Portugal has a long history full of stories, great achievements and interesting moments. In this article, we collected some of the most interesting, funny, important and weird facts about Portugal and its history. Some of these things about Portugal are well-known others not so much… Our favorites are the 11th and 21st. Enjoy! 🙂

Page Contents

First, some basic facts about Portugal

Official designation: Portuguese Republic

Population: 10,309,573 – 2017 estimate

Land Area: 92.212 Km2

Language: Portuguese

Currency: Euro (founding member of Eurozone)

GBP per capita PPP: $30,193 – 2017 estimate (40th)

Capital: Lisbon

Timezone: WET/GMT UTC (Azores UTC-1)

Interesting facts about Portugal

1. Portugal is one of the oldest countries in Europe

King Afonso, I declared independence in 1139 and Portugal has the same defined borders since 1249, almost 800 years ago. The name Portugal first appears in 868, during the Reconquista over the Muslims. A county was formed around the city of Porto (Portus Cale in Latin), from which “Portugal” is derived.

Best Beaches of Portugal

Caminha Beach, Portugal

2. Lisbon is older than Rome

Roughly 4 centuries older to be more accurate. It was settled by the Phoenicians around 1200 BC and it’s the second oldest European capital after Athens.

3. The Romans took 200 years to conquer Portugal

The Romans took around 200 years to conquer Lusitania, from 219 BC to 19 BC. There’s a famous old expression used by the Romans: In Iberia, there is a tribe that neither governs itself nor lets itself be governed.

Interesting facts about Portugal

castle of Santa Maria da Feira

4. Viriathus is the first National Hero of Portugal

According to historians, the Celtic King of Lusitania was the worst nightmare of the Roman Empire Soldiers and one of the top enemies Rome ever faced, making them lose the equivalent of 9 legions during the wars against the Lusitans.

Facts about Portugal

Portuguese Village

5. Portugal owned half of the “new world”

In 1494, Portugal and Spain divided the world in two, by signing the treaty of Tordesillas giving Portugal the eastern half of the “New Word”, including Brazil, Africa, and Asia. The Portuguese Empire was actually the first global empire in history! It was also one of the longest-lived colonial powers, lasting for almost six centuries from when Ceuta was captured in 1415 until Macau was handed-over in 1999 to China.

Historical importance of Malacca

The Famosa Fort in Malaysia

6. Portuguese is one of the most spoken languages in the World

The Portuguese language is the 6th most spoken language in the world with 220 to 240 million native speakers around the world. It’s the official language of 9 countries, and is spoken in the 5 continents!

Portuguese is one of the most spoken languages in the World

Rio de Janeiro Brazil

7. Portugal was one of the earliest colonizing nations of Europe

The Portuguese Empire would rule, among others, over Brazil, Cape Verde, São Tomé and Príncipe, Guinea-Bissau, Angola, Mozambique, Goa, Daman, Diu, Kochi, Malacca, and Macau. The African colonies were granted independence only in 1975 after the collapse of the dictatorship. Macau, the last Portuguese colony, was handed over to China in 1999.

8. Portugal had a main role in Slavery trading

Portugal played a leading role in the infamous Triangular Atlantic Slave Trade, which involved the mass trade and transportation of slaves from Africa and other parts of the world to the American continent. Also, Lagos’ slave market, built-in 1444, was Europe’s first slave market!

9. Though, Portugal was also the first colonial power to abolish slavery

Portugal was the first colonial power to abolish slavery, all the way back in 1761 – that’s half a century before Britain, France, Spain, or the United States.

10. Portugal was a pioneer abolishing Death Penalty

In 1846 Portugal started the process of abolishing the Death Penalty and the formal abolishment of capital punishment for civil crimes occurred in 1867. Furthermore, Portugal and Spain are the only countries in EU to have abandoned life imprisonment.

Portugal was a pioneer abolishing Death Penalty

Serra da Estrela, Portugal

11. Portugal once had a dead Queen

When Pedro I was crowned King of Portugal in 1357, he proclaimed his lover, Ines de Castro, Queen despite the fact that she had died 2 years before, in 1355. Legend says he ate her killers’ hearts when he caught them. And that she was exhumed to be coronated. That’s true romance there, Game of Thrones style.

