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Portugal

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  • Douro region, Portugal
    Douro region, Portugal
  • Vineyard, Portugal
    Vineyard, Portugal
  • Lisbon, Portugal
    Lisbon, Portugal
  • River Douro, Portugal
    River Douro, Portugal

Long considered primarily a haven for sunseekers and golfers, Portugal is also one of Europe’s unspoilt gems when you take the chance to dig a little deeper. This land of traditional villages and vibrant cities has a charming countryside strewn with historical treasures and a wide assortment of World Heritage sites - natural and cultural wonders that offer a window into this once great seafaring nation. Take in the prehistoric drawings at Foz Coa or 15th-century sea port at Angra do Heroísmo, alongside the other designated sites around the country that zip you back in time.

Portugal's lively and hugely underrated capital, Lisbon, along with its classy northern sibling, Porto, are magical places for the wanderer thanks to intriguing side streets, majestic plazas and trams which rattle along. Both cities have their share of enticing urban life, encompassing eclectic restaurants, colourful boutiques, bohemian cafés and stylish nightclubs that make excellent use of the waterside setting. Their sporting rivalries are also a must for football fans and others looking for passion and flair, while there is skiing for snow devotees who want a change from the norm.
Smaller cities offer something different and enchanting; beautifully preserved medieval quarters in the likes of Évora, Coimbra, Guimarães and Braga are well worth exploring.

Outside the cities, travellers can enjoy Portugal's warm sunny weather by wandering around centuries-old vineyards, visiting stone villages in the mountains or soaking up rays on the magnificent southern shoreline. A trip round these parts will be made even more native if you drop in on sleepy sulphur spas and hop around the offbeat pousadas; the government made full use of the country’s stunning convents, monasteries and palaces after WWII by turning them into homely accommodation.

Dramatic scenery lies all along the coast with imposing cliffs and sublime beaches where you can wallow in beautiful solitude. More than just a static backdrop, the dazzling scenery sets the stage for outdoor adventure as well. The Algarve is host to a slew of amazing golf courses; however it is also the perfect place to stretch your legs. Monchique and Silves are great for hiking while dreamy destination Sagres was once known as the end of the world! The Azores and Madeira are alluring islands off the Portuguese coast that deserve a few days of your time to round off the experience.

Horse riding and big-game fishing are standout activities that fully embrace the idyllic coastal settings, while surfing, windsurfing, kayaking, diving and mountain biking are a few other ways to spend a sun-drenched afternoon away from the crowds.

Those seeking a more unique slice of Portuguese culture can join in the revelry at a traditional festival; discover the melancholic music of fado (Portugal's answer to the blues), sample the captivating Manueline architecture or go port wine tasting along the Douro. Perhaps best of all, visitors can seek out the last remains of Atlantis in the Azores or Berlenga Island, the historical first line of defence from invaders past.

  • Capital:

    Lisbon.

    Geography:

    Portugal juts out into the Atlantic in the far southwest of Europe otherwise known as the Iberian Peninsula. The only country it shares a border with is neighbour Spain to the north and the east, with the Atlantic Ocean hugging its 800km (500-mile) coastline to the south and west. It has a land mass of 89,000 sq km (34,400 sq miles) with the Portuguese islands of the Azores and Madeira boosting that by another 3,100 sq km (1,200 sq miles). The Azores lie around 1,100km (700 miles) west of Lisbon, while Madeira sits just north of the Canary Islands to the west of Morocco.

    Outside the large urban areas, the countryside is a great deal more rural and sparse than in many other European countries. Portugal is crossed by several rivers which have their origin in Spain. These flow from east to west out into the Atlantic or north to south, the main rivers being the Minho and Douro in the north, and the Tagus and Guadiana in the south.

    Portugal possesses a high plain of varying height intersected by deep valleys. The north of the country is rugged, mountainous and dotted with vineyards. The high northern point of the Serra da Estrela proves a popular area for skiing, while Serra de São Mamede further south on the Spanish border is a hiking favourite.

