Things to do in Portugal

For a relatively small country, Portugal packs a big punch. From golden sand beaches, to world class golf courses, beautiful vineyards to ancient cities, surfing to stargazing; if you’re looking for things to do in Portugal, there is no shortage of options - the real task is having time to do them all!

Try Lisbon’s favourite sweet treat

Portugal’s iconic pastel de nata is the jewel in the crown of the nation’s culinary reputation. First cooked up by monks in the early 19th century, these sweet and creamy custard tarts are a beloved national favourite, and you’ll be hard-pressed to find a bad one anywhere in one of Portugal's best cities, Lisbon. Pastéis de Belém is where it all began, and today it makes and sells about 20,000 pastries every day.

If you get your pastel de nata to go, you’ll find that the Belem district of Lisbon has plenty more to offer, particularly along its seafront, where you can see the Monument of the Discoveries. Built in 1960 as a tribute to the discovery of new territories by the great explorers, the design takes the form of the prow of a caravel (a ship used in the early days of Portuguese exploration). You can take the lift to the top for a magnificent view of the harbour or you can continue walking along the promenade until you reach Torre de Belem, which was built in 1514 as a defensive tower that could fire its cannons on enemy ships.

If you want some beach time in the afternoon, take your pastel de nata as a snack aboard a short 30 minute train to Cascais, where you’ll find golden sand beaches just off an old fishing village filled with pastel-coloured shop fronts and wrought iron balconies covered in bougainvillea.

Visit the vineyards in the Douro Valley

Portuguese wines have long been underestimated, but an array of indigenous grape varieties combined with dramatically improved winemaking and less-than-established reputations means they can offer real originality and value. Luckily it is easy to visit some of the many vineyards that are dotted across the country and try some of the lesser known wines yourself.

A day’s wine-tasting in the Douro Valley is one of the best days out in Portugal and you can join tours that include a cruise on the Douro River. Exploring by boat allows you to escape the crowds on land and enjoy unobstructed views of the Douro Valley, while letting someone else drive allows you to indulge in wine tasting sessions!

Golf in the Algarve

Since the 1960s, Portugal (especially the Algarve) has established itself as perhaps the ultimate destination in Europe for holidaying golfers. Luckily Club Med Da Balaia offers PGA Europe professionals to give you the coaching you need to tackle some of the tremendous courses in the region.

A stay at Club Med Da Balaia on the red cliff tops of Albufeira gives you free access to Balaia Golf and easy access to an array of Europe’s top golf courses including Quinta do Lago and the iconic Victoria course designed by Arnold Palmer.

Quinto do Lago is used for prestigious tournaments such as the Portuguese Open, part of the European Tour and is one of the most famous courses in the Algarve, with a notorious 15th hole. Only 30 minutes away, the 18-hole championship course at the five-star Penina, designed by Sir Henry Cotton, is considered the spiritual home of golf in the Algarve, and was the first course in the region when it opened in 1966.

Whale watch in the Azores

April to September is peak whale-watching season in the Azores, with spring and early summer the best time to spot the blue whale, the world’s largest mammal, on their annual migration. Ride out with a marine biologist on ribs or catamarans to look for whales in seas which harbour a rich and varied marine life, including dolphins, manta rays and sea turtles.
You can choose which island to base yourself on, from Terra Azul where you can split trips to sea with time to explore the island’s beautiful volcanic landscapes to Faial where you can mix whale watching with jeep tours and other activities.

Take a stroll in Vila Novo de Gaia in Porto

Lisbon gets a lot of attention, but Porto’s star is on the rise and is now one of the top destinations for people visiting Portugal. Many of Porto’s best-known attractions are north of the Douro river where you can spend hours touring the fascinating cobblestone alleys to experience the authentic charm of the Ribeira, Baixa and Bolhao districts.

However, if you take a stroll across Ponte Luís I (look out for the Porto locals executing spectacular and terrifying dives from the bridge into the river), you will reach Vila Novo de Gaia. This riverside stretch gives you panoramic views of the old city, and is packed full of bars and holes in the wall selling salgados and croquetes. In steep streets away from the river, you will find the famous port houses of Sandeman and Taylor’s where you can taste the finest tawny, ruby and white ports or you can simply wander along the river taking in the views.

Mercador Beira-Rio has a great selection of different Portuguese restaurants, such as Barriga Negra (with amazing traditional petiscos) so it’s a great place to have a bite to eat after you’ve paid a visit to the port houses.

Surf in style

Portugal offers approximately 943 kilometers (586 miles) of shoreline and is considered one of the best countries in the world for surfing, with surf spots right the way up the coast.
The unspoilt beaches of the Algarve make a perfect base for a surfing holiday. Here, golden beach after golden beach is pounded by the mighty Atlantic, meaning there is one for every level of surfer keen to get out there and line up to catch a wave. Beyond the Algarve, there are great waves for surfing all the way along the mainland, as well as in the Azores and Madeira islands.
For beginners, the best time to surf is in the summer, between May and September, because at this time the swells are less frequent and the waves are much smaller. But note that the best surf spots tend to be very popular indeed, especially throughout July and August.

Visit the world’s most beautiful bookstore

Sticking with Porto, the 110 year old Lello Bookstore is one of the most beautiful bookstores in the world and a must-see site in Porto. It’s a stunning old world bookshop filled to the rafters with new and antiquarian books. As you walk through the doors of this bookstore you are greeted by a marvellous central stairway while all around, ornate wooden walls and the stained glass ceiling transports you to a different world.

The bookshop claims bragging rights as an inspiration for J.K. Rowling’s Harry Potter book series. The author lived in Porto for two years between 1991-92, teaching English, and was a frequent patron of the bookstore. Around the same area, you’ll find Clérigos Tower and Carmo and Carmelitas’ churches giving you plenty more options to explore before heading to a well-deserved lunch.

Stargaze in the Alentejo

The first Starlight Tourism Destination in the world, the Dark Sky Alqueva Reserve, offers an unforgettable experience of the sky at night. Right in the middle of Alentejo, the wonderful Alqueva sky is like dark velvet cloaked in a huge blanket of stars. Astronomers will teach you to spot Ursa Major, Ursa Minor, Cassiopeia, and the majestic Milky Way through telescopes, though even with the naked eye, the night sky is spellbinding.
Alentejo, set in the South of Portugal, between the Tagus River and the Algarve is an extensive region, rural and sparsely populated, making up about one third of Portugal. The beauty of its landscape and its cuisine and wines, make it well worth exploring the areas for a few days either side of your stargazing experience.
However you decide to spend your time in Portugal, you’re in for a holiday of a lifetime, and Club Med Da Balaia offers the perfect base from which to discover everything the country has to offer.

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