Portugal is a country located in the Iberian Peninsula, in the south of Europe, at the Atlantic Ocean. Its only neighbor is Spain. This comes with social, geographical and political advantages and disadvantages, but also with an unique culture that Portugal is famous for.
But what is Portugal famous for?
From seafood and typical dishes to fado music, Portugal has unique features. Once a powerful maritime empire, it’s now a legent when it comes to soccer, incredible beaches and port wine. Let’s go over 15 things that Portugal is famous for!
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1. Beautiful Beaches
Portugal is world-famous for its gorgeous beaches. With around half of its border being at the Atlantic Ocean or Mediterranean, it’s no wonder that many people dream of spending their summer on the Portuguese beaches.
The most popular area is Algarve, but there are also popular beaches next to Lisbon or Porto. In Portugal you’ll find anything from urban to remote beaches, sandy islands, breathtaking rocky landscapes and red hued beaches and clear waters.
There’s just a small disadvantage. The water is very cold, rounding the 20ºC at their warmest.
Azulejos were brought to Portugal by the Moors, but the locals embraced them and they have become part of their culture. However, after getting rid of the Moorish rule, they brought one change. Painting people was prohibited under Islam and the geometrical shapes prevailed. Now, you’ll see that rural, religious and historic moments including persons are often depicted.
The colorful ceramic tiles cover the interior and exterior of many buildings, like churches, palaces, houses, schools and train stations. They even have their own museum in Lisbon.
Azulejos are also common souvenirs. However, pay attention when you buy as there are cases when they are removed illegally from old buildings and sold. This is common at Feira da Ladra in Lisbon.
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Cork is one of the main industries in Portugal. Each year over 300000 tons of cork are harvested, which means around half of the world’s production.
Over time, cork has been used in palaces to isolate rooms. One of the best examples is the chateau on the grounds of Palace of Sintra. Now it is used to make all kind of items, from bottle stoppers to bags and shoes. Items made out of cork are some of the best souvenirs one can bring back from Portugal.
The best places to see cork oak plantations and learn about the harvest are Alentejo, around Evora, and Algarve, in the south of Portugal. Cork trees live around 300 years and their bark can be collected every nine years. This is not harmful for the tree.
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4. Fado music
Fado music was recognized as UNESCO Cultural Heritage in 2011. This is the national music of Portugal and you’ll often overhear its melancholic lyrics around pubs and bars.
It originated in 1820s in Alfama district and was initially sung by the prostitutes and poor people. That’s why most common songs are mournful and talk about the see, fate and life of the poor. The singer, known as fadista, is commonly accompanied by one classical and one Portuguese guitar. Normally, the singer is a woman, but in Coimbra a different kind of fado evolved, sung by men, on the streets, about knowledge, love and aspirations.
Amália Rodrigues, the queen of fado, made this style famous all over the world. Mariza, the new queen of fado, brought a fresh flair to the traditional fado music and continues to increase its popularity among the younger generations.
This being said, one shouldn’t leave Portugal without attending an authentic fado show.
5. Pastéis de nata
The history of pastéis de nata starts in Belém neighbourhood of Lisbon, where the monks at Jerónimos Monastery prepared these small desserts from the eggs received from the locals. Afterwards, they would sell the pastéis.
The original recipe was not made public, but the iconic café Pastéis de Belém is considered to have it. They are also the only ones allowed to sell pastéis de Belém. In the rest of Portugal, you’ll find the small tarts with egg custard as pastéis de nata.
After trying many of them, during our one month in Portugal, I can say they are indeed more or less the same thing, but it’s definitely tasting the ones at the famous café as they were the absolutely BEST, closely followed by the ones at Manteigaria in Lisbon and Porto. If you buy them somewhere else, try to make sure they are freshly baked, warm and topped with cinnamon.
Learn how to cook pasteis de nata back at home!
READ ALSO: TOP 7 DAY TRIPS FROM LISBON, PORTUGAL
6. Bacalhau (Cod fish)
Cod has been a part of the Portuguese gastronomy since the 14th century, which is quite surprising, taking into consideration that cod is not common at this latitude. The tradition of dehydrating and salting the cod fish started in the era of world discovering, as this product could last during long sea crossings. It is still widely consumed in Portugal. In fact, the Portuguese people know at least 365 cod recipes, one for each day of the year.
