Why all your friends are going to Portugal right now


Everyone and their mother seems to be traveling to Portugal these days. Though it's been a budding tourist destination for quite some time, in the last two years, it's topped list after list as one of the best travel destinations—and it's easy to see why. This coastal nation is home to some of Europe's finest beaches, medieval castles, wine country and port towns. Even better, it's relatively affordable.

If you're looking for a last-minute fall getaway or somewhere to take advantage of Europe's shoulder season, look no further than this trendier-than-thou destination.

But don't worry: Though travelers are flocking there in droves, there are plenty of hidden gems to discover and off-the-beaten-path journeys to take, even in the major tourist hubs. If you find yourself in the Algarve, Lisbon or Porto (which you should—there's a good reason everyone goes to these three hubs), here's how to carve out your own experience, away from the crowds. You'll be one-upping your friends' by-the-book itineraries in no time.

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23 travel destinations you didn't know existed
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23 travel destinations you didn't know existed

Tucked away under the surface, the Marieta Islands' "Hidden Beach" is a secret beach with crystal-clear waters that travelers can access either by swimming or kayaking through a long water tunnel.

Photo Credit: Facebook/Marieta Islands Hidden Beach

Huacachina is a desert oasis located five hours south of Lima, Peru. The watering hole was once a popular getaway for the upper class escaping from nearby Ica, but now it has become a stop for backpackers who come here to enjoy activities like sand boarding and dune buggy rides.

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Those who visit Blagaj, a village in Bosnia and Herzegovina, are often in awe at the majestic sight of the Blagaj Tekke — a monastery built for the Dervish cults. Visitors are welcome to enjoy its wooden interiors or have a cold drink while overlooking the striking Buna river.

Photo credit: Getty 

Australia's Lake Hillier maintains its vibrant pink color year-round. The cause of the color remains a mystery, though some say it could be the result of its high salt content combined with the presence of a pink bacteria species.

Photo Credit: Getty 

The Silfra fissure, located within Iceland's Thingvellir National Park, is one of the only places in the world where visitors can swim between two continents. Not only is it home to some of the world's clearest waters, but in some instances, the spaces are so narrow that swimmers can actually touch the continental plates of both North America and Europe.

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In the 1600s, Isola Bella was transformed from what was once a barren rock in the middle of Lake Maggiore, Italy, to a blossoming garden and palace. Besides the palace, the area is also known for its stunning baroque gardens.

(Photo by Olaf Protze/LightRocket via Getty Images)

Malta's Popeye Village was originally created as a film set for the 1980 film "Popeye" before being repurposed into a theme park. The set was created using tree trunks brought in from Holland and around 2,000 gallons of paint. Today, visitors can enjoy boat rides, a winery, and water trampolines.

Photo Credit: Getty 

The Dongchuan Red Land is located in the town of Xintian in China and is known for its striking red hue. The soil in the area contains oxidized iron and minerals that produce the color, and blooming plants throughout the year add to the colorful sight.

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The Door to Hell, located in Derweze, Turkmenistan, is a giant hole of fire that was created when geologists accidentally tapped into a cavern teeming with natural gas. They burned off the hole, hoping that the fire would use all of the fuel that leaked and inevitably burn out, but it has continued burning to this day.

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The island of Flores, located in the westernmost point of the Azores Archipelago off the coast of Portugal, gets its name from the bountiful wildflowers that surround the area. It also has natural hot springs and lagoons that make for a relaxing swim.

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Giola is a natural pool located within the Astris region of Greece. Visitors will need to walk a trail to reach it, but once they do, they can enjoy a water reservoir with stunningly clear waters.

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Admire the stunning neo-Gothic architecture of Las Lajas Sanctuary, which crosses a gorge on the border between Colombia and Ecuador. Marvel at its landscape, set 150 feet above the river in between lush cliffs and waterfalls, before seeing its gorgeous interiors.

 (Photo credit should read LUIS ACOSTA/AFP/Getty Images)

During its rainy season, the Lençóis Maranhenses National Park in Maranhão, Brazil, is an unforgettable sight. Thanks to the nearly 47 inches of rain it gets each year, pools form between its massive dunes, creating thousands of clear lagoons. The best time to visit is between July and September, when the pools are at their most full.

(Photo by Ricardo Siqueira/Brazil Photos/LightRocket via Getty Images)

Guatemala's Semuc Champey is a paradise for those in search of turquoise waters hidden amidst a lush landscape. Though the ride there can be bumpy, once you arrive, you'll find a limestone bridge with a series of natural pools that provide cool waters ideal for swimming.

