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40+ Portugal Travel Tips (That Are Really Worth Knowing)

38 comments from other Portugalist readers

Portugalist is packed with tips for travelling in Portugal, but this article puts all of the best tips in one place. 

Accommodation

  • 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). 
  • ApartmentsAirbnb.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.   

Transportation

  • 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. 
  • TaxisUber 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

  • ToursGetYourGuide 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. 
  • TippingTipping 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. 

Weather

  • 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. 

Clothing

  • Practical footwear – Most Portuguese streets are cobbled and don’t lend themselves well to high heels. Wear comfortable and practical shoes. 

Speaking Portuguese

  • 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

Money

  • 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 ATMSThese 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).  

Insurance

  • 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

Luggage 

  • 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. 

Shopping

  • 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

Health

  • 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. 

Last updated in August 2019.
If you spot a mistake, leave a comment below.

38 thoughts on “40+ Portugal Travel Tips (That Are Really Worth Knowing)”

Leave a comment or ask a question below. I try and answer all of them.
  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?

    • It’s when English speakers speak Spanish and assume it’s the same as Portuguese that the Portuguese get annoyed. When there’s a Spanish speaker there, the Portuguese will usually try to speak Spanish. Some do speak Spanish, but usually it’s more “Sportuguese” – basically Portuguese with a Spanish accent.

      So: try to speak Portuguese, and when they see you’re Spanish they’ll most likely respond by trying to speak Spanish.

  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

    • Thanks for the kind words Katharine,

      Do you mean long or short-term? I’ve written about renting long-term in the Algarve and it has a list of websites that you should take a look at (if you haven’t already).

      Airbnb and Booking.com tend to be the best for short-term rentals. There are a few other Airbnb alternatives that are worth looking at if you can’t find anything at all, but Airbnb seems to be the best and cheapest.

      If you let me know how long you’re planning on renting for, I can try to provide more specific information.

  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!

    • Hi Annie,

      Babies in bars is definitely very common in Spain! I’m always amazed by how late they get to stay up there.

      In Portugal, it’s not as common as the whole bar culture isn’t quite the same but it’s still common. If you find a petiscos bar, you wouldn’t have any problem bringing your baby there. It’s also normal for people to bring their kids to the restaurants and cafés as well, and you’ll sometimes see people pushing them around in their pushchairs late at night too.

  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

    • Hi Karen,

      Sounds like a lovely trip. I hope it all goes well!

      There is an article which lists all of the events in the Algarve here. That would be a good starting point for events and festivals.

      Unfortunately, I don’t know the restaurants in Tavira well enough to recommend anywhere.

      P.S.

  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.

    • 1000 is fine 🙂

      If you ask away here by leaving a comment rather than by email then if anyone else has the same question(s), they’ll find your question and hopefully the answer.

  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?

    • Hi Kelly,

      Good question.

      Withdrawing cash from an ATM is usually the best option for travel as it means you don’t have to carry lots of cash with you. However, quite a few readers from the US have been saying that they’re been getting charged big fees for withdrawing cash in Portugal. I need to look into whether it’s a case that their bank accounts aren’t travel-friendly, or whether non-EU bank cards just get charged this fee. (Some banks have accounts that are more suited to overseas travel than others).

      The other option is to bring Euros with you. It’s usually best to buy these from your local bank or credit union as airport exchange services rarely offer a decent rate.

  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.

    • Hi Anita,

      10 days is a good amount of time, although it sounds like you’re planning a pretty busy trip.

      The Benagil Caves are good, but I wouldn’t skip this trip if it’s not possible. In the past few years, they’ve actually become incredibly touristic – there are now queues of boats in the summer waiting to go into the caves (although I don’t think you’ll have that problem in January).

      As for high adrenalin sports, I need to do a post on all of the options that you’ll find in Portugal. One option is skydiving, which you can do in the Algarve (and several other places in Portugal).

  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

    • Hi Maryann,

      Many of the other passengers will be travelling with suitcases as well. If you only have one each, this is pretty normal and you shouldn’t have a problem.

      An Uber from Coimbra to Lisbon will cost you around €150, so 2 cars would be €300. I think the train costs around €16 per ticket, if it’s booked a week in advance, so €80 total. There’s a big price difference between the two.

      You could also consider taking the bus for the Coimbra to Lisbon part of the journey. Because the luggage is stored underneath, there’s always plenty of room there. Tickets can be bought through https://www.rede-expressos.pt/

  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

    • Hi Pooja,

      Getting from either Serra da Estrela or the Douro to Seville is definitely a little tricky as they’re both very remote destinations.

      I would say that getting from Lagos/Tavira to Seville would be easier (there’s a bus between Lagos and Seville), and the weather is likely to be better, but the Douro Valley and Serra da Estrela are more beautiful (in my opinion).

      The main issue is that the Spanish and Portuguese transport networks (especially rail) are every separate. If you wanted to get from the Serra da Estrella to Seville, for example, you might need to take a bus from Guarda to Salamanca and then go from Salamanca to Sevilla.

      For the Douro, you might be best going back to Porto to connect. There are a handful of flights to Sevilla, and you can also fly to Faro (or take the train/bus) and then take a bus onto Seville. Vigo also has a small airport with flights to Sevilla (more than Porto, I think) that would also be worth looking at.

      The overnight train between Lisbon and Madrid also goes past the Serra da Estrella. It stops at Celorico da Beira and Guarda, although quite late at night (around 1 am). You would arrive in Madrid at around 8 am, and then could get a fast train to Sevilla.

      Anyway, those are just a few options.

  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.

    • Hi Ms J Mascarenhas,

      So glad you like it. I will be writing a bit more about all of those places over the coming weeks. Hopefully there’ll be something up by the time you come to Portugal.

      As for the weather, September is usually a good month. It’s cooler than July and August, but you’ll still find plenty of people on the beach and most tourists will still be wearing shorts and t-shirts. It depends where you’re coming from: most people are coming from the North of Europe, so Portugal in September is an increase in temperature.

      Temperatures can drop a noticeable few degrees in the evening, and Porto will be a bit cooler than Lisbon, so I would bring at least one pair of trousers and a sweater. Usually the trick is to focus on layers that you can easily take on or off rather than carrying anything too big or heavy.

      Hope that helps.

  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.

    • Hi Paul,

      Are you visiting Portugal or planning on living here?

      I think a good place to start your search would be the CUF hospitals. You can pay to visit a consultant and they also work with a lot of insurance companies. What I really like is that they also tell you the languages that the doctor speaks.

      https://www.saudecuf.pt/encontre-um-medico and the specialty to search for is Oftalmologia (I think).

  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

  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!

    • Hi L,

      People in Portugal can dress a bit conservatively, but you will have no problem wearing shorts here. I have been wearing shorts all summer, and it’s not just tourists and non-Portuguese that wear them: quite a few locals will as well (although they may be moving towards pants by September).

      I would recommend that you bring at least one pair of pants, though, as the temperature in the evening can drop.

      Generally speaking, the ATM is one of the best ways to get euros. It’s certainly better than the currency exchange services at the airport or in town.

      Of course, your bank may charge you some fees (these fees vary, depending on the bank). Even with those fees included, though, it’s usually one of the best (if not the best) ways to get Euros.

  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

    • Hi Michael,

      Good question! Unfortunately, I’m not sure. I’d recommend getting in contact with your car rental company to confirm that the vehicle you’ll be picking up will be full.

      It’s difficult to know how long the strike will go on for, but the last one only lasted a few days. If you are given a car with a full tank, the drive to Colares won’t use up much of it and neither will a bit of sightseeing. Assuming it only lasts a few days again, I think you’ll be okay.

  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.

  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.

  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

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