Disclaimer: This post may contain affiliate links. We may earn a small commission for purchases made through links in this post, at no extra cost to you.

What Is Portugal Known for & Famous For

Portugal is the most western country in mainland Europe and boasts a vast, varied landscape that features mountains, beaches, and many coastal cities. But other than its landscape, what is Portugal known and famous for?

Portugal is known for being a popular tourist destination, drawing visitors through its historical sites, beaches, and mouth-watering dishes. The country is also famous for its production of Port Wine, its football teams and players, its fado music, and cities like Lisbon and Porto.

Here are thirty-five things Portugal is known for and famous for.

Portuguese Language

First, the country is known for being the cradle of the Portuguese language. More than ten million people in Portugal speak Portuguese, which is nearly the entire population. Moreover, when you consider the language’s speakers in the rest of the world, especially in Brazil and Africa, Portuguese is the second most spoken Romance language after Spanish. 

Religion

Another essential component of Portuguese culture is religion, even though there is no official religion in the country. The most prominent religion in Portugal is Roman Catholicism, with 81% of residents identifying themselves as Catholics.

Outside of the Christian religions in Portugal, the remaining population is either Atheist or Agnostic, with around seven percent of the population identified as such. Muslims and Jews make up the remaining ten or so percent of the population. 

Lisbon 

Lisbon is the city people often think of first when they hear about Portugal. The city is the largest in the country, with a population of nearly five hundred and fifty thousand people within its limits. Another two million people live in Lisbon’s metro area. 

Lisbon was an important port city during the exploration of the 15th century, and it only grew from there. The city is full of beautiful architecture, bustling squares, and hills with views of the Tagus River.

Portuguese Chicken 

Portuguese chicken, also called Peri Peri Chicken, is one of the most popular dishes in Portugal. The chicken is cooked in the oven with a marinade made with Piri Piri peppers and is a common dish to make in the winter.  

This YouTube video from I Cook and Paint shows you how to make Portuguese Chicken:

Exploration

Portugal was an essential strategic point in the exploration of the Western Hemisphere thanks to its location on the western edge of mainland Europe. 

Prince Henry the Navigator was an explorer from Portugal who spent the 15th century sailing and mapping the Atlantic Ocean and the seas around Africa. 

Christopher Columbus also spent time training in Lisbon before setting off to the Americas.

Slave Trade 

Unfortunately, Portugal is also known for having a significant impact in the slave trade, and specifically, being one of the first countries to start practicing slavery. Prince Henry, the navigator from the section above, brought 235 native Africans back from one of his expeditions in 1441. Moreover, Portugal’s ports were a big exporter of slaves, sending more than four and a half million slaves to the Americas in the 17th, 18th, and 19th centuries. 

Beaches 

On a lighter note, Portugal is well-known for its beaches, which are an essential component of the reason why people love spending time in Portugal in the summer. With the country’s entire west and south coasts touching the Atlantic Ocean and a few islands in Portugal, there’s no shortage of heavenly-looking beaches to choose from. 

There’s a beach in Portugal for every kind of activity you like. Some beaches boast great waves for surfing, while others are calmer, better suited for other water activities and swimming. Lots of the beaches are also full of soft, white sand.

Port Wine

Port Wine is a type of wine made from Portuguese grapes, usually served as a dessert wine. Port wine actually does not have a set flavor or ingredient, and it can be white, red, rose, or tawny wine which is really sweet and features caramel and nut flavors. However, the one characteristic Port Wine must have is that it is made from Portuguese grapes in Portugal. 

Here are the most common flavors found in Port Wine:

  • Raspberry
  • Blackberry
  • Caramel
  • Cinnamon
  • Chocolate

Porto  

Porto is the second-largest city in Portugal, with a population of over one and a half million people in the metropolitan area. Porto is best known for being the home of Port Wine, where the name of the beverage also comes from. 

The city is located in northern Portugal and sits on the Douro River, which features a large number of architecturally appreciated bridges over it. Porto’s biggest attractions include museums, local art, and an opera house. 

Football 

Football is the most popular sport in Portugal, and the country’s football association, The Portuguese Football Federation (FPF), has been around for over a century. All the rules and leagues of football in Portugal are established under this association.  

The highest tier football league in the country is the Portuguese First Division which consists of sixteen teams. Three teams in the league have won more than seventy championships. Here are the three teams who have won the most championships:

  • Benfica
  • FC Porto
  • Sporting Portugal

Pastel de Nata

The Pastel de Nata is a creamy custard tart that is an all-time Portuguese favorite. The pastry originated in 1837 in Lisbon’s Belem neighborhood at the Jeronimos Monastery. Today, the Pastéis de Belém is the famous café in the neighborhood near the monastery that makes the pastries, but you can find them all over Lisbon and Portugal. 

This YouTube video from DW Food provides some more in-depth information about the Pasteis de Belem and the famous pastry:

Fado

Fado is a type of music that originates from Portugal. A fado song usually has a vocalist and two guitars, one Portuguese and one classical. However, songs in the fado genre vary greatly, and artists tend to put their own twist on them. 

