As we’re sure you’re well aware, Brexit is looming. And regardless of whether it’s soft, hard or completely impotent, time may soon be running out for the kind of impulsive, impromptu European city breaks us Brits hold so dear. When the sudden urge for a such a getaway strikes, Portugal didn’t use to get a look in, let alone an enthusiastically typed entry into Skyscanner. That’s now changing and it’s not difficult to see why. The country offers not only a magnificent medieval history but also fantastic, hearty cuisine and cracking local wine. So whether you’re arranging your own itinerary or going with Portugal tour packages, we’re here to help, with these; our 5 IDEAL Portuguese city breaks.
Portugal’s capital city Lisbon is perhaps the perfect amalgamation of the country’s traditional architecture and modern lifestyle, a mix which makes the city an incredibly popular destination. The country’s largest sits atop a series of hills, but is easily explored on foot, with World Heritage Sites such as Jeronimos Monastery and Belem Tower easily accessible from the centre. The historic Alfama district is a must visit for the incredible views it offers and is also a great place to experience the famed Fado folk music.
The nightlife in Lisbon, especially in the area of Bairro Alto, is vibrant and diverse, and the eating options numerous, both at fine dining and budget level. For the former, we particularly love Feitoria in the laid-back Belem district, with views of the Atlantic and an ultra-refined, modernist take on Portuguese cuisine which still pays lip service to traditional recipes and methods. For super authentic, affordable Alejento cuisine, D’Avis is a splendid place to dine.
Located just 30 minutes away from Lisbon, this quaint city is home to colourful palaces and castles; a truly unique place to spend a weekend or day trip out of Lisbon. UNESCO sites such as the Pena Palace, Castle of the Moors and the National Palace are well preserved and pretty as a picture, so prepare for an explosion of activity on Instagram while you’re here. Apart from these heritage sites, the city of Sintra boasts a number of beaches that offer respite from the summer heat and a great place to top up your tan. While in the city, you’d be crazy not to indulge in some sweet travesseiro, a local pastry containing almond, egg yolk and sugar. The name translates as ‘pillow’ and lives up to its name both in shape and its soft, giving texture.
One of the earliest established cities in the country, Braga (recently named Portugal’s happiest city) is known for its baroque architecture and vibrant bar and cafe scene, which takes place al fresco and at street level. Braga is most famous for its Roman Catholic architecture, with the famous Cathedral of Braga (Sé de Braga) and stunning church Bom Jesus do Monte the top two attractions. Religious and cultural events are a big deal here, the most lively of which, the Festa de Sao Joao, takes place on June 23rd. This celebration of the city’s patron saint, St. John the Baptist, sees a riot of colour brought by traditional Minho dresses, percussive and accordion driven music and most importantly, feasting. Tradition dictates that as evening falls, people hit each other with garlic flowers and plastic hammers, before enjoying grilled sardines. Sounds like our kind of fun.
Portugal’s second most visited city, Porto, gets its name from the fact it’s the largest producer of port wine in the country. Reason enough to visit, we think, as this drink is for life, not just Christmas. Not only is the city stunning, with its Baroque architecture and historic cathedrals, but the nearby Douro Valley is filled with sprawling acres of vineyards that are well worth a visit, even if it’s just to appreciate the tranquil scenery. Porto can be reached within 3 hours from the capital; the Porto Lisbon direct train provides a comfortable, efficient journey. The nightlife here is some of the best in the country. A bohemian laid back vibe earlier in the evening sees people milling and spilling out of the bars, which leads into something a little raunchier and rowdier as the night progresses. Clubs generally close at 6am, so don’t expect things to get going until late. Our favourite spot to don the dancing shoes is Plano B, playing an eclectic mix of electro soul, R’n’B and funk, and bringing in an equally eclectic crowd.
If you’re looking for somewhere picturesque, peaceful and paired back, it’s got to be Obidos, approximately an hour’s drive from Lisbon. Famous for its city walls and adjoining Medieval castle, it’s a small town, but one which offers the most succinct glimpse into the quintessential Portuguese way of life. Owing to its proximity to a group of nearby fishing villages, the seafood here is top class. Keep your eye out for anywhere doing bacalhau (particularly good here) or carapau, a type of Atlantic mackerel often dried on the beach straight after the catch, but perhaps best simply grilled and drizzled with a good olive oil. Also make sure you try region’s local, lovely liqueur, ginjinha, usually served in an edible chocolate cup.