer. With a diverse terrain that supports all kinds of outdoors activities and further delights in the cities, you’ll never be short if things to do. Adrenaline junkies will love ripping across the Serra de Estrela countryside on an action-packed bike ride, or taking in the views while clambering up the rock face. Once you get up there, you could even abseil down, if you have any energy left.
If you’re interested in some high-speed travel, then you need to check out the Limite Zero Zipwire on the Guadiana River, where white-knuckled passengers will zip across the Spain-Portugal border in under a minute, reaching speeds of 75kmph. Phew. Like similar countries with a plentiful coastline, Portugal’s sea is also a veritable playground of water-based activities, with water skiing, surfing and parasailing all firm favourites. Inland, the rivers offer the chance to get your kicks from rafting, canoeing or canyoning.
Life's a Beach
If you’ve had your fill of culture in the fairytale town of Sintra and wouldn’t mind topping up your tan before you head home, then it’s well worth making the trek to Praia da Adraga beach. Home to mainland Europe’s most westerly sands and best Atlantic breaker waves, it’s not only ideal for the surfing set, but for those wanting a romantic sunset stroll after a top-class meal of fresh shellfish and white wine. For an expert tip from us, see if you can get a table at Azenhas do Mar, a gorgeous little eatery built right into the cliffside.
While Cascais has its fair share of pristine beaches to choose from, if you’d like a bit of pop culture with your sunshine, then make the short trip to Guincho beach on the Estoril coast. World famous as the location used in the opening to the classic Bond flick On Her Majesty’s Secret Service, this gorgeous sandy crescent is perfect for watching the waves lap in and out while sipping on cocktails. Shaken, not stirred.
While rowdy revellers might think of Spain as the place to be for nightlife that goes all night, when the sun goes down the after-dark experience in Portugal is not to be sniffed at. While there are clubs aplenty here, for our money the best experience is to amble around hilled areas like the Bairro Alto in Lisbon, visiting as many of the small cocktail bars as you can. It’s the best way to meet fellow travellers and locals alike, and sample the best bucket-sized caipirinha cocktails.
In Porto, on the Candido dos Reis and its adjoining streets, you’ll get a similar experience as during the weekend these bars come alive with visitors, locals and buskers alike. There’s an incredible number of trendy bars here, but most people grab a drink and head to the street outside to soak up the atmosphere. And the best part is, it’s so much cheaper than at home. A night out here will run you about half the cost than you’re used to, and can be as colourful or relaxed as you like. You may be feeling slightly worse for wear the next day, so be sure to go in search of the notorious Francesinha sandwich. Made from all kinds of meat and cheese, soaked in beer and served with salty chips, it’s the ultimate hangover food.
You’ll find opportunities for romance abound in Portugal, whether you just want to lock hands with your lover and stroll along the sandy coves of the Algarve, or find your romantic hideaway for 2017 down the sleepy back streets of Lisbon. For an unbeatable activity that’s sure to sweep them off their feet, how about a sunset cruise down the Tagus River in Lisbon? With incredible views and a serene atmosphere that feels a million miles away from the bustling capital, we’re sure they’ll be impressed.
Treat your other half to some wine tasting at one of Douro Valley’s famous vineyards, or go one step further and book a Port tour in Porto. Sample the wares, learn a bit about this cultural speciality and maybe even bring a bottle, or three, home to set the mood. The best part about the city’s various port tours, is that in order to pass into Douro Valley you have to cross the iconic Dom Luis Bridge, itself offering a jaw-dropping view of Porto and romantic vibes aplenty.
As the country that gave us some of the world’s greatest explorers, Portugal is a hotbed for cultural diversity, taking all manner of cues from its colonial past up and down the entire country. While a wealth of cultural activities lie in the main cities, for a bit of a break from it all, head for the countryside and dive into architectural wonders like the baroque churches of Braga and Almancil, pristine palaces in Mafra, and World Heritage monuments in Batalha and Tomar.
Top of any culture vultures list should be the magical town of Sintra, easily within reach on a day trip from Lisbon. Literally resembling something from a fairytale, with colourful palaces on hilltops, Moorish grottos and spectacular views, it’s sure to stand out from the rest of your trip. Those who aren’t afraid to get off the beaten track will be thoroughly rewarded with culture in Portugal.