• 13 May 2021

Portugal is a land of golden beaches, medieval castles and scenery that will take your breath away. It’s the perfect place to indulge in a Pastel de nata or two (or three or four or five…) and learn about historic explorers from hundreds of years ago. To put it simply, Portugal is an incredible country! On 10 June, the world celebrates all things Portuguese on World Portugal Day. 

Portugal is home to unique customs, heritage and landscapes that have been attracting travellers for generations. From dancing the night away to Fado music in Lisbon and sipping wine in colourful Porto, to sunbathing on the praia (beaches) along the Algarve coast. It’s definitely a must-visit destination at least once in your lifetime!   

To celebrate World Portugal Day and showcase why this destination should be on your travel bucket list, we have put together a list of facts you may not have known about this fascinating European country.

Woman flying Portuguese flag in Lisbon World Portugal Day
Celebrate Portuguese heritage and culture on World Portugal Day.

Take a look at these 10 surprising facts about Portugal:

1. Portugal is one of the oldest nation-states in Europe

People have been settling in Portugal for thousands of years thanks to its excellent location for trading and travel. Portugal is one of the oldest countries in Europe and the world! The kingdom of Portugal was proclaimed in 1139 when King Alfonso Henriques was appointed monarch. Another fun fact: the capital city Lisbon is actually four centuries older than Rome!

History can be found all around in the country’s historic neighbourhoods, centuries-old castles and magnificent monuments. 

City view of Lisbon World Portugal Day
Lisbon is home to centuries-worth of history.
2. It is home to some of the shortest and longest-reigning monarchs in history

From the decades-long reign of King Alfonso to the mere 20 minutes Luis Felipe spent as king, Portuguese monarchs have been setting records throughout history! King Alfonso Henriques was known as the founding father of Portugal and spent 73 years ruling the country. In comparison, Crown Prince Luis Felipe of Portugal technically (and very briefly) became king after his father was assassinated in 1908. Unfortunately, Prince Luis was fatally wounded in the same attack and passed away 20 minutes after his father. 

Pena Palace Sintra World Portugal Day
Colourful Pena Palace in Sintra was the summer residence of Portuguese royals.
3. The Portuguese have a colourful way of talking!

The Portuguese have a long history of storytelling and a passion for wanderlust! Never is this more apparent than in the colourful way the Portuguese can turn a phrase! If you hear “Ir com os porcos” (go with the pigs) it means “to pass away” and can refer to anything or idea that has “died”. It can also be used between friends when someone is being annoying! If someone says  “Engolir sapos” (swallow frogs) it means to do something you don’t want to do and “Ter a Pulga atrás da orelha” (having a flea behind the ear) means to look or feel suspicious.

Portuguese doesn’t just bring the laughs, it has also birthed beautiful words like “Saudade” referring to emotions of longing, melancholy, incompleteness and love. 

Woman sightseeing in Lisbon World Portugal Day
Spend time in cities like Lisbon and interact with friendly locals.
4. You can find the world’s oldest bookstore in Lisbon

Livraria Bertrand is the oldest operating book store in the world and you can visit it in Lisbon’s Chiado neighbourhood! It was founded in 1732 by Pedro Faure. Today,  Bertrand bookstores operate throughout Portugal! 

Livraria Bertrand bookstore in Lisbon World Portugal Day
Livraria Bertrand in Lisbon opened hundreds of years ago in 1732.
5. The University of Coimbra is one of the oldest in the world

Adding more accolades to “old things that Portugal can boast about” is the University of Coimbra. The university was first opened in Lisbon in 1290 and moved permanently to Coimbra, near the centre of the country, in 1537. It’s one of the oldest universities in Europe and overall in the world! The University of Bologna in Italy, the University of Oxford in England and the University of Salamanca in Spain are the three oldest. 

University of Coimbra World Portugal Day
The University of Coimbra is one of the oldest in Europe.
6. Portugal is going green!

Over recent years, Portugal has been on a mission to become more environmentally friendly. It ranks as one of the most eco-friendly countries in the world. In 2016, the entire country ran on renewable energy for four days! Lisbon was also named the European Green Capital in 2020. Today, the country continues to focus on long-term sustainability. 

Rossio Square in Lisbon at night World Portugal Day
Lisbon is one of the most eco-friendly cities in Europe.

Related: Check out these eco-friendly cities in Europe!

7. This is the home of Fado music

In 1820, Fado music officially originated in a working-class neighbourhood in Lisbon. This genre of music is expressive and melancholic – singers often share the trials and tribulations of everyday life in the lyrics. Did you know that along with being the title of the genre, fado means “fate” or “destiny” in English? 

Two men playing acoustic guitar Fado music World Portugal Day
Enjoy the emotive sounds of Fado music on Portugal Day.
8. One of the most powerful earthquakes in European history hit Lisbon in the 1700s.

Lisbon suffered monumental damage when an almost 9.0 magnitude earthquake hit the city in 1755. The earthquake shook the city on 1 November, which is All Saints Day. Tsunamis and fires (caused by candles placed in churches for the holiday which toppled over) also hit the city and created huge devastation. The earthquake killed tens of thousands and the city was rebuilt pretty much from scratch. You can visit the ruins of the Carmo Convent (sections of which remain standing after the earthquake) on walking tours of Lisbon.

Ruins of Carmo Convent in Lisbon World Portugal Day
Explore the ruins of the Carmo Convent in Lisbon.
9. Portugal is the world’s largest cork producer

Portugal is home to the world’s largest cork forest and as such is the world’s largest cork producer – those wine bottle stoppers don’t just magically appear, you know! The country produces over half of the world’s cork and travellers will find many trinkets, souvenirs and fun things made from cork when browsing through shops and flea markets across the country. 

Cork magnet souvenirs from Portugal World Portugal Day
Shop for cute and quirky souvenirs in Portugal.
10. Port wine is their most famous export

While some may argue that Cristiano Ronaldo is Portugal’s most famous export, it is in fact port wine that holds the title! This rich, sweet, dark red wine originated in Portugal in the Douro Valley. Be sure to enjoy a few glasses of port wine while relaxing in beautiful cities such as Porto or Lisbon on your next trip to Portugal!  

Pouring port wine in Lisbon World Portugal Day
Sip on a glass of sweet red port wine in one of Portugal’s stunning cities!

The more you know! Portugal is a fascinating and beautiful country to experience. If these fun facts about Portugal Day have piqued your interest then it is time to start planning a future trip to Portugal! Discover it for yourself on Expat Explore’s Spain and Portugal Explorer and Highlights of Spain and Portugal tours.

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