Lisbon in a nutshell – from azulejos to fado

The Sleeping Beauty on the Tagus, Lisbon is steeped in the irresistible charm of times past. Magnificent palaces and monasteries bear witness to colonial riches; picturesque alleyways and staircases, pretty corners and sleepy squares enchant visitors. That’s not all though: the melancholy capital on the southwestern edge of Europe has another side that is dynamic, modern and cosmopolitan. Discover the Portuguese capital with Marco Polo:


Azulejos (pronounced: azoolayshoosh) can bee seen everywhere in Lisbon. The colourful tiles adorn the walls of houses and benches, staircases and arches. The art of tiling is part of the city’s Moorish heritage, and the name is derived from the Arabic al zulaique (‘small polished stone’). Tiled landscapes and scenes of daily life tell a lot about Portugal’s history and culture. The Museu Nacional do Azulejo gives an excellent overview of the history of the tiled images. And a new generation of tile artists is treading new paths, choosing unusual motifs or employing the art in new ways – replicate a minimalist trend at home with a single tiny tile on its own on a big wall.


Manueline style is a Portuguese variant of Flamboyant Gothic. This decorative, playful style, named after King Manuel I (1495–1521), was introduced in the early 16th century. Inspired by the exotic adventures of the seafarers and maritime explorers of the time, the architects and stonemasons covered their buildings with delicate carvings of ropes and knots, exotic plants and animals, shells and fish. For particularly beautiful examples of this architectural style, don’t miss the Hieronymus Monastery in Belém.


‘Like a dagger working in the heart’ is how the Portuguese will sometimes explain the feeling of sheer boundless melancholy known as saudade – a word that cannot be translated as sorrow, fatalism, sentimentalism, nostalgia or melancholy, as it combines a little bit of all of them. The roots of this passionate feeling are considered to lie in the Islamic era, and it finds its artistic expression in the famous fado music. In conversation with Lisbon’s older generation, you’ll often find a general fatalism at work. When asked how things are going, they will often reply, ‘Eh, cá estou’ (well, here I am) or ‘Vai-se andando’ (things are going), comparable perhaps to the English expression ‘mustn’t grumble’.


Lisboetas have commemorated Fernando Pessoa (1888–1935), probably Portugal’s most famous poet, with a bronze monument in front of his favourite café, A Brasileira. Today, few of the countless tourists who have their picture taken alongside the statue have actually read Pessoa’s obsessive prose and poetry, tinged with nihilism. Pessoa’s name and his work are intimately connected with the city. As witty as he was eccentric, the intellectual wrote under different names – ‘heteronyms’, whose identity he would take on for a certain time – worked as a foreign languages correspondence clerk in the Baixa and moved house many times within the city. During his lifetime, Pessoa, whose name means ‘person’, published very little, but his work is currently experiencing a renaissance beyond the borders of Portugal. In the poet’s last residence, which has been converted into a small arts centre with a library, fans can follow in the footsteps of this genius of modernism (Casa Fernando Pessoa | Rua Coelho da Rocha 16 | Mon–Sat 10am– 6pm | free admission |, | Eléctrico 25, 28 to Rua Saraiva Carvalho). Still worth reading: Pessoa’s poetic city guide written in 1930, Lisbon – what the Tourist Should See.


Fado is the Portuguese blues. It was born in the poor neighbourhoods of Lisbon, Alfama and Mouraria in the second half of the 18th century, and for a long time had a somewhat notorious reputation. The word is derived from the Latin fatum (fate). While both men and women (fadistas) sing the fado, it is always accompanied by two men, usually with stoic expressions, working two string instruments, a twelve-string guitar and a kind of lute, the guitarra portuguesa.

In terms of subject matter, the fado revolves around love, Lisbon, hope and disappointment – and most of all the saudade, a distinctly Portuguese feeling. What fado means to the Portuguese was evident in 1999, when Amália Rodrigues, the ‘Queen of Fado’, died. A three-day period of state mourning was declared. Amália’s house in the Rua de São Bento (Nos. 191-193) has become a site of pilgrimage for her fans (Tue– Sun 10am–1pm and 2–6pm | admission 5 euros | Metro (yellow) Rato). To this day, nobody can compare with the goddess of fado, but there are many new names on the scene, such as Camané and the internationally successful Mariza.

Many visitors to the city hear fado for the first time as a canned version, emanating from a green fadomobile in Rua do Carmo. Lisbon’s only ambulant music vendor acquired the right to sell music on the street after losing his record store in the devastating fire that destroyed Chiado in 1988. When the area was re- built rents skyrocketed. Young stars such as the Sara Tavares, of Cape Verdean heritage, and the strong-voiced Cristina Branco and Ana Moura have breathed new life into the genre.

Buy the Lisbon Marco Polo Guide.

Lisbon Marco Polo Guide

Something to say? Leave a comment below, tweet us @MarcoPoloGuides or tell us on Facebook.

