The question is a common one: I have 8 days in Portugal - and want to see Lisbon, Porto, Lagos … Rushing, waiting in lines, a blur of places — not getting a feel for anywhere. Travel is expensive — so why plan a trip where you can’t really enjoy the place you are exploring. And, the impact on Portugal can be lines, crowds and over tourism.
So, why not slow down, and enjoy the things that make Portugal so special?
Just because everyone says you should go to a certain spot — don’t. Until about 15 years ago, Portugal was an enigma to many. As an internet star today - Portugal has been explored by so many with great photography skills, but no base knowledge of the country. Yes, Lisbon, the Algarve and Sintra are special. But, they were never designed for the crush of guests they see now, and the impact on their very essence is noticeable.
But, when you look at what so many are driving past in ignorance-—and the impact they are having — plus the cost that they are paying — there has to be a better way.
Get off the beaten path
While the Douro is breathtaking, so many tourists just stop at Pinhão, as of the river stopped there - completely ignoring the beauty and majesty of the Eastern Douro River Valley, with rich towns, wild landscapes, and truly great wines. Others ignore the breathtaking wine region right next door — the Vinho Verde Region, with its baroque wine towns, historic sites, and some of the best food in Portugal.
While Obidos can get pretty crowded and touristy most days, there are some outstanding wall towns that you can have all to yourself, without a postcard shop or jazzy eateries. Explore Sortelha, Almeida, Marvão and Terena and prepare to be amazed.
As interesting as the coast around Lagos is, sea caves, tiny islands, and water sports are much easier to find around Porto Covo, with an untouched coast, tiny towns, and uncrowded Atlantic beaches.
As colorful as Lisbon is, Vila Real de Santo António was the prototype for its redesign in the 18th century. Colorful and thriving sites without the crowds are ready to greet you at Viseu, Viana de Castelo, Guimarães, Evora, Tomar and Santarém.
Then there are the wine counties that the crowds are missing: The granite towns in the wonderful Dão Region, the thriving wineries around Estremoz and Borba, and the bubbly Bairrada region.
And a few simple tips to help you get a feel for the real Portugal:
Look at Portuguese language travel sites and use Google Translate, you might find that the places that Portuguese prize are very different from what many are posting to social media.
Yes, ask a travel professional for help — they can save you time, money and get you the best access and ideas.
And then slow down, no need to do a forced march and spend half of your time in a car. It will be a blur, you won't have a memorable time, and you might get home more exhausted than when you left. Portugal is like a fine wine, don't chug it, but take your time, come back, and experience the true joy and peace of this amazing place.