When you think of Portugal the images which normally pop into your head are of the Belém Tower, the Jerónimos Monastery or the Algarve Coast. But, there is more to the country than what appears on the postcards, and here we show you the lesser known side. So if you’ve only been in Portugal for a short time, follow this (alternative) guide on “What to do in Portugal”.
Portugal is a country where the modern and the traditional blend together. Just as new artists or innovative concepts arise, traditions such as fado music remain and even gain international notoriety. Read our nine suggestions of experiences you shouldn’t miss out on in Portugal.
What to do in Portugal: 9 things you can’t miss out
1 – Go to a Fado house
Fado has been sung in the streets of Portugal, especially Lisbon, since the early XX Century, and has acquired the status of national symbol. Besides this, it was named Intangible Cultural Heritage in 2011. If you live in or around Lisbon, go to the capital’s historic neighbourhoods, such as Alfama or the Mouraria, and find a restaurant or Fado house which has a live performance booked for that evening, then let yourself be swept away by one of Portugal’s most beautiful traditions.
2 – Discover a new generation of artists
Lose yourself in the streets of Portugal and get a closer look at the work of a new generation of artists. One of the most renowned is Vhils, known for his urban art and for bringing the most unexpected places to life. You can see some of his work at the Underdogs Gallery or in the streets of Lisbon. But there are plenty of other artists to admire in the capital, including, Bordalo II, ±MaisMenos±, Mário Belém or the internationally acclaimed Joana Vasconcelos.
You should also visit institutions such as the Serralves Museum, the Calouste Gulbenkian Museum, the Belém Cultural Centre (CCB) or the MAAT – Museum of Art, Architecture and Technology. These are eight emblematic locations, carefully curated, which are worth a visit.
3 – Falling in love with the Azores and Madeira
If you are moving to Portugal, one of the things you need to do is take a few days off to visit the archipelagos of the Azores and Madeira. The archipelago of the Azores is made up of nine islands, the largest of which is São Miguel, where you can visit the Lagoa das Sete Cidades and try the famous cozido das furnas. If you want to visit the highest point in Portugal go to the Pico island, where the Pico mountain stands at an altitude of 2,351 metres.
And why not also plan a trip to the Madeira islands? Make the most of the fine weather to discover the best that the archipelago has to offer. If you visit in May, don’t miss the marvelous Festa da Flor. If you are trying to get away from the stress of everyday life, then visit the island of Porto Santo. And finally, if you are a golfing enthusiast, you won’t want to miss the opportunity to play on the course designed by Spanish Steve Ballesteros, former number one in the world.
4 – Have lunch in a traditional restaurant or tavern
One of the best ways to really get to know a country is to go to a traditional restaurant. Just order whatever the people sitting at the next table are eating, even if you’ve no idea what it is. Try doing this in Portugal. You’re in luck, because Portuguese cuisine is superb. More likely than not you’ll end up being served a traditional codfish dish (they say the Portuguese have 1001 different ways of cooking it!), or some delicious grilled sardines.
5 – Visit a wine cellar
Portugal is fantastic wine country and learning more about it should be on your to-do list as soon as you settle. Visit a cellar and learn about how the wine is produced. The most renowned cellars are in the Douro, in the Alentejo, Dão, Minho and Madeira regions. But the most popular among tourists are the famous Port Wine cellars in Gaia.
6 – Enjoy a village festival or the festivities of the popular saints
There isn’t a village, town or city in Portugal that does not have its own festivity. The most famous are those in honour of Saint Anthony, in Lisbon, and Saint John the Baptist, in Porto. Those draw in thousands of people every year. But for a more authentic and traditional evening of fun, the best is to try the local festival in a rural village, where you can by raffles, dance to popular music, buy trinkets or dodge the calves in a traditional garraiada. This earns it a direct entry to our list of what to do in Portugal.
7 – Go to a football match
If you are already in Portugal and want to delve into a ritual charged with symbolism and very specific behaviour, then a Football game is the best place to start.
You’ll be able to find a match in most towns or cities on any given weekend. But if you want to experience the best of the country’s football, try to secure tickets for one of the games between the country’s top three teams: Benfica, Porto and Sporting.
8 – Visit Fátima and the major religious monuments
Many Portuguese try to make it to the shrine in Fátima at least once a year. Let the impressive structure make an impression on you. Then explore other major religious monuments. Some of which have been classified as World Heritage, such as the Convent of Christ in Tomar and the monasteries of Batalha and Alcobaça.
9 – Spend a day on the beach
Going to the beach is a favourite national pastime in Portugal. With several months of sun and warm weather, not limited to the Summer, especially the further South you go, Portugal is a paradise for swimmers, surfers or those who simply enjoy soaking in the sun.
Don’t wait any longer, get yourself down to a beach to understand the Portuguese passion for sandy expanses. Near Lisbon you’ll find the long Costa da Caparica coastline and, a little further south, the Costa Vicentina, the Algarve and other great beaches spread out along the Portuguese coast.
And don’t forget to try a Bola de Berlim, the most popular pastry sold on Portuguese beaches.