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PORTUGAL

Compare Our Trips

Trip Itinerary

Join us as we travel through the heart of the Iberian peninsula, from the Alhambra to the Algarve.
09:27 | 512 views
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15 DAYS FROM $2,495 • $ 167 / DAY
Grand Circle Tour

Trip Extension: The Island of Madeira, Portugal

Discover the timeless traditions of Madeira, and meet the weavers and winemakers that call this lush paradise home.

08:03 | 386 views
1

5 NIGHTS FROM $895

POST-TRIP EXTENSION

The Island of Madeira, Portugal

DAYS IN PORTUGAL
5

Explore Madeira’s flower-bedecked capital city of Funchal
Sample Madeira wine, and admire the fine craftsmanship of the island’s embroidery
Witness the striking beauty of the black volcanic rocks and thermal pools of western Madeira on an optional tour
Experience traditional village life and see iconic thatched-roof cottages on an optional tour of the island’s eastern side

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Find the Adventure That’s Right for You

Our Activity Level rating system ranks adventures on a scale of 1 to 5 to help you determine if a trip is right for you. See the descriptions below for more information about the physical requirements associated with each rating.

Activity Level 1:

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Easy

Travelers should be able to climb 25 stairs consecutively, plus walk at least 1-2 miles over some uneven surfaces without difficulty. Walks typically last at least 1-2 hours at a time. Altitude can range from zero to 5,000 feet.

Activity Level 2:

1 2 3 4 5

Moderately Easy

Travelers should be able to climb 40 stairs consecutively, plus walk at least 2-3 miles over some uneven surfaces without difficulty. Walks typically last for at least 2-3 hours at a time. Altitude can range from zero to 5,000 feet.

Activity Level 3:

1 2 3 4 5

Moderate

Travelers should be able to climb 60 stairs consecutively, plus walk at least 3 miles over some steep slopes and loose or uneven surfaces without difficulty. Walks typically last for 3 or more hours at a time. Altitude can range from 5,000 to 7,000 feet.

Activity Level 4:

1 2 3 4 5

Moderately Strenuous

Travelers should be able to climb 80 stairs consecutively, plus walk at least 4 miles over some steep slopes and loose or uneven surfaces without difficulty. Walks typically last for 4 or more hours at a time. Altitude can range from 7,000 to 9,000 feet.

Activity Level 5:

1 2 3 4 5

Strenuous

Travelers should be able to climb 100 or more stairs consecutively, plus walk at least 8 miles over some steep slopes and loose or uneven surfaces without difficulty. Walks typically last for 4 or more hours at a time. Altitude can range from 10,000 feet or more.

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Recommended Viewing

Watch this video showcasing what makes this country so unforgettable

ReelEarth: The Writer and the Designer

Join two long-time friends outside Lisbon as they discuss past travels, their artistic work, and the role of rural life in the Portuguese national identity.

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Portugal: Month-by-Month

There are pros and cons to visiting a destination during any time of the year. Find out what you can expect during your ideal travel time, from weather and climate, to holidays, festivals, and more.

Portugal in December-February

The winter months in Portugal may bring rain showers, but in the south, blue skies prevail. Here, the sunshine and crisp air make it comfortable to explore festivals and traditional outdoor markets. In the north, the colder weather along the border of the mountains is ideal for skiing and indulging in winter activities. This is an excellent time of year to plan a visit and revel in the peaceful ambiance and competitive prices.

Holidays & Events

  • December 8: Feast of the Immaculate Conception; this public holiday—which recognizes the sinless conception of the Virgin Mary—is celebrated with Mass, parades, feasts, and fireworks
  • December 25: Christmas
  • January 6: Three Kings’ Day; also known as Epiphany, this holy holiday is a time for observing plays and pageants, performing traditional Portuguese dances, feasting on Bolo Rei (King cake), and listening to carolers
  • February: Carnaval; numerous festivals are celebrated throughout the period leading up to Lent

Must See

Throughout December, Óbidos is transformed into Vila Natal (Christmas Town)—an illuminated fantasy of holiday attractions and activities. From Father Christmas’s house to ice skating, games, and performances, there’s no shortage of cheer in this seaside city.

