One of the most important parts of sustainable and responsible tourism is positively impacting your travel destination. This involves the destination’s economy, inhabitants, and natural resources, including wildlife.
Portugal sees millions of tourists every year and overtourism has become a problem in places like Lisbon and the Algarve. Housing has reached record-high prices in Lisbon, Tram 28 is overcrowded, and new laws are being enforced to protect natural resources.
Here are some things you may want to consider to ensure you have a positive impact when you travel to Portugal.
In Lisbon, overtourism has affected rental prices and local transport, more specifically, Tram no. 28. This traditional yellow tram goes through the historic centre and has become an icon of the city.
As a result, the millions of tourists stepping on Lisbon’s soil every year want to take the tram themselves. This affects the locals who normally use the tram for their daily commute. The crowds of tourists snapping their pictures on the tram make it impossible for local people to get on the tram.
In the Algarve, there are large numbers of tourists in the summer months partying hard and littering the beaches. Large fines of up to thousands of Euros have been implemented to control this.
Waste disposal: Portugal is lagging behind other European countries when it comes to recycling, however, there are an increasing number of recycling bins on the street. These are colour-coded; the basics are that yellow is for plastic, blue is for paper, and green is for glass.
Water usage: Portugal is experiencing drought in almost half of the country, especially in the south. So, using water sparingly when you visit the country is important.
Transport: Use public transport when possible in Lisbon and Porto. While you can use the tram, be cautious about Tram 28 as it has become so popular that locals can’t get on it to get home from work. You also find bicycles and electric scooters for rent in the cities. Otherwise, most places in Portugal are walkable.
Volunteering when travelling to Portugal is a great way to give back to the community. There are different organizations you can volunteer with, from dog shelters to working farms.
A great site to find volunteering opportunities with is Workaway. There are plenty of opportunities for volunteering in organic farms and specific projects that could be anything like building a yoga retreat or an ashram.
In smaller communities in Portugal, there are plenty of eco-initiatives like workshops and small eco stores you can support. In the larger cities, you can find ecological and plant-based cafes and restaurants that use only local produce. These are great initiatives to support instead of the large chains.
There are also small, family-owned hotels and guest houses you can stay at to support the local economy.
Some local initiatives that support responsible travel are:
Iberian Wolf Recovery Center - a sanctuary protecting Iberian wolves that can not live in the wild for different reasons. Some come from zoos, have been held captive illegally, or have been victims of traps.
Beach cleanup - There are regular beach cleanups in Cascais and other areas of Portugal that you can join - or just start your own beach cleanup.
Portugal Farm Experiences - immersive tours to Portuguese farms to learn more about the traditions and customs of the farmers.
The Portuguese people are generally very polite and mutual respect is appreciated (like anywhere really.) Portugal might not be as famous for their customs and traditions as other European countries, but that does not mean there isn’t an abundance of old traditions worth looking into when visiting. Here are some traditional items you may want to admire or purchase while you're here:
Portuguese azulejos: Portugal is maybe most famous for their colourful tiles, aka azulejos, and impressive tile artwork covering the facade of houses as well as the interior of religious buildings and train stations alike. There are different tile workshops you can do when visiting Portugal to learn more about the 13th-century tradition.
Handicrafts: Portugal has many different local traditions of handicrafts dating back centuries. These are often found in rural areas and can vary from pottery to carpet making and jewellery. By purchasing local handicrafts, you support traditions passed down for centuries.
Port Wine: Portugal, and especially the Porto region is known for the fabulous port wine that has been produced and exported for centuries. The Douro Valley is listed as a UNESCO World Heritage site and is a wonderful place to savour some of the country’s finest ports.
As with anywhere, try to minimise your impact on the natural environment by not feeding wildlife or throwing rubbish or food in nature. Some activities you may want to avoid include:
Zoos and aquariums: any for-profit venue is questionable, animals that move several kilometers a day in the wild will not be healty in a small space, including marine life. You can read more here.
Swimming with dolphins: the needs of dolphins held in captivity are generally not met, swimming with dolphins can be harmful both for the animal and the tourists. You can read more here.
Planning a trip to Portugal? Read our other travel guides.
Last Updated 14 October 2023