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 Portuguese cuisine, all the best destinations, all about Portuguese culture & History, plus the top tips about transport and costs of traveling in Portugal! Now we decided to share these 50 travel tips about Portugal with you to make sure you make the most of your next trip.
Portugal And The Locals
#1 Where is Portugal? Portugal divides the Iberian Peninsula with Spain. Continental Portugal is located in the westernmost of the Peninsula and continental Europe. The archipelagos of the 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 foreign tourists. Portugal is an easy-going and informal country with relaxed people who always want to ensure everybody feels comfortable. It’s in our blood, we can’t help it 🙂
#3 Plus, the locals are probably the most beautiful people in the World!!! I’m mean… just look at us 🙂 (lol)
#4 Portuguese culture results from a complex flow of different civilizations during the past millennia. The Lusitans, the Romans, the Germanic people who invaded the Roman Empire, the Moorish, and consequent the Reconquista have all been in Portugal. Moreover, the age of discoveries only exacerbated Portugal as a place where different cultures meet.
#5 Portugal is mainly characterized by a warm temperate, Mediterranean climate with a distinct wet season in winter. Summers are hot and dry, however, with refreshing sea breezes, making for very pleasant conditions.
Usually, the north is colder and wetter, and the south hotter and dryer. The interior has more extreme temperatures, hotter in Summer e colder in Winter.
#6 Portugal is a relatively small country with a long coast and only 10 Million inhabitants. Most of the population lives close to the sea.
The north is more mountainous, and the south is relatively flat, particularly in 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 other Western countries, the younger generations are much less religious; thus, the number of atheists and irreligious people is quickly increasing.
#8 Portuguese is the 6th most spoken language in the world, with more than 220 Million native speakers (mostly because of Brazil). Other Portuguese-speaking countries include Angola, Mozambique, Cape Verde, and Guinea-Bissau.
While traveling to Portugal, you probably won’t have trouble finding English-speaking people, particularly in Algarve, Madeira, 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 mistake Portuguese for Spanish, it’s a major trigger! 🙂 Or, think that Portugal is part of Spain.
We will help with the first three 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 actual football, not the American one! Portugal was European Champion in 2016, which was a significant accomplishment for such a small country.
If you want to experience this love for football, your best bet would be to watch a home game from one of the three biggest Portuguese clubs: Benfica, Porto, and Sporting.
#11 Portugal is one of the most peaceful countries in the world and one of the safest for traveling. This makes it an excellent destination for family, solo, 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!
Tourism And Travel Attractions In Portugal
#12 Portugal has been a popular tourist destination for decades, but tourism has been really booming since the 2010s! Even smaller towns that only used to be known by the Portuguese now receive foreign tourists.
However, apart from very specific, touristy places, and the peak season, 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, Algarve is probably your best option in Portugal.
#14 However, don’t be fooled, Algarve isn’t the only region with marvelous beaches! There are incredible beaches 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 beginner waves to the famous Nazare Canyon wave… known to be the world’s 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 Portugal’s capital, the biggest city, and the leading economic and cultural center. 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 of 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 a healthy rivalry with Lisbon.
Until the 2000s, Porto wasn’t really a tourist 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.
Note: We know that in English, it’s Oporto… but we don’t like it! It’s Porto! 🙂
#18 If you visit 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 an excellent area for nature lovers in general and hikers in particular.
The region has trails, waterfalls, historic villages, lakes, and river beaches… It’s close enough for a day trip from Porto, but we suggest you take two days.
#20 Madeira Island, Porto Santo (and a few uninhabited islands) form the Madeira archipelago. Madeira Island is considered the pearl of the Atlantic because of its natural beauty. In Madeira, you should try to hike the levadas, visit the Laurisilva forest, and go to Cabo Girão and Ponta de São Lourenço!
#21 Lost in seas, the Azores Archipelago is one of Europe’s more remote territories! Each of the nine islands is different, with its characteristics and striking features.
Pico has Portugal’s highest peak, Terceira has a US military base, S. Maria has a white sand beach, and Flores and Corvo are incredibly remote… but all of them are beautiful and wild!