(EITAN ABRAMOVICH/AFP/Getty Images)

Soak your feet in the hot springs of Rotorua, a New Zealand city known for its geysers, thermal springs, and bubbling mud pools. It's nicknamed the "Sulphur City," and visitors can also partake in water sports in the region's many lakes.

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Setenil de las Bodegas grew out of a network of caves located in the cliffs above the Rio Trejo in Spain. Today, its white houses have been built within this network, and some even have rock roofs. The area is also home to bars, restaurants, and spectacular food.

 (Photo by: Geography Photos/UIG via Getty Images)

Journey to Namaqualand, an arid region that stretches over some 600 miles in Namibia and South Africa. Every spring, the barren area suddenly fills with orange and white daisies, creating one of the most surreal landscapes in the world.

Photo Credit: Getty 

Discovered in 1836 by a hunter, France's Grotte de St Marcel d'Ardèche is home to almost 200,000 feet of known passageways. Here, travelers will find an underground network of water basins and breathtaking rock formations.

Photo Credit: Facebook/Grotte de Saint Marcel d'Ardèche

Discovered in 1836 by a hunter, France's Grotte de St Marcel d'Ardèche is home to almost 200,000 feet of known passageways. Here, travelers will find an underground network of water basins and breathtaking rock formations.

Photo Credit: Getty 

The small town of Castellucio di Norcia sits near Norcia in Umbria, Italy. The town is famous for its brilliant display of flowers that bloom from late May to early July.

Photo Credit: Getty 

A small fishing village located about 200 miles west of Fortaleza in Brazil, Jericoacoara is the kind of place where the streets are paved with sand and beaches stretch for miles in every direction. The sleepy beach town attracts kite-surfers and windsurfers from around the world.

Photo Credit: Getty 

The Marble Caves, which are located on a peninsula bordering Lake General Carrera in Chile, are a breathtaking cave network where thousands of years of waves washing up against calcium carbonate have formed swirling marble patterns on cavern walls.

Photo Credit: Getty 

Pangong Tso is a lake that stretches over 60 miles from India to China, making it one of the largest lakes in Asia. With clear waters that reflect its mountainous surroundings beautifully, the lake is a striking sight for visitors to enjoy.

Photo Credit: Getty 

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The Algarve: Go for the beaches; stay for the picturesque towns.

Portugal's southernmost region shines with stunning beaches sandwiched between enormous, jagged cliffs and turquoise water. Don't miss the world-famous Praia de Benagil and Praia da Marinha outside Lagoa, where secret caves and arched rock formations jutting out of the sea draw sun worshipers from all over. But when you're ready to escape the masses, head to some of the picturesque and less-trodden cities and villages for a taste of what the Algarve was like before the entire UK starting going there on holiday.

East of Farol, one of the Algarve's biggest cities, is Tavira, a coastal town that hasn't fallen prey to the glitzy resorts and swarms of tourists that have taken over much of the region. The nearby beaches—some of which lie on barrier islands accessible only by boat—are quieter, too, so it's worth spending a few days in the area, island-hopping by day and wandering the town at night. Follow the locals to Alagoa beach or the natural park of Ria Formosa, where you can take a ferry out to tranquil beaches on Farol or Armona Island. Cap off the day back in Tavira over excellent tapas served in hefty portions at D'Gusta or refreshing Mediterranean fare at Aquasul.

Lisbon: Go for the food and sights; stay for the shopping.

The famous pastel de nata, an egg tart cupped in puff pastry (see the recipe); a hilltop Moorish castle; and beautiful churches would be enough to attract any tourist to Portugal's capital city. Or you could spend all day getting lost in the mazelike Alfama neighborhood and drink the night away in the Bairro Alto.

But beyond the food, drink and sights, there's shopping to be done. It might not be Paris or Milan, but Lisbon is home to a host of fashion boutiques, home goods and handicraft stores, and provisions marketplaces that would put any city to shame.

The guidebooks will send you to TimeOut Market, which is definitely worth a visit. But take time to explore smaller, locally driven boutiques like Atelier 1200, a studio and shop featuring handmade textiles, shoes and accessories made with traditional methods and sustainable resources. Or check out Typographia, a T-shirt shop that works with local artists and designers, and has now expanded outside Portugal to Barcelona and Madrid. For home goods, try YOYO Objects, which sells furniture and lighting from mostly Portuguese designers; Retroshop for fun, vintage finds; or Prego sem Estopa for contemporary pieces that range from dining tables to pillows. Dig around for a little bit of everything at A Vida Portuguesa, and when you need another book to read over glasses of port or the local cherry liqueur, marvel at the impressive Ler Devagar bookstore or catch the mobile, book-selling van, Tell a Story.