The following month, the parishes of Aldoar, Foz do Douro, and Nevogilde keep the spirit of the season going with the Janeiras Festival. Over the course of a weekend, local churches host choral and orchestral performances that are complemented by dancing, cake, and Port wine.

Not to be outdone, February takes the festivities up a notch with Carnaval. The weekend before Lent begins, Portugal pulses with elaborate parades and non-stop parties. Ornate floats roll down city streets surrounded by women and men costumed from head to toe. Restaurants shell out seafood, businesses adorn their storefronts with colorful decorations, and partygoers descend in a flurry of energy and excitement. The biggest celebrations are held in Lisbon and the islands (especially Madeira and the Azores) but nearly every city in Portugal joins in on the fun.

Watch this film to discover more about Portugal

Portugal & Spain 2015

See the discoveries traveler Matthew F. from Eugene, Oregon made in Spain and Portugal, from watching a quilt maker stitch intricate designs to enjoying a Portuguese cooking lesson in Évora.

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Portugal in March-May

The splendor of Portugal is in full bloom in springtime, as hillsides are cloaked with flowers and almond blossoms dot the countryside. It is just warm enough to languish by the beach, and the rising temperatures create a fantastic atmosphere for outdoor celebration all over the region. This is a spectacular time of year to get to see the sights and revel in local culture before summer tourism reaches its peak.

Holidays & Events

  • March/April: Easter
  • April 25: Liberty Day; marks the bloodless, civilian-supported military coup that ended five decades of dictatorship in Portugal in 1974
  • May 1: Labor Day; a day of parades, demonstrations, and rallies advocating for workers’ rights in Portugal

Must See

For a traditional taste of the Algarve region, head to the mountainside village Alcoutim in March for one of two foodie fairs: Pão Quente e do Queijo Fresco (Hot Bread and Cheese) or Doces d'Avó (Grandma’s Sweets). Though relatively new, both of these outdoor festivals are huge hits: Thousands of visitors attend each year for a chance to sample homemade breads, fresh cheeses, and traditional pies and cakes. Once you’ve had your fill of local fare, consider perusing the handicrafts and enjoying musical performances.

Watch this film to discover more about Portugal

Portugal & Spain 2015

See the discoveries traveler Matthew F. from Eugene, Oregon made in Spain and Portugal, from watching a quilt maker stitch intricate designs to enjoying a Portuguese cooking lesson in Évora.

17:57 | 7 views
0

Portugal in June-August

Bask in the sunshine and take advantage of idyllic beaches and the bustling atmosphere in the cities. When traveling to Portugal in June, you can benefit from beautiful weather and lighter crowds, while July and August are prime travel months. The summer offers optimal conditions, with an average temperature around 77⁰F—perfect for enjoying the myriad of festivals and cultural celebrations throughout the region.

Holidays & Events

  • June 10: Portuguese National Day; marks the death of literary icon and adventurer Luís de Camoes, who is a symbol of Portuguese nationalism
  • August 15: Assumption Day; commemorates the day God assumed the Virgin Mary into heaven following her death

Must See

For one week in the summer, artists from different cultural and religious backgrounds gather in seaside Lagoa for a cultural extravaganza known as Mercado de Culturas Luz das Velas. Each year, a theme is chosen for the event—such as the Silk Road—and performances are tailored to match it. From music to dance to food to décor, it’s an opportunity for more than 40,000 people from around the world to celebrate art and diversity.

If you’re looking for a more laidback summer activity, Portugal’s countless beaches deliver. The Algarve coast may be the most beloved stretch of sand, but there are plenty of cliff-side coves and secluded swaths of surf to enjoy when the temperatures soar.

Another relaxing option is Lisbon’s Bairro Alto. This bohemian central district is packed with bars and restaurants, and is a fine place to enjoy a glass of wine or signature Portuguese cod al fresco when the summer sun is shining.

Watch this film to discover more about Portugal

Portugal & Spain 2015

See the discoveries traveler Matthew F. from Eugene, Oregon made in Spain and Portugal, from watching a quilt maker stitch intricate designs to enjoying a Portuguese cooking lesson in Évora.

