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