This YouTube video features some Fado music in it, plus some information about the history of the music:

Azulejos Tiles 

Azulejos tiles are a recognizable part of Portugal that you will find everywhere. They are mostly found in the bigger cities like Lisbon, Porto, and Sintra. The tiles, referred to as just Azulejos, date back to the 14th century, and they are either decorative or have images that tell a story. 

Cork

Cork is a huge part of Portugal’s economy, and the country 60 percent of the world’s cork. A lot of the cork goes to bottling Port Wine and other wines all over the world. However, the material is also used for furniture, clothing and accessories, and building necessities, usually for floors and walls.

 

Seafood 

Thanks to its proximity to the ocean, Portugal is well-known for its fresh seafood. You can find a wide range of seafood dishes in Portugal, especially in the waterside cities like Lisbon and Porto. There are also lots of fish markets that sell fish and other seafood ingredients basically straight from the water.

Here are some of the specific seafood dishes Portugal is known for:

  • Polvo à Lagareiro: octopus with olive oil and potatoes
  • Sardinhas assadas: grilled sardines
  • Arroz de marisco: seafood rice
  • Cataplana de marisco: seafood stew

Caldo Verde

Caldo Verde is another famous Portuguese food, and it is often considered the country’s official dish. Caldo Verde is a soup that translates to green broth in English.

There are a lot of variations of the soup, but the most common ingredients include kale, potatoes, onion, chourico, garlic, and other greens.  

Here is a YouTube video from Food Wishes that teaches you how to make Caldo Verde:

Golf

Golf is widely popular in Portugal, specifically on the west side of the country, where many of the courses sit on the Atlantic Ocean. There are less than one hundred golf courses in the country, but the ones there are located here are some of the best, most beautiful courses in Europe.

The top golf course in Portugal is the Monte Rei North Course in the Eastern Algarve. The course has views of the Atlantic Ocean, and the Serra do Caldeirão mountains. 

Surfing

Surfing is another activity Portugal is widely known for. Along the coast, you’ll find many beaches that are specifically known for being good places to surf. Most of the best places to surf in Portugal are located in the southern half of the country off the Atlantic, but some popular beaches are not too far from Porto, like Espinho and Matosinhos. 

Massive Waves 

The most popular town for finding massive waves in Portugal is Nazaré. Its coast is often greeted by some of the largest waves in the world, waves that usually average fifty feet (15 m) in width and can get as high as eighty feet (34 m) high.

Portugal holds the world record for the biggest wave surfed worldwide. The wave was eighty feet high in Nazaré, and Rodrigo Koxa set the record in November 2017. In October 2020, Antonio Laureano surfed a one hundred and one-foot tall (~31 meters) wave, but it has not been confirmed yet.

Vasco da Gama

Vasco da Gama is a Portuguese explorer from the 15th and 16th centuries. Many of his journeys were by sea to India, and he spent a lot of time mapping the Cape of Good Hope. His first voyage was from Lisbon to India, with many stops in eastern Africa. 

He went on two other big voyages, but he never made it back home after his third one. He died in Cochin, India, in 1524, and his body was not returned to Portugal until 1538.

Cristiano Ronaldo

Cristiano Ronaldo, the famous football player, is one of the most famous people from Portugal. He was born in Funchal, Madeira, an island in the Atlantic Ocean southwest of mainland Portugal. 

Ronaldo played on Portuguese football teams as a kid and had represented Portugal on their national team since 2003, with previous positions on the youth teams too when he was eligible. 

One example of just how popular Cristiano Ronaldo is his Instagram. He has the most followers globally, racking a little under 500 million followers. 

Piri Piri Chicken

Piri Piri Chicken is the same as the Portuguese chicken we discussed earlier; Piri Piri is just another way to spell its actual name. The name peri-peri is the correct spelling in Africa, but in Portuguese, it would be spelled with i’s, like Piri Piri.

Casa da Música

Casa da Música, which translates to the house of music, is a concert hall in Porto. It was designed by the Pritzker Prize-winning architect Rem Koolhaas in 2001 and opened in 2005 as a part of an initiative to bring more culture to Porto. The architecture of the building is unique, and it is one of the more recognizable places in the city. 

All types of music performances take place at the Casa da Música. Some of the most popular genres that you can find at the performance hall include fado, opera, jazz, and international musical performances. 

Porto Cathedral

The Porto Cathedral, also called the Sé Cathedral, is one of the highlights of Porto. It was built in the 12th century, but construction of the cathedral has continued, and there have been frequent renovations over the last nine centuries. The cathedral features a lot of architectural styles, including Baroque, Gothic, and Roman.

The cathedral sits on a hill overlooking Porto in the highest part of the city. The location defines just how important the cathedral is to the city and its people. There is also a cloister located inside the structure and a Cathedral Treasure which still holds some of its most important possessions.

Belém Tower

Belém Tower, also called the Torre de Belém, is an old defense tower in Lisbon’s Belem neighborhood. The tower was designed by Francisco de Arruda, an architect and sculptor; then, construction was completed in 1520. 

