Portugal is a country on the western edge of the Iberian peninsula, bordering Spain. Despite its small land area, it has many landforms and climates between the Atlantic coast and the mountains. Portugal has plenty of prehistoric sites, as well as remnants from the Roman Empire, and the Age of Exploration, when Portuguese explorers found the Cape Route around Africa, and completed the world's first circumnavigation.
|Northern Portugal |
A historic region that is considered the birthplace of the nation. It includes the second largest city, Porto. The region is famous for its natural reserve of Gerês, Vinho Verde (green wine), the Douro river valley steep slopes covered in stepped wine cultivations, isolated mountain regions and archaeological prehistorical sites around the Mogadouro area.
|Central Portugal |
It includes Coimbra, which houses one of the oldest universities (since 1290) in Europe, the Catholic pilgrimage site of Fátima, and several mountains such as Serra da Estrela, the highest mountain in continental Portugal, serra da Lousã, Serra do Montemuro and Serra do Caramulo. Visit São Pedro do Sul and Caldas da Felgueira for their thermal spas. The major wines are Bairrada and the Dão wine. The Mondego river system, most of the Estremadura coast, and a major access road to the rest of Europe via the Vilar Formoso border crossing into Spain.
The south of central Portugal, formerly Ribatejo and Estremadura, is home to the "Campino" or Portugal cowboys. The region's main city's are Santarém, Vila Franca's de Xira and Nazaré on the Atlantic coast. The old cattle ranching way of life go hand-in-hand with the Lusitano horse-breeding traditions that can be traced thousands of years back in history. The town of Golegã is the main horse trading center in the country. It organizes a yearly horse and cattle trade fair and festival every November, with roots going back to the pre-Punic War period.
|Lisbon Region |
Much more than just Lisbon, the capital and largest city, the densely-populated region around the mouth of the River Tagus at the Atlantic Coast includes such famous tourist destinations as Sintra, Cascais, and the South bank regions of Montijo, Barreiro, Setúbal, Palmela and the beach resort town of Tróia. Access to the southern side can be through the 25 de Abril suspension bridge on the west side or via the Vasco da Gama bridge in the east, spanning the Tagus estuary over 15 km in length, as well as on boats, known as the "Cacilheiros".
The region literally called "beyond the Tagus river" is sparsely populated, known as the warmest in the country with the flatest terrain, celebrating its slow pace of life. While largely rural with large agricultal estates amidst rolling prairies, cork oak forests and olive tree groves, interesting cities and towns like the regional capital Évora dot the country side. Also, there are some prehistorical, Celtic-Iberian and Lusitanean culture archeological sites and monuments like menirs and "Antas".
The beaches and sun of Southern Portugal and Sagres in the southwestern tip, chosen by Prince Henry the Navigator, to set up his headquarters and launch Portugal's maritime adventure.
A group of islands in the Atlantic Ocean. Pico, the highest mountain in Portugal, stands on the island with the same name.
A sub-tropical archipelago that is made up of two populated islands, Madeira and Porto Santo, and two groups of unpopulated islands called the Desertas and Selvagens Islands.
- 1 Lisbon (Lisboa) – national capital, city of the seven hills
- 2 Aveiro – the "Venice" of Portugal
- 3 Braga – city of Archbishops
- 4 Coimbra – home of the ninth oldest university in the world.
- 5 Évora – "Museum City", Alentejo regional capital
- 6 Funchal – the capital of Madeira
- 7 Guimarães – the founding place of the nation
- 8 Porto – the northern capital, "Invincible City", along the river Douro and the Atlantic Ocean
- 9 Viana do Castelo – famous for the Nossa Senhora da Agonia Festival
- 1 Fátima – world-famous for the phenomenon of the Virgin Mary apparitions
- 2 Nazaré – the village that entered in the Guinness Book of Records by its gigantic sea waves
- 3 Cabo da Roca – the westernmost point of mainland Portugal and European continent, near Cascais
- 4 Côa Valley – Prehistoric archaeological area and a registered UNESCO World Heritage Site
- 5 Óbidos – a popular destination due to its walled hilltop medieval castle
- 6 Peneda-Gerês National Park – Portugal's only national park
- 7 Serra da Estrela – Portugal's highest mountain range
- 8 Sintra – A UNESCO-listed village with several old palaces and fortresses
|Population||10.6 million (2018)|
|Electricity||230 volt / 50 hertz (Europlug, Schuko)|
|edit on Wikidata|
Portugal's people today have a heritage drawn from many parts of the globe. The oldest known Iberian peoples left markings and cave paintings more than 50,000 years ago. The Iberian peninsula was a natural resources rich area with heavily wooded forests, wild life, horses and live stock. Mining of minerals such as, gold, silver, copper, tin, iron, volfram and mercury was well known to exist in antiquity. The Celts and Iberians mixed with North Africans, Phoenicians, Middle Easterners and Greeks and according to academic research, these people being accomplished seafarers, become prominent traders spreading as far afield as the British isles among other European places, leaving traceable links with the Irish, Cornish and Welsh people's heritage. The later Lusitanian tribes dominated large areas of Western Iberia for over a thousand years and were noted for their high quality iron and steel working expertise and excellent horse rearing and riding capabilities until the Romans arrived during the Punic Wars and colonised most of the peninsula, almost eradicating all traces of the previous civilisations through genocide and assimilation practices.
After the fall of Rome, Germanic and Frankish people moved west and also settled in Iberia and Northwest Africa. After the arrival and spread of Christianity, conflict between Pagan tribes and new Christian chieftains in the 7th and 8th centuries helped enable the better organised Moorish Muslims to invade and gain control of approximately three quarters of the peninsula for about seven hundred years.
By the end of the 9th century, Iberian Christians begin to regain some control over their ancestral domain, thus opening the way for the "reconquista" era that culminated in the formation and expansion of the Portuguese state as it is known today, as well as that of Spain to the east. From early 16th century, the Christian kings' policy of religious hegemony throughout the Iberian peninsula was achieved through forced conversion or expulsion of Jews and Muslims.
Today, Portugal, although sharing close ties with the Spanish people, has a distinct cultural and linguistic heritage. These days, being a modern country with heavy links to its past and people of a friendly and hospitable nature, it has become an acclaimed international tourist and vacation destination due to the many beautiful beaches and long warm summers, a rich gastronomy, historical and cultural heritage, as well as the fabulous golf courses, surfing the giant waves at Nazaré and religious pilgrimage to Fátima all being highly popular with visitors. Surprisingly, in winter several ski resorts are open for business in the Serra da Estrela region.
Portugal was founded in 1128 by its first king D. Afonso Henriques. Despite being a relatively small country, it has played a crucial role in world history. Its borders have remained the same longer than any other European country's, and it maintains the longest existing alliance in the world (since 1386) with the United Kingdom, known as the "Treaty of Windsor". So in otherwise neutral Portugal, this alliance was invoked during World War II, allowing the British to establish a military base in the Azores which was later on, under NATO agreements, transferred for use by the USA during the Cold War. British troops headed to the Falklands War used it as staging point.
Towards end of the 14th century, Prince Henry, the Navigator, from his Escola de Sagres promoted and sponsored the maritime exploration of the Atlantic Ocean, finding the archipelagos of Madeira, Azores, reaching Greenland and later on leading to the founding of settlements in Terra Nova (Newfoundland), Lavrador (Labrador) and the west coast of Africa. After his death, successors continued to voyage further and further throughout the 15th and 16th centuries, enabling Portugal to begin a major chapter in world history with the New World Discoveries (Descobrimentos) and monopoly over trade between the Orient and Western Europe.
