If you haven’t been—and even if you have—Portugal should be next on your vacation list. While we could ramble on for hours about the unforgettable food, Instagram-worthy vistas, and hotels worth planning a trip around (and we have), there are a few obvious reasons this spot stood out among the rest when it came to choosing the Editor’s Pick for this year’s Destination of the Year poll.
There are a few things that make a place vacation-worthy: delicious cuisines with a strong regional bond, sights that just can’t be found anywhere else, and the ability to attract travelers from the far ends of the budget (and everywhere in between). Portugal ranks in all of these—and it’s not just one city shadowing other less-visited destinations.
Although Lisbon remains a must-stop on itineraries (as it should), head three hours north and you’ll find the cultural hub of Porto, where port tastings are the perfect option for filling lazy vacation days at the vineyard. If you’re looking for ancient ruins and enough castles to fill a volume of photo albums, head to Sintra. The Pena Palace remains a favorite, with its bold color palette that’s best seen against a sunrise or sunset. Don’t forget to take in the Moorish architecture of the Sintra National Palace—it’s not hard to see why Danish fairy tale author Hans Christian Anderson was so inspired by this city. An hour north of Sintra, you’ll find Obidos—a medieval town that dates back 700 years, topped by a castle that you can now spend the night in.
And that’s only half of the country. Head south to see the pristine beaches or hop on a quick plane ride to Madeira, a series of four islands off the western coast that are known for their volcanic terrain and botanical gardens. Give yourself a couple of weeks, and you can get a solid taste for what this country has to offer.
There is no wrong itinerary when it comes to Portugal—you just need to submit yourself to the fact that you’re going to have to visit more than once to truly experience everything it has to offer. Just in case you need a jump-start, we’ve wrangled up 23 photos that are sure to kick your wanderlust (and vacation planning) into hyperdrive. After all, you deserve a break from the day.