Portugal Travel Guide

Portugal travel guide flagFor much of Portugal’s early history it shared the same fate as Spain. Both were settled by Celts and then Carthaginians before the Roman Empire absorbed the entire Iberian Peninsula in the 2nd century BC. After it fell the Visigoths ruled from the 5th century to early 8th century AD. This is when the Muslim conquest of Spain and Portugal started.

This is when the two countries took different paths to reconquer their land. In the north part of Portugal, around Porto, the land was taken back almost immediately and the land was called the County of Portugal named after Porto, the main city in the area, and was part of a larger Christian kingdom in the north.

Portugal travel guide - Coach Musuem in Lisbon

The Coach Musuem was our favorite thing in Lisbon

Due to infighting among the Christian Kingdoms it took a while for the Reconquista to take hold, but when Afonso Henriques defeated his mother in 1128 at the Battle of São Mamede near Guimarães (known as the birthplace of the Portuguese culture) he united the people. By 1249 the Moors were defeated and the Kingdom of Portugal’s borders were established to their present location making it the oldest border in Europe.

Through marriage John I of Castile joined Portugal and Spain in 1383, but this only lasted two years. The rebelling Portuguese won the Battle of Aljubarrota and secured the Kingdom of Portugal (otherwise it would today be a province of Spain as is Catalonia). From here Portugal began the Age of Discoveries and became the first truly global empire with trade routes and colonies in Africa, Asia, and the Americas.

After centuries of spice trade monopoly, global influence, and a rising empire several factors stared eroding the economy, power, and influence of the kingdom. It came to a head in the 1910 revolution that disposed of the king and established the first republic. Unfortunately, the republic was taken over by the dictator António de Oliveira Salazar in 1933 and was not reestablished until 1974.

Portugal travel guide - Sintra - Pena Palace

Pena Palace in Sintra, which was out favorite city

My Visit

In September 2017 I spent two weeks driving through Portugal with my girlfriend. We started in the southern region called Algarve and visited Evora, Elvas, Lisbon, Cascais, Sintra, Tomar, Coimbra, Aveiro, Porto, Guimaraes, Alto Douro region, and the Coa Valley before heading back to Spain from the northeast part of the country.

Likes, Dislikes, and Recommendations

Portugal travel guide - Evora - Chapel of Bones

The Chapel of Bones in Evora was one of the creepier places we saw

We liked Portugal even more than Spain, due to the friendliness of the Portuguese people and the ease with which we could communicate in English. In fact, about the only dislikes either of us had about Portugal was how an egg showed up in everything we ordered to eat (half joking) and the excessive use of tollways (not joking) throughout the country.

Portugal travel guide - Alto Douro

The Alto Douro wine country is about as romantic as it gets.

As far as recommendations go, I really recommend Evora and Elvas if you want some great history without the tourist crowds. When in the Lisbon area do not overlook Cascais and plan on two days at Sintra. The University of Coimbra is the 9th oldest in the world and a World Heritage Site. Make sure you do the nighttime tour and prepare to fall in love with the library. In Porto you will explore the wine caves (cellars), but also make sure you try a franchesca sandwich. The wine region of Alto Douro Valley is one of the most romantic places in Portugal and the prehistoric rock art in Coa Valley will require you to make reservations a few days in advance.

Soon you can get even more helpful hints by watching the travel videos I am making for Portugal. Also, you can read what all I did there in my blog posts located below the video.

All Blogs From Portugal