Where to go in 2018? – Marco Polo Staff Picks

Choosing your travel destination can be difficult, as there is the whole wide world to choose from. Many of us are planning our 2018 travels at the moment, so we thought we would ask around our office for some ideas, and some Insider Tips. Here are Marco Polo’s Staff Picks for your 2018 travels:

Lake Garda Marco Polo Guide

Photo credit: Ian MacDonald


“Lake Garda is my favourite holiday destination, it has everything – the weather, the views,
the food, the wine… did I mention the food and wine?

My tip for Lake Garda: Have your first espresso immediately after getting off the autostrada
(motorway). Stop at the car park after the first hairpin bend coming from Nago heading for
Torbole and enjoy your first cup of coffee, your first aperol or your first ice cream (at the bar
on the other side of the road). The view to the south is breath-taking.”

– Ian MacDonald, Managing Director

Dresden Marco Polo Guide


“Dresden city exudes a magical aura. When the morning sun glistens on the Elbe River and
highlights the silhouette of the Altstadt, even the residents of Dresden catch their breath.

As one of the most popular travel destinations in Germany (the city welcomes around
ten million visitors every year, and this figure is on the rise) it impresses its visitors
with monuments, art and culture. Yet, it is the Elbe River that defines the city’s
mood. It winds its way through the town in broad curves, passing vineyards, stately
castles and homely beer gardens, and lined by the broad Elbwiesen meadows, which
are unlike anything to be found in other large European towns these days. People meet
here to sit around camp fires, eat picnics, go for a walk, ride their bikes
or relax in the sand and watch the clouds go by… why not join them?”

– Andrew, Sales Representative for London and the South Coast


“This is hardly a hidden gem, but after travelling around Asia for two and a half months,
this place is the one I still dream of. Angkor Wat is simply the most stunning thing I have
ever witnessed in my life. It’s no exaggeration to say it took my breath away. Make sure
you allow plenty of time to explore the temples. The best way is by tuk-tuk; hire a driver
for the day. Or if you’ve brave enough you can rent a moped or bike – but prepare to sweat!!

Whilst in Siem Reap be sure to check out Pub Street and the Night Market. Restaurant wise
– I’d recommend New Leaf Eatery and Genevieve’s, both of which are non-profit organisations,
so you can enjoy your meal knowing you’re supporting a great cause!”

– Hayley, Digital Marketing Manager

Photo credit: Alison Floutier


“If you’re on Highway 5 heading south from LA to San Diego, add an extra hour to your journey time to allow a stop in San Clemente. It describes itself as the ‘Spanish Village by the Sea’ and would be so easy to dismiss in your charge south to the San Diego. But an hour here, taking in the ocean views and gorgeous Spanish architecture is well worth your time. Insider Tip – you’ll see the big Starbucks sign from the 5. Use this for navigation but stop at the Zebra House Coffee Shop. The best coffee you’ll experience in California and if you strike lucky, the walls can be laden with beautiful artwork from local artists.

Coronado, the spit of land that juts out from San Diego, is Paradise with a capital P. Everyone knows it for ‘The Del’, the grand Victorian Hotel Del Coronado graced by US Presidents and Marco Polo staff alike! It’s a beautiful beach to while away a few hours and then take your sandy-self to the Babcock and Story bar on the ocean front to sip a perfectly ice cold beer and imagine Marilyn Monroe filming Some Like it Hot on the beach just in front. If you can tear yourself away, a drive round to Point Loma is well worth the view looking back across the Navy base, the principal home port of the US Pacific Fleet, and see the hotel and the whole of this gorgeous peninsula.

Insider Tip – the finest Mexican food and eye-wateringly wonderful margaritas can be found just across the road and a world away from the tourist hub of The Del. Hidden behind a row of shops, is the fantastic Miguel’s Cucina. You need to find time to linger here.”

– Diane, Sales & Marketing Coordinator

Marco Polo Guides Lisbon Largo Trindade Coelho

Photo credit: Tim Kelly


“Ah, where do you start with Lisbon? I think I’ll have to start with food – freshly caught seafood including prawns the size of your fist and Bacalhau, a local speciality! You can’t leave without trying a Pastel de nata – a Portuguese egg tart. The most popular place to try them is Pasteis de Belem, but they’re sold all over the city. Not forgetting the wine – Portugal produces some excellent wines! Including the famous Port and Madeira, of course… but they’re found all over the country. In Lisbon, the local delicacy is a sickly sweet but surprisingly delicious liqueur called Ginjinha. It’s made from cherries and if you’re lucky, you’ll get a whole cherry in the bottom of your cup! The best places to try it are A Ginjinha near the famous Rossio Square or Ginjinha Sem Rival.

Alfama is my favourite area in Lisbon, I could wander around there for hours. And you must visit Castelo de São Jorge, Rossio Square and the beautiful Cathedral: Se! My other tip is Belem… which is a little out of the city, but worth a visit… and if you have time, take an excursion to Sintra. You won’t regret it!”

