Straight-up, Portugal is having a serious moment right now. I'm sure I'm not the only one who can't open their Instagram without seeing amazing pictures of Portugal and Portuguese food flooding their feed... which is cool, because Portugal is actually beautiful. But also not so cool because, you know, the Portugal FOMO is real.
But who can blame me for wishing I was swimming in the crystal blue waters of the Azores instead of saving up to buy a brand new winter jacket that can withstand a -40 degree winter? (PSA: Portugal has over 1700 KM of coastline... that's a whole lot of beaches!). No one, that's who.
While Portugal is a literal paradise of glittering blue water and white sand, that's not even the best part about the country. It also just so happens to be a hub of culture, art, food... and just straight-up fun. With beautiful natural views, mind-blowing food (pastels de nata, anyone?), and super fun local and unique things to do and see, it's honestly no wonder Portugal is probably one of the hottest places to be of the year. Whether you're planning your very own Portugal adventure, or whether you're someone who's just curious as to all the amazing things the country has to offer, there are a few things you're absolutely going to want to discover when exploring this beautiful spot!
1. Discover Lisbon's Rua Nova do Carvalho
Portugal's capital has tons of history, incredible views and even better food - but one of the main attractions has to be its Rua Nova do Carvalho. Although the street used to hold the title of being Lisbon's red light district, it's since reformed and is now home to some of Lisbon's most trendy nightlife spots!
One sight you seriously gotta experience is Rua Nova do Carvalho's Pink Street. It's exactly what it sounds like: a pink road sashaying through the Rua, adding an arty flair to the street (and our Instagram feeds, if we're honest). You can check it out during your free time on any of Contiki’s Portugal trips - you’ll get that already built into your trip so you can take as many 'grams as you’d like!
2. Swing by the Alfama district for some seriously good vibes
Being the second oldest capital city in Europe, Lisbon has more history and historical sight seeing than even the most intense hitsory buff could ask for. But there's also a really big student population and so there's awesome nightlife and great trendy food spots: basically, there's a reason why Lisbon is one of the cities you absolutely have to check out if you're planning a trip to Portugal!
One thing you CAN'T miss on your trip to Lisbon is a night in the Alfama district. This beautiful (extremely) hilly neighborhood is famous for the evening Fado performances. Fado music is this romantic Portugeuse music that is a special treat that you can't find anywhere else in the world!
3. While you're vibing on Lisbon, check out the Tour de Belem
The Tour de Belem is a world UNESCO heritage site and is basically this architecturally stunning tower on the ocean. Your best bet is probably to go late in the afternoon so you can watch the sunset by the tower - you won't regret it!
This stunning tower is just outside of Lisbon's city centre. It's located in the Santa Maria de Belem Parish. If you travel on Contiki’s two-week long Spain, Morocco & Portugal adventure, you won’t ever have to worry about trying to figure out how to get there because it’s actually a ‘No Regrets Inclusion’, meaning you’ll already be visiting this famous tower with your crew!
4. Complete your foodie bucket list by tasting some of the best pastel de nata in the world
If you haven't ever had a pastel de nata, you haven't lived. If you've never had a pastel de nata from Portugal... well, that's okay. There's always time to fix that.
These custardy egg-tarts are the some of the tastiest pastries you could try, and they come straight out of Portugal. There's a little debate on who makes the absolute best pastel de nata, but the general consensus is that Lisbon's Pastis de Belem makes them so tasty you'll weep real tears as soon as the flaky tart touches your tongue.
But keep in mind that these delicatable pockets of pure heaven are the unofficial pastry of the country and you will find them at every corner store, coffee shop and restaurant in the country. Everywhere does it a bit differently, so you have no choice but to try every one you see!
5. Take a day trip to Sintra
In any good vacation, you've got some free time built into your intinerary. And on your adventure to Portugal, that free time is the perfect opportunity to explore the city of Sintra!I literally get chills thinking about this spot! The city of Sintra is this area where old rich English families constructed a bunch a insanely opulent vacation homes. Now most of the homes (AKA, real castles/palaces) are museums/attractions and you have to reserve a full day to just wonder through the amazing grounds and ornate halls. It's about an hour from Lisbon by train and the accomodations are expensive, so we recommend just a quick day-trip from Lisbon!
6. Glide through the canals in Aveiro
Nicknamed the Venice of Portugal, many of the streets in this Portuguese city are legit water channels that you glide through on super colourful Moliceiros, which are kind of like gondolas.
