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The Leader in Small Groups on the Road Less Traveled
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PORTUGAL

PORTUGAL

As Europe’s westernmost nation, Portugal served as the launching pad for the great 15th-century Age of Exploration, from which Columbus, Magellan, and more set off to expand our understanding of the world like never before. Today's intrepid explorers, however, are drawn to this small Iberian nation, where a rich assortment of diverse offerings—coastlines and castles, history and modern architecture, cities and vineyards—provide something for every kind of traveler.

From the undulating hills of the Duoro River Valley in the north, to the "floating garden" of Madeira to the south, the Portuguese people celebrate a joyful love of life and appreciation for the treasures their homeland offers. They're also the first to welcome you in, to share with you the land of rich port wine and seafood, Moorish castles and Roman ruins, hauntingly passionate fado music and world-renowned revelry.

Most Popular Films

Films featuring Portugal from international, independent filmmakers

Lisbon

Soar above Commerce Square, admiring the stately architecture, coastal charm, and vibrant culture of Lisbon, Portugal.

Produced by Pedro Cordeiro

Imersão

We’ve been working with independent international filmmakers to provide you with videos that portray the people, culture, and lifestyles of the countries you're interested in visiting. We believe this video offers a unique perspective on Portugal.

Produced by Morgan Jouquand

36 Hours in Lisbon

Let The New York Times guide you through the history and culture of Lisbon.

Produced by Fritzie Andrade, Max Cantor, Chris Carmichael, Will Lloyd, Sofia Perpetua, and Sarah Brady Voll
©2015 The New York Times

Portugal Interactive Map

Click on map markers below to view information about top Portugal experiences

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*Destinations shown on this map are approximations of exact locations

Featured Reading

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

ARTICLE

Part of Lisbon’s charm is to be found in its many neighborhoods, each with its own identity. Read about them here.

Compare Our Adventures

Click 'Select to Compare' to see a side-by-side comparison of up to adventures below—including
activity level, pricing, traveler excellence rating, trip highlights, and more

17 DAYS FROM $4,795 • $ 283 / DAY
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Northern Spain & Portugal: Pilgrimage into the Past

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16 DAYS FROM $4,095 • $ 256 / DAY
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86% Traveler Excellence Rating
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14 DAYS FROM $7,195 • $ 514 / DAY
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86% Traveler Excellence Rating
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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:

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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:

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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:

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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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City of Discovery

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

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.

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

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