Although the weather is yet to determine whether or not it's ready for Summer, our calendars say June so we’re deep in holiday mode.
If it feels like everyone you know is suddenly interested in travelling to Portugal - or has recently been - you’re not imagining it. Tourism in Europe’s westernmost country has been soaring: Portugal was named the World’s Leading Destination at the 2018 World Travel Awards, the number of tourists visiting has continued to increase every year since 2014, and Madonna lives there.
Despite the boom in tourism, most of Portugal's stunning landscape is being overshadowed by its capital. Now don't get us wrong, Lisbon continues to sit at the top of travel itineraries for good reason. The city offers a perfect blend of old and new that gives it an ageless personality. Everywhere you look, the city wears its history for the world to see and simultaneously showcases its young energy and progressive attitude. Bright squares are surrounded by centuries-old buildings that are next to modern cafés, while contemporary museums, galleries, and stores are popping up.
But if Lisbon is so wonderful, that probably means there are loads of other places worthy of your time too, right?
No matter what interests you, there is a Portuguese town or city where you'll find yourself enchanted by scenery, culinary arts, history, and more. On your next trip to Portugal, immerse yourself in the culture of these 6 underrated destinations.
Not straying too far from Lisbon, Sintra is approximately 30 kilometres from the capital making it an easy day trip, though you may prefer two or three days to fully experience the beauty of the town. Once home to the most famous author of children’s fairy tales, Hans Christian Andersen - Sintra is a living fairy tale itself. From the Pena Palace (which inspired Walt Disney) to the exquisite Monserrate Palace and medieval Castle of the Moors, the city will transport you to fictional destinations straight out of a Disney film.
Speaking of castles, how about visiting a city located within castle walls? Charming, picturesque, and romantic, Óbidos is a great place to bring a camera - or phone - and curate the Instagram feed of dreams. More than just a scenic backdrop, the city also hosts an annual chocolate festival. But a walk through the cobblestone alleys is a treat for more than just those with a sweet tooth. Often referred to as a city for book lovers, historic spaces have been transformed into contemporary bookstores selling everything from coffee table design books to classic first editions.
An alternative to the classic beach holiday, Vilamoura is a purpose-built all-in-one holiday destination. There’s something for everybody with pristine stretches of white sand you don’t have to weave around packed deck chairs to enjoy, markets bustling with adventurous local artisans as well as pastel alleyways filled with architectural sights. However, the busy Marina is where most of the action happens. You'll find a sprinkling of million-pound yachts along the water and a scatter of Irish bars, shops and restaurants (some authentic Portuguese, others not so much) along the pier.
If you ask anyone from Portugal, they'll tell you Lagos is home to some of the most impressive beaches in Portugal. The colourful red rock cliff faces, the secluded beaches and the never-ending year-round sunshine make this a must-see destination. With a huge range of activities spanning water sports, boat trips and horse riding, excellent restaurants and an electric nightlife, it’s not surprising that people of all ages are drawn here.
Serra da Estrela
This destination takes a little more effort to get to but is well worth it. Portugal isn’t all beaches, and Serra da Estrela is home to the highest mountain peak in continental Portugal (the highest in all of Portugal is in Pico Island, Azores). Nature-lovers should take note because the remote mountain range of Serra da Estrela has plenty to see and do - and is the only place to go skiing in winter. Sparsely speckled with tiny villages, the mountain range is remote and nature is the main attraction.
If you can't quite get Lisbon off your mind, don’t miss Portugal’s second largest city. In many ways, it's a lot like the capital since both are characterized by old, colourful buildings sprawled across hilly streets and sit beside major rivers, but Porto is the yin to Lisbon’s yang. Where Lisbon is literally bright and sunny, Porto shines with culture. There is no shortage of gardens, medieval palaces, and cathedrals, and the cuisine is often referred to as the best in the country.
Main image by roya ann miller