Tourism is a two-sided coin, and that’s definitely evident in Portugal at the moment. On the one hand, tourism has brought a lot of new money to a country that has been struggling financially for a long time. On the other hand, tourism can put a strain on local services, dramatically change the housing market, and just have a noticeable impact on those that live in the most popular parts of the country like Lisbon and Porto.
The solution, or at least a solution, is to encourage people to be better tourists, and this article highlights 17 ways that you can do that.
Ask permission to take a photograph
A lot of Portugal is incredibly photogenic, and many of the things that make a great photo are of Portuguese people going about their daily life for example shopping in the markets, sitting on benches, and sitting at cafés (yes, there’s a lot of sitting down in Portugal).
This isn’t Disneyland, though, and it’s important to ask people before taking a photograph. Most people, if you ask them, are more than happy to oblige, and even more happy if you support their business in someway (for example buying something from their stall).
Be respectful at markets
The Portuguese still do a lot of their shopping at the market, and the markets in Portugal can be fascinating. There are so many interesting things to see, whether it’s unique fish at the seafood section of the market or animal heads and other parts in the butcher’s section.
Again, the market isn’t actually a tourist attraction: it’s where people do a lot of their daily and weekly shopping. Many tourists don’t appreciate this, and get in the way of a lot of people who are actually looking to buy something. This in turn affects the livelihood of those behind the market stalls, and could eventually mean that Portugal starts to lose its markets.
That’s not to say that you shouldn’t go to Portuguese markets: please do. Just be respectful and imagine what it would be like if crowds of tourists turned up in your local supermarket while you were trying to shop.
Learn a little Portuguese
A lot of Portuguese people speak fantastic English, and some are completely fluent. Not everyone does, though, and you should never just assume that someone can speak English.
Even if you just learn the Portuguese for hello and thank you, it’s seen as very considerate. Nobody’s really expecting you to speak any more Portuguese than that but, if you want to learn a few more phrases, check out these free resources for learning Portuguese.
- Hello: Olá is the simplest way of saying hello, but people tend to say good morning (bom dia), good afternoon (boa tarde), or good night (boa noite).
- Thank you: Obrigado if you’re a man, and obrigada if you’re a woman.
Don’t speak Spanish
If you assume someone speaks English in Portugal and go ahead and speak English, it might be considered a bit rude but it won’t offend anyone too much. Speak Spanish, however, and that could be a whole other story.
Spain is Portugal’s oldest and closest enemy, and the Portuguese hate being compared to the Spanish in any way. Although the Portuguese can understand a lot of Spanish, they really don’t like someone assuming that Spanish and Portuguese are in any way similar.
If you’re staying in an Airbnb, remember other people live nearby
You’ve taken some time off to visit Portugal and found a great Airbnb in a real traditional Portuguese neighbourhood. That’s great, but remember that living like a local means that the people in your building are locals and they have jobs to get up and go to or children to look after. Portuguese walls can be quite thin, so don’t have any parties and try and keep the noise to a reasonable level.
Avoid corporate-owned Airbnbs & apartment rentals
Airbnb has its pros and cons, but there are a few different types of hosts on Airbnb. The least destructive to the local housing market is someone who rents out there own primary property when they’re not using it. Unfortunately, it’s rare that you actually come across a property like this.
The second most common type of Airbnb host is someone who owns a second property and rents it on Airbnb. This isn’t ideal, as it means that property is being taken away from the local housing market, but it isn’t as bad as property companies buying up apartments (and sometimes whole blocks of apartments) and renting them out on Airbnb.
Spotting these property companies isn’t always easy, but you can start to get clues when you see how many other listings that they have. That doesn’t necessarily mean that the host owns all of those properties as they could just be managing them, but it’s a clue to begin with.
Tip wherever possible
Portugal has some of the lowest wages in Europe and, with the cost of living rising in places like Lisbon and Porto, many people in service industries need their tips to help them cover their living costs.
