Embarking on a journey to Portugal? Prepare to be captivated! This charming country, with its rich history, stunning landscapes, and delightful cuisine, offers an experience like no other. But, as with any new adventure, a bit of insight can elevate your trip from good to unforgettable. That’s where my travel tips come in, guiding you to navigate Portugal like a seasoned traveller.
I have travelled to every part of Portugal. That’s right! From north to south, east to west. I’ve also visited Madeira and every single one of the 9 islands in the Azores. Based on all of that, here’s some of my top tips for making the most of your time in Portugal.
If you love it, you can move here
Did you know that Portugal is one of the easier places in Europe to move to? That’s right! Portugal offers a number of residency visas for retirees, digital nomads or remote workers, and entrepreneurs.
A lot of people who come to Portugal fall in love with the warm weather, beautiful buildings, and feeling of safety. Well, don’t just make it a travel destination: consider making it your forever home.
Want to know more? Check out my book Moving to Portugal Made Simple.
Try to Avoid Visiting in July & August
I don’t want to say avoid July and August completely because this is often the only time some people can travel. I’ve also travelled around a lot of Portugal during these months and it hasn’t been too hot, too crowded, or too expensive.
That said, it is the hottest and most expensive time of the year, particularly in places like Lisbon and the Algarve. If you’re visiting these places, consider visiting a little out of season (for example: September or June). Accommodation will be cheaper and the cooler weather is much better for sightseeing.
I personally love the shoulder months (June and September) or even to visit parts of Portugal, like the Algarve, in winter.
Avoid Speaking Spanish
While Spanish is widely understood, it’s important to remember that Spanish and Portuguese are different languages and that this distinction is important to the Portuguese. Saying ‘gracias’ instead of ‘obrigado (for men) or obrigada (for women)’ can offend some people as it insinuates you see Portugal as just a part of Spain.
That said, Spanish is widely understood. If it’s your first language or you’re fluent in it, don’t be afraid to speak it. Many Portuguese people will reply to you in Spanish or in a Portuguese-Spanish hybrid that people often refer to as Portuñol.
Always Carry Some Cash
Although more and more places accept foreign bank cards, a lot still don’t (particularly outside of places like Central Lisbon and the Algarve). It’s even common for some machines in metro stations or on the toll roads to not accept foreign bank cards.
Basically, it’s always a good idea to carry some cash on you, just in case.
Watch Our For Euronet ATMS
These ATMs typically charge you between 7.5% and 20% of whatever you’re withdrawing, so avoid at all costs. They’re appearing all over Portugal, and are easily identifiable by their bright blue and yellow colouring.
If you can, look out for ATMs that have the word ‘multibanco‘ on them as these are an easy way to identify the normal Portuguese ATMs.
Of course, if you don’t mind paying a big fee for convenience, feel free to use these ATMs. They’re located all over the country and it’s often easier to find one of these than it is a ‘normal’ ATM.
The ‘Couvert’ isn’t free but it’s cheap
At the start of a meal, the waiter will probably bring over bread, butter, and maybe cheese. This is known as the couvert. It’s normally quite affordable and will usually only add a few euros to your meal, but you don’t have to take it if you don’t want it.
Tip: You can check the prices inside the menu before deciding.
Many Places Won’t Have AC
AC isn’t as common in Portugal as it is in other parts of the world, like North America and Asia. This means that if you rent an Airbnb or stay in a hotel, you should check that it has AC if this is a priority for you. Summer temperatures can get close to 40°C (around 104°F), particularly in the south of the country.
Similarly, most properties don’t have heating (or an AC with a heating option). This means that properties can be quite cold during the winter months, particularly if they don’t have an AC unit with a heating option.
Sunscreen is Cheaper in Lidl
Sunscreen (and most branded or medical products) is really expensive in Portugal, but you can get a bottle of sunscreen for around €3-4 in Lidl. Otherwise, expect to spend around €10 in supermarkets like Continente and Pingo Doce.
Tipping Isn’t the Norm But Is Always Appreciated
Tipping isn’t particularly common in non-touristy parts of Portugal but, as with anywhere, it’s always appreciated. Portugal has the lowest wages in Western Europe and with a cost of living that’s continuously increasing, every little helps.
There is a standard amount to tip if you decide that you want to, but most people either tip 10% or round up. Of course, if you want to tip the standard American 20%, that’ll definitely be appreciated.
Look Out for Restaurants with a Menu do Dia
To save on dining costs in Portugal, embrace the local custom of enjoying your main meal at lunch. Many restaurants offer a menu do dia (menu of the day) or “prato do dia” (dish of the day), which typically includes 2-3 courses.
More often than not, these lunch deals include a starter, a main course, and a dessert, sometimes even accompanied by coffee or a glass of wine as well. Remarkably, these complete meals often come at a cost of around €10, offering a substantial saving compared to evening dining prices.
Carry Photo ID
In Portugal, it’s a legal requirement to carry photo identification at all times, although you’re unlikely to be asked for it.
Of course, carrying your passport everywhere poses the risk of losing it, which can lead to a host of complications while travelling. A practical solution to this is to leave your passport securely in your hotel safe and instead carry a photocopy of it with you when you’re out and about.
Train Tickets Are Cheaper in Advance
There are lots of Places to Store your Bags
If you don’t have somewhere to leave your bags for the day (i.e. your hotel), there are lots of apps (like Luggage Hero and Bounce) which allow you to store your bags in bars, restaurants, and cafes for a small fee.
Say Yes to the Toll Transponder
When you rent a car in Portugal, you’ll be asked if you want a toll road transponder. Say yes! Although you don’t need to have one, if you want to pay your tolls on the electronic toll roads you’ll most likely need to queue up in the post office and that can be quite time-consuming.
Although it’ll cost you a few extra euros, it’ll be much less time-consuming than queuing to pay the toll fees. It also means that if, for whatever reason, the post office doesn’t have a record of the toll usage when you go to pay, they’ll be able to charge your credit card later on.
Take advantage of Solo Travel Discounts
Traveling solo can be an enriching experience, and it also offers unique opportunities for savings, particularly when it comes to accommodation.
When using hotel booking platforms like Booking.com, it’s important to specify that you are traveling alone by selecting the “1 guest” option. This simple step can sometimes unlock discounted rates for solo travellers, which are slightly more affordable compared to rates for couples or groups.
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).
It’s polite 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).
Dress in layers
In Portugal, you’ll notice that the temperature can drop significantly in the evening. You might start the day in shorts and a t-shirt but while you’re having dinner, the temperature will drop to the point where you wish you were wearing at least another light layer. This happens in both summer and winter.
To get around this, be sure to pack a few layers. Pack trousers and a light top for the summer and warmer wear for the winter time.
Wear Practical Footwear
Most Portuguese streets are cobbled and don’t lend themselves well to high heels. In fact, they don’t lend themselves well to anything that isn’t practical and that doesn’t have a good amount of grip, particularly in hilly places.
Forgo the fashion demands and go for practical instead.