Portugal's Tourism Industry

Portugal sits on the edge of the Iberian Peninsula in Southern Europe. Each year, millions of tourists from around the world are attracted to the country's idyllic beaches, historic towns, rich culture and beautiful natural heritage. One of the warmest and sunniest destinations in Europe, Portugal offers visitors stunning beaches. From rugged mountains to expansive plains, the country's dynamic countryside also provide tourists a slower pace compared to the bustling cities of Lisbon and Porto. The country offers a vast array of destinations and attractions to explore. As a result, tourism has become one of Portugal's most important economic sectors.

Portugal's tourism industry traces its roots to the 18th century Grand Tour of Europe, although visitors have travelled to the country for centuries. As a significant world maritime power, foreign nationals visited Lisbon between the 17th and 19th centuries for trade and commerce. Political and artistic reasons also brought visitors to the country. From the mid-19th century and the advent of modern tourism, Portugal's natural beauty and climate attracted nobility and the emerging bourgeoisie of Europe. The Universal Expositions in London and Paris, as well as the development of modern tourism infrastructure and services pioneers by Thomas Cook also spurred a new spirit of exploration through travel and tourism.

Now, tourism is one of the most important sectors in Portugal's economy. Portugal's National Statistics Institute estimates that the number of foreign visitors to the country was 7.7 million in 2012. According to the World Travel and Tourism Council, tourism directly contributed €9.2 billion in 2011 or 5.3% of the total Gross Domestic Product (GDP). In total, Portugal's travel and tourism sector contributed €26.2 billion or 15.2% of GDP. In the same year, tourism directly employed an estimated 322,000 job in Portugal or 6.6% of all employment. Visitors travel from across the globe, particularly France, the United Kingdom, Spain, the United States, Germany, Switzerland and Norway, and Portuguese speaking nations such as Angola, Brazil and Mozambique according to Turismo de Portugal, the government agency responsible for promoting the industry in Portugal.

Major Destinations

Perhaps Portugal's most visited destination is its capital, Lisbon. The city of the seven hills is a perfect getaway for a city break, a romantic weekend or a family vacation. Its rich history, quaint alleyways and beautiful architecture make it one of Europe's most stunning capitals. The medieval Castelo de São Jorge, the historic districts of Chiado and Baixa, and bustling squares such as Rossio and Praça do Comércio are popular attractions. The riverside neighbourhood of Belem is where visitors find the Torre de Belem overlooking the mouth of the Tagus River and the impressive Jerónimos Monastery. The region surrounding Lisbon also feature some of Portugal's most popular and memorable attractions, including the pilgriomage site of Fatima, the walled city of Obidos, and the ornate palace of Sintra. Beaches also line the coastline west of the capital, including Cascais, Estoril and Guincho.

The northern city of Porto is also a popular destination with travellers to Portugal. The home of country's Port wine industry, Porto has a more industrial feel compared to Lisbon. Wineries dot the lush and scenic Douro Valley, where visitors can tour the Douro River by boat or along its banks by rail. Recognised as a UNESCO World Heritage Site, the city centre has been inhabited since at least the 4th century. The North of Portugal is also home of Guimarães, considered the birthplace of the country and Portugal's first king, Afonso Henriques.

While largely undiscovered by foreign visitors, the centre of Portugal is a diverse region. Small towns dot the rocky and mountainous landscape, including the charming village of Monsanto, the historic city of Guarda, and the Serra da Estrela National Park. Home of continental Portugal's tallest peak, the national park is a popular destination for hiking, paragliding and camping. Skiing is even possible during Portugal's brief winter. To the south, the expansive region of the Alentejo features quiet beaches, picturesque towns and boundless plains. The region is home to open and rollings landscapes broken only by olive trees and cork oaks. Alentejo also features a rich history, including well-preserved Roman ruins in Evora.

With golf courses perched on cliffs overlooking the ocean to lovely resort towns, the Algarve is one of the country's most visited regions. Small fishing villages, luxury resorts and some 30 golf courses attract every type of tourist. An ideal location for a beach holiday, visitors will find every type of beach here from popular family-friendly resorts to secluded beaches hidden by imposing cliffs. Another popular beach holiday destination is Madeira, a tropical island situated off the coast of Africa. Also in the Atlantic are the nine islands of the Azores. The enchanting islands were first colonised by Portuguese explores searching for ocean trade routes. Each with its own character, the islands are perfect bases to view dolphins and whales. The volcanic landscapes with dramatic cliffs and hot springs are also perfect for experiencing the outdoors, including camping, hiking and sailing.