Portugal established the Cape Route to India, and colonised the Madeira and Azores archipelagos. To consolidate imperial supremacy, Portugal established a chain of fortified military towns and trading outposts that eventually linked in Africa (Ceuta, Canary Islands, Ivory Coast, Cape Verde, Guinea Bissau, São Tomé e Príncipe, Zaire, Angola, Cape of Good Hope, Natal, Mozambique, Zanzibar, Mombasa etc.), South America (Brazil, Caribbean, parts of Argentina and Uruguay), Asia (Hormuz, Goa, Bombay, Macau, Ceylon, Malacca, Phuket), and Oceania (Sumatra, East Timor, Flores, Moluccas, Papua New Guinea, etc), creating an empire covering most of the Atlantic Ocean, the Indian Ocean and parts of the South China Sea and Southwest Oceania. Additionally, after reaching Japan in mid 16th century, Portuguese sailors explored vast areas of the Pacific Ocean resulting in 1571, the Japanese port city of Nagasaki being established by the Portuguese and local lords, to handle the new trade demand. The Portuguese language continues to be a shared heritage of most of these countries, while Roman Catholicism remains the dominant religion throughout much of the former Portuguese Empire.
During the second half of the 16th century, the Portuguese Crown entered a succession crisis with the loss of the young heirless king, Dom Sebastião, at the battle of "Alcacér-Quibir". As a result of the crisis, the Portuguese nobility keen to avoid a civil war, reluctantly agreed to unify Portugal with Spain under the crown of King Phillip II, thus creating the period of "Iberian Union" which lasted from 1580 to 1640. During the union period, the Portuguese Empire interests were negatively affected, because of the rivalry between Spain and England, as well as Madrid's disinterest in Portugal's overseas matters. Furthermore, much of Portugal's overseas maritime/naval capacity and resources were disrupted with the commissioning and redirection of its vessels towards the Great Armada preparations for the invasion of Britain, which had disastrous consequences for Spain and Portugal. By then, as a result of the belligerence, the Treaty of Windsor had been suspended, while at the same time the Netherlands seized the opportunity to gain footholds in Portuguese Empire territories of South America, Africa and Far East.
Portugal regained its independence from Spain in 1640, and to re-enforce its world position, the wedding of the British King Charles II to Princess Catherine of Bragança was celebrated. However, despite Portugal regaining most of the territories previously lost to the Netherlands, this royal wedding marked the beginning of a slow decline in Portugal's scientific eminence and domination of world affairs. The expulsion of the remaining unconverted Jewish community also played an important role in this decline. Nevertheless, at the end of the 17th century, a period of stabilisation followed and gained momentum during early 18th century, after the discovery of large deposits of gold and diamonds in Brazil. As a result of the new wealth flowing into the national treasury, the Portuguese Crown was able to finance many major projects to develop and modernise the country and some overseas possessions.
Amidst this new period of rejuvenation, in 1755, on the 1st of November, the Great Lisbon Earthquake and subsequent tsunami devastated the Portuguese Empire's capital. The effects were such that victims were recorded as far afield as Morocco. Of the estimated more than 200,000 Lisbon inhabitants, at least some 40,000 perished. Between the initial quake (estimated to be of around 8.5 degrees) and subsequent aftershocks, flooding and fires, about 60% of all buildings and structures were lost together with art, archives, libraries, factories, businesses, etc. The national GDP dropped an estimated 40%, marking the start of another national crisis compounded by the expelling of the Jesuit and other religious orders and with it many academics and scientists of the day.
At the beginning of the 19th century, as a result of France's European wars and expansion conflicting with the British Empire and their allies, the country was invaded by Napoleon's army, throwing the Portuguese monarchy and rest of the country into chaos at all social and economic levels. The Royal Family and most of the nobility left Lisbon and settled in Rio de Janeiro, in self-imposed exile. Even after the Peninsular War ended in defeat for the French, the country nevertheless failed to recover and went from crisis to crisis almost continually until the beginning of the 20th century, with the loss of Brazil in 1822 and the scramble for Africa in the 1880s severely curtailing the Portuguese Empire's size and power.
In 1910, the republican movement overthrew the monarchy and established a republic. However, the new republic continued to lurch from crisis to crisis, reaching a near collapse by the mid 1920s. At this time, the military intervened and asked Professor António de Oliveira Salazar, a well-reputed economist from Coimbra University, to take control of the nation's economy and help guide the country to prosperity. By the early 1930s, Portugal had stabilised and Salazar's role was reinforced by the establishment of a corporatist authoritarian one-party state which prioritised balancing the books over social needs.
Although Portugal registered phenomenal economic growth from the 1950s onwards, the Fascist regime or Estado Novo (New State) gradually became unpopular due to its undemocratic handling of government affairs. In response, the New State implemented a regime of repression against any opposition which resulted in independence movements appearing in Portugal's overseas colonies, culminating in a prolonged colonial war. Coupled with a growing discontent within its own continental metropolitan population, the regime's authority was further undermined.The country's prestige suffered severe setbacks at the UN due to the regime's stubbornness in not allowing democracy to gain inroads, and armament embargoes were imposed. Amnesty International was created in the early 1960s as a result of PIDE/DGS arresting several dissenting students from Coimbra University.
Salazar would be replaced by Marcello Caetano after suffering a stroke in 1968, and eventually died in 1970. On April 25, 1974, a left-leaning coup d'état organised mostly by junior army officers (MFA) arrived in Lisbon to and overthrew Caetano and the Estado Novo regime, backed by popular support. After a turbulent brief period ruled by a military junta (PREC), an attempted right-wing putsch took place but was quickly followed by a pro-democracy counter-putsch with Portugal finally transitioning to democracy. During that period, the overseas colonial wars in Guinea-Bissau, Angola and Mozambique came to a sudden end, culminating in the independence of all Portuguese African possessions (the Azores and Madeira were never "colonies" and remain Portuguese territory, albeit autonomous regions). However, as a result of poor and uncoordinated political and economical leadership in the post-revolutionary period, the country quickly stagnated again. After the wave of state nationalizations came to an end and more liberal and balanced economical policies begun to be implemented in the late 1970s, Portugal gradually began to get used to a more democratic way of life and prosper. The decision to join the European Economic Community, now the European Union, enabled the country to approach European standards of development after 1986. Portugal was severely hit by the European sovereign debt crises of 2007-2008, but has since restructured its economy and recovered, with tourism being the main driver behind the current economic boom.
Portugal is one of the warmest and sunniest European countries. In mainland Portugal, the temperatures in the North are cooler than in the South of the country. With snow in the highest mountains in the North, eg, Serra da Estrela. Madeira and Azores have a narrower temperature range as expected given their insularity, with the former having low precipitation in most of the archipelago and the latter being wet and rainy. Spring and Summer months are usually sunny and temperature maximum are very high during July and August, with maximums averaging between 35°C and 40°C (95°F - 104°F) in the interior of the country, 30°C and 35°C in the north. Autumn and winter are typically rainy and windy, yet sunny days are not rare either. Temperatures rarely fall below 5°C (41°F) nearer to the sea, averaging 10°C (50°F), but can reach several degrees below 0°C (32°F) further inland. Snow is common in winter in the mountainous areas of the north, especially in Serra da Estrela but melts quickly once the season is over. Portugal's climate can be classified as Mediterranean (particularly the southern parts of the Algarve and Alentejo, though they are on Atlantic shore).
Portugal is in the Western European Time Zone (WET), the same time as in the United Kingdom and Ireland.
- See also Portuguese phrasebook
The official language of Portugal is Portuguese (português). Portuguese is today one of the world's major languages, ranked 6th according to number of native speakers (approximately 240 million). It is the language with the largest number of speakers in South America, spoken by almost all of Brazil's population. It is also an official language in Angola, Mozambique, Cape Verde, São Tomé and Príncipe, Guinea-Bissau, East Timor and Macau.
Portuguese is a Romance language. Attentive Portuguese speakers can make out many words and grammar of other strongly Latin based languages like Spanish, French, Italian and Romanian, whereas in turn, those languages speakers battle to understand basic Portuguese due to its pronunciation and sounds. Although Portuguese may be mutually intelligible with Spanish to a wide extent, with about 90% of lexical similarity (both in vocabulary and grammar), it is far from identical. While many words may be spelled almost the same as in Spanish (or Italian), the pronunciation differs considerably. European Portuguese has a peculiar accent - some linguists have described it as "windsurfing between the vowels" - and many vowel-consonant combinations are pronounced very differently from other European languages. It may be good to memorize the proper spelling and pronunciation of some destinations you intend to visit to avoid misunderstandings or misreading directions. Although most Portuguese people are able to understand Spanish to a certain degree, only a minority can speak it fluently. If you're a Spanish speaker, if you speak slowly, chances are you'll be able to understand each other without an interpreter for the most part.
