After doing several of these “50 things you need to know about…” guides we decided it was time to do 50 things you need to know before traveling to Portugal, our homeland and obviously the country we know best! As locals, we have all the inside information you need to travel to Portugal. All the great dishes of the Portuguese cuisine, all the best destinations, all about the Portuguese culture & History, plus the top tips about transports and costs of traveling in Portugal! Now we decided to share them with you to make sure you make the most of your next trip to Portugal.
Portugal and the Locals
#1 Portugal divides the Iberian Peninsula with Spain. Continental Portugal is located in the westernmost of the Peninsula and of continental Europe, also the archipelagos of Azores and Madeira in the Atlantic are also part of Portugal.
#2 Portugal has the reputation of receiving tourists very well. Portuguese tend to be very friendly and welcoming to the foreign tourists. Portugal is very easy-going and informal country with relaxed people who always want to make sure that everybody feels comfortable. It’s in our blood, we can’t help it 🙂
#3 Plus, the locals are probably the most beautiful people in World! I’m mean… just look at us 🙂
#4 Portuguese culture is the result of a complex flow of different civilizations during the past millennia. The Lusitans, the Romans, the Germanic people who invaded the Roman empire, Moorish and consequent the Reconquista have all been in Portugal. Moreover, the age of discoveries only exacerbated Portugal as a place where different cultures passed by.
#5 Portugal is mainly characterized by a warm temperate, Mediterranean climate with a distinct wet season in winter. Summers are much hot, however, with refreshing sea breezes, making for very pleasant conditions. Generally, Portugal has a warm temperate moist forest climate, with wet winters, dry summers and the warmest month above 22°C on average. Usually, the north is colder and wetter and the south hotter and dryer.
#6 Portugal is a relatively small country with a long coast and only 10 M inhabitants. Most of the Population lives close to the sea. The north is more mountainous and the south is relatively flat, particularly the Alentejo region. However, the biggest mountain is Serra da Estrela in central Portugal.
#7 There’s no official religion, but the Portuguese are traditionally Christian Catholic, however different religious beliefs are accepted. Similarly to the other western countries the younger generations are much less religious thus the number of atheists and irreligious people is quickly increasing.
#8 Portuguese is 6th the most spoken languages in the world, with more than 220 Million native speakers (mostly because of Brazil). While traveling to Portugal you probably won’t have trouble finding English speaking people, particularly in Algarve and other touristy areas. Furthermore, Portuguese is very similar to Spanish so we can understand Spanish with a little effort.
#9 If you want to make an effort and learn a few words in Portuguese, you will see how much we appreciate your effort. We really like when tourists try learning Portuguese. Nevertheless, please DO NOT mix Portuguese with Spanish, it’s a major trigger! 🙂
We will help with the first 3 basic expressions in Portugal:
- Hello – Olá.
- Thank you – Obrigado (if you are a male); Obrigada (if you are a female).
- Please – Por favor.
#10 Portuguese love football… the real football, not the American one! Portugal is the current European Champion which was a major thing for such a small country. If you want to experience this, your best bet would be to watch a home game from one of the 3 biggest clubs: Benfica, Porto, and Sporting.
#11 Portugal is one of the most peaceful countries in the world, and also one of the safest for traveling. This makes it a great destination for family travel, solo travel or group travel. Most travelers will never face any kind of serious threat or danger. However, you should be aware of pickpocketing and scams in the top touristic areas, like in any other country in the world!
Nevertheless, you don’t want to risk having a problem and not being insured! Thus, always Remember to Buy Travel Insurance Before Your Trip!
Tourism and travel attractions in Portugal
#12 Portugal has been a tourist destination for decades, but tourism is really booming in the last 3 or 4 years! Even smaller towns that only used to be known by the Portuguese are now receiving foreign tourists. However, and apart from very specific, touristy places, you won’t feel that there are too many tourists and have your experience ruined.
#13 Algarve and its beaches are the main tourist destination in Portugal. Despite not actually being in the Mediterranean, the seawater is warm and clear, the sand is yellow and soft and they are very scenic. If you are looking for Summer vacations with sun, sea, and parties then Algarve is probably your best option.
#14 However, don’t be fooled, Algarve isn’t the only region that has marvelous beaches! There are incredible beaches spread all over Portugal, from the Alentejo to Minho. Though, keep in mind that the further north, the colder the water! You need to be quite adventurous to dip in some of the northern beaches 🙂 On the other hand, they are so… inviting! Some of our favorites are:
- Portinho de Arrabida
#15 And then, there are the surfing beaches! Portugal is a surfer’s paradise with some of the best waves in Europe. From beginners waves to the famous Nazare canyon wave… known to be the worlds biggest! If you are looking for a surf trip, central Portugal is one of your best bets with Ericeira, Peniche, and Nazare as great surf destinations!
#16 Lisbon is the capital, biggest city, the main economic and cultural center in Portugal. It’s usually dubbed as the sunniest capital in Europe, with more than 1700 hours of sunshine per year. Lisbon is also famous for its postcard-perfect cobbled alleys and the beautiful hillsides overlooking the Tejo River.