– Petra, Sales & Marketing Manager


Boston is ideal as a stand alone city break or as a good starting point for trips further afield in the New England area. Hotels can be ridiculously expensive so we tend to go for the better priced boutique B&Bs. Seafood is plentiful and just about everywhere from cafes, pubs to restaurants offer lobster and their famous Clam Chowder on their menus and at such good value.

For sports fans you have everything covered, The Boston Red Sox Baseball stadium where you can take a guided tour, the TD Gardens for Ice Hockey and Baseball and Patriots Place for the current Superbowl Champions, the New England Patriots for American Football and The New England Revolutions for Soccer. This is further afield and requires a train journey but great to get to see small town America as you travel by.

Boston and the New England coastline is brilliant for spotting whales and from the harbour you can easily book day trips on the many tours they offer. Duck Tours are great to get your bearings and get the low-down on the city from a local driver and they all end up on the river which is one of the best places to view Boston. Their Aquarium is right on the harbour front and worth a visit.”

– Julie, Office Manager


“Amsterdam is one of those destinations that everyone has to see at least once in their life, but my tip for anyone visiting Amsterdam for more than a day or two is to leave the city. It may seem counter-intuitive, but there is a lot more to see in the Netherlands than just Amsterdam. One such place is Utrecht, one of the oldest cities in the country. It’s only 20 minutes away by train, but Utrecht is still a bit of a hidden gem for most tourists.

There are canals, just like in Amsterdam and many other Dutch cities, but the canals in Utrecht have a unique feature: the canal side docks. Once used for loading trade goods, today there are countless restaurants that host their terraces on the docks.

The Dom tower is the main landmark of the city, an old church tower from the 15th century, which you will be able to see in the horizon almost everywhere in the city. The cathedral is also worth a visit, as is the old courtyard with its flowers and a maze. Entrance is free, though a small donation at the door is always appreciated.

If you are hungry or thirsty, there is plenty that Utrecht can offer. My personal favourite for a quick, inexpensive snack is the Vietnamese streetfood restaurant Kimmade, on Mariastraat. It’s a tiny little place, with seats for around 10 people, but the food is excellent. For drinks Neude is the place to be, especially if it is sunny. The square will be packed with tables and chairs and this is where the locals will be. Order a beer and a portion of fries – or bitterballen if you are really feeling the local vibe, and enjoy.”

– Senja, Social Media Assistant

What is your pick for 2018?

Something to say? Leave a comment below, tweet us @MarcoPoloGuides or tell us on Facebook.

Top 10 things to do in Lisbon

Lisbon charms its visitors with her numerous museums and cafes. With Marco Polo’s Top 10 list you won’t miss any of Lisbon’s best sights!

Lisbon Marco Polo Guides

Photo credit: Tim Kelly

This magnificent building, financed with gold from the colonies, is a symbol of Portugal’s Golden Age. It’s the most popular tourist attraction in the country.

This former Moorish medina was largely spared by the terrible earthquake of 1755. Dive into its picturesque alleyways until the sounds of fado fill the night air.

The history of this uniquely Portuguese art form is told in a beautiful convent. There’s no metro station nearby, so it’s never overcrowded.

The lower part of town and the centre of Lisbon. Climb the triumphal arch on the Praça do Comércio to get an overview of its chessboard layout.

Marco Polo Guides Lisbon Largo Trindade Coelho

Photo credit: Tim Kelly

The heart of the city. The wave patterns in the cobblestones are absolutely enchanting. Grab a bica at Nicola (an art déco café), sit back and enjoy the scene.

Lisbon gets all futuristic at the former grounds of the World Expo. The park boasts great views and Europe’s second-largest oceanarium.

Admire the artistic treasures – including the apocalyptic visions of Hieronymus Bosch – before relaxing in the pretty garden café.

This symbol of Lisbon enchants visitors with its elaborate ornamentation. A beacon at the top once marked the entrance to the harbour.

This former Moorish fortress may have been restored beyond all recognition during the Salazar era, but the views from the battlements are unbeatable.

A glorious treasure trove of art, collected by an Armenian oil baron who was accepted by the city of Lisbon in 1942.


Buy the Lisbon Marco Polo Spiral Guide.

Lisbon Marco Polo Spiral Guide

Something to say? Comment below, tweet us @MarcoPoloGuides or tell us on Facebook.

Marco Polo’s Top 5 End of Summer Destinations + GIVEAWAY

The summer holidays may be almost over but there is no reason not to book a quick getaway and return to work or to your studies feeling just that little bit more relaxed. We at Marco Polo have compiled our top 5 end of summer destinations, and to sweeten it up even more, one lucky commenter is going to receive five copies of our Marco Polo Spiral Guides of their choice and a Fujifilm Instax Mini 8 camera! 

