If you have planned to travel both Spain and Portugal on the same trip your should also read the page Roundtrip Iberia and Destination Spain. I have been to Portugal 4 times and written daily journals about my experiences. They are called easter 2009, fall 2009, winter 2012 and summer 2017. Portugal is by far my favourite destination. Portuguese people are quite easy-going and I love the Portuguese cuisine. If you haven't been there you really should and there is plenty to see for everyone.
General information about Portugal
Portugal is one of two countries on the Iberian Peninsula and is populated by 10 million souls. The country gained it's influence on the world during the Age of Discovery which gave Europe sugar and potatoes (in addition to other stuff) from the Americas. During the 15th and 16th centuries Portugal started a major chapter in world history with the New World Discoveries ("Descobrimentos"). It established a sea route to India, and colonized areas in Africa, South America, Asia and Oceania creating an empire. The Portuguese language continues to be the biggest connection between these countries.
Today Portugal is one of the poorest countries in Europe and has benefited from its membership in the EU. In 1910, the Republic was established, abolishing the Monarchy. However, this Republic was fragile and a military dictatorship was implemented, which lasted for 40 years, plunging the country into a marked stagnation. In 1974, Portugal became a free democracy, and in 1986 it joined the European Union, quickly approaching European standards of development.
The official language of Portugal is Portuguese which is one of the world's major languages, ranked 6th according to number of native speakers (approximately 240 million). It is the language with the largest number of speakers in South America, spoken by almost all of Brazil's population. It is also the official language in Angola, Mozambique, Cape Verde, São Tomé and Príncipe, Guinea-Bissau, East Timor and Macau. While many words may be spelled almost the same as in Spanish or Italian, the pronunciation differs considerably. This is because Portuguese has several sounds not present in those languages. Spanish is widely understood, but it's not always the best language to use unless you're from a Spanish-speaking country. English is spoken in many tourist areas, but it is far from ubiquitous. Portuguese youths are taught English in school, and are also exposed to American and British films and television shows with the original English soundtrack and Portuguese subtitles. Younger people would have at least a basic grasp of English. To improve your chances of being understood, speak slowly and stick to simple phrases. In fact, you are very likely to find more English spoken in Portugal than in the likes of Spain, Italy or France.
Don't be surprised if you came across women/girls holding hands or holding arms with each other, this is considered normal and a sign of friendship; it doesn't mean they are lesbians.
Portuguese are proud people and are uneasy when foreigners from non-Spanish speaking countries speak that language when traveling in Portugal. They are of generally excellent humor when they are talking with someone who cannot speak their language. This means that all types of shop owners, sales-folk, and people curious about you will take time to try to carve out any means of communication, often with funny and unexpected results. Helping a foreigner is considered a pleasant and rewarding occasion and experience. If you attempt to speak some Portuguese, especially if slightly beyond the trivial, with locals, you will be treated with respect and often the locals will apologize for how "difficult" it is to learn Portuguese, or how "hard" the language is, and adopt you. If you are going to learn Portuguese it's easer to start with Brazilian Portuguese. Brazilian Portuguese have different pronunciation than the Portuguese they speak in Portugal which is easier for foreigners.
Although Portuguese people will understand some basic Spanish vocabulary, try to use it only in emergencies, since it is generally seen as disrespectful if you are a non-Spanish native yourself. If used be prepared to be hear something like "In Portugal people speak Portuguese, not Spanish" or they will simply reply that they don't understand you even if they do. Most probably they will not say anything and will still help you, but they will not like it inside. This is due to historical rivalry between Spain and Portugal. Portugese look upon Spain as a brother; they have to deal with Spain somehow and they cant get rid of their "brother". It is best to speak in English or your native language with the resource of hand signs or at the very least starting a conversation with Portuguese, then switching to English can be a successful technique to obtain this type of help.
