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Portugal History

  • Castelo dos Mouros in Sintra
  • Statue of King Joao I in Figueira Square
  • Pene National Palace in Sintra
  • Riders in tradional clothes celebrating Festa dos Tabuleiros

The Iberian Peninsula, where Portugal is located, has been inhabited for at least 30,000 years.  By 700 BC, the Celts had arrived and began to settle in northern and western Portugal. Next to come were Phoenician traders who established stations along the coast. Both the Greeks and the Carthaginians followed the Phoenicians to Portugal.  

The Romans decided to try their hand at capturing Portugal but did not expect any resistance.  In their attempt to take over the southern part of the country, they met the Lusitani, an incredibly strong Celtic warrior tribe who fought back fiercely. Eventually, the Romans were the victors and by 19 BC, they had eliminated Lusitanian independence completely. Christianity cemented itself into Portuguese culture in the 3rd century AD and it has remained an integral part to this day.

The Romans did a great deal for Portugal including building roads and bridges. They introduced new crops and new ways of doing things. By the time the Roman Empire began to collapse in the 5th century, Portugal had already been under Roman control for 600 years.  

With the Romans gone, this left an opportunity for North African Muslims, or Moors, to come to Portugal in 711 and they began to occupy the southern coast. The Moors were very tolerant of different religions and as such, the Portuguese enjoyed peace under the Moors. In the north, however, Christian forces were planning to take Portugal back by getting rid of the Moors. They slowly began reclaiming areas around the country and by 1249, had succeeded in reclaiming the entire country.  

Following the Moors's expulsion from Portugal, next-door neighbours Spain saw an opportunity to move in. There were several invasion attempts that eventually ended with a Portuguese victory in 1385. Portugal began to explore the world and started expansion into Africa.  Prosperity followed allowing Portugal to become a leader in maritime and colonial matters.  Lisbon became an incredibly important and influential city in Western Europe.

Under the reign of Manuel I, the Portuguese were able to reach India in 1497. This meant that Portugal had rich spices from the East to add to their gold and slaves from Africa. Seeing how well Portugal was doing encouraged other nations to begin exploring and soon Spain was challenging Portugal. This rivalry accounted for the first circumnavigation of the world in 1519.

Despite initial riches, the upkeep of such a large empire began to be too much for the Portuguese. By the end of the 16th century, Portugal’s golden age had come to an end and Spain took the throne. As time passed, Portuguese resentment for the Spaniards started to intensify as Portuguese money was used for Spain’s wars elsewhere. Portugal decided to make a move to restore independence, but they desperately needed allies that they found in Britain.

When England entered into war against France, Portugal was there to help in 1793. Napoleon told the Portuguese to close their ports to the British, which was impossible for the Portuguese to do. As a result, Napoleon and his troops marched into Lisbon, beginning a war that would last until 1814 when the British stepped in.

The second half of the 19th century saw Portugal return to form. There was great industrial growth and textile production that helped secure the nation’s wealth. Unfortunately, by 1900, many workers were unhappy with how they were being treated. People began to move away from Portugal to find better conditions.

On October 5, 1910, a republic was declared in Portugal. Although hopes were high, the economic state of the country was not. This poor state was compounded by the decision to join the Allies in World War I. Following the war, the government in Portugal was very unstable with 45 changes of government between 1910-26. In 1926, António de Oliveira Salazar became the prime minister, a position he kept for 36 years. He created quite a restrictive regime that included secret police designed to instill terror into the population. Portugal’s colonies began to rise up, resulting in costly military campaigns. In 1974, African colonies were given independence and a new constitution was created to blend socialism and democracy.

Today, Portugal is a popular tourist destination offering a wide variety of things to do and see.  Beautiful landscapes, world heritage sites, vibrant culture and welcoming people are waiting for those who visit Portugal.


Portugal Travel Information

At Goway we believe that a well-informed traveller is a safer traveller. With this in mind, we have compiled an easy-to-navigate travel information section dedicated to Portugal.

Learn about the history and culture of Portugal, the must-try food and drink, and what to pack in your suitcase. Read about Portugal's nature and wildlife, weather and geography, along with 'Country Quickfacts' compiled by our travel experts. Our globetrotting tips, as well as our visa and health information, will help ensure you're properly prepared for a safe and enjoyable trip. The only way you could possibly learn more is by embarking on your journey and discovering Portugal for yourself. Start exploring… book one of our Portugal tours today!


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