Portugal Travel Guide: Visit from North to South
In this article we will get to know some of the regions, cities, places, traditions that are worth a visit if you are on a holiday trip in Portugal. We will follow the North - South direction, the same direction followed in the creation of this unique country.
Portugal was recognized as an independent country in 1143 in the treaty of Zamora signed by the king of Leon and Castile (Spain did not yet exist) and the Pope. Its first king, D. Afonso Henriques, “The Conqueror”, began by separating his kingdom from the neighboring Catholic kingdom and then undertook from Minho and Trás-os-Montes to regain the Moors (Muslim peoples and kingdoms of the Iberian Peninsula) . His achievements extended to Lisbon and Alentejo. The rest of the reconquest to the Algarve was done by his sons, Sancho I and Afonso II, and set the borders of mainland of the new country. Portugal borders are the oldest continental borders in Europe.
Like the first king of Portugal, we will start with Minho which is one of the northernmost regions of Portugal. Minho is a very green region with traditions and strong identities of its inhabitants.
If you like nature you must visit Gerês. Gerês is a mountain that stretches for many kilometers, with fantastic landscapes and crystal-clear waters. It is also the protected refuge of several wild species of animals and flora, which can be seen in the Peneda Gerês National Park. Perfect for hiking or motorcycle, jeep, and buggy rides. And if you are a meat lover, you will feel in paradise.
In Guimarães known as the “cradle of Portugal” we can find a small town from medieval times. It was the first capital of the Portuguese kingdom and even today its inhabitants define themselves as “the first Portuguese” and are quite proud though hospitable. Its ancient and narrow streets, the Castle and Paço dos Duques are so beautiful and important that Guimarães is considered a UNESCO World Heritage city.
Braga is a city about 20km from Guimarães. A medieval city with a particularly good historical center for sightseeing and including the famous Braga Cathedral. It was an especially important religious center in the early days of the country and is today the capital of the district of the same name. Near Braga you can also visit Sameiro and Bom Jesus, great places to be with family and with good views of Ave Valley. One can make a complete tour to Braga and Guimarães and discover precious details about these 2 gems of Minho.
Visit Porto, the second largest city in Portugal and the largest city in the North. It originates from the name of the country “Portus Cale” that derived from Portugal. It is a historical city, culturally dynamic and with a good nightlife. From downtown, Avenida dos Aliados, you can visit on foot or by bus some of the main monuments of Porto such as the Cathedral, Clérigos Tower, São Bento Train Station or the modern House of Music, and typical areas like for example Ribeira. If you like to go out at night, you will find many bars and clubs in the Galleries area, always full of people, events and music. Don´t forget to visit the Port wine cellars with wine tasting and enjoy the typical dish of the city "a Francesinha". Porto is a maritime and fluvial city, where the Douro River flows.
The Douro River gives its name to an increasingly famous region that has been increasingly visited by tours and cruises - the Douro Valley. It is the first demarcated wine region in the world in 1756. An area where high quality wines are produced, including the famous Port wine, with landscapes full of vineyards and farm estates that seem to have been created by divine hands. Ideal for relaxing, eating typical food and wine tasting. A visit to Régua, Pinhão or Barca D´alva is recommended to discover some of the most remarkable places in the region, which punctuate the railway line towards Spain, the Douro Line.
In central Portugal, Aveiro is a city known for its famous typical boats, the moliceiros, and the “soft eggs” a sweet specialty. Ria de Aveiro crosses the city and moliceiro cruises are immensely popular. It is known for the “Portuguese Venice” and is close to Porto, making it ideal for a half day or full day visit.
Coimbra, known as the city of students, because it has many national and international students enrolled in the second oldest university in Europe, the University of Coimbra. The Mondego River runs through the city, which rises majestically along a steep hill. The narrow and labyrinthine streets, the student traditions, the famous “Republics of Coimbra”, the cultural dynamics of the city and the living history that you breathe are some of the good reasons to visit this city.
After the first part of our trip, that started in the north of Portugal with Guimarães and Braga and took us until Coimbra, we will continue now from Fatima in direction to the South.
Symbol and World religious center, Fatima is a special place where millions of believers and non-believers of the Catholic faith converge. It's a place where one can feel a special energy and some mysticism. You don't need to be a believer to make a tour from Lisbon or Porto. Of course, you can also stay there some nights and visit around like the beautiful caves of Moeda or the templar town of Tomar.
If you like mountains you will not be far from the highest of Continental Portugal, the Serra da Estrela. It is one of the few points where you can see snow on the winter in Portugal. It is famous for ski and the traditional cheese, “Queijo da Serra”, with a unique flavor and texture.
From the center to the south comes Lisbon, the Portuguese capital and the biggest city. Cosmopolitan by history, it was the center of the Portuguese discoveries in the XV, XVI and XVII centuries, it's a melting pot of cultures. Among the main monuments to visit and see the Mosteiro of Jeronimos, the Torre de Belém, the Cristo-Rei are top. There are many others and the difficulty is to choose. Don´t forget to visit the traditional neighborhoods like Alfama, Graça, Bairro Alto, Belém, Estrela where you can find many small shops, restaurants, libraries and people that lived all their lives there. If you have curiosity about Fado there are many restaurants and houses with live shows. It's better to book it in advance. Boat trips in river Tagus are also available and the sunset in Lisbon is always a special moment.
Sintra is a unique and fantastic place near Lisbon. Considered by many to be the most romantic place in Portugal, it has a special atmosphere that will impress everyone that visits it. Surrounded by beautiful nature and countryside houses, with beautiful Palaces like Pena, Quinta da Regaleira, Monserrat and museums like the Toy Museum that kids and adults will love. Weather in a guided tour or hiking Sintra it ́s an unavoidable stop if you are near.
South of Lisbon and Sintra, we enter the Alentejo region. Known for its inhabitants that like to live their lives with a calm and peaceful way. It's a region that has a big production of quality wines. After one taste it will feel the difference that distinguish from other wines, like the Douro. The food is also particularly good, and one will easily embrace the tranquility of its villages and lifestyle. Évora is a city that is worth a visit and if you want some beach time Vila Nova de Mil Fontes and Porto Covo are good options.
And to finish this trip we arrive to the southern part which is Algarve. A well-known tourist destination especially from Great Britain, it's a favorite choice for people all around the world for those who want beaches, sun, warm weather all year, cruises and boat trips and other water activities. Worldwide famous, it's the coastline that receives most of the tourism. However, the new attractions of Algarve are the discovery of its interior more distant from the sunny beaches and warm water. Algarve tours includes safaris, agricultural visits and small villages circuits that are becoming popular, offering a variety of experiences ideal for those that like activities and discoveries during their holidays.
As the traveler can see, a small but ancient country like Portugal has a lot to offer. History, tradition, heritage, natural life, food and wine, sea and rivers, safety and mainly the inhabitants honest hospitality are some of the reasons why you should consider to visit this country, or to explore more if you are already within its borders.