The Culture-Lover’s Guide to Portugal

Portugal is a popular destination for holidaymakers world-over. Located in southern Europe, this sunny country has a long history of maritime adventuring and trade, due to its location in the Atlantic Ocean. Its beaches are popular too, with plenty of people coming to lay themselves out on the sand of the famous Algarve.

So, no matter what you like to do on holiday, Portugal will have something for you. This mix of cultural activities makes it ideal for people traveling in groups, or just for those who want to come back to this beautiful country again and again, and experience something new every time.

Food

From fish to stews and finishing up with a dessert, Portugal’s culinary scene won’t disappoint. Make sure to leave some time (and room) for some lazy lunches and decadent dinners – you’ll want to taste everything the local restaurants have to offer. Some essential dishes to try are:

  • Bacalhau. This is the famous Portuguese codfish, and you’ll find it all across the country due to the large expanse of coastline. It’s so popular that there are supposedly 365 ways to prepare this dish, although you might not have time to get through that many on your holiday.
  • Bifanas. For the ultimate sandwich, make sure to order a bifana. This national dish consists of succulent pork, marinated in paprika, garlic, and white wine, sandwiched between white bread, which is crusty on the outside and soft on the inside. You’ll find that different restaurants offer additional ingredients, such as salad or eggs, but the core dish remains the same.
  • Pastéis de Nata. This iconic little tart is perhaps the most well-known treat in Portugal, and the crown for the best is an accolade that everyone is aiming for. Created in the Jerónimos Monastery in Lisbon in the 18th century, these custard tarts have been delighting visitors and locals ever since, and every pastry shop has its own version.

Once you’ve eaten your fill, you’ll want to while the evening away with a special glass of local wine whilst you watch the sunset. There are plenty of amazing wineries in Portugal –  the Alto Douro wine region has been producing wine for 2,000 years, and the region spans over 24,600 hectares of sloping vineyards. It’s protected as a UNESCO World Heritage site and is a must-visit destination for any true oenophile.

Port wine

History

From palaces to churches, you’ll never be short of amazing spots to visit whilst you’re in Portugal. If you’re looking to get access to a lot of places whilst basing yourself in one central location, then head to Lisbon. Here, you’ll find:

  • The Belém Tower. Widely considered to be one of the best examples of Manueline architecture, this imposing and intricate building sits on the banks of the River Tagus. It was built to celebrate the expedition of Vasco da Gama, the famous explorer.
  • Cultural Landscape of Sintra. A short distance away from the city lies the fairytale site of Sintra. You’ll find numerous palaces and manor houses, surrounded by gardens and grottos. A popular highlight is the Pena National Palace, which catches your attention with its red and yellow exterior paintwork. 
  • Lisbon Cathedral. One of the oldest buildings in Lisbon, this church has been standing since the mid-12th century. It looks a little different these days, as it’s gone through several rounds of renovations and repairs, but the mix of architecture makes it well worth visiting.

Museums

For culture-lovers, surely no trip is complete without at least a peek inside a museum. There are plenty of wonderful options to choose from, and again, many are located in Lisbon. If you want to seek out some more unusual treasures, skip the main museums and head to the weirdest museums in the capital – highlights include the Casa dos Gessos, which is full of the plaster casts used for bronze statues, and the Museum of Dermatology (not for the squeamish). 

To sum up 

There’s plenty to do in Portugal, so you’ll be able to come back time and again. If you can, take advantage of the off-peak season, and skip the crowds. You’ll get a much calmer experience in all the main cultural attractions, and be able to take your time enjoying all this wonderful country has to offer.

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*This post has been contributed to Owl Over The World.

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