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Top 6 Reasons to Visit Portugal on Vacation

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Douro River Valley, Portugal

Douro Valley, Portugal

The top reasons to visit Portugal take you beyond remarkable diversity to immerse you in a country emerging into the spotlight. With historic cities, exceptional cuisine, natural grandeur, and an inextricable seafaring tradition, Portugal is rich with treasures.

Once at the forefront of maritime exploration and home to one of the longest-ruling European empires, complex heritage connects to turquoise waters, golden beaches, and surprising flavors in customary and evolving cuisine.

“The key ingredient to Zicasso is our travel specialists,” says Brian Tan, CEO and founder of Zicasso. Whether you want to witness Portugal’s picturesque coves or walk along its cobblestone streets, bask in natural springs or stroll through charming villages, our Zicasso partners are some of the best in the world and will use their enthusiasm and love for their destination to help craft your best Portugal trip.

  1. 1. Portugal Specialists Plan Thoughtful Itineraries
  2. 2. The Highlights and Hidden Gems are Mesmerizing
  3. 3. There Is So Much to Discover off the Beaten Path
  4. 4. Portuguese Wine Is an Up-And-Coming Favorite
  5. 5. Traditional Portuguese Food Is More Delicious Than You Think
  6. 6. Warm Hospitality Underpins Portuguese Life
  7. Experience What Makes Portugal a Must-Visit Destination

1. Portugal Specialists Plan Thoughtful Itineraries

Kayaking Ponta da Piedade in the Algarve, Portugal

Ponta da Piedade in the Algarve, Portugal

The best trip is not just about what you see, but focuses on your experience. Portugal is a destination of wonder, where sipping an espresso while looking out onto a historic street can feel as wondrous as kayaking along the Algarve coastline. Portugal travel specialist Pedro says the key to your perfect trip is about much more than sightseeing. “It is to learn about the country and yourself.” Every trip can be emotional as you learn more about your travel preferences and how you can connect to your surroundings.

Many travelers visit Portugal to experience its history, explore rugged landscapes from luxurious retreats, and find unexpected charisma around every corner. Pedro says, “We want to travel, share emotions, and spend time with our loved ones. We expect to get back to what travel used to be, though we expect different needs and demands, and will be here to help our travelers do what they like.”

Portugal travel expert Sao says, “We try to understand the main purpose of the trip, asking what it is you know about the country. We try to get a sense of the type of accommodation you are looking for to identify if we can suggest more rustic and characterful boutique hotels, or if you wish a more European hotel style, while at the same time getting a better sense of how flexible your budget is.” By working with a travel specialist, you can uncover the surprises that have made Portugal such a welcoming place.

Hiking in Parque Natural da Serra da Estrela, visiting the top fairytale castles of Sintra, or sipping port along the River Douro in Porto, you can dive into a high-speed adventure or take time to bask in the shifting ambiance of Portugals’ different regions. “Travelers who come through Zicasso are quite similar,” Pedro says. “Usually, they want something more massive than just the normal highlights.”

Learn more: How to Plan Your Trip in 3 Easy Steps

2. The Highlights and Hidden Gems are Mesmerizing

Moorish castle with view to Pena Palace in Sintra, Portugal

Moorish castle with view to Pena Palace in Sintra, Portugal

No matter when or where you go, the corners brimming with authenticity across the country quickly answer the question, “Why visit Portugal?” Even when on a tour of the most famous corners of the country, such as wandering beneath the shadow of St. George’s Castle in Lisbon or visiting a celebrated modern winery in the Douro Valley, Portugal has a way of exuding, embracing, and celebrating its true self. When visiting for the first time, most travelers want to see Lisbon, Sintra, and Porto, but the highlights of Portugal are not just in the destinations. They are in how you can experience each new place.

Travel specialist Cesar says, “When you travel through Portugal, you can see the aspects of our culture that are very authentic, especially away from the big cities. You can see yourself in the middle of a small village and see how they used to live one hundred years ago, eat food that comes from their background. This kind of experience is what Portugal has to offer that is really a treasure.”

Sao says, “In Porto and Lisbon, we offer dedicated walking tours with local tour guides. This way, although they are busy cities, [our travelers] get all the attention and explanations from the guide. We also suggest cycling and walking trips in the Sintra mountains for a completely different perspective of the beautiful castles.”

