Portugal offers a diverse choice of holiday themes, from historic tours, wine tasting and walking holidays in the North to golf and beach family holidays galore in the bustling Algarve resorts of Albufeira, Praia da Rocha and Lagos. Portuguese Islands Madeira and the Azores make superb bases for walking holidays, with their rugged and dramatic landscapes. Madeira, like the Canaries, is famed for its distinctive ancient Laurisilva primeval laurel forests, and checkout Portugal's highest peak - Pico Alto on the Azores island of Pico.
Portugal's capital Lisbon is superb for both weekend city breaks visiting the many museums, historic sights and chic bars and restaurants here - all made easy by Lisbon's superb network of public transport. Take a longer holiday in Lisbon and push south across the river to the Setubal Peninsula or west to the holiday Estoril Coast. Portugal remains excellent value for money, with a high season falling between mid-June to mid-September when temperatures on the Algarve push up into the 30s.
The central and eastern Leeward or Sotavento Algarve coast contains some of the Algarve's busiest resorts, including Albufeira, Vilamoura, Quarteira and further east popular family holiday hotspot Montegordo. All these Algarve resort bases have superb sheltered sandy beaches - the Leeward Algarve coast is flatter and more sheltered than the west making it popular family holiday territory. Around the Algarve East and Central resort hubs a choice of family holiday attractions abound, including a huge Aqualand Waterpark, Zoomarine, a choice of Algarve Golf, watersports, bars, restaurants, holiday shops and a full programme of Algarve excursions out to the wider Algarve.
This sits in contrast somewhat to historic centres at both Faro and Tavira, and the sublime estuary and wetland areas of natural parks in the area including the Ria Formosa around the Faro and Olhao coast and further east north of Montegordo the Reserva Natural do Sapal de Castro Marim Natural Park. Both are a haven for birdwatching holidays, and stunning remote blue flag beaches which often can only be reached by ferry.
The windward West Algarve coast has a rockier more dramatic coastline than the east. Around Lagos and further west to Sagres and the western tip Cabo de Sao Vincente the coast gets wilder. Base yourself at either Sagres or Lagos for a choice of Algarve surf schools and superb surfing beaches. The west Algarve is where the active head, there's a choice of outdoor activities here including mountain biking around the Serra de Monchique mountains, surfing around Sagres and up to Carrapateira, boat trips and dolphin watching from Portimao Marina, horse riding, windsurfing, kitesurfing and trekking.
For bustling Algarve resort territory, Praia da Rocha with its stunning endless sandy beach (one of the best on the Algarve) offers a choice of watersports and boat trips as well as great nightlife and a casino. Sample the chic shops in Portimao centre, visit historic Silves with its choice of museums and famous castle, hop inland to beautiful natural spa centre Monchique or head to bohemian jewel Lagos for surfing, great beaches, historic sites and a bustling marina. Pretty fishing villages and nearby dramatic rock formations are to be found in the Carvoeiro area.
Lisbon, Portugal's capital city, is hugely popular with visitors from all over Europe. It's a city particularly favoured for weekend city breaks. You can see why - Lisbon is a city that offers numerous attractions including a host of museums and art galleries, a bustling waterfront, chic bars, cafes, restaurants and shops in almost every Lisbon district, two huge soccer stadiums on its outskirts, one of the best public transport networks and metro systems in the world, and a fascinating history.
The Estoril coast, incorporating holiday hotspots like chic Cascais, and surfing meccas Ericeira and Carcavelos, offers the best of several holiday worlds. Great beaches and a choice of historic sights and resort activities combine with the Estoril Coast's close proximity to Lisbon City Centre.
UNESCO World Heritage site Sintra to the West of Lisbon pulls in the visitors all year round. Compared to all things fairytale and Gothic, the cluster of palaces, a dramatic hill top castle and a choice of museums including one of Portugal's best contemporary art museums, all come together to make Sintra a day trip hotspot.
South of the River Tejo you push into the sublime Setubal Peninsula, commonly known as the Costa Azul (blue like the sea). The Costa Azul coast stretches all the way round from Costa da Caparica to Setubal and the Sado Estuary. Today the area is a popular haunt for Lisboans and tourists alike, particularly along the beaches of the Costa Da Caparica.
Madeira might be a similar size to Menorca (one of the Balearic Islands), but their holiday flavours are very different. Madeira is more like a mini La Palma. It's rugged and mountainous here in Madeira's interior, although coastal hotspots like the capital Funchal, and top southern resort spots such as Canico and Calheta are low-lying.
Madeira's dramatic landscapes are moving indeed, with a mix of rugged mountains and volcanic peaks, plunging gorges and the distinctive Laurisilva/primeval laurel forests which exist here on Madeira and on the Canary Islands. Nicknamed the floating garden, the botanical and tropical gardens are found aplenty around Funchal the capital particularly. Move to the interior though, and Madeira tells a different, ruggedly wild story. Choose the south Madeira resort hotspots for a outdoor leisure on the water, plus diving, golf, and fishing and historic sights in Funchal. Choose the interior for challenging trekking, climbing, and birdwatching. Plenty of surfing choice too up on the wild north coast of Madeira.
The nine volcanically formed Azores Islands (Sao Miguel, Terceira, Pico, Santa Maria, Sao Jorge, Faial, Graciosa, Flores and Corvo) are a playground for outdoor leisure, particularly watersports and surfing holidays. The Azores sit in the middle of the North Atlantic around 1500km from the European coast.
As there's quite a few Azores islands, they're divided into groups. The eastern cluster includes Santa Maria and Sao Miguel, the central Terceira, Craciosa, Sao Jorge, Pico and Faial and in the West Flores and Corvo. Sao Miguel Azores Island is the biggest of the nine, and the Autonomous Regional Government of the Azores is based here at Ponta Delgada on Sao Miguel.
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.
Along the coast 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 the 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 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) 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 March and April.
Braga, the Rome of Portugal, is the spiritual home of Portugal and with thirty five churches chiming across the city it's no wonder. There is a rich cultural heritage marked by impressive religious festivals and architecture. However, this religious heritage is combined with Braga's modern cosmopolitan way of life where students from the nearby University of Minho and busy business people liven up the squares and cafes at all hours of the day and night. There is a wealth of shops, restaurants and cafes along with the whole range of hotels both close to the town or its modern suburbs.
It's a great base from which to explore Portugal's only National Park, Parque Nacional de Peneda-Geres which can be reached in a day trip.
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.
Coimbra is effectively the capital city of the Beiras region of Portugal. It has long held an important place in Portugal's history since it was the capital of the country for over a century between 1143-1255. As such it has some interesting historical monuments that are mostly conveniently located in the hilltop old town of Coimbra reached by a warren of narrow streets.