“Any Portugese town looks like bride’s finery – something old, something new, something borrowed, and something blue.”mary mccarthy
Top Five Destinations In Portugal
1. Duoro Valley Wine Region Is the oldest demarcated wine region in the world. The Douro Valley is a magical enchanted landscape with so much beauty that your breath is taken away at every turn. This is where the Douro wines (Port wine and Portuguese Wine) are produced on its steep hillsides in a harsh climate still handpicked to this day. The whole region is a designated Unesco World Heritage Site.
2. Porto Is a magnificent contemporary city on the River Duoro. Discover extravagant Baroque churches, rich cultural sights, neoclassical buildings that grace the skyline, world-class museums, and picturesque squares. Wander Riberia, the historical heart of Porto. Do a Port tasting at one of the centuries-old Port Houses. Get lost in the maze of narrow streets. You will fall in love!
3. Lisbon Is the stunning capital city of Portugal and vibrant and bustling with life. Ancient and modern at the same time, it is full of culture-rich history and charisma. Lisbon is a picture-perfect panorama of captivating cobbled alleyways, ancient ruins, fascinating museums, and spectacular architecture. This is also one of the major economic centers of the continent. Wander the various Bairros de Lisboa (distinct neighborhoods) such as Belem, Alfama, and Mourana. Delve deeply into this amazing city.
4. Algarve Region Is the historical province of southern Portugal bound by the Atlantic Ocean and the lower Guadiana River. This magnificent region has protected nature reserves rich with birdlife, pristine beaches, jagged cliffs, wild coastlines, and top-notch resorts.
5. Obidos Is a 13-century small village of whitewashed houses draped in bougainvillea with a well-preserved castle within Medieval Walls. There is an ancient aqueduct nearby. It is in our top five because we loved everything about it. It was our first stop after landing in Lisbon and on our way to Porto. Spend one euro and enjoy a cup made of chocolate filled with the famous Obidos Ginga liquor. There is a special charm to this perfect little town that captured our hearts.
Did you know?
- Population: 10.3 million
- Capital City: Lisbon
- Currency: Euro (EUR)
- Government type: Unitary Semi-Presidential Constitutional Republic
- President Marcela Rebelo de Sousa
- Ethnic groups: white homogeneous Mediterranean population; citizens of black African descent who immigrated to mainland during decolonization number less than 100,000; since 1990, Eastern Europeans have migrated to Portugal.
- Languages: Portuguese (official), Mirandese (official, but locally used)
- Religions: Roman Catholic 81%, other Christian 3.3%, other (includes Jewish, Muslim) 0.6%, none 6.8%, unspecified 8.3%
- US State Department Risk Level:
- Terrorist groups: N/A
- GDP is 237.7 Billion.
- Portugal is the westernmost country of mainland Europe and makes up the Iberian Peninsula together with Spain and Andorra.
- Portugal’s colonial empire spanned 600 years, the longest-lived of the modern European empires.
- Portugal’s official name República Portuguesa.
- Portugal founded the first global empire.
- The rooster is a symbol of Portugal.
- There are 15 UNESCO World Heritage Sites in Portugal (ranking it 8th in Europe and 17th in the world).
- Fado is Portugals national music.
- Portugal has the longest bridge in Europe. The six-lane, cable-stayed Vasco da Gama bridge crossing the Tagus River to the north of Lisbon was opened in 1998 and is almost 11 miles long.
- Portuguese is spoken in nine countries; Brazil, Angola, Guinea-Bissau, East Timor, Mozambique, Equatorial Guinea, Cape Verde, and São Tomé and Príncipe.
- Inventions originating in Portgual include Green Lane toll pay system(Via Verde), Prepaid cell phones, ukulele, ocean navigational and coastal cartography, carracks black sword, marmalade, cerebral angiography, Japanese Tempura, and deaf-mute language.
- Leading Industries in Portugal: cork, tourism, service, textiles, power, automotive, electronics, metals, cement, footwear, paper, chemicals, pottery, and processed food.
- Portugal had been a country of poor economic conditions post years of dictatorship. In the past decade, the government has privatized many state-controlled firms and opened key areas of the economy.
- One of the first countries to adopt the euro was Portugal.
- Portugal is a founding member of NATO and an EU member.
- The highest mountain in Portugal is Mount Picoat, 7,713 feet.
- Cabo da Roca is continental Europe’s westernmost point, located within the Sintra Mountain Range, in the Portuguese municipality of Sintra.
- Life expectancy is 81 years old.
- Literacy rate 96%.
- Portugal is one of the oldest countries in Europe and was founded in 1139. Portugal is named after the city of Porto.
- Lisbon, the capital of Portugal, is also one of the oldest cities in Western Europe.
- Portugal receives more than 300 days of sunshine annually!
- The University of Coimbra, established in Lisbon in 1290, is one of the oldest universities in continuous operation in the world. It traced back to the 13th century.
- Portugal was once one of the world’s most powerful nations and owned half of the “New World.” When the Treaty of Tordesillas was signed in 1494, Portugal was given the eastern half of the New World, including Brazil, Asia, and Africa.
- The Douro wine region is the third-oldest protected region of its kind.
- Portugal and England signed the Anglo-Portuguese alliance in 1373, which still is in place. It is the oldest diplomatic alliance in the world. They remain close allies.
- The oldest bookstore, the Bertrand Bookstore in Lisbon, is the oldest in the world.
- Lisbon was struck by one of the most powerful earthquakes in European history in 1755, where 275,000 people were killed.
- The country’s national drink is Port wine, which is also a major export.
- The Portuguese were the first Europeans to reach Japan in the 16th century.
- In 1761, Portugal became the first colonial power to abolish slavery before Britain, France, Spain, or the United States.
- The Portugal–Spain border is 754 mi long and the longest uninterrupted border within the European Union.
- Portugal’s dictatorship was the longest in Europe, 1926-1974, with António de Oliveira Salazar as dictator.
- Portugal is the world leader in the production of renewable energy. It meets almost 70% of its energy needs through hydro, wind, and solar power.
- Portugal produces approximately half of all cork harvested annually worldwide. It is most commonly used as a wine stopper.
- Porto has six bridges over the same river, more bridges than any other country in Europe.
- Portuguese is the sixth most common language in the world, with 250 million speakers.
- Napoleon occupied Portugal in 1807. The British fought him off.
- Portugal has one of the most advanced ATM systems in the world.
- Known as the country of tiles, you will find tiles decorating their walls, floors, and ceilings.
- Millions of pilgrims journey to Fatima each year. This Catholic pilgrimage brings 6-7 million to Portugal.
- The Age of Discovery is a period in the history of Europe that occurred from the 15th century to the mid-17th century.
Good to know before you go – Portgual
- Tipping etiquette in Portugal is a bit inconsistent, but it is customary to tip in most places. The minimum wage is quite low in Portugal, so they appreciate tipping. We found that high-end establishments expect tips when lower-end ones did not when the workers likely need it more. Tipping is usually between 5-10% at restaurants. Since food is quite inexpensive, we always left at least 10%. Servers tend to be engaging and helpful. Though it is uncommon in Portugal, check if the service charge is built into the bill. In hotels, tip the bellman a couple of euros and housekeeping 1-2 euros per night. Taxis are car service expect 10%. Concierge and spa services do not expect tips.
- Shops and restaurants accept credit cards almost everywhere. Have cash for markets, street vendors, and small cafes.
- The Portuguese dress conservatively. Women usually wear dresses, and men’s clothing is based primarily around a jacket and tie. People are fashion conscious and believe that clothes indicate social standing and success. For this very reason, they take great pride in wearing quality fabrics and clothes.
- The main highways in Portugal are remarkable. Wide-open, modern, and with barely anyone on them because the tolling system scares people away. In the rebuilding of this beautiful country, infrastructure was clearly a priority. The drive is often breathtaking. The signage is excellent. The speed is fast but doesn’t go above it as there are cameras everywhere and they ticket you. We got one upon our return to the US. They are pricey!!! The country roads are good overall and easy to navigate. In the cities, be careful; there were spots that we could barely get our car through, and we scraped it once. These are old cities with very narrow roads.
- All major roads have tolls, and this has become a major issue of frustration for tourists. This is done electronically, and it seems every few miles. It is subtle too, and you may miss it unless you know what you are looking for. It is small amounts each time but often. When you rent a car, make sure you get a toll pass as part of your rental. It will be based on your days, and the charge will give you unlimited use of the Toll Service. There are also other ways like pre-purchase credits, pay at the post office, or rent a Via Verdie device. We did not want to think about it, so had the pass added to our rental car bill worked flawlessly. Portugal monitors its roads aggressively to catch violators. They will track you down while driving, and you pay on the spot as well as a large fine. Check out portugaltolls.com for all your options.
