10 Reasons to Visit Portugal Instead of Spain

Portugal beach

There’s a reason why Spain is one of the world’s five most-popular destinations. Not only is it one of Europe’s biggest countries, it’s also one of the world’s most breathtaking in terms of natural beauty and cultural attractions. For that reason, after a tour of Portugal’s neighbor, most travelers conclude that they have seen enough of Iberia and overlook Portugal, figuring it’s just another version of Spain. Those who know Portugal know that despite the many similarities, the smaller Iberian nation has quite a different essence and temperament, not to mention its own individual character and culture. Portugal usually ranks between the world’s top 15 or 20 most-visited countries, but living in the tourism shadow of Spain means that it could actually be higher on that list. So if you’re not sure if you should visit Portugal or Spain (or both) on your next trip, here are ten reasons why you should choose Portugal now:

If you’re in the United States or anywhere in North America or South America, Portugal is the closest European country to you. If you’re in the British Isles, Portugal is the only country in mainland Europe that shares your time zone, and you’ll reach Lisbon or Porto before you reach Madrid or Barcelona. Portugal is therefore perfect if you prefer shorter flights.
Also, Portugal’s location on the Atlantic means that its coastline is quite different from Spain’s which is for the most part on the Mediterranean. Portugal’s coast is therefore a different experience, with mystical capes that includes the westernmost point in Europe, making it a unique, unforgettable experience.

Prices in Portugal are the lowest of all Western European countries, and that of course includes Spain. Even 5-star hotels in major tourism areas can be anywhere from 25% to 50% lower than in the neighbor country, and even more affordable are the restaurants which even in Lisbon can be quite inexpensive.

Spanish tapas are now a worldwide trend and Spanish paella is more famous than any Portuguese dish, but even many Spaniards will agree that Portuguese food is simply better. And we emphasize the word “simply,” as Portuguese food stands out for its freshness and simplicity. It’s also more varied and quite frankly better prepared than the typical meat-heavy Spanish cuisine (we’re not talking about the new wave of innovative Catalan cuisine here, but the traditional Spanish food).

If you feel more comfortable going to a country where you can communicate in English, choose Portugal. You’ll find more (young) people speaking at least some basic English than in Spain, and with quite a better accent to be understood. English in Portugal is learned not just in school but also through TV and movies, as they are not dubbed but subtitled. In Spain and throughout much of Europe everything is dubbed so it’s difficult to develop a good accent and learn English. It’s for that reason that Portugal has more English speakers than any other southern European country, which is always good news for travelers.

Good things do come in small packages. Being a varied, compact country like Portugal has its advantages, proving that size does matter.
Spain is probably Europe’s most diverse country, being for example quite different in the south (Andalusia) and in the north (Galicia or Basque Country). Considering it’s four times larger than Portugal, you won’t be able to experience all of its regions unless you spend a few weeks in the country. But you can in Portugal. You’ll also find a variety of landscapes and cultural attractions, and there’s also a great north-south contrast, but here you’ll easily travel between the different regions and are able to leave with a greater sense of the country. You can wake up in the peaceful Douro Valley wine country, and fall asleep by the relaxing beaches of Algarve.

The advantages of the country’s small size mentioned above also mean that you can dedicate more time to each destination. You don’t have to rush from place to place if you have several attractions on your list. You have time for more museums, more meals, more time at the beach. You’ll get more from your trip.

Many of the major Spanish cities located away from the coast such as Madrid suffer from extreme temperatures: They may be scorching hot in the summer, and freezing in winter. In Portugal, weather is never so extreme, even in the colder, rainier north. The country is cooled off by the Atlantic and warmed by the winds of the south, making it a year-round destination, especially Lisbon and the southern coast, the sunniest regions in Europe.

Portugal’s capital stands out for being a big city that charms rather than overwhelm. Its old historic center where the tourism attractions are found is quite compact and has a greater sense of history than Madrid or Barcelona which are essentially late-19th and early-20th-century cities. Lisbon is Europe’s oldest capital after Athens and if Iberia became unified as one country it would probably become the capital, as a Spanish king once envisioned. This is one of the world’s greatest natural harbors and as one of the world’s great historic cities, it should not be missed, especially by history buffs. And when we say Lisbon we also say Sintra with its fantastic palaces.

Those looking for Southern European sunshine and warmth in resort accommodation that maintains some local charm should choose Portugal’s Algarve over Spain’s Costa del Sol. While parts of Algarve have also been stripped of any character by mass tourism’s overdevelopment (ugly concrete hotels and apartment buildings), it fortunately did not reach the proportions of many areas of southern Spain. Also, Algarve is Atlantic and not Mediterranean, yet its culture mixes that of the two. It’s in many ways similar to Costa del Sol but with its own flavor, and you’ll want to stand by the cape of St. Vincent, known as the end of the world to ancient Europeans before the Age of Discovery.

Spain’s Canary and Balearic islands are great and beautiful, but for something completely different, look for Portugal’s Azores. This archipelago halfway between Europe and the United States is more New Zealand or Ireland than Mediterranean island resorts. There is no mass tourism or beach resorts — instead you’ll find an incredibly magic atmosphere of volcanos, breathtaking landscapes and whales swimming in the Atlantic. Pictures are not capable of illustrating or capturing the natural grandeur of the place, making it a truly unique destination that needs to be lived to be believed.

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!

