Its regions have distinct identities - think of Alentejo, with its golden plains and cork trees; Algarve, famed for its stunning beaches and seafood; and Minho, the birthplace of Vinho Verde, Portugal’s unique green wine.
Traditional Fado music echoes in the alleyways of Lisbon and Coimbra, earning its place as a UNESCO Intangible Cultural Heritage. And while Portuguese remains the lingua franca, in villages of northeastern Miranda do Douro, you might catch whispers of Mirandese.
Here are some of the key things you need to know before you visit this enchanting country.
Portugal is a wonderful country to visit all year round, especially for sightseeing and surfing. However, if you want to indulge in the beaches, summer is best, from June to September, though some years the beach weather drags far out into the end of October.
If you enjoy hiking or want cheaper accommodation, you might want to avoid the summer months altogether.
Portugal is well-connected with both buses and trains, which are budget-friendly. However, if you have limited time, going on a road trip is the most convenient, especially if you go to remote places where bus connections are scarce. Driving is also the most expensive mode of transport due to many toll roads. You can also get between cities and towns with share ride apps like BlaBlaCar.
Portugal is in the EU and Schengen zone. If you come from any Schengen or EU country you do not need a visa to travel to Portugal. Many other nationalities need a visa to enter any Schengen country. You can check your nationality requirements here.
Portugal’s major airports are Lisbon’s Humberto Delgado Airport, Porto’s Francisco Sá Carneiro Airport, and Faro International Airport in the Algarve.
Most places take cards in Portugal, but compared to other Western European countries, there are still a few places that take cash only, or that has a minimum limit (usually 5 or 10 Euros) for paying by card. Some toll roads and street parking only take cash, so if you drive in Portugal, it is recommended to always carry 20-50 Euros in cash.
Portugal is among the safest countries in the world. That said, there are occassional pickpockets and some scams. These are typically taxi drivers not using the taximeter and asking for too much money, or restaurants not adding prices to specials etc. that they later charge an arm and a leg for.
Make sure you always ask for the price upfront, and in the case of the taxis, make them turn on the taximeter or change taxi. Violence against tourists is very rare.
If you are looking for unique accommodation in Portugal, why not stay at a vineyard hotel in the Douro Valley? There are many picturesque places to stay with dreamy views and wine tasting on your doorstep.
Another exceptional option in Portugal is to stay in any of the Pousadas, restored historical buildings turned into luxury hotels. A great alternative (which is also accessible) is the Pestana Palace Lisboa Hotel & National Monument in Lisbon where you can indulge in the outdoor pool on hot days.
Portugal is a country with incredible natural beauty. Make sure you do not throw rubbish in nature and try to pick up any you see on the ground. Due to the extreme wind that can occur on the Atlantic coast, items can easily fly around.
Choosing sustainable accommodation is also a great way to give back to the community. You can find a variety of eco-friendly accommodations at ecobnb.
Electric plugs in Portugal are type C, or Euro-plugs. It has two round plugs going into two round holes in the wall. Most European countries use this plug (not the UK.)
Tap water in Portugal is safe to drink all over the country. However, in some places, it can have a strong taste, so you will note that many residents drink bottled water while they use tap water for cooking. To avoid purchasing plastic bottles, you can bring a filtered water bottle. This often takes the strong taste away.
The age limit for consuming alcohol in Portugal is 18. You must carry a picture ID in case you get asked for proof of age. Back in the day, it was legal to serve a glass of wine or beer to anyone aged 16 and above in restaurants. The law has been enforced in recent years, and this is no longer permitted.
Despite bordering Spain, Portugal does not have a “siesta”. Shops are usually open between 9:00 in the morning and 19:00 in the evening. Supermarkets generally close at 21.00 or 22:00.
Most Portuguese start eating breakfast around 8:00-09:00 in the morning. However, there are many cafés serving breakfast that will not open before 9:00-10:00am, and serve breakfast until 11:00-12:00. So you do not have to be an early riser to eat.
Lunch times in Portugal are usually between 12:00 and 14:00, but you might find some restaurants that serve lunch until 15:00.
The Portuguese normally eat dinner between 8:00 and 09:00, but you can usually find restaurants open from 19:00, and some do not close until midnight.
Toilets in Portugal are usually clean and well-maintained. You can walk into restaurants and bars and ask to use the restroom, and they will usually say yes.
There are also some public restrooms where there might be a person working to keep them clean. They are not paid a lot, so leaving a small tip is appreciated. Fifty cents is enough.
It is prohibited to smoke inside hotels, restaurants, bars, and other public places in Portugal. Some hotels might have designated smoking areas in the pool area if it is large enough. It is also prohibited to smoke in covered outdoor terraces and outside public buildings like hospitals, government buildings, schools, etc. Smoking may also be banned from beaches in Portugal in the near future.
Internet access is generally good in Portugal and you can usually get free Wifi in restaurants, cafés, bars, and hotels. The major cities have 5G connections. In rural areas, however, you might find slower internet, and if you travel off-grid, there might not be any signal at all.
There are a few rules of conduct that will get you a long way in Portugal as a tourist. Here are some of the most important:
Even when you are in a beach destination, swimwear is only for the beach. Cover up with a T-shirt and shorts/skirt when going to restaurants and shops.
Friends and friends of friends usually greet each other with a kiss on each cheek. You start by giving your right cheek and kiss in the air, then the left cheek and kiss in the air. The more formal greeting is a handshake.
It is not expected to leave a tip in Portugal, but it is appreciated to “leave the change” in restaurants, bars, cafés, and taxis when paying in cash.
Prices are fixed in shops and can not be bargained. However, on markets and with street sellers where the price is not marked, you can bargain.
Not all Portuguese speak English, and many people are not comfortable with it if they do not work in the tourism industry. So do not expect anyone to speak English, rather ask nicely. It is good to know some basic phrases (we have listed some further down.)
When travelling to Portugal in summer, pack light summer clothes, but always bring one pair of long pants and a jacket in case it gets cool in the evening. This is especially likely if you are going north or in the mountains.
Swimwear, sunscreen and sandals are a must if you are going on a beach holiday, and hiking shoes if you plan on going on hikes. Even on the cliffs of the Algarve, the trails should not be taken lightly. The terrain is rough and slippery (with steep drops), so good footwear is essential.
In the winter months, you need to dress in layers, especially in the south and central Portugal, as the temperatures can be very warm in the day and drop dramatically at night.
Here are some useful Portuguese words and phrases you might find useful. Where you see o/a at the end of the word it means that if you are male, the word ends with o and if you are female, the word ends with a instead e.g. obrigado and obrigada.
Óla - Hello
Obrigado/a - Thank you
Onde é o banheiro - Where is the toilet
Uma cerveja por favor - A beer please
A conta por favor - The bill, please
De nada - You are welcome
Com licença - Excuse me
Planning a trip to Portugal? Read our other travel guides
Last Updated 8 August 2023