Belém Tower features five floors and a rooftop terrace which are open to visitors. There are also cannon windows and pits that the tower used to hold prisoners in. 

After the tower was no longer used for defense, the city converted it into a customs house used to welcome visitors to Lisbon. This landmark has been a UNESCO World Heritage Site since 1983. 

Praça do Comércio

The Praça do Comércio, or the Commercial Plaza, is a beautiful plaza in Lisbon and one of the city’s most recognizable places. The plaza is located in the southern part of the city and sits on the Tagus River. Surrounding the plaza on the three non-river sides are bright yellow buildings, with the Rua Augusta Arch on the north end connecting the plaza to Rua Augusta. In the center of the plaza is a statue of King Joseph I, who was a Portuguese king in the 18th century. 

Douro Valley

The Douro Valley is located right near Porto and is near the Douro River, and it is a World Heritage Site. The area is most well known for wine production. The local wine is called Douro Wine and is typically made up of types of Port wine and table wine. There is also a museum here, the Douro Museum, where you can learn all about the region and the wine made there. 

Here are some other highlights of the Douro Valley:

  • Lamego
  • Numao Castle
  • Vale do Coa Archeological Park
  • Douro National Park

The Azores

The Azores are a set of islands that are a part of Portugal but are located in the middle of the Atlantic Ocean. The people who live on the islands mostly live in fishing villages or work in the tourism sector. Tourists visit the Azores because of the stunning beaches and the virtually endless array of exciting activities such as surfing, hiking, and horseback riding. Furthermore, there are two UNESCO World Heritage Sites in the Azores: the town of Angra do Heroismo on Terceira and the vineyards of Pico.

The Algarve

The Algarve is a region in southern Portugal known for its beautiful beaches and nature. The Atlantic Ocean borders the region on the west and south sides. It is one of the most popular areas for tourism in Portugal, especially in the summer months, with more than four million people visiting it each year. 

The region draws a lot of surfers every year and other visitors who want to enjoy the nice beaches and resorts. However, the Algarve also boasts an exciting nightlife, especially near or even on the beaches, as well as many natural areas for hiking and observing wildlife. 

The city of Faro is the capital of the region and the area where many people spend their time when they are not at the beach. Outside Faro, there are a few smaller towns, many of which have castles and are surrounded by the beautiful countryside.

Architecture

Portugal also boasts breathtaking architecture, some of which we already discussed, like the Torre de Belem and the Porto Cathedral. However, these are only the tip of the iceberg.

 

Lisbon also has a beautiful cathedral which is designed in the Roman architectural style. Moreover, there are castles all over the country, many of which are also built in the Roman style, but some of which are Gothic. 

Other Gothic architecture includes the Abbey of Santa Maria da Vitória. Examples of other architectural styles you’ll find here include the austere-style Palace of Justice in Lisbon, which is more modern, and the Baixa neighborhood in Lisbon which embodies a Pombaline style.

Food

We already went over some of the most famous Portuguese dishes and pastries, as well as the abundance of seafood in the country, but there are more foods that Portugal is known for.

Here are some of the popular foods in Portugal:

  • Porco preto: Iberian black pork
  • Arroz de pato: duck rice
  • Açorda: bread soaked in broth
  • Prego: steak sandwich

Portugal’s Decriminalization of Drugs

Another characteristic Portugal is famous for is the decriminalization of drugs. In 2001, the country decriminalized the consumption of all drugs. Before this decision, Portugal faced some of the highest drug consumption levels in the world, specifically heroin. 

Since drugs were decriminalized, an outreach initiative started to provide drug users with the help they need to consume drugs safely, like clean needles and mental support. The government also offers some services that can help these people stop using drugs, but there is no pressure or force used to do so.

Tourism 

An important part of Portugal’s economy is its tourism. In 2019, Lisbon and Porto were on the list of top 100 cities with the highest number of tourists in the world. The country brings in around twenty-five billion dollars annually from its tourism, which is over ten percent of its gross national product.

Mosteiro dos Jerónimo

The Mosteiro dos Jeronimo, also known as the Jeronimos Monastery, is a mid-fifteen-century monastery that was significantly expanded in the 16th century. The monastery was part of the Order of the Friars of St. Jerome, and the Pastel de Nata recipe comes from the Monastery. Today, it is one of the main tourist attractions in Lisbon’s Belem neighborhood.

Ancient History 

Historians have found cave drawings in Portugal dating back to 22,000 BC, meaning that people have been living in the area for a long time. The Romans occupied the land for seven centuries at the end of the BC years and the first five AD centuries. 

Since then, the Iberian peninsula was occupied by Visigoths and Moor until the end of the 12th century. There are still some Moorish buildings and castles you can see today, but since their reign ended, Portugal has been cleared of many past Moorish influences, even though the Roman influence is still prominent.

Conclusion

The thirty-five places, people, foods, and attractions on this list are just a fraction of what Portugal is known for. From architectural masterpieces to some of the prettiest and most culturally rich cities in Europe, it is no wonder people love visiting and living in Portugal.

Sources