A stopover in Aveiro during your Fiestas & Siestas Contiki adventure is already included. Which is awesome, not just because of the super fun way to travel through the city - but also because of what's inside the city. Other than shops and cafes and other fun things to discover, you absolutely have to make sure to see Aveiro's colourful, rainbow-esque houses. Adorable? You know it!
7. Check out the entire city of Porto
No trip to Portugal is complete without a couple days in Porto. Voted the best weekend trip destination in all of Europe for 3 years in a row, this little town has something for everybody! The birthplace of Port Wine and also that classic Insta photo of the incredble city views that you've seen a couple hundred times - Porto is like something out of a dream. And since you’re already here, you might as well sample the local wine...when in Rome Porto, right? Hop on Contiki’s 12-day Fiestas & Siestas trek and you’ll get to cruise into the terracotta washed city with a walking tour before having a Port tasting followed by a traditional meal with (yup) more Port wine!
The city is super small, but has a crazy amount of culture, nightlife and great food options squished into one place. Your knees won't be happy with you as this city is basically a million hills, but the views cannot be beat. Make sure you walk across one of the bridges to the neighbour city Gaia so that you can see the historic city in it's entirety.
8. Taste real Port at Taylor's Port Wine
Located just over the bridge from Porto is the city of Gaia, and this where you'll find all of the many famous port wine cellars. One of the most famous, Taylor's, has a great wine tasting that is a quintessential Portugal experience and honestly should not be missed.
Although the sweet Port wine is maybe not for everyone, the importance of the wine and the history of the area is definitely worth a visit. Plus you get the most beautiful views of Porto from the ornate tasting room at Taylor (which is worth it alone)!
9. Discover Portugal's ancient, beautiful forest
If your trek to Portugal leads you to Porto, it might as well lead you to this ancient Portuguese gem, as well. The Buçaco Forest is situated about an hour drive out of Porto, and honestly, it's like a gateway to some kind of magical past.
Actually, the forest was settled in the 500s AD (!) by friars, and today boasts the most spectacular collection of trees and other wooded plants in all of Europe. If that fact isn't enough to get you there, then trust, the ethereal combination of trees, plants, sunlight, greenery and ancient-looking structures should absolutely do the trick!
10. Don't miss out on the flavours of the TimeOut Market
Portugal is very well-known for all of its beautiful historic spots, but a modern addition that CANNOT be missed is a trip to Lisbon's TimeOut market! It's a huge open space with 35 food stalls... but this is no ordinary food market. A mix of classic, local and modern Portugeuse fair, each stall has to audition to get in, so you jus know the food is all incredible. (Side note: I literally had my favourite meal of my whole Portugal trip for 10 euros from one of these stalls!)
If you're a foodie - this cannot be missed! Try to go on a weekday if possible because it can get pretty hectic on the weekend. Literlaly drooling rembering all the amazing food here TBH!
11. Explore the seriously gorgeous Jeronimos Monastary
If there's anything you absolutely need to include for an epic trip to Portugal, it's absolutely Lisbon's Jeronimos Monastary. This testament to mind-blowing architecture is yet another one of Portugal's UNESCO World Heritage Sites - and not only is it gorgeous, but it also happens to be rife with history.
Located near Portugal's well-known Tagus river, the Jeronimos Monastary has been around since the 1400s and has survived centuries of insanity - like the famous earthquake that rocked Portugal in the 1700s. Today, it's most commonly known as the final resting place of explorer Vasco da Gama.
TBH, if this list hasn't convinced you that your next trip needs to include Portugal, then we obviously don't speak the same language! Honestly, Portugal has it all: it's got beautiful sights to see, fun places to be and tasty things to eat. And if you're in the throes of planning your own adventure, the good news is that you can experience a real, local and unique trip - full of bucket list moments! - thanks to Contiki.
Protip: Contiki plans EVERYTHING out for your vacation already, so if you want to actually experience Portugal without worrying about anything except your Insta feed, it's the perfect option. Literally, you just show up and you're guaranteed to have an awesome, #NoRegrets vacation! Plus, best part? You'll be experiencing Portugal with a crew of other young, fun explorers from all around the world. New travel BFF, anyone?
Right now, Contiki features Portugal in 3 of their trips, all of which include the must-see and off-the-beaten-track sights (!), food, culture galore and the promise of one seriously awesome time. Their trips are all geared towards the 18-35 crowd, so hello built-in friend group and goodbye the stress of organizing. See you guys on the trip!