Portugal is a western European country on the Atlantic Ocean that shares the Iberian Peninsula with neighboring Spain. Though relatively small, the country boasts stunning historical landmarks, spectacular nature, and charming little towns.
There are some wonderful places to go in Portugal, and the most charming cities to explore, but those aren't the only reasons to think about when visiting this country. Here is a list of the things Portugal is most famous for.
12 Things Portugal Is Known For
From traditional food and drink to iconic landmarks and exciting art forms, get ready to discover all the things that make Portugal worth discovering.
12. Port Wine
One of the things Portugal is most well-known for is its wine, specifically fortified Port wine. Produced in the Douro Valley, Port wine became world-famous in the 18th century. At the same time, the Douro Valley became the first region in the world with a formally recognized demarcation.
The Douro Valley is now a UNESCO World Heritage Site, with its wines being exported worldwide. If you visit Portugal, taking a trip to the region is a must.
Alternatively, you can stay in Porto and join a wine-tasting tour in one of the many Vila Nova de Gaia cellars just across the river from Porto. The most popular cellars are Caves Cálem, Sandeman, Caves Ferreira, and Graham's Port Lodge.
If one had to mention just one food that is typically Portuguese, that would be codfish, also known as Bacalhau in Portuguese. The country has a legit obsession with this fish. Bacalhau is so widely consumed, there's a local saying that there are over 1001 different recipes throughout Portugal.
Each town has its own way of cooking codfish, hence the many recipes. If you go to Porto, you'll find Bacalhau à Moda do Porto, while in Braga, there's Bacalhau à Braga, and so on.
The most popular recipes you'll find all over Portugal are Bacalhau à Brás, with straw potatoes, onions, scrambled eggs, and Bacalhau com Natas, with potatoes, onions, and cream.
Just north of Lisbon, the towns of Nazaré and Ericeira are among the most popular surfing spots in the world. Ericeira is the only European spot included in the World Surfing Reserves, alongside locations in the US, Australia, and South America.
It may come as a surprise, but Portugal is also known for some of the biggest waves in the world. The giant waves of Nazaré are famous for helping big-wave surfers set one world record after another. The current record is held by German surfer, Sebastian Steudtner, who surfed an 86-foot wave in Nazaré in 2020.
The reason for the massive waves in Nazaré is a submarine canyon, known as the Nazaré North Canyon. Aside from Ericeira and Nazaré, other famous surfing locations in Portugal include Carcavelos, Peniche, and the Vicentine Coast.
Portugal is also known for its historical personalities, especially the famous explorers, Vasco da Gama and Ferdinand Magellan, or Fernão de Magalhães by his Portuguese name.
If you need some brushing up on your historical facts, let me remind you that Vasco da Gama discovered the sea route from Europe to India, rounding the Cape of Good Hope. The explorer, born in Sines, Alentejo, completed his first voyage to India between 1497 and 1499.
Magellan, on the other hand, completed what is known as the first voyage around the world. In 1519, he departed from Spain and sailed across the Atlantic Ocean, along the coast of South America, and through the Strait of Magellan to reach the Philippines.
Magellan, unfortunately, found an untimely death in the Battle of Mactan. Juan Sebastián Elcano eventually led the fleet back to Spain, sailing across the Indian Ocean and rounding the Cape of Good Hope in South Africa.
8. Fado Music
Portugal is also known for its traditional Fado music. The music genre was born in Lisbon in the 1820s, but its origins probably date further back. Fado was likely born on the streets of the capital's historic neighborhoods of Alfama, Mouraria, and Bairro Alto.
Fado music is known for its sad, melancholic tunes. A better word would be saudade; a Portuguese word that refers to a feeling of longing.
You can listen to Fado music in many restaurants and bars in Lisbon and other Portuguese cities. When in Lisbon, check out this Fado Show in Chiado.
If you pass by any souvenir shop in Portugal, you'll notice a collection of objects made of cork. Portugal is the world's largest producer of cork, supplying more than half of the international demand.
Wandering through Portuguese shops, you'll find virtually everything made of cork, from small souvenirs to bags, wallets, belts, accessories, and footwear. If you're looking to buy a typical Portuguese souvenir for your friends back home, definitely pick something made of cork.
These painted, tin-glazed ceramic tiles are one of Portugal's most distinctive features. You'll see them decorating the exteriors and interiors of churches, palaces, and regular buildings across the country.
From simple azulejos displaying geometrical figures to impressive walls covered in ceramic tiles depicting historical scenes, you can admire this ornamental art form in Lisbon, Porto, the Algarve, and every small town in Portugal.
Check out the beautiful azulejos on the church façades in Porto, in Lisbon's Jerónimos Monastery and Palace of the Marquess of Fronteira, and in Sintra's famous Pena Palace. In Lisbon, you can also visit the Museu Nacional do Azulejo.
Sardines are found all across Portugal. They're sold in colorful tin cans in the iconic shops in Lisbon and Porto. During the Santos Populares festival, they're also grilled on every street corner in Alfama.
Historically, sardines were considered peasant food, and were often rubbed on bread for flavor. Nowadays, sardines are a staple of Portuguese cuisine. The fish is even more popular during summer festivals.
Sardines are so popular that they have even made their way into the country's art. From ceramic art to keychains and magnets, you'll find countless objects in the shape of sardines, all over Portugal.
4. The Algarve Beaches
The Algarve is one of Europe's most popular summer destinations, drawing visitors from all over the world. With spectacular rock formations, crystalline waters, and sandy beaches, the Algarve is Portugal's best destination for a summer holiday.
Wonder at the dramatic coastline from Lagos to Albufeira, discover the iconic Benagil Caves, and check out the charming seaside towns of Carvoeiro, Armação de Pêra, and Olhos de Água. You can expect the region to be packed in summer.
3. Lisbon's Trams
How could one forget about the old-fashioned trams going up and down the many hills of Lisbon's historic neighborhoods? The yellow trams may be a popular tourist attraction, but they are also an integral part of the city's public transportation system.
Hop on a tram for a trip back in time or get ready to snap pictures of the iconic E28 as it makes its way along the narrow streets of Alfama. Lisbon's Cathedral is one of the most popular spots to capture a memorable snapshot.
While you're in Lisbon, check out these other cool things to do in Portugal's capital city.
2. Palacio da Pena in Sintra
The colorful hilltop Pena Palace overlooking the Sintra and Cascais Natural Park is one of the country's most famous monuments. The palace is a must for any visitor traveling to Lisbon, and it's only a short train ride from the capital.
With its gorgeous terraces, colorful towers, and beautiful interiors, Pena Palace is a UNESCO World Heritage Site, and one of the Seven Wonders of Portugal. Visit it on your own or take an organized day trip from Lisbon.
3. Pastéis de Nata
Lastly, Portugal is known for pastéis de nata. These delicious egg custard tarts are among the most popular pastries in Portugal. The origin of the famous tarts dates back to the 18th century, when the monks of the Jerónimos Monastery in Belém first created them.
When religious orders started being dissolved after the Liberal Revolution of 1820, the monks sold the recipe of their beloved pastries. That's how the first pastéis de nata bakery, Fábrica de Pastéis de Belém, was born in 1837.
The custard tarts quickly became known as pastéis de Belém, and you can still try these in their historical location. However, several bakeries across Portugal make them. My favorites, way better than Pastéis de Belém, if you ask me, are those from Manteigaria.
Plan Your Trip to Portugal With Pilot!
Now that you know what Portugal is known for, all that's left to do is start planning your trip to this charming country.