The Portuguese spoken in Portugal differs significantly from that in Brazil. The pronunciation and vocabulary differences makes it tricky for Brazilians to understand the European Portuguese accent, although not vice versa, because Brazilian pop culture is popular in Portugal.
English is spoken in many tourist areas, but far from ubiquitous. The Portuguese are taught English at school and also exposed to American and British films and television shows with the original English soundtrack and Portuguese subtitles. English is generally more widely spoken than in Spain. Many younger locals can communicate in basic English, and in tourist areas, one can always find someone able to speak one of the main European languages. Hotel personnel are required to speak English, even if sketchily. French was the most widely-studied foreign language among the older generation, though it has been largely supplanted by English these days.
Portuguese people are of generally excellent humour when they are talking with someone who cannot speak their language. This means that all types of shop owners, salespeople, and people curious about you will take time to try to carve out any means of communication. Helping a foreigner is considered a pleasant and rewarding occasion and experience. If you attempt to speak correct Portuguese, especially if slightly beyond the trivial, with locals, you will be treated with respect. This might encourage travellers to learn the very basics of Portuguese, such as daily greetings.
In Miranda do Douro, a town in the North East, and its vicinity some people speak a regional language called Mirandese, in addition to Portuguese, although rarely in public.
Foreign television programmes are almost always shown in their original language with subtitles. Only children's programmes are dubbed into Portuguese.
Minimum validity of travel documents
Portugal is a member of the Schengen Agreement.
- There are normally no border controls between countries that have signed and implemented the treaty. This includes most of the European Union and a few other countries.
- There are usually identity checks before boarding international flights or boats. Sometimes there are temporary border controls at land borders.
- Likewise, a visa granted for any Schengen member is valid in all other countries that have signed and implemented the treaty.
- Please see Travelling around the Schengen Area for more information on how the scheme works, which countries are members and what the requirements are for your nationality.
Portugal has five airports with scheduled international passenger traffic:
- Lisbon Portela Airport (LIS IATA) is the main aviation hub, with many intercontinental connections with the Americas and Africa (mainly operated by flag carrier TAP Air Portugal and its Star Alliance partners), as well as a dense network of connections within Europe operated by both full-service and low-fare airlines
- Porto Francisco Sá Carneiro Airport (OPO IATA), serving Portugal's second-largest city and the entire northern part of the country, also has some intercontinental connections with Americas and Africa, and has a comparably dense network of connections within Europe, with a sizeable presence of low-fare carriers
- Faro Airport (FAO IATA) serves Algarve in the south of the country, one of Europe's favourite holiday regions. Therefore, it sees the most traffic in the warmer months, mainly from charter carriers carrying package holiday customers, as well as low-fare flights from many European cities. A limited number of flights to major European destinations are operated year-round.
- Madeira Airport in Funchal (FNC IATA) serves the green island in the Atlantic, and is notable for its spectacular runway extending into the ocean and a scenic approach requiring much skill from the pilots. Like Faro, the airport is dominated by holiday flights and sees high seasonality.
- João Paulo II Airport in Ponta Delgada (PDL IATA) serves the Azores archipelago, and has a surprisingly wide network of connections operated mainly by local carrier Sata International and low-cost flights from Ryanair and Easyjet. Some holiday flights also reach Ponta Delgada from Europe.
While there's a variety of options to choose from to travel directly to Portugal from Europe, Africa or from across the Atlantic, indirect connections also link Portugal with Asia and Oceania.
Trains reach most larger cities from Lisbon to Porto, Braga, Aveiro, Coimbra, Évora, and Faro.
- Lisbon is connected to Madrid, Spain;
- Porto is connected to Vigo, Spain;
- Pampilhosa through Vilar Formoso is the main railway connection to Spain and the rest of Europe.
In the South, it is not possible to enter Portugal from Spain via railways. There are no train connections from, e.g., Seville to Faro. The only option is to use buses, of which there are many.
Southeast Portugal is connected by international train (linha do Leste and linha de Caceres) [Elvas/Caia, Portugal & Badajoz, Spain] or [Marvão-Beira, Portugal & Valencia de Alcantara, Spain.] For more information, contact: CP, Portuguese Railways.
- Spain/Portugal: ALSA  and Avanza Grupo 
- Oporto/Portugal: Porto Airport Taxi
- Lisbon/Portugal: Lisbon Airport Taxi
- Also from Madrid/Paris: Aníbal 
The country is served by numerous seaports that receive a lot of foreign traffic, mostly merchant but also passenger boats (mainly cruisers).
Portugal's only land border is with Spain. The major national roads connect with Spain's road network, enabling road travel into mainland Europe. The main border crossings are at Vila Real de Santo António, Elvas, Vilar Formoso and Valença do Minho.
Rail travel in Portugal is usually slightly faster than travel by bus, but services are less frequent and cost more. The immediate areas surrounding Lisbon and Porto are reasonably well-served by suburban rail services.
The rail connections between the main regions of Portugal, i.e. between Braga and Faro are good. As a rule of thumb, if one is traveling by rail within Portugal or internationally, the main railway junction is in Entroncamento, from here all lines branch out and all trains make a stop. The Alfa-Pendular (fast) trains are comfortable, first class is excellent. The Alfa-Pendular train stops only at main city stations like; Braga, Porto, Vila Nova de Gaia, Aveiro, Coimbra, (Entroncamento), Lisbon and Faro. If possible, it's recommended to do advanced ticket purchase, due to high demand and also, if booked at least five days in advance one gets a very generous 40% discount.
Intercity (Intercidades) trains will take you to further destinations, specially in the interior, such as Évora, Beja and Guarda.
Timetables can be found and tickets can be purchased online at Comboios de Portugal (Trains of Portugal).
You also get 40% off the regular ticket price on the Intercidades trains if you book between 5 and 60 days in advance. advance tickets per train.
If you book a long distance ticket to or from Porto-Campanhã, you can travel for free on urban or Intercidades trains between that station and Oporto city centre railway station of São Bento.
Unfortunately the rail network is limited, so you may find yourself busing about to get anywhere off the beaten path. Rede Expressos is one of the largest inter-city bus companies.
Lisbon and Porto, the two largest urban cities, have clean modern and air-conditioned Metro systems (underground/subway and light railway).
Road traffic in Lisbon and Porto is pretty congested all day round and gets completely stuck in the rush hours, at least in the main roads to exit or enter the city. Car travel is the most convenient or only method to reach areas outside the main cities, however (car rental is not too expensive, but the associated insurance is - unless you book the total package abroad). An important aspect when renting a vehicle; do not accept a dirty vehicle under the pretext there was no time to make it ready from the last customer before you. Whatever happens insist you have time to wait until it is given to you in proper order. Once that is done, conduct the inspection with the agent and make sure that every little defect and damage is noted down thoroughly from the interior to the exterior, engine bay and trunk, when your copy of the report is handed over for signing, first insist on comparing it with the agents copy in case the carbon transfer didn't match the two copies exactly. It's been known for unscrupulous agents to try hide previous damage and let you drive off and upon returning the vehicle claiming the insurance excess payment by swearing the car was perfect when you got it. Also, many major freeways are tolled and fuel/gasoline prices are above average, therefore if you are traveling on a budget, hire smaller and economical motorcars and avoid tolled freeways whenever possible. Heed the advice about the quality of some people's driving skills and road manners mentioned below. Avoid at all costs driving during peak traffic hours within major urban centers, try to enquire about this if possible. On open roads keep your eyes peeled for speed limits and abrupt changes of speed signage. Rather be driving conservatively and admiring the scenery. Traffic officers tend to speed trap with radar in unusual places like entering or exiting a freeway, down hills and curves.