17:57 | 7 views
0

Portugal in September-November

A marvelous time to visit, fall in Portugal is mild, the sea is still warm, and the crowds have thinned out. Wander through cities in comfort, take in sweeping coastline views, or admire local wildlife all while capturing a true sense of daily life here, free from the hustle and bustle of the summer masses and high temperatures. As the weather cools, autumn markets and festive food stalls emerge, making it a fine time to take part in the rich local culture.

Holidays & Events

  • November 11: St. Martin’s Day; associated with maturation of the year’s wine, this holiday is traditionally celebrated with a tasting and roasted chestnuts

Must See

The wine harvest begins in early September, and vintners often invite the public to take part in the process during wine stomping celebrations. The Alto Duro wine region is a particularly fine place to experience everything the harvest season has to offer.

Watch this film to discover more about Portugal

Portugal & Spain 2015

See the discoveries traveler Matthew F. from Eugene, Oregon made in Spain and Portugal, from watching a quilt maker stitch intricate designs to enjoying a Portuguese cooking lesson in Évora.

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Lisbon

More than 2,000 years ago, Romans told tales of Lisbon, the city of seven hills rumored to have been founded by Odysseus during his journey home from Troy. Over the millennia, Portugal’s now-capital city was transformed by its myriad settlers—among them the Greeks, Romans, Moors, and Christians. Yet it was the late 15th century that most dramatically shaped Lisbon’s place on the world stage. As Portugal’s Prince Henry the Navigator ushered in the Age of Discovery, maritime explorers set off for Western Africa and the far shores of the Atlantic. As many returned with tales, new wares, and lucrative trade routes, Lisbon became the hub of European trade and commerce.

Signs of Lisbon’s past dominance are sprinkled throughout the city today—among them the Gothic Jeronmios Monastery and mighty Castelo de Sao Jorge fortress—but the city was devastated after three major earthquakes and a tsunami wiped out as much as a third of the city’s population in November 1755. That said, the lisboetas persevered, rebuilding their city and maintaining the lively spirit and love of life—food, wine, and traditional fado music that visitors can experience as they explore the lively Belem district and other city neighborhoods.

Experience Lisbon with us on:

Island of Madeira

Lovingly nicknamed the “floating garden of the Atlantic,” lush Madeira is a European tropical paradise located a few hundred miles off the western coast of Morocco. Its flower-bedecked capital city, Funchal, is beloved for its colorful gardens, finely-crafted embroideries, and bustling street markets where you can sample local delicacies like fried limpet, black scabbard fish sandwiches, and the tangy-sweet fruit of the monstera deliciosa plant.

Venturing out into the island’s countryside, you’ll find a stunning panorama of conical mountain peaks carpeted in lush green forests, black lava sand beaches and thermal pools, traditional thatched-roof villages, and terraced cliffside vineyards where iconic Madeira wine is made.

Experience Madeira with us on:

Sintra

While Europe lays claim to many storybook scenes of beauty, it’s in Sintra that travelers truly step into a fairytale. Built amid (and into) the densely forested Serra de Sintra mountain chain, this resort town and UNESCO World Heritage Site offers a vivid assortment of bright and decadent architectural styles. Sintra’s three main castles allow visitors a chance to follow the town’s history. Begin with the commanding eighth-century granite turrets of the Moorish Castle, before moving on to Sintra National Palace, where you'll behold an eleventh-century collection of gleaming white design known affectionately among locals as “Town Palace.” And then it’s on to the magical Park and National Palace of Pena: Built by King Ferdinand II in the 19th century, he requested that the building and grounds resemble the set of an opera. With winding paths and series of color-drenched spires, the Pena complex is now the town’s dramatic crowning feature.

Experience Sintra with us on:

Featured Reading

Immerse yourself in Portugal with this selection of articles, recipes, and more

ARTICLE

Monuments to the Age of Exploration are just one of Lisbon’s ample delights …

RECIPE

This potato and cabbage soup may not be fancy, but it’s one of the most beloved dishes throughout the country of Portugal. Follow this recipe and taste it for yourself.

Lisbon: City of Discovery

by Pamela Schweppe, for Grand Circle

According to legend, Odysseus vowed to protect the beautiful Helen of Troy, even after she decided to marry another man. That commitment marked the beginning of a ten-year journey, during which he invented the Trojan horse and battled sea monsters, giants, and other fearsome creatures. On one particular day during his journey, he saw a bolt of lightning burst into flame in a distant land. It was there that Zeus, the God of thunder and lightning, instructed him to build a city named Olissopo. We know that city today as Lisbon.

