Portugal, A Top Travel Destination

Portugal, with its two biggest cities of Lisbon and Porto, its colorful old villages and quaint seaside towns along the dramatic coastline, all make the country a top travel destination. Add that it is one of the most affordable countries in Western Europe and Portugal tempts travelers to put the country on their travel “bucket list”.

Stand in one of the central squares in Lisbon, walk along the riverside promenade in Porto, climb the steep cobbled streets up to an ancient church, a romantic palace or the ruins of a Moorish fortress in one of the small towns and you will find that the varied architectural styles reveal the history and culture of this fascinating country.

Douro River, Porto, Portugal

Porto is a hilly town which is divided by the Douro River and has a feel of two different cities. In the modern city center, Liberty Square with beautiful architecture and monuments, restaurants and hotels connects the newer part to the old town with its slopping, cobbled streets lined with blue tile covered buildings. Porto, known for its fortified port wine, has many of its famous port houses lined up along its riverfront. There are lots of bars and restaurants, many with outside patios, where you can enjoy a glass of port wine and try some of the city’s traditional foods. During our visit, we toured the Sandeman’s cellar to learn about and taste their fine ruby and tawny ports.

Click on any photo to enlarge and see a slide show.

Lisbon is one of the oldest cities in the world and was the starting point for dozens of voyages around the world. There was a taxi strike when we visited Lisbon making travel difficult there. We didn’t walk through the city, but instead took a scenic bus trip before heading out to the hillside town Sintra and seaside town of Cascais.

My favorite spot that we visited during our time in Portugal was the fairytale town of Sintra which is only 15 miles outside the city of Lisbon. It is home to many wonderful villas, castles and palaces. On top of a peak in the Sintra hills is the most famous and colorful palace that you can imagine, the Pena Palace which is a destination in itself.

If you had to describe Portugal in one word, I would probably say “colorful” as there is an explosion of colors everywhere you look. There are beautiful ornate churches, brightly painted houses, entire buildings covered with intricate hand painted blue and white Portuguese (azulejos) tile, and town squares and sidewalks paved in patterns of black and white stones, which are art in themselves.

Outside of the towns and villages, the natural beauty of Portugal’s rugged coastline is a big draw. The stunning landscape at Cabo de Roca lighthouse offers some of the most beautiful natural scenery in the country. Perched on a high bluff at the edge of the windswept Atlantic, it is the most western point of mainland Europe. Looking out to sea where the ocean and sky meet, you can easily understand why it was once thought to be the edge of the world.

Not all is perfect with Portugal, there is a faded grandeur that is slowly disappearing as  many beautiful buildings have been left to ruin. Explore the hilly back streets and you see reminders of the economic downturn from previous years. Historic ruins are coated in lichen and overgrown with vines. Graffiti decorates the walls of once grand buildings and shops. Dilapidated houses with broken windows have been abandoned and slowly crumble from neglect and time. This is because of Portugal’s strict preservation laws that prevent property owners from altering or destroying the fronts of historic buildings. Many poor property owners have no choice but to let them slowly crumble.

While people have moved out of some of these historic neighborhoods, others continue to live and work in these surroundings as seen by laundry hanging from balconies. Palms and olive trees still grow among the graffitied landscape. On a bright note, with more tourists visiting Portugal, buildings are slowly being bought and renovated and hopefully will bring life back to these once thriving ancient neighborhoods.

Historical Buildings In Sintra

The colorful world of Portugal seems to be a land of  wonderful contradictions. Dramatic coastlines and tranquil beaches, fairytale palaces rise above small villages. Large churches and monuments can be found in the smallest of towns. As a first time visitor to Portugal, I was pleasantly surprised that the charming cities and towns were not filled with crowds of tourists.


After my brief two day introduction, I can see why Portugal has become a top tourist destination in Europe. I know I would love to return and explore more of the picturesque towns with their interesting architecture and the scenic countryside. It would be wonderful to visit the country’s famous vineyards and perhaps stay in one of the historic Portuguese pousadas in the Douro Valley.