Generally speaking, Portugal is not a good country for hitchhiking. In the deserted country roads in the South, you might wait for many hours before you are offered a ride. Try to speak with people on gas stations or parking lots. Drivers tend to be suspicious, but when you show them that they should not be afraid, they will probably accept you and mostly also show their generosity. Try to look neat and clean. The hippy style will get you nowhere. As with everywhere in the world, two males hitchhiking together will not get a ride from anyone.
You can reach almost all major cities in Portugal with ease, either by motorway or by good, modern roads. The biggest cities are well served by modern highways (most have tolls), and you can travel the full North-South length of the country without ever leaving the highway, if you choose to.
However, some secondary roads are poorly maintained and care is required. Also, Portuguese driving can seem erratic and, frankly, scary to the uninitiated. The country shares with most southern European countries something that the successive Portuguese governments have been trying to fight: terrible road behaviour from some drivers. In order to fight this, road laws punish with great severity speeding, driving without a licence, driving under the influence of alcohol or narcotics.
The motorways with the most reckless driving are those surrounding Lisbon and Porto, the A1 and A2 and the Algarve. You can be on a 2-lane toll highway and be unable to see any other traffic except the car you're overtaking at 30 kph over the speed limit and the car about 6 feet from your back end flashing its headlights to get past you. Merging manners when slip roads come on to fast roads are also pretty poor. On other roads, you'll get used to some classic Portuguese experiences: being stuck driving at a very slow speed behind a siesta induced driver on a very narrow road, suicidal overtaking attempts and the resultant absurdly overdone signs indicating when you can and can't overtake - sometimes all of 5 yards apart (mostly set up as a traffic fine trapping spot to generate revenue) and the "penalty stop" traffic light as you enter the 50 kph zone in each small town, with camera to decide whether you're over the speed limit. Rather absurdly, once you're through this, your speed isn't checked again.
In the country side and interior regions, road signage pertaining to location names and road numbers can be confusing to follow in certain areas due to overlapping municipal and national entities. For example, at a crossroads a sign without an arrow shows a name straight ahead but the place is either to left or right, thus, a good road map is an essential tool to have.
It is probably unwise for those unfamiliar with Portuguese driving to try to drive in Lisbon or Porto - be aware if you do that city drivers give no quarter and have limited respect for lane markings (where lane markings exists!) If you do want to try, choose a weekend or an hour outside the rush hour periods. These are early mornings (08:00 - 09:30) and late afternoons (17:00 - 19:30). Other Portuguese cities are much better, but often have very narrow roads.
Portugal has a system of electronic tolls, known as "Via Verde" and you need to make arrangements to register you licence plate or to obtain a tag for tolling if you are going to use the main motorway system. Arrangements can be made to register your licence plate at the border, if entering by car. If hiring a car in Portugal, it is likely the rental car company has an arrangement for the payment of tolls, if not, Via Verde offices are easy to find in the "Loja do Cidadão" ((Citizen Shop) a hub containing various public service entities), most people will be able to direct you to the nearest one.
Drunk driving is a controversial issue and still rather common. The tolerated limit is 0.49 g/L in blood (0.05% BAC); being above this limit is thus illegal and can result in a fine of up to €1250 and licence suspension for one to twelve months. If you are tested and found with between 0.8 and 1.2 g/L, the fine may reach €2500 and you'll be facing licence suspension between two months and two years. Driving with levels above 1.2 g/L is a criminal offence punished with up to one year in prison and a three year driving ban.
Historic towns & architecture
Once a mighty colonial nation, many of Portugal's lively cities still have an atmosphere reminding of those Old World times. They're packed with remarkable monuments and with just a little bit of effort, you'll discover traditional cafés and craftsmen who's families have run their businesses for generations.
Head to the delightful riverside town of Porto to linger along the picture-perfect Cais da Ribeira. Recognized as a Unesco World Heritage Site, this beautiful riverfront area is characterized by ancient buildings and streets and of course the views of the Rabelo boat filled harbour. The country's scenic capital, Lisbon, is bustling with contemporary culture but also boasts countless monumental limestone buildings. Don't miss the gorgeous cloisters of Jerónimos Monastery and make sure to climb up the battlements of Saint George's Castle for some excellent panoramic views of the city, while not losing sight of the prominent white marble dome covering the Panteão Nacional housing the most dear historical Portuguese heroes. For a royal daytrip from Lisbon, head to the surroundings of Sintra and its famous castles, including the Romantic Pena National Palace, and finish visiting the village of Cascais in the luxurious Estoril Coast (also called the Portuguese Riviera). Visit also the Christ the King monument in Almada. Then there's the enchanting medieval university town of Coimbra, considered by many to be the most romantic city in Portugal. Get lost in its labyrinth of ancient alleys and don't skip the university building and its fine views over the river. For a more intimate experience, head to the romantic and very well-preserved village of Óbidos, once a traditional personal gift from Portuguese kings to their beloved wives. Go to monument-heavy Tomar or follow tens of thousands of religious pilgrims to the Marian shrine of Fátima one of the most visited religious shrines in Europe. Not far away from there, you may not want to miss the Batalha Monastery a Manueline inspired magnificent monument to assert Portuguese independence at Aljubarrota. The 12th century Portuguese capital Évora is an excellent place for ancient architecture, combining Roman ruins with Moorish and Portuguese architecture, or head to Guimarães, the cradle of Portugal. If you can't get enough of Portugal's towns, the list of places worth visiting continues. Try Viana do Castelo, Braga, Aveiro, Amarante, Bragança, Chaves, Lamego, Viseu, Vila Real, Lagos, Silves, or Ponta Delgada.
Natural beauty and beaches
The most popular beaches are in the Algarve, which has stunning coastlines and gobs of natural beauty. For decades it's been a major holiday destination. The water along the southern coast tends to be warmer and calmer than the water along the west coast, which is definitely Atlantic and doesn't benefit from the Gulf Stream. For surfing, or just playing in the surf there are great beaches all along the west coast, near Lisbon and Peniche. Don't forget also some of the almost deserted Alentejo beaches on the Costa Vicentina.
If you want to spend your holidays in the countryside, you might want to visit Viana do Castelo, Chaves, Miranda do Douro, Douro Valley, Lamego, Viseu, Tomar, Leiria, Castelo Branco, Guarda, Portalegre, Marvão, Évora or Elvas.
To experience wild life in its natural state, Madeira and Azores Islands are places to remember, not forgetting of course the Peneda-Gerês National Park, Trás-os-Montes and Serra da Estrela Natural Park. Top land based predators such as eagles, falcons, wolfs, lynx plus fox, wild boar, stag deer and others are now protected species and numbers show signs of recovery. "The protected areas of Portugal" web site provides a comprehensive list of places where wild life can be observed with or without the aid of conservation personnel.
Portugal has a rich cultural tradition, and gained fame for its art in the country's Golden Age, the late 15th and early 16th centuries. A number of world-class museums offer an insight in both domestic and foreign riches, and not only in the form of paintings. The best ones can be found in Lisbon. The Fundação Calouste Gulbenkian Museum holds an impressive collection of both Asian and European sculptures, paintings, carpets and more. The Museu Nacional dos Coches showcases wonderfully decorated state carriages and the Marinha Museum, nicely housed in a wing of the Hieronymites Monastery, is considered one of the most prominent maritime museums in the world. Sintra is home to the Museu do Brinquedo, a remarkable toy museum, and the Sintra Museum of Modern Art. For religious treasures, try the Évora museum or head to Grão Vasco National Museum in Viseu and Coimbra for another excellent arts collection, in the National Museum Machado de Castro.
Surrounded by the Atlantic sea in almost its entirety, the Portuguese beaches are well worth visiting. A lot of activities are offered, from surfing, to kite-surfing, and during the summer months the most frequented beaches offer sand based activities such as aerobics. If you're not the type of breaking into a sweat during holidays, almost every single public beach will have a bar where locals sit. Some of the most popular beaches are (from north to south):
- Espinho, near Oporto, in Green Coast (Costa Verde), Northern region.
- Figueira da Foz, near Coimbra, in Silver Coast (Costa da Prata), Central region.
