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40+ Portugal Travel Tips (That Are Actually Useful)

By James | Last updated: November 2019* | 61 Comments

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

Accommodation tips

Hotels.com 

– 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

Hotelscombined.com and Trivago allow you to compare the prices of a hotel across multiple agents (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.   

Transportation tips

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. 

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.  

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 tips

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 tips

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 tips

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. 

Weather tips

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 tips

Practical footwear

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. Using the odd Spanish word here and there isn’t a big deal, but it could be considered a little rude if
as a non-native Spanish speaker
if you speak Spanish and treat it essentially as the same as Portuguese. 

Money tips

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).  

Insurance tips

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 tips

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 tips

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 tips

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 & mobile phone tips

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. 

Updates: Some updates are as small as a spelling correction. If you spot a mistake or want to suggest a contribution, leave a comment below.

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61 comments on “40+ Portugal Travel Tips (That Are Actually Useful)”

  1. 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!

  2. 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!!!

    • 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.

  3. 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!

    • Hey Anna,

      Thanks for the kind words!

      I was in Sintra recently and need to do a writeup about it. Yes, it’s going to be touristy and it’s quite possible that it’ll be crowded also. It’ll be quieter in October but it’s always a popular place.

      I would say it’s definitely a full day but I’ve seen some itineraries that do it in around 1/2 to 3/4 of a day. It actually took me nearly 2 days to see everything that I wanted to see.

      I would recommend getting there early. The train from Rossio is usually the easiest option for people. If you want to see Cabo da Rocha (which is very beautiful) as well you are best either going as part of a tour or renting a car as this is a good bit away from Sintra.

      If you take the train, have you Via Viagem card topped up and ready so you don’t have to queue to get that at the train station.

      I’d also recommend going to Pena Palace first as that’s the most popular. The other thing that can get a bit busy is the Quinta da Regaleira (well).

      Hope that helps.

  4. 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?

  5. 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

    • Hi Sonia,

      Glad I could provide some useful tips. I would say you need at least 2 days (but ideally 3-4) for Lisbon, Porto, and the Algarve, 2 days for Coimbra and Guimarães, and you could probably do each of the others in 1 day if you were stuck for time. This would mean a lot of moving about, of course, so you need to decide if you want to allow some downtime as well.

      I have driven down the coastal route to Sagres and it’s beautiful. Driving down a road like that (as opposed to the motorway) does mean that you’ll want to get out and stop and all of those stops add up. You can easily spend half a day or more doing a drive like that.

      If you do decide to drive it, be sure to stop off at Cabo Sardão. I think it’s one of the most beautiful places in Portugal.

  6. 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

    • Hi Don,

      It looks like the AC PORTO is in the city centre and around 13 km from the airport. Yes, Uber and the other taxi apps are cheaper than traditional taxis.

      For flights within the EU, I think it’s 2 hours before takeoff so you would need to get there for 4.30 am.

    • Hi Michael,

      Looks like a nice place to stay. The only thing is that you’re a little outside of Albufeira, but you actually won’t need to go in there all that much – the beach is close by along with plenty of bars and restaurants.

  7. 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

    • Hi Kristin,

      I am definitely not an expert on this, but it seems that you can bring up to 1 litre of alcohol in without declaring it. After that you have to declare it (and potentially pay 3% duty) but you can bring as much alcohol under 24 percent as you like as long as its for personal use.

      States may have their own additional rules, and this is for alcohol in checked luggage.

      That’s my understanding of it anyway. I’ve never travelled to the US with alcohol, so I could easily be wrong.

      As for the dollars to Euros question, it’s generally better to use credit cards where possible and ATMs (but avoid the Euronet ones), allowing your bank at home to do the conversion rather than accepting what’s offered. Your bank may even have information on which ATMs to use in Portugal.

      I don’t know if there’s much different between the currency exchange services in Porto. Avoid the services in hotels and airports, though.

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