Porto & the Douro Valley: Go for the wine; stay for the nature.

Whether it's the narrow alleyways of Ribeira, a UNESCO World Heritage neighborhood; the Dom Luís I Bridge over the Douro river; or the array of cool bars, the appeal of Portugal's second-biggest city is clear. But after a few days of exploring the streets and sampling the region's famous ports, escape to the Douro Valley not just to visit the vineyards (and drink more wine), but also to rest and relax at some of Europe's best and most underrated retreats and natural parks.

Check out riverside Vintage House Hotel, where you can set up wine tastings and picnics in a nearby vineyard; unwind at Quinta de Pindela, an old family estate where you can get your hands dirty on the farm and explore the countryside; or treat yourself to a spa day at wellness retreat Six Senses. It's not all about the hotels either. Peneda-Gerês National Park, about an hour north of Porto, is home to untouched valleys, waterfalls and thermal springs; and Douro International Natural Park, which lies along the Spanish border, is ideal for river views and activities, wildlife spotting and hikes.

This month, we've decided to Turn Up the Heat, and nothing's off-limits—not even dessert. We're bringing you all the fiery recipes, spicy dishes and hot new trends you can handle.

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The cheapest places to travel in the US
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The cheapest places to travel in the US

1. Orlando, Florida

For the second year in a row, Orlando is our most affordable travel destination for both individuals and families. A single traveler can expect to pay about $800.04 on average. A family of four can expect to pay $2,283.85. It helps that round-trip plane tickets to Orlando are 8.3% cheaper than in 2016. That’s the second-largest price decrease in our top 10.

The biggest draw to Orlando is likely the theme parks. Orlando is, after all, “The Theme Park Capital of the World”. However, there are a lot of other things for families to do, as well. At the Orlando Science Center you can see dinosaur fossils in the morning and then stargaze in the Crosby Observatory at night. Looking for nature? Check out the Leu Gardens, a 50-acre botanical sanctuary. Orlando also has a number of well-kept golf courses for everyone from the casual player to the serious PGA fan.

Photo credit: Getty

2. Las Vegas, Nevada

Las Vegas moves up one spot from 2016 to claim number two in this year’s study. One big factor in this move is that an average round-trip flight ticket costs only $223.49. This is the lowest cost to any major U.S. city in our study.

There’s more to Sin City than casinos. Downtown Las Vegas serves as a hub for arts and culture. There are great shows, concerts, food and entertainment options. Listen to the Las Vegas Philharmonic at the Smith Center for the Performing Arts. Visit the Las Vegas Natural History Museum to learn about rainforests, dinosaurs and ancient Egypt. Or you can stop by the Mob Museum to look back at organized crime’s unique impact on Las Vegas.

Photo credit: Getty

3. Fort Lauderdale, Florida

With its highest ranking since we started this study in 2015, Fort Lauderdale is the third-most affordable travel destination for a family of four in 2017. At $240.85, Fort Lauderdale has the second-lowest average flight ticket cost behind only Las Vegas. Flight ticket costs play a big part in affordability for a family of four and helped Fort Lauderdale rank so high.

Fort Lauderdale is one of the most popular tourist destinations in the U.S. and it’s easy to see why. There’s near constant sun and temperatures above 65 degrees Fahrenheit almost all year. You can have some fun at the beaches or take a gondola ride through the city’s canalways. Fort Lauderdale also is a major yachting destination in the U.S. and features one of the world’s largest annual boat shows.

Photo credit: Getty

4. Phoenix, Arizona

Phoenix, Arizona continues its rise. After finishing 10th in 2015 and eighth in 2016, Phoenix ranks as the fourth-most affordable destination for a family of four (and also an individual traveler) in 2017. Phoenix has the fifth-lowest hotel rate in our study at $113.58 and the ninth-lowest average restaurant meal cost at $25.

Downtown Phoenix is home to a lot of performing arts so whether you’re looking for theater, opera, ballet or films, you’ll probably find something that strikes your fancy. Phoenix also has the largest municipal park system in the country, with over 41,900 acres of city parks. You can find plentiful hiking, camping, swimming and climbing. Take the family down to the Desert Botanical Garden and the Phoenix Zoo. Certain nights between November and January, both of these venues illuminate thousands of lights for shows and festivals.