- Berlengas islands, Peniche, Nazaré, also in Central region.
- Praia das Maçãs and Praia Grande (in Sintra), Carcavelos and Estoril (in Cascais), near Lisbon, in the Portuguese Riviera.
- Zambujeira do Mar, in the Alentejo Coast (Costa Alentejana e Vicentina).
- Marinha Beach (Praia da Marinha) and Carvoeiro, near Lagoa, in the Algarve.
The climate, combined with investments in the golfing infrastructure, has turned the country into a golfing haven. Portugal was named "Best Golf Destination 2006" by readers of Golfers Today, a British publication. Fourteen of Portugal's courses are rated in the top 100 best in Europe. Portugal is also a great location to learn the game and perfect technique. Many resorts offer classes with the pros. Courses can satisfy the most demanding golfer, while newcomers won't be intimidated, unless they find the beautiful landscapes and stunning vistas distracting to their game. Locals have mixed feelings about golf courses, namely due to the huge amounts of water required to maintain them and their apparent pointlessness.
The countryside also offers a great deal of possibilities, although you will have to incite the travel agent's advice a little more than usual, as they tend to just sell beach holidays. Cycling through the mountainous terrain of Geres or white-water rafting in the affluents of river Douro is an exhilirating experience.
Besides the "Carnaval", there are many fairs organized throughout the country, specially after the end of Summer season and particularly in Northern Portugal.
During the Summer, music festivals are also very common. In the north of the country two of the oldest festivals are in Paredes de Coura and Vilar de Mouros. The regions chosen for the festivals are usually surrounded by beautiful landscapes and pleasant villages. Lisbon and Porto have their "Marchas Populares" (Popular street Parades). In the suthern region the most famous one is Festival do Sudoeste, in the southwest coast with a summer landscape and never ending beaches.
Elsewhere, traditional and religious Parish festivals to mark special dates, harvesting times or other important occasions are also part of the yearly calendar in most cities and villages, with religious themed processions going around street circuits accompanied by philharmonic bands while being followed by outside visitors and locals congregants alike. Usually, people in traditional clothing, floats and fireworks displays form part of such events. In the Ribatejo town of Golegã, the annual Feira do Cavalo (horse trading fair) is organized every November and besides horses and cattle and people in period attire, has evolved into an important venue for showcasing arts and crafts, agricultural products, farming equipment, clothing and leather goods, wines, beverages, culinary experiences, music, partying and so on.
Major events of the year are listed at tourist board's official site, .
Exchange rates for Euros
As of 31 July 2019:
Exchange rates fluctuate. Current rates for these and other currencies are available from XE.com
Portugal uses the euro, like several other European countries. One euro is divided into 100 cents. The official symbol for the euro is €, and its ISO code is EUR. There is no official symbol for the cent.
All banknotes and coins of this common currency are legal tender within all the countries, except that low-denomination coins (one and two cent) are phased out in some of them. The banknotes look the same across countries, while coins have a standard common design on one side and a national country-specific design on the other. The latter side is also used for different designs of commemorative coins. The design on the national side does not affect the use of the coin.
ATMs accepting international cards can be found everywhere, and currency conversion booths spring up wherever there is a steady flow of tourists (although typically, the closer they are to tourist attractions, the worse the rates they offer).
In smaller (non-high-street) shops you can try some haggling, especially if you offer to buy multiple items. You might want to check your change, though: although not a widespread practice, some shopkeepers might "accidentally" overcharge tourists.
In Portugal the VAT is included in all prices from shops to restaurants, so one do not have to add it to the bills. However, we tip as follows:
- In restaurants: if they are really good around €5-10, if not only €2-€3. In 5-star restaurants, one may tip around 8% to 10% of the total amount of the bill.
- In coffee-shops: do not tip for a coffee, tea, a cake or a sandwich. However, if you eat a full meal, you can tip €1-2.
- In pubs, bars and discos: no tipping
- Taxis: All taxis have meters. From the airport the taxi driver will add to the meter an extra charge per piece of luggage. At the end of the trip, s/he will press a button on the meter to show the total price in the meter screen. Tipping to the taxi driver first round up the cents to the euro, and add €1-2. If you want to give a bigger tip they will be happy.
What to buy
There is an amazing number of other things you can buy, either at sophisticated commercial facilities or at fairs and more popular places.
- Claus Porto - High quality "Made in Portugal" perfumes, soaps and beauty products, going back a hundred years. Lately, the brand has been re-enforcing its market presence with new shops being opened in cities throughout Portugal and worldwide. Surprisingly affordable prices on entry level products.
- Cork Products - Portuguese produced, researched, designed and manufactured eco-friendly cork products have been developed over many years. Today the wide range of applications covers almost anything one can think of, from household goodies and thermal insulation to fashion and jewellery. A quick Portuguese cork products web search, may awaken your curiosity.
- Designer clothes and accessories - Although not widely known internationally, Portugal has a very well established high quality leather goods industry producing belts, shoes, hand bags, luggage and jackets, fashion accessories etc as well as several independent fashion designers. The list includes Fátima Lopes and Maria Gambina. Some of them have dedicated shops in Lisbon, Porto and other major regional cities.
- Luxury goods - Other areas of high quality products made in Portugal are Marinha Grande for decorative glass pieces, Vila do Conde for furniture, Ílhavo for traditional porcelain tableware, Guimarães cutlery, Viana do Castelo and Gondomar silver and gold smithery, São João da Madeira for pure wool felt hats, Arraiolos rugs and tapestry, and Madeira's linen embroidery and wicker crafts. Almost all major brands and luxury articles can be bought in major cities, but there is not a clear advantage in doing so as prices are equivalent to all other places.
- Handmade regional products - There's a popular tradition of regional handmade clothes, toys, home utensils, glass items and decoration. You can find them at popular tourist places or at better prices in fairs and cheap shops in small towns.
- Art and craft - Portugal is home to a few well acclaimed artists, that create paintings and sculptures with high demand both in the national and international art markets. The famous 19th-century artist Rafael Bordalo Pinheiro glazed clay works, continue to be reproduced in Caldas da Rainha. Regional souvenirs are found in shops everywhere and include dolls from Nazaré and the Galo de Barcelos.
- Wines and Fortified beverages - The wide variety of good quality wines, fortified beverages and liquors with the seal of quality afforded by the "DOC" mark, dispense the need for introduction. All top producers are well represented in the marketplace. Famous and obscure brands alike can be found nationwide in speciality Armazéns de Bebidas or well known chains of supermarkets' liquor sections.
- Arcadia - Founded in 1933, this high quality chocolatier and confectionary house from Oporto has seen a resurgence in their wide range of well priced products. Besides Oporto, these days Arcadia has over twenty shops and kiosks in Lisbon, Coimbra, Aveiro and Braga. The ideal place to indulge the sweet tooth and buy that little special gift for someone.
- Canned fish - Portuguese canned fish (sardines, tuna, cod, eels, etc) is arguably the best worldwide. Besides the Portela Airport Duty Free shop, a wide variety of Portuguese canned fish products in various types of sauces can be bought nationwide in food shops and supermarkets.
This is potentially the most varied experience to have in the country and is clearly a favourite local hobby.
Portuguese cuisine evolved from hearty peasant food drawn from the land and abundant seafood found in the country's lengthy coast with the cows, pigs and goats raised on the limited grazing land of its interior. From these humble origins, spices and condiments brought back to the country during the exploration and colonisation of South America, Africa, the East Indies and the Far East, contributed to the development of what become regarded as 'typical' Portuguese cuisine which inherently, also helped shape the cuisine in the regions under Portuguese influence, from Brazil and Cape Verde to Thailand and Japan. Today, traditional Portuguese cuisine is served alongside the latest trendy and fusion cuisine styles. Several establishments have been awarded Michelin stars.
Soup is an essential first course of a Portuguese meal. The most popular is the Minho speciality, caldo verde, made from kale, potatoes and spiced smoked sausage. In places, especially near the coast, you can enjoy delightful and varied fish soups, sometimes so thick it needs to be eaten with the help of a fork. Other popular choices are Sopa de legumes, a vegetable based soup often featured as "Sopa do dia" (Soup of day) in restaurants and Canja de galinha, a rich chicken broth.
You will see another Portuguese staple bacalhau (salt cod) everywhere. Locals will tell you that there are as many ways to cook this revered dish as there are days in the year, or even more.
The most common of Portugal's delicious fish (peixe) dishes revolve around sole (linguado) and sardines (sardinha) although salmon (salmão) and trout (truta) are also featured heavily, not mentioning the more traditional mackerel (carapau), whiting (pescada), rock bass (robalo), tuna (atum), frog fish (tamboril) and a variety of turbot (cherne). These are boiled, fried, grilled or baked and served in a variety of ways. Of late, there's a growing trend to serve ensopados de peixe, as the name suggests, an almost soup like fish stew to be eaten with bread as the catalyst to soak up the juices.
A peculiarity of Portuguese cuisine is the love of rice and rice-based dishes and desserts, a fondness perhaps grown from the Portuguese travels to the East. Among the most popular rice dishes are "Arroz à Bulhão Pato", essentially a juicy rice and clam dish. Another famous rice dish, "Arroz de Cabidela" consisting of a saucy dish made with rice, chicken and its blood. Besides those already mentioned, there are many varieties of rice-based specialities, such as frog fish rice, octopus rice, duck rice and seafood rice.
In most places you will easily find fresh seafood: lobster (lagosta), crab (caranguejo), lavagante, mussels (mexilhões), cockles (vieiras), oysters (ostras), clam (amêijoas), goose barnacles (perceves).
Depending on how touristic the area you are in, you'll see grills, thick with the smoke of charring meat, in front of many restaurants during your stay. Other than traditional sardines, Portuguese grilled chicken -- marinated in chilli, garlic and olive oil -- is world famous, although people tired of tasteless industrial poultry farm produce might opt for a tasty veal cutlet (costeleta de novilho) instead, or simply grilled pork.
In the North, there are many ways to cook kid, and in the Alentejo, lamb ensopado and several varieties of pork meat, including the tastier black pork; the most acclaimed portions of the pork being the secretos and the plumas. In the Alentejo, you are likely to be served pork instead of veal if you ask for the ubiquitous bitoque (small fried beef served with fried potato chips and a fried egg). A popular traditional dish is pork and clam, Carne de Porco à Alentejana, as well as fried, bread-covered cuttlefish slices (tiras de choco frito). Sometimes you can also find wild boar dishes.
Definitely a major speciality is Mealhada's (near Coimbra) suckling pig roast (leitão) served with orange slices, traditional bread and washed down with the local sparkling wine. Much like the pastel de nata, you shouldn't miss it.
Vegetarians may have a tough time of it in Portugal, at least in traditional Portuguese restaurants. In most restaurants, vegetables (usually boiled or fried potatoes) are simply a garnish to the main meat dish. Even 'vegetarian' salads and dishes may just substitute tuna (which locals don't seem to regard as a 'meat') for ham or sausage. Usually, a salad is just lettuce and tomato with salt, vinegar and olive oil. However, the Portuguese really like their choose-5-items salad bars, and restaurants serving Indian, Chinese, Mexican, or Italian fare can be found in most cities. At any rate, just mention you're vegetarian, and something can be found that meets your preference although in the long run you might be unable to thrive on it. That being said, proper vegetarian tastes are becoming more popular and in bigger cities, organic, vegetarian and vegan options can be found these days in dedicated establishments or places like El Corte Inglês for example.
In many Portuguese restaurants, if you order a salad it will come sprinkled with salt - if you are watching your salt intake, or just do not like this idea, you can ask for it "sem sal" (without salt) or more radically "sem tempero" (no seasoning).
A few restaurants, particularly in non-tourist areas, do not have a menu; you have to go in and ask what's available for you to choose from. It is wise to get the price written down when you do this so as to avoid any nasty surprises when the bill comes. However, in this type of restaurants, the price for each one of the options is very similar, varying from about €5 to €10 per person.
Most restaurants bring you a selection of snacks at the start of your meal aptly called covert - bread, butter, cheese, olives and other small bites - often there is a cover charge for these items, around €5, but invariably waiters do not inform clients of the charge and one may think it to be a free appetiser. Do not be afraid to ask how much the cost is and get them to take the items away if expensive or if you are not planning to eat as much. However, it can be quite reasonable, but occasionally you can get ripped off. If you send it away, you should still check your bill at the end. Better restaurants can bring you more surprising and nicely prepared delicious starters consisting of small dishes and bites costing more than a few €'s each. You can usually choose those you want and return the ones you don't want, in these cases the list is longer and if the total price works out high enough, you may opt for not ordering a main course and instead, enjoy a varied meal of several smaller portions.
If you have kitchen facilities, Portuguese grocery stores are surprisingly well-stocked with items such as lentils, veggie burgers, couscous, and inexpensive fruits, vegetables, and cheeses. If you like a 'softish' rich goat milk cheese try "Queijo da Serra", if you prefer spreadable cheese, try "Requeijão". Unfortunately, the success of the "Queijo da Serra" also led to the proliferation of industrial and taste-devoid imitations of the real thing. In speciality shops mostly found in larger cities, many unusual items such as exotic fruits or drinks can be found.
In some grocery stores and most supermarkets the scales are in the produce section, not at the checkout. If you don't weigh your produce and go to the checkout, you will probably be told Tem que os pesar or Tem que pesar, tem que ser pesado ("You have to weigh them"/items must be weighed).
Portugal is famous for its wide variety of amazing pastries, or pastéis (singular: pastel). The best-loved pastry are the pastéis de nata (called just natas further north), a flaky pastry cup filled with a "secret recipe" egg yolk rich custard-like filling, best eaten still warm and sprinkled to taste with icing sugar (açúcar) and/or cinnamon (canela), you can try them in any "pastelaria". A popular place is still the old Confeitaria dos Pastéis de Belém in Belém, Lisbon, although most "pastelarias" make it a point of pride excelling at their "pastéis" - here they're called pastéis de Belém, elsewhere as pasteis de nata. For once, all the guide books are right, you may have to queue for a short time, but it'll be worth it. Some people like them piping hot and some don't.
Also nice, if a bit dry, are the bolo de arroz (literally, "rice cake") and the orange or carrot cakes.
From the more egg-oriented North to almond-ruled South, Portuguese pastry and sweet desserts are excellent and often surprising, even after many years.
On October/November, roasted chestnuts (castanhas) are sold on the streets of cities from vendors sporting fingerless gloves tending their motorcycle driven stoves: a treat!
Portugal is by and large a coffee society and everywhere you go there's sidewalk Cafés. Salões de chá (tea rooms) also exist but the Portuguese love their thick black espresso coffee (bica, in Lisbon) and tend to drink it several times daily. People go to the Café to see and be seen, while friends gather to talk and socialize over a café e nata, in cold evenings, some enjoy café e bagaço (espresso chased with a firewater tot). If you have a prolonged stay and speak Portuguese, Cafés are an ideal place to go to and make new friends. Regulars use Cafés as a ponto de encontro (meeting place) to gather and make plans, while families after a meal at home, prefer to go out and enjoy their coffee in public. Revolutions and uprisings where planed and deep political or football discussions continue to be held in coffee shops. Costing €0.50-0.60 in most places, any occasion becomes an excuse to meet at the local favourite esplanada and drink an espresso. Most Portuguese sorely miss the Café lifestyle when abroad.
Specialities found in individual regions
Portuguese people tend to have a sweet tooth. Among the many national favourites perhaps " Pudin Flan", a caramel type pudding and "Arroz Doce" or "Aletria" should be mentioned. Both Arroz Doce (Rice Pudding) or Aletria (fine spaghettini) are made by simmering with milk, sugar, some cinnamon and lemon rind either the rice or fine pasta. Some regions specialise in one or the other while adding something special to make it identify with the area.