Alfonso I of Portugal was the first king of Portugal. He achieved the independence of the southern part of the Kingdom of Galicia, the County of Portugal, from Galicia's overlord, the King of León, in 1139. By doping that he established a new kingdom and doubling its area with the Reconquista, an objective that he pursued until his death, in 1185, after forty-six years of wars against the Moors. The independence of Portugal since the late Middle Ages has favored the divergence of the Galician language (developed under Spanish influence and now spoken in the Spanish province of Galicia) and Portuguese (developed as a free language). The spanish Galician language is closely related to Portuguese Both Portuguese and the Galician language descend from a Romance language of the Middle Ages now refer red to as Galician-Portuguese, not Spanish. Never the less the two languages maintain an 85% mutual intelligibility. Although Portugal will not translate or dub or even put subtitles when Galician is being spoken, the language cannot be officially recognized as Portuguese due to the Spanish government obstacle. Despite this, Galicians consider their language to be a Spanish language, and don't feel connection to Portugal other than language similarities. This issue is very complicated! It's best to just let it be, and enjoy Portugal for what it is, and Galicia for what it is.
Travel to Portugal
If you travel to Portugal by air you most probably land in Faro in the south, Lisbon in the centre or Porto in the northern part of the country. Portugal is easily accessable by car or coach from Spain. If you have planned to travel by coach from Spain check out Alsa.es. There are no trains operating between Spain and Portugal due to different width of the tracks. Traveling by train you have to change train at the border. If you are looking for low cheap airline-tickets to Portugal check out TAP.pt.
Traveling within Portugal
Traveling within Portugal is easy as long as you travel along the coast. The railways is operated by Comboios de Portugal and coaches are operated by InterNorte, InterCentro and InterSur depending on what part of the country you have planned to visit. If you have planned to travel long distances you could save some time by travel along the coast before you travel to the destination inland. Rede Expresso is one of the larges inter-city bus companies. Generally speaking, Portugal is not a good country for hitchhiking. In the deserted country roads in the South, you might wait for many hours before you are offered a ride. Try to speak with people on gas stations or parking lots etc. Drivers tend to be suspicious, but when you show them that they should not be afraid, they will probably accept you and mostly also show their generosity. Try to look neat and clean. Traffic in Portugal is done on right-hand side of the road. Roads are generally good, and you can reach almost all major cities with ease, either by motorway or by good, modern roads. The biggest cities are well served by modern highways (most have tolls), and you can travel the full North-South length of the country without ever leaving the highway.
If you have planned to visit Lisbon or Porto and the surrounding areas you should use We hate tourism tours as guides. They have different tours that fits most needs.
Places to visit and when to go there
The most popular beaches are in the Algarve, which has stunning coastlines and gobs of natural beauty. The water along the southern coast tends to be warmer and calmer than the water along the west coast, which is definitely Atlantic and doesn't benefit of the Gulf Stream. For surfing, or just playing in the surf, there are great beaches all along the west coast, near Lisbon and Peniche. For nightlifeLisbon,Porto anda href="http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Albufeira" target="_blank">Albufeira and a href="http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Algarve" target="_blank">Algarve are the best choices as you have major places of entertainment. If you want to spend your holidays in the countryside, you might want to visit Viana do Castelo,Chaves,Miranda do Douro,Douro Valley, Lamego, Tomar, Leiria, Castelo Branco, Guarda,Portalegre,Évora,Elvas or even Viseu. Even if you wish to observe wild life in its natural state, the islands of Madeira and a href="http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Azores" target="_blank">Azores are places to remember. Other places with great nature is Natural Reserve of Peneda-Gerês, the Douro Valley and a href="http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Serra_da_Estrela" target="_blank">Serra da Estrela. In northern Portugal the landscape is mountainous in the interior with plateaus indented by river valleys. The largest cities, Porto and Lisbon, are both situated along the coast and offers an relaxing atmosphere and friendly inhabitants.
Places to sleep
There are many types of tourist accommodation, ranging from hotels, pensions and rented villas. You may use i.e. hotels.com, booking.com or hostelworld.com to find somewhere to sleep. If you want to rent a private home Airbnb.com is somewhere you could check out. If you want a true 'typical-Portuguese' experience, try one Residential, the home-like hostels ubiquitous in cities and most towns. Be sure, however, of the quality of the rooms. On the luxury side, you might try the Pousadas de Portugal, a network of hotels managed by the Pestana Group remarkable for using very beautiful ancient buildings like Palaces and Castles and also for having excellent service, consistent all over the country. You will do well in eating out eventually, as the cuisine of Pousadas is frequently both expensive and boring, although it appears the trend is changing for the better. The Casas de Campo, when traveling through the countryside, are also an affordable, picturesque and comfortable B&Bs. Don't expect them to be open all year round, and try to contact them beforehand if your itinerary depends on them.
