Portugal Adventure Travel Guide: Ideas and Inspiration
PureTravel Says: “Portugal is often overlooked next to its larger neighbour, Spain, the country has grown to show that it has much to offer. The bustling and vibrant cities strewn throughout the country have great historical monuments and many entertainment opportunities. In fact, Portugal displays many of the World Heritage sites, which are named the most fascinating wonders of nature and culture. Not to mention, Portugal has some of the most breathtaking countryside in all of Europe, including unspoiled beaches and mountainous views. The warm climate and ideal location offer great opportunities for hiking, surfing, fishing, kayaking and golfing, making it a diverse and ideal travel destination. Perhaps the most interesting part of Portugal is the lovely culture that hypnotizes travelers with its delightful beauty and inviting character.”
History & Culture - Explore the rich Portuguese culture, filled with stories of history and celebration. The people of Portugal are very religious, which today is still showcased by the wonderful churches, monasteries and manors that hold great cultural integrity as well as cultural-specific examples of medieval architecture. In modern Portugal, these antiquated customs of religion and camaraderie have translated into wonderful festivals and have inspired an incredible music scene. These festivals and musicians are integral in the Portuguese culture and are one of the best things to experience in the country.
Water Sports - Portugal’s ideal coastal location and warm climate make it the perfect place to have fun with water sports. The deep, clear waters are perfect for snorkelling or scuba diving, where many tropical fish and other marine life can be found. Surfing is also very popular in Portugal thanks to the light breezy weather and calm waters. Kite surfing, windsurfing, and regular surfing are all popular water activities that visitors and locals alike often participate in.
Horseback Riding - The beautiful countryside and roaming hills make for a great place for horseback riding. There are numerous riding trails throughout the small country that surprisingly have a lot of diversity to offer riders. In addition, there are many locations in Portugal that offer guided tours on horseback for those visitors who want a more structured riding experience.
Mountain Climbing - The natural mountain terrain of Portugal is a mountain climber’s dream. There are many areas that range in all skill levels, making mountain climbing in Portugal possible for beginners or experts.
Madeira – Visit the island of Madeira with its historical monuments, culture and history in the capital city Funchal and the cities of Santa Cruz, Machico and Santana. Discover gardens, picturesque villages, amazing landscapes, volcanic caves, rugged coastlines, beautiful natural beaches and stunning views.
When To Go
Portugal has a pleasant year-round climate with May to October seeing the warmest weather and rain is at its lowest. Overall, the country doesn’t have much rain throughout the year, although winters can get cool.
- Contact the Portuguese Federation for Underwater Activities to get the best information for diving.
- Hire a guide or take part in a tour when rock climbing if you are not an experienced climber.
- The Portuguese way of life is leisurely, and old-fashioned politeness is essential. Warm hospitality is normality. The country has a deeply individual national character, although each province has its own traditions and folklore.
- Casual wear is widely acceptable, although beachwear should not be worn in towns. *Following a new law passed in 2008, smoking is prohibited in public indoor spaces. This smoking ban includes cinemas, theatres, buses and most restaurants (a handful of locations still allow smoking in designated areas).
Holidays In Focus
History and Culture - There are many wonderful cities throughout Portugal, and a lot of different types of culture will be seen. In these cities, museums, ancient buildings and interesting neighbourhoods can be explored. There is also a wonderful music scene in many Portuguese cities, adding a little extra sparkle to this warm and hospitable country.
Lisbon, Portugal’s beautiful capital city, is a great place to start a cultural exploration. This city is one of the fastest growing destinations in Europe, with beautiful waterside scenery to offer. There are quaint neighbourhoods flecked throughout the city that are filled with eclectic shops, vibrant nightclubs, plenty of restaurants and you can find traditional fado music being played live. There is also a huge oceanarium, the largest in Europe, located in Lisbon. Another interesting area in Lisbon is Alfama. Here, the Portuguese landscape was carved to allow for steep stairs, winding down hills filled with hidden churches and interesting taverns. There is even an old tram that still runs, offering a truly historic experience for travelers to enjoy.
