Alternative Portugal: stay clear of tourist areas and discover some of Portugal's hidden gems this summer 2021.
Summer can be a bit of a nightmare when it comes to tourist traps, and now that tourism is open for business in Portugal this summer after the COVID-19 pandemic, people are dreaming of the summer holidays more than ever after months stuck at home, and now that Portugal has been included in the UK's green list, a holiday will be on the cards for many.
The summer months are a time when, traditionally, everywhere is crowded, filled with visitors looking for the most famous and most beautiful places in Portugal where they can take the perfect Instagram picture. Whether you're a local or a tourist, you might want to escape the hustle and bustle and look for some alternative destinations in Portugal this summer, perfect destinations for a socially distanced holiday a little off the beaten track.
We have travelled the country in search of summer destinations and plans that are great alternatives to these tourist hotspots, so you can enjoy your sunny days with a bit more peace and quiet and get off the tourist trail this summer 2021.
Leave Sintra and head to Viana do Castelo
Sintra is renowned around the world for its romantic castles and unique palaces. Being one of the country’s jewels, classified as a World Heritage site by UNESCO and located just 27 kilometres (17 miles) from Lisbon, the summer months are the busiest season in Sintra.
But what you might not know is that in the north of Portugal you can find another city that is arguably just as beautiful: Viana do Castelo. This city is filled with stunning architectural treasures and isn’t as crowded as Sintra. The most impressive building is the 20th-century Byzantine Santuário de Santa Luzia, looming over Viana do Castelo from its hilltop perch, with panoramic views of the city and coast. Visitors can climb the steps to the church or take a cable car for a scenic round trip where the best of the views can be enjoyed. If you are looking for the perfect souvenir, make sure to check out the unique gold jewellery which is created in the area.
Go to the Azores instead of the Algarve
If you've been to the Algarve, then you'll know that its beaches, while stunning, are more often than not filled with sunbathing tourists and locals in the summer months.
This summer 2021, trade this famous summer destination for a marvellous, calm and far less populated stay in the Azores. Comprised of nine islands, even the largest island São Miguel is full of sleepy towns and peaceful paradises that are the true definition of alternative Portugal.
Another advantage of the Azores is the price of food and accommodation which is generally much cheaper than on the mainland: if you book your trip in advance you can find great deals and the price of accommodation and food aren’t as expensive as in the Algarve.
Discover Praia da Luz or Sagres
If you just can’t help it and must head to the Algarve, then there are some alternatives to the busiest beaches. A good idea could be moving away from the major tourist and expat areas like Albufeira and Lagos and trying somewhere new.
Sagres, for example, and its neighbouring villages, such as Praia da Luz, in the Vila do Bispo area offer some popular local surfing schools, lots of rugged coast, rolling waves and natural forest scenery, perfect for more outdoors activities. Give it a chance and discover a new, less touristy side of the Algarve this summer 2021.
Visit Lisbon and Porto, but don’t leave Coimbra behind
Lisbon and Porto are absolute mandatory stops on your tour to get to know Portugal, but if you want to experience a truly authentic Portuguese town, then you must also head to the city of Coimbra.
Did you know that Coimbra was once the capital of Portugal? With its charming cobbled medieval streets and historic treasures like the burial site of the country’s first two kings, King Alfonso I and King Sancho I in the Monastery of Santa Cruz, Coimbra is also the home of the oldest university in Portugal (and one of the oldest in the world), a landmark famous for its history, unique traditions, and beautiful Baroque library (the Biblioteca Joanina).
Fado is just one of the many other surprises awaiting you in Coimbra. Although this famous Portuguese musical style originated in the streets of Alfama and Mouraria in Lisbon, Coimbra has its own style known as fado de Coimbra, developed by students at the city's university.
Buy books at Livraria Academica instead of Livraria Lello
The Livraria Lello bookshop is one of Porto’s most famous tourist hotspots because of its unique art deco, art nouveau, and Gothic interior, as well as having the bragging rights for being an inspiration for author JK Rowling when writing the Harry Potter books.
With an entrance fee and queues that usually stretch down the whole street, this tourist trap, as fascinating as it is, might not be the best place to buy a book in Porto if you are a classic book lover.
We recommend heading over to the Livraria Academica in Porto instead, where you will fall in love with classic and rare books without loud crowds around.
Discover Portugal’s countryside
When you think of Portugal, people automatically think of the country's cities and beaches, but not much is said about the countryside in Portugal. If you want to head off the beaten track and escape regular tourist activities, try getting lost in the countryside, hiking through the mountains and tasting local dishes in traditional restaurants.
If you love wine, then you must visit the many vineyard areas that Portugal has to offer. Visit the Douro Valley to taste locally-produced sweet port (the country’s famous dessert wine), head to Minho for a sip of crisp vinho verde wine, or pay a visit to the Alentejo, full of rustic vineyards surrounded by cork trees (where a variety of red and white wines are produced).
Portugal also has many other hidden gems to offer in its vast countryside. UNESCO has recognised many villages for their role in protecting the country from invasions, and the fortifications are standing memorials that double as unforgettable landmarks. Monsanto, Almeida, and Castelo Novo are just a few of the historic villages in Portugal that we recommend visiting.
Visit the Convent of Christ instead of the Jerónimos Monastery
Connected to the Age of Discoveries, and known as the birthplace of pastéis de nata, the Jerónimos Monastery is very popular. However, before standing in long queues and paying a hefty entrance fee, see if you can fit the Convent of Christ in Tomar into your itinerary.
The Jerónimos Monastery is undoubtedly an amazing landmark and a spectacular architectural masterpiece that took 100 years to build, but the Convent of Christ in Tomar (Santarém) is equally impressive and was once the headquarters of the Knights Templar in Portugal. Walk through the castle, church, and gardens where this mysterious group once lived, organised, and changed their identity to the ‘Order of Christ’. Tickets are almost half the price of the Jerónimos Monastery and you’re also much less likely to find large crowds of tourists.
Already been to Nazaré? The head over to Figueira da Foz
If you have been to the beautiful fishing village of Nazaré in central Portugal, then you will know just how crowded it can get, especially in the summer months. Here, the beaches are filled with surfers from all around the world who come to take on the massive waves you can find in one of Portugal's best surf destinations.
However, if you're in search of some more peace and quiet in Portugal, the beaches in Figueira da Foz are just as extensive but the waves are less intimidating. Here you can also find surfing tours and championships if you are a fan of the sport, a long promenade perfect for running and cycling, and excellent seaside restaurants where you can try delicious local seafood, the perfect spot for an alternative break in Portugal this summer 2021.
Shop at the Mercado do Livramento instead of the Mercado da Ribeira
The Mercado da Ribeira is Lisbon’s most famous food market (and has been since 1892), converted by Time Out Magazine into a food court, as well as having a remote-working space on the upper level.
The Time Out Market in Lisbon offers a unique experience with authentic Portuguese flavours served in many stalls and some of them even belong to Michelin star chefs. The only downside is that the market is always filled with tourists and can also be a little pricey. However, we have an alternative plan which is sure to make you just as happy: the Mercado do Livramento in Setúbal is about 50 km (31 miles) away and is well worth the drive.
Considered one of the best markets in the country, the long rows of fresh fish and produce are two main magnets that attract residents from different parts of the region, while the spectacular selection of cheese, sausages, olive oil, and other local delicacies will make your mouth water. The market is also found in a beautiful building – the bright orange and red facade is hard to miss, and the traditional azulejo (tile) mosaics inside are the icing on top of the cake.