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10 reasons why Portugal is the perfect female travel destination

Over the past few years, you may have noticed Portugal suddenly popping up in your Instagram feed. Almost out of nowhere, this colourful and charismatic western-most outpost of Europe has won the hearts of travellers from all corners of the world. And keeps calling them back.

Here at Destinate Travel, we fell in love with Portugal quite some time ago and couldn’t be happier to see this soulful country getting the attention it deserves.

Specifically, it gets our stamp of approval as one of the very best places in the world for women to travel solo or with a female friend or two.

Destineer-in-Chief, Mariette du Toit-Helmbold recently spent some time exploring Lisbon solo in May this year after a few days in Alentejo where she explored the region’s unique wine tourism offering.

“Lisbon is my favourite city in Europe. It is a big little city with a lot of character and charm that wins you over on first sight and makes you want to stay forever. I love exploring cities as a solo female traveler and Lisbon is so well suited for women who enjoy cities, good food, art, design and culture. The best way to explore Lisbon is on foot, getting lost in the many colourful neighbourhoods and finding your better self in its crooked streets amongst the friendly locals. I could definitely live here.”

In 2017, fellow Destineer, Nadia Krige and her mom, Lisel, enjoyed a different type of girls’ journey, as they set out on foot from Porto, following the Camino Portugues all the way to Santiago de Compostela in Northern Spain.

“Walking along a part of Atlantic coastline as well as through the countryside, small towns and cities of Portugal was absolutely magical. It truly gave us an opportunity to immerse ourselves in the culture, experience the generosity of locals and see far more than we would have if we’d travelled by car.”

Here are 10 reasons why you should start planning your girl’s trip too:

Great public transport

One of the best things about travelling in Portugal is that it’s really easy to get around. The country has a reliable, affordable and comprehensive public transport network, including buses, trains, trams and taxis.

If you’re travelling within Porto or Lisbon, the Metro is the quickest and most convenient way to get around. It’s also the best and most affordable way to get from the airport to your inner city accommodation.

If you’re travelling beyond the borders of either of these cities, you have the option of catching a bus or a train. Buses tend to be slightly cheaper, while trains might take you on more scenic routes.

One of the best things about travelling in Portugal is that it’s really easy to get around. The country has a reliable, affordable and comprehensive public transport network, including buses, trains, trams and taxis.

If you’re travelling within Porto or Lisbon, the Metro is the quickest and most convenient way to get around. It’s also the best and most affordable way to get from the airport to your inner city accommodation.

If you’re travelling beyond the borders of either of these cities, you have the option of catching a bus or a train. Buses tend to be slightly cheaper, while trains might take you on more scenic routes.

You’ll feel safe and welcome

While we firmly believe in taking responsibility for your own safety, no matter where in the world you travel, it is kind of nice to actually FEEL safe too.

This was our experience of Portugal. Both in the cities and in the more rural areas, people seemed to take a special interest in the wellbeing of travellers, especially if you’re a woman travelling alone or in a pair/group.
Locals are friendly, engaging and happy to offer directions, guidance or advice.

“I remember walking along a street in Barcelinos with my mom – probably both looking a little lost and somewhat worse for wear after a day of trudging along – when an old man on a balcony intuited our need and started shouting ‘mercado! Mercado!’ (grocery store) and pointing us in the right direction,” Nadia recalls.

While we firmly believe in taking responsibility for your own safety, no matter where in the world you travel, it is kind of nice to actually FEEL safe too.

This was our experience of Portugal. Both in the cities and in the more rural areas, people seemed to take a special interest in the wellbeing of travellers, especially if you’re a woman travelling alone or in a pair/group.
Locals are friendly, engaging and happy to offer directions, guidance or advice.

“I remember walking along a street in Barcelinos with my mom – probably both looking a little lost and somewhat worse for wear after a day of trudging along – when an old man on a balcony intuited our need and started shouting ‘mercado! Mercado!’ (grocery store) and pointing us in the right direction,” Nadia recalls.

Awesome accommodation options

Sure, you’ll find a lovely Airbnb in most cities around the globe, but once again, locals in Lisbon and Porto (especially) just seem to have the knack of making things extra cosy! Whether you prefer a more characterful Airbnb apartment, a hotel or want to splash out and feel like a modern-day princess staying at the glamorous Pestana Palace Lisboa, Lisbon has you covered. 