If you can, go on an island-hopping cruise in the Azores! However, if you can only visit one island, we advise you to visit S. Miguel! It’s the biggest and where most of the Azores’ attractions are located.
#22 Portugal has impressive 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, Caminha, Monsanto, Miranda do Douro, Elvas, Silves, and so on…
What To Eat 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.
Thus, traditional Portuguese food isn’t vegan-friendly. I’m not sure if there’s any original, typical Portuguese dish that’s vegan. However, there are variations, particularly in Porto, Lisbon, and Algarve. In this regard, Lisbon is by far the best Portuguese city to visit as a vegan, as it has a growing supply of vegan restaurants.
#26 Cozido à Portuguesa (“Portuguese Stew”) is the king of all stews! It combines beef, pork, chicken, and various 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 you usually don’t eat, like pig hocks, knuckles, or ears! Traditionally, this was a poor’s people dish. Not anymore!
#28 On the other hand, the Portuguese are one of the world’s biggest consumers of fish and seafood. In Portugal, fish tends to be fresh, flavorful, and 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 try it cooked in the most straightforward manner: 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 starter 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. In contrast, 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 And then there’s Cod Fish (Bacalhau in Portuguese). The Portuguese love their Cod Fish! It’s said that there are more than 365 ways of eating Cod in Portugal, one 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 used for cooking and flavoring meals. Similarly to Spain, Greece, and Italy, Portugal is one of the biggest producers and users 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, coffee is an espresso…
Portuguese drink it with breakfast, after meals, between meals, before going to bed, during work, and in every situation possible! If you want to look like a local when asking for an expresso, 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, 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 Portuguese pastries were created in the Middle Ages monasteries by nuns and monks with their main ingredient: egg yolks. These are called conventual sweets. They are unique to Portugal, and if you enjoy egg yolks, they are unforgettable.
#35 Among the Portuguese delicacies, we must mention 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, leaving big tips in restaurants isn’t customary, particularly for cheaper meals. Unless we feel that the waiter has done an outstanding job or went out of his 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 Europeans! Even for foreign tourists traveling through several European countries is fantastic!
#38 As far as Western Europe is concerned, Portugal is probably the cheapest country you can visit! An independent traveler should be able to have a nice budget vacation in Portugal at about 50 Euros per day per person. However, this varies immensely 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.
#40 You can have a full meal for roughly 5.10 Euros in cheap snack bars and restaurants, particularly outside touristy areas. Like everywhere else, busy tourist areas are more expensive!
#41 Portugal has a vast 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 excellent! However, note that your bank may charge you for it…
Important note: in the last few years, there has been an increase in EuroNET ATMs. One of the things to know before traveling to Portugal is that these charge a considerable withdrawal fee. I would never use them, as there are so many ATMs everywhere in Portugal (more than 55 000).
How to travel In Portugal
#43 Continental Portugal has only three 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 good public transport network, particularly in the biggest and most touristy destinations. Most major towns have train stations, and every town has buses. Porto and Lisbon have subways that should make your life much easier!
#45 However, if you have limited time and want to travel around (particularly in the countryside), we strongly advise renting a car. Portugal is a pretty 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 travel as a group of 4 or 5 people.
We drive on the right side of the road (the wheel on the left). Also, when renting a car, be aware whether 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.
#46 It’s reasonably easy to drive in Portugal. However, you should note that Portuguese tend to be 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 at a red light… 🙂
Other Useful Info About Travel In Portugal
#47 Do you need a Power adaptor in Portugal? In Portugal, the power socket and plug are type F, similar to the rest of continental Western Europe. The standard voltage is 230v, and the frequency 50Hz.
If you need to buy a power adaptor, we suggest one of these.
#48 WIFI and 3/4/5G work very well in Portugal. You should be able to get WIFI in every hotel and 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 Schengen Visas, and here find which passports need a visa to enter Portugal.
#50 Do I need vaccinations to travel to Portugal? You are not required vaccinations to visit Portugal unless you are 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 Portugal Travel Guide Books
Lonely Planet Portugal (Travel Guide)
DK Eyewitness Travel Guide: Portugal
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