Beyond iconic monuments or the famous beaches of the top places to visit in Portugal, the country’s highlights are steeped in culture, with a history that has shaped the heritage, defined the traditions, and permeated the scenery. Instead of simply wandering the streets of Lisbon, you can take in the panoramic views from a sunset boat tour. Rather than wine tasting in the Douro Valley, you could explore the region's cuisine with a private cooking class, with each dish you prepare paired with a specific wine. A travel specialist does not only introduce you to Portugal, but finds exciting ways for you to discover famous corners or hidden treasures connected to the way in which you want to travel.

Learn more: Our Best Portugal Itineraries

3. There Is So Much to Discover off the Beaten Path

Madeira Island, Portugal

Madeira Island, Portugal

Every traveler to Portugal knows Lisbon's importance, Porto's charm, and the Algarve's coastal beauty, but away from the fairytale castles of Sintra or the vineyards of the Douro Valley are breathtaking gems often overlooked by tourists. With so many possibilities, choosing the right off-the-beaten-path destinations can seem challenging. Pedro says, “Everyone is looking for authenticity. [Travelers] ask us for something more authentic and unique to take them away from obvious locations.”

An expert travel specialist not only knows the places you should visit away from the well-trodden corners of Portugal, but also understands which are the most accessible. “I am from Madeira Island,” says Sao. “Madeira is known for wine. It has nature, scuba diving, Michelin-starred restaurants, and luxury hotels.” The islands offer a different perspective of how the land and sea can shape the culture, while also demonstrating the beauty of nature.

Pedro says, “We are a small country, but very diverse. The nature impact is where we like to start. The islands have fantastic landscapes, warm water, volcanoes, whale watching, and dolphin watching where you can connect with nature. In the mainland, very few people know about our little Grand Canyon.” Beyond the natural wonders of Portugal, the entire country is historically rich and brimming with culture. Civilization dates back to the Romans. Cities reflect the impressions of Moorish empires and Portuguese kings and queens. The heritage emanates from the way the Portuguese eat, drink, and dress.

Learn more: Perspectives of Portugal: New Takes on Classics

4. Portuguese Wine Is an Up-And-Coming Favorite

Wine and vineyards in the Douro Valley, Portugal

Wine and vineyards in the Douro Valley, Portugal

Wines in Portugal are a matter of pride and are as deeply ingrained into the culture as the connection with land and sea, helping to unravel the layers of history. “Wine … so much to talk about!” Sao says. “We have the famous Port and Madeira wine.” The vines spread throughout the various valleys, imparting a collective memory, a combined identity, and a particular image to the world. Unlike more famous wine-growing regions in Europe, Portugal’s wine culture developed in relative seclusion, with many grape varieties existing solely within the country.

“People have knowledge about our wines,” Pedro says. “They have ideas that our wine is good and cheap. I can confirm both. And this is something people are normally looking for, particularly in the Douro Valley for port wines and table wines.” With over 250 indigenous varieties of grapes and a number of imports, Portugal represents a frontier for Western European wines, where traditional tastes are celebrated and new flavors are constantly explored.

Sao recommends a variety of wines as you explore the country or the best wine regions in Portugal. “We have the red wines, where the Porto and Douro regions are again highly recommended, and then Alentejo with its Wine Route, where you can see ‘quinta’ after ‘quinta’ offering their own small production and unique wines. When we suggest this ‘tour’, we insist there is a driver, as you should not visit without tasting.”

You can also taste Portugal’s famous green wine outside of Porot. “You can visit the vineyards, their gardens, and enjoy a private lunch on the main house balcony overlooking the vineyards,” Sao says.

Whether learning about the three levels of wine quality, visiting a traditional quinta, or following a wine route that can lead you from the Douro Valley to the Minho region, wine culture in Portugal encompasses much more than a bottle and can take you far beyond a grape. With a diverse climate crossing the varied wine-growing areas and dynamic flavor profiles, exploring the wines of Portugal can be as rich as an in-depth tasting or as simple as enjoying a refreshing glass while relaxing on the beach.

