Portugal is a small country, but it has amazing geographical diversity. The country occupies one-sixth of the Iberian Peninsula, its entire western part. Few countries in the world have taken off and then fallen into the abyss like Portugal. From a great superpower of the 16th century, rich and with many colonies, the country has turned into a state on the fringes of Europe. And yet Portugal has remained optimistic and is now undergoing another period of transition.
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Portugal is easy to get to, and it’s not difficult to travel around the country. Even with limited time, you can see a variety of regions and attractions – famous beaches, rocky mountains, luxurious castles, traditional villages and magnificent medieval towns. However, most tourists are limited to the beautiful capital, Lisbon, and the sunny beaches of the Algarve. In addition, the country has a rich cultural heritage, which you can get acquainted with in any city and village. The Portuguese themselves are very open and hospitable, they have excellent food and excellent wines.
In Portugal you can shop, taste local wines, play golf, visit museums, birdwatch, explore national parks, roam the hills, sail or fish. But remember, no matter where you go or what you do, you will always be close to stunning beaches. Portugal’s coastline is 563 km long and 225 km wide. Portugal is washed by the Atlantic Ocean to the South and West. And everywhere you’ll find sparkling white sand. The most beautiful beaches in the south are on the Sotavento coast. From Faro, there are numerous coves and small beaches in the south-west and further west, popular like Albufeira or more intimate like Carvoeiro. From the western coast of the Algarve to the northernmost point of the country are astonishing beaches, one better than the other. And often, it is possible to be the only guest on such a luxurious beach.
In general, in this country even the most fastidious traveler will not be bored.
Cities of Portugal
Strong traditions and new horizons
As part of the new united Europe, Portugal has struggled to keep up with its neighbors. Some parts of the country have become remarkably modern and cosmopolitan, while others stubbornly retain their traditions. Tourists marvel at the architectural and fashion wonders of Lisbon and Porto, yet local women still continue to dress head to toe in black. In the more remote parts of the country, fields are still plowed by oxen. Only after the great earthquake of 1755 has there been such a sharp contrast between the old and the new.
Portugal’s history has left an indelible mark on the country and its people. The Phoenician merchants were the first to arrive here, followed by the Romans who started building cities and roads. The Jews were doctors, craftsmen and cartographers, while the Moors left behind great fortresses, almond orchards and snow-white towns with mazes of narrow streets. The northern regions are home to blue-eyed, white-skinned people whose Germanic and Celtic influences are evident in their appearance. Dark Moorish eyes and olive skin are typical of the inhabitants of the south.
And in their long songs one can hear Arabic motifs.
Like Ireland and Spain, Portugal has given the world many immigrants. Seeking a better life, Portuguese immigrants have gone to Germany, France and America.
As Portugal’s economy grew stronger, however, many returned home. A testament to the wealth gained abroad were the new houses that sprang up in small towns across the country. Most of these houses are in the northern regions. Although Portugal has relinquished control of its colonies in Africa, Latin America and Asia, the democratic and stable country attracts a mass of immigrants, making the ethnic and cultural atmosphere in Portuguese cities even more diverse.
Tourists today are discovering the real treasures of Portugal, even though many are limited to the sunny beaches of the Algarve or the sophisticated city life in the capital city of Lisbon. Although Portugal’s most famous attractions are well known in Europe, those who venture off the beaten path will be generously rewarded. Portugal is half the size of Britain. Only about 10 million people live here. Nevertheless there are hundreds of sights to see, which are surprisingly easy to visit. Portugal is astonishingly diverse landscapes in such a small area.
There is so much to see during even a short trip through the country.
