PHOTO: Pena Palace, Sintra, Portugal. (photo courtesy of Thinkstock)
Americans are heading to Portugal in droves — far outpacing their contemporaries in other countries. And U.S. visitors are outspending other foreign visitors as well, making Americans one of the country’s top priorities when it comes to tourism promotion.
Turismo Portugal believes that some of the increase is due to favorable reviews from the media, but another reason is much simpler — purely word of mouth from those who have visited and loved their stay.
“We have seen American visits to Portugal more than triple over a decade — so, this tells us we have lots of happy visitors who are our ambassadors — telling friends about how great a destination Portugal is,” said Jayme Simoes, Turismo de Portugal's communications partner. “We also offer real value — especially on the high end and in terms of luxury. Portugal is one of the safest destinations in the world and it is authentic — offering unique experiences that you (will not) find anywhere else. We look for this trend to continue.”
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Tourism in the country is not just confined to one specific region or tied to a single attraction. Americans have caught the Portugal travel bug nationwide. Recent figures show that the American boom has spread throughout the country, with the Alentejo area up 44 percent, the Azores up 30.8 percent, the North up 25.4 percent and Lisbon up 16.8 percent.
Where to Go in Portugal
One sign of the country’s soaring popularity is the fact that it’s nearly impossible to narrow down five must-see locales within this small country. The Azores are a must, Porto can’t be missed as the birthplace of port wine, the Algarve is mesmerizing and Lisbon is the country’s cultural hub – but there’s so much more.
Made up of nine volcanic islands, the Azores are off the coast of Lisbon in the Atlantic Ocean. Visitors will find quaint seaside towns, fantastic whale watching opportunities, hot mineral springs and more. Each island has its own personality — so you’ll probably want to see them all.
This town is famous for its port wine and as the gateway to the Douro River. Perhaps Douro river cruises have led to some of the city’s increases in visitor numbers, as setting out for the Douro River Valley has become extremely accessible, with multiple companies offering itineraries on the river. When visiting you’ll want to head to the Ribeira, which is always bustling with live music, street vendors, eateries and packed cafes.
Here you will find one of the only castles that can rival Neuschwanstein in Germany for the (unofficial) title of "World’s Most Whimsical." Its bright colors radiate from above the treetops and have to be seen to be believed.
The city is just a day trip away from Portugal’s capital city of Lisbon, but there are also plenty of other reasons to stay in Sintra longer.
Warm, beachy, picturesque and historic. These are just a few of the reasons to visit the craggy coastline of the Algarve in the Western Atlantic Ocean just before it gives way to the mouth of the Mediterranean. The area depicts life in Europe exactly the way you idealized it. It’s all sleepy seaside towns, whitewashed buildings and white-sand beaches awash with sun-kissed revelers. Lagos is the most happening of the towns along this stretch of coastline and Faro is the capital. In my mind, Tavira was the true must-see.
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This bustling city is the capital of the country and is truly a must-see. Lisbon is an amalgamation of all of Europe. There are gothic cathedrals, hilly streets navigated by vintage funiculars, colorful neighborhoods, cobblestone streets, traditional music. It is really the whole package. You are selling yourself short if you just stay one night in Lisbon as you will at least need two to get the whole experience.