The Portugal Bucket List Everyone Should Experience!

Portugal – My Shy Friend

This year we had the opportunity to show off our corner of Portugal to good friends who’d never visited the country before. We have been visiting Portugal for a number of years and over time we have come to learn about Portugal’s highlights : things that are unique to this little corner of Europe that we really wanted them to experience. A Portugal Bucket List if you like.

There’s a lot to love about a country that has a punk-rocker chicken as its National symbol. A land which rewards your Supermarket food shopping with the perfect 30cl cool beer just beyond the checkout. A nation whose Festa’s (Summer festivals) don’t begin till 11pm, and the local fire stations are run by volunteers, who do it purely for the honour.

The people of Portugal and warm and friendly and welcome visitors with open arms. They want you to experience their country and return.

Cabbage soup reigns supreme in every restaurant and gets the Menu Del Día off to a perfect start.  The potatoes are so sweet they walk off your plate into your heart. And, the Delta coffee so bitter you taste the resentment of Salazar in every sip. It takes one of their pastel de nata’s to return the sweetness. But, that’s where the confectionary compliments end because despite the fact their bakeries and cafes are brimming with delicacies worthy of a French Patisserie photograph they taste like something from a Polish soup kitchen! Portugal went and mislaid its sugar.
These are the kinds of things I want all my pals to know about Portugal, like when you’re introducing your shy friend to everyone and want them to give her a chance, to see all the good bits you see after years of acquaintance. My parents bought an old farmhouse in Portugal 10 years ago and ever since I have been falling in love.

It’s a slow burner because my mate Portugal is a bit reserved, she sits in the corner of Europe not really saying much. Like a voluptuous Dickensian barmaid she is well-known for her rear end (The Algarve) but not many of today’s pirates and vagabonds have gotten to know her for her heart and virtues aplenty. So, let me introduce you.

My Favourite Portual-Highlight; Its Assault On The Senses

When you open the morning shutters at my parent’s Central Portugal abode, you are hit with the scent of Eucalyptus and Pine, so strong you’ll find yourself searching for your white terry robe and spa slippers. By 9am most Portuguese locals have been in the field 3 hours already, tilling by hand and feeding their livestock which will see them through the Winter. They’re hard workers and sometimes their inner-contentment is hard to decipher between their frown and worry lines. It’s even harder to make out from the traditional Fado music you hear in the evening Squares, songs which make your ears bleed and your heart crack from all the pain that surely must’ve inspired such haunting music – not too dissimilar to my daughters’ recorder skills.
But their pride can be seen in their pretty town Praça’s (squares), which are spaces so neat and groomed I half expect to be asked to remove my shoes. Colourful tiled facades on just your everyday house which have you snapping at the details with your camera – shots that will always remain in your cache but never see the light of day again!

But at least you can capture this minutia on film, unlike the sound of the forests at the 4 pm breeze, a gentle alarm bell that it’s Gin o’clock. Or the melt-in-the-mouth texture of Le Tao – suckling pig at its finest. Or the eerie silence in a lot of places – you would be forgiven for thinking you came to Portugal and it was closed. Apart from the usual August rush when the youngsters return from their jobs in Luxembourg and other richer neighbouring countries to become citizens for a month and catch up with their elderly relatives.

old lady with some farming tools in a portuguese village

5 Portugal Bucket List Experiences I Want You To Have

Apart from the serenity and calm which covers central Portugal like a baby’s comforter, there are many more reasons to make this country your next family holiday destination. And, if you do, here’s our little list of things we think you should experience before you leave : things you should definitely put on your Portugal Bucket List, because if you don’t experience the following, I don’t even know if you can say you’ve visited Portugal!

1. Chicken And Chips – Original Nando’s

Any foreign market is a cultural looking glass into the soul of a nation, like an abandoned shopping list in your trolley, but Portuguese markets have an extra highlight which would have Colleen and Wayne salivating at the lips: Original Nando’s.