About Karen

I travel the back roads of New England and beyond, sharing great food and interesting places.
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101 Responses to Portugal, A Top Travel Destination

  1. I’ve not been to Portugal but want to go and your wonderful photos and writing make it all the more appealing! Thank you, Karen.

  2. Gerlinde says:

    I have never been to Portugal but I would love to go especially after reading your post.

    • Karen says:

      Hi Gerlinde, I’m so sorry to be answering your comment so late. I just found it in my spam file…don’t know what happened. You would love Portugal, I’m so glad that we got a chance to see a little of it.

  3. kitchenriffs says:

    Portugal is really a neat place, isn’t it? After Bordeaux, Porto and Lisbon were our two favorite ports on this itinerary. We’ll be back in Lisbon in a couple of years, and will definitely try to get to Sinatra — thanks for the tip. And thanks for such a fun post. Great pictures!

    • Karen says:

      Hi John, I’m glad that you enjoyed the post…it is fun knowing that we both did the same cruise but explored different things at each port. I do hope you make it to Sintra John, it is a beautiful town that looks like it was straight from a fairytale. I’d love to go back and spend more time there.

  4. Thanks, Karen for the snapshot of this lovely tiny country—I’ve always wanted to visit!

    I feel that same sense of sorrow when I visit Italy and I see those once beautiful churches basically neglected and falling in on top of themselves…I felt this way once when visiting Cortona and the lovely onion-domed Catholic church that sits just below the city…I got mad thinking of the Vatican sitting on so much wealth and how they allow so many churches of the small towns and villages scattered around the world to simply fall by the wayside…I understand that there is a sweeping secularism that is engulfing much of Europe as many of the churches are left to the old as the young no longer see church attendance relevant to their lives—I wish we’d have a revival of sorts and then communities could work together restoring the beautiful pieces of their past…
    Happy holidays Karen

  5. This review makes one want to take a trip to Portugal. Well done.

    • Karen says:

      I’m glad you enjoyed the post on Portugal Jovina. We had heard so much about the country and it certainly didn’t disappoint on our first trip there.

  6. Gaz says:

    I just spent a week in Timor-Leste which has a rich Portuguese heritage. It would be interesting to visit Portugal to try the food there and make comparisons.

    • Karen says:

      Hi Gary, From the photos I’ve seen, the Portuguese left behind lots colonial architecture that looks like much we saw on our trip. I’ve sure lots of the foods are heavily influenced as well. Hopefully you will get the opportunity to make the comparison.

  7. valentina maria kenney wein says:

    Portugal is one of my favorite places I’ve every been to. It would probably be number one, if I hadn’t lived in Spain and fallen so in love with it. I LOVE those blue and white tile facades — absolutely gorgeous. I adored the old parts of Porto and spent a lot of time by the water. You’ve inspired me to go back! Your photos are great and I love the slide shows!

    • Karen says:

      Hi Valentina, It would be hard pressed for me to choose between Portugal and Spain as well. I’m happy that you enjoyed the post and photos and that they have made you want to return to Portugal.

  8. It’s poring down rain (We need it badly.) and gray outside. The sunshine draped photos have me dreaming of travels to places of warmth and sunshine. Bravo, Karen!

  9. lifeincharente says:

    I have not been to Lisbon but we loved Porto, We stayed with friends in Tavira and more friends in Burgau, then drove straight past Lisbon to Porto. Just love all the Portuguese mosaic work i is beautiful.
    Hope all is well Diane

  10. lulu says:

    I want to go back to Portugal as I don’t feel we got enough on the cruise we took. We thoroughly enjoyed Porto, the town and the port!

  11. Mad Dog says:

    What fantastic pictures – you’ve really done justice to the beautiful buildings, tiles and scenery.

  12. frejatravels says:

    Nice blog. I like Portugal too especially the weather ,much more warmer than in Denmark:)

  13. Darlene says:

    Everyone who visits Portugal loves it! Although we live in Spain, we still haven’t been. One day soon, I’m sure. Your post describes it well.

