It’s official: Portugal is the world’s best place to visit. The southern European country was recently awarded over a dozen accolades at the 2018 World Travel Awards, including the “World’s Leading Destination.”
As a recent visitor to Lisbon and Porto, I can say: 1) Yes, well deserved, and 2) it’s really cheap to get there. It’s already pretty much the new Iceland (for airfare deals) but without the in-country sticker shock.
And now you can knock an extra 50% off those insanely cheap travel deals. TAP (Transportes Aéreos Portugueses) Air Portugal is hosting a three-day airfare sale, with one-way and round-trip tickets that are half off. It’s good for all bookings made until February 10th for TAP flights taken between February 28-March 31.
The deal actually applies to any of the 89 destinations TAP flies to around the world, not just Portugal. And if your travels take you through other parts of Europe, you can stay up to five days in Lisbon or Porto at no extra cost. The (somewhat) recently privatized TAP is one of the world’s fastest growing airlines and also one of the most awarded; it’s also the launch carrier for the brand new wide-body Airbus A330neo, if that’s important to you.
But let’s concentrate on Portugal. It maintains a lot of Old World charm while staying more stable and safe than its Spanish neighbor (also, and this is a bit embarrassing to say, but it’s a great country for English speakers). The Mediterranean climate keeps things warm, even in winter. And whether you’re a fan of history, a beach person, a hiker or someone who wants a more cosmopolitan atmosphere, the tiny country of 10 million people has something to offer ... as our five must-hit spots below outline.
Even though it often feels like you’re treading uphill both ways, the tiny alleys and narrow streets mean Lisbon was built for walking. Suggestion: Start in the center with the tourist-y stuff (like the Castelo de Sao Jorge hilltop castle), then thread your way down, stopping at various cafes, casual outdoor bars (rum is everywhere) and restaurants along the way. If time is at a premium, the Time Out Market sacrifices a bit of charm but does offer a greatest hits of the local cuisine.
A UNESCO World Heritage site, the mountain town of Sintra and the surrounding Sintra-Cascais Natural Park are less than a hour’s drive (or $25 Uber) from Lisbon. It’s well worth a day trip. It’s a steep ascent, but a trip to mountaintop Pena Palace (a former home of King Ferdinand II) might offer best view in all of Portugal.
Stay on the Porto side, a city both beautiful and cultural (featuring JK Rowling’s favorite bookstore). But then, do walk the Luis I Bridge over the River Douro and visit the neighboring town of Vila Nova de Gaia, which is tourist-y but filled with good casual seafood joints and excellent wine bars. And by wine, we pretty much mean port — you’ll want to visit and doing a tasting at one of the dozens of town’s port cellars (it’s a hike, but we dig Cockburn’s). Back in Porto, reward yourself after a day of walking with a francesinha, which is basically a sandwich with all the meats (all of them) plus melted cheese and tomato sauce.
An autonomous region, this volcanic archipelago is actually several hundred miles off the western coast of Portugal. The islands here are beautiful, the food and drinks are cheap and while it’s not “beach” weather per se, the landscape here is beautiful and it’s a haven for wellness resorts and adventure tourists.
Head to Portugal's southern coast — also known as the Algarve — and you'll find Lagos, a 420-friendly beach town that's popular among backpackers and university students. The bars are fun, the scenery breathtaking and the locals unwaveringly hospitable. Be sure to check out the nearby End of the World cliffs in Sagres ... or jump off of one at Praia de Pinhao, one of Lagos's most popular beaches. And if you're traveling on a budget, the Rising Cock Hostel is one of the best we've ever visited.