Haven’t you read the famous cockerel story written on a wall in every Nando’s in the world? Portugal is where it began. But instead of a colourful and atmospheric restaurant, it’s a shoulder-to-shoulder sweaty affair under tarpaulin at Formica tables. Complete with wine in plastic cups and claggy table cloths. Am I selling it to you? Or should I say it’s an opportunity to sit back to back with hearty locals, soak in the lively environment and taste the best chicken and chips of your life!

There’s no menu, you just hold up your fingers for how many portions and they bring it to you – salad, chips, rice, peri-peri chicken, bread and wine : what more does one need for a slap-up lunch. Usually around €6 a person and worth every cent. This event is top of our Portugal bucket list EVERY YEAR!

2. Kayaking on the Mondego River

You may have already read my other post about our trip down the river: a day of exhilaration as you manoeuvre the current and an opportunity to take in the scenery of this beautiful corner of the world. This part of central Portugal is so lush and green and this particular landscape really shows that off, plus its great fun for all ages. Kayaking is always a Portugal highlight for our family.

3. Visit Bussaco Palace, Luso

As was the fashion of the day, Kings and Princes with healthy bank accounts (and even some without) commissioned ornate Castles and Palaces for themselves, romanticising a dream of an enchanting life with his many princesses and other less blue-blooded damsels. Too much time spent watching Disney Princess films if you ask me, they should have been out shooting grouse with arrows and learning how to oil a draw bridge, not being tailored to the hilt with frilly trousers and floppy hats. However, the well-tuned creative sides of past Princes and Monarchs mean that today we have some beautifully ornate Royal abodes to visit. And I’m not talking that many moons ago – only built at the turn of the twentieth century this is a palace which has taken all the elaborate details of bygone architecture and merged them into the discombobulated style of the Bussaco Palace. She’s a beaut!

Today it’s a hotel, 5 star no less, but the gardens are free to be roamed and there are acres of forest which were planted in the 1600’s for a group of hermit monks who felt the area resembled Mount Carmel in the Holy Land. The monastery still remains, adjacent to the palace, and this is only some of the History attached to Bussaco – there are also tales about The Duke of Wellington in the Battle of Bussaco, where the French were defeated by the British and Portuguese. Fascinating stuff!

It’s a great place to explore, especially with the kids, and the woodland tracks have you walking through trees of worldwide varieties, to peaks with views that will take your breath away (if there’s any left to take after the vertical assent!)

4. Visit Aveiro and Praia da Costa Nova

No two places represent the colourful architecture of this part of Portugal better than Aveiro and its sea-side counterpart. Like a bowl of Skittles, you can taste the rainbow in these old towns. Costa Nova with its striped facades and Aveiro with its tiled exteriors, it’s impossible to not absorb the chirpy attitude, like a hug off a bunch of hippies in tie-dye.

A bit further down the coast, you’ll find Figueira da Foz, another homage to Rod, Jane and Freddy. I wrote about Aveiro if you’d like to see more pictures of this psychedelic town.

Striped Beach Houses of Costa Nova, Portugal - a little seaside town on the West coast with great beaches and some fantastic restaurants. The colourful houses really make this a highlight for this area - a portugal bucket list place
Costa Nova, Portugal Striped Beach Houses
Beautiful tiled houses of Aveiro, Portugal
Costa Nova, Portugal Striped Beach Houses
Beautiful tiled houses of Aveiro, Portugal

5. The Portuguese Phenonema – The Chinez Shop

No Portugal bucket list would be complete without a head tilt to the wonderful Portuguese fascination which goes by the description of The Chinez Shop. When they heard we were bringing friends with us to Portugal this year, our kids asked straight off:

“Are we taking them to the Chinez Shop?”