Photo credit: SarahFunky


Croatia is an immensely popular destination these days, and for good reason! Full of history and beautiful nature (just look at that picture taken at the Krak National Park!) it is definitely worth visiting at least once in your life – though once you have been there, you may find yourself wanting to go back. If you’re thinking of a city trip, your best bet would be either Zagreb or Dubrovnik.

Zagreb, with around a million inhabitants, one in four of the country’s population, is easily Croatia’s biggest city. This is the political, economic and cultural heart of the nation, which makes it easy to forget that it has only been a state capital since 1991. For most of its history, Zagreb has lived in the shadow of Vienna, as a provincial outpost of the Austro-Hungarian empire, or of the former Yugoslav capital Belgrade. Only in the past few years has it rediscovered its confidence as a youthful, vibrant, forward-looking city.

Dubrovnik on the other hand is the jewel in Croatia’s crown – a beautifully restored town, full of Gothic and Renaissance architecture, crowded onto a rocky headland and surrounded by its 15th-century walls. The English poet Lord Byron (1788–1824) quite rightly described the town as the ‘pearl of the Adriatic’.

 Marco Polo Portugal Guide


The Algarve in Portugal has been one of our favourites for a while. Perfect for catching some sunshine and lounging on the beach, or hiking in the  fragrant pine forests of the Ria Formosa National Park in central Algarve.

Central Algarve is a melting pot of contrasting natural landscapes. It’s where the Atlantic meets the hilly hinterland and where long, sandy beaches encounter the labyrinth of canals and islands in the Parque Natural da Ria Formosa. In the centre of the region lies Faro, the capital of the Algarve and the point of arrival for countless holidaymakers. With its crystal-clear light, glittering nightlife, fantastic beaches and fabulous markets, the central Algarve has a wealth of diverse experiences to offer. 

At first glance, Faro can seem pretty confusing to visitors. After all, it’s the largest city in the Algarve and home to 50,000 people (65,000 including the surrounding area). If you come armed with a plan, however, the city will start to grow on you and you’ll quickly find your feet.

Photo credit: Zaprin Geguskov – Attribution 2.0 Generic (CC BY 2.0)


 We love Bulgaria, and so do countless other travellers! Fine beaches and austere mountains, unspoilt hilltop villages and lively major towns, effervescent temperament and Mediterranean laissez-faire – all this makes Bulgaria a country of contrasts, a delightful mix of east and west. The travel catalogues are full of sea and beach, in other words the Black Sea coast – a beautiful and important part of the country. But if you stick to the tourists trails, you’ll miss out on what’s really worth seeing.

Mother nature has been very kind to Bulgaria. With its surface area of a little under 43,000 square miles, it’s not a particularly large country (England measures just over 50,000 square miles), but it has to a great extent been richly endowed with diversity and beautiful scenery, with mountains and a coast measuring 378km / 235 miles, and it’s densely wooded with many lakes. In other words, Bulgaria has something for everyone: for beach lovers a holiday by the Black Sea; for skiers the ski runs around Bansko, for hikers and bikers the green peaks of the Rila and Pirin Mountains; and if you’re looking for solitude, you’ll find it by hidden mountain lakes. To all of this add any amount of culture in the world-famous monasteries and the picturesque, beautifully restored villages.


Amsterdam Marco Polo Guide

Photo credit: Tim Kelly


It seems to us that almost all of our lists include Amsterdam, but the Dutch capital has a truly special place in our hearts, and the hundreds of thousands of tourists who visit the city each year would definitely agree.

The old heart of Amsterdam feels like two distinct cities. The more obvious of the pair comprises the sort of brash tourist trappings that you find in any major European city, in this particular case augmented by the unabashed indulgence of the main red-light district, De Wallen. Yet alongside such excess you can find oases of calm and solitude, plus some charming little places to eat, drink and shop.

De Dam, the main square, is not the most beautiful plaza in Europe, but it serves as a good hub
for exploring the rest of the area. Everything in medieval Amsterdam is a short walk from here. Almost all visitors to Amsterdam find themselves passing through De Dam, as the square at the centre of the city is concisely known. This was where the Amstel River was first dammed in the 13th century (today the river flows via underground pipes into the IJ). The square is central to the city and the country, containing both the Royal Palace and the National Monument. Initially, the unruly architecture may disappoint, as well as the fact that the whole place is decked in overhead power cables for trams. Although De Dam can largely appear as a tourist thoroughfare, it remains at the historical heart of the city.

The most romantic photographs of Amsterdam are taken in the western part of the city – which is also where the real soul of Amsterdam resides. Beautiful waterways and quiet courtyards, the trendiest and most liberal locals and authentic bruin cafés can all be found here. Almost any street you walk along is likely to reveal at least one of the following: a lovely old house embellished with a beautiful tablet or gable; an intriguing shop or café; or a charming canal view.