  14. Beautiful photo, Karen! I’ve been to Spain but never Portugal. What a shame about the graffiti on the old, beautiful buildings but so happy to see the wine house of my favorite tawny port…Sandeman 🙂

  15. Always I heard Portugal is absolutely beauty and really is looking yours pictures.

  16. Eha says:

    Thank you so much for your wonderful photography of places my travels have as yet to reach. Methinks Sintra would have drawn me the most also . . . Two matters one may not appreciate on a short visual visit: the simple but wonderful food . . .and the fact of a multitude of British expats retired to the country to appreciate the low cost of living and a far better climate than GB :_ !

  17. Juliana says:

    Oh Karen…Portugal is on my list of places that I want to visit…growing up in Brazil and all the history we learned in school…thank you so much for sharing this post with so many pictures.
    Have a wonderful rest of the week!

  18. Karen, I haven’t been to Portugal, but your photos are stunning and make me want to put it on my bucket list. Thanks for sharing.

    • Karen says:

      Hi Pam, Do put Portugal on your bucket list…I’m hoping to get the chance to return to see more of the country myself. Thank you as always for your nice compliment, I’m glad you enjoyed the photos.

  19. Those photos are so beautiful and make me want to go pack and visit portugal immediately! Thanks for sharing, Karen.

  20. Gorgeous photos, you’ve captured Portugal perfectly!

  21. Helen says:

    Portugal is one of the last places for me to visit in Western Europe, although Iceland fascinates me slightly more (though it is more expensive). Anyway, thank you for this introduction to Portugal. It is a shame to see the facades of buildings in a state of disrepair but hopefully that will change before it is too late!

  22. Looks like a lovey place to visit, and the color from the various tiles, paint and decorations is certainly uplifting. 🙂

  23. Larry says:

    Great shots and write up as always Karen

  24. Karen, thank you for the mini vacation this morning! I like the way you presented the beauty of Portugal without glossing over the negative aspects that travelers need to be aware of.

    • Karen says:

      I appreciate your kind words Jean. Yes, we loved our visit to Portugal and would definitely like to return. I know that lots of people might want to visit the country and I like to let them know exactly what I experienced.

  25. Julie Yates says:

    Beautiful! We were in Porto and Lisbon in 2015 and loved every minute! Your photos caught the beauty!

  26. Ron says:

    Portugal looks lovely and a place we’d love to visit one day. Oh and we’d definitely go to Porto as Port is one of my favorite drinks to have with cheese or anything else. As always, your photos are grand. The coastline photos are breathtaking. Lovely post, Karen.

    • Karen says:

      Thank you for your lovely compliment, I’m happy that you enjoyed the Photos Ron. The coast of Portugal was magnificent…I wish the camera could capture the beauty better. Yes, I’m with you about port, I enjoy it as well.

  27. The country of my ancestors which I hope to visit one day. Thank you for the beautiful pictures and information.

  28. Portugal looks beautiful! Would love to visit. Great post.

  29. ladyfi says:

    Beautiful shots. I do love Portugal!

  30. Those colors and scenery are magnificent! I haven’t been to Portugal yet…but it is definitely on my list! By the way, I host a travel link party on the first Friday of the month called – Take Me Away. I would love for you to link up next week! Enjoy your weekend!

  31. thefrenchhutch says:

    We have friends and family that has traveled to Portugal and all have returned home with rave reviews. I really enjoyed this post with all its information. I love to visit fairy tale villages when we are in Europe and Sintra and Pena Palace are must sees. We do hope to get there some day, actually I can’t believe we haven’t already visited there. Great post. I always enjoy your informative posts and beautiful photos.

  32. I adore all of those colours (and similarly the Sino Portugeuse colours in other countries). I was given a Portuguese cookbook and the food looks so wonderful.

    • Karen says:

      Hi Lorraine, The colors, the tile work, Portugal is a sight to behold. And yes, all the delicious food, I bet your cookbook has some wonderful recipes.

