Six beautiful holiday destinations in Portugal that are free

Spain is the UK’s favourite holiday destination. France may be our closest continental neighbour and the world’s most-visited country, but Spanish Costas, islands and cities reel in a higher number of British holidaymakers. Around 18 million of us visit each year.

The sheer number of tourist arrivals from the UK and elsewhere has led Spain’s authorities to impose rules that seek to tackle antisocial behaviour – from fines for peeing in the sea to limits on how many alcoholic drinks package travellers are served, and at what time.

This new raft of strictures somewhat dampens the holiday spirit of even the more respectful tourists. Look just to the south or west of Spain, however, and in Portugal you’ll find many destinations that can offer the same qualities that we’ve come to love in the country next door.

Quiet islands, long stretches of coast, and urban areas that will delight food lovers are among these six Portuguese alternatives.

Escape to an island… in Madeira

Porto Santo is just a ferry ride away from Madeira’s main island (Photo: Getty Images)

British travellers have arrived in Mallorca on package holidays since the 1950s. Palma is familiar with younger revellers, but the largest Balearic island is also well-equipped for families. Some may be deterred by the new push against tourists behaving in potentially unsavoury ways. Take the dress code ruling, which bans patrons from entering a number of restaurants if they are wearing football jerseys, ‘stag do’-style costumes or are shirtless.

If such rules don’t fill you with pre-holiday excitement you could enjoy a little Mediterranean island culture – albeit in the middle of the Atlantic Ocean – on Portugal’s Madeira islands. Madeira tends to be associated with slightly older British travellers who are lured by its fortified wine, lush volcanic landscape and charmingly retro corners; afternoon teas at Reid’s Palace hotel, where Winston Churchill chose to stay when writing his memoirs, for example, are accompanied by a pianist.

There’s plenty to please families, however, from jeep tours that take you up into the mountains to basket sledge rides. Nearby Porto Santo is a 2.5-hour ferry ride from the main island and offers pristine beaches and a little extra quiet.

Tui offers seven-night holidays to Funchal staying at the 4T+ Vidamar Resorts Madeira on a half-board basis. Prices from £912pp, based on two adults and two children sharing, flights departing from London Gatwick on 8 August, and transfers (

Get active… in the Azores

The Caldera in São Miguel; the island is known for its whale-watching (Photo: Getty Images)

The Spanish city of Vigo takes the award for the most attention-grabbing tourist policy: charging beachgoers £750 for peeing in the sea. Over-18s can, one would hope, avoid such fines and wait until they have made it to a public toilet. The measure may, however, deter parents travelling with children.

No one will be monitoring such habits in the Portuguese archipelago of the Azores, which is made up of nine islands. Here, holidaymakers will find many of the attractions for which Vigo is known. Active families can head on its hiking trails, a restored network of footpaths that were once trampled by donkeys and mules. The island of Santa Maria has white sand beaches; São Miguel offers some of the best whale-watching opportunities and, for parents, the volcanic landscape of Terceira has a glut of vineyards.

British Airways Holidays offers seven nights at the 4* Zenite Boutique Hotel and Spa from £569pp, travelling on selected dates in August, including return flights from London Heathrow and breakfast. (

Take a city break… in Lisbon

For a city close to the sea where Britons receive a warm welcome, look no further than Lisbon (Photo: Getty Images)

Barcelona welcomes about 32m visitors each year and local authorities have implemented a number of regulations to curb overtourism’s effect on the city. Among the more recent measures the city has adopted, or is soon to adopt, is a ban on wearing swimwear away from the beach and a tax on cruise ship passengers. Holidaymakers spotted in swimming trunks in the city centre can face fines of up to £500. The cruise tax, meanwhile, will be in addition to the levies the tourist hotspot already charges its visitors – the Catalan government is to set the surcharge in the coming weeks.

For an enticing mix of city and coast, within easy reach of the UK, Lisbon is a more than suitable alternative. Portugal’s capital is ever-popular with Britons, in fact we constitute the country’s largest tourism market. While the city itself sits on the Tagus Estuary, best enjoyed on a boat ride past the Belém Tower at sunset, it opens to the Atlantic with pretty beach towns such as Cascais a short drive or train ride away. Seafood is prominent on Lisbon’s restaurant menus, and there’s also a strong tapas culture. Don’t forget to pick up some Pastéis de Nata.

Direct flights from the UK to Lisbon are available through a number of carriers, including Wizz Air, EasyJet, and Ryanair. Among the good-value hotel options in the city is Mama Lisboa, which offers doubles from €89(£76) (

Plan a group holiday… in Albufeira

Albufeira’s old town offers plenty and bars and restaurants for an evening out (Photo: Getty Images)

British holidaymakers are not known for their abstemious approach to drinking and Spanish resorts are well-acquainted with young, British revellers. Nightlife hubs are cracking down on excesses during the first post-Covid summer season. The Government of the Balearics, for example, has brought in new laws that limit all-inclusive packages to six drinks a day. The rules apply to Magaluf and Palma in Mallorca and parts of Ibiza. They go further with bans on the sale of alcohol between 9.30pm and 8am, pub crawls, two-for-one drinks deals, and happy hours.

While we’d never advise heavy drinking, we do understand the appeal of the occasional discounted cocktail. For a break with friends in an area that’s well-versed in the British love of a party, Albufeira offers suitable alternatives to the livelier parts of the Balearics. As well as plenty of bars and nightclubs, the Portuguese resort has sandy beaches – Praia de São Rafael’s rock formations are reminiscent of Ibiza’s – and a glut of whitewashed houses.

Jet2 Holidays offers seven nights at the Brisa Sol Aparthotel from £858pp, including return flights from Birmingham in August (

Beach days… in Alentejo

The Algarve may attract more British holidaymakers, but the Alentejo region also has a glut of pretty beaches (Photo: Getty Images)

In parts of the Costa Del Sol, officials issue fines to beachgoers who try to save a portion of sand using towels, sun loungers or other items. Holidaymakers who want to secure an enviable spot by the sea on the beach, without waking up before sunrise or facing a hefty charge, might instead head to one of Portugal’s lesser-known beaches.

The Alentejo region is underappreciated by British tourists, despite being so accessible. It sits between the Tagus River and the Algarve, and the nearest airports are Faro or Lisbon. Among the quietest seaside spots in Alentejo is Melides, set within a 270-hectare pine forest. Comporta, meanwhile, is a long stretch with ideal conditions for watersports.

Thomas Cook offers seven nights for a family of four on a B&B basis at the four-star Aqualuz Troia Mar& Rio by the Editory from £2,241 (

Sail to… Porto

Porto’s striking bridges are best admired while sailing along the Douro (Photo: Getty Images)

Cruise passengers stopping in Barcelona are set to be taxed in the near future, in addition to the levies the Catalonian city already charges tourists. It is one of a number of popular European cruise ports to bring in such a tax. In Porto, however, river ships sailing the Douro receive a more relaxed welcome. A tour of the city’s Port houses, a trip to the Livaria Lello bookstore, and catching a historic tram more than fills a day in Porto. You might also stop into São Bento train station to gaze up at the 20,000 azulejo tiles on which scenes from the city’s history can be traced.

Passing between Porto and the Vila Nova de Gaia District, a glass of the eponymous drink in hand, is a meditative activity and the easiest way in which to admire all six of the city’s bridges – including the double-decker Dom Luis I, which has one level for metro trains and another for pedestrians.

Riviera Travel offers a seven-night cruise on the MS Douro Elegance from £2,709pp, including return flights from London Gatwick (

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