Ah, the French Riviera. The jetsetter dream and the azure waves of the Mediterranean, who can resist it? After all, the largest resort of the French Riviera, Nice is France’s main tourist centre and the most visited city after Paris. Friendly and informal, Nice radiates a unique atmosphere that is hard to define, although many have tried, labelling it the “Queen of the Riviera”, “Capital of the Côte d’Azur”, “Nizza la Bella”, “The Big Olive” and “Mediterranean Chicago”. “Nice” just doesn’t seem to cover it.

Over the centuries the city has enjoyed a colourful history. Founded by Greeks and settled by
Romans, it thrived in the Middle Ages under
the Counts of Provence who were followed by
the Italian Dukes of Savoy. United with France only as recently as 1860, it still retains a strong
Italianate character and is a seductive mix of the best
of France and Italy, with its own dialect (lenga nissarda) and delicious cuisine. Nice is also blessed with more museums and galleries than any French town outside Paris. Its Mediterranean charm has long provided inspiration to artists, with its pastel-painted buildings and terracotta roofs, cradled by the vine-clad foothills of the Maritime Alps and fringed by a vivid blue sea bathed in magical, incandescent sun- light. Even the palatial hotels, designer boutiques and crowded terrace cafés exude a carefree joie de vivre. No wonder Nice has been voted the city where the French would most like to live. As Sandy Wilson remarked in his musical comedy The Boy Friend (1954): “Other places may be fun, but when all is said and done, it’s so much nicer in Nice.” 


To wave the summer goodbye, Marco Polo is organising a giveaway! We are giving away a set of 5 Marco Polo Spiral Guides and a Fujifilm Instax Mini 8 camera to one lucky winner, chosen at random.

How to enter?

Simply share the story of your most memorable summer holiday moment in the comments below. You can earn more win-chances by liking our Facebook page and by following our Twitter and Instagram and by letting us know in your comment that you have done so.

The competition is open from Thursday 24 August 2017 until Friday 1 September 2017 at 12.00 GMT. We will contact the winner personally via email using the email address used to leave the comment so make sure to check that it is spelled correctly!

Good luck! 

Terms and Conditions:

  1. The promotion is open to UK and EU residents aged 18 or over, excluding employees and their immediate families of Marco Polo, its agents or anyone professionally connected with the promotion.
  2. To enter, simply comment on the blog post. Additional win-chances may be acquired by liking the Marco Polo Facebook page and by following the Marco Polo Twitter and Instagram accounts. If the entrant has done any of the mentioned actions, it should be stated in the comment.
  3. This competition will commence on 24 August 2017 and all entries must be received by 12.00 GMT on 1 September 2017. The Promoter accepts no responsibility for any entries that are incomplete, posted late, misdirected, and incorrect, garbled or fail to reach the Promoter by the closing date for any reason. Entries via agents or third parties are invalid.
  4. No purchase necessary, however internet access is required.
  5. The Prizes: 1 x prize winner will receive 5 x Marco Polo Spiral Guides: (£9.99 each) and a Fujifilm Instax Mini 8 camera.
  6. The prize must be taken as stated and no compensation will be payable if a winner is unable to use the prize as stated. The winner will be liable for all costs and expenses not stated relating to claiming or partaking of the prize.
  7. The promoter may substitute the prize for a prize of an equal or greater value if, for any reason the original item is unavailable.
  8. By entering, winners agree that if they win they will participate in any reasonable publicity arranged by The Promoter or its agencies.
  9. By entering the promotion entrants confirm that they have read and agree to be bound by these terms & conditions and by the decisions of the Promoter, which are final in all matters relating to the promotion. Failure to do so will result in the forfeiture of the prize. No correspondence will be entered into.
  10. The Promoter or its agencies accept no responsibility for any loss or damage suffered through acceptance of the prize.
  11. The Promoter or its agencies will not be responsible for the non-inclusion of entries as a result of technical failures or otherwise, including any such failure which is within the control of The Promoter or its agencies. Proof of submission of entry is not proof of receipt of entry.
  12. The Promoter reserves the right at its sole discretion to disqualify any person it finds to be tampering or to have tampered with the operation of the promotion or the Marco Polo website, or to be acting in violation of these terms and conditions.
  13. To the full extent permitted by law the Promoter will not accept liability for any loss, damage, injury or death arising from this promotion beyond its reasonable control.

The Promoter is Marco Polo Travel Publishing, Pinewood, Chineham Business Park, Crockford Lane, Chineham, Basingstoke, RG24 8AL


Only in Portugal

Castles, beaches and beautiful cities. Marco Polo loves Portugal! This is our list of things you can experience only in Portugal.

Marco Polo Portugal Guide

The huge number of castles dotted all over the country is astounding. One highlight is the Convento de Cristo Knights Templar castle high above Tomar. Explore the cloisters, gardens and hidden corners behind the high walls.

Experience the wildest yet a typical aspect of the country at the Cabo da Roca. Untamed nature with steep cliffs, whipping winds and thundering waves. This is the end of Europe, you’re standing on its last throne above the Atlantic.

