Right – so you’ve heard of Portugal. Good start. But can you find it on a map? Chances are if you’re from the Southern Hemisphere, like me, you may have struggled with that one. British? Well you’ve probably got a head start – the Portuguese Algarve coast is British party vacation central. However, the party destinations of Faro and Lagos are truly not even the tip of the iceberg of what Portugal has to offer.
Of all the countries I’ve visited in my life (and that number keeps on growin!) Portugal remains one that holds a special place in my heart. It also seems to be the country I get asked about the most. It’s new on many people’s radars, and is one of those rare destinations that can offer you a truly European expedition without the hefty price tag of countries further North.
Portugal: The undiscovered jewel of Western Europe
Portugal is incredible, and mostly undiscovered by many. In just one sliver of coastal country it provides a fascinating culture, stunning architecture, breaktaking scenery, excellent food, some of the most beautiful beaches in the world. But the best part? WAY less tourists than the French riviera, Cinque de Terre or Mykonos.
I was lucky enough to travel the full length of Portugal over the space of three months, from North to South (even popping across to the Azores Islands). I explored the North in the Spring, fell in love with Porto in the early summer and spent many, many scorching late summer days under the Portuguese sun.
What did I discover? Well first of all – it was hard to narrow this list down, it is a spectacular country, but here’s are my top 5 hidden hotspots in Portugal.
1. Aveiro, the Portuguese Venice
Slip away into an Italian-themed town of candy-coloured pastel buildings and canal boats gliding down picturesque canals. I don’t need to explain any more why Aveiro is known as the Little Venice of Portugal. Despite being a super popular destination for local tourism, the Portuguese have kept this secret quiet. Most travellers I’ve met along the way have never even heard of it!
This stunning town with an endless summer feel borders the ever-lovely sandy coastline of Praia da Costa Nova, featuring gorgeous cafes, great local food and postcard-worthy striped buildings.
Try exploring the canals: There are many tours offering affordable canal boat tours for around the 8€ – 10€ mark, or take to the boardwalks on foot to explore the picturesque river-front cafes and watch the world pass by. Although not quite on the canal’s edge, Doce Infusao is an exceptionally well-rated Aveiro cafe to try Portuguese tarts, cakes and a wide selection of teas & coffees.
2. Sagres, Gateway to the untouched Algarve
Teetering on the Southwestern most tip of Portugal’s dramatic sheer cliffs is Sagres. From here it feels a little like the end of the world with vast oceans and windswept peaks. However rather than the end, this little town is actually the gateway to some of the country’s most spectacular (and far less inhabited) beaches, trails and scenery.
When most people head to the Algarve region they head straight to Lagos or Faro – but if you’re looking for Portugal at it’s most breathtaking then avoid the party spots and hop on a bus to Sagres for some true exploring.
Try hitting up the local eateries: Sagres is a great spot to lay back and relax, and don’t the locals know it! Hit up Three Little Birds for excellent Mexican food, ice cold G+T’s and best of all, super relaxing hammocks & beanbags in the courtyard. For something with more of a mediterranean flavour, try Terra for some tasty Portuguese and Italian food, fantastic veggie options and perfectly Portuguese laid-back ambience.
3. Zambujeira do Mar, The Beaches Without the Masses
If you like Portuguese beaches, but you don’t like so many crowds, I might just have the spot for you. The Zambujeira do Mar is a popular beach for a local Portuguese people, but one the tourist masses haven’t caught onto yet.
Located in the Alentejo region north of the Algarve, Zambujeira do Mar is where trendy little bars and cafes meet historic architecture and traditional whitewash buildings. The cliffs are inspiring and the beaches are nothing short of terrific. If you walk past the main beach you will find a second, even more secluded beach with even less people.
Try living like a local: This breathtaking AirBnB is actually a Century-old watermill located an easy 8 minute stroll away from the beach in Zambujeira do Mar. Pretty impressive right? It also has a 30m biological swimming pool, BBQ area and a ton of excellent reviews (and a pretty decent rate too) If you’re after some sweet, sweet AirBnB travel credit for signing up through me, simply use this link
4. Evora, Historic Portugal at its Best
Hidden a little inland within the Alentejo region is Evora. A charming monumental city laden with Roman ruins, Portuguese monuments and the Capela dos Ossos (decorated with human bones!). If you’re a bit of a history buff, then Evora might just be for you. Think Rome without the crowds and relentless selfie-stick vendors!
Evora is a great jumping point to a number of other hidden Portuguese hotspots. Go exploring from here and find towns like Monsaraz, a picturesque walled village balancing atop a hill.
Try treating yourself: with a night at the opulent Evora hotel. Featuring 2 outdoor pools, landscaped gardens, heated indoor pool, health club, and a Lounge Natural Living restaurant. It’s pretty stunning! Check it out over at Agoda by following this link.
5. Porto, on the Banks of the Douro
Porto tops the charts as one of my favourite European cities of all time. With the charms of Paris or Rome, but without the craziness, the crime, or the hefty price tag. Buildings of all colours balance precariously over the banks of the Douro river, and the riverside boardwalks make for a sunset stroll that will melt your heart.
This Portuguese hidden hotspot is also where Port comes from (funny that, isn’t it?). Along the riverside lie numerous Port houses where you can dine on delicious local cuisine and test port till your heart’s content. Little gems dot this incredible city everywhere you look, from spectacularly good (and incredibly cheap) tascas serving up piri piri grilled chicken for mere pennies, hole-in-the-wall bars that have existed for hundreds of years, photo-ops around every turn and impromptu Fado singers. Porto really does have it all – yes, I’m totally in love.
Try taking a day-tour of Porto:Experience Porto’s Bites & Sights with Urban Adventures. They say… “This Porto tour starts with a coffee and pastry, ends with a port wine and features codfish tasting and liqueur sipping in the middle. Sweet! But it gets better: add quaint architecture, classic cafes, and cosy taverns for the perfect day in Portugal.” Check it out over at Urban Adventures
Anything you want to add? Have I missed somewhere? I definitely need another reason to get myself back to this incredible country. I might just be infatuated!