There’s so much more to Portugal than the Algarve. Here are our favourite picks for a low-cost sunny getaway.
If you’re on a budget and looking for a sunny getaway that’s not too far away, Portugal may be the one for you.
Though it may not be mighty in size, with a mainland land-mass of just 88km2, Portugal offers an intoxicating mix of stunning beaches, beautiful architecture and incredible food. Not to mention a number of paradise islands.
It also boasts around 300 days of sunshine per year.
So if you’re looking to book a trip and want something a little different from Portugal’s classic Algarve, here are a few of our recommendations.
9. Azores – the eco-archipelago
The Azores are a collection of nine Portuguese islands located in the mid-Atlantic Ocean. They’re around a four to five hour flight from western Europe.
Split into three groups, the islands are home to a wealth of biodiversity and numerous volcanic cones and craters. They have been hailed an ‘eco-tourism’ paradise and are home to numerous historical buildings, including 15th century churches and manor houses.
The easiest island to fly to is Sao Miguel, but the best island to escape the busy tourist hotspots is Corvo. It has its own domestic airport which offers flights between three of the other islands. Alternatively, you can travel to Corvo via ferry from Sao Miguel.
Corvo is the smallest island and the entire island is in fact an extinct volcano and was formed from its previous eruptions.
8. Sintra – an architectural beauty
Make like 19th century nobility and head to Sintra to escape the heat of Portugal’s capital Lisbon.
Known for its slightly cooler climate, Sintra is less than an hour away from the capital and was the summer home for many artists and social elite of the past.
Located in the hills of Serra de Sintra, this town is known for its villas and castle ruins. Many visit as a day trip from Lisbon, but we recommend staying for a few days as there’s plenty to see and do.
If you like architecture, you’ll be stunned by the bright colours of the Pena Palace and the intricate detailing at Monserrate Palace and, well, basically everything.
Train tickets between Lisbon and Sintra start as cheap as €2.30.
7. Coimbra – a history student’s dream
From 1139 until 1260 Coimbra was the capital of Portugal and is now known as the ‘City of Students’. Despite being the fourth largest urban centre in Portugal it has a population of just 106,582 people – around one fifth of the population of Lisbon.
The city is still medieval in its feel, with many of the buildings dating back to the Roman Empire, as well as an aqueduct and numerous original cryptoporticus (a covered corridor or passageway).
The university buildings are also recognised as being a World Heritage Site by UNESCO. Tours around the university start at €8.
6. Aveiro – the Venice of Portugal
Located on the shores of the Atlantic Ocean, Aveiro is one of Portugal’s most important ports. The region is popular with boat enthusiasts, boasting an extensive canal network it is often referred to as the ‘Portuguese Venice’.
Aveiro also has a number of sister cities including locations in Tunisia, Japan and Mozambique, and is well known for its historic production of salt and ceramics.
5. Cascais – the surfers’ paradise
Known as the ‘heart of the Portuguese Riviera’, Cascais is great if you like the beaches of the Algarve but are looking for something a little quieter.
If you’re seeking an all-rounder holiday, Cascais is the ideal destination for families. A former fishing town, it’s now a popular spot for watersports and nature hikes.
If you’re a keen surfer, or just up for trying it, head here. It’s growing in popularity as a surf spot but still undiscovered enough that you won’t be fighting for waves.
Cascais is 35km south-west of Lisbon where there is a wealth of cheap travel connections.
4. Braga – the perfect city break
Braga is Portugal’s third-largest city and is heavily connected to the historical and spiritual ties that still exist in the country.
The highlight of Braga’s calendar is Holy Week in April. This elaborate affair is popular with people from all over the world. The atmosphere created is medieval, reminding tourists and locals alike that Braga is still the ecclesiastical centre of Portugal.
Taking place over four consecutive days, the main events take place in the city’s 11th century Roman cathedral.
But don’t worry if you’re not religious – there’s still plenty of things to do whilst your roam Braga’s beautiful streets.
3. Douro Valley – the capital of wine
Home of all the wines, Douro Valley has been producing wine for over 2,000 years. It has been a designated UNESCO World Heritage site since 2001.
The valleys are mostly quiet throughout the season, except for when the autumn harvest takes place, then it becomes a bustling hive of vineyard owners and wine enthusiasts.
If you want to spend your holiday wine tasting while looking at stunning views of acres of vineyards, Douro is your best bet.
Winery tours with a tasting start from as little as €13.
2. Reserva Natural das Berlengas – a haven for wildlife
Just 10km off the coast of Peniche, Reserva Natural das Berlengas or the Berlengas Archipelago is a largely untouched part of Portugal.
Consisting of three islands, Berlengas is home to a number of birds including endangered species such as the puffin. The region is also brimming with marine life – perfect if you are a diving enthusiast.
Of the three islands, only Berlenga is inhabited by people, many of whom live on the island to work in services which are deemed necessary, such as the operation of the lighthouse.
If you’re looking for the ultimate sanctuary, Berlenga is it, with only 350 people being allowed on the island at any given time. Visiting the island is only possible by ferry which makes two trips a day between the months of May and September.
Tickets for a return ferry crossing start at €22.
1. Peniche – our top pick for Portugal
Once a former island, geography has made Peniche much more accessible to tourists and the residents of Portugal. We’ve made it our number one recommendation because it encapsulates all of Portugal’s modernity whilst paying homage to its past.
Just an hour’s drive from Lisbon, the coastal town of Peniche is famous for its historical harbour and old walls. The best part about Peniche remains in the old town where the fortress has been since the 15th century. It was used by the military until the 1970s and has since been home to refugees from the then independent African colonies.
Today the fortress is home to a museum, which contains artefacts from when it was used as a prison by former dictator António de Oliveira Salazar. It is also a short ferry journey from the stunning Berlengas Archipelago.
Entry into the fortress costs €1.60 for adults and is free for children.
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