The Ultimate Guide to Portugal

From the breathtaking beaches, to the Mediterranean cuisine and wine, explore Portugal like a local.

Born and raised in Sardinia, Jacada Travel's Europe expert Melania Siriu's love affair with Portugal began during weekend trips to the country in early adulthood. Visiting Portugal during her formative years, Melania fell in love with the food, culture and architecture that is so typical of this varied Mediterranean country. Whilst traveling, Melania loves to delve into the authenticity of destinations and connect with the people who make places. From exploring Lisbon's Jewish heritage to cruising the Algarve's waters, these are Melania's tips on how to experience Portugal like a local.

Explore Lisbon's Jewish heritage

As the birthplace of Portugal, the city of Lisbon has seen many residents come and go. Thanks to its extraordinarily imaginative residents, the Lisbon of today is filled with creative homages to the past. Lisboetas build their lives around being in the streets, and wandering the Jewish quarter by foot is a great way to learn about the city's heritage.

My favorite way to discover Lisbon's Jewish history is to start by walking along the streets of the Baixa Pombalina and Alfama district in downtown Lisbon. Completely renovated after a devastating earthquake in 1755, this aesthetically pleasing quarter has a fascinating Jewish past. A particularly impressive site here is the Lisbon Synagogue. Called Shaaré Tikvah, or Gates of Hope, the Lisbon Synagogue was inaugurated in 1904. The first synagogue to be built in Portugal since the late 15th century, Shaaré Tikvah is a real symbol of hope. Today, the synagogue is an architectural wonder that wonderfully blends Neo-Byzantine and Neo-Romanesque styles.

Arrabida Natural Park
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Get active in Arrábida's Natural Park

Located between the city of Setúbal and the fishing town of Sesimbra, the Parque Natural da Arrábida is a great place to immerse yourself in Portugal's nature. With lush greenery and a wild coast, this is one of my favorite places in Portugal to go hiking. An almost untouched natural landscape, the cliffs here overlook the lapping waves of the Atlantic Ocean - a truly beautiful sight! One of the best hikes for beginners or those wanting to take it easy is along the Cabo Espichel. Along this circular 5 kilometer path, you can see limestone rocks that date back over 150 years to the Jurassic and Cretaceous periods. Wandering down this stunning coastal path is a great way to while away an afternoon.

Algarve coast
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Cruise the waters of the Algarve

For many, the Algarve is what comes to mind when they hear the words 'Portuguese vacation.' Weathered red cliffs, idyllic beaches and quaint fishing towns stretch for miles across the coast of the Atlantic, giving Portugal's southernmost region a quality quite like nowhere else in Europe. There's plenty of ways to explore the Algarve, and the friendly locals are sure to point you in the right direction, whether you're looking to relax on a beach or shop in local artisan markets.

One of my favorite ways to spend time here is to explore the waters of the beautiful Ria Formosa Lagoon. The environment here is most stunning at night, and from March through September, visitors can enjoy a moonlight boat ride. Warm air, shimmering stars and a generous moonlight are all perfect ingredients for a stunning evening boat ride. There are few vacation experiences that beat riding over stunning reflections of the city lights with a gin and tonic in hand, as the gentle sounds of the Algarve provide a backdrop to your journey.

Overview of Portugal
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Discover Porto's architectural wonders

Portugal's second city Porto is an eclectic mix of soaring bell towers, extravagant baroque churches and stately Beaux-Arts buildings. The Douro River winds peacefully below the city, and the best way to discover the stories of Porto's streets is to follow in the footsteps of those who have gone before you. The modern world and historic Porto blend seamlessly in the city streets, from petiscos bars serving age-old recipes to wonderfully sleek museums situated a stone's throw from Roman ruins. Between sipping port wine and cruising the lush Douro valley, it's also worth taking some time to marvel at the city's architectural wonders.

From Romanesque and Baroque styles to more contemporary work, Porto is home to some of the world's most diverse architecture. On an architectural tour of Porto, two of my favorites are the Serralves Museum and the Vodafone building. The Serralves Museum is one of the most architecturally fascinating buildings in Europe, and houses one of the most important collections of contemporary art across the continent. Inaugurated in 1991 by the prominent architect Álvaro Siza Vieira, this modern museum integrates harmoniously with its natural surroundings. The architectural space inside the museum is wonderfully agile, responding to the diversity and unpredictability of the work hanging inside it.

Next, head to the Vodafone building - one of my favorite buildings in Porto! A dynamic, seemingly shape-shifting structure, the Vodafone building was designed by architects José António Barbosa and Pedro Lopes Guimarães. Inspired by Vodafone's slogan at the time, 'life in motion,' the architects set about creating a structure that seemed to move with the times. Today, this building conveys a sense of movement and is a structure that truly imitates life in motion, as it seems to move with the bustling world below.

Wine in portugal
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Taste local food & wine amongst Portuguese vineyards

The idyllic Quinta de Chocapalha vineyards are situated an hour's drive from Lisbon, so they're easily accessible. The vineyards here have been around since as far back as the 16th century, so they're full of history too. Today, the Quinta de Chocapalha vineyards are owned by Alice and Paulo Tavares da Silva. This lovely couple bought the estate back in the 1980s and made significant investments here by introducing new cultivation methods. Today, this family welcomes visitors from all walks of life to share in their slice of viticulture. A private visit is a truly intimate way to get to know the family, and touring the vineyards followed by sharing wine and a meal with the da Silvas is a lovely way to spend a day.

The Ultimate Guide to Portugal | Culture