Here's Why You Should Book a Flight to Portugal ASAP
There are definitely trends in the travel industry, and Portugal seems to be the place to head to in 2016. Due to new and inexpensive routes on the country's flag airline, TAP, to many major cities in the US and in Europe, along with great variety and value for accommodations, varied terrain of seaside and mountains, and a wine and food culture as rich as neighboring countries like France and Spain (but without all the crowds), you may have noticed scenic backdrops of the country in your Instagram feed a lot more. I took a trip there this summer for my birthday and I cannot wait to go back. Here are 10 reasons why you should book a flight to Portugal ASAP.
Porto’s Faded Grandeur Makes It One of the Most Romantic Cities in the World
Known as the capital of the North, there are few cities in the world as romantic as Porto. Part of this can be attributed to its faded grandeur and its beautiful buildings in various stages of preservation. Take a walk through the old city and you'll see tons of lovebirds watching the sunset over the Douro river. Seeing the city lights is truly a magical sight.
With its faded grandeur and rich culture, many travelers have likened Porto to Europe's Havana. Sure, some of the older buildings could use a little TLC but their craftsmanship, still vivid in the tile work of the facades, speaks to construction that has really withstood the test of time!
Speaking of tile work, one of the first things you'll notice is the painted tin-glaze ceramic tile work that Portugal is famous for, azulejo. A major part of Portuguese architecture, you will see this ornate tile work on walls, floors, and ceilings of everything from churches to subway stations and apartment buildings.
Even Some Sidewalks Are in Beautiful Mosaic Patterns!
I really got carried away. Even some of the sidewalks are in beautiful mosaic patterns adding to the romance of the city in the evenings.
Endless Instagram Opportunities With Your Favorite Azulejos
The selfie opportunities with your favorite tile patterns are endless.
Get Your Harry Potter Fix!
For you Harry Potter fans, no doubt Porto will look familiar. Open for over a century, the Livraria Lello Porto could be the most beautiful bookshop in the world. Porto was home to author J.K. Rowling between 1991 and 1993 while she was writing Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone. The grand staircase of Hogwarts and the series' bookshop, Flourish and Blotts, is definitely described much like Lello's.
Getting Lost in Diagon Alley
Some of Porto's alley and side streets also may remind you of Diagon Alley in the Harry Potter series. Narrow, a bit dark, and with magical twists and turns, they are a wonderful place to simply get lost. While you're in Porto, you're sure to come across students who attend the University of Porto. I'm sure Rowling was more than inspired by their uniform when creating Hogwarts looks. The students often wear a black pants or skirts paired with long, knee-length capes draped around their shoulders.
Try Port in Porto!
Port has the reputation of being an older gent's drink. However, over the years with an extensive push in port education throughout the world, and the region's growing popularity among young travelers, the age (and gender) demographics of the typical port customer is starting to shift. What better place to try your first glass of port than in Porto? There's beautiful wine country surrounding the city and easy day trips can be arranged touring the vineyards. Another great option are the old wine houses right there in the heart of the old city on the Douro river like the popular Cálem.
Portugal Has the Foodie Scene of Its Neighboring Countries
Like neighboring Latin countries, Portugal's tradition in drink can only be rivaled by its tradition in food. A growing foodie scene is definitely emerging in both Lisbon and Porto with new restaurants opening rapidly. But home-style, traditional food is still the best fare here, and in this coastal country that often includes fish. It would almost be sacrilege to be in Portugal and not try grilled sardines. Some other authentic Portuguese dishes that you should try? Francesinha, bacalhau, polvo assado, alheira de caça.
Maybe Not Quite “Foodie” But . . .
Portugal is one of the world's leaders in the canned fish industry — particularly sardines. Even if canned fish is not up your alley, the colorful packaging will almost certainly catch your eye. Check out Loja Das Conservas.
After All of That Eating, Walk It Off
If Porto or Lisbon aren't already considered some of the fittest cities in the world, they absolutely should be. Similar to San Francisco, the hills in these two cities are killer; in fact, many side alleys have steps! Forget squats, the hills in Lisbon and Porto will have your glutes in tip-top shape.
Getting Around By Tram Is a Pretty Cute Option as Well
The famous yellow trams in Lisbon have been operating since the 1870s. It’s pretty incredible to watch how they slink through narrow streets and cut corners, just barely missing each other.
Portugal Has a Rich Music Culture
Fado is a Portuguese music genre originating in the 1800s, with soulful, sometimes gut-wrenchingly emotional music. There's melancholy but also nostalgia and hope with origins tracing back to homesick sailors at sea and slaves in Brazil, and then trickling down to the streets and brothels of Lisbon. Walk in the romantic old Alfama district and you'll hear it spilling out of bars, halls, and restaurants.
Portugal has a rich new music culture as well. While I was in Lisbon, I stumbled on one concert and was invited to another EDM festival. Plan your trip around the Boom Festival. This week-long festival happening every other year is Portugal's answer to Burning Man.
Feel Like Old Portuguese Nobility
One of the many wonderful things about a holiday in Portugal is the variety of accommodations at amazing prices. One of the reasons that Airbnb is so popular is that apartment living aids in a full cultural immersion while traveling. I like to feel like a well-off Portuguese 18th century merchant's wife, so naturally I stayed at Mercador Luxury Apartments (once a ducal palace, the Palácio do Mercador, dating back from 1565) for part of my trip to Lisbon. For around $125 per night you can stay in a suite with a kitchenette included.
If You Really Want to Splurge and Live Like Aristocracy, Palácio Belmonte Is Worth a Visit
Staying here, getting lost on the way to the courtyards, terrace, and kitchen, I really felt like a princess in a palace. The epitome of luxury, Palácio Belmonte has been home to people like Jeremy Irons, Christian Louboutin, and countless international aristocrats. I say "home" because you really do feel at home here. The ecologist and artist owners, Frederic Coustouls and Maria Mendonça have perfected every detail in this palace, built into the ancient Roman and Moorish walls (dating back to 198 BC!), directly across from the castle and dating back to 1449. From the art on the walls (some of it Maria's own), to the beautifully restored azulejos and the charm and luxury of every room, there really is no place in the world like Palácio Belmonte. Whether you're listening to the birds singing in the garden while chatting with Maria, or having a cocktail while reading in the beautiful library, Palácio Belmonte immediately just feels like home.
The Padre Himalaya Suite
Here's where I stayed, Padre Himalaya, honeymoon suite in the morning light. With 360-degree views of the Alfama district and River Tagus, built into the Roman tower and a full marble bathroom — as big as most hotel rooms — with a sunken tub and shower, this is the epitome of romantic. The only problem, if you can call it that, is that you simply will not want to leave.
Portugal is a surfer's paradise with amazing surf breaks for all levels dotting up and down the coast. Head down to Sagres in the beachside region of Algarve for amazing breaks and beautiful vistas.
Here's another one of Sagres because it's just that beautiful.
The Farthest Point West You Can Go on the Old Continent
Check this one off your bucket list: head to the westernmost point of continental Europe, Cabo da Roca.