The north and central regions of Portugal is where you'll more often find the real Portugal. In the very north the traditional way of life is still followed by small communities up in the mountain regions. Towns and cities tend to be smaller and as tourism isn't always the key earner for some areas you'll be welcomed as something of a novelty.
Many of the towns in north and central Portugal hold a huge amount of historic buildings that together tell the turbulent story of Portugal's history. Coimbra, Porto, Braga, Guimaraes and Braganca are absolute must-see towns and cities that have some out-of-this-world architecture. The areas are also fantastic for all outdoor activities with mountains to hike through, rivers to canoe and plenty of mountain biking and surfing territory.
The Minho region of North Portugal, the northwest of Portugal, is the centre for rural tourism. Stretching from the coast at Caminha all the way along the River Minho and down to the River Lima is beautiful countryside excellent for outdoor pursuits including walking, watersports and, of course, wildlife watching in the spectacular mountainous National Park of Peneda-Geres.
The Tras-os-Montes region is the north eastern part of Portugal where the northern part of the region is known as the Terra Fria (cold land) due to its harsh winters where the extremes in winters and summers have led to the local quip to describe the climate "nine months of winter and three months of hell".
The southern part of the region is known as Terra Quente (hot land) and is much more Mediterranean in climate. It is one of the least well-known areas in Portugal and retains much of Portugal's traditions and charm.
It is a beautiful part of the world with stunning mountains of the Montesinho Natural Park in the north and the lower hills dotted with regular rows of almond and olive trees that colour the landscape with their blossom in February and March.
From Porto up to the Spanish border is the Costa Verde, the Green Coast. This includes the regions of the Douro Litoral and the Minho. The northern Portugal Coast from Povoa Varzim to Caminha is pretty much one long beach. The coastline around Porto includes several vibrant resorts that have often been the holiday destinations for the city dwellers of Porto and the Portuguese from north and central Portugal.
The further north you go the more traditional the resorts and some of the smaller towns retain their traditional seafaring traditions. Much of this coast is protected from development and interesting methods of agriculture have evolved including cultivation between the sand dunes.
Porto is Portugal's second city to Lisbon and is often referred to as the capital of the north. It is a bustling city renowned for being the business and commercial centre for Portugal. For the visitor it combines historic monuments and churches with a vibrant day and nightlife. With the Francisco Sa Carneiro Airport just 12 miles to the north serviced by the Metro that takes you right into the city centre, Porto is a great city break with historic attractions, beautiful scenery and easy access to the Douro wine region, northern coast and countryside. There are plenty of shops and combined with the port and wine tours of the area there's enough to keep most people occupied for a weekend break or longer stay.
The Douro region is stunning in itself with its age-old vineyard cultivated slopes that are a World Heritage Site. Along the way are a series of towns all with different histories and traditions.
Not only can you cruise down the Douro to take in the sights, but you can take one of the narrow gauge railways in some of the country's most beautiful scenery or explore on foot, bike or canoe.
The central region of Portugal is largely rural with some fantastic mountain ranges, rivers and wooded countryside. The eastern boundary of Spain is dotted with Border Castles that were erected to fend off the invasions from unfriendly neighbours in the past. Today a closer relationship exists, shown in the cross border nature reserves full of exciting bird populations and of course the endangered Iberian Lynx.
Thermal spas, outdoor activities and mountain landscapes are also what the central region of Portugal is renowned for. Coimbra is the main city of the region with its historic university and hilltop medieval town. There is so much to see and do here that you're unlikely to be able to fit it all in in one holiday.
The coastline from Lisbon up to Porto makes up the Costa de Prata, the Silver Coast. If you like long sandy beaches and huge crashing Atlantic breakers then the Portugal coast line will fit the bill. Long windswept sandy beaches and rugged Atlantic coast are its trademark; good for windsurfers, surfers and sun worshippers. The Silver Coast has a plethora of different types of resorts from quiet traditional fishing villages to busy family fun oriented destinations. Many of the pretty villages along the Silver Coast have retained a traditional Portuguese culture and way-of-life amongst some of the best European beaches. Coimbra is the main city of this area being within easy driving distance of the coast as are some of Portugal's most impressive historical sights like the cathedrals around Batalha, Alcobaca and Fatima. A few of the coastal towns still retain their fishing industry and there are plenty of traditional seaside resorts as well as more modern resorts with casinos and family attractions.
Together with the Costa Verde around Porto and north up to the Spanish border, the Portugal coast line offers 600 kilometres of beach and surfing eutopia. Many resorts are the focus for surfing competitions during the year and there are plenty of outfits offering surfing tuition for novices through to advanced skill levels. Ericeira and Peniche, both on the Silver Coast, are amongst the most famous surfing resorts in Portugal and the world. Many of the most popular beaches have sheltered areas for swimming and are patrolled by lifeguards. However, on this western Atlantic coastline the ocean can be pretty wild with a heavy undertow so some of the more out of the way beaches can be dangerous. The cleanliness of beaches has improved over recent years and there is now a longer list of Blue Flag rated beaches which mean these beaches should meet high standards for water quality and beach cleanliness.