Money and banking
Portugal is part of the European Union and the Eurozone. Because of this Euro have replaced the local currency. If you want to exchange money, you can do so at any bank where you can also cash in your traveller's cheques. Currency exchanges, once a common sight, have all but disappeared since the introduction of the Euro. Credit cards are well accepted in Portugal. Most ATMs will allow you to withdraw money with your credit card, but you'll need to know your card's PIN for that. To authorize your payment with a credit card, you are frequently presented a device with a keypad where you should type PIN code and also confirm amount--even for Visa Classic or MasterCard.
Vaccine and health
Major cities are well served with medical and emergency facilities. Public hospitals are at European standards. Bottled/spring water (água mineral) is recommended but the network's water is perfectly safe. You dont need to take any vaccines before traveling to Portugal. If you live in another country that is member of the European Union be sure to bring your European Health Insurance Card.
Portugal is a member of the Schengen Agreement and there are no border controls between countries that have signed and implemented the treaty. Likewise, a visa granted for any Schengen member is valid in all other countries that have signed and implemented the treaty. But be careful: not all EU members have signed the Schengen treaty, and not all Schengen members are part of the European Union. Airports in Europe are thus divided into "Schengen" and "non-Schengen" sections, which effectively act like "domestic" and "international" sections elsewhere. If you are flying from outside Europe into one Schengen country and continuing to another, you will clear Immigration and Customs at the first country and then continue to your destination with no further checks. Travel between a Schengen member and a non-Schengen country will result in the normal border checks. Note that regardless of whether you are travelling within the Schengen area or not, many airlines will still insist on seeing your ID card or passport. Travel in the Schengen zone is an informative article which provides additional information.
Portugal is a safe country to travel in. I have been backpacking Portugal for six weeks and have always felt safe. As regarding violent crime, Portugal is generally safe. This does not mean that you should throw caution to the wind and let down your guard. In particular, there is a refreshing lack of boozy stupidity at the weekends, despite the profusion of bars open to all hours in the major cities. Also, there are no internal conflicts to speak of, and no terrorism-related danger. Like any big city, there are some areas of Lisbon and Porto that you might want to avoid, especially at night. Also like in any other tourist areas, you might want to have in mind that pickpockets do tend to target tourists more frequently - but some common sense should be enough to keep you safe. Wear a money belt or keep your documents and money in an inside pocket. Public transport places and queues are the most usual places for pickpockets. There are no internal conflicts, no terrorism-related danger and violent crime is not a serious problem, as it is generally confined to particular neighbourhoods and is rarely a random crime. Also, there is a refreshing lack of boozy stupidity at the weekends, despite the profusion of bars open to all hours in the major cities.
Portugese cuisine and drink
The Portuguese cuisine is influenced by their former colonial possessions and is closely related to the Mediterranean cuisine. Olive oil is one of the bases of Portuguese cuisine both for cooking and flavouring meals. Garlic is widely used, as are herbs, coriander and parsley. Breakfast is traditionally just coffee or milk bread with butter, jam, cheese or ham. Lunch, often lasting over an hour is served between noon and 2 o'clock, and dinner is generally served late, around or after 8 o'clock. Sweet pastries are also very popular, as well as breakfast cereal, eaten cold and mixed with milk or yogurt and fruit.
Porto is famous for the eponymous port wine, a fortified wine made by adding brandy to the wine before fermentation is complete. According to EU laws, port wine can only be named as such if the grapes are grown in the Douro valley, and the wine is brewed in Porto. The end product is strong, sweet, complex in taste and if properly stored will last 40 years or more.
Pastéis De Belém is the best pastry I have ever tasted. The recipe is a secret but there is a copy of them outside Bélem they are called Pastéis de nata as they do not come from the original recipe in Bélem. The largest bakery in Belém makes prox 45.000 Pastéis de Belém each day. The record is 68.000 pastries in one day. Fartura is another tasty pastry from Portugal. It is from northern Portugal and is polular during festivities and popular parties.
Sangria is'nt the same after drinking it in Portugal. Adding a dash of cinnamon, as Portugese do with lots of food, makes sangria alot better than the Spanish one.
