If all you visit when you go to Portugal are Lisbon, the Algarve and Porto, you’ll miss out on some amazing sites and places along the way. Here are a few alternatives to adventurous travellers seeking the real Portugal.
1. Lisbon’s Monument to the Discoveries is a major draw, placed where Vasco da Gama departed for India. But Sines, a bustling coastal city to the south, was the great captain’s hometown. Vasco da Gama was born in the 1460s near the church of Nossa Senhora das Salas. Today, his statue stands overlooking the beach that is named for him, next to the castle of Sines. The statue, like the Lisbon monument, is of 20th-century style, and an easy stroll to seafood eateries and a sandy shore.
2. Each day folks wait to see the glory of Jeronimos Monastery. But you won’t find a line to get into the church of Our Lady of the Assumption in Elvas, (Nossa Senhora d’Assunção). This Old Cathedral of Elvas was built between 1517-37, the same period as the Jerónimos, it has the same style of jubilant Manueline design.
3. The castle of Sao Jorge over Lisbon is like a crown on the city, but the view is just as impressive, with sweeping vistas over the Tejo River at Belver. The ancient castle still dominates the highest hill on a green and yellow bank of the river, with a small village in its lap. King D. Sancho I had the knights of St. John of the Hospital to build a castle 700 years ago… The fine walls, which are in very good repair, circle the keep. The walls offer breathtaking views of the Tejo, and a sense as to how Belver got its name: lovely to see.
4. People love pottery towns such as Coimbra, Alcobaça and Caldas, but for a centuries-old tradition of handmade pottery try São Pedro do Corval. This small town is a pottery school of sorts with more than 20 local pottery workshops turning out all kinds of ceramic wonders. In fact, it is the largest grouping of pottery shops in Portugal. And it is not far from the walled town of Monsaraz.
5. The Rossio is the heart of Lisbon, but it is not the only one-as the word means “large square.” You will find a similar massive square, called Rossio do Marquês de Pombal, in Estremoz. Surrounded by monumental buildings, churches, and lots of places to eat and enjoy a coffee, much of the square is built of marble, a prominent local stone, as in the 17th century City Hall, the Sacred Art Museum and the Convent of San Francisco.
6. Sintra was the winter escape of the kings of Portugal, but it was not the only one. The royal family had a massive palace called the Ducal Palace at Vila Viçosa. This huge royal palace takes a full day to explore. Built in the Mannerist style with a facade totally faced with local marble. And there are more than 50 rooms open to explore.
7. Natas, you can get them anywhere these days, but what about pampilhos? You can only get those sweet treats in Santarém. And this pastry is a mix of buttery pastry with a creamy, cinnamon-spiced egg yolk filling. The name is a tip of the hat to local campinos — cattle herders who carry wooden sticks (pampilhos). Locals have pampilhos for breakfast or as a sweet 5 p.m. tea treat.
8. Obidos, a charming walled town that thrives off of tourism, but why not explore the charming but less crowded cobblestone streets of Marvão, set atop the highest peak of the Serra de São Mamede. Inside impressive walls lie narrow cobblestone streets lined with historic houses – many with Gothic arches, Manueline windows and wrought-iron balconies. But from the walls of Marvão you can see for miles in any direction.
9. Cascais is lovely, but on the Rota Vicentina – the charming town of Porto Covo has it all. Porto Covo is a white-washed fishing town, with lots of great beaches, eateries and hiking. It is the perfect base to explore the Costa Vicentina. The little town is not a set of high-rises, but small houses, open squares and cobblestoned streets, all set on spectacular sea cliffs.
Source: Visit Portugal