Discover the rock art of the Parque Arqueológico do Vale do Côa in the valley of the Côa river: numerous unique rock drawings by prehistoric settlers. The rock slabs appear to be teeming with horses, goats and aurochs. An impressive place, deservedly amongst the World Heritage preserved by Unesco.

Every Thursday, for market day in Barcelos, the little town turns into a buzzing open-air bazaar for the Feira. Its colourful rows of stalls offers everything – food, clothing and typical crafts – and is not even expensive. Well worth a visit even if you don’t want to buy anything

Batalha boasts the Mosteiro de Santa Maria da Vitória, once inhabited by Dominicans and one of the most impressive monastic buildings in the country, having absorbed elements of the Gothic and Manueline styles. Experience the church, the cloisters and the Unfinished Chapels.

Thanks to its privileged climate and beaches, the Algarve enjoys a reputation as an oversized sun bed. A top-notch beach is the Praia da Falésia near Albufeira, beyond which rusty-red rock walls rise – a stunning contrast to the blue Atlantic!

Buy the Portugal Marco Polo Pocket Guide.

Portugal Marco Polo Guide

Something to say? Leave a comment below, tweet us @MarcoPoloGuides or tell us on Facebook.

Top 10 Things to Do in the Algarve

The Algarve is one of the most popular destinations in Portugal with its beaches and seemingly endless sunshine. With this Top 10 list of Marco Polo’s insider tips, you are sure to make the most of your time in the beautiful Algarve.

Marco Polo Portugal Guide


Enjoy picture­ perfect views off the coast of Lagos – bizarre, majestic cliffs interrupted by a medley of natural arches and caves. They’re best experienced on a boat tour.


Frequently whipped by hellish winds, this Cape, named after St. Vincent, plunges spectacularly down into the roaring sea below.


This magnificent beach is the sandy flagship of the Algarve. Overlooked by imposing walls of rust­ red cliffs, the Praia’s sweeping expanse of sand lies in the east of Albufeira, a popular holiday resort.


The fish market hall is a real high­light, and the fruit and vegetable stands are lively affairs, especially if you go on a Saturday.


A wildly romantic, rugged Atlantic beach near Carrapateira. It’s the perfect playground for surfers on the Costa Vicentina.


This small church on the edge of Almancil enchants visitors with its azulejos – the tiled décor here is extremely hard to beat.


With its river, churches, small castle, camera obscura and numerous refreshment stops, Tavira – the springboard for ex­ploring the Ilha de Tavira – boasts a selection of great attractions!


This border river flows peacefully past Vila Real de Santo António, the castle town of Alcoutim, and the bird­ rich wetlands of the Reserva Natural do Sapal.


This island, home to the pretty villages of Culatra and Farol, is in a world of its own. The boat ride through the Ria da Formosa nature park is worth the trip alone.

10. FARO

The Algarve’s largest city surprises visitors with its harbour, its historic architecture and its vibrant, bustling atmosphere. Check out the well­-preserved Old Town that’s surrounded by mighty walls.


Buy the Algarve Marco Polo Spiral Guide.

Algarve Marco Polo Guide

Something to say? Leave a comment below, tweet us @MarcoPoloGuides or tell us on Facebook.

That Algarve Feeling

Golden beaches, seafood and plenty of sunshine – the Algarve has it all, and more! With its breathtaking vistas and lively culture, the southern-most region of Portugal will steal your heart, as it has done for countless people before. Find out what makes the Algarve tick and experience its unique flair – just like the locals themselves, with Marco Polo’s insider tips:

Marco Polo Portugal Guide

Life’s a beach

Beaches might be a part of the Algarvios’ lives from a young age, but that doesn’t mean they let tourists hog all the best swimming and sunbathing spots for them­selves! The Algarve’s many beaches come in all shapes in sizes, ranging from the cliff­ lined shores at the Ponta da Piedade to the long expanses of sand near Monte Gordo and on the Ilha de Tavira. The region is a beach fan’s dream come true!

Fresh fish from the grill

If you see columns of smoke in the air, it’s nearly time to eat! These telltale signs come from simple restaurants and open­ air grills that serve swordfish, salmon, sardines and a great deal more. It’s a guaranteed taste sensation!

Fun in the sun

Golf, standup paddle boarding, sea kayak tours… you’ll find all this and more in the Algarve!
The Via Algarviana and the Rota Vicentina are popular long ­distance hiking trails, the Costa Vicentina boasts some excellent surfing beaches, and the best cycling can be found along the 214km (133 miles) ­long Ecovia that connects the Cabo de São Vicente in the west with the Rio Guadiana border river in the east.


No matter whether they’re large or small, indoors or out, on the coast or inland… locals love their markets! They go there to stock up on fresh seafood, fruit, vegetables, honey, garlic, spices, sausages and cheese. The best markets in the region are held in Olhão  and Loulé . There’s a bit of a carnival atmosphere there, particularly on Saturday mornings. Dive right in and enjoy the hustle and bustle!

