Here is an overview of tourism and arts and culture in Portugal, from Unesco World Heritage sites to dinosaur footprints.
Folk music and the traditional fado are the main forms of musical expression in Portugal.
The word fado means fate. The music usually has sad, lyrical and sentimental elements to it, and is thought to have its roots in African Slave music. The usual theme of the fado is love, but there are some with other subjects.
There are two versions of the fado; one from Lisbon and the other from Coimbra. The one from Lisbon is personal and full of feeling, and the one from Coimbra is academic and related to its ancient university traditions.
The singer stands in black facing the audience with the musicians behind him or her. The Portuguese take immense pride in their fado music. The most famous fadista (singer) was Amália Rodrigues, who died in 1999 but was famous worldwide. Other names are Carlos do Carmo, Alfredo Marceneiro, Hermínia Silva, and Tristão da Silva.
Each region of Portugal also has its own traditional dances and songs; most of which have a slower rhythm than those in Spain. Some examples of the regional dances are the vira, chula, corridinho, tirana and fandango, many of which reflect the courting and matrimonial traditions of the area.
Many sculptures were found in the tombs of the 12th and 13th centuries. In the 15th century, Flemish artists left their mark by decorating palaces and convents with religious art. The late 18th century yielded baroque wood sculptures, of which those by Joaquim Machado de Castro are well-known. He was influenced by traditions in Italian and French art.
Then, in the 19th century, there was a return to national art based on the Romantic period, followed by a period of naturalist realism. This led to an increased experimentation in the 20th century. Maria Helena Vieira da Silva was the most celebrated abstract painter and Carlos Botelho was noted for his street scenes of Lisbon.
Portugal is also known for its azulejos; decorative, glazed tiles. Many ancient buildings are covered with these tiles, as are the palace halls.
Roman and Gothic influences gave the country many cathedrals and in the late 16th century a national style was added by adapting several of the buildings. Examples of Portuguese architecture include the Jerónimos Monastery in Lisbon; in Manueline style, the Sé cathedral of Lisbon; in which the remains of Roman construction can be seen, the Palace of Justice in Lisbon, the castle and the church of the Convent of Christ in Tomar, the late Portuguese Gothic abbey of Santa Maria da Vitória in Batalha, the granite Tower of the Clerics in Porto and Braga’s Romanesque cathedral.
Specific places to see and visit
Unesco World Heritage sites:
• Alto Douro Wine Region (2001)
• Central Zone of the Town of Angra do Heroismo in the Azores (1983)
• Convent of Christ in Tomar (1983)
• Cultural Landscape of Sintra (1995)
• Historic Centre of Évora (1986)
• Historic Centre of Guimarães (2001)
• Historic Centre of Oporto (1996)
• Landscape of the Pico Island Vineyard Culture (2004)
• Monastery of Alcobaça (1989)
• Monastery of Batalha (1983)
• Monastery of the Hieronymites
• Tower of Belém in Lisbon (1983)
• Prehistoric Rock-Art Sites in the Côa Valley (1998)
• Laurisilva of Madeira (1999)
Alfama is the oldest quarter in the capital of Lisbon. It consists of winding and narrow medieval streets; almost like a village inside a city. It has whitewashed homes, tiny squares, churches and iron balconies strung with flower pots and clothes drying in the sun.
Torre de Belem
One of the UNESCO sites in the country; Torre de Belem is situated beside the Tagus river in Lisbon. The tower’s distinct shape is sharply emphasized by the water and sky. It was built as an integral aspect of a defensive system.
The Gulbenkian Museum displays a private collection of ancient paintings, Middle Eastern art and Egyptian sculptures. This attraction is free to all visitors on Sunday, and as are many other Lisbon museums.
Museu Nacional do Azulejo
This is the Tile Museum, as it is known to English-speaking visitors. It houses a collection of decorative tiles both from Portugal and abroad that date back to the 15th century.
Coimbra’s Gardens & Parks
There are many parks around and in Coimbra if you want to sit and relax under the trees. The most popular is the Botanic Gardens, on the western slope south of the university, which contain flowerbeds, a range of trees, plants from all over the world and ornate fountains.
Along the Rio Mondego is the Manuel Braga park, with its gardens, children’s playground, cafes and kiosks.
Beside the Convento da Santa Clara-a-Velho is Portugal dos Pequenitos Parque; a park with miniature models of Portugal’s important buildings, monuments and homes, including some from previous colonies.
A visit to the Conimbriga Ruins feels like stepping back into the Roman times. Greek mythological characters are sculptured among the ruins and can be seen on a walk through the old streets and houses.
Convent of Christ in Tomar
The Knights Templar occupied many different locations throughout their early existence and the Convent of Christ in Tomar is one of them. It dates back in history from medieval times through to the Renaissance. This collection is one of the most popular attractions in Portugal.
Bracalandia Amusement Park
Near Braga in the north is the Bracalandia Amusement Park which is ideal for children. It has lots of rides including a giant wheel and train rides.
The Parque Natural de Serras Aire e Candeeiros, north of Lisbon, is known for its cathedral-like caves which were formed by the gradual erosion of water. Portugal’s largest cave system is at Mira de Aire. There is a 45 minute tour through the illuminated caves with all sorts of stalagmite and stalactite formations.
The Grutas de Alvados and Grutas de Santo Antonio are smaller than the Mira de Aire caves. They are also lit and provide guided tours.
Tourist attractions in Portugal also include the historical centre of Oporto. It has a history of 1,000 years. A Douro river boat cruise is the way to float down the waterway and see life along the riverbanks as well as fertile vineyards and olive groves.
Oporto also offers the Santo Inacio park and zoo, with a variety of animals, such as snow leopards, meercats, cranes and owls. Throughout the week, they put on displays of reptiles and birds.
Also visit the Casa-Museo Van Zeller; the former house of the Van Zeller family who earned their wealth in the wine business. The museum grants a look into the life of this middle-class Portuguese family. The garden, in particular, has attracted a lot of attention due to its diverse species of flowers and trees.
Furthermore, you can hire a boat and paddle over the river Tamega, or visit the Amarante water park, which is popular with children.
Authentic dinosaur tracks can be observed in Pedreira do Galinha just off the road east of Alcobaca. They are in a former limestone quarry and were discovered in July 1994. The footprints are fossilised in the rock and are the oldest and longest series of sauropod tracks found in the world. They are also extremely well preserved examples of some of the largest land animals that ever lived. The footprints are approximately 175 million years old, from the Middle Jurassic period.
If looking for the best beach activities in Portugal, you should head south to the Algarve region. It is comprised of three distinct cities as well as many little towns and villages. You can try your hand at several aquatic sports, as well as many other amusing activities.
Tourist attractions in February include Carnival. This is considered the most exciting festival in the country. The streets are filled with colourful costumes, traditional dances and marches. Tourists and locals celebrate this pre-Lent festival in style.