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Portugal is everything you love about Europe—historic cities, fairy tale castles, sun splashed beaches, sidewalk cafes and sweeping vineyards—all arranged in an easy-to-explore and remarkably wallet-friendly package. If you’re looking for an unforgettable getaway in Western Europe—without the big budget so many other European countries demand—Portugal is for you.

RELATED: Budapest is the best budget city in Europe and here’s why

Lisbon

lisbon, portugal

Even without its unpretentious (but wildly delicious) food scene and lively neighborhoods, Lisbon could get by on looks alone: Buildings clad in colorful azulejo tiles are arranged around pretty squares while cobbled streets twist past ancient churches, boutiques and pastry shops on their way up the city’s steep hills. Even the sidewalks, with their ornate black and white designs, are works of art.

Eat
El Bulli alum Jose Avillez has created a new concept at Bairro de Avillez, several casual restaurants, each of which focuses on a different style of Portuguese cooking, all housed within a single soaring space. Try Portugal’s famous percebes, or goose barnacles, at Cervejaria Trinidade, a boisterous seafood-centric gastropub located in a 19th-century monastery.

Sip
Sample a trendy white port and tonic at the Sky Bar, which overlooks the city from its perch atop the Hotel Tivoli Avenida Liberdade. Tucked into a side street in the shadow of St. Jorge’s Castle, Wine Bar do Castelo celebrates Portuguese wine with dozens of by-the-glass choices.

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Tram 28, which clatters along its route in vintage 1930s cars, delivers what is arguably the most atmospheric tour of Lisbon. Hop on at the bountiful Campo Ourique Market, continue past the Baroque Basilica da Estrella to the hip Chiado neighborhood, then on to Alfama, Lisbon’s most historic district.

Sintra

Sintra, Portugal

For centuries, Portuguese royals and wealthy families spent holidays on this hill-strewn plateau; today, their former estates have been combined to create a massive park dotted with castles, crisscrossed by footpaths and anchored by the pretty village of Sintra.

Eat
Puffy almond-scented travesseiros and creamy queijadas are at their sugary best in Sintra; try them at centuries-old Casa Piriquita. For more substantial fare, head to A Raposa, where dinner starts with rave-worthy bread and, if you’re lucky, might end with an impromptu fado performance. In between there’s carpaccio freshened with citrus, squid ink risotto and other updated classics.

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Though better known as a restaurant, tiny Taberna Criativa is also a welcoming wine bar. Locals flock to Bar Saloon Cintra for inexpensive drinks and a wide selection of Portuguese craft beers.

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The view from the sentry lookouts of the 9th-century Moorish Castle is worth every sweaty step. Further up the mountain, King Ferdinand II built the storybook Pena Palace on the site of a 16th-century monastery, mashing together the old and the new. Within the gardens of Quinta da Regaleira, discover a fairyland teeming with grottos, waterfalls, hidden pathways and magical spaces.

Cascais

Cascais, Portugal

Just 30 minutes from Lisbon, Cascais might just be the European beach town of your dreams. Overlooking a yacht-speckled bay, the city charms with stunning beaches, a laid-back vibe and a surprising cultural heart.

Eat
Local seafood and mountains of fluffy coriander rice come with a gorgeous view of the bay at the polished Maria Pia Seafood Lounge. It’s all about color at the rooftop Café Galeria House of Wonders, where the brightly painted walls match to the colorful vegetarian buffet of Mediterranean dishes.

Sip
Set in the seaside Farol Hotel, Bar Farol is a sophisticated choice for a pre-dinner cocktail. The beer is cold and the beach drinks—margaritas, mojitos, caipharinias—are delicious at Bar Praia da Rainha, which is parked right on the sand.

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West of Cascais, Guincho Beach is a reliable break that attracts surfers of all levels; in town, the Museu Condes de Castro Guimares’ fanciful turrets and collection of rare books are reminders of the region’s history as a wealthy retreat. Nearby, Rua Frederico Arouca is lined with small local shops and galleries.

Porto

Porto, Portugal

Porto may lack Lisbon’s grandeur, but it more than makes up for it with dazzling sights—lacy bridges, elaborate architecture, waterfront cafes—that appear as if by magic around every corner. And maybe it is magic: Rumor has it that many of the settings former resident JK Rowling created for the Harry Potter series were inspired by Porto.

Eat
Nosh on petiscarias, or Portuguese-style tapas at the new Euskalduna Studio; Cana Verde serves Portuguese comfort food in a cozy room decorated with traditional azulejo tiles.

Sip
Fancy cocktails at RIB Bar arrive on witty tableaus inspired by the origin of their ingredients. Porto’s oldest coffeehouse, A Brasileira, has been restored down to the floor tiles; it’s a glamorous space for coffee or something stronger.

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Although Port wine is actually created in the Douro Valley, its spiritual home is in Porto. Tasting rooms in Vila Nova de Gaia will help you appreciate the sweet elixir. Afterwards, stroll across the Pont Luis I, which was designed by a student of Gustav Eiffel, then head to Porto’s lively riverfront for a drink.

Douro Valley

douro valley, portugal

The world’s oldest established wine region is also one of its most beautiful: High mountains stippled with curved vineyards plunge into the Douro River as it winds through green valleys. Train service from Porto to Regua makes the trip easy.

Eat
Castas e Pratos serves contemporary Portuguese cuisine in a renovated train station in Regua. Have lunch on the outdoor terrace at Quinta do Seixo, where you can toast the sweeping view with a retro bottle of Mateus, one of the company’s brands.

Sip
Established in 1738, Quinta da Pacheca produces 30 different bottlings of Port and dry wines; taste as many as you dare in an outdoor patio shaded by sycamore trees. Known as much for its contemporary architecture as it is for its wines, Quinta do Vallado offers everything from basic tastings to blending workshops.

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Learn fun facts like how Port wine was created (by mistake!) at the Douro Museum in Regua; the museum shop is packed with well-priced ceramics, jewelry and other items made by local artisans. In Covelinhas, Quinta dos Murcas offers tastings and guided hikes through the vineyards.

The Algarve

algarve, portugal

With its bluer-than-blue water, tidy fishing villages and cove beaches tucked into craggy rock formations, the Algarve is where the Atlantic does its best impression of the Mediterranean. Although the region has begun to peek out from under the radar, you can still find quiet strands and bargains galore.

Eat
Located in a former art gallery in Lagos, Cacto serves a delicious assortment of dishes that ranges from curry to garlic prawns. Octopus is a regional specialty of the village of Santa Luzia; try it at Casa do Polvo.

Sip
Friendly Symbiosis shakes up creative, well-priced craft cocktails in Faro’s hip Albufeira neighborhood; after perusing the shop and gallery at Mar d’Estorias, head upstairs to the rooftop terrace for drinks and snacks with a view of Lagos’.

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Set on dramatic bluffs that form the southernmost point in Europe, the 16th-century Fortaleza de Sagres, or the Fort of Sagres, is rife with history, views and a bit of mystery. Submarine Beach (Praia Do Submarino) was named for the giant rock formation just off the coast that resembles a partially submerged submarine.

Tagged: International

Katie McElveen

Katie McElveen

Katie McElveen

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