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PortugalView all tours
Like the Atlantic Ocean that laps upon its shores, Portugal throws up one or two surprises. A rich and varied land of vibrant cities and traditional villages, visitors are astounded by the country’s stunning beaches, rolling countryside and cornucopia of UNESCO World Heritage Sites, which range from prehistoric drawings at Foz Coa to the 15th-century port of Angra do Heroísmo.
The country’s lively capital, Lisbon, and its vibrant northern sibling, Porto, are a joy to discover. They are cities where trams rattle up and down hills and along promenades, trundling past narrow side streets and majestic plazas, bohemian cafés and pumping nightclubs, eye-catching boutiques and restaurants both hip and homespun.
It’s not all about Lisbon and Porto, though. Sintra plays host to the stunning National Palace, a Moorish castle and the dramatic villa of Quinta da Regaleira, while the cities of Coimbra, Guimarães, Braga and Évora all boast beautifully preserved medieval quarters. Unusually, the latter is home to a chapel made exclusively of human bones, which is a tad creepy.
Travellers in search of a rural respite can wander around ancient vineyards, trek to stone villages perched in the mountains and take full advantage of the country’s warm and sunny weather on the magnificent southern shoreline. Drop in on sleepy sulphur spas and hop around the Pousadas – a collection of exquisite convents and monasteries, which have been lovingly converted into off-beat accommodation.
Imposing cliffs and secluded beaches line the Portuguese coast, a dazzling stage for all manner of outdoor adventure. Visitors can ride horses, surf waves, paddle rivers, dive shipwrecks, hike hills and explore Moorish castles and Roman ruins between rounds of golf. Madeira and Berlenga Islands beckon off shore, while the elusive remains of Atlantis await discovery in the Azores Archipelago.
Those seeking a more unique slice of Portuguese culture can discover the melancholic music of fado (Portugal's answer to the blues), study the captivating detail of Manueline architecture, get involved in a traditional festival or quaff port wine along the meandering Douro river.
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 neighbouring Spain to the north and the east, with the Atlantic Ocean hugging its 800km (500-mile) coastline to the south and west.
The country also comprises the Portuguese islands of the Azores and Madeira. 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. Approximately half the country is used for agriculture.
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.Head Of State:
President Anibal Cavaco Silva since 2006.Head Of Government:
Prime Minister Pedro Passos Coelho since 2011.Electricity:
230 volts AC, 50Hz. European plugs with two round pins are standard.Timezone:
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.Travellers Cheques:
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.
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 = 1.41 EUR
- 1 USD = 0.90 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.Required Clothing:
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.
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.