Photo credit: Getty

5. Tucson, Arizona

One county over from Phoenix is Tucson. Round-trip airfare to Tucson is relatively high at $384.06. However once you get there, you’ll find the third-lowest average hotel room cost in our study ($101.95). Tucson is also tied (with San Antonio, Texas) for the lowest average restaurant meal cost at just $20.

Tucson is a great place for people who love sunny days and high temperatures. Bicyclists can ride down the Tucson Loop Bike Path for over 100 miles of shared-use paths. And family fun can be found at the Pima County Fair. It runs for 11 days in April and features live animal shows, concerts and carnival rides.

Photo credit: Getty

6. Reno, Nevada

Reno, Nevada took a small drop from 2016 and comes in at sixth in this year’s travel affordability ranking. A big reason for the tumble is a 13.68% increase in the average hotel room cost. Although, at $100.46 per night, Reno still has the second-cheapest hotel rates in our study.

Like Las Vegas, Reno has a number of casinos where visitors can test their luck. The city also offers opportunities for biking, camping, hunting, fishing and mountain climbing. The Wilbur D. May Arboretum and Botanical Garden covers 12 acres and is free to the public. Fans of performing arts can watch theater productions at the Pioneer Center for the Performing Arts. There is also the Nevada Opera and the Reno Philharmonic Orchestra to go see. And the National Automobile Museum is consistently voted one of the top automobile museums in the nation.

Photo credit: Getty

7. Albuquerque, New Mexico

Albuquerque, New Mexico stays in the top 10 for the third straight year and is the seventh-most affordable travel destination for families in 2017. One reason Albuquerque ranks well is because at just $92.35, it has the lowest nightly hotel rate in our study. The average restaurant meal is $23.75, eighth-lowest in our study.

Biking and hiking trails abound in Albuquerque whether you’re looking for a casual stroll or a serious day excursion. Visitors can try birding and there are green golf courses throughout the city. If you’re looking for stunning vistas, you can ride the Sandia Peak Aerial Tramway to the 10,378-foot peak of the Sandia Mountains. There you take in a panorama of more than 11,000 square miles. Kids will enjoy the city’s botanical gardens, museums and aquariums.

Photo credit: Getty

8. Kansas City, Missouri

Kansas City, Missouri claims the title of this year’s biggest mover. It climbed nine spots to become the eighth-most affordable travel destination for families. Part of the reason for the climb is that round-trip flights cost only $345.35 on average. That’s a 4.67% decrease from 2016 and Kansas City also has the third-lowest restaurant meal cost ($21.75 per meal) in our study.

Kansas City is also affordable due to its high number of free sites and activities. Hitch a ride on the 2.2-mile KC streetcar line to discover the city’s vibrant downtown. Bring your hiking gear down to a number of parks and nature sanctuaries. Looking for art? Take part in First Fridays, one of the nation’s largest, free art crawls. Looking to expand your U.S. knowledge? You can also visit a number of museums, many of them free.

Photo credit: Getty

9. Jacksonville, Florida

Jacksonville, Florida is the ninth-most affordable destination for a family of four in 2017. This is the third straight year that Jacksonville has come in ninth. Flights to Jacksonville cost a bit more than some other cities but once you get there, the nightly hotel rate of $103.60 is the fourth-lowest in our study. Restaurant meals cost $25 on average. That’s the ninth-lowest amount in our study.

Jacksonville is great for a summer getaway thanks to its sunny climate and beautiful beaches. Paddleboard in the Atlantic, go fishing at the Jacksonville Beach Fishing Pier or catch a wave on your surfboard. Rent a snorkel or scuba gear so you can check out Blackmar’s Reef, which features an abundance of marine life. Jacksonville also has a number of city, state and national parks to explore. Kayak through the city’s nature-filled waterways or stroll through Jacksonville’s arboretum and gardens.

Photo credit: Getty

10. Milwaukee, Wisconsin

Milwaukee, Wisconsin rose six spots to become the 10th-most affordable destination for a family in 2017. The average round-trip plane ticket to Milwaukee costs $326.53. That’s fifth-lowest in our top 10 and represents more than a 8.3% price decrease from last year.

At an affordable average price of $25 per meal, you’ll want to explore Milwaukee’s diverse food scene. And don’t forget that Wisconsin is “America’s Dairyland”. You’d be well-advised to look for artisanal cheeses and chocolates. Bike riders will enjoy the city’s 130+ miles of bike trails. Golfers can hit the links at one of Milwaukee’s 15 golf courses. The curious traveler should investigate the city’s dozens of theaters and museums. And kids will enjoy the Discovery Center’s fascinating exhibits on science and technology.

Photo credit: Getty

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