Francesinha is a dish from Porto which is tasty and something you MUST try. It is is quite common in northern Portugal but there are some few places in Lisbon that serves it. Lucimar is a restaurant that probably serves the best Franceshina in Lisbon. Café Santiago in Porto is known for serving the best Franceshina in Porto. The dish is not that comon outside northern Portugal. Roughly translated the name means something like "legal french girl". A common soup is caldo verde with potato, shredded kale, and chunks of chouriçosausage. Among fish recipes,bacalhau dishes are pervasive. The most typical desserts are a href="http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Rice_pudding" title="Rice pudding">rice pudding (decorated withcinnamon) and caramel custard, but they also often include a variety of cheeses. The most common varieties are made from sheep or goat's milk, and include the queijo da serra from the region of Serra da Estrela. A popular pastry is the pastel de nata, a small custard tart sprinkled with cinnamon.
Cities I have been to in Portugal
I have made several maps on Google MyMaps with recommendations for what to see in Portugal and you can see them all by clicking this link.
If you have planned to visit Lisbon you should visit Bélem as well. It is situated at the mouth of the Tagus River it is located six kilometres west of Lisbon and two kilometres west of Ponte 25 de Abril. During the Age of discovery lots of Portuguese ships sailed from Belém. From Lisbon, take bus 28 to the west (Restelo direction), which follows the coast line and provides an express service with few stops. You may also use westbound tram 15 (Algés direction) from the train- and metro-station called Cais do Sodré. It follows the Junqueira residencial line. In Bélem you will find the Belém Tower, the Nathional Coach museum, Belém palace and the Padrão dos Descobrimentos (Monument to the Discoveries) which are worth a visit. The Belém tower and Padrão dos escobrimentos are monuments are related to Portugal's Age of discoveries. In Belém you will also find Jerónimos Monastery and Museu da Marinha , which both are worth a visit. Right next to the monastery you will find Casa Pastéis de Belém where they make Pastéis de Belém, which is the best pastries I have ever tasted.
Braga is a small town situated not far from Guimarães. It is most famous for Bom Jesus do Monde (translates to "Good jesus on the mount") which is one of the most holy places in Portugal.
Cabo Da Roca
Cabo Da Roca is the westernmost point in mainland Europe and is situated 42 km west of Lisbon. Once home to a variety of plant life, Cabo da Roca has been overrun with the invasive plant species Carpobrotus edulis. This plant was introduced by local residents several decades ago but now covers much of the arable land on Cabo da Roca. Cabo da Roca was known to the Romans as Promontorium Magnum and during the Age of Sail as the Rock of Lisbon. The 16th century Portuguese poet Luís de Camões described Cabo da Roca as the place "where the land ends and the sea begins". The cape's lighthouse and a tourist shop sit on top of the cliff. Construction of the lighthouse was completed in 1772. The structure rises 144 meters in height above the cape. It is a popular tourist attraction and the site features a monument.
Cascais and Estoril
Cascais and Estoril is located 40 minutes from Lisbon by train. They have long been the playground for the richest families in Portugal. During World War II many of Europe's royal families lived here because Portugal was neutral. In Estoril you will find Casino Estoril which is supposed to be the largest casino in Europe. Both cities are famous for their beaches. Cascais is situated in one of the richest municipalities in Portugal. Due to Portugal's neutrality in World War II and the town's elegance and royal past, Cascais became home to many of the exiled royal families of Europe. Nowadays, Cascais and its surroundings are a famous vacation spot for the Portuguese and foreigners, aiming at both the "jet-set" and normal tourism, who seek to enjoy its beaches. Cascais is surrounded by popular beaches, such as Guincho Beach to the west, and the lush Sintra mountains to the north. Some of its shoreline is cliffy which attracts tourists for its seascapes and other natural sights such as the Boca do Inferno (which means Hell's Mouth in Portuguese). It is also becoming a popular golf destination, with over 10 golf courses nearby. Surfing, sailing, windsurfing, and kitesurfing are also popular in the region around Cascais due to favourable weather, wind, and sea conditions.