  33. Not sure I would ever get to visiting Portugal but what a treat it would be if I could.
    Have a wonderful weekend Karen.
    🙂 Mandy xo

  34. Despite having grown up in Galicia, just north of Portugal in north west Spain, I only managed to visit Portugal this time last year and we travelled mainly along the coast all the way down to Fatima, which had been on my bucket list long before these things existed, as I am named after it. We found many charming little places and, as you say, besides the beauty and splendour, we also commented on the half dilapidated and abandoned old buildings and thought it very sad. Next time, we hope to make it all the way down to the Algarve. Nice photos here, Karen. Glad you enjoyed Portugal so much. ❤

    • Karen says:

      Hi Fatima, I too hope we get a chance to visit more of Portugal, we really enjoyed the country. It was disheartening to see beautiful old buildings in disrepair but hopefully that will be remedied in the coming years.

  35. My niece recently went to Portugal, and loved it. I can see why!

  36. This is not a country on my list of places to visit, but I can see the attraction. We have a few friends with second homes there. So sad that the building are falling into ruin – just does not make sense to let that happen.

    • Karen says:

      Hi Tandy, You might think of adding Portugal to your list of places to visit…I’m sure you would enjoy it very much. I’m hoping we get a chance to return.

  37. Eva Taylor says:

    Definitely on my bucket list. Everyone I know who has been just loved it. Your photos are wonderful.

  38. Portugal is a hugely popular vacation destination for the Irish. We have not yet visited, although it has been on our list for a few years now. Delighted you had such a lovely time!

    • Karen says:

      Hi Dana, It seems that Italy and France are high on lists here in the US but Portugal is certainly gaining popularity and I would recommend it to all travelers.

  39. Portugal is somewhere I have wanted to go for ages, great photos!

    • Karen says:

      Hi Caroline, I do hope you get a chance to visit Portugal soon, I know you would have a nice visit. Thank you for your compliment, I’m glad you enjoyed the photos.

  40. I Wilkerson says:

    Spectacular photos Karen. I will have to add Portugal to my bucket list!

  41. Lovely post Karen. Portugal is definitely on my bucket list 💙

  42. mjskit says:

    Oh there is a lot of color! I love color which is why I love Mexican decor. Lisbon looks like a very lovely place and that coastline is breathtaking.

  43. adina says:

    Beautiful pictures! I would love to visit Portugal as well.

  44. Wow it all looks beautiful, especially those sea side photos and views!

  45. David says:

    Portugal has long been at the top of our list, Karen – and your photos are keeping it there! When do you think is a good time to visit Portugal for someone who doesn’t like intense heat and humidity together?

    • Karen says:

      Hi David, I do hope you and Mark get a chance to visit Portugal, it is a country I would love to visit again. For both Spain and Portugal, I would definitely go in the fall when it is not so hot. We were in Portugal the last week of September and the weather was fine.

  46. Michelle says:

    I have not been to Portugal. But port, oh, port… I think I need to remedy that.

    • Karen says:

      Hi Michelle, I think you would love a visit to Portugal. And for anyone who enjoys port wine, you could spend days going to tasting at all the different port houses in Porto. 🙂

  47. Peter Herpst says:

    Another splendid destination for this armchair tourist before I go to work. Thanks for your fabulous images and writing.

  48. I DO hope we make it to Spain and Portugal one day (besides the Madrid airport!). This area looks incredible!!

  49. restlessjo says:

    It’s a big world out there, but I hope you get to come back. 🙂 🙂 Gorgeous photos, Karen, but there are no shortage of opportunities, are there?

    • Karen says:

      Hi Jo, I’m hoping that my husband and I do get a chance to return to Portugal. After our very brief visit, I know why you feel in love with the country.

  50. Sartenada says:

    We love Portugal. Have Yu ever visited its islands – Madeira and Azores? Both of them are worth for visit.

    Happy and safe travels!

  51. Karen says:

    Thank you Sartenada, I”m glad you enjoyed the post. No I’ve not been to Madeira or the Azores…I’ll have to put them on my wish list.

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