This time around Mariette stayed in Alfama, Lisbon’s oldest and probably most characterful, neighbourhood on the slope between São Jorge Castle and the Tejo river.

“I wanted to have a really local experience and found a perfectly beautiful Bohemian apartment in Alfama with views over the river and the bustling Infante Dom Henrique Avenue with plenty Fado restaurants and sidewalk cafes within easy walking distance. My hostess, a single mom, gave me such great insider travel tips and recommendations, making my stay in Lisbon extra wonderful. Lisbon is cool, fun, creative, affordable and not (yet) as crowded as other European capitals with great food, a pulsating nightlife and the perfect balance between tradition and modernity. The best time of the year to go is between April and June or between September and October.”

In Porto, Nadia and Lisel stayed in a tiny, but extra cute Airbnb in the old quarter. It offered a spectacular view over the city’s red roofs and ended up being extremely central to an array of attractions, restaurants, coffee shops and the gorgeous Sao Bento train station.

Sure, you’ll find a lovely Airbnb in most cities around the globe, but once again, locals in Lisbon and Porto (especially) just seem to have the knack of making things extra cosy! Whether you prefer a more characterful Airbnb apartment, a hotel or want to splash out and feel like a modern-day princess staying at the glamorous Pestana Palace Lisboa, Lisbon has you covered. 

This time around Mariette stayed in Alfama, Lisbon’s oldest and probably most characterful, neighbourhood on the slope between São Jorge Castle and the Tejo river.

“I wanted to have a really local experience and found a perfectly beautiful Bohemian apartment in Alfama with views over the river and the bustling Infante Dom Henrique Avenue with plenty Fado restaurants and sidewalk cafes within easy walking distance. My hostess, a single mom, gave me such great insider travel tips and recommendations, making my stay in Lisbon extra wonderful. Lisbon is cool, fun, creative, affordable and not (yet) as crowded as other European capitals with great food, a pulsating nightlife and the perfect balance between tradition and modernity. The best time of the year to go is between April and June or between September and October.”

In Porto, Nadia and Lisel stayed in a tiny, but extra cute Airbnb in the old quarter. It offered a spectacular view over the city’s red roofs and ended up being extremely central to an array of attractions, restaurants, coffee shops and the gorgeous Sao Bento train station.

Beautiful beaches

Beach, please! Portugal is home to some of the world’s most spectacularly beautiful stretches of sand-and-sea. The wind-swept North Atlantic coastline is the country’s largest and somewhat reminiscent of our own South African West Coast.

Up north, you will find the city of Vila do Conde is home to a thriving surfing community and surrounded by an array of cute white-washed fishing towns.

In the south, the almost otherworldly Algarve coast is any sun-lovers dream. Here massive sandstone cliffs drop down to pristine beaches and caves. It’s also home to some of the best and most sought-after surf spots in the world.

Beach, please! Portugal is home to some of the world’s most spectacularly beautiful stretches of sand-and-sea. The wind-swept North Atlantic coastline is the country’s largest and somewhat reminiscent of our own South African West Coast.

Up north, you will find the city of Vila do Conde is home to a thriving surfing community and surrounded by an array of cute white-washed fishing towns.

In the south, the almost otherworldly Algarve coast is any sun-lovers dream. Here massive sandstone cliffs drop down to pristine beaches and caves. It’s also home to some of the best and most sought-after surf spots in the world.

Delicious pastries

If you have a sweet tooth, Portugal will be both the best and the worst place you’ve ever visited. Best, because you’ll never run out of new pastries to try and worst… well… because you may run out of pants that fit while you’re there.

But seriously, Portugal’s coffee shop culture is an absolute dream!

Especially because these sweet treats are ridiculously affordable. Where you might pay R30 for an acceptable croissant in Cape Town, in Portugal, you will only pay in the vicinity of €1 (+/- R17) for the most delicious freshly baked Pasteis de Belem you’ve ever tasted! It’s really quite something.

If you have a sweet tooth, Portugal will be both the best and the worst place you’ve ever visited. Best, because you’ll never run out of new pastries to try and worst… well… because you may run out of pants that fit while you’re there.

But seriously, Portugal’s coffee shop culture is an absolute dream!

Especially because these sweet treats are ridiculously affordable. Where you might pay R30 for an acceptable croissant in Cape Town, in Portugal, you will only pay in the vicinity of €1 (+/- R17) for the most delicious freshly baked Pasteis de Belem you’ve ever tasted! It’s really quite something.