How to visit Portugal

Tomb of queen Catarina in Alcobaça

12. Over half of the world’s cork is produced in Portugal

Portugal has the largest cork oak forests (montados) in the world and its cork oak is protected by law. The various uses of the soft, spongy bark of the cork tree have made Portugal the largest producer of cork products in the world, producing 70% of the world’s cork exports. The main importers of Portuguese cork are Germany, the U.K., and the U.S.

interesting facts about Portugal

cork oak

13. Portugal and England are very old friends

Portugal and England have the oldest diplomatic alliance in the world. The Anglo-Portuguese Alliance was signed in 1373 and is in force until this day! Both countries entered wars to defend the other, including the United Kingdom entering the Iberian Peninsular War and Portugal entering World War I. Talk about having someone’s back!

14. Lisbon was struck by one of the most powerful earthquakes in European history

In 1755, Lisbon was struck by about a 9.0 magnitude earthquake, which was followed by a tsunami, and fires that destroyed the city! Furthermore, the earthquake struck on All Saints Day, a major holiday when the churches were filled with burning candles. The earthquake struck, toppling the candles, causing major fires. Up to 100 000 residents were killed and 85% of the buildings were destroyed!

15. Portuguese are fatalists

Fatalism is an essential trait of Portuguese culture. One of the most obvious expressions of it is the traditional music Fado. This is characterized by mournful tunes and lyrics, often about the sea or the life of the poor, and infused with a characteristic sentiment of resignation, fatefulness, and melancholia. It has been recognized by the UNESCO as an Intangible Cultural Heritage in 2011.

interesting facts about Portugal

16. The biggest wave ever surfed was in Portugal

In October 2011,  Garrett McNamara caught the biggest wave (+30 m / 90 ft) ever surfed to date at Praia do Norte in NazarĂ©. Portugal has a coastline that spans 800 kilometers and it’s known to be one of the world’s top surf spots!

Where to Surf in Portugal

Nazaré, Portugal

17. Portugal has one of the world’s oldest universities

The University of Coimbra was established in 1290. Although it was first established in Lisbon, later it was transferred (a few times back and forth) to Coimbra.

university of Coimbra

University of Coimbra, Portugal

18. A Portuguese brought the habit of drinking tea to England

Catharine of Braganca, a Portuguese princess, and Queen of England, introduced the habit of drinking tea in England. Though she did not introduce Tea, she made it a fashionable and widely drunk beverage.  She was also responsible for the English using forks at dinnertime.
Things about Portugal

Charles II of England and Queen Catherine of Braganza

19. The Portuguese were the first European people to reach Japan

In 1942 Portuguese reached the island of Tanegashima first establishing contact with Japan. So, the Japanese culture was exposed to several new European technologies and cultural practices in the military area (the arquebus, European-style cuirasses, European ships), religion (Christianity), decorative art,  and culinary (the Portuguese introduced the tempura and above all the valuable refined sugar). Even in the language, the Japanese word for thank you “Arigato” comes from is the Portuguese word “Obrigado”.

The 30 most interesting facts about Portugal

Tempura

20. A Portuguese saved more Jews than Oskar Schindler

Aristides de Sousa Mendes was a Portuguese consul who used his position early in WWII to save Jewish people. He granted visas to Jews despite having orders from Portuguese government (at the time a dictatorship) not to do it. It’s estimated that he helped saving up to 10 000 Jews.

Things you should know about Portugal

Statue of Aristides de Sousa Mendes

21. Portugal had a huge influence on world cuisine

Portuguese Jesuit missionaries invented tempura (dish of battered, deep-fried vegetables and seafood) in Japan.

The Portuguese invented Piri-Piri sauce.

Portuguese introduced chili pepper potatoes and tomatoes to India and Thailand, without which curry wouldn’t exist!

Not to mention, we also brought coffee to Brazil and the ukulele to Hawaii.