There are about 200 medieval castles scattered around Portugal. Some of them are rebuilt ancient Roman fortresses, others are fortified cities. The Cay Jorge castle in Lisbon and the ruined fortress of Sintra have a distinct Moorish influence. Most of the castles were built for the Portuguese kings who had to defend their possessions against land and sea invasion. The chief builder in Portuguese history was Dinis, son of Afonso III. He became king in 1279 and built and rebuilt one castle after another until his death in 1325. The castles of the province of Alentejo can be considered typical Portuguese fortresses. The majestic castles are striking in their opulence – just think of Almurol, located on a river island near Toma-ra. The castles of Estremoz, Obidos, Palmela, Setubal and Almeida have been transformed into pouzades, luxurious historic hotels.
Lisbon was completely rebuilt after a massive earthquake in 1755. Today Lisbon is a stunningly beautiful city that has not forgotten its Moorish past. Lisbon is located on seven hills above the Tagus River. The mighty river originates in Spain and runs through central Portugal. Although Lisbon has long been considered a rather provincial city, today it is a true European capital.
About 160 km from Lisbon are the beaches of the Algarve, a favorite holiday destination of Europeans. The mild climate, conditions for sports, great beaches and many hotels attract tourists just as much as the rest of Portugal. Don’t expect to see a cluster of hotels and carefully trimmed golf lawns. The Portuguese coastline stays true to itself. Lovers of sunbathing head south to the crystal-clear ocean, golden beaches and secluded coves fringed by ochre cliffs.
North of the Algarve stretches the farmlands of the hot Alentejo province. The province’s capital, Évora, was founded by the Romans. Along the Spanish border there are mountain castles, wheat fields, groves of olive and cork oak and small snow-white towns.
North of Lisbon on the Atlantic coast and central plains are the provinces of Estremadura and Ribatejo.
It is a land of fishing villages, beaches and agricultural towns along the Tagus River. There are great religious monuments such as the monasteries of Alcobaça and Batalha, the famous temple of Fatima, the monastery of Christ in Tomar and the picturesque town of Obidos.
Further north there is the forested area of Beiras, the Serra da Estrela (which is the highest point in Portugal and where the most famous local cheese, the Serra, is made). If you come here, you’ll see picturesque fortress towns, sea lagoons and the famous University of Coimbra, the center of intellectual life of Portugal and the oldest in Europe.
The north of the country is quite different from the south and central regions. On the green hills, ancient traditions are kept sacred. The Douro River valley is covered with terraced vineyards. The grapes harvested here are used to make excellent port wine. Barrels of wine from the wineries along the river are taken to the cellars in Vila Nova di Gaia. This town is across from Porto, Portugal’s second largest city. Porto was once an industrial city, but now culture and the arts flourish here.
North of Porto is the province of Minho. There once was an ancient state of Portucale, which gave its name to the whole country.
This is the most beautiful part of Portugal. It’s home to the Peneda Jeres National Park and architectural gems such as Guimarães, Braga and the popular seaside resort of Viana do Castelo.
In the northeast of Portugal is the most remote and unusual region of the country, Tras aos Montes (literally “beyond the mountains”) . This region has long been considered the land of witches and wolves. The few locals here live just as they have for centuries. The region is popular with hikers, who are drawn to its dense forests, wild marshes, secluded towns and the mighty fortresses of towns like Bragansa and Chaves.
Portugal and everything you need to know about it
All about Portugal in a nutshell.
Portugal is the westernmost state in Europe, washed by the Atlantic Ocean and bordered only by Spain on land.
The area of the country is 92 thousand km2, which is comparable with the size of an average region or republic of the Russian Federation. For comparison: it is 3.5 times smaller than Germany, 5 times smaller than neighboring Spain, etc. Portugal stretches from north to south for about 550 km. The small size of the country allows to travel easily by car.
The territory of the country also includes two archipelagos in the Atlantic Ocean – Madeira (900 km from mainland Portugal) and the Azores (1,500 km away).
A brief history: the rise and fall of Portugal
Portugal as an independent state came into being in the 12th century when it gained independence from the then Kingdom of Leon on the Iberian Peninsula (later to become part of the united Spanish Kingdom). Portugal was part of the Roman Empire at the beginning of our era, and was later occupied by the Moors in the 8th-12th centuries. Both eras are reflected in the country’s architecture and other spheres.