Architecture - Another great cultural center is in Braga, which is known for its wide array of baroque churches, which host the Portuguese Holy Week festivals. Braga has many ancient Roman ruins that offer a great exploration project for travelers. In fact, one of the most interesting ways to stay in Portugal is in one of the many ancient monasteries that have been converted into upscale hotels.
The historic area of Porto is another colonial gem in Portugal. Here, there are great examples of Roman and gothic architecture in the region’s cathedrals. The Stock Exchange Palace is another great place to check out with its neo classical styled décor. Other great areas to check out are Évora, which offers great museums that showcase the style of the 15th century; and The Mosteiro de Santa Maria is another great gothic church that showcases the lovely architecture that Portugal is famous for. Finally, the Knights Templar castle in Tomar is the perfect place for church and architecture admirers.
Fado - A popular attraction that really showcases the culture of Portugal is the popular fado music, which originated here. It is similar to the Blues and is known for its melancholy feel. The best places to check out this culturally enlightening live music are at one of the nightclubs and bars in Coimbra or Lisbon.
Portuguese Festivals – Portuguese people celebrate an endless array of festivals; there are many festivals held throughout the year all over the country, each of which celebrates a different part of their culture. These festivals almost always consist of eating, drinking and dancing, with grand feasts always presented. The most popular of these festivals are the Festival of St. Anthony in Lisbon and the Festival of St. John in Braga.
Water Sports - Portugal has numerous beaches spread across the country, which offer beautiful places to relax and have fun. The most popular water sports available in Portugal include all types of surfing and diving, swimming and paragliding. One of the best places to participate in water sports is in Algarve, on the southern coastline of Portugal. There are great beaches here that allow for most all water sports, or just a great place to relax. Kitesurfing and scuba diving are the most popular attractions in Algarve.
Horse Riding and Mountain Climbing - The beautiful countryside in Portugal makes for the perfect backdrop for outdoor activities, especially horseback riding and mountain climbing. The overall warm climate is normally very sunny, which makes it the perfect weather for these activities. In addition, beautiful bodies of water surround many of the mountains and cliffs in the country, allowing ample space to climb, trek, and swim in similar locales.
The best place for horseback riding is in one of the riding centers in the country. There are several dozen of these centers spread throughout the country, making it easy to find a great riding place. In fact, there are many of these centers that are located near beaches that allow riders to go along the coastline. Another great place to try out is Estremadura, which is a good place to try when seeking a more experienced lesson for riding. And the best part is that most horses found in Portugal are Lusitano thoroughbreds, which are deemed some of the best riding horses in the world.
Of course, the mountains in Portugal are also one of the most breathtaking things about the country. There are numerous mountain ranges spread throughout the countryside that bring great opportunities for outdoor activities. One of the best places to try mountain climbing is at Peneda-Gerês, Portugal’s only national park. This park boasts around 170,000 acres of mountains to explore, which is one of the most popular destinations for adventure seekers. In addition, the quaint stone villages surrounding these mountains offer a great place to relax after a day on the mountain.
Madeira – Visit the island of Madeira which is lapped by the waters of the Gulf Stream and benefits from warm summers and mild winters. Madeira has historical monuments, squares and streets in the capital Funchal. There are enchanting gardens, picturesque villages, amazing landscapes, impressive volcanic caves, rugged coastlines, beautiful natural beaches and stunning views. Uncover the island’s culture and history in the cities of Funchal, Santa Cruz, Machico, Santana, Camara de Lobos, Porto Santo, Vila Baleira and Ribeira Brava town.
Whilst there be sure to visit the Levadas aqueducts built in the 1900s, Cabo Girão, which is one of the world's highest ocean cliffs and stands at 590 meters (1,935 feet) above sea level and the Jardim Botânico Funchal Botanical gardens. See also the São Vicente Caves and lava tubes, the Jardim do Monte Palace and gardens and the Jardim Orquídea Orchid garden. Learn the island’s history at the Madeira Story Centre and see the world record-breaking fireworks on New Year's Eve.
