Your comprehensive travel guide to Portugal - All in one place!
Portugal is a small country that faces the Atlantic coast of the Iberian Peninsula. Because of its beautiful coastline and historical heritage, it is one of the most visited countries in Europe. Its smaller size makes it easier to get around and see more places. The temperate climate makes it a year-round vacation destination, where travelers can see Roman and Moorish ruins among other tourist attractions in Portugal.
History and Government
During the early first millennium BC, various waves of Celts from central Europe occupied Portugal and got married with the local inhabitants. Consequently, various ethnic groups were formed such as the Calaicians or Gallaeci of northern Portugal, Cynetes or COnii of the Algarve, the Celtici of Alentejo, and the Lusitanians of central Portugal. Between the 15th and 16th centuries, Portugal was an important European power of having equal status with Spain, France, and England. Its government, economy, and culture had great influences all throughout its neighboring countries. It ruled an immense empire with millions of inhabitants in the Africa, Americas, Asia, and the Middle East. In 1580, the Spanish and Portuguese empires came under a single reign after the young king Sebastian was killed in a battle without an heir. Between 1580 and 1640, Portugal was under the Spanish monarchy during which its colonies were attacked by Spain’s enemies – Dutch and English. Eventually, its independence was declared through the initiatives of great native noblemen including the Duke of Braganza, a descendant of King Manual I and John IV.
The 1755 earthquake in Lisbon, occupation of the Napoleon Empire, and the loss of its biggest colony, Brazil, in 1822 led to a weakening Portugal. Between the 19th century and late 1950s, almost 2 million Portuguese left for Brazil and the US. Military takeovers in 1910 and 1926 did not solve most of the country’s crisis. When a new government was instituted in 1974, various democratic reforms were established. Most unforgettable of this is when Portugal granted sovereignty to all its African colonies in 1975.
Geography and Environment
Portugal occupies the western part of the Iberian Peninsula and is slightly smaller than Indiana. The country is crossed by three large rivers that rise in Spain, flow into the Atlantic, and divide the country into three geographic areas. The Minho River, part of the northern boundary, cuts through a mountainous area that extends south to the vicinity of the Douro River. South of the Douro, the mountain's slope to the plains around the Tejo River. The remaining division is the southern one of Alentejo. The Azores stretch over 547 sq km in the Atlantic and consist of nine islands with a total area of 2,335 sq km. Madeira, consisting of two inhabited islands, Madeira and Porto Santo, and two groups of uninhabited islands, lie in the Atlantic about 861 km southwest of Lisbon.
Culture and Customs
Portuguese culture is diverse and finds expression in ways that give Portugal its unique personality; like the history, local traditions, the cuisine, the people’s love for performing art. During the summer there are many local festivals where the Portuguese celebrate their culture and enjoy activities such as traditional dance, music concerts and the theatre amongst many other things. The Portuguese have a great tradition of art, music, dance and drama.
Area and Population
One of the oldest independent countries on earth, Portugal is known as a popular destination for migrants from many countries across the world. Based on the current UN estimates, the 2019 population of Portugal is 10.23 million, which ranks it 88th in the world. Portugal is a relatively small country and its population density figures are consistent with its overall size. It has a surface area of 92,090 square kilometers which converts to 35,645 square miles and makes it the 111th largest country in terms of landmass alone. For every square mile of Portuguese territory, there is an average of 111 people here.
Food and Drink
For a relatively small country, Portugal has a surprising variety of gastronomical delights. This is in no small way due to the fact it has been influenced by the foods of Portugal’s former colonies such as Goa and Macau. When Vasco da Gama discovered the sea route to India in the 16th century the Portuguese’ desire for exotic foods and spices brought in many new varieties from Asia, China, Africa and South America, spices such as ‘piri piri’ (small fiery chili peppers), black pepper, cinnamon, vanilla and saffron feature in many Portuguese dishes making a marked difference to the cuisine of Spain and the Mediterranean countries although some of the Portuguese dishes are closely related to the Mediterranean cuisine.
Festivals and Events
High culture or low, or something in between, there’s something for everyone all year long in Portugal. Pagan rites, Holy Week happenings, foodie fests, big rock shows and more—the Portuguese love their parties, many of which you’ll find nowhere else in the world. Beyond the big events, almost every town has a saint day feast or a harvest festival. Just make sure to check festival dates before you plan your itinerary, so you’re not left off the guest list.
Best Time to Visit
The best times to visit Portugal are spring or early fall, when the crowds are thinner, accommodation prices are lower, the winter rainy season is avoided, and temperatures will be warm but not scorching. Swimming is still possible in the early fall, as waters remain warm; mild spring temperatures are ideal for exploring the numerous hills of Lisbon and Sintra.
The euro is the official currency of the European Monetary Union. It was initially adopted by 11 members of the EU on January 1, 1999, before Greece later adopted it two years later. Portugal was among the first 11 member states who adopted the euro.
The food and water standards in Portugal are similar to the United States, so you should not have a problem eating or drinking. However, if you plan on traveling to rural or remote areas of Portugal that are served unregulated water, then you should plan to take special precautions.
While traveling around the cities of Portugal, be sure to use safe transportation. Buses and trams are a great way to travel around the city, but they can become overcrowded and be a threat to your safety. If you are traveling by foot, use sidewalks marked crosswalks, and watch for trams driving up and down the streets.