If you have a sweet tooth, Portugal will be both the best and the worst place you’ve ever visited. Best, because you’ll never run out of new pastries to try and worst… well… because you may run out of pants that fit while you’re there.

But seriously, Portugal’s coffee shop culture is an absolute dream!

Especially because these sweet treats are ridiculously affordable. Where you might pay R30 for an acceptable croissant in Cape Town, in Portugal, you will only pay in the vicinity of €1 (+/- R17) for the most delicious freshly baked Pasteis de Belem you’ve ever tasted! It’s really quite something.

Affordable for a South African budget

Which brings us to the next point – Portugal offers a truly affordable experience for the South African travel budget.

When it comes to coffee, pastries, beer and sangria, you generally pay about the same as – or even less than - you would in the average Cape Town bar. Depending on where you eat, food in restaurants tend to be a bit more expensive, but not excessively so.

We recommend sticking to local eateries as far as possible…they are not only more affordable, but the food is better too and you will meet the most beautiful human beings over a plate of sardines and a bottle of good local Portuguese wine.

If you’re going to be spending more than two weeks exploring the country and travelling on a shoestring, shopping for your own meals at local supermarkets is by far the most affordable option. And also super fun!

Which brings us to the next point – Portugal offers a truly affordable experience for the South African travel budget.

When it comes to coffee, pastries, beer and sangria, you generally pay about the same as – or even less than - you would in the average Cape Town bar. Depending on where you eat, food in restaurants tend to be a bit more expensive, but not excessively so.

We recommend sticking to local eateries as far as possible…they are not only more affordable, but the food is better too and you will meet the most beautiful human beings over a plate of sardines and a bottle of good local Portuguese wine.

If you’re going to be spending more than two weeks exploring the country and travelling on a shoestring, shopping for your own meals at local supermarkets is by far the most affordable option. And also super fun!

Portugal’s picturesque wine regions

Portugal has 14 wine regions and whilst Port is what most people associate Portugal with there are over 250  indigenous wine varieties. Not only does Portugal produce some of the world’s best wines, it is fast becoming Europe’s wine tourism capital with an array of experiences available for wine lovers (and non wine drinkers) keen to explore beyond the well known cities and beaches of Portugal.

Read more about Mariette’s adventures in wine in Portugal here.

Portugal has 14 wine regions and whilst Port is what most people associate Portugal with there are over 250  indigenous wine varieties. Not only does Portugal produce some of the world’s best wines, it is fast becoming Europe’s wine tourism capital with an array of experiences available for wine lovers (and non wine drinkers) keen to explore beyond the well known cities and beaches of Portugal.

Read more about Mariette’s adventures in wine in Portugal here.

Porto’s charming alleys

If you have a day or two at your disposal in the beautiful riverside city of Porto, we can highly recommend just losing yourself among the maze of cobbled alleys. This is where you will catch glimpses of the most intriguing local life, stumble upon wonderful coffee nooks and patisseries and maybe even find some unusual curious for loved ones back home.

Be sure to let your wanderings take you to the Sao Bento station, which boasts magnificent architecture and a truly beautiful interior, featuring 20,000 azulejo tiles. The layout was composed by Jorge Colaço, an important painter of azulejo of the time.

Also keep an eye out for the legendary street artist with his street organ, plucky little chicken and array of creepy dolls.

Be sure to stop off ever so often for a coffee, pasteis de nata, icy cold Superbock beer, a glass of local wine or… perhaps best of all… delicious (and potent) sangria.

If you have a day or two at your disposal in the beautiful riverside city of Porto, we can highly recommend just losing yourself among the maze of cobbled alleys. This is where you will catch glimpses of the most intriguing local life, stumble upon wonderful coffee nooks and patisseries and maybe even find some unusual curious for loved ones back home.

Be sure to let your wanderings take you to the Sao Bento station, which boasts magnificent architecture and a truly beautiful interior, featuring 20,000 azulejo tiles. The layout was composed by Jorge Colaço, an important painter of azulejo of the time.

Also keep an eye out for the legendary street artist with his street organ, plucky little chicken and array of creepy dolls.

Be sure to stop off ever so often for a coffee, pasteis de nata, icy cold Superbock beer, a glass of local wine or… perhaps best of all… delicious (and potent) sangria.

Secret soirees in Lisbon

Mariette first stumbled upon Pierre Aderne’s secret music evenings two years ago thanks to an invitation from a friend.

