Portugalist is packed with tips for travelling in Portugal, but this article puts all of the best tips in one place.
Car rental & driving tips
Car rental across the border
Many car rental companies charge you an extra fee for crossing the border into Spain or France (but some don’t).
One-way car rental
The drop-off fee for a one-way car rental varies from around €50 to €200, but this list shows you which ones to go with.
Most airlines allow you to bring a baby or child seat with you. There’s no need to hire one from the car rental company.
Always take photos of any marks or scratches before leaving the car rental company’s premises.
Driving in Portugal
Driving here can be a little challenging sometimes, especially in cities like Lisbon & Porto, and it’s worth reading up on the different rules and road mannerisms so you know what to expect.
Some toll roads in Portugal are completely electronic, and there are several different ways that you can pay your toll payment.
– Hotels.com has a loyalty program where you get 1 free night for every 10 nights that you book (on participating hotels). For example: book 10 nights with an average cost of €40, and you’ll get €40 credit to use against your next night. (Don’t worry if hotels.com aren’t the cheapest: they price match).
Booking.com is normally the cheapest accommodation site
The majority of the time, booking.com is the cheapest (if you don’t take into account the free night from hotels.com). Of course, for the cheapest price, you can book through hotels.com and then request that they match booking.com’s price.
Comparing hotel prices
Short-term room rentals
You can also rent rooms in people’s apartments through Airbnb.com rather than an entire apartment and this can keep the travel costs low.
If you’re travelling alone, make sure to select “1 guest” when using sites like booking.com as there are cheaper rates for solo travellers than couples.
July & August
These two months are the most expensive (as well as the hottest and the busiest). If you can avoid them, come in September or June instead: the weather is still great and prices are a fraction of what they are in the peak summer months.
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.
If you camp, 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.
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.
Long distance coaches can be booked through Rede Expressos. Local buses usually can’t be booked online and the company websites (which normally start with “Rodoviária” e.g. “Rodoviária do Alentejo”) aren’t always very easy to use. You’ll be able to find timetables online, but you’ll probably need to go into the bus station to buy your tickets.
Buses are easier than trains for luggage
Some people have emailed in with concerns about travelling on public transport with luggage. It isn’t difficult, and everyone does it, but if you’re really concerned you might find travelling by bus easier than travelling by train.
On a train, you often have to lift your suitcase or bag up into the compartment above the seat (about the same height as the overhead compartment on a plane). Often, you’re doing this while the train is moving.
On a bus, in comparison, you put your luggage into the hold which is about knee-height. You do this before boarding the bus and, often, the bus driver will do it for you as well.
Public transport etiquette
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.
Be willing to give up your seat
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.
Uber is available in Lisbon, Portugal, and the Algarve. Other taxi apps like Kapten are worth trying out (especially as they all give you free credit) but may only be available in Lisbon. These apps are slightly cheaper than using a traditional taxi, but traditional taxis in Portugal are normally very affordable.
These are more expensive than private transfers. If you’re not going to use public transport, it’s usually cheaper to book an airport transfer with a company like Welcome Pickups or failing that, use Uber. Hoppa.com is useful if you want to book a shuttle bus.
Tours & activities tips
Most cities have free walking tour companies (tips are expected) and these are a great and affordable way to get your bearings and a quick overview of the city’s history.
Food & drink tips
Booking restaurants over the phone can be intimidating if it’s in another country, but most accept bookings over Facebook. You can also book restaurants online using The Fork.
Yes, you can drink the water in Portugal.
As well as selling coffee and cakes, these often cheap menu do dia (multi-course meal often with wine) for less than €10 or a prato do dia (dish of the day) for around €5-6. They also sell snacks like bifanas or bowls of soup which you can order at anytime of the day.
Large supermarkets like Pingo Doce or Continente offer canteen-style meals that are often as little as €3.
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, 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.
Tipping isn’t particularly common in non-touristy parts of Portugal but, as with anywhere, it’s always appreciated. 10% or less is standard.
Don’t judge a restaurant by its customer service unless it’s really bad. Customer service isn’t really a priority for most restaurants except in touristy places.
July & August
July & August are extremely hot in Portugal with temperatures in the south reaching or going above 40°C. June or September are much more pleasant.
April can be quite a wet month in Portugal so much so that there’s a saying: “en abril aguas mil” (in April, thousand waters).
– Winters in the Algarve can be very mild and it’s often warm enough to have Christmas dinner outside. Keep an eye on those cheap flights and come and get some winter sun!
The North has a different climate
Portugal is a long county and the north of Portugal has a very different climate to the south particularly much wetter and damper winters. Don’t expect the whole country to be the same.
Temperatures drop at night
Nighttime temperatures drop quite a bit even in the summer months. Be sure to pack a few different layers and at least one sweater (a jacket is a good idea in winter).
Houses in Portugal can be very cold in the winter, and often don’t have heating. Many also don’t have AC, which means they can get hot in the summer.
Most Portuguese streets are cobbled and don’t lend themselves well to high heels. Wear comfortable and practical shoes.
Speaking Portuguese tips
Learn a few basic phrases
A few basic words like please (por favor) and thank you (obigado for men or obrigada for women) go a long way. You never know, you might decide to learn Portuguese properly.
Spanish and Portuguese are different
While Spanish is widely understood, it’s important to remember that Spanish and Portuguese are different languages. Spanish is widely spoken in Portugal so, if you’re a native Spanish speaker, you can get by in Spanish.
If you’re an English speaker, however, there’s no benefit to speaking Spanish over English.
Although more and more places accept foreign bank cards, a lot still don’t. Some machines (on the toll roads even) don’t accept foreign bank cards. It’s always a good idea to have some on you.
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.
Transferring money (for expats)
Credit & debit cards (for expats)
N26 offers a free Euro bank account, which is great for those living in Portugal as most Portuguese banks charge a monthly fee. Revolut is another good option that’s also free. I also have a Halifax Clarity credit card (UK) and a bank account with Metro bank (UK).
I’ve used World Nomads a lot in the past but, thankfully, I’ve never had to claim.
Car hire excess insurance
Rather than take out the car rental company’s insurance policy, I take out an annual car hire excess insurance policy.
If you don’t have somewhere to leave your bags for the day (i.e. your hotel), stasher.com is great for showing places nearby where you can pay to leave your stuff. Most hotels will allow you to leave your stuff there after checkout, though, and some Airbnb hosts will allow you to drop off your stuff early.
Sunscreen (and most branded or medical products) is really expensive in Portugal, but you can get a bottle of sunscreen for around €3 in Lidl.
There is no Amazon Portugal, so the fastest Amazon site to use is Amazon Spain.
Visiting the doctor or dentist
Regardless of whether you are or aren’t living in Portugal, you can pay to go to visit a private doctor, dermatologist, dentist, etc. It’s generally not that expensive (around €60-80).
Vegetables can be hard to come by in Portugal. Main meals often don’t include them as people get their vegetables from the soup. Some dishes will also come with a side salad, and you can always try asking for vegetables instead of the multi-carb sides that the dish is likely to come with. Large cities like Lisbon and Porto also have lots of vegetarian buffets, which can be great for topping up those all-important vitamins.
Internet & mobile phone tips
You can now use a sim card from another EU country within Portugal and you will not pay roaming charges. Depending on the provider, you can keep doing this for several months.
Free public wifi
Many government buildings in Portugal (e.g. the council or library) offer free wifi, and you can site outside and use it.
Often (although less so these days) the wifi password in a café is the phone number of the café or the name of the network.
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).
Step aside to read your map (or phone)
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.