Summer can be a bit of a nightmare when it comes to tourist traps, and now that tourism is open for business this summer after the COVID-19 pandemic, people are dreaming of the summer holidays more than ever after months stuck at home. The summer months are a time when 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 all this hustle and bustle and look for some alternative destinations in Portugal this summer, perfect destinations for a socially distanced holiday.
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.
Leave Sintra and head to Viana do Castelo
Sintra is renowned around the world for its neighbourhoods filled with 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, it’s especially busy during the summer.
But what you might not know is that in the north of Portugal you can find another city 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. If you are looking for the perfect souvenir, make sure to check out the amazing gold jewellery pieces which are created in the area.
Go to the Azores instead of the Algarve
If you've been to the Algarve, then you might already know that its beaches, while stunning, are filled with sunbathing tourists and locals.
This summer 2020, 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.
Another advantage of the Azores is the price of food and accommodation: 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, 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 2020.
Visit Lisbon and Porto, but don’t leave Coimbra behind
Lisbon and Porto are absolute mandatory stops on your tour to get to know the country but if you want to experience a truly authentic town, then you must also head to Coimbra.
Did you know that Coimbra was once the capital of Portugal? With windy and cobbled medieval streets and historic treasures like the burial site of the country’s first two kings, King Afonso 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 sought out for its history, unique traditions, and beautiful Baroque library (the Biblioteca Joanina).
Fado is another surprise waiting for 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 university.
Buy books at Livraria Academica instead of Livraria Lello
The Livraria Lello bookshop is one of Porto’s most famous destinations because of its unique art deco, art nouveau, and Gothic interior, as well as the bragging rights for being an inspiration for author JK Rowling when writing the Harry Potter series.
With an entrance fee and queues that stretch down the whole street, this tourist trap, might not be the best place to buy a book if you are a classic book lover.
Head over to the Livraria Academica in Porto instead and fall in love with beautiful classic and rare books without loud crowds around.
Discover Portugal’s countryside
When you think of Portugal, a lot comes to mind about its cities and beaches but not much is said about the countryside. If you want to 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, you can visit the many vineyard areas the country 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 has many other gems to offer in the countryside. UNESCO has recognised many villages for their role in protecting the country from across-the-border 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 are worth visiting. Additionally, Piódão in the Serra da Estrela mountains is another beautiful spot, classified as one of the most beautiful remote villages in the country and famous for its schist rock houses.
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. But, before standing in hour-long queues and paying a pricey entrance fee (10 euros), see if you can fit Tomar into your itinerary.
The Jerónimos Monastery is undoubtedly an amazing landmark and a beautiful architectural masterpiece that took 100 years to build, but the Convent of Christ in Tomar is equally spectacular 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’. Entrance tickets are almost half the price (6 euros) of the Jerónimos Monastery and you’re much less likely to find crowds of tourists.
Already know Nazaré? The head on over to Figueira da Foz
If you have been to Nazaré, a beautiful fishing village in central Portugal, you know how crowded it can get, especially in the summer. However, the crowd is not the typical touristy crowd you often find in the Algarve. 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 the country's best surf destinations.
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 seaside restaurants where you can try delicious local seafood, the perfect spot for an alternative break this summer 2020.
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 and remote-working offices opened on the upper level.
The new Time Out Market offers a unique experience with Portuguese flavours served in many stalls and some of them even belong to Michelin star chefs. The market is always filled with tourists and it is easy to get distracted by all the amazing food you want to try and spend a lot of extra money here. Luckily, the Mercado do Livramento in Setúbal is about 50 km (31 miles) away and 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 picture-perfect.