Chinez is Portuguese for, you guessed it, Chinese. And, most towns in the area where my parents live have these Alladins Caves of retail, designed to sell everything from a cheese-grater to a blow-up Donkey, from tooth-pick dispensers to camping stoves, from hair glitter to knock-off Nikes – all sold by a Chinese fellow who serves you whilst talking on the phone the whole time. The kids are allowed to spend their €5 here and the suspense is great, waiting to find out what marvellous piece of merchandise they can produce for their fiver. The place is a wonderland, a mecca to plastic tat but also occasionally the patron of some great gems. Anyway, we take folk to Wan Kings (I know – it’s enough to go, if only for a photograph of the sign) then we absorb our bemusement over an ice-cream in the square. It’s a past-time that will never get old and will always feature in our Portugal highlights.

Chinez Shop - Portugal
Boy in a mask
Rubber Donkeys - Pool Toys

So there you have it, the ways in which we entertain our guest in Central Portugal but also a glimpse into the personality of our wonderful shy friend. This may not have been the bucket-list you were envisioning but these Portugal-highlights should make it into everybody’s holiday, they are Portuguese gems for sure!

I’m so pleased with my little video from our recent trip, please watch it and see what you think!…(turn up the sound):

Check out some of my other posts about Portugal in the drop down menu above, I hope it can inspire you to meet her one day. And, if you like what you read then sign up below and you’ll receive an email each time a new post comes out. Thanks for dropping by!

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5 Great Places you should put on your bucket list for Portugal this year. Unmissable towns and experiences along with some great hidden gems. Click through for more info... #Portugal #portugalbucketlist

39 Comments Add yours

  1. Two Texans Traveling says:

    Inspired writing…still chuckling over the Dickens barmaid analogy 😉

  2. Two Texans Traveling says:

    As a newly baptized travel blogger, I find your writing and style so refreshing. So many blogs …I did this, I did that…,no humor or originality . Not yours….I’m still chuckling over your Dickens barmaid analogy. Kudos on your originality

    1. Alex says:

      You’re too kind! I never started this blog to document travel as such – that was just an organic developement as it went on. I started writing to cheer people up with my words so it makes me very happy to read your comment – thank you!

  3. I’m sold! We have a home in Tavira and I have travelled as extensively as I can in Portugal. Much more to see! Aveiro is on the list. 🙂 Oporto and the Douro was a highlight, Evora too and the Festa dos Tabuleiros at Tomar was incredible.

    1. Alex says:

      Aveiro is lovely. We’ve not made it down to the Algarve yet but I’ve heard it’s very different from the rest of Portugal. Hopefully next year (this year’s trip is already planned!) thanks for your comment!

  4. Maria says:

    Loved your post about Portugal and I’ll be coming back for more, I’m sure. I’m Portuguese and sometimes it takes some one from the outside to look and see us in all our splendor 😉
    Just a little note le Tao is leitão, a small piglet (and its good, isn’t it?)

    1. Alex says:

      Oo thanks! I shall change that! And nice to have a genuine Portuguese person stop by 😉 hope you’ll be back!

  5. Anna says:

    Hi, Alex! absolutely loved the video!
    Music, views… it really reflects the unique atmosphere! It was definitely a great idea to combine both photos and video in one post, to reveal more of Portugal! Stunning!

    1. Alex says:

      Aw thanks – nice to get some feedback. When you spend so long actually looking at it and editing you see it in a different light. Like a throw-it-out-the-window light!

  6. The Pramshed says:

    What a beautiful post and a beautiful country. This has made me crave my regular trips to Spain to my parents villa. Portugal looks and sounds like such a diverse country, I love it when countries still have their traditions rather than being over run with tourists. This has made my heart pang for traditional Spanish squares, tapas and sangria. Thanks so much for linking up at #forthrloveofBLOG. Claire x

  7. Jane Taylor says:

    Hellooooo!! I’m back so I can get my #fortheloveofblog brownie point, though! He he! I do love this post though!

