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Portugal

The country of Portugal is over 900 years old and once had a very prominent role shaping world history. It is currently the oldest European nation to still have its original borders. Portugal was responsible for a number of land discoveries during the 1400′s and 1500′s. The Portuguese are credited with finding a route by sea to trade with India and with colonizing much of Africa, including Mozambique, Angola, and Cape Verde. They also colonized much of South America; Portuguese is to this day the official language of Brazil. Remnants of the Portuguese empire can be seen today all over the world.

The Portuguese royal family was abolished in 1910, at which time the Republic of Portugal was formed. At the time, it was a fragile nation and military rule was quickly set in place. This dictatorship lasted for approximately 40 years, until 1974 when Portugal became a democratic nation. Although development in Portugal lagged behind most other European nations, the situation is rapidly improving.

de_0023_portrugal - Boats and rock formations

Attractions

There is plenty to see and do in Portugal, including everything from beaches to historical monuments. The major cities of Portugal include Lisbon and Porto, both of which boast excellent nightlife and fine dining. You can find everything in Portugal, from scenic vistas in the countryside, to historically-rich architecture in many of Portugal’s cities.

In Lisbon, nothing is more reminiscent of the great era of discovery than the Torre de Belem, a monument on the water. Great explorers including da Gama and Magellan prepared for their voyages at this very site. On the other hand, if you’re looking for quirky architecture and a good time, the Alfama district in Lisbon is the perfect thing for you. It’s home to colorful, winding alleyways that are still home to the eccentric “Fado” musical genre native to Portugal.

In Sintra, the National Palace of Pena is one of the most stunning palaces the nation has to offer. It is surrounded by a beautiful park full of both exotic plant species and those native to the area. The Pena Palace should not be missed on any itinerary.

de_0022_portugal - Alfama - the old town of Lisbon, Portugal

Local Food & Drink

Portuguese cuisine is full of surprises. Most local dishes include local ingredients combined to form a hearty meal. It shouldn’t come as a surprise that seafood dishes are very popular, considering that fish is readily available on the coast. Meat is also popular, with cows, pigs, and goats found in many dishes. Unlike many other European nations, Portuguese cuisine was heavily influenced by spices brought back to Portugal from expeditions to new lands. Most meals include a first course of soup and entrees served with rice.

The most popular beverage in the country is wine, with red wine being the preferred drink for the locals. However, white wine can also be found nearly everywhere in the country. Portugal and Spain are home to a unique version of white wine that actually uses green grapes and is served chilled. It isn’t uncommon for the Portuguese to have a glass of wine while eating their meal, followed by one or two more after dinner as their food digests.

de_0021_portugal - The characteristic tram of Lisbon

Safety

You shouldn’t have very many safety concerns in Portugal, so long as you take the proper precautions. The country is politically stable and there are no potential terrorist threats to tourists. Violent crimes are rare and hardly ever occur at random. Although certain neighborhoods in Lisbon and Porto have been deemed unsafe after dark, you should be fine if you take care not to walk alone at night. Contrary to many other European nations, Portuguese people are fairly well-behaved, even after drinking. Bars are open until all hours but crimes associated with drunkenness are uncommon.

There is a threat of pickpocketing in major tourist areas. In order to avoid this, you should always keep an eye on your belongings. Wear a money belt and don’t keep all of your money and documents in one place. Take extra care when going through crowded areas, such as buses, shopping centers, metros and lines. Most pickpockets are minors who will not resort to violence.