As one of the oldest countries in Europe, this is because Portugal is full of enduring sensory experiences. Sweet, fortified red wine. Secret 18th-Century Tart Recipe. Cool glazed tile covering every building surface. You can go from strolling the streets of the ancient city to hearty hikes around the Azores and Madeira Islands to savor the world-famous vineyards. Here we’ll take you through some of our favorite experiences to have in a country beloved for its port wine, laid-back vibe, and endless seafood. Drink Portugal in with all five senses.
Things to see in Portugal
Biblioteca Joanina and Livraria Lello: If books and the buildings that stack them are your things, make your way to Coimbatore and Porto. At the University of Coimbatore in central Portugal, you can stroll through the grand baroque salon purposefully built with conservation in mind. Teak doors, oak shelves, thick vault-like walls, and, yes, even a colony of bats help keep the historic works safe from insects and moisture.
If you’d rather take a book home, head to Porto to check out one of the oldest and most beautiful bookstores in the world. It is rumored that Livria Lello inspired both the Grand Staircase in Harry Potter Tales and the Floris & Blots bookstore. The look is magical and J.K. Rowling lived and taught in Porto for some time, so we believe it.
Golden Rocks and Hidden Grottoes: If you love rock formations (and who doesn’t?) then the geologically stunning Ponta da Piedade on the coast of Lagos is the place to be. These majestic rocks, carved by erosion, reach 20 m/65 ft in height. Around every corner, there is a hidden cove, rock arch, or sea stack surrounded by azure waters. Explore by foot, kayak, boat, or SUP, and then chill on the iconic Praia do Camillo.
Things to taste in Portugal
Ginjinha aka Ginja: Did you know that you can stand by the roadside for sour cherry liqueur served in edible chocolate cups? This is true! This cherished bit of tipple is made from ginja berries steeped in agardent alcohol for several months. When served you will be asked: Com where sem elas? The correct answer is com elas which means with a cherry in it. Just remember this isn’t a shot: Sip slowly and enjoy it.
Pastis de Nata vs Pastis de Belem: You can get pastis de nata all over Portugal but only the original is called pasteis de Belem. One thing is true about both: you will like the other. like forever. Invented by the Jerónimos monastery monks in the 18th century, these two-bite morsels exist thanks to an abundance of leftover yolk. The habits of starching nuns use up a lot of egg whites, leaving a lot of yolk for baked goods.
The original recipe is permanent and closely guarded by some of the family members running the Fábrica de Pastéis de Belém. The famous bakery just outside Lisbon puts out over 20,000 tarts a day! We recommend putting it in your mouth at least a couple of times.
Things to smell in Portugal
Sardines in two ways: It is a truth universally accepted that you either love or hate sardines. So it is worth mentioning that the humble fish is a favorite in Portugal, both fresh and canned. Every June in Lisbon’s charming Alfama district, the air fills with the char-grilled aroma of Sardinhas Assad from the many festival vendors. They are seasoned with coarse sea salt, olives, and vinegar and then tossed over an open fire to crisp up.
Can’t get enough? You’re in luck because a historic food shop called Conserveira de Lisboa is ready to line your pocket with tinned fish packages to house. They are beautifully designed and the wild-caught fish inside is great.
Sweet hydrangeas and verdant greens: When you reach So Miguel, known as the green island of the Azores, you just want to take a deep breath. Giant blue, white, and lilac hydrangea shrubs line the streets and shores of the iconic Twin Crater Lakes in Sete Cidades. Take in the surrounding views of the photogenic blue and green lakes (one of the Seven Natural Wonders of Portugal) and indulge your olfactory senses in the endless fresh air. want more? From the lost village of Sanguinho, you can happily smell the foliage as you visit the breathtaking Salto do Prego waterfall.
Things to hear in Portugal
Fado Music: Ready To Get Your Heart Soaring? The Portuguese not only have a word for nostalgic longing (that’s the deal) but a musical style to go with it. Fado, a genre that dates back at least to the 1820s, is the music of the homeless and deeply heartbroken. It was born to broadcast mournful tales of sailors, bohemians, dockworkers, and the poor in ports. Today you can hear the fadistas sing their sad lamentations and have a traditional Portuguese cozida (steamed dinner) in the Alfama district where the music originated.
Rattle, Scream, and Dancing: For many travelers, getting the “Land of the Land” is a must on your trip. In Lisbon, there’s no better way to get the layout of the city than by riding a tram. While modern articulates offer a quieter ride, try stopping at a quirky yellow time machine known as an electric to take care of you on and around historic streets. Hear the brakes and the sounds of the vibrant city as you walk through the narrow streets.
Things to feel in Portugal
Get Your Heart Pumping From Island Hiking: When you think of islands famous for wine and sunshine, it’s probably not your first thought to hike them all. But that’s exactly what we’re recommending for the Azores and Madeira. Trading in your flip-flops for comfortable hiking shoes is the best way to escape the beach crowds and see a different side of Portugal. Volcano Caldera! Ancient Falls! Lava Caves! You will walk above cloud lines, cross green carpets and enjoy panoramic views of the surrounding seas.
Cool Ceramic Tile on Every Surface: If you close your eyes and think of Portugal, ceramic tile probably comes to mind. These magnificent square gems are called azulejos and have a long history in Portuguese culture. Originally created to embellish large blank walls, they also have a practical function – controlling the temperature inside the house. Who doesn’t love the feeling of a cold tile on your forehead after a bit of sun and/or port wine? Inside and out, these charming glowing backdrops are just waiting for you and your camera.
Read More About Portugal: Portugal Travel Guide