Straight from the source

Farmers and beekeepers go to markets to sell their wares – but locals also sell goods right outside their front doors! You’ll often notice small crates or nets along the street filled with freshly plucked produce from the fields and private gardens. Depending on the season, you might stumble across  oranges, lemons, mandarins, melons and much more besides. Selling direct like this cuts out the middleman, and because there are no receipts, the taxman doesn’t get a share either…

Taking a break

Taking a break is an essential part of life in the south, and no break would be complete without a spot of coffee! You could choose a tiny espresso (café), which locals drink with plenty of sugar, or perhaps a large latte (galão) that’s served in a glass – beware: holding this clear container without burning yourself demands a great deal of skill!

Frolicsome festivals

The Algarvios might seem rather reserved, but they certainly know how to let their hair down during festivals. They celebrate Carnival for days on end in Loulé, the village of Alte and elsewhere. Patron saint and summer festivals are also pretty lively. Get stuck in and party like a local!

Bottles of liquid sun

The region’s wines, grown around Alvor, are a vital part of the Algarve experience.
The reds are full-bodied, the whites are smooth and fruity, and they all taste like they’ve been soaked in the southern sun!


Buy the Algarve Marco Polo Spiral Guide.

Algarve Marco Polo Guide

Something to say? Leave a comment below, tweet us @MarcoPoloGuides or tell us on Facebook.

Only in Lisbon

The Sleeping Beauty on the Tagus, Lisbon is steeped in the irresistible charm of times past. Magnificent palaces and monasteries bear witness to colonial riches; picturesque alleyways and staircases, pretty corners and sleepy squares enchant visitors. That’s not all though: the melancholy capital on the southwestern edge of Europe has another side that is dynamic, modern and cosmopolitan. Young hipsters party in the smart riverbank clubs and restaurants or get their kicks from bar-hopping in the party neighbourhood of Bairro Alto – and increasingly around the port of Cais de Sodré. 

Lisbon, once the capital of a large chunk of the world, today represents a melting pot of cultures. Lisbon – Lisboa (pronounced ‘lishbóa’) in Portuguese – is both metropolitan and provincial, multicultural and open to the world, welcoming and relaxed. ‘Live and let live’ is the motto here. The city and its inhabitants are imbued with a certain spirit of laissez-faire, which accompanies the much-referenced saudade. Considered the key to the soul of the Portuguese, this melancholy way of being is difficult to capture in words.

Lisbon Marco Polo Guide

Here are our top tips for unique experiences in Portugal’s vibrant capital!

Terraces with a view
Lisboetas, like tourists, are forever hunting the best view of the city and Tagus river. One of the finest vantage points is the Miradouro São Pedro de Alcântara looking across to the Old Town and Castelo.

Coffee culture
Students and office workers, elderly ladies and Atlantic coast surfers: they all share one habit – stopping for a coffee at any opportunity. The most famous and atmospheric place for this is the Café a Brasileira in Chiado.

Happy to be sad
You’ll hear fado, the ‘Portuguese blues’, with its undertones of melancholy and longing, on every corner in Lisbon. Don’t miss a live performance in one of the atmospheric fado venues.

A Streetcar named Nostalgia
The old-fashioned yellow trams are used by tourists and citizens alike. The No. 28 offers the best ride in town, rumbling up through narrow alleys, inches away from the houses.

Stay on the ball
Everybody knows that the people who brought us Figo and Ronaldo are football-mad. At the local derby between Benfica (red) and Sporting (green) things get pretty heated. But even ‘regular’ league games are always worth a party.

Look down
Lisbon’s famous calçada, pavements laid by skilled craftsmen, occasionally take on fabulous shapes and forms. Cast your eyes over the wave patterns on Rossio square or the phallic representations between the Brasileira café and the Benetton store in Chiado.

Up the town and down the town
One of Lisbon’s icons are the elevadores, funiculars and lifts that have been transporting people up to Chiado and the Bairro Alto for over 100 years.  Don’t miss being whizzed uptown in the cast-iron tower of the Elevador de Santa Justa!


Buy the Lisbon Marco Polo Guide.

Lisbon Marco Polo Guide

Something to say? Leave a comment below, tweet us @MarcoPoloGuides or tell us on Facebook.

Eat Like a Local – Lisbon

Traditional Portuguese cuisine is simple, rustic and hearty. Portions are usually generous. A hefty plate of fish or meat is complemented with rice and potatoes (often at the same time), plus a few lettuce leaves as standard garnish. 

