LISBON — If Iceland is out as of late, then Portugal is certainly in.
The southern European country has been popping up lately as a hot travel destination – and with good reason.
With several major U.S. airlines, such as United, Delta and TAP Air Portugal, offering direct flights to Lisbon, plenty of colorful and picturesque views and the solid dollar-to-euro exchange rate as of late, it’s not a surprise that Portugal has been climbing on several lists of popular summer travel spots.
Lisbon was ranked No. 18 out of TripAdvisor’s 25 world’s best destinations for 2019; and Portugal (as a whole) made USA TODAY’s own list of 2019’s hottest destinations. GOBankingRates.com also listed Lisbon among cities where you can spend less than $100 per day.
Plus, Portugal was named Europe’s Leading Destination in the 2019 World Travel Awards, announced June 8.
So why is Portugal so trendy for travelers?
Portugal is the destination of your Instagram dreams
One of the top things to do in Lisbon is to peruse the miradouros – or lookout points. The city rests on hills and is made up of endless small, winding streets that lead to staircases and force you to hike up to see the area from various views.
The brightly painted buildings and nearby Tagus River make for picture-perfect Instagram photos, which makes the best miradouros crowded spots at sunset with hordes of people trying to get the best shot.
Nearby Sintra’s cultural landscape is designated as a UNESCO World Heritage Site, and Porto, just a few hours away by train, holds UNESCO status thanks to its historic city center.
In Sintra, the tangerine-and-yellow Pena Palace is perched atop a hill. The exotic architecture, complete with arches and various levels, makes it a desirable place to pose for pictures.
In total, Portugal is home to 15 UNESCO World Heritage sites, one of which includes the Douro wine region. The vineyards along the Douro River are best viewed from a boat, traveling along the river to see the sprawling landscapes – and get the perfect picture.
Portugal is a bargain. According to GOBankingRates, you can expect to spend an average of $566 on flights to Lisbon and about $42.67 per night on a hotel.
AirBnB and other vacation rentals are similarly priced in the city. A top-rated vacation rental in the center of Lisbon will run you about $50-80 per night.
Local fare is reasonably priced, too. According to BBC’s cost guide to Lisbon, a neighborhood meal for two without alcohol costs about $30 and a cup of coffee is about $1.25 while a cocktail is under $5.
It’s rapidly growing its offerings for tourists
As more and more people are traveling there, Portugal’s major cities are responding with convenient ways to get around and see the sites.
From Lisbon, tour options are plentiful with local companies offering pub crawls, day trips to nearby hot spots like Sintra and Cascais and competing walking tours.
And it’s not just Lisbon. In 2018, in response to the influx of tourists, Sandemans New Europe tours began offering a free three-hour walking tour in Porto four times a day in both English and Spanish. (The company also offers the same tips-based tour in Lisbon and nearly two dozen major cities around the world.)
In Porto, there are boat cruises up to the Douro Valley, where grapes for port wines are grown, and cellar tours within walking distance of Porto’s city center in nearby Vila Nova de Gaia.
The major cities are walkable and also easy to get around via the metros for a few dollars a ride, and Ubers aren’t hard to come by with prices so low they compete with the cost of local public transportation.
With all the above advantages, it’s no huge shock that Portugal saw a total of 12.8 million visitors in 2018 per the National Statistics Institute, which tracks hotel data.
Reuters reports that the country could see a decline in 2019 due to Brexit, but with tourism most recently contributing about $40 billion to Portugal’s GDP in 2017, the country is surely enjoying being the destination of the moment – for now.
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