Estoril used to be a significant fishing port. Due to the vision of Fausto Cardoso de Figueiredo and his business partner Augusto Carreira de Sousa it became an international tourist destination both during and after the Second World War. During this time a high number of dignitaries in exile came to Estoril. Miklós Horthy, the regent of Hungary, lived and died in exile in Estoril after the Second World War. Juan Carlos I of Spain, Umberto II of Italy and Carol II of Romania also lived in Estoril during this time. The hill town of Monte Estoril is situated between Estoril and Cascais. The town, which houses the Verdades-Faria Museum, was built in 1917 by Jorge O'Neil. Later on, in 1942, the building was bought by Mantero Belard and dedicated to the support of the arts and artists. Following his death, the building was donated to Cascais Council under the name of Verdades Faria and eventually housed the Regional Portuguese Music Museum. At present, this Museum hosts an important collection of musical instruments related to popular music, assembled by Michael Giacometti. The museum is open for temporary exhibitions, concerts, and guided visits on request.
Guimarães is situated an hour and a halv outside Porto. It's an historical city that had an important role in the formation of Portugal and it was settled in the 9th century. This denomination might have had its origin in the warrio Vímara Peres, when he chose this area as the main government seat for the a href="http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/County_of_Portugal" title="County of Portugal">County of Portugal which he conquered for the Kingdom of Galicia. It s one of the country's most important historical cities. Its historical centre is a UNESCO World Heritage Site, making it one of the largest tourist centers in the region. In 2012 the city where an European Cultural Capital.
The city is often referred to as the "birthplace of the Portuguese nationality" and when you visit the city you may see signs with the text "Aqui nasceu Portugal" which means something like "this is the birthplace of Portugal". The administrative seat of the County of Portugal was established there byHenry of Burgundy and it might also been the birthplace of Afonso I of Portugal, the first Portuguese king. Guimarães also played an important role in the Battle of São Mamede (June 24, 1128), which had a tremendous importance in the formation of Portugal and was fought in the vicinity of the city, however, due to the needs of the Reconquista, the governative center was changed to Coimbra in 1129. The "Vimaranenses" are also called "Conquistadores" (the Conquerors) in relation with the historical heritage of the conquest initiated in Guimarães. In late June the city centre is transformed into a medieval city as they celebrate Feira Afonsina.
Guimarães has a nice small-town feeling to it and the people living there are nice and friendly. Visiting the city you should spend some time in the Palace of the Dukes of Braganza, The Toural square, The Oliveira square and the castle. It's possible to take a cable car to the top of Penha Mountain, which offers a nice view of the city and surrounding area.
Faro is the capital in the Algarve coast. The town is famous for the white beaches and tourist resorts and there is really not much to see in Faro from a cultural-historical perspective. I stayed there one night and moved on to Lisbon. If you really want to do Faro you should visit Centro Historico and Faro Jewish Heritage Centre. Several companies offer boat trips to Rio Formosa which is a nature reserve that stretches along the tip of Portugal into Spain. The Maritime Museum can be found at the harbour and alongside the city gardens. Although fairly modest in size, it is interesting. Visitors learn about the local fishing techniques and see the collections of model boats and naval ships, seashells and Portuguese maritime memorabilia. The Municipal Museum of Archaeology is situated within an 16th-century convent (Convento da Nossa Senhora da Assuncao), which is amongst Portugal's oldest and best preserved convent. Inside, visitors to the Faro Museum of Archaeology will find a splendid cloister and impressive Roman mosaic depicting Neptune and the four winds, which dates as far back as the 3rd century. Other attractions include various Roman statues and artefacts discovered during the excavations of Estoi, decorative Moorish lamps and paintings from the Baroque and Renaissance periods. Regional Museum of the Algarve is also worth a visit.
Faro is a popular destination for sun-seekers from northern Europe and the UK, Faro has a reputation as being an overrun party beach town for much of the year. Praia de Farou is a natural choise of you are a sun-seeker. It is a beach which is several kilometers long.
Lisbon is the largest city and capital in Portugal and it has quite a lot to see. Everything is in walking distance from each other so you do not need to use tram or bus to see the most important things. If you want to see more than just the city centre it's easy to get around with metro. Lisbon enchants travelers with its white bleached limestone buildings, intimate alleyways, and an easy going charm that makes it a popular year round destination. The city stretches along the northern bank of the river Tejoas it flows into the Atlantic Ocean. As the terrain rises north away from the water, steep streets and stairways form the old tangled neighbourhoods or give way to green parks in the western suburbs.
