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Regions

For touristic purposes, Portugal is usually divided in the following regions:

North
often considered the birthplace of the nation (Guimaraes was Portugal's first capital), corresponds roughly to the area between Galicia and the Douro river. Includes the districts of Viana do Castelo, Braga, Porto (the second largest city), Vila Real and Braganza, as well as some of the biggest natural parks of the country like Geres, Montesinho or Douro Internacional. The very green and populated West side (Minho and Douro Litoral), hosting most of Portugal's small to medium sized industries, contrasts with a drier landscape in the East (Tras os Montes), more based on small villages and agriculture. The whole region is very mountainous and lots of rivers flow through it, especially in the Minho. It is the region with more monuments and a bigger concentration of places of interest.
Center
includes the districts of Aveiro, Coimbra, Viseu, Guarda and Castelo Branco. The area around Aveiro is very flat, dominated by the confluence of several rivers, while the interior holds the mainland's tallest mountain: Serra da Estrela. Home to some of the most picturesque villages, built mostly from schist or granite.
Lisbon and West
comprises the districts of Leiria, Santarem, Lisbon (the capital) and Setubal. There's a sharp contrast between the relatively flat valley of Tagus river and the mountains towards the ocean side as well as between the heavily populated metropolitan area of Lisbon and the rest of the region. Besides Lisbon itself, the most visited places are Sintra and Fatima (a famous pilgrimage place).
Alentejo
between the gorgeous mostly unexplored beaches in the west and a more mountainous, greener area in the East, along the border with Spain, lies a mostly flat and unpopulated region. But, even so, not less interesting. Includes the districts of Portalegre, Evora and Beja. It's the hottest, driest region in the country - for that reason, a big damn was built in Alqueva, creating the largest artificial lake in Europe, which is slowly changing the landscape around that area and nowadays rivals in beauty with some of more popular lakes.
Algarve
coinciding roughly with the district of Faro, this region is the most famous beach destination in the country, both for Portuguese and foreigners, which more than double the local population during Summer times. The sea front has, therefore, become a long beach resort at many points. Not withstanding, the North side of the region, away from the ocean, has still lots of historic and natural areas to explore, for those who look for a quieter way to spend their time.
Azores
archipelago of 9 main islands, lost in the middle of the Atlantic, almost half way between Europe and North America. The island of Pico has the highest point in Portugal, which is often hiked to the top from sea level in one day. Each island has its own landscape and diversity is guaranteed, even within the bigger islands sometimes. The volcanic activity that an still be found in some islands, the hordes of dolphins and whales that swim around them and the flowers that border the roads are some of the attractions that keep bringing people to the Azores. They pride themselves on practicing a sustainable tourism and have won awards in that area. The most famous event are the celebrations in honor of the Santo Cristo, about 1 month after Easter, which yearly attract thousands of people from all around the world.
Madeira
this archipelago located away from the shore of North Africa and North of the Canary islands, is comprised of two populated islands: Madeira and Porto Santo. Madeira is a rather mountainous island, very green, often compared to a garden. Porto Santo is a small island, but the south side is one big beach, with clear and warm waters all year round. Funchal, the capital of Madeira, holds one of the most famous reveillons worldwide.

Cities

People

Portuguese are often considered welcoming people. Sometimes initially suspicious, on a first contact with a stranger, many will nevertheless go to great extents to try and help out a tourist in need, even if they can't speak the same language. Starting a contact with some words in Portuguese may go a long way to quickly break the initial ice.

Getting around

There are usually good public transport connections between the district capitals and between these and the neighboring towns. In the mainland, the west side has a fairly good network of railroad and bus connections. As you move to the interior, the train has usually been deactivated and the bus is the main means of public transportation, along with the taxi.

Both Porto and Lisbon have a well developed network of public transit, including metro, bus and suburban trains. In Lisbon's case, there's also an extensive network of ferry connections to the south bank of the Tagus river. There are integrated fare systems in place that let you switch easily between these different means of transportation. Most district capitals have their own local bus company too, which you can often find from the local municipality website.

If you plan to move around aways from the cities and major towns, however, renting a car is highly recommended. Hitchhiking is not easy (although not impossible either), especially in the cities. In the countryside it may be easier to find a friendly ride to one of the major centers but it's still hard to travel this way between smaller places. Take notice that, although Portugal now has an efficient network of highways that make traveling around easier and faster, these highways are often tolled, so be sure to take that cost into account along with the rental and fuel prices.

Train Companies :
CP : Portugal's main train company, that covers most of the country
Fertagus : train connections between Lisbon and Setubal
Bus Companies :
Rede Expressos : the operator with the biggest coverage in the country
Renex : connects Lisbon to the Algarve and Porto to the Northwest.
Transdev : covers some of the cities in the Center region
EVA Transportes : covers mostly the Algarve region
Ferries :
Transtejo : connect Lisbon to the South bank of the river

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