The Insider’s Guide: 5 Ways to Get to Know the Real Portugal

The most popular destinations in Portugal are Lisbon and Porto, but while these cities offer charm, history, and lots to do, they don’t represent the real Portugal. If you want to see how the locals live, you need to get off the beaten path and into the real Portugal. The options are endless, but we suggest exploring these five destinations. 

1. Alentejo
Alentejo is one of the least developed and least populated areas in not just Portugal but all of western Europe. This charming region features cork oak forests, wildflower meadows, quaint white-washed villages, and pristine beaches. The region attracts many Portuguese tourists from the cities during July and August, but during the rest of the year, this sleepy area is peaceful and lonely. If you like sweeping beaches and beautiful roads to yourself, this is a must-visit destination. The area is also famous for rich sausages, dark hams, and world-class wines. 

2. Obidos
Located in central Portugal, Obidos is a fairytale-esque village just an hour’s drive from Lisbon. Get away from the crowds and explore the shops and restaurants on the town’s winding cobblestone streets. Then, head to the Obidos Castle. One of the Seven Wonders of Portugal, the castle has been around since Moorish times. You can explore the grounds, walk on the brick walls, or even rent a room to stay in the castle. If you come to the town from mid-July to August, you can enjoy the medieval market and fair, which makes you feel like you’ve stepped back into the Middle Ages.  

3. Algarve

The southernmost region of Portugal, the Algarve features stunning beaches with dramatic rock formations and historical heritage sites. For a more traditional vacation, fly into Faro and then enjoy the villas, bars, and restaurants along the coast to Lagos which has many charming places to stay. If you prefer to be more off the beaten path, check out the region’s comparatively less developed western Atlantic coast. 

4. Trilha dos Pescadore

If you want to find yourself while exploring the real Portugal, you may want to consider hiking the Trilha dos Pescadore. Part of the Rota Vicentina, this is one of the most beautiful seaside hiking paths in the world, and you will be treated to great views of seaside cliffs, migratory birds, and marine animals. If you walk 5 miles a day for a week, you can get through the nearly 80-mile trail.  

5. Viana do Castelo
The most common castle for tourists to go and see is the Sintra. Unfortunately, while it is a breathtaking sight, it can also be crowded and overrun with tourists. Viana de Castelo, in contrast, offers architectural beauty without the crowds. This is the place where Portuguese families take their vacations. Check out the views from the Byzantine Santuario de Santa Luzia or explore the town’s many manor homes and monasteries. 

Use these five destinations as a jumping-off point. Then, talk with locals to get even more ideas about where to go. The most important thing — look for destinations where tourism is not the main industry. With that strategy, you will get to see and enjoy the real Portugal.