The heyday of the state – the colonial empire
The Kingdom of Portugal had its heyday in the 15th and 16th centuries. During this time the Portuguese navigators, in their many campaigns and voyages, made some of the most important geographical discoveries. Over time the country became a major colonial empire.
Between 1580 and 1640 Portugal was united with Spain into a single monarchy, the Union of Iberia. Both empires begin to gradually lose their power, giving way to the Netherlands, France, and England.
Portugal finally loses its wealth and power in the 19th century, due to the invasion of Napoleon. The state loses its entire navy, loses Brazil, and suffers economic decline.
Portugal lost its last colony, East Timor, in 1999-2002. Today, its only overseas territories are Madeira and the Azores.
The most important event in the history of Portugal is the tragic Lisbon earthquake of 1755. A powerful earthquake with a magnitude of 8.7 turned almost all of Lisbon and its surroundings into ruins. The tremors were followed by fires and a tsunami. Many historians cite the event as one of the main reasons why Portugal lost its colonial ambitions.
The 20th century
Throughout most of the 20th century, Portugal struggled to find its political way. In 1910 there was a revolution that abolished the monarchy. In 1926 there was a coup d’état, which established a dictatorship. Antonio de Oliveira Salazar ruled the country from 1932 to 1968. 1974 – “Revolution of the Carnations” – transition to democracy.
All these events led to the economic decline of an already weak country in the second half of the 20th century. By this time, Portugal was losing almost all of its remaining colonies.
In 1986, Portugal joined the European Union. At the beginning of the 21st century the country finally gained relative stability. Positive trends appeared in the economy of the country.
The Portuguese colonial empire included:
In these now independent countries, the Portuguese language was still widespread and many features of Portuguese culture were inherited. Today these countries are part of the Commonwealth of Portuguese-speaking Countries (with the exception of Macao).
At various times Portugal has also held territories in India, Indonesia, etc.
Portuguese colonial empire
Language: Portuguese = Spanish?
Due to its former colonies, Portuguese is one of the most widely spoken languages in the world, with about 250 million speakers (ranking 7th in the world).
Portuguese is considered to be a language very similar to Spanish, because they are related to each other. This is indeed true. However, the common features are mainly observed in grammatical plan, i.e. in spelling, whereas in phonetics (pronunciation) there are often differences.
For example, a banal “thank you” in Portuguese is “obrigado” (obrigado), in Spanish it is “gracias” (gracias). But the greeting in both languages is the same – “Hola!
Today, the population of Portugal is 10 million people. More than 70% live in the coastal zone…and the average tourist, as a rule, does not go deep into the country:)
Population distribution in Portugal
In recent years, there has been a decline in population. Apart from the excess of mortality over the birth rate, the country is also characterized by a migratory loss: every year 30-50 thousand people leave Portugal.
More than 90% of Portuguese people are Catholics.
How is Portugal divided?
At the moment there are 18 counties and 2 autonomous regions in Portugal – Madeira and Azores.
But we do not need to know how Portugal is divided by the political authorities. A simpler division is enough:
- South – the province of Algarve (Faro district)
- The center is the capital Lisbon and its surroundings.
- North – Porto and surroundings.
And, of course, to get the fullest impression of the country, you must visit all three parts.
The largest and most interesting cities:
- Lisbon – the capital, economic and cultural center of the country
- Porto is the second largest city, often referred to as the second capital of Portugal. The city center has been declared a UNESCO World Cultural Heritage Site.
- Sintra is an ancient small town on the outskirts of Lisbon, famous for its castles and palaces
- Cascais is a popular resort near Lisbon and a center for recreation and entertainment for Lisbon residents
- Braga is a major cultural center of Portugal, the religious capital
- Faro is the largest city and port on the southern coast
- Albufeira, one of the most popular resorts and located in the south of the country
Climate and weather: when and where is the best time to relax in Portugal?