The vast Praça do Comércio, facing the river at the base of the pedestrianized grid of Baixa, occupies a central position in Lisbon. Further northwest from Baixa stretches Lisbon's "Main Street", Avenida da Liberdade, a broad boulevard resplendent in leafy trees, chic hotels and upscale shops, terminating at the circular Praça de Pombal. To the east are old neighbourhoods of Mouraria and Alfama, both relatively spared during the Great Earthquake and therefore both retaining the charm of the winding alleys and azulejo-covered crumbling walls. This is the oldest part of Lisbon and it can be a bit tricky to navigate your way in the narrow streets. The fortress Castelo de São Jorge is located on a hill in the middle of town and allows a 360 degree views over Lisbon and surrounding areas. The Lisbon cathedral is a 5-7 minute walk from the castle. To the west the hill rises steeply into Bairro Alto (upper town; prepare to trek up, or take one of the elevadores, or funiculars); still further west are rapidly gentrifying former docks of Alcantara, dominated on the western end by the supports of the gigantic new bridge over the river, and the suburbs of Santo Amaro and Belém.
Ponte 25 de Abril bridge is the name of the sister bridge to the Golden Gate in San Francisco and worth a visit. The bridge was named Ponte Salazar after António de Oliveira Salazar who was a dictator in Portugal from 1932 to 1968. The name was changed to Ponte 25 de Abril bridge after the revolution in april 1974. On the opposite side of the river is the statue Cristo-Rei which is a statue inspired by Christ the Redeemer statue in Rio de Janeiro.
Tram 28 takes you to all the places you need to see in Lisbon. It's easy to hop on and hop off again if you see something you really want explore.
Carmo archeological museum is overlooking Rossio and worth a visit. The mediaeval convent was ruined in the 1755 Lisbon Earthquake, and the ruins of it's Gothic church are the main trace of the great earthquake still visible. The Carmo Convent is located in the Chiado neighbourhood, facing the Lisbon Castle hill. It is located in front of a quiet square, very close to the Santa Justa Lift. The lift is designed by a pupil of Alexandre Gustave Eiffel who designed the Eiffel tower in Paris and offers a nice view of Lisbon city center.
The Thiefs marked (Feira da Ladra in Portuguese) is also worth visiting. A market of this type is thought to have been in place in Lisbon since the 12th Century and the name Feira da Ladra was first mentioned in the 17th Century. Don't expect to find souvenirs at this place.
Baixa is the heart of Lisbon and has a relatively new architecture. Chiado is the shopping area of town where Luís de Camões Square is located. Chiado is named after António Ribeiro. Bairro Alto is another part of central Lisbon and this is where the best nightlife of Lisbon exist. If you have planned to stay a couple of days in Lisbon you should do a daytrip to Bélem, Cabo Da Roca, Cascais, Estoril and Sintra. We Hate Tourism Tours offer different tours in Lisbon and the surrounding area. Check out their site and tours for new impressions.
Porto is the secound larges city in Portugal and is situated in northern Portugal. The city itself isn't very populous (about 240,000 inhabitants), but the Porto metropolitan area has some 1,500,000 inhabitants in a 50 km radius. The city is called Oporto in English and is located at the banks of the Douro river. Porto has been continuously inhabited since at least the 4th Century, when the Romans referred to it as Portus Calle. The center of town, unlike other major Portuguese cities, which tend towards the baroque, is granite and monumental. Residents of Porto are known as Tripeiros (tripe eaters) allegedly due to the fact that the city went without meat in order to provision the the fleet that left to conquer Ceuta in North Africa in 1415 (which left from Porto) and had to subsist on tripe soup, still a specialty of the city. Outsiders often consider Porto to be more crass and mercantile than the rest of the country, and the inhabitants to be somewhat lacking in social graces. This is likely due to the fact that the city has historically been dominated by Portuguese bourgeoisie and English trading factions rather than the nobility. Tripeiros of course, disagree, regarding themselves (with some justification) as being the economic heart of the nation. As the saying goes, "Porto works, Braga Prays, Coimbra studies, and Lisbon gets the money." Whilst the local attitude is friendly, to outsiders it is worth noting that locals can respond literally to questions, which may seem slightly off-putting to the uninitiated. An example of this would be to ask in a bar if they have a menu (for food) and to receive a straight 'no' as a response; it's after further questions that one can find out that the establishment doesn't sell food - such a response is not considered rude, it is merely direct and literal.
