Located on the southwestern edge of Spain across the tip of Africa, Portugal is often overlooked, under appreciated, and just plain forgotten about by travelers because there’s not really an obvious landmark or reason to go there. That is unless you do your homework. Those in the know sing Portugal's praises for days and love that it has managed to remain under the radar despite its breathtaking beaches, sublime culture, and to-die-for food. Averaging just about a two-hour flight from most major European hubs, the country often ranks as one of the most affordable holiday destinations in the EU, and one you should consider immediately.
There’s a lot of really old stuff in Portugal, but not in a creepy “what will I find in Grandma’s attic” sort of way. Early on, the western part of the country played host to a number of historic battles, like those during the Roman expansion and Spanish Uprising. The days of war are long gone, but the castles and forts still remain along the jagged coast and high up in the mountaintops. Two of the most popular are also among the oldest: the National Palace of Pena is hard to miss (it’s painted bright yellow and red), while the Castle of the Moors guards the city of Sintra.
A Wino's Dream
Portugal is an incredibly affordable foodie destination with a serious affinity for wine. Nearly every meal is paired with a glass, and it’s not uncommon for travelers to snag a delicious bottle to go for less than 12 bucks — including tax. Over the past 10 years, their deep red ports and dry table wines have been shaking up the vino industry, earning top recognition beside some of the world’s better known wine regions like Napa Valley and Bordeaux. Whether you want to search out the best port cellars along the cobblestoned streets of Porto, spend the day sipping and swirling in Douro Valley, or try one that’s been aged at the bottom of a lake, the wines of Portugal will delight your taste buds and surprise you with every sip.
Get Your Party Pants On
Portugal’s extensive art history makes it a cultural gem of Western Europe. Nevertheless, underneath its chic exterior is a raging nightlife scene that plays an undeniable role in its culture, too. In fact, it’s so important that the capital city of Lisbon dedicated an entire museum to beer. To truly experience the local nightlife, go beyond the major cities and look a little farther south. Lagos is the Vegas of Europe, boasting (good) cheap drinks and toga parties so epic your frat brothers would be jealous. If you're looking to relive your college years, Lagos is your kind of place.
The World’s Oldest Bookstore
Looks and brains? Some countries really do have it all. The Bertrand Bookstore has welcomed readers from across the world since 1732. At 284 years old, the Lisbon-based bookshop is older than most countries, including the United States. While the original store was destroyed and briefly displaced by an earthquake in 1755, it returned to its original location in 1773. Aside from hosting an array of dignitaries and politicians over the years, The Bertrand is the largest bookstore chain in Portugal and has been internationally recognized by Guinness Book of World Records as the oldest active bookseller in the world.
Secluded Beach Hideaways
If there was a heaven on earth, it would be somewhere on the beaches of Portugal. The southern resorts in Algarve are home to endless sandy coves and miles of turquoise waters that entice most tourists, but the beaches to the west in the Azores and Madeira are gems that can hold their own, too. If the hidden lagoons, hot springs, and volcanic lakes in the Azores aren’t your style, perhaps the toboggan rides and scenic levada hikes on an island CNN calls “the land of eternal springtime” will be. Add in the nearly always sunny Mediterranean climate and you’re guaranteed a recipe for the perfect vacation.