Get a spectacular miradouro (viewpoint) from many locations throughout the island including Pico dos Barcelos, Pico do Arieiro, Pico de Facho, Curral das Freiras and Monte.
- Check out the picturesque port houses of Vila Nova de Gaia just across the river from Porto where some of the best port wines in the country can be found.
- Visit the village of Sintra, where many of the former summer homes of the Portuguese royal family can be found as well as the lovely Monserrate gardens.
- Go to the Parque das Nações, a great museum that houses wacky art collections.
- See the town of Belém where much history of the country can be explored, including the famed Jerónimos Monastery.
- Leave time to explore the island of Madeira.
Guide to the Algarve Beach Resorts
Faro - The major city of Faro is a great starting point to explore both the Algarve and also further into Portugal. The capital of the Algarve has a fantastic array of clubs and bars and is something of a party destination. If you visit during the shoulder seasons or during the winter, you’ll experience a very different Faro: the white washed city oozes Moorish and Iberian influences.
Albufeira - All of the Algarve resorts boast south facing beaches, sumptuous sandy beaches coupled with sun soaked days and buzzing nights. And Albufeira, Portugal’s best known destination continues that trend with cobbled streets lined with white-washed houses underneath the dazzling blue skies.
Lagos - Located in the Barlavento region is the Algarve resort of Lagos, which is bursting with rich history, from the 14th century walls, impressive fortress and range of exquisite churches.
Alvor - Couples and families will appreciate the laidback nature of Alvor, which is based around the cobbled streets of the pretty Old Town and the beautiful natural lagoon. Alvor, like much of the traditional Algarve has shunned mass development and retained its tranquil fishing village atmosphere.
Lisbon - Lisbon promises a different experience from the other European capital cities as it has somehow managed to escape the overwhelming hoards of sight-seeing tourists. For that reason, Lisbon is a breath of fresh air, even though it is one of the oldest European cities, out-dating even Rome. The oldest district in Lisbon is Alfama, whose winding cobblestone streets are alive with centuries of rich history and culture.
Porto - The second largest city in Portugal, Porto offers an eclectic mix of tastes and style, from its architecture to its music. Located along the Rio Douro, Porto’s seaside appeal runs right through the city itself. Porto hosts a UNESCO World Heritage zone in its historic center, the Ribeira district. Here you can find a wonderland of old jigsaw staircases and roads spiralling together.
Guimaraes - The Portuguese city of Guimarães is often heralded as where “Portugal was born”, thanks to a wealth of history. From the beautiful palace to the commanding castle, it’s no wonder that Guimaraes was selected to host the European Capital of Culture in 2012. Located in the northern district of Braga, the Historic Centre of Guimarães is also listed as a UNESCO World Heritage Site.
UNESCO World Heritage Sites
- Central Zone of the Town of Angra do Heroismo in the Azores
- Convent of Christ in Tomar
- Monastery of Batalha
- Monastery of the Hieronymites and Tower of Belém in Lisbon
- Historic Centre of Évora
- Monastery of Alcobaça
- Cultural Landscape of Sintra
- Historic Centre of Oporto
- Prehistoric Rock Art Sites in the Côa Valley and Siega Verde
- Laurisilva of Madeira
- Alto Douro Wine Region
- Historic Centre of Guimarães
- Landscape of the Pico Island Vineyard Culture
- Garrison Border Town of Elvas and its Fortifications
- University of Coimbra – Alta and Sofia
1 January - New Year's Day
4 March - Carnival
18 April - Good Friday
20 April - Easter
25 April - Freedom Day
1 May - Labour Day
10 June - Portugal Day
15 August - Assumption of Mary
8 December - Immaculate Conception's Day
25 December - Christmas
By Julie Bowman