Portugal: Brimming with culture, history and picturesque landscape

The beautiful fishing village of Camara de Lobos on the portugese Island of Madeira in warm evening sunshine light.

Surf the Massive Waves in NazarÉ

Local surfers and fishermen were well aware of the massive Atlantic waves that rolled in during Nazaré’s harsh winters, but when North American surfer Garrett McNamara set a new world record by riding a 78-foot wave in 2011, the former fishing village on Portugal’s west coast soared to international prominence. The view from the lighthouse of So Miguel Arcanjo Fort is one of the most photographed in town, and giant wave surfing has become one of Nazaré’s calling cards.

Carnival Celebration

For three days before Ash Wednesday, in February or early March, children and adults alike
dress up in costumes and participate in Carnaval parades and celebrations held throughout
Portugal. Carnaval is often referred to locally as the Portuguese version of Halloween and the first celebrations can be traced back to the 13th century, when the Catholic Church appropriated some of ancient Rome’s pagan festivities.

On Fat Tuesday (the last day of Carnaval), nearly every town in Portugal hosts a Carnival
parade, but some are more famous than others. The best Carnival celebrations take place in Torres Vedras, Ovar, and Loulé, and they combine local traditions with Brazilian-inspired samba parades. Carnaval is celebrated differently in Podence, a small village in northwest Portugal, than in the rest of the country – its a unique end-of-winter celebration that inherited the pagan traditions of former Celtic settlers and is listed on Unesco’s list of Intangible Cultural Heritage. Villagers march in the Caretos (masked men) parade, wearing handmade tin or leather masks depicting a demon-like figure and cowbells around their waists.

Indulge in Traditional Sweets

Conventional sweets are traditional Portuguese pastries made with egg yolks, sugar, and
occasionally almonds. In the 15th century, cloistered nuns and monks made these concoctions (hence the name “conventual”) with extra eggs yolks, and newly imported sugar from Brazil, and were initially for the monastery residents' consumption. Each region of Portugal has its own traditional conventual sweet, with some local or seasonal ingredients thrown in for good measures, such as beans in Torres Vedras’ pastel de feijoa or paper-thin, wafer-encased ohos moles in Aveiro. Another famous thing in Portugal is its wines. The well-known wine regions of Alentejo (which produces bold and hearty reds) and Douro (the home of port) are located in Portugal, but wineries and vineyards can be found all over the country, including the Azores and Madeira archipelagos.

Drink some Portuguese Wine

The well-known wine regions of Alentejo (which produces bold and hearty reds) and Douro (the home of port) are located in Portugal, but wineries and vineyards can be found all over the country, including the Azores and Madeira archipelagos. Minho’s Vinho Verde (young wine) region produces one-of-a-kind wine from indigenous grape varietals, making it the most authentically Portuguese wine of all. Quinta da Aveleda is one of the best wineries in the region for tasting these fresh, fruity, and floral wines (red or white).

See Prehistoric Rock Art at Vale Do Côa

A Unesco World Heritage site since 1998, the prehistoric rock art site in Vale doCôa, together with nearby Siega Verde in Spain, is the most noteworthy Palaeolithic art site in the Iberian Peninsula. Head to the Museu do Côa first before joining a guided tour of the archaeological site and open-air rock art gallery, which includes more than 1000 rock engravings from the Palaeolithic and Iron Age periods scattered around 80 identified sites.

Stargaze at Great Lake Alqueva

The man-made Great Lake Alqueva in Alentejo is one of Portugal’s best places for stargazing, with cloudless skies most of the year and little light pollution. Because of these extraordinary conditions, the lake became the world’s first official starlight tourism destination, as certified by the Spanish-based Fundación Starlight. Several local businesses provide stargazing and night-time lake tours, and budding astronomers can also visit the observatory. Pre-registration is required, but admission is free for children under the age of eight, with scheduled starry observations taking place during the day or at night.