We created the “pastel de nata” or “pastel de BelĂ©m”, the famous and delicious Portuguese custard tart…

22. Europe’s longest bridge is in Portugal

The Vasco da Gama Bridge in Lisbon is 17 kilometers long, making it the longest in Europe. Though, this isn’t the only record that the bridge brought to Portugal, much more importantly: The world record for the largest dining table was set when around 15 000 people were served lunch on the bridge as part of the inauguration celebrations.

Cool stuff about Portugal

Vasco da Gama Bridge

23. The Portuguese eat a lot of cod

We have more than a thousand recipes to cook cod, though we have to import it all from other countries like Norway or Iceland. Interestingly (or maybe not) I must be one of the few Portuguese that doesn’t really appreciate Cod!

What to eat in Portugal

Portuguese traditional dish – Cod

24. Port wine is one of our most famous Export

Portugal produces the famous Port wine, a sweet fortified wine from the Douro Valley. Port wine grapes are only grown on the steeply terraced hillsides of the Douro valley near Porto, one of the world’s oldest established wine producing regions. However, it has been imitated in several countries – notably Australia, South Africa, India and the United States.

Things to do in Portugal

Douro Valley, Portugal

25. Bertrand bookstore is the oldest in the world

The oldest bookstore in the world is in Portugal’s capital of Lisbon. Bertrand Bookshop was established in 1732, while the original store was destroyed in an earthquake in 1755 and rebuilt in its current location in 1773.

Bertrand bookstore in Lisbon

The oldest bookstore in the world- Bertrand bookstore

26. Portugal is 95% water

Portugal ranked the 110th country with only 92.212 Km2 of land. However, if you include the jurisdiction over the maritime area of around 1.720.560 Km2 Portugal ranks in the top 20 and top 3 of Europe! This ocean area is about 18.7 times the land area, so almost 95% of the country is water.

Best Beaches of Portugal

Algarve, Portugal

27. Portugal has 15 sites on the UNESCO World Heritage list

Portugal has 15 sites on the UNESCO World Heritage list, 14 of these cultural sites and 1 of the natural (in Madeira Island). It’s one of the 20 most visited countries in the world with more than 13 million tourists visiting each year.

how to visit Porto

UNESCO World Heritage- Historic Centre of Oporto

28. Portugal invented the pirate code

Bartholomew Portugues created the first Pirate code in the 17th century, which English pirates later adopted.

Where to Go in Portugal

Peniche Portugal

29. The Portuguese love football

The most popular sport in Portugal is football. We are the current European Champions and our national team finished 3rd in the 1966 World Cup, 2nd in Euro 2004, and 4th in 2006 World Cup.

Top attractions of Portugal

Porto’s football stadium

30. People from Porto are called ‘tripeiros’, or ‘tripe eaters’

Back in the 15th century, to help out the military Porto gave all the meat they had – except for the stomachs. Well, afterward they got creative with their cooking and with time it became one of the most famous features of the cuisine of the city. Furthermore, it became the nickname of the citizens of Porto, the ‘tripeiros’!

Bonus: Portugal has a few funny/weird world records

  • In December 2010, the world’s largest Santa Claus parade took place in Porto. 14,963 people donned Santa outfits, beating the record of the previous years for the same parade.
  • In 2012, the largest firework rocket ever produced was used at the 12th International Symposium on Fireworks in Oporto and  Gaia on 13th October 2010. It weighed 13.40 kg.
  • The world’s largest omelet was made in Portugal – in SantarĂ©m on 11 August 2012. It took 55 people, six hours, 145,000 eggs to make a 6,466 kg omelet.
  • And of course the above referred largest dining table in the World!
  • Finally, the most number of dishes wished with one liter of detergent… can you guess when? Obviously after the meal in the longest dining table in the world during the inauguration of the longest bridge in Europe! 🙂

After all these fantastic facts about Portugal, you can only be inspired to come and visit Portugal!

If we did, these are our Recommended Travel Guide Books For Portugal!

Lonely Planet Portugal (Travel Guide)

Rick Steves Portugal

DK Eyewitness Travel Guide: Portugal

 

What’s your favorite fact about Portugal?