Since the country stretches significantly from north to south, the climatic conditions on its territory are different. In general, the climate of Portugal is subtropical. It is strongly influenced by the ocean. In winter, the temperature generally does not fall below 0 ° C in the south and center of the country, in the north there may be slight negative values. The average temperature is +5 +10 C°.
In July and August, the average temperature ranges from +25 +30 C°, and the heat can be as hot as +45 C°. The thermometer usually does not fall below +20 C until November.
Summers in Portugal are quite dry, the rainfall occurs mainly in spring and autumn.
A bit about the ocean. Yes, there really is a lot of it, but only in the south of the country (Algarve) in the summer it warms up to more or less comfortable values – +21 C ° (and such temperatures can be maintained until October and November). In Lisbon and Porto do not wait for the water above +17 +18 ° C, even in July and August.
Ocean temperature in Lisbon
Ocean temperature in Albufeira, in the south of the country
As you can see from these figures, the climate of Portugal allows you to comfortably travel around the country at any time of year. But there is one BUT. In this wonderful country there is no central heating. That is why many tourists visiting Portugal in the winter, are not satisfied with the time. When the temperature outside the window falls to zero, and the house is not heated, you have to sleep in jackets:)
Economy and standard of living: are the Portuguese doing well?
Although Portugal’s economy has been growing slowly but steadily in recent years, its indicators still leave a lot to be desired in comparison to other Western European countries.
Per capita GDP is $22,000, which puts it in 35th-40th place in the world.
Unemployment is 12%. Finding a job is a very painful issue for young Portuguese.
The average salary is about 800-900 euros a month. By comparison, in Spain it is 1,600 euros, in Germany 2,000 euros, in Great Britain 2,500 euros.
In Portugal, the social inequality of the population is clearly visible. As is often the case, everything is not so bad in the capital city of Lisbon, while in the province, the locals have nowhere to go.
Abandoned houses in the center of Porto are vivid proof that not all Portuguese people can boast of good incomes.
Portugal is said to be a less popular tourist destination. In fact, tourism is a very important sector of the Portuguese economy, which enriches many of its residents and replenishes the budget. About 10 million people visit the country every year, which is comparable with the entire population of the country.
The relatively modest economic indicators of the country are known to play into the hands of tourists. The cost of products, goods and services in Portugal is much lower than in Western European countries (Germany, France, Austria) and even neighboring Spain.
What is famous for Portugal?
So what is this country famous for? In fact, its culture and traditions are very distinctive, so most travelers can find a lot of interesting things here. If you’ve been to a lot of European countries and you think you’ve had enough of it, then Portugal is the place for you.
The Ocean and the Beaches
This is one of the main reasons why many people want to visit Portugal.
Indeed, in Europe, very few countries have access to the open ocean. And there are only two such southern countries: Portugal and Spain. But remember: you can enjoy looking at the ocean in Portugal and having a great aesthetic pleasure at any time of the year, but swimming and taking a warm bath in it is possible only in summer and only in the south (see above).
What a beautiful nature in Portugal! Perhaps it is one of the most beautiful and picturesque European countries.
The architecture of Portuguese cities is very colorful.
One of the symbols of this country is Port, produced exclusively on its territory. Foodies and connoisseurs will love it!
Soccer is an integral part of Portuguese culture and an important element. The main national hero here is of course the famous Cristiano Ronaldo. He is so beloved and respected in his homeland that Madeira (the footballer’s birthplace) has named its airport after him.
Fado is the music of the Portuguese soul. The local population really adores this genre and pays great attention to it. You can listen to Fado in the evening in many of Lisbon’s cafes and restaurants.
Our geography lesson is coming to an end If you will be interested to know even more information about this amazing country, or if you have decided to visit it at all, pay attention to these articles: