Much more than a nation known for exporting football stars for the world to cheer on - Portugal also has some of the most important architectural marvels in the world, with medieval castles, cobblestone villages, some of which celebrate their Age of Discoveries while others have more spiritual roots in the country's Catholic traditions.
You can either explore the city of Lisbon - filled to the brim with cultural experiences and trips through history - or chase the sun in Madeira where all the tourists go to play. While the captivating, vibrant cities and golden beaches of Portugal are understandably alluring, the small towns and villages offer travellers looking for a refreshingly different travel experience plenty to enjoy.
This is a list of some of those lesser-known destinations, small towns and villages that escape the purview of travellers and aren’t factored into travel plans when headed to the Westernmost country in mainland Europe. Keep these names in mind the next time you're making plans to explore Portugal.
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Once considered no more than a fishing village with a view, Albufeira has progressed substantially with the town now attracting tourists and those seeking a leisurely escape to an area steeped in history.
This is really a town that has embraced modernity, but not at the expense of losing the connection to its history. You can still find the fishing boats at the now ultramodern marina. The streets in the hold Cerro da Vila (medieval area) still charm visitors with picturesque whitewashed houses and steep, narrow streets.
These cobblestone streets, which exhibit Moorish influence to this day, are the best places to see this contrast between modernity and cultural preservation. Rowdy bars and pubs, signs in English outside of restaurants advertise specials and menus clearly seeking to welcome tourists to the area.
A great trip to Albufeira would include a visit to one of its lovely beaches such as Praia da Galé to the west, Praia do Peneco or Praia da Falésia to the east. On many of the beaches, the colourful fishing boats serve as a beautiful contrast to the blue of the sea. While tourists laze around on the sand, fishermen carry on doing what they've been doing for generations in this location.
Walking along the side of the sea will also afford visitors breath-taking views of the city, the beaches and the cliffs that make this area so magnificent. Make sure to head to Albufeira to get a taste of old and new in lesser-known Portugal.
Eat: Make sure to try out cataplana (seafood stew), a delicious combination of pork and clam. Check out Veneza, as they are purported to make the dish better than anyone in the area.
See: Travessa da Igreja Velha, the site of an old Moorish arch that marks the location of an old mosque that was later transformed into the town's first church.
Do: Get some bar-hopping done! The area around Largo Engenheiro Duarte Pacheco and nearby Rua Cândido dos Reis is lined with places looking to whet your whistle and lighten your pockets.
Mountains, fern-laden forests, history-rich palaces and romantic - almost peregrine - gardens, Sintra in Portugal could be the location for many a fairy tale.
It should be no surprise then that Hans Christian Andersen, famed author of children's fairy tales, at one point called the woods of Sintra home. If you are searching for inspiration, there is almost no place as fitting to invoke creative energies and imagination than Sintra.
This colourful town has as its main attraction the Sintra-Villa, a UNESCO World Heritage area, is easily spotted with its pastel-coloured structures that blend into the verdant hills sloping into the eventual cool blue of the Atlantic ocean.
Sintra is located a short 30 kilometres from Lisbon, making this an easy escape from the capital. Though that may make it seem that a day trip is enough to see this town, there is a lot of detail that you may overlook should you not give Sintra the chance it deserves for thorough exploration.
From romantic castles, exotic gardens, Sintra is an actual location that will evoke thoughts of fictional medieval locations. So be sure to stick around and check it out.
Eat: Try out some modern takes on traditional Portuguese fare at INconum.
See: Sintra Villa. This area is an exceptional mixture of natural and cultural sites. When viewed from afar, it may seem to be a largely natural landscape removed from its surroundings but the forested mountains are a part of the landscape. Don't miss out.
Do: Explore the forests and woods of Sintra. Visitors to the town should also check out Quinta da Regaleira. Visitors to the villa will experience a surreal journey into the past, with ornate decorations and mythological symbols before wandering through a magical garden replete with grottos, lakes and undercover caverns. You end your journey by heading down the 27 metre Poço Iniciático well.
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This hillside town situated next to the River Tagus has always been a location of great importance throughout Portugal's history. Its lofty location has afforded it this benefit - militarily - but these days these heights are geared toward providing visitors with astounding panoramic views of the area including most of the River Tagus and even the Alentejo and the Ribatejo.
Dom Afonso Henriques, the first King of Portugal, captured this site that was once the location of a Moorish castle. It was in subsequent years invaded by Napoleon's armies and other would-be conquerors.
Today, this military history-rich town is much calmer and conflict-free. With whitewashed houses, delectable local confectioners, wonderful floral decorations and more - Abrantes is definitely one of the lesser-known towns in Portugal that deserves your attention and maybe a visit.
Eat: Check out Santa Isabel. The Santa Isabel restaurant is located in the historic centre of Abrantes, in an old typical Ribatejo house that has three dining rooms. Immerse yourself in a true Portuguese gastronomic experience in a historic location.
See: Castle of Abrantes. If you're looking to get a real understanding of the history of Abrantes, look no further than the castle. The castle is an immovable piece of history, a story of perseverance and resilience. Fending off armies and enemies, often conquered and reconquered, the castle is a must-see.
Do: Wander the streets of Abrantes. Explore this old town with all its attendant charms and history embedded streets. Start around Rua de Abrantes, one of the historical roads of the old quarter and go with the flow from there. Try to fit some time in your schedule to check out the Tagus River.
SEE: Portugal City Break: 4 nights in Lisbon from R9 995
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