Portugal has long been second-best to Spain, despite having an arguably more interesting history.
Once at the top of the global game, Portugal was a major economic, political and military power in the 15th and 16th centuries. Not only did the Portuguese monopolize the spice trade, but they also discovered routes to India (thanks to Vasco da Gama), Cape of Good Hope (looking at you, Bartolomeu Dias) and Brazil (which they colonized) during the Age of Discovery.
Then came 1755, when Portugal began to fall apart. The Great Lisbon Earthquake left the capital city destroyed and was quickly followed by occupation during the Napoleonic Wars, the independence of Brazil and the Liberal Wars, leaving Portugal crippled and powerless.
It took Portugal 200+ years to finally achieve democratic power in 1974, marking the end of the longest-lived colonial empire, with independence granted to almost all its overseas territories.
You’ll be happy to know that Portugal has moved on from war and hasn’t looked back. In fact, they’re now ranked the 5th most peaceful country in the world.
Significant cultural and architectural influence aside, the country has something else unique about it.
Portugal is home to the the westernmost point of mainland Europe (and Eurasia, really), tucked against Portugal’s 1,114 miles of coastline.
Welcome to the end of the world. (Kind of?)
Both beautiful and historic, Cabo da Roca is made up of sand beaches and rocky cliffs towering 100m+ in height.The appropriately-named “Rocky Cape” looks out to unknown vastness and down upon smaller rock formations scattered in the ocean below.
Iconic to the cape and still sitting on a bluff of granite boulders and limestone is the Cabo da Roca lighthouse, built in 1772. Together with the lighthouse, a fort which once sat on the cape during the Peninsula War formed a defensive line protected the rest of Portugal’s 520 miles of Atlantic-bordered coastline.
Well worth a visit, Cabo da Roca is just a marathon’s length (26.2 miles) west of Lisbon in the Sintra-Cascais Natural Park. Walk along the coastline and take in the panoramic views of the Serra de Sintra (a 10-mile mountain range nearby) and Atlantic coastline.
WHAT TO KNOW BEFORE YOU GO.
- Cost: free!
- Currency: Euro (€)
- Location: Estrada do Cabo da Roca s/n, 2705-001 Colares, Portugal
- Getting there: rent a car & drive (less than 2 miles off coastal road N247); or hop a bus (Bus 403 runs between Sintra and Cascais)*
- Either car or bus will take ~35 minutes from Sintra and 25 minutes from Cascais
*N247 runs from Cascais to Sintra; both towns easily accessible by train from Lisbon.