The 3 Best Daytrips from Lisbon for this August and September

Chalet Condessa d'Edla, Sintra

Summer has barely begun in Lisbon, so whether you’re looking to combine sun and culture in the city with other attractions and activities elsewhere in Portugal, here are the three destinations to consider right now:

It takes less than 90 minutes to reach Evora, but many prefer to visit it on an overnight stay as part of a longer trip through Portugal. Still, those with only a few days in the country should consider this historic city as a daytrip from the capital. This year there are two big news. Staring this summer, trains depart from Lisbon’s Sete Rios station and now take only 1 hour and 21 minutes to reach Evora. Once there, you’ll be able to visit the landmark Roman Temple and the famous Chapel of Bones among many other attractions, but also see an Andy Warhol exhibition until November. There will be 41 works by the American artist from several collections, including the famous Marilyn portrait, the Campbell’s soup cans and the Coca Cola bottle. All of this iconic pop art can be seen in the Fundação Eugenio de Almeida, right in the center of the old city. Admission is just 1 euro (!) and can be seen every day from 9:30AM to 7PM.

Any tourist who does good research about Lisbon knows that a visit to the city is not complete without a daytrip to Sintra. This fairytale land of castles and royal palaces is perfect in the summer, as all the greenery cools down the temperatures. New this year is the reopening of a romantic building within Pena Park, right below the famous Pena Palace. That building is Chalet Condessa d’Edla, a cottage built for a countess (who later married the king) in the 19th century. After its recent restoration, it was open to the public last week, and will now be the occasional stage for concerts and other events (the first one was opera on the 29th).

With a location by the sea, Cascais is always a popular destination from Lisbon, but obviously more so in the summer. This year’s news is Blue Bar Baia, a bar inside Hotel Baia facing the beach. It’s one of the best spots to be at night, sipping a cocktail as you gaze out to the Atlantic. Nearby is the new Paradigma restaurant, open throughout the day for lunch, afternoon drinks, and dinner.

5 Reasons to Go to Porto this Summer

When in Lisbon, many travelers choose to then move on to the beaches of Algarve while others head north to the country’s second city, Porto. This summer you should go for the second option, as it also offers beaches nearby together with a major cultural renaissance. Here are the five main reasons to go now.

Café Astoria, Porto
Café Astória

There’s a new “wine hotel” that’s not only one of Porto’s top accommodation choices but also one of Portugal’s best. Facing the city’s majestic skyline on the other side of the river, The Yeatman‘s inspiration is the famous wine that Porto is famous for. In addition to the luxury of the rooms, it also offers a wonderful spa and restaurant. Even if you’re not staying at the hotel, you may experience its refined gastronomic choices at the Yeatman Restaurant. Outside, you’ll find countless centuries-old wineries offering free guided tours and wine tastings.

Downtown Porto (including the monumental Avenida dos Aliados) has undergone a major renovation over the past few years and is now a vibrant area at any time of the day. A new InterContinental hotel just opened a few days ago in a palace facing the city’s main avenue, and several café terraces and bars have given downtown a lively ambience. The new hotel also brought back to life an old café in the same building (Café Astória), and other hotspots to check out on the renovated avenue include Casal Lounge and the always-popular Guarany café.

The fact that a new Marc Jacobs shop just opened in the center of the city is the latest indication that the major labels have also begun to discover Porto. But the reason to shop here is for the local products and to admire some beautiful storefronts. Many of them maintain charming turn-of-the-century façades and inside you’ll find attractive classic products or surprisingly modern and alternative pieces. One example of the classic-meets-contemporary is the Taken Urban Culture Store which recently took over one of the city’s most iconic shops. More surprises are found at Lobo Taste, home to contemporary crafts. Also worth a look is the Porto home of one of Lisbon’s most famous shops, A Vida Portuguesa, right in the center of the city. More shopping options here: Porto Shops

Head to the upscale district of Foz where the Douro meets the Atlantic and enjoy the fresh air of the sea. The brand-new Deck Foz is just one option but there are also the already-classic Praia da Luz and Homem do Leme.

End your day (or night) at the latest hotspot in the city, the rooftop terrace Zenith Lounge. It offers moonlit views of Porto and its river together with cocktails and DJ sounds. Closer to downtown, the latest buzz points to Vila Porto, a club hosting the hottest weekend parties in town.


Deck Foz, Porto
Deck Foz

Which are Portugal’s 7 Best Delicacies?

7 Maravilhas da Gastronomia

There is a national contest at the moment searching for the seven wonders of Portuguese cuisine. The results will be announced in September and there are currently 21 finalists. That’s three in seven categories: soups, appetizers, shellfish, fish, meat, game and desserts. Of course this is a highly-subjective list, and essentially a popular vote from Portugal’s different regions. Some choices are mouth-watering, others not so appetizing. Countless other dishes could have been included, and those familiar with Portuguese cuisine will note some surprising omissions. But this is a great way to get to know the national gastronomy and to remember the specialties of the different parts of the country.
The final three soups are caldo verde (“green soup”), sopa de pedra (stone soup) and açorda à alentejana (a bread stew).
The appetizers are Serra da Estrela cheese, codfish cakes, and Mirandela sausage.
Shellfish: Ameijoas (clams) à Bolhão Pato, arroz de marisco (shellfish rice), and xarém com conquilhas (mashed corn with cockles).
Fish: Bacalhau (cod) à Gomes de Sá, polvo assado no forno (baked octopus), and the good-old sardinha assada (grilled sardines).
Meat: chanfana (baked goat), leitão da Bairrada (suckling pig), and tripas à moda do Porto (tripe).
Game: coelho do Porto Santo à caçador (rabbit Porto Santo), coelho à caçador (rabbit), and perdiz de Escabeche de Alpedrinha (patridge).
Desserts: pasteis (pastries) de Tontúgal, pastel de Belém (custard tarts), pudim Abade de Priscos (pudding).
You may vote on the official website (in Portuguese): www.7maravilhas.sapo.pt/votacao