10 Great Reasons to Visit Portugal in 2012

Porto, Portugal

The city of Guimarães was Portugal’s capital for a brief period back in the 1100s, and in 2012 it will be European Capital of Culture. This well-preserved medieval city is one of Portugal’s dozen World Heritage Sites for its architectural and cultural treasures, and in the upcoming months it will present a calendar filled with major cultural events, from the classic fine arts to contemporary artistic performances. It will host national and international artists and will target cultured tourists to the north of the country.

Taking advantage of its proximity to Guimarães, the baroque city of Braga will turn into the European Capital of Youth. The European Union selected this Portuguese city for its young population (35% of which is under 26 years old), and it will host the EU-Africa, EU-Latin America and EU-Arab Nations summits together with several events throughout the year with lots of music and festivals.

All the attention on Guimarães and Braga will be beneficial to Porto, the capital city of the north of Portugal. Tourists will find a rejuvenated old city which has been tastefully reimagined through careful renovations. Old bookshops and warehouses are now trendy cafés and restaurants, and the once-sleepy downtown is now a vibrant center day and night. This added to its reputation as a major wine destination and its magnificent setting by the Douro River has turned Porto into one of the fastest-growing European destinations. Of course the always-increasing number of low-cost flights has helped, but the number of upscale tourists has also increased, leading to the grand openings of two grand hotels last year — an InterContinental facing the city’s main square and the luxurious Yeatman across the river.

Despite all the budget cutbacks, Lisbon will go on. The José Saramago Foundation will finally open in the landmark Casa dos Bicos after countless delays, presenting literary events and the Nobel Prize author’s library. Nearby, on Comercio Square, you’ll find a new museum related to the city’s post-1755-earthquake years with the fascinating story of how it rose from the ashes as a then-state-of-the-art city. Across the triumphal arch, you’ll find the ever-expanding Design and Fashion Museum with several new exhibitions, and in the Belém district there will be a new home for magnificent royal carriages.

2012 is a year of Rock in Rio-Lisboa, the festival that takes place every two years with lots of major international stars. So far Lenny Kravitz, Maroon 5, Metallica and Bruce Springsteen have been confirmed but other big names will be announced soon and until the event which lasts for several days in late May and early June.
And let’s not forget the annual Optimus Alive festival on July 13, 14 and 15. This year it will bring bands like Radiohead and Snow Patrol among others to be announced.

The Lisbon coast will host major international events in 2012. The Volvo Ocean Race will pass by the Portuguese capital in June before heading back into the Atlantic towards the Portuguese island of São Miguel in the Azores, eventually reaching the Brittany coast in France. A few weeks later the Tall Ships Races will be in town (July 19th-22nd), with a fleet of major ships moored by the historic center of Lisbon for a unique and magnificent sight.
Also happening on the Lisbon coast is the Estoril Open, the tennis tournament that will bring major players and lots of excitement in April and May.

EasyJet will have a new base in Lisbon starting in April, bringing thousands of extra tourists to the city. But that doesn’t mean that you’ll find Lisbon overrun with tourists, as it still doesn’t get the mass tourism of Rome or Paris. It simply means that you’ll have more flight choices and price ranges to bring you to Portugal. Also, starting in the summer, your hotel or apartment in the center of Lisbon will be even easier to reach, as the airport will finally have a metro station. Of course, if you prefer, you may still choose a private transfer.

After a hostels boom, Lisbon’s accommodation choices expanded with central apartments that have become popular choices among tourists looking for extra privacy and lower prices. But there are also new hotels, starting with Fontecruz, a luxury boutique hotel right on the main avenue scheduled to open on the first days of the year. Then, later in the year we’ll see the conclusion of the landmark Sana Vasco da Gama Royal Hotel on the Vasco da Gama Tower.

In the last few years Portugal’s southern province added an extra “L” to its name when promoting its tourist attractions. It became “Allgarve,” reminding tourists that this is not just a destination for beach resorts, but really a place that’s got it all, including cultural events and a variety of activities. While it’s been reported that it will no longer use the name “Allgarve”, the Algarve will continue to offer some of the best of Portugal together with all the tacky/mass-tourism-targeting attractions many know it for. Those who get away from the tourist path will find the best restaurants in the country (it has more Michelin stars than Lisbon) and some of the finest hotels which together with a rich calendar of events and sunny weather throughout the year, making it a perfect destination for a few days of leisure and relaxation.

The euro crisis is not good news for Europeans and especially for the Portuguese during these austerity days, but it’s great news for tourists! Portugal is hoping tourism will help its bank accounts, and to attract visitors it’s been lowering prices. In doing so it also hopes that the Portuguese will travel within their own country instead of going abroad, and for that reason 2012 will be a year of bargains. Even luxury accommodation is at a third of the price of elsewhere in Western Europe, so even if you’re used to mid-range accommodation in your European travels, you’ll be able to have an upgraded experience in Portugal for the same price!