- Keep your car fueled at least at a half of a tank! You will discover long stretches of mountainous roads with no gas stations in Portugal, even in small towns. We had a near disaster during our trip. Heading to a castle, we forgot to get gas in the city. We weren’t too worried as we saw many small towns along the way. To our painful surprise, not one town had gas for us. After a couple of hours and 40 km to our destination in our hybrid rental car, we were at zero km left and had a very low battery on mountainous roads. Coasting down the hills to give the battery a small charge while we prayed going up hills. On top of that, we had no cell service in spots. There was hardly a car on the road either. We finally got to this nice size town that had one tiny two-pump station. I am sure it keeps limited hours too! It was some of the most stressful moments of any trip we have done. Without cell service, we weren’t even sure how we would call for help. A hard-learned lesson that did not end in disaster. Yes, the castle was worth it.
- Portugal is full of cities with hills! We mean hills, real hills. Steep hills. We can not say this enough; plan accordingly. Bring two pairs are good walking/hiking shoes. Swap shoes often. Our feet have never been so impacted than on this trip. Weeks later, they still felt bruised, and a Podiatrist said, what did you expect. By the way, did we mention the hills?
- The Portuguese are very family-oriented due to these strong Roman Catholic beliefs. Loyalty to the family comes before any other social or business relationship. Sundays are family days when everyone gathers to visit parents and grandparents.
- An arm’s length is usually the appropriate amount of personal space during conversations. The Portuguese tend to touch a bit when conversing with good friends and family. But those displays are inappropriate in business or formal situations.
- It is appropriate to shake hands with eye contact with everyone present informal situations, which generally means that you haven’t met the person before; this applies to men, women, and older children. One should shake hands again upon leaving. You will see when greeting acquaintances and friends, men embrace and pat one another on the back, and women kiss both cheeks, starting with the right.
- The Portuguese are fatalists. They have deep faith in their destinies, which they believe cannot be escaped.
- The Portuguese tend to be quite direct in their communication style. Usually, they will tell you the truth, but not in a harsh way. They to speak quickly and loudly. Their use of body language is conservative as they feel it is not seen as classy to be overall expressive.
- Seafood is a staple of the Portuguese diet. You will see it on all menus, and it is truly fresh and served with pride. Octopus is a country favorite, and each region seems to have variations of it. In Lisbon, Joelle ordered a full Octopus. It was an experience she won’t ever forget. When in Rome……..You can see pics of it here.
- When first arriving at your table at a restaurant in Portugal, you immediately receive some bread, various olives, and spreadables. This is known as Couvert and is brought as a convenience, so you don’t have to order them. Your first impression is how welcoming. Beware, these are not FREE, and you will be charged for them if you do not want them to state it right away. They don’t tend to be costly, but they can add up. This is done everywhere in Portugal. During our extended visit, only one place didn’t, and it was a Michelin Star restaurant in Algarve.
- Table manners are continental; hold the fork in the left hand and the knife in the right while eating. Do not begin your meal until the hostess says bom apetite.
- Café culture is also an important feature of the Portuguese lifestyle. They love their coffee along with pastry or bread drenches in olive oil.
- A pastry you should seek out is Pasteis de Nata. A delectable crispy, creamy, and sweet pastry. The original home is in Belem, a district outside of Lisbon. You will find long lines but still well worth a visit.
- Attending a national festival is a fantastic way to experience Portugal’s culture and traditions. Some include Carnival in February and Easter celebrations like Holy Week (“Semana Santa”) and the international sand sculpture festival in the early Spring.
- Portugal is one of the world’s top surf spots and occurs year-round. If you can make the time watch some of these talented surfers. The largest wave ever surfed was in Portugal.
- Portugal has numerous sacred sites worth visiting, among them is the Sanctuary of Our Lady of Fátima (with the Chapel of the Apparitions, the Sacred Heart statue, and the Basilica of Our Lady of the Rosary), the Alcobaça Monastery where the tombs of Pedro I and Inês de Castro are located and the Cathedral of Braga which is a Roman Catholic church.
- When invited to a Portuguese home for dinner, bring flowers, good quality chocolates, or candy.
- Tourism is the backbone of this country. Due to that, you will find most Portuguese speak excellent English. Learn the basics, though; you are a guest in their country.
- It is rated as the 4th safest country in the world (2018).
When to go to Portugal
Portugal’s climate is maritime temperate. It is generally cool and rainy in the north and dry and warmer in the south. There are 300 days of sun a year. It is a year-round travel destination. Summer is the peak season, and there could be lots of crowds to deal with. Since the weather is good year-round in Portugal, there is no traditional shoulder season. The Winter months are when you will find the lowest crowds and best prices.
In Portugal, the country has are two main weather regions on the mainland, North and South of the River Tejo. Though smaller, there are also the Azores and Madeira islands. The Azores High, a high-pressure system that strongly impacts the weather, delivers nice weather both in winter and summer.
North of the River Tejo, along the temperate humid Atlantic coast, winters are usually rainy, and summers are mild and dry, becoming hotter the further east you travel. Plan appropriately by packing some light rain gear and an umbrella. The region south of the River Tejo experiences a Mediterranean climate, with drier winters and hot and dry summers.
The Azores and Madeira islands have subtropical climates with year-round mild temperatures.
- Summer 62-83 °F (17-28 °C)
- Spring 52-72 °F (52-72 °C)
- Fall 53-80°F (14-27 °C)
- Winter 47-62 °F (11-16 °C)
Our Favorite Portugal Resources
This resource section contains some Amazon affiliate links. If you use these links to buy something, we may earn a small commission at no additional cost to you. Thank you!
Portugal was part of a two-week trip, including Spain. This is a perfect combination due to proximity. They are also very diverse experiences. This was our first trip to Portugal and Joelle’s second to Spain. We didn’t know much about Portugal, but we realized this would be amazing as we researched. It has turned out to be one of our favorite places. The guides and tools below helped build that excitement and made for the perfect trip.
A passport to the most relevant, up-to-date advice that all Portugal has to offer and what hidden discoveries await you. Explore the alleyways and hidden courtyards in bustling Lisbon, discover Port Houses and the rich history in Porto, and play in the Algarve beaches’ waves. Let this beautifully illustrated guide be your travel partner. Great photography and lots of details to aid in planning. Discover this travel guide here.
Rick Steves Portugal by Rick Steves
Full disclosure, we are huge Rick Steve’s fans, it will be rare we do not recommend one of his wonderful guides, and boy did we use his Portugal one. We love his travel style and perspective. His off-the-beaten-path approach, together with his independent travel philosophy, matches well with how we travel. The guides never disappoint. This book made the cut into our suitcase and was a fantastic resource. Find this must-have guide here.
The ideal travel companion, full of insider advice on what to see and do, plus detailed itineraries and comprehensive maps for exploring this vibrant country. Whether you’re looking for world-renowned beaches, serene hilltop villages, grassy islands, or captivating cities, everything you need to know is clearly laid out within color-coded chapters. Find this guide here.
Our favorite websites
2. US Department of State: Bureau of Consular Affairs Portugal Country Info
We cannot encourage you enough to visit this website as you plan and prepare for your trip. This is the US Federal Government addressing the safety, security, travel risk, entry, exit, visa documents mandates, emergency US and Embassy contacts, health, local laws, special circumstances, threats, traveler vulnerabilities, government warnings, and transportation in Portugal. This is your best and most reliable resource for all this important info. Check back often before you go, as things can change quickly. Being prepared is essential in all travel, but especially internationally.
3. The Center of Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) Travelers Health Resource
This CDC travel resource provides essential health info for your specific destination. Using their tool, you can determine which vaccines, medications, and health advice recommendations are needed for Portugal.
Our favorite maps
Easy to read maps with practical road and travel information. These maps are meant for the adventure traveler. Major sites and landmarks are well marked. Mapped road network with distances and designations for major highways to the off-the-beaten-path roads. Waterproof and tear resisted it holds up well. Great for planning your route before your trip. Though we default to Google maps, this came in handy when service was poor or during construction detours. Find this essential map here.
Our favorite apps
Rome2rio: Trip Planner Trip and Holiday Organizer Enter any address, landmark, or city in the app will instantly display all your travel options, booking info, along with accommodation providers and things to do. Find on your local app store.
Duolingo-Language Lesson Audio lessons that help improve your listening and speaking skills. Find on your local app store.
Rick Steves Audio Europe This app includes a vast library of Rick Steve’s audio content. Get cultural and travel info. Includes self-guided tours of top attractions and historic walks. Amsterdam options. A must-have. Find on your local app store.
Portugal News English Portugal news and radio. Learn what is happening before you and while there. Find on your App store.
Google Translate We used this often to practice proper pronunciations of Portuguese words. As we always encourage, it is essential to learn the basics to greet and thank people in the local language. Google translate was an easy app to use. If needed, you can enter text in English, and it will speak back in Portuguese to aid in communicating with locals. Furthermore, it came in very handy to translate text into images instantly.
Do you have a favorite Portugal travel resource? Share your favorites in the comments section at the bottom of this page or