- Aveiro: special cake from the town: "Pão de Ló". Desert: "Ovos Moles"
- Fátima: Pastéis de Fátima, are custard tarts in the shape of heart, dedicated to the so-called Immaculate Heart of Mary
- Porto: "Francesinha", a special grilled cheese sandwich; "Tripas" or tripe stew and "Papas de Sarrabulho", ask the locals what it is made from...
- Sintra: queijadas de Sintra or the travesseiros
- Mafra: specialty bread, Pão de Mafra; special cake from the town: "Fradinhos"
- Serra da Estrela : "Queijo da Serra" a soft goat cheese, "Requeijão" a fresh spreadable cheese and "Broa de milho" a tasty round shape corn bread.
- Alentejo: "Açorda com coentros", a delicious stale bread soup and Caracois or broiled snails.
- Algarve: the Morgadinhos, the almond cakes of Doce Fino and the Dom Rodrigo
- Madeira: "Bolo de Mel" or honey cake.
When travelling in Portugal, the drink of choice is wine. Red wine is the favourite amongst the locals, but white wine is also popular. Northern Portugal has a white wine cultivar variation with a greenish tint known as vinho verde. This wine has a very crisp acidic-sweet flavour and is better served cold, it goes best with seafood or fish dishes and Alvarinho is one of the more famous brands. Drinking wine during a meal or socially is very common in Portugal, after a meal is finished, people will tend to talk and sip wine while the food digests. Port wine (vinho do Porto) can be an apéritif or a dessert. Alentejo wine may not be yet known worldwide like Port, but within Portugal just as famous, Esporão is one of the best brands from the Alentejo region. Portugal has other official demarcated wine regions (regiões vinhateiras) which produce some of the best wines such as, Madeira, Dão, Sado and Douro. The Bairrada region produces some delightful sparkling wines, Raposeira being a well known brand.
Beer (cerveja) is also an option and the production of beer in Portugal can be traced back to Lusitanian times. Apart from some imports, the best known national brands are the lager type Super Bock, Sagres and Coral. On a smaller scale, Tagus is sold in the Greater Lisbon area and Cristal, a Pilsner type beer is available mostly in the Porto region. The only drawbacks are the small bottles and caneca(jug) sizes at tap beer selling establishments, snack-bars and cervejarias. Of late, some craft beer producers have begun to emerge around the country.
Be careful of spirits such as 1920 and Aguardente (burning water), both pack a mighty punch. Macieira brandy offers a more palatable kick for those who prefer a slower acting effect.
People might find it a bit difficult to refrain from drinking, even if there are very good reasons to do so. Nowadays the "I have to drive" excuse works OK. The easiest way is to explain that one can't for health reasons. The Portuguese aren't as easily insulted as others when it comes to refusing the obvious hospitality of a drink, but a lie such as "I'm allergic" might make clear a situation where one would have to otherwise repeatedly explain a preference in some regions of Portugal; but it won't work in other regions where obviously made-up excuses will tag you as unreliable ("I don't want to, thanks" might then work). Drinking is considered almost socially intimate.
The legal drinking age in Portugal is 16. For nightlife Lisbon, Porto and Albufeira, Algarve are the best choices as they have major places of entertainment.
Porto is famous for the eponymous port wine, a fortified wine (20%) made by adding brandy to the wine before fermentation is complete. According to EU laws, port wine can only be named as such if the grapes are grown in the Douro valley, and the wine is brewed in Porto. The end product is strong, sweet, complex in taste and if properly stored will last 40 years or more.
There are many, many grades of port, but the basic varieties are:
- Vintage, the real deal, kept in the bottle for 5-15 years, can be very expensive for good years. It is, nevertheless, worth it.
- Late-Bottled Vintage (LBV), simulated vintage kept in barrel longer, ready to drink. Nice if you are on a budget.
- Tawny, aged for 10-40 years before bottling, which distinguishes itself by a more brownish red color and a slightly smoother bouquet and flavor. As with any wine, the older it gets, the more rounded and refined it will be.
- Ruby, the youngest and cheapest, with a deep red "ruby" colour.
- White port is a not-so-well-known variety, and it is a shame. You will find a sweet and a dry varietal, the latter of which mixes well with tonic water and should be served chilled (if drunk alone) or with lots of ice (with tonic), commonly used as an aperitif.
- Another good choice is the ubiquitous vinho verde (green wine), which is made mostly in the region to the north of Porto (the Minho.) It's a light, dry and refreshing wine (9-9.5% in volume), made from region specific grapes with relatively low sugar content. Mostly white, and sometimes slightly sparkling. Very nice, and very affordable.
- The Setúbal Peninsula, is home to some of the best national cultivars but the Moscatel sweet wines are World class. Information on the variety and brands available can be sourced from the national or local wine producer lists.
- From north to south and east to west, Portugal seems to have a liqueur maker in every corner of the country. Licor Beirão enjoys some prominence but by asking around wherever you go, you will find good quality liqueurs made from local fruits, herbs and/or nuts, some secret ingredients and a good splashing of aguardente (firewater).
- In Lisbon and further south, make sure to sample Ginjinha, or simply Ginja, a liqueur made by infusing ginja berries (Prunus creases austera, the Morello cherry) in aguardente with sugar and other ingredients. Ginjinha can be served in a shot form with a piece of the fruit in the bottom of the cup, sometimes on a cup made of chocolate. It's very popular, and a typical drink in Lisbon, Alcobaça and Óbidos.
- In Coimbra, for example, a certain gentleman produces over 90 varieties of liqueurs including one named Licor da Merda (shit liqueur!). However, it is widely believed, the name has more of a humorous effect than offensive substance.
The youth hostel network has a great number of hostels around the country . There are also many camping places. 'Wild camping' (camping outside camping parks) is not allowed, unless you have the land owner's agreement. Holiday Villas and apartments are another option to investigate.
There's a wide and abundant hotel offering all through Portugal.
If budget is a concern and you want a 'typically Portuguese' experience, don't be shy and try a residencial or pensão, the home-like inn's ubiquitous in cities and most towns. In many places you can get a double or triple room with private bathroom for €25-35 off season or €35-40 in season (2017). Be sure, however, of the quality of the rooms. In smaller cities, "pensões" tend to be near transportation hubs like railway stations and bus terminals. If travelling with friends, haggling in a nice way can yield discounts even during high season.
On the luxury side, you may want to try the Pousadas de Portugal, a network of hotels managed by the Pestana Group remarkable for using very beautiful ancient buildings like Palaces and Castles and also for having consistent excellent service all over the country. You will do well eating out, as the cuisine of Pousadas can be both expensive and boring, although it appears the trend is changing for the better (mid-2008).
The "Casas de Campo" (Turismo de Habitação, Turismo Rural, Agro-Turismo), when travelling through the countryside, are also an affordable, picturesque and comfortable B&B option. Don't expect them to be open all year round and try to book a reservation beforehand if your itinerary depends on it.
For all emergencies, dial 112
This is the national call center dial in number for any emergency or to report an accident, fire etc etc. Ensure you have this number registered in your means of communication or noted down somewhere in case it becomes necessary to notify authorities or emergency response entities.
Portugal is a relatively safe country to visit, but some basic common sense will go a long way. There are no internal conflicts, no terrorism-related danger and violent crime is not a serious problem, as it is generally confined to particular neighbourhoods and is rarely a random crime.
There are three main police branches. In major urban areas the PSP or Policía de Segurança Pública (Public Security Police) are in charge of law enforcement. Outside major urban centers and in rural areas, the GNR or Guarda Nacional Republicana (National Republican Guards) take over the law enforcement.
Both the PSP and GNR are also responsible for road traffic supervision and enforcement within their respective jurisdictions. The third branch is the PJ or Policía Judiciária (Judicial Police). These are a crime investigation branch composed of plain clothes detectives. In general, the Portuguese police officers are well trained, educated and polite. Many that are posted in tourist popular areas, have basic communication skills in foreign languages and some are fluent speakers of French, German, English and Spanish, therefore, easy to approach if the need arises.