Learn more: Portugal Wine Tours

5. Traditional Portuguese Food Is More Delicious Than You Think

Traditional Portuguese pastry, Pastel de Nata

Traditional Portuguese pastry, Pastel de Nata

The fusion of flavors in Portugal reflects the country’s wealth of local ingredients and a history of trade from the seafaring tradition, making tasting the country’s dishes part of the top things to do in Portugal. While often overshadowed by the culinary customs of neighboring Spain or nearby Italy and France, Portuguese culture embraces the simple pleasures of eating. The cuisine does not just feed the body, but the spirit, with the joys of each ingredient permeating daily life. The focus is often on simple ingredients with impeccable preparation.

Cesar says, “Favorite dishes are very original, tasty, and caloric. The francesinha is two slices of bread, beef, chorizo, potatoes, and spicy sauce. Do not try this outside of Porto, [though the] original recipe for the sauce came from France.” Each dish captures a part of Portugal’s personality and the connection between the communities, land, and sea. The cuisine is not just a flavor, but an experience. Sao says, “I love a meat kabob, to go in a jeep through the mountains, reach a spot, and barbecue using a bay leaf stick with garlic and salt.”

Food is a special representation of culture and life across Portugal. Sao says, “There are so many special experiences you can combine with food. In Alentejo, you obviously have the wine, but you also have olive oil. You can have an olive oil workshop with little snacks of bread with olives and olive oil. In the Schists Villages, you can walk and discover the paths used by the locals for decades, if not centuries, and at the end, enjoy a homemade meal prepared the day before. The meat is seasoned with wine and other secret ingredients. And Portuguese people say we have a thousand and one ways to cook codfish.”

Traditionally, men would go out into the sea and the women would prepare the catch or sell it at the market. The authentic and customary approach to seafood remains part of the foundation of culture along the coastal cities and towns across Portugal. Cesar says, “It is one of the best fishing experiences we can offer guests. You can go to a little coastal town and watch fishers arriving at the docks, preparing fish, [then going to] the wholesale market. You can select fish [our guides will buy] and then prepare it at a restaurant. It’s a chance to interact with locals and feel the traditions.”

6. Warm Hospitality Underpins Portuguese Life

Outdoor Fado performance in Lisbon, Portual

Outdoor Fado performance in Lisbon, Portual

The warmth of Portugal spreads from the sea into the mountains and valleys, as if harvested from the Iberian sunlight. It is part of the culture, a tradition found in tiny coastal villages and bustling urban streets, as integral to the traditions of Portugal as the colorful zellige tiles, the sweet flavor of egg tarts, or the soulful sounds of fado. Pedro says, “People like us, we are nice. We are like a big village. People are warm and want to welcome others, and this touches travelers.”

Hospitality is not a matter of pride, but part of daily life. People adhere to a joyous way of living, an understanding of others, and are receptive to diverse cultures after centuries of global exploration. “We are very warm, with great hospitality,” says Cesar. “In Portugal, guests do not expect us to be so warm, but are happy and surprised.” Sao says, “Get to know us. We are delighted to show you around, and if you ever get lost or are curious about something, just ask a local. I am sure you will get the answer. You might even get a lunch or dinner invitation in more remote areas.”

The generosity of Portugal is not limited to the people, but pours from the land itself. Sao says, “[The country is diverse and] everything is close, yet everything is its own entity. Travelers are impressed with the variety of what they can see in a short time. You can drive for four hours and experience differences in landscape, mountains, plains, cities, sunset, and sunrise.

“It doesn’t matter if it's winter or summer,” Sao continues. “When the sun starts its journey to the ocean, you start seeing the different color reflections around you. If you are in the house, you may think that you left the lights on as the brightness and warmth rush in.” Portuguese hospitality radiates from the coastline to the vineyards, demonstrating exceptional beauty, ingredients, and traditions that can turn simple cuisine into a world-class dish or turn typical horizons into breathtaking masterpieces.

Experience What Makes Portugal a Must-Visit Destination

Medieval village of Monsaraz in the Alentejo region of Portuggal

Monsaraz in the Alentejo region of Portuggal

Portugal is such a diverse country that your experience is exactly what you make it. With idyllic scenery and mouthwatering cuisine, a golden coastline, and villages paved with cobblestones, you could follow the ghosts of the past or sit at a local family’s dinner table, cycle through waves of vineyards or embrace a view of the riverbanks.

Whether you follow a familiar path or break from tradition, you can sample the rhythm of Portuguese life on our featured Portugal tours or find more inspiration for your trip in our Portugal travel guide.

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