Central Portugal consists of a mountainous inland, beach-lined coast, and a number of beautiful historic cities. While the natural scenery offers one kind of escape, the cities comprise of another kind of atmosphere with plenty of history, architecture, and culture for visitors to experience.
With a number of historic cities, Central Portugal has a collection of monuments and buildings that speak to its vibrant past. The city of Tomar, for example, is home to the Templar Castle (also called Convent of Christ) which dates back to 12th century and is considered to be an UNESCO World Heritage Site. Also unique to the nation's medieval past is the walled town of Obidos - one of the country's best-preserved medieval towns located on a fortified hilltop. Other popular city sights include the University of Coimbra, the canals and waterways of Aveiro, and the Monastery of Batalha.
As far as natural scenery goes, the spotlight is caught between the mountains and coastline of Central Portugal. Serra da Estrela is the highest mountain range in Portugal. The mountain range is now part of the Serra da Estrela Natural Park and offers plentiful skiing opportunities in the ski resort of Loriga. Views of this range can be seen from the neighboring range of the Serra do Buçaco which is also home to the Buçaco Palace.
Along the coast, more commonly referred to as the Silver Coast, there are many beaches great for surfing. Some of these include Medao, Baleal beach, Praia Tocha, and Praia da Nazare (one of the best of the Silver Coast). For further ventures, visitors can also take a trip to the Berlengas islands just off of the coast for dramatic natural scenery, rugged cliffs, and abundant birdlife (Praia do Carreiro do Mosteiro is a popular beach here).
Central Portugal is comprised of North Central and South Central regions. As a whole, the main attractions include the remote mountains of the Serra da Estrela, the stunning beaches of the Silver Coast, the historic cities of Tomar and Coimbra, and the pilgrimage destination of Fatima. Coimbra also makes for a great home base as it is well-connected to the rest of Central Portugal via public transportation. The region is also home to Portugal's capital city, Lisbon, which includes the nation's largest international airport. Aveiro, near the northern end of central Portugal, is another city worth visiting - known as the "Venice of Portugal" for its many canals, colorful boats, and art nouveau buildings.
As a place of ancient history and rich culture, Portugal is host to many festivals throughout the year. One of these includes the Festa Templaria (or Templar Festival) in Tomar which occurs during the last weekend in May and features a recreation of medieval events including a market, games, sword fights, medieval music, and a medieval parade. There are many other festivals and celebrations throughout the year all over Portugal. Other activities include sightseeing the historic and cultural landmarks of the cities, hiking amidst the beautiful mountain scenery of the mainland, or visiting the Silver Coast for a breath of sea air, surfing, or beach-going.
Food and Dining
As a part of a coastal nation, Central Portgual, like the rest of the country, serves an abundance of seafood. One particular favorite for locals is a dried and salted cod called bacalhau. Other fish-cooking techniques entail grilling, boiling (including poaching and simmering), frying or deep-frying, stewing (often in clay pot cooking), roasting, or steaming. Portuguese cuisine also features spices influenced by its former colonial possessions, some of which include piri piri, black pepper, cinnamon, vanilla, and saffron. Garlic and olive oil are also commonly used, as are herbs like bay leaves and parsley. A specialty throughout Portugal is a soup called caldo verde made with potato, shredded kale, and chunks of chouriço (a spicy local sausage). And for dessert - don't miss arroz doce (rice pudding with cinnamon) and caramel custard.
The main point of entry for Central Portugal is the city of Lisbon, at Lisbon or Portela Airport (also known as Humberto Delgado Airport). It is located about 7 kilometers from Lisbon's city center and is an important European hub for international travel.
For travel to Aveiro or other parts of North Central Portugal, the airport in Porto (Francisco Sa Carneiro Airport) might be a closer option. Some of the main airlines that operate to and from Porto include Iberia, Lufthansa, Luxair, and Ryanair. The airport is well-connected to the surrounding areas by public transportation, making travel to Central Portgual easy for tourists.