When visiting Portugal, there are however, some areas of Lisbon and Porto that you might want to avoid, like in any big city, especially at night. Also, you might want to have in mind that pickpockets do tend to target tourists and tourist-frequented areas more frequently. During the holiday season, many of the pickpocketers are themselves foreigners posing as regular tourists and act and look as such. Wear a money belt or keep your documents and money in an inside pocket. Metro and large rail stations, shopping areas, queues and crowded buses are the most usual places for pickpockets. Many are under 18 and take advantage of the non-harsh laws on minors. If you try to run them down, a fight may be necessary to get your items back.
On the subway or on trains try to sit with other people and avoid empty carriages. Non-violent pickpocket is the most common crime so always watch any bags (purses, luggage, shopping bags, etc.) you may have with you. A voice message reminding that is played in most of the metro and train stations.
Illicit drug use
On July 1, 2001, a nationwide law in Portugal took effect that decriminalized the recreational use of drugs. Drug possession for personal use and drug usage (up to 2.5 grams of cannabis for instance) itself are still legally prohibited, but violations of those prohibitions are deemed to be exclusively administrative violations and are removed completely from the criminal realm. In some locations, like Bairro Alto you might be offered drugs on the streets. You will want to avoid buying like this because the drugs are often fake and the sellers are sometimes undercover policemen.
Drug trafficking continues to be prosecuted as a criminal offense.
Driving while impaired by drugs is a criminal code offense and is treated in the same way as driving under the influence of more than 1.2 g/l of alcohol, with severe penalties.
Portugal adheres to all international protocols and guidelines concerning consumer products and health care.
Major cities are well served with medical and emergency facilities and public hospitals are at European standards. The national emergency number is 112.
Bottled/spring water (água mineral) is recommended for use but the network's water is perfectly safe. In so far as restaurants and other food and drink establishments or outlets are concerned, Portugal has a vigorously enforced system of national high standards to ensure a healthy chain of supply from producers to consumers, therefore the risk of food or drink poisoning is negligible. Star ratings are ascribed for levels of establishment luxury (5* to 1*) and not the quality of food or beverage, since those are strictly governed anyway.
Citizens of the European Union are covered by Portugal's National Healthcare System as long as they carry the free European Health Insurance Card (EHIC), obtainable from their own national health care authority. Non European Union travellers are advised to purchase traveller's basic medical insurance to cover serious physical injury treatment costs, in case of an accident.
Portuguese people feel a sincere happiness when helping tourists so don't feel ashamed to ask for help. If you make an effort to speak some Portuguese with the people there, it can go a long way.
However, although Portuguese people do understand some basic Spanish vocabulary, try to use it only in emergencies, since it is generally seen as disrespectful if you are a not a native Spanish speaker. If you do use Spanish, be prepared to hear something like "In Portugal, people speak Portuguese, not Spanish", or they may simply tell you that they don't understand you even if they do. Most probably they will not say anything and will still help you, but they will not appreciate it, due to the historical rivalry between Spain and Portugal. It is best to speak in English or your native language with the resource of hand signs or at the very least starting a conversation with Portuguese, then switching to English can be a successful technique to obtain this type of help.
In Portugal, all types of establishments and business dealing with clients and consumers such as hotels, restaurants, shops, car rental, travel agents, theaters, taxis, etc etc, are by law obliged to provide a "Livro de Reclamações" (Official Complaints Register). Compliance is generally displayed on a prominent place easily visible when entering premisses. The purpose of the "Livro de Reclamações" is to provide the consumer/client an official means to register complaints and if someone refuses you the book, call a policeman to assist you. These complaint ledgers are regularly inspected by consumer law enforcement authorities to ensure services provided fall within regulations and standard parameters. So, if you feel hard done by, don't hesitate to ask for the book and write down your complaint.
It is not unusual for women to sunbathe topless on the beaches of Portugal, and there are several nudist beaches too. Thong bikinis are acceptable throughout the country's beaches.
There are no serious political or social issues to be avoided. However, in more isolated remote traditional places, too liberal or open sexuality behaviour is frowned upon even if the locals do not say so openly out of prudishness.
Although nominally a Catholic country, since almost 90% of Portuguese consider themselves to be Roman Catholic, only about 19% actively practise this faith, and modern Portugal is generally a rather secular society. As a result, when discussing religion with the average Portuguese person, don't expect much input about church practices or support towards some of their beliefs and opinions (e.g. use of condoms, abortion, homosexuality, euthanasia, etc.). In Portugal, religion is not seen as a valid argument when discussing politics unless you do it with a practicing Catholic. Abortion in Portugal was legalised in 2007 and same sex marriage in 2010.
Although there are no strict rules, when visiting churches or other religious monuments, try to wear appropriate clothes, and please keep silence.
Portugal in general is a gay-friendly country, but don't expect the same openness in rural areas and small towns that you get in the bigger cities like Lisbon or Porto. Public displays of affection between gay couples can be seen as a curiosity and in some cases as inappropriate depending on the place and the kind of display. Gays and lesbians in Lisbon are respected as the city itself has a big gay scene with lots of bars, night clubs, restaurants, cafes, saunas and beaches. Most of the “gay-friendly” places are located in the quarters of Bairro Alto, Chiado and Princípe Real.
Since September 2007, the legal age of consent in Portugal is 14 years old, regardless of sexual behaviour, gender and/or sexual orientation. Although the age of consent is stipulated at 14, the legality of a sexual act with a minor between 14 and 16 is open to legal interpretation since the law states that it is illegal for an adult to perform a sexual act with an adolescent between 14 and 16 years old "by taking advantage of their inexperience".
- No Smoking Areas: Indoor workplaces, public transport (subway, buses, tramways, trains, boats, taxis), public indoor places such as banks, hospitals, theatres, concert halls, shops, department stores, malls, supermarkets, indoor markets, lifts, escalators, etc.
Indoor and outdoor places used by minors less than 18 years old such us child care centres, playgrounds, schools, etc. No smoking areas are indicated by a no-smoking red sign stating in 3 languages (Portuguese, English and French): não fumadores, no smokers, non fumeurs. No person shall smoke or carry a lighted cigarette, electronic cigarette, cigar or pipe in designated no smoking areas, or else will be liable to a penalty between €50 and €750. If the landlord or manager of the place will not enforce the law by calling the police, s/he will be liable to a penalty up to thousand of euros.
- In restaurants, coffee shops, bars, pubs, and discos: Up to 100 m², it is the owner of the place that decide if it is a no smoking or a smoking area. More than 100 sqm, both smoking and no smoking area may be implemented. However the smoking area have to have special air/con indicated by the blue sign written in 3 languages (Portuguese, English and French): fumadores, smokers, fumeurs. The outdoor area such as terraces, roof tops, balconies smoking is permitted, and you may ask for an ashtray.
- Hotels: Most hotels have no smoking and smoking rooms. In smoke-free hotels in the rooms with balcony is allowed to smoke in the balcony.
- Airports: Smoking is allowed in designated smoking areas with the blue sign as well as some business lounges.
Some cities in Portugal still stage bullfighting events or "corridas de toiros" regularly while contrary to what happens in Spain, it is illegal to kill the bull during the bullfight. The Portuguese style of bullfighting is done by a rider on horse back, while the bull horns are covered with a blunt ended leather sheath to minimize injury in a goring, at the end, groups of "forcados" try to literally bare handedly, grab the bull by the horns. That being said, it is wrong to assume that all Portuguese people support or even faintly like bullfights. With exception to the hardcore fans, public opinion remains divided with many Portuguese being indifferent to bullfighting, while others are very offended by acts of cruelty. Despite animal rights awareness campaigners being active for many years, the traditionalists continue firm in their resolve to remain active, while national authorities to balance the pro vs against playing field, have adopted a "live and let live" attitude by promulgating a law stating the Portuguese bullfighting is part of the "national protected cultural heritage". You might also end up offending someone if you make generalisations or insist that bullfighting is part of today's Portuguese culture, since some cities have outright banned bullfighting within city limits. Never the less, bullfighting in certain regions remains a deep rooted tradition. The Municipality of Barrancos (a border town with Spain) actively defies the law and law enforcement agents and kills the bull in the arena.