Lisbon Marco Polo Guide

Local specialities you should try on your visit to Lisbon:

Açorda de marisco – bread stew with seafood

Amêijoas à bulhão pato – mussels in a garlic-lemon sauce

Arroz de pato – rice with duck

Bacalhau à brás – codfish potato gratin

Bife à Marrare – fillet of beef in a garlic and cream sauce

Bitoque – steak with fried egg and chips/fries

Bolo-Rei – ‘King’s Cake’, Christmas and Easter cake made with dried fruit

Cabrito – kid goat, prepared with fresh herbs

Caldeirada à fragateira – fish stew with tomatoes and potato

Caldo verde – soup made from green cabbage and potato

Chanfana – goat in wine sauce

Cozido à portuguesa – hearty stew of various cuts of meat and vegetables

Favas à moda de Lisboa – fava beans with bacon and sausage

Feijoada à portuguesa – bean stew with sausage

Frango na púcara – chicken, prepared in a clay pot

Iscas com elas – liver with spleen

Lulas recheadas – stuffed squid

Pão-de-ló – biscuit cake

Pastéis de bacalhau – fried codfish pasties

Pastéis de Belém – custard tarts

Peixinhos da horta – fried green beans in tempura

Porco à alentejana – pork goulash with mussels

Queijadas de Sintra – sweet curd pastries from Sintra

Rissóis de camarão – fried prawn rissoles

Salada de polvo – octopus salad

LIsbon Marco Polo Guide

Restaurants serving traditional Portuguese cuisine:

O Miudinho
Get off the beaten track at the Miudinho in Carnide, a charming old-fashioned neighbourhood in the north of Lisbon. Don’t let first impressions – a modern development – put you off. The simple restaurant serves traditional Portuguese fare, specialising in meat and fish from the charcoal grill. Large helpings, low prices! Closed Sun | Rua Neves Costa, 21 | tel. 2 17 14 01 20 | | Metro (blue) Carnide | Budget

Sol e Pesca
This former angling equipment and tinned fish shop in the port quarter – now a hip nightlife mile – has been converted into an informal bar-restaurant. Choose your tin of fish, pay an additional €2.50 for bread and salad, and you’re good to go. Tue–Sat noon–midnight, Fri/Sat sometimes up to 4am | Rua Nova do Carvalho 44 | Metro (green) Cais do Sodré | Budget

Cervejaria da Trindade
This is the classic place to enjoy a beer in Lisbon. The large rooms form part of a former monastery church. In summer, you can sit in the small, shady garden. Whether meat or fish, a whole meal or only a couple of tapas (appetisers), there is something to eat most times of the day or night. Daily 10am–1.30am, Closed on public holidays | Rua Nova da Trindade, 20c | tel. 2 13 42 35 06 | | Metro (blue, green) Baixa-Chiado | Moderate

Faz Figura
This is one of Lisbon’s classic restaurants, with a beautiful view across the Tagus. Its light-filled conservatory and terrace make it a favourite meeting place for wealthy Lisbon families. It offers fine Portuguese and international cuisine, including vegetarian dishes. Very friendly service. Daily | tel. 2 18 86 89 81 | Alfama | Rua do Paraíso, 15B | | bus 12 to Rua do Paraíso | Expensive


Buy the Lisbon Marco Polo Guide.

Lisbon Marco Polo Guide

What’s the best thing you have ever tasted in Lisbon? Comment below, tweet us @MarcoPoloGuides or tell us on Facebook.

Top 10 Things To Do On Madeira

Marco Polo’s list of the top 10 things not to be missed on Madeira! Our best recommendations – from the top down – help you to plan your tour of Madeira’s most important sights.

Madeira Marco Polo Guide

Funchal’s Old Town district with its restored houses and rustic restaurants is the absolute number one – night and day.

In the area around Madeira’s highest peaks, the Pico do Arieiro and the Pico Ruivo, the island’s raw beauty is absolutely overwhelming.

A hill village that resembles an enchanted fairy-tale park with lush vegetation and magical art.

One highlight of a visit to this pretty holiday town is a dip in the cool water lapping between the black lava cliffs.

The view from Eira do Serrado down into the Nun’s Valley is absolutely breathtaking.

One of the best places to go to explore Madeira’s famous laurel forest – a UNESCO World Heritage Site – is Ribeiro Frio (Cold Stream). A walk to the Balcões (Balcony) viewpoint takes you into the midst of this green splendour.

This venerable 18th century mansion is not only home to an impressive array of art treasures, it also showcases typical island architecture. The garden, which is full of archaeological gems, is a veritable oasis of calm in the town.

Madeira’s second largest town – after the capital of Funchal – boasts historic churches and fortresses as well as a golden yellow, albeit artificially created, sandy beach. Beach time!

Between Sao Vincente and Porto Moniz a road carved into the cliffside tunnels its way from one spectacular view to the next. Admire the unique coastal panorama at, for instance, the Véu da Noiva viewpoint not far from Seixal.

Madeira’s most valuable asset is a liquid asset: its golden Madeira wine, which is produced in, among other places, Adegas de São Francisco. You can try this fine wine in the former Franciscan monastery.


Buy the Madeira Marco Polo Spiral Guide.

Madeira Marco Polo Guide

Something to say? Comment below, tweet us @MarcoPoloGuides or tell us on Facebook.