    After the stunning slopes of the central regions, the vast plains of the Alentejo region stretch south of Lisbon, with a range of mountains dividing the Alentejo from the Algarve, whose wide sandy beaches and attractive bays run along the south coast.

    Over half the country is used for agriculture, though the soil is much richer for cultivation in the greener north. The capital, Lisbon, sits about two-thirds down the west coast. Porto is also situated on the coast in the northwest of the country. Smaller Faro nestles on the southern end of the country, its airport a busy hub for Algarve sunseekers and swathes of golfers looking for year-round sun. Braga, Coimbra and Setubal are also near the coast and rivers.

    Government:

    Republic since 1910.

    Head Of State:

    President Anibal Cavaco Silva since 2006.

    Head Of Government:

    Prime Minister Pedro Passos Coelho since 2011.

    Electricity:

    230 volts AC, 50Hz. Continental two-pin plugs are in use.

    Timezone:
  • Currency Information:

    Euro (EUR; symbol €) = 100 cents. Notes are in denominations of €500, 200, 100, 50, 20, 10 and 5. Coins are in denominations of €2 and 1, and 50, 20, 10, 5, 2 and 1 cents.

    Credit Cards:

    American Express, MasterCard and Visa are widely accepted, even outside cities, while petrol stations usually take credit cards and cash.

    ATMs:

    There are ATMs (Multibanco) at most of the larger supermarkets and shopping areas in most towns with instructions available in English if required. You can only take out a maximum of €200 and if you see six asterisks, not four, just put in your normal four numbers and hit continue. If you receive a 'service unavailable' message, it is most likely that the machine is out of cash - especially at weekends and on Monday mornings. The machine will have an icon with a cross though it.

    You can also find Multibanco machines in every small town and even villages all around Portugal. You will be charged for an international transaction. Currency conversion booths spring up wherever there is a steady flow of tourists but, be warned, the closer they are to tourist attractions, the worse the rates they offer.

    Travellers Cheques:

    These are readily exchanged. To avoid additional exchange rate charges, travellers are advised to take traveller's cheques in Euros.

    Banking Hours:

    Generally, Mon-Fri 0830-1530 (certain banks in Lisbon are open until 1800). In smaller towns a bank may close for lunch, while many branches no longer offer a foreign exchange service.

    Currency Restrictions:

    There are no restrictions on the import or export of local or foreign currency.

    Currency Exchange:

    You can buy or exchange Euros very easily at cambios (bureaux de change), hotels and shops. Many banks no longer offer foreign exchange, while the best rates and commissions are normally found at the bureaux in larger towns. The worst rates by far are at the airports and hotels. The best thing is to keep an eye out while you're shopping and always check the commission rates.

    Currencies: Exchange Rates:

    • 1 AUD = 0.71 EUR
    • 1 EUR = 1.00 EUR
    • 1 GBP = 1.28 EUR
    • 1 USD = 0.79 EUR

  • Best Time To Visit:

    Not surprisingly, considering its close proximity to northern Africa, Portugal is one of the warmest European countries with an average temperature of 15°C (55°F) in the north and 18°C (64°F) in the south, while the Azores and Madeira are wetter and hotter respectively off the coast. It can become rainy and windy during autumn and winter, but spring and summer see temperatures soar to as high as 40°C (104°F) around the interior and 35°C (95°F) in the north.

    The northwest has mild winters with high levels of rainfall, and fairly short summers. The northeast experiences longer winters and hot summers. In the south, summers (May to October) are warm with very little rain except in early spring and autumn. Snow will fall in the north, but melts quickly.

    Required Clothing:

    Light- to mediumweights and rainwear are advised (Portugal has one of the highest rainfalls in Europe). In summer, wear very light fabrics, preferably linen, as temperatures can soar and prove very uncomfortable if you have packed wrongly. Should you travel in spring or autumn, pack a combination of both.