The Alto Douro (a wine district in Portugal) is situated upstream the Duoro river from Porto. The historic centre of Porto is declared a World Heritage Site by UNESCO. Vila Nova de Gaia lies on the opposite side of Douro than Lisbon. The latin name of the city, Portus Cale, is the origin of the name of Portugal. In Porto there are lots of shoe shops because the shoe industry in portugal is based in the northern part of Portugal. The Oporto cathedral is the longest surviving structure in Porto and one of the most important Romanesque monuments in Portugal. Everything is within walking distance in Porto. A good place to start your tour in Porto is the Ribeira, the part of the city near the river, which is also a good place to start visiting the World Heritage area; to the other side of the river you will see the Ribeira de Gaia, a similar area from the city of Vila Nova de Gaia (the two are only separated by the river) and where you could find the Port Wine Cellars. Next go up to the São Francisco church and the Stock Exchange palace nearby, where you can visit the most impressive Arab room in the country. The world known Modern Art museum at Serralves and the Casa da Música concert hall live in the area known as Boavista. From there you can reach the amazing ocean front drive, known as "Foz". Go back to the center of the city and visit Mercado do Bolhão, a traditional market of fruits, vegetables, fish and meat. Next the Aliados and the City Hall and finally the 6 bridges connecting Porto to Gaia over the Douro river, many of them providing an excellent view to the river. Porto is a mysterious city that reveals its charm to the visitor through time. Take your time, wander through the mazes and alleys of the city. Take in the old, bohemian spirit of the city. Hike through the Ribeira and Foz do Douro regions to see the sunset. Porto may not be in every tourist's Iberian Peninsula itinerary, but it's well worth a visit if you want to see a city that has changed economically, but that has kept its old traditions, something that is being forgotten in Europe today.
Vila Nova de Gaia, or simply Gaia, is on the other side of Duoro river from Porto and is where the world famous Port wine is stored and aged. Gaia together with Porto and other 12 municipalities makes up the commonly designated Porto Metropolitan Area. With the Moorish invasions in the eighth century C.E., the de facto frontier between the Islamic state and the Christian one came to rest for a considerable period of time on the river Douro, around the year 1000. With the constant raids and counter-raids, the town of Cale, or Gaia, was deserted and most of its inhabitants took refuge in Porto. The lodges where the Port wine is stored have become a major tourist attraction and is worth a visit. Most of the port wines houses offer drop in tours where they tell you about their history and the history of making port wine.
Festa de São João do Porto is a huge festival that occurs during midsummer in Porto. It starts in late afternoon and lasts until 8 og 9 in the morning the next day. People hit each other in the head with plastic hammers. The traditional attractions of the night include street concerts, popular dancing parties, jumping over flames, eating barbecued sardines and meat, drinking wine and releasing illuminated flame-propelled balloons over Porto's summer sky. At midnight, the partygoers make a short break to look at the sky at Saint John's spectacle.
Sintra is in many ways a unique place. Its spectacular setting, 28km from Lisbon, houses a Royal Palace, used by generations of Portuguese royalty prior to the 1910 revolution. The surrounding hills are surmounted by the remains of Castelo dos Mouros, which where build by the moors, and by the nineteenth-century Pena castle and The Pena Park. Pena castle has a very special architecture, which is definitely worth visiting. The Pena Park is one of the nicest places I have ever been to and could look somewhat similar to what Middle-earth would look like. Pena park is also called Queen's Fern Garden. Other places to visit are Quinta da Regaleira, Convento dos Capuchos and the Toy Museum. The town is on UNESCO's World Heritage list and easy accessable from Lisbon by train or bus.
If you are looking for somewhere to eat in Sintra you should try Franguinho da Guia. That restaurant probably have the best chicken I have ever tasted.
The first time I visited Porto I told a guy at the hostel I where staying at that I wanted to go to Vila Real and he asked something like "why do you want to go there?". The secound time I visited Porto I went to Vila Real on a day trip and I asked myself the same question. The scenery is really nice but there really isn't anything special about the place. Vila Real itself was founded in 1289 by King Denis of Portugal, hence its name meaning Royal Town. It housed more members of the royal family during the Middle Ages than any other settlement in Portugal except the capital in Lisbon, and family Coats of Arms remain above old houses, some of which still occupied by those families. The nicest part of the city is Palácio de Mateus which is situated outside the city. The easiest way to get there is by taxi but it's also possible to get there by bus.