Portugal Sustainable Travel Guide

 

Portugal is often overshadowed by its larger and louder neighbour, Spain. But with 13 million tourists each year, it’s far from being a hidden gem. And it’s with good reason. Portugal offers an amazing variety of urban luxury as well as scenic getaways into nature. In no way does it take a back seat to Spain, and this wonderfully diverse country should not be missed.

The capital of Lisbon (or Lisboa) offers a rare mix of modern day contemporary architecture, combined with the medieval romance of the days of Moors.  Things to do while in Lisbon  include going on a walking tour to learn about the city’s rich history, visiting tourist attractions like Castello Sao Jorge and Elevador Santa Justa, trying local cuisine like Bacalhau (salted cod) and traditional Portuguese sardines, and enjoying the nightlife in the Barro district. Just outside the downtown area is the Lisbon Oceanarium. Although many zoos and aquariums are justifiably criticized, the Lisbon Oceanarium is one of the most respected aquariums in the world due to its fantastic facilities and ability to teach visitors about ocean conservation. In fact, I noticed upon my visit that every single display included a message of conservation in its description.

If you want to get away from urban environments and enjoy a bit of nature, Portugal has that in spades as well. A short train ride away from Lisbon is the UNESCO World Heritage Site, Sintra National Park. From the Moorish castle that sits atop the hills, you will get breathtaking views of Portugal’s countryside. A walk towards Sintra Castle itself means walking through a lush forest full of spectacular viewpoints. However, I highly recommend making way towards Cabo Da Roca, a short bus ride away from Sintra. Cabo Da Roca is the country’s (and continental Europe’s) westernmost point. It offers stunning walks along towering cliffs by the Atlantic Ocean. Careful about crashing waves though, as they can sweep you in with its powerful undercurrent, as I almost experienced myself.

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It’s easy to travel sustainably around city centres such as Lisbon, as well as to other parts of the country due to its modern transportation system. Lisbon has one of the best and most user-friendly metro systems (similar to subways) that I’ve ever seen. And to get to other parts of the country, such as the Algarve’s or Porto (the birthplace of port wine), trains and buses are readily available for a good price. These same bus and train companies can also take you into Spain should you want to venture eastward, eliminating the need to pay for pricey and carbon-heavy flights.

Looking for an adventure? The Algarve’s in southern Portugal offers beautiful white sand beaches, limestone cliffs and turquoise-blue seas, perfect for kayaking, snorkeling and surfing.

If you are looking for accommodations in Portugal, resorts are definitely not necessary. Traditional Portuguese culture is so fascinating, that it’d be a shame to miss out on it by staying at a hotel where locals are far and few between. Furthermore, some of Europe’s best eco-luxury-hotels can be found close to Sintra. For an affordable price (as low as even $15 CAD p/night), you can stay at a clean, safe and incredibly well-rated hostel. Whatever your tastes, there is something for everyone in Portugal, and you don’t need to stay at a resort to boot!