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Much like New Jersey with New York or Uruguay with Argentina, Portugal is Spain’s little stepsister, lost in the shadow if its more dazzling neighbor. This is unfortunate, as Portugal is a fantastic destination in its own right, offering beautiful beaches, fascinating history, world-class souvenir shopping, friendly people and majestic palaces and churches. Top it off with friendly people, efficient transportation and some of the lowest prices in the European Union, and you’ll be glad to let all of the other tourists flock to Spain and have this small nation all to yourself.

Much of Portugal’s history mirrors that of Spain. It was home to different peoples during its early years, such as Celts and Lusitanians, before being conquered and added to the Roman Empire. Much of it was captured by the Moors, who ruled until the twelfth century. During the fifteenth and sixteenth centuries, Portugal became a world power, largely based on the strength of its navigators and sailors, considered the best in the world. Many of the most important explorers of the era, such as Vasco da Gama and Ferdinand Magellan, were Portuguese. Portugal was briefly (1580-1640) part of Spain, but they managed to become independent once again.

Although the twentieth century was a turbulent one for Portugal, it has matured into a modern, democratic nation boasting excellent services, safety and infrastructure sure to please any visitor. There is much to see in Portugal, from the modern capitol Lisbon to the coastal beaches and the majestic palaces and cathedrals spread out all over the land. The food is excellent, especially if you like seafood. The locals obviously speak Portuguese, but travelers who speak only English and/or Spanish should be able to get by fine, especially in touristy areas.

Portugal is generally considered to be made up of several different regions. From North to South, they are Porto and the North, Central Portugal, Lisbon and surroundings, Alentejo and Algarve. Also part of Portugal are the islands of Madeira and the Azores.

Porto and the North includes everything to the north of the Douro river, and is comprised of the provinces of Viana do Castelo, Braga, Porto, Vila Real and Bragança.

Central Portugal runs from the Douro River in the north to the Tagus River and includes the provinces of Aveiro, Coimbra, Viseu, Guarda and Castelo Branca.

Lisbon and surroundings includes the provinces of Lisboa, Leiria, Santarem and the northern part of Setubal.

The Alentejo includes the southern part of Setubal, Portalegre, Evora, and Beja.

The Algarve is the southern coast and is comprised of solely the state of Faro.

By Christopher Minster
I am a writer and editor at V!VA Travel guides here in Quito, where I specialize in adding quality content to the site and also in spooky things like...
30 Aug 2008

Top Hotels in Portugal

Pousada Dona Maria

113362When the Portuguese Royal family lived in the splendid Queluz Palace, they needed a home for all of the servants, cooks, maids and other support staff. They built an attractive building for them ...
Lisbon, Portugal

Pousada de Castelo de Ă“bidos

The Castle Inn of Obidos is an unforgettable experience: it is the only one of the Seven Wonders of Portugal where you can actually spend the night. Although the impressive walls encircle the entire ...
Ă“bidos, Portugal

Palace Hotel do Buçaco

113658In 1888, King Carlos of Portugal decided he needed a hunting retreat and ordered the construction of an extravagant palace on the site of an old monastery in the Buçaco woods, which also happened to ...
Luso, Portugal

Hotel YH Giralda

YH Giralda hotel is located in the heart of the Santa Cruz quarter in Seville. The hotel is housed in a building dating back to the 18th Century, which is still nowadays preserving its unique ...
Sevilla, Spain

Pension Vergara

Seville is one European city where you can still find a cheap hotel bang in the middle of the historical centre, and it won’t be a featureless budget chain. Pension Vergara is one of the best ...
Sevilla, Spain

Hotel Alhambra Palace

Built to resemble the original ancient Moorish Castle, the Hotel Alhambra Palace is perched gracefully on the hilltop of Peña Partida, above Campo de Principe, giving a glorious view of the city. ...
Granada, Spain

Hotel BĂ©cquer

Hotel BĂ©cquer is extremely well located, right in the heart of all of the best that Seville has to offer. The current hotel was built in 1972-3, but they used some fixtures from an older hotel, ...
Sevilla, Spain

Hostal/Pension Venecia

With only four rooms, this hostel on a quiet side street near Plaza Nueva gives a new meaning to the word “homey.” A converted, well-maintained space with traditional Andalusian décor, entering ...
Granada, Spain

Le Meridien

Charming hotel in the middle of the busiest and livliest area of Barcelona. Clean rooms, helpful staff (Anthony was wonderful!), bright and cheery; a great choice if you want to be centrally located ...
Las Ramblas, Barcelona, Spain

Dom Manual I

Friendly family-owned hotel in the heart of Lisbon. An old-world atmosphere which transports you to times well gone, while ushering in ...
Lisbon, Portugal

Great things to do in Portugal

The Alhambra

110865In 711, Islamic forces crossed into southern Spain, spreading the word of Mohammad and establishing Caliphates and kingdoms of their own. Before they were through, they had conquered all of the ...
Historical Building
Granada, Spain

El Escorial

114624Located about 30 kilometers away from Madrid, El Escorial (full name: The Royal Monastery of San Lorenzo el Real) is a majestic royal palace and monastery. This is, in part, what makes it unique: ...
Historical Building
Madrid, Spain

Real Alcázar

114449The Alcázar of Seville was once a Moorish palace not unlike the Alhambra in nearby Granada, bit its history is significantly different. It was a palace-fortress under the Moors, specifically the ...
Historical Building
Sevilla, Spain

Giralda Tower

110890One of the jewels of world architecture, the distinctive Giralda Tower has stood watch over Seville since 1198, when it was built on the orders of a powerful Moorish Caliph. It was designed as a ...
Historical Building
Sevilla, Spain

El Prado Art Museum

The greatest art museum in Spain and one of the best in the world, the Prado is a can’t miss Madrid stop for any art aficionado. Even if you’re only vaguely interested in art and art history, the ...
Madrid, Spain

Flamenco in Sevilla

110898A traditional dance from southern Spain, Flamenco is famous for colorful, flowing dresses, athletic spins and dips and Spanish guitar music. Seville is one of the best places in the world to see ...
Sevilla, Spain

Sevilla's Archaeological Museum

110895One of the best museums of its kind anywhere, Seville’s Archaeological Museum features relics from all of the civilizations that dominated this area, from the Phoenicians and Carthaginians to the ...
Sevilla, Spain

Sacromonte Abbey

Located on Valparaiso Hill outside the city, the Sacromonte Abbey was founded in 1600 and built over extensive catacombs, which had been established in an abandoned mine that dated back to Roman ...
Historical Building
Granada, Spain

Reina SofĂ­a Art Museum

Opened in 1990, the Reina Sofia is one of the world’s top modern art museums. Built on the former site of Madrid’s hospital, begun in the 16th century, the Reina Sofia art museum pretty much ...
Madrid, Spain

Torre de Belém

113358Situated on the Lisbon waterfront, the bleached-white Belém tower is a local landmark and one of the city’s must-sees. It is a monument to Portugal’s glory as a great maritime nation. ...
Historical Building
Lisbon, Portugal

SĂ© de Lisboa

113359Lisbon’s official main cathedral, the Sé is but a shadow of the much more impressive Hieronymite Monastery located along the waterfront. Somewhat lost in a maze of narrow streets, the Sé has ...
Historical Building
Lisbon, Portugal
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