  8. Anne says:

    Love your writing style. I’ve only been to the algarve which is gorgeous but would love to explore more

  9. Anne says:

    Love your writing style. I’ve only been to the algarve which is gorgeous but would love to explore more

    1. Alex says:

      Thank you so much. And thanks for commenting.

  10. Julie Cao says:

    I love your writing style. It generate so much details about Portugal and the picture of architecture is so enchanting that I want to live in those buildings. I always wanted to visit Portugal now you’ve further convinced me to visit.

    1. Alex says:

      Thank you so much! That’s very kind.

  11. Elena says:

    Beautifully written! As someone who proclaimed Portugal as the favorite country, I can attest to all of the above. Looking forward reading more. Cheers!

    1. Alex says:

      Thank you Elena

  12. Jaki says:

    My heart belongs to Portugal. We discovered it 5 years ago & have only missed one year visiting since. We usually go for the typical Algarve area but this year went further North & stayed in Foz Do Arelho. We fell in love instantly & can’t wait for next year. I’ve got major post holiday blues after reading this. Can’t wait to read some more. #fortheloveofBLOG

    1. Alex says:

      It makes me so happy to hear of someone else who has ventured beyond the Algarve. Gorgeous isn’t it. Thanks for commenting!

  13. Jane Taylor says:

    Oh my goodness. You are a talented writer, my friend! I’m not kidding! You are like a poetic Bill Bryson. I’d read your travel book and then pass it around all of my (other) friends.

    You need to have a weekly column in a broadsheet.

    Seeing as it’s you, I don’t mind you oozing writing talent and popping out blog posts like Pez pop out of Pez dispensers.

    Remember, I’m your plus one if your go on a freebie to Australia because I want to see my virtual friend for real.

  14. Chloe says:

    Omg the chicken and chips looks sooooo good!! Portugal really knows how to cook. Everything I ate there was amazing, I am dying to go back to eat more! hhaha, making me hungry! Thanks for sharing and can’t wait for your next #flyawayfriday post

  15. Vlad says:

    I love Portugal, I would happily return every year to find new places to explore. Aveiro is simply charming, I loved wandering there 😀 #TheWeeklyPostcard

  16. Kana says:

    I love the way you write your posts, Alex! The photos are beautiful as always. You definitely make me want to visit Portugal with all your fantastic posts! Thanks for joining #FlyAwayFriday – can’t wait see you again this week! xo

    1. Alex says:

      Aw thanks Kana, I do enjoy writing. X

  17. Cathy says:

    I’m in love with all things Portuguese! My father and grandparents were born in the Azores. I fell in love with the islands when I went in April. I’ll never get enough of their egg and custard tarts!

    1. Alex says:

      I know! And I don’t even like custard tarts!

  18. Loved reading this – a great post, Alex! You inspired me to visit Portugal. Will have to make it happen.

    1. Alex says:

      You certainly will. You’ll love it!!

  19. Wow it sounds wonderful. I never made it down to Portugal and now so wish I had. This little country has so much to offer.

  20. Richard says:

    Nicely written and beautiful photos! I’m in the Detroit airport on the way to visit Portugal for the very first time, so this was a great way to get ready for the trip ‘

    1. Alex says:

      Oo how appropriate! Have a fab trip my friend. Where are you going?

  21. I have not been to Portugal but it seems like a very popular destination this bank holiday weekend for British tourists, seems like so many people we asked were headed there for the long weekend! I’d love to visit soon. Laurence loves Nando’s so I am sure he’d love to eat the original:)

    1. Alex says:

      It seems to be getting more and more popular, not just the Algarve.

  22. Anisa says:

    Thanks for these tips. I hope to visit Portugal soon, it really does sound lovely and I’ve heard nothing but good things. I love castles so will definitely try to see that one. Thanks for linking up with #TheWeeklyPostcard

    1. Alex says:

      It’s gorgeous – you’ll love it!

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