Certainly, Lisbon is a city that seems to have been favored by the gods. The westernmost of all mainland European capitals, it enjoys a stunning location on one of the most beautiful bays in the world, at the point where the Tagus River empties into the Atlantic. It is said that the Tagus, the largest river in Iberia, is so wide in Lisbon, it could contain all the warships in the world. Lisbon also boasts a mild Mediterranean climate, with the warmest winters of all Europe’s cities. It has been called the “White City” for its natural clear light and average of 2,900 to 3,300 hours of sunshine a year.

A city steeped in history

With more than 20 centuries of history behind it, Lisbon is one of the oldest cities in the world, having been settled even before Rome, London, and Paris. It is believed to have been founded by the Phoenicians around 1200 BC. Attracted by its setting on the Tagus, the Phoenicians dubbed the city Allis Ubbo—translated variously as “Safe Harbor,” “Friendly Bay,” and “Enchanting Port.”

The Romans were the next to control the city, naming it Felicitas Julia after Julius Caesar and building an underground complex of chambers, rooms, bridges, and corridors (though this network still exists today, it is rarely open to the public, due to safety considerations). The Romans were followed by Germanic tribes beginning in the fifth century AD. During the eighth century, the city was conquered by the Moors, who named it Lissabona and declared it the capital of the region. The Moors ruled here for 450 years, leaving an indelible mark on the city’s architecture—most prominently in the form of Castelo de Sao Jorge (St. George’s Castle), built on the ruins of Roman and Visigoth fortresses high on a hill overlooking the Tagus.

In 1147, the city was captured by the Christians in one of the most important battles of the Second Crusade. At that time, the Kingdom of Portugal was confined to the northern part of the territory we know as Portugal today, and it was Portugal’s King Afonso I (also known as Afonso Henriques) who pushed the boundary of this kingdom beyond the Tagus River. Interestingly, although Lisbon has served as the Portuguese capital since 1255, it is unusual in that it has never been granted that official status.

Monuments to the Age of Exploration

Of course, Lisbon’s rise to prosperity and prominence on the world stage occurred during Portugal’s great Age of Exploration, when legendary explorers set out to discover a New World. At the time, Europeans depended on spices to disguise the flavor and aroma of meat that spoiled over the long winter months, and traders were also eager to gather stores of gold from the great continent of Africa. By the 14th century, the Portuguese fleet had begun sailing into the waters around North Africa searching for a trade route that would help them avoid the northern Mediterranean ports that were controlled by the northern Italian city-states of Venice and Genoa. In 1415, the Moroccan trading port of Ceuta fell to Portugal’s Prince Henry the Navigator, who founded a School of Navigation in the city of Sagres and launched the Age of Exploration.

The turning point in this great age of exploration occurred in 1498, when Vasco da Gama first charted a course to India. Portuguese explorers became the first Europeans to cross the Equator, round Africa’s Cape of Good Hope, establish trade with China and Japan, visit Australia and Newfoundland, and even circumnavigate the globe. As a result, Portugal became the wealthiest country in Europe, and the riches of this heyday may be seen in the Manueline style of architecture that survived the earthquake that devastated Lisbon in 1755.

Among these are two monuments that, together, have been designated a UNESCO World Heritage Site: Belem Tower and Jeronimos Monastery. Both have also been named among the Seven Wonders of Portugal by the Ministry of Culture.

The icon of the city, Belem Tower was built in 1515 as a fortress to guard the entrance to the Tagus River and as a commemoration of Vasco da Gama’s expedition. Although it has been used as a prison for political prisoners, a telegraph post, and a storage site for ammunition over the course of its history, it is best remembered as the last image seen by sailors setting off on their voyages of discovery and as an excellent example of Manueline architecture.

Also an excellent example of this style, and a monument to the Age of Exploration is the Jeronimos Monastery, which began construction in 1501 and which was established to celebrate the success of Portuguese explorers. Set on the banks of the Tagus River, the monastery became the home of the Order of St. Jerome (Hieronymites, or dos Jeronimos), who were charged by King Manuel I to celebrate daily mass in perpetuity for himself and his successors, as well as Prince Henry the Navigator. Largely restored since the 1755 earthquake, the monastery was turned over to the state in 1833 and is now home to a collection of museums.