Back then they were very secret. Fast forward two years and not much has changed...they’re maybe a little less secret these days, but Pierre is still made of passion, music and wine and he still brings together the most gifted musicians to play unplugged for people who like to dive below the touristy veneer of Lisbon with wine and love flowing freely.

Rua Das Pretas is a weekly international gathering of friends, wine and song, blending bossa, folk, jazz and conversation to an audience of fellow artists, tourists and gypsies. A night with Pierre and friends will cement your love affair with Lisbon and Portugal.

Mariette first stumbled upon Pierre Aderne’s secret music evenings two years ago thanks to an invitation from a friend.

Back then they were very secret. Fast forward two years and not much has changed...they’re maybe a little less secret these days, but Pierre is still made of passion, music and wine and he still brings together the most gifted musicians to play unplugged for people who like to dive below the touristy veneer of Lisbon with wine and love flowing freely.

Rua Das Pretas is a weekly international gathering of friends, wine and song, blending bossa, folk, jazz and conversation to an audience of fellow artists, tourists and gypsies. A night with Pierre and friends will cement your love affair with Lisbon and Portugal.

The Camino Portugues

In recent years, doing part of Europe’s famous Camino de Santiago pilgrimage route has become quite trendy. Interestingly enough, it seems to be an especially attractive option for women in search of a safe and meaningful way to travel solo.

There are about seven routes leading to the Cathedral of Santiago de Compostela in northern Spain, which is said to house the remains of Saint James the Great. In the middle ages, pilgrims used to make the journey to achieve plenary indulgence (removal of all punishment due for sins) on completion. These days, it’s less about penitence and more about self-care, healing and, yes, a measure of adventure.

While the French Way is by far the most famous and popular, the Portuguese Way offers a beautiful, less crowded and equally satisfying alternative. Most pilgrims start in Porto and complete a 240km journey on foot to Santiago de Compostela, following either the coastal route, the central one or a combination of the two. The latter is preferable, as it will offer you a glimpse of both the picturesque North Atlantic coastline and the quaint villages, farmlands and cities in the north-west of Portugal.

As a pilgrim, you hold a special status and locals treat you with kindness, care and respect. They are quick to assist, generous in offering hospitality and always greet you with a friendly “Buen Camino!”

“I have two particularly pleasant memories of encounters with locals while doing the Camino Portugues,” says Nadia. “The first was a woman picking fruit in her vineyard who saw us passing by, flagged us down and gave us each a handful. A few days later, a farmer driving a tractor overflowing with grapes stopped in his tracks and invited us to pick some of the choice bunches to enjoy as we walk.”

Have we whet your appetite for a Portuguese trip of your own? Destinate Travel’s all female tours to Portugal kick off in 2020 so send an email to travel@destinate.co.za for more information and follow us on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram.

In recent years, doing part of Europe’s famous Camino de Santiago pilgrimage route has become quite trendy. Interestingly enough, it seems to be an especially attractive option for women in search of a safe and meaningful way to travel solo.

There are about seven routes leading to the Cathedral of Santiago de Compostela in northern Spain, which is said to house the remains of Saint James the Great. In the middle ages, pilgrims used to make the journey to achieve plenary indulgence (removal of all punishment due for sins) on completion. These days, it’s less about penitence and more about self-care, healing and, yes, a measure of adventure.

While the French Way is by far the most famous and popular, the Portuguese Way offers a beautiful, less crowded and equally satisfying alternative. Most pilgrims start in Porto and complete a 240km journey on foot to Santiago de Compostela, following either the coastal route, the central one or a combination of the two. The latter is preferable, as it will offer you a glimpse of both the picturesque North Atlantic coastline and the quaint villages, farmlands and cities in the north-west of Portugal.

As a pilgrim, you hold a special status and locals treat you with kindness, care and respect. They are quick to assist, generous in offering hospitality and always greet you with a friendly “Buen Camino!”

“I have two particularly pleasant memories of encounters with locals while doing the Camino Portugues,” says Nadia. “The first was a woman picking fruit in her vineyard who saw us passing by, flagged us down and gave us each a handful. A few days later, a farmer driving a tractor overflowing with grapes stopped in his tracks and invited us to pick some of the choice bunches to enjoy as we walk.”

Have we whet your appetite for a Portuguese trip of your own? Destinate Travel’s all female tours to Portugal kick off in 2020 so send an email to travel@destinate.co.za for more information and follow us on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram.