Portugal Travel Guide
Best Time to Visit Portugal
- Pack layers for shoulder season trips and loose cotton or linen for summer, with one long sleeved warmer top for cooler evenings.
- Include one longer dress, linen trousers or longer shorts and something to cover your shoulders, if you want to enter religious buildings.
- Comfy shoes with non-slip soles will help you negotiate cobbled streets safely.
- Sun protection, sunglasses and a cap or hat are a must in summer.
- Winter visitors should bring a waterproof or showerproof jacket and a few warm layers for colder days.
Portuguese City Destinations
The main language spoken in Portugal is Portuguese, widely recognised as one of the hardest European languages to learn!
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Portuguese healthcare is not free to visitors unless there is a reciprocal arrangement on place. Where this is the case, emergency costs will be covered but ongoing medical costs and repatriation are not covered even if you are EU traveler with a valid EHIC card. We recommend taking out travel and medical insurance for your trip. You can also call the SNS (Servico Nacional de Saude which is Portugal’s public health service) information hotline on +351 808 242 424 for advice in English.
The currency in Portugal is the Euro € and cents.
ATM’s which accept foreign cards are widely available in all cities and towns. The best ATMs to use are the MultiBanco system run by all Portuguese banks.
Credit cards are widely accepted, with Visa being the most common.
Plugs in Italy are type C and F. The standard voltage is 230V, and the standard frequency is 50Hz. We recommend using a universal adapter with surge protection.
Some city municipalities provide free wifi zones which you have to register to use. Most hotels now provide free wifi. All of Portugal’s cities have good 4g coverage but there is no 5g network in the country. Rent a travel hotspot with built in SIM for your trip and stay connected wherever you travel in Portugal.
Portugal does not have a tipping culture like the US, but with some of the lowest wages in Europe, a tip will definitely be appreciated if you’ve received great service. Rounding up the bill or leaving 5-10% would be the usual amount, but it won’t be frowned upon if you choose not to leave a tip.
Portugal ranked as the third safest country in the world by the Global Peace Index in 2020. That doesn’t mean you should forget to be vigilant and mindful of your surroundings in busy cities and crowded places. In an emergency, the number for police, fire and ambulance is 112.
Intro to Portugal
Portugal is a tiny country, but packs a really big punch! With three sides of its oblong shape facing the mighty Atlantic ocean, much of the country’s history and culture has been shaped by the sea. From the fishing ports of the north, where trade was developed with the wider world to the Mediterranean culture of the Algarve – and every beach, cliff and cove in between – Portugal is connected to the sea.
Both of Portugal’s major cities, Lisbon and Porto, are on the coast and have developed a cosmopolitan sophistication whilst retaining much of their history and charm. It is common for Portugal’s cities to be built on gradients and lifts, elevators, steps, stairs, trams and funiculars are common means of scaling the heights, often to a castle or vast religious building at the pinnacle. With the strong cultural elements of simple food cooked well, haunting folk music and the wines of the Douro and Alentejo providing a backdrop to medieval city centres, rich history and modern inventions, the cities of Portugal are certain to keep you entertained!
Things to Know About Portugal
- Do not make comparisons between Portugal and Spain! Portugal is proud to be a separate and distinct country with rich heritage; their identity as Portuguese is important. Portugal dislikes being overshadowed by their larger neighbours.
- Portuguese people speak quite rapidly and loudly; this does not signify anger or displeasure although it can be a little disconcerting at first to hear little old ladies yelling at each other in the street!
- Every city and town holds an annual festa when all but the restaurants and bars close. These events are loud and colourful, usually with different themes around music, dancing, food or religion. Check out the calendar here and be sure to attend if you can.
- If you travel to rural Portugal, many people keep dogs for security. Be prepared to be barked at by tied up or fenced off attack style dogs. It also means there will be barking at night so take ear plugs if you’re a light sleeper. There are also lots of stray dogs, generally well behaved but they poo anywhere and everywhere. Keep your eyes peeled when walking in built-up areas.
- Traditional markets are a way of life in Portugal, many people only ever shop at markets and you’ll find one in all the best cities in Portugal. The range of produce is huge and stalls range from those clearly professional sellers to farmers with one stool, a few chickens and some walnuts to sell.
- Coffee is HUGE in Portuguese food culture. Don’t expect though to find Costa or Starbucks here; macchiato and latte are unknown words, ask for anything ‘skinny’ and you’ll be laughed at. Coffee comes very strong, very hot and in a very small cup…usually for less than a euro and drunk in less than a minute.
- Salt cod or bacalhau is a Portuguese staple. It is stocked in all supermarkets and small food shops, stacked precariously high like pieces of white and grey corrugated cardboard and smells pretty pungent (understatement!). Apparently there are 101 ways to cook salt cod, try it and eat like a local.
- Mealtimes start at around noon for lunch and 7pm for dinner, although this will be later in the cities.
- Once seated, you will be served entradas which usually consist of pao (bread), azeitonas (olives), tuna or sardine patés and butter. The cost is usually minimal, €1-2, similar to a cover charge. If you’re eating on a budget ask for the entrada to be removed and you should not be charged.
Getting to Portugal
Mainland Portugal has three international airports, Lisbon, Porto (sometimes called Oporto) and Faro, for the Algarve. These three airports cover the entire country, and provide numerous direct international routes, making any of them a great start point for a Portugal city road trip.
It’s easy to reach Portugal by train from the rest of Europe. Get to Irun on the Spanish border, then hop on the famous Sud Express overnight to Lisbon, where you can enjoy a dinner and drink before a night in your sleeping-car, to arrive in Portugal in style! Or you can get to Barcelona and take the high-speed AVE train to Madrid, then the overnight Lusitania sleeper train to Lisbon. There are numerous other daytime trains, as always, make sure to book in advance for the best deals. Once in Portugal, the train is a fantastic way to get around, you can get from Lisbon to Porto and back in a day, making it easy to see both cities in a limited amount of time.
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and the quirky and colourful striped houses of Praia Costa Nova.
Known for its historical buildings, monuments, gardens and fountains, Braga is a beautiful city in the heart of the lush Minho region in the north. Braga wears its religious devotion on its sleeve, in the form of many churches and other symbols of faith happily co-existing with the typical bustle of a modern city complete with restaurants, bars and a renowned nightlife.
The capital of southern Portugal’s Algarve region, Faro is often overlooked as visitors pass through on route to holiday accommodation. But do that and you’ll miss Faro’s fascinating cultural history, well-preserved charming old town, deliciously fresh seafood and lively nightlife.
Set high on a plateau, Viseu retains a medieval feel to what was once a walled center and has been an important crossroads since Roman times. Although not famed for anything specific, Viseu is a busy city full of artistic treasures, historical churches and a strong culture of local crafts. Surrounded by rich agricultural land, the area is also renowned for its fine cheeses and is the centre the production of Dao wines.