The Portuguese capital has been crafted over centuries and it’s full beautiful monuments scattered all over the city. You shouldn’t go to Lisbon without visiting Castelo de S. Jorge (St. George’s Castle), Mosteiro dos Jeronimos (Jerónimos Monastery), Torre de Belem (Tower of Belem), Rossio and the neighborhoods of Alfama and Bairro Alto.
#17 Porto is Portugal’s second city and the capital of the North. More important: it’s also our hometown and we love it! Historically, Porto is an industrial town of hardworking people and has a healthy rivalry with Lisbon. Until a few years ago Porto wasn’t really a touristic town, but today the city center is full of people and life. One day walking around downtown Porto is really a perfect day for any traveler. Have a look at this itinerary we prepared for you.
Note: We know that in English it’s Oporto… but we don’t like it! It’s Porto! 🙂
#18 If you are visiting Porto, you might as well take a day tour through the Douro valley, where the Port wine is produced. The Douro River snakes through the hillsides full of vineyards creating a beautiful and soothing setting. It’s both very cinematic and relaxing!
#19 Up in the north of Portugal lies the only Portuguese National Park, Penena-Geres National Park. It’s a great area for nature lovers in general and hikers in particular. The region is full of trails, waterfalls, historic villages, lakes and river beaches… It’s close enough for a day trip from Porto, but we suggest you take 2 days.
#20 The Madeira archipelago is formed by Madeira island and Porto Santo. Madeira island is considered to be the pearl of the Atlantic, because of its natural beauty. In Madeira, you really should try to hike the levadas and visit the Laurisilva forest., go to Cabo Girão and Ponta de São Lourenço!
#21 Lost in deep seas, the Azores Archipelago is one of Europe’s more remote territory! If you can only visit one island, we advise you to go to S. Miguel! It’s the biggest and where most of Azores attractions are located. However, each island of the 9 islands is different with its own characteristics and striking features. Pico has Portugal’s highest peak, Terceira have a US military base, S. Maria has a white sand beach, Flores and Corvo are incredibly remote… but all of them are beautiful and wild! If you can, do an island hopping cruise in the Azores!
#22 Portugal has amazing medieval castles spread all over its territory… A reminder of a much more dangerous past, particularly the wars with the moors and the Spanish kingdoms. Some of these are majestic and beautiful, particularly our favorites: the Moors castle in Sintra, Guimarães Castle, and Almourol Castle.
#23 Fatima is the religious capital of Portugal and the destination of many pilgrims, mostly Portuguese but lately many foreigners too. Similarly to the Way of Santiago, Pilgrims tend to walk from several regions and countries to the Basilica of Our Lady of the Rosary.
#24 Besides all the major tourist attractions Portugal is full of smaller towns and cute villages which you’ll fall in love with. Some of our favorites are Óbidos,
Do you prefer traveling as a group? Search for the perfect tour with tour Radar.
Eating and drinking in Portugal
#25 Portuguese cuisine is made of real, hearty food! Many Portuguese dishes include several types of meat or meat prepared in several ways, like Cozido à Portuguesa, Feijoada or the more recent Francesinha. These aren’t the most beautiful and gourmet dishes, but they are delicious and full of substance.
#26 Cozido à Portuguesa (“Portuguese Stew”) is the king of all stews! It combines includes beef, pork, chicken and a variety of pork derivatives such as blood sausages and smoked pork parts, mixed with several vegetables! If you are a meat lover, you should really try it, though be aware that it’s very difficult to find it well made in restaurants. If you do, go for it!
#27 Feijoada à transmontana is a bean stew with several types of meat mixed into it. It’s a very hearty dish but it’s delicious! However, it may include some parts that you usually don’t eat like pig hocks, knuckles or ears! Traditionally, this was a poor’s people dish.
#28 On the other hand, Portuguese are one of the biggest consumers of fish and Seafood in the world. In Portugal fish tends to be fresh, full of flavor and very reasonably priced. It may be served in many ways but it’s more commonly eaten grilled, boiled, fried and even in Soups. Although we suggest you to try it cooked in the simplest of manners: fresh fish directly grilled over a slow fire, seasoned only with lemon and rosemary. You’ll enjoy one of the best meals in the country!
#29 As per seafood you have way too many great options but we will suggest two of our favorites: Ameijoas à bolhão pato (more of a snack or a started than a full meal) and Polvo à lagareiro.
Ameijoas à bolhão pato are clams cooked until tender in olive oil, garlic, salt, pepper and plenty of cilantro. While Polvo à Lagareiro is a dish made of a whole octopus which is first boiled and then roasted in the oven with plenty of garlic and olive oil.
#30 An then there’s Cod Fish (Bacalhau in Portuguese). Portuguese love their Cod Fish! It’s said that there are more than 365 ways o eating Cod in Portugal, on for each day of the year! As a foodie traveler, you can’t come to Portugal without trying it! Some of the most famous are Bacalhau à Brás, Bacalhau espiritual, and Bacalhau com Natas.
Bacalhau à Bràs (Bras Style Cod) is a combination of onions, chips, olives, parsley, egg, and cod, obviously! It’s delicious and our suggestion for you, if you start to enjoy Portuguese Cod!
