5 Unique Portuguese experiences
April 06, 2021
Portugal might be a small country, about the size of Maine, but it offers a big variety of food, artistic practices, music, and traditional crafts among many other things. We’ve put together a list of experiences that are bucket-list essentials of a trip to Portugal and that you won't be able to get anywhere else.
1. Blow glass in Marinha Grande
This town, in the Centro de Portugal region, is the heartland of the Portuguese glass industry and preserves the traditional craft of glassblowing, as well as the production of table glassware. Visit factory stores, workshops or the Museum of Glass to learn about the glassmaking process and in some places you can see an artisan blowing glass live.
Marinha Grande is close to several Atlantic Portugal beaches, such as the world-famous surfing hotspot Nazaré.
2. Shop at Bolhão Market in Porto
This is a 19thcentury market set in the heart of downtown Porto where you can find fresh products, fish, meats and flowers. Mercado do Bolhão is a unique shopping experience because here the sellers, typically older women, have a distinctive way of marketing their products: by yelling a loud chant. They greet customers with puns or funny remarks and the whole atmosphere is warm and exuberant, true to Portuguese Northern character. It has to be on your bucket list!
3. Learn how to make traditional Arraiolos carpets
Arraiolos is a charming town in Alentejo topped by a medieval castle has a long tradition of embroidery and tapestry rugs, admired by many for their colorful floral designs. Today there are still workshops where these carpets are handmade. You surely won’t come out of there with a finished carpet, but you will appreciate the craftsmanship put into this ancient art. This is a mandatory stop on any trip to the Alentejo, the Portuguese region famed for great wines, delicious food and beautiful natural landscapes of endless rolling plains and cork oak groves.
4. Listen to a serenade in Coimbra
Coimbra is home to the oldest University in Portugal, established in 1290, and the birthplace of the student fado, a variant of Portuguese fado known as the song of Coimbra. Fado serenades are quite common in the city, especially around graduation season, when groups of students dressed in their traditional black college gowns gather on the streets and sing, sometimes dedicating a romantic fado to a special person in the crowd. When visiting Coimbra, stop by the local fado clubs, where you can have a drink and listen - Fado ao Centro or A Capella do Fado at night and listen to one of these moving live performances.
5. Take a downhill wicker toboggan on Madeira
Madeira is a very mountainous semi-tropical Portuguese island and wicker toboggans appeared around the 1850s as a faster means of transportation from the hills to the lower settlements, like the capital Funchal. Although today toboggans are not needed anymore, they remain a popular and fun way to explore Madeira’s slopes and can reach a speed of almost 30 mph. Toboggan ride operators on Madeira provide the old-timey traditional experience and the two drivers that steer the cart are dressed in all-white cotton clothes and straw hats.
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