Portugalist is packed with tips for travelling in Portugal, but this article puts all of the best tips in one place.
- Hotels (or hostels) – 9 times out of 10 I book hotels & hostels through booking.com as it’s almost always the cheapest. If you want to be double sure, though, Trivago compares almost all of the hotel sites (including Expedia, Agoda, etc).
- Apartments – Airbnb.com is usually cheaper and usually has more choice of apartments than booking.com but I always check both.
- 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.
- Travelling alone – 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.
- Trains – 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.
- Buses – 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.
- Flights – I use Skyscanner a lot because you can see prices across a whole month rather than just specific dates. I look at Google Flights too.
- Taxis – 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.
- Airport Taxis – 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.
Car rental & driving
- Car rental – To find the best deal, I usually compare Rentalcars.com, Skyscanner, and maybe also Kayak.com as well. There isn’t much point checking many other sites: they mainly get their data from these sites.
- 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.
- Child seats – 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.
- Take photos – 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.
- Toll roads – Some toll roads in Portugal are completely electronic, and there are several different ways that you can pay your toll payment.
Tours & activities
- Tours – GetYourGuide and Viator are great for tours that need to be pre-booked. They don’t have everything, though, and the rest you’ll have to find on Google and book by e-mail.
- Walking tours – 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
- Booking restaurants – 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.
- Pastelarias/snack bars/cafés – 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.
- Supermarket restaurants – Large supermarkets like Pingo Doce or Continente offer canteen-style meals that are often as little as €3.
- Couvert – 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 – Tipping isn’t particularly common in non-touristy parts of Portugal but, as with anywhere, it’s always appreciated. 10% or less is standard.
- Customer service – 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 – 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).
- Algarve winters – 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).
- Inside temperatures – 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.
- Practical footwear – Most Portuguese streets are cobbled and don’t lend themselves well to high heels. Wear comfortable and practical shoes.
- Don’t speak Spanish – It’s much better to speak Portuguese than it is to speak Spanish.
- 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.
- Carry cash – 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.
- 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.
- Transferring money (for expats) – Transferwise is probably my favourite site, but Monito.com is useful for showing which company offers the very best rate.
- 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).
- Travel insurance – 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.
- Left luggage – 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 – 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.
- Online shopping – 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).
- Staying healthy – 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 & phones
- 3g internet – 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.
- Café wifi – 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.