Welcome to the neighborhood

Today, Lisbon remains one of the leading cities of Europe, playing an important role in a number of industries, including international trade and finance, education, tourism, entertainment, and the arts. Lively and cosmopolitan, embracing both the old and the new, Lisbon has also been named the most livable Portuguese city in an annual survey published by a leading Portuguese newspaper.

Part of the city’s charm is to be found in its many neighborhoods, each with its own identity. The Belem neighborhood is home to Belem Tower and Jeronimos Monastery, boasts several monuments in addition to those cited by UNESCO, as well as attractive gardens and parks.

The heart of the city is Baixa, whose reconstruction after the earthquake is a fine example of urban planning and a forerunner of earthquake-resistant architecture. Today, it offers the city’s best shopping, as well as Terreiro do Paco (Black Horse Square) and Praça do Rossio (Pedro V Square).

Lisbon’s oldest district is the Alfama neighborhood. Because this area was largely unscathed by the earthquake, many vestiges of the city’s Moorish heritage still survive here. Its name is derived from the Arabic word for “fountains” or “baths” (al-hamma), in honor of the public baths that were popular here from the 17th to early 20th century. Fado, Portugal’s unique form of the blues, is often heard in bars and restaurants throughout this neighborhood.

Other popular districts include Bairro Alto, an eclectic and multicultural neighborhood known for its youth culture and vibrant music scene, and Chiado, a cultural enclave whose pretty, black-and-white cobbled streets—symbolic of the city’s long-ago Christian conquest—are a tribute to the rich and storied history of this beautiful city.

Monuments to the Age of Exploration are just one of Lisbon’s delights

Recipe: Portuguese Caldo Verde

In 2011, Portugal held a nationwide contest to determine which local delicacies would be deemed “the 7 Wonders of Portuguese Cuisine.” The list of 21 finalists included three entries in seven categories: soup, appetizers, shellfish, fish, meat, game, and desserts. Any recipe with a documented history of at least 50 years that “represented traditional Portuguese values” was allowed to be submitted for nomination.

Attempting to represent a national cuisine with just seven dishes would be a challenge for any country—but it was especially so for Portugal, where each region has its own unique specialties … and food-obsessed locals to defend them. Naturally, the issue was divisive. In the end, classics like pork with clams and salt cod failed to make the cut. Some argued against the inclusion of Serra da Estrela cheese over cod cakes as an appetizer. But one dish had an undisputable place on the list: caldo verde, literally, “green broth.”

People all over the country adore caldo verde, a potato and cabbage soup typically served as a first course or light supper. It has been immortalized in poetry and song—including a classic penned by poet Reinaldo Ferreira and sung by Amalia Rodrigues, Uma Casa Portuguesa (“A Portuguese House”): “It takes very little, very little to simply brighten a life … love, bread, wine, and hot caldo verde in a bowl.”

The simple recipe is more like a blank canvas, to which you might add more meat, beans, or a different leafy green. In Portugal, a local cabbage called couve galega is typically used, but we’ve substituted easy-to-find kale.

Ingredients:

  • 1/4 cup extra virgin olive oil, divided
  • 1 medium yellow onion, diced
  • 2 cloves of garlic, minced
  • 1/2 lb chorizo, linguica, or kielbasa, cut into 1/2-inch rounds
  • 1 lb russet potatoes, peeled and cut into 1-inch cubes
  • 6 cups stock or water
  • 1 lb kale or collard greens, stems removed and very thinly sliced
  • Salt and pepper, to taste

Preparation:

  1. Heat 1 tablespoon of oil in a 5-quart pot over medium-high heat. Cook sausage until browned and fat is rendered.
  2. Add 2 tablespoons of oil to rendered fat and cook onion and garlic until softened. Season with salt and pepper.
  3. Add potatoes and stock or water to the pot, and simmer until potatoes are very soft, about 20 minutes. Mash some of the potatoes into the soup to thicken.
  4. Add kale or collards and simmer until tender, about 5 minutes.
  5. Stir in sausage and simmer until heated through.
  6. Drizzle with remaining oil and season with salt and pepper.

Servings: 6

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