Lonely Planet Writer

Pathfinder pics: Portugal, one of our top 10 countries for 2018

Lonely Planet Trailblazer Abi King of Inside the Travel Lab recently spent time exploring the diverse and colourful cities and landscapes of Portugal, one of our top 10 countries to visit in 2018. From sampling the country's crumbliest, smoothest pastéis de nata, to checking out the edgiest street art in Porto, here's what she discovered.

'Portugal is a country with a divided soul,' I’m told as I share salted codfish and wine in a quiet tavern in Coimbra.

'On the one hand, you have this great seafaring history of facing the Atlantic. On the other, no-one else remembers that. We are all Europeans now.'

But, as it turns out, there are many Portugals. From centuries-old architecture to cutting-edge design, traditional dishes to Michelin-starred cuisine, each city and side road is an invitation to discover something new. About the country, of course. But also about you, and what you thought you knew.

Taking your time

Take a book with you, for Portugal is designed for reading. Order a coffee at a pretty cafe. Some light bites. Perhaps some sardines, and take the time to catch up with your thoughts. You won’t be hurried along.

Pastel de nata

While we’re talking about food, let me introduce you to Portugal’s pastel de nata. Born in Belém, these pastries taste delicate, light and delicious, despite the off-putting 'egg custard tart' translation. You can find them everywhere, but I’d recommend grabbing one fresh from a kiosk and enjoying with coffee in a park.

Follow the rabbit

Portugal has postcard-pretty cobbled streets with peeling paint and laundry fluttering in the breeze. But it also likes to mix things up. I found this beauty on 'the wrong side of the track' in Vila Nova de Gaia. Apparently, there’s a sister work to find in Lisbon. Scavenger hunt anyone?

Azulejos in abundance

Discover azulejos (patterned tiles) and the practice of turning walls into art. Derived from the Arabic word for 'small polished stone', their origins date back to when the Moors ruled the Iberian Peninsula. For religious reasons, Islamic art features geometric patterns. So you can find history (plus a good Instagram backdrop) almost everywhere you go.

Coimbra doorway

Founded in 1290, the University of Coimbra now sits on a pointy hill reminiscent of a wizard’s hat. Perhaps it was the geography that inspired J.K. Rowling when she visited here. More likely, it was the long, inky black gowns. Either way, the city is beautiful, and Unesco agrees.

Porto evening view

Another Unesco World Heritage Site in Portugal? Yes, it’s one of fifteen! This is the city centre of Porto, as seen from the Dom Luis I Bridge. It spans the Douro River, which ushers ruby-red port out to the rest of the world.

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