7. Caldo Verde
The green broth is a kale soup commonly eaten in the north of Portugal. But one can find it everywhere from supermarkets to restaurants. It’s easy to make and light. Locals serve it as an appetizer or supper. It’s often accompanied by cornbread, sausage or bacon.
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8. Piri Piri Chicken
Piri Piri chicken was invented in Algarve. It is basically grilled chicken with a very spicy Piri Piri sauce. You might have tasted this dish in other parts of the world, but for the authentic version, you should try it in Portugal. In case you can’t find it, keep in mind that it usually appears in the menus as frango de churrasco.
Go on a food and wine walking tour in Lisbon or Porto!
9. Port wine
The natural fortified wine produced exclusively in the Douro region can’t miss from a list of things Portugal is famous for. Although produced around 100 km away from the city of Porto and stored in the cellars of Vila Nova da Gaia, opposite Porto, the wine bears the name of the city from which it has been exported around the world ever since the 17th century.
Port wine, which is actually more of a liquor than a wine, is strong and sweet. This is because of the climate, but also because of aguardiente, a strong spirit that’s added to the wine to stop fermentation. There are several types of port, but the most common are tawny, ruby and white. They are also often used to make cocktails or white sangria.
Attend one of the best port wine tasting tours in Porto!
READ ALSO: BEST THINGS TO DO IN ALGARVE, PORTUGAL
Typically made from sour cherries in Obidos, this liquor is one of the most beloved drinks in Portugal. It is sweet and often served in an edible chocolate cup. Even if your itinerary only includes Lisbon, you can still find it in bars and even on the streets.
You can’t talk of international football without mentioning Cristiano Ronaldo. And yes, you guessed it, he is Portuguese. The national team is one of the runners up in any football competition. No doubt locals love both practicing the sport and supporting their team. When the national team plays, everyone watches the match, from 5 to 95. Locals gather in café, in stadium or central areas in the big cities, where giant screens are installed.
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Elected several times as the best golf destination in Europe and the world, Portugal is famous among golf lovers for the diversity and quantity of courses. There are more than ninety courses appropriate for different levels of experience and budgets. Some of the most visited gold courses in Portugal are in the Algarve. This combines mild weather, beaches and great golf courses.
Portugal is also one of the top surfing destinations in Europe. Wave-lovers flock to Nazaré in October to see the giant waves, over 30 meters high. Their date is not easily predicted, but there are even groups that follow them and announce when they might happen.
In 2012, the Hawaiian surger Garrett McNamara entered the Guinness Book of Records for riding the highest wave ever recorded, 78-foot tall. These monster waves are caused by an underground canyon and currents. One can also find out more about the phenomenon at the small museum on site.
Other popular surf locations are Sagres, Peniche, Matosinhos, Guincho, Ericeira etc. Due to the mild weather, it is said that in Portugal one can go surfing every days of the year. But this doesn’t mean that the waters are warm.
Learn how to surf while you’re in Portugal!
14. Discovering the World
Portugal, now a small country on the edge of Europe, was once one of the biggest empires in the world. In fact, during the Age of Discoveries, Portugal was so powerful that it signed a treaty with Spain, dividing the world in two.
The Portuguese were some of the first to go in search of the new world. They succeeded to round the tip of Africa, get to India by sea and discover Brasil. The most famous explorer in the history of Portugal is Vasco da Gama, the first European who reached India over sea. The new maritime route gave Portugal a great trading advantage. He is now regarded as a national hero.
Fernão Magalhães (Ferdinand Magellan), even if he worked for Spain, was also Portuguese. Some think even Columbus might be Portuguese.
15. The longest suspended pedestrian bridge in Europe
Portugal is the proud new owner of the longest suspended pedestrian bridge in Europe, 516 Arouca. This was built by a team of climbers over the valley of Paiva river. In order to cross it, one can easily access it from Porto. Just next to it starts Paiva Walkways, an 8.5 kilometers wooden path that goes along the river. This is one of the best day trips one can take from Porto.
Go on a day trip from Porto to Arouca 516 Bridge and Paiva Walkways!
These were 15 things Portugal is famous for. Or wait, there’s one more worth mentioning, the sunsets. They are really gorgeous, with hues of blue, purple, red, pink and orange as the sun sinks into the sea. Because of the long coastline, there are many places to see it from, but the one I enjoyed the most is Jardim do Morro in Porto. And it’s not even at the sea 🙂
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