It is easy to see why Portugal is one of Europe’s favourite holiday destinations. It has the perfect climate for holidaying, enjoys relatively low costs compared to other destinations and is home to some of the world’s most vibrant cities with unique architecture and culture. Here are our top 5 Portuguese cities which we are sure you will fall in love with this summer.
Porto is most famous for its namesake drink, but that’s not all there is to Portugal’s second city. This is a city with history in its pores. Since around 300BC, when Celtic people were its first known inhabitants, the city has been invaded by the Moors and the Napoleonic troops, created the world’s oldest military alliance, and been the seat of a liberal revolution and subsequent monarchist uprising. Unsurprisingly, the city centre is now recognised as a UNESCO historic site, boasting architectural highlights such as the Porto Cathedral, the Romanesque church of Cedofeita, the Gothic church of St Francis, and remnants of the city walls.
They say in Lisbon, you walk on light. Built on seven hills, the sunlight is mirrored off the River Tagus and the bright stone buildings, many of which are painted radiant shades of pink, yellow and ochre. Despite being one of the oldest cities in Western Europe, Lisbon is cosmopolitan and hip, with a lively nightlife scene that goes until the early morning. Once the sun sets, the Bairro Alto district comes alive as over 100 bars and restaurants jostle for position in a small but popular neighbourhood. One of the best things about Lisbon is that, even with all the activity, it never seems too hectic; a chilled-out atmosphere seems to come in on the Atlantic breeze, which makes relaxation all but inevitable.
Thanks to a particularly temperate climate, the city of Funchal is one of the greenest you’ll ever see. A popular cruise port, Funchal is the capital of Portugal’s Autonomous Region of Madeira, an archipelago southwest of the mainland. Named after the wild fennel that grew abundantly on the island, the city is a botanist’s dream, with several endemic species of violets, orchids and heathers. Visiting the Botanical Gardens is a must; they can be reached by cable car and feature a beautiful collection of succulents, an arboretum and a fascinating collection of medicinal and aromatic plants. No trip to Funchal would be complete without a visit to the Laurisilva forest, a spectacular landscape featuring emerald laurel and Juniper trees, as well as a lush forest floor rich in ferns, mosses and lichens.
Known as the Venice of Portugal, Aveiro straddles the Ria lagoon and is criss-crossed by an extensive network of canals through which small boats ferry locals, tourists and goods. The architecture lining these canals is unrivalled, with highlights including the railway station decorated with intricate blue ‘azulejos’ or Portuguese tiles, and the baroque Cathedral founded in 1423. Wherever you go in Portugal, the cuisine embraces the flavours of the sea, but nowhere is this truer than Aveiro. For foodies, a trip to the bustling fish market is a must for its bountiful fresh fish. Originally built in 1904, its recent renovation has turned it into a glittering beacon for the city’s thriving fish industry. While there, stop off at the Mercado do Peixe restaurant on the first floor to dine on soups, fresh fish and local vegetables served with crisp Portuguese white wine.
Sintra isn’t technically a city, but this resort town is so charming that you can’t help but fall in love with it at first sight. The city’s architectural gems are many, from the pastel buildings of the historical centre and the medieval Moorish castles, to the whitewashed Sintra National Palace and the distinctive turrets of the Pena National Palace. Tourists often visit Sintra as a day trip from Lisbon, but there is so much to see that it’s well worth a trip in its own right. Surrounded by misty forests high in the hills, it’s often cooler than the capital as well. Sintra boasts plenty of dining options, many of which are in its more whimsical buildings such as the 17th century Tacho Real or the Tivoli Palacio de Seteais hotel.