Stay Up Late to Stargaze on Your Trip to Portugal

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Photo credit: William Prost
Photo credit: William Prost

 

Portugal is known more for its sunny coastlines and historic cities than its starry skies. However, the bite-sized country tucked into the southwest corner of Spain offers some of world’s most spectacular stargazing spots. From the popular coastal Algarve region to often-skipped Alentejo, these areas of Portugal are the best of the best for laying a blanket in the grass (or sand) and getting lost in the dark night sky.

Follow the Alqueva Dark Sky Route

Discover the first place in the world to become certified as a “Starlight Tourism Destination” in Alqueva. Alqueva, also known as the Great Lake, is in the often undiscovered Alentejo region of Portugal. The area is commonly surpassed for the warmer climate and golden beaches of the Algarve region, but those who are in the know, don’t skip the Alqueva Dark Sky Route on any visit to Portugal.

Photo credit: uditha wickramanayaka
Photo credit: uditha wickramanayaka

The Alqueva area’s minimal amount of light pollution and ideal atmospheric conditions make admiring constellations and identifying deep sky objects possible with the naked eye. Binoculars and telescopes are also available to visitors at a number of locations throughout the zone to provide an even more memorable stargazing experience, including sightings of galaxies, star clusters and nebulas.

Visitors can take part in a number of after-dark experiences offered by the Dark Sky Route’s certified members, including night hikes, horseback riding, wine tastings, stargazing, canoeing and more. Visit the Alqueva Dark Sky Route, and you’ll be blown away by the charming accommodation options, abundance of Dark Sky activities and of course, the area’s perfectly dark skies.

Look Up When in the Algarve

Photo credit: Paulo Valdivieso
Photo credit: Paulo Valdivieso

Portugal’s Algarve region is famous for its mild Mediterranean climate, manicured golf courses and sandy coves. Visitors often find themselves swimming, surfing, shopping and dining, but many are missing out on the region’s must-see night skies. The southernmost region of Portugal’s desirable climate provides a high probability of visibility on most days, making it a hotspot for watching meteor showers, eclipses, occultations and simply admiring the stars.

Venture away from the resorts and action of the coast to Poio, Portimao, where you’ll find the Centro de Observacao Astronomica no Algarve (COAA) astronomy centre. This unique, tourist-friendly centre offers amateur stargazers the opportunity to admire the night sky through powerful, professional telescopes.

Photo credit: Paulo Valdivieso
Photo credit: Paulo Valdivieso

The nearby town of Tavira also offers the Casa De Estudo Para Astronomia (CDEPA) for visitors wanting to admire the night sky with professional telescopes or even the naked eye. Algarve visitors seeking a more laid-back stargazing experience (without telescopes or observatories) will find dark skies in the Alga Seco area of Lagoa, Foia in Monchique or Ponta de Piedade in Lagos.

Don’t let sunburned days on the beach keep you inside at night, because the Algarve is one of Europe’s few remaining places to escape light pollution and indulge in Mother Nature’s beauty. And be sure to pursue Portugal’s numerous starlight tourism-friendly accommodation options (in the Algarve and Alentejo), which feature the night sky as a main attraction, but also offer nighttime activities to help you make the most of Portugal’s famously star-studded skies.

About the Author: Courtney McCaffrey

Courtney McCaffrey is a travel writer and editor based in Wilmington, N.C. In addition to writing, she lives for travel - seeing new places, experiencing new cultures and surfing new waves.

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