#31 As you can see, olive oil is one of the basic ingredients of Portuguese cuisine, which is used both for cooking and flavoring meals. Similarly to Spain, Portugal is one of the biggest producer and user of Olive oil. Garlic is also widely used, as are some herbs, such as bay leaf and parsley.
#32 Portuguese love their coffee! And by coffee, I mean espressos. In Portugal, a coffee is an espresso… Portuguese drink it with breakfast, after the meals, in between meals, before going to bed, during work, basically in every situation possible! If you want to look like a local when asking for an espresso just ask for a coffee.
#33 One of Portugal’s most famous exports is the Port wine, a fortified wine made in the Douro Valley. It is typically a sweet, red wine, often served as a dessert wine. If you are visiting Porto, you should cross the river and go to Gaia and visit the Port wine cellars. Other famous Wines from Portugal come from Madeira, Dão Region, and Alentejo.
#34 Finally we get to the desserts and sweets in general! Any traveler with a sweet tooth will have a great time in Portugal! Many of the Portuguese pastries were created in the Middle Ages monasteries by nuns and monks with its main ingredient: egg yolks.
#35 Among the Portuguese delicacies we have to mention the Pastel de Belém and Pastel de Nata. What’s the difference? Pastel de Belém is the original Pastel de Nata, created in Belem by the monks of Jerónimos Monastery. The original recipe stayed in Belem but the tart spread and now can be eaten everywhere. You can’t come to Portugal without trying these! Seriously, we won’t allow it 🙂
#36 In Portugal it isn’t customary to leave tips in restaurants, particularly in cheaper meals. Unless we feel that the waiter has done an outstanding job or went out of is way, we usually only round up the bill and leave the change as a small tip.
Money and Costs of traveling to Portugal
#37 Portugal is a founding member of the Eurozone and thus uses the Euro as currency, which makes a traveler’s life so much easier for the European! Even for foreign tourists traveling through several European countries is amazing!
#38 As far as Western Europe is concerned, Portugal is the cheapest country you can visit! An independent traveler should be able to have a nice budget vacation in Portugal at 40 to 45 Euros per day per person, though this varies according to the season and your traveling style.
#39 Accommodation is probably where you spend more money, particularly if you want to stay in the city centers or by the beaches. While traveling in Portugal we have been able to reduce this cost by easily comparing hotel prices!
#40 It’s perfectly possible for you to have a full meal for roughly 5 Euros in cheap snack-bars and restaurants, particularly outside touristy areas. Like everywhere else, the busy tourist areas are more expensive!
#41 Portugal has a huge ATM network. You shouldn’t have problems finding ATMs and withdrawing money anywhere in the country. However, note that some smaller stores and restaurants won’t accept credit cards because they have to pay heavy fees for using them.
#42 Moreover, the ATMs don’t charge fees for withdrawing money which is great! However, note that your bank may charge you for it…
Transports in Portugal
#43 Continental Portugal has only 3 international airports, in Porto, Lisbon, and Faro. However, all of these receive many low-cost flights from Europe which makes a trip to Portugal easy and on a budget.
#44 Portugal has a fairly good public transports network, particularly in the bigger and most touristy destinations. Most major towns have train stations and every town has busses. Porto and Lisbon have subway which should make your life much easier!
#45 However, if you have limited time and want to travel around (particularly the countryside) we strongly advise you to rent a car. Portugal is quite a small country and on a weeklong road trip, you may be able to cover most of continental Portugal. It’s also much cheaper if you are traveling as a group of 4 or 5 people.
#46 We drive on the right side of the road (wheel on the left). Also, when renting a car be aware if it’s manual or automatic. Like in most of the other European countries the majority of cars are manual. If you can’t drive a stick shift, ask your rental company for an automatic.
#47 It’s reasonably easy to drive in Portugal, however, you should note that Portuguese tend to be a bit nervous behind the wheel and sometimes do silly things. Nothing that should keep you from driving, just be careful and drive by the rules and you should be fine. Note to Americans (and a few others), you can’t turn right on a red light… 🙂
Other useful info about traveling in Portugal
#48 WIFI and 4G work very well in Portugal. You should be able to get WIFI in every hotel and in most restaurants and bars, particularly in tourist areas. Although, if this isn’t enough you can always buy a prepaid data card, for about 15 Euros for 15 days.
#49 Are you asking yourself: What documents do I need to enter Portugal? Portugal is an EU member and integrates the Schengen area, which means free movement of people within the Schengen area. If you are from a Schengen country just take your ID Card (or passport) and enjoy these great times :). If not click here for more info on this and on Schengen Visas and here find which passports need a visa to enter Portugal.
#50 Do I need vaccinations to travel to Portugal? You will not require any vaccinations to visit Portugal unless you are coming from an infected area. However, as in any part of the world, it is advisable to have your anti-tetanus vaccination up to date if you are going to be in contact with nature and the countryside, as well as any other official vaccination program.
Our Recommended Travel Guide Books For Portugal
Lonely Planet Portugal (Travel Guide)