18 Portugal Travel Tips That Are Actually Useful

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Last updated on June 4, 2024 | Est. Reading Time: 8 minutes

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

Trains can be booked through cp.pt and can be very affordable, especially when compared to other European countries. Some of the longer routes have discounts of around 40% if you book 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.

These apps don’t operate everywhere in the country, but are common in popular locations like Lisbon and Porto.

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.

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James Cave is the founder of Portugalist and the author of the bestselling book, Moving to Portugal Made Simple. He has visited just about every part of Portugal, including Madeira and all nine islands of the Azores, and lived in several parts of Portugal including Lisbon, the Algarve, and Northern Portugal.

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There are 61 comments on this article. Join the conversation and add your own thoughts, reviews, and stories of life in Portugal. However, please remember to be civil.

Comments

  1. ok so on your “Don’t speak Spanish” comment is it better to speak English? I am Spanish and traveling to Portugal and feel i can communicate better speaking Spanish as some of the words are similar. I don’t know how to speak Portuguese only a few phrases and common words. Is speaking Spanigh frowned upon in Portugal?

    Reply
  2. Hi
    Find your love of Portugal inspiring
    We are looking to get an apartment in Faro City ( maybe even the old town ) but don’t seem to find much on traditional web sites even airbnb.any other ideas.please Katharine

    Reply
  3. Just discovering your site and finding it so helpful. Great tip on not trying to use my Spanish (I def would have done that). On the same token- I read your article about pesticos and it really had me wondering if the Portuguese have a similar social culture to the Spanish- I love how common it is for people to go out for tapas w friends any time any day. We would also be traveling w our 1 year old and hoped it is culturally acceptable to bring with to bars and restaurants.

    Thanks for any insight!

    Reply
  4. I am holidaying in Tavira 23rd August until 4th September to celebrate my 60th Birthday. I would like to know about any events,festivals during that time. Also I would like to have a lovely birthday dinner somewhere extra special,can you recommend somewhere.

    Kind Regards
    Karen

    Reply
  5. Definitely need a lot of HELP!! How many questions am I allowed? Is 1000 too many just asking.!!! Selling everything , moving to Portugal. Either by myself or with my sweetheart. Sent question previously re: visit and then apply for visa awaiting reply. Thanks in advance.

    Reply
  6. Going to Portugal for the first time in October. Actually first trip to Europe ever. You mentioned to carry cash, but not everywhere takes foreign bank cards. What is the best way to get cash in Portugal?

    Reply
  7. Hi. We would like to visit Portugal for New Years, is it a good idea for about 10 days? We’d like to start from the North…Porto, Douro, Algarve, Lagos, Lisbon, Sintra and Faro. Visiting the Bengali caves is high on the itinerary and may give Portugal a miss if it’s not possible. Need genuine advice and any other must-dos that you suggest. Which could include high adrenalin sports. TIA, all help is much appreciated.

    Reply
  8. Ola, We will be a party of 5 adults traveling via train from CoimbraB to Lisboa Oriente and on to Sintra. Can you advise whether tis best to take Uber (would probably need 2 of them) rather than dealing with our suitcases on an urban train? Not a ton of luggage (3 of the 5 are carry on only, but still – could be stressful situation). Obrigada

    Reply
  9. Hi, We are 6 adults visiting Portugal in first week November.
    We have planned 4 nights each in Lisbon & Porto and 2 nights at serra de Estrela or Duoro valley. After this we push off to Seville.
    Since we are not self driving, can you please suggest the best way to travel from Estrela or Duoro to Seville (chauffered vehicle too expensive?). Or do you think we should spend 2 days in Lagos/Tavira (instead of Estrela) and onwards to Seville (better connections).
    Also, will the boat rides in Benagil caves be operational in mid November?
    Pooja

    Reply
  10. Just discovered Portugalist. Love it. What’s the weather like in September?- we are visiting Lisbon/Coimbra/Fatima/Porto. Any tips regarding the weather and choice of clothes?
    obrigada
    Will appreciate a reply when you can.

    Reply
  11. I have medical condition concerning my eye. The treatment requires an injection into the eye every 6 weeks. How would I find a qualified Retina specialists to perform this procedure. I speak English only. I’m positive my specialists in the US would coordinate if I could point him in the right direction.

    Reply
  12. We are keen to spend 5-6 days relaxing and visiting vineyards in the Douro Valley in August (staying in one or two places). We could either rent a car or use trains or busses from Porto. Any suggestions of areas to stay, vineyards to visit and how to get around would be welcome. Thank you

    Reply
  13. Love your site! We are visiting Porto for a week in September. In much of Europe we were advised to dress conservatively and to wear pants, not shorts. What do you advise?

    Also I usually get euros at the airport atm on arrival. Good idea in Portugal or not?

    Thank you! We are so excited!

    Reply
  14. Hi James ,

    I am flying with my family into Lisbon this Friday We are renting a car. Due to the petrol tanker strike have you or anyone heard of any difficulties vis a vis how the rental companies are dealing with this and how bad is the rationing(empty petrol pumps) is.
    Planning to drive to Colares.

    thanks Michael

    Reply
  15. I am 70 years old do I get the senior discount if I buy the ticket at the orients station in Lisbon on the day before I travel to Porto? I will be traveling there in late October.