There isn’t a set tipping percentage in Portugal like there is in the UK or USA, so we’ve put together a few tipping guidelines for restaurants, housekeeping, taxis, and just about everything else.
Forget Starbucks, try something Portuguese
It’s incredible the number of people that come to Portugal and order a coffee at Starbucks or a burger at McDonald’s. In Portugal there’s a café almost every few metres, and there’s absolutely no need to go to an international chain like Starbucks.
Many of these cafés also serve snacks like bifanas, pregos, and other Portuguese snacks, which taste much better than a McDonald’s, and are a lot more interesting as well: you can get a McDonald’s anywhere in the world, but you can only really get a bifana in Portugal.
If you do got to McDonald’s, though, at least get one of the menu items that are unique to Portugal like the McBifana or Caldo Verde soup. There’s no point in coming to Portugal and ordering a Big Mac.
Don’t call Portugal “backward”
Portugal is fairly unique for a Western European country and, in a lot of ways, is behind many of its neighbouring countries. Things move slowly here, places often have weird opening hours, many buildings are in need of repair, and the electricity in your apartment may not be able to handle a hairdryer and a microwave at the same time.
That doesn’t mean it’s okay to call Portugal “backward” though. The correct word, even if you hear Portuguese saying that Portugal is backward, is charming. It’s just one of those things that’s insulting if someone else says it, but is okay if someone from Portugal does.
Don’t set fires in the countryside
Forest fires are a huge problem in Portugal, and have caused millions in damages over the past few years. Often forest fires are started by something small like a campfire and quickly become an inferno that tears through the countryside destroying the landscape, people’s homes, and killing people as well. In June 2017, for example, the wildfires across Central Portugal resulted in 66 deaths and a further 204 injuries.
Portugal, especially during the summer, can be like one big firelighter: the non-native eucalyptus trees in particular are extremely flammable, and are a big reason that the wildfires spread so quickly.
Note: Wildcamping, although it is sometimes ignored in the winter, is actually illegal in Portugal as fires are such a big problem.
Don’t go on about how cheap Portugal is
Yes, Portugal may be a lot cheaper than your home country but that doesn’t mean it’s cheap for the people who live here. Prices have risen considerably over the past few years and many locals are being priced out of their own cities due to mass tourism.
Portugal might be great value for you, but that doesn’t mean that it is for everyone so be mindful and avoid saying it’s cheap.
Don’t assume everywhere will let you pay by card
Although more and more businesses, particularly those in touristy areas, now take card payments, Portugal still does a lot of its business in cash. Most businesses don’t take card payments, and you really shouldn’t expect them too either: that’s just not how things are done in Portugal.
Step aside to read your map
We all know what it’s like when the person in front of you stops suddenly and you have to avoid crashing into them.
If you do need to look at your map, or stop for any other reason, just step aside and then stop to read your map or do whatever you need to do. The streets can be very narrow in Portugal, but by thinking about others before you stop you can avoid getting in other people’s way.
Be respectful on public transport
Etiquette is important on public transport, particularly if you’re travelling with a backpack or suitcase. These are cumbersome and can take up a lot of space, and it’s important to be conscious of the other people travelling with you.
If you’re travelling with a backpack, it’s best to take it off and keep it on the ground. When taking it off, don’t swing around unexpectedly as you’re liable to hit someone in the face.
Suitcases can cause plenty of problems as well, especially suitcases with wheels. Many people pull them behind them without realising how easy it would be to trip someone up.
In Portugal, as in many other countries, it’s also normal etiquette to give up your seat for someone who’s older or pregnant. It’s good manners and good manners are an important part of being a good tourist.
Do you have any other tips for being a good tourist either in Portugal or anywhere else? Share your thoughts and suggestions by leaving a comment below.
Spot a mistake? If you notice a mistake, or would like to suggest improvements to the article, please get in touch. This article was last updated in December 2018.
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