    Reply
  16. Many thanks James,

    Yes, mixed results from rental company. Standard quick reply pointing me to their FAQs page instead of giving an answer to my specific questions.

    Reply
  17. Hi James,
    My wife and I will be traveling to Lisbon and Porto in October. We will be staying at Hotel Riverside Alfama in Lisbon and The House Ribeira Porto in Porto (walking distance from the Sao Bento station). Can you recommend train station from Lisbon closest to our hotel with the shortest travel time? Also, would reserving train tickets online save any money?
    thanks,
    Ed

    Reply
  18. Hello James

    We are a party of 6 visiting Portugal this October and are based in Albufiera for a couple of weeks. Can you suggest any 1 – 2 day trips in and around this area and possibly to Seville and/or Gibralter.
    Thanks
    Brian

    Reply
  19. We are a family of 12 ages 5y to 75y that get together once a year and June 2020 it will be Portugal. My family of 4 plans to arrive in Lisbon then travel by train to Porto for 2 day then we will meet the rest of the crew somewhere in the southern region. There we are looking for a place (on AirBnB) we can get around to restaurants/sites without a car, is not “touristy,” has access to a beaches, and where the grandparents and kids can then travel to Spain for a few weeks while my husband and I return to work. Any ideas of this perfect town to relax and enjoy our family – so far I have searched around Lagos, Alvor, Conceição de Tavira (this one seemed very remote), Santa Luiza. Thank you in advance – any help narrowing down the search would be greatly appreciated.

    Reply
  20. Hello:

    I just discovered this site today and am wishing I had known about it a while ago. I leave on the 5th of Sept., heading to Porto/Amarante and Lisbon for a day. First part of the trip is for Habitat for Humanity and I’ll be in Amarante. Then my husband is joining afterwards for a week of sightseeing, around Porto, a train trip down to Lisbon for a long day, etc.

    Of course we plan on wine/port tasting, the more the merrier. I guess my main question is: Do you have any idea how much port or wine we are allowed to bring back to the States? It would be for personal use, not for sale.

    2nd question – where is the best place to exchange dollars for euros, as soon as I get there. (Am actually there 2 days early before joining Habitat people)
    Thanks for any input!! Really excited about this trip! Kristin

    Reply
  21. hello
    we are flying into porto airport on sept 14, an have 3pcs of luggage with us, the hotel we are staying at is AC PORTO. how far away is the hotel from the airport, i heard uber taxis is the cheaper taxis to take,also we have a flight on sept 16th to barcelona an it is at 630am what time should we be at the aiport for this flight. thank you

    Reply
  22. Hi James,

    Just read your site and glad to learn the travel tips. Three of us will travel to Portugal for a couple weeks on next Thursday. We will rent a car and visit Lisbon, Sintra, Evora, Algarve, Obidos, Alcobaca, Fatima, Coimbra, Guimaraes and Porto. Do you think our itinerary is too aggressive? After leaving Evora, we are debating if we should visit the coastal route of Atlantic Ocean to reach to Lighthouse of Cabo de São Vicente or just take N125 highway. Your help is greatly appreciated. Obrigada.

    Sonia

    Reply
  23. Hi James,

    I just discovered your blog and it’s been super helpful!

    I’m going to be in Porto the first week of October. I would be interested in doing some hiking while I’m there. Can you recommend any hiking trails near Porto?

    Reply
  24. Hi James – – thank you for the fantastically useful site! We will be in Lisbon the first week of October (staying right near Alfama) and are planning to visit Sintra as a day trip. Should we expect Sintra to still be super touristy/crowded? what would be the best travel strategy (train, bus) and should we plan this to be a full day? Thank you so much!

    Reply
  25. Hi James. Great website!!! very helpful for us, as first time travelers to Portugal.

    My boyfriend and i are going to Portugal in december, and we’re not too sure about the weather… what kind of clothes to pack.

    Also we planning on staying in Porto for a few days… where is the best place/area to stay in?. looking for more of a vibe, party area thats central to the main spots as well as the train station.

    Thanks!!!

    Reply
    • Hi Sevania,

      For Porto, I would assume it would be cold and damp. You might get lucky and get a bit of winter sun, but it’s normally quite grey and it can rain during December. Hope for the best but plan for the worst 🙂

      I really like Porto in December, but it’s always good to be prepared.

      As for areas to stay in, Porto really isn’t that big. The last time I was there, I stayed at Vibrant Porto Apartments which I really liked and it was roughly a 20-minute walk from most of the city centre.

      Reply
  26. Hi James,
    My family are traveling to Lisbon over Christmas/New years. I noticed you said it will be grey and wet in Porto. Is that typically the weather in Lisbon as well? Also any suggestions what to do New years eve? Not looking for a big bash as we are not big partiers, but would like an enjoyable evening. Children are 19 and 21.
    thanks!

    Reply
    • Hi Jennifer,

      It is impossible to predict whether or not the weather will be good, unfortunately, but Lisbon definitely gets much better weather than Porto. Last year was quite mild and didn’t rain.

      As for things to do, I’ve written about NYE a little bit in this article: https://www.portugalist.com/new-years-eve-lisbon/

      I would suggest going out for dinner and then going to Praça do Comércio to see the fireworks.

      Reply

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