14 things Portugal locals want you to know before you visit - Lonely Planet (2022)

Many years ago as a young backpacker, I made plenty of mistakes when traveling around Portugal – from trying to see everything on one trip to indulging in free appetizers that weren’t really free.

Since becoming both an honorary Lisboeta (Lisbon resident) and Tripeiro (Porto dweller), I have learned some essentials about the country. From the best methods for getting around to wardrobe essentials. Here are the key tips to help you make the most out of your trip to Portugal.

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Don’t try to see it all in one trip

Portugal is a small country – roughly the size of the state of Indiana in North America and slightly larger than Scotland. But there’s a lot to see here, from hilltop villages in the Alentejo to remote Unesco World Heritage sites, not to mention over 100 beaches in the Algarve. A rookie mistake is trying to see all of Portugal during one visit. Even if you have a few weeks to spare, you won’t be able to visit everything in this diverse country. Instead, pick one or two regions and focus your trip there, allowing yourself time to see both highlights as well as local markets, vineyards and other less-visited attractions.

14 things Portugal locals want you to know before you visit - Lonely Planet (1)

Decide where to go

The mountains, the seaside, cobblestone-lined city streets? Portugal has plenty of options when it comes to travel. With a week at your disposal, you can combine a bit of urban adventure with scenic getaways nearby. If you have Lisbon in mind, you can spend several days there, along with day trips to Cascais, Sintra and the beach-dotted Setúbal Peninsula, or spend a couple of days in Évora or on the lovely Alentejo coastline.

A great northern itinerary combines Porto with some vineyard visits along the picturesque Douro River. Beach-lovers might skip city life altogether and spend their time in the Algarve, checking out cliff-backed beaches, hidden coves and sleepy fishing villages. If you have something more active in mind, plan a hiking outing in the mountains of the Serra da Estrela, which you can pair with time spent exploring craggy villages like Manteigas and Linhares, as well as the university town of Coimbra.

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Book your accommodation well in advance

Portugal’s growing popularity means some of the best places to stay get booked up months in advance. This is especially true if you’re traveling in the peak months of June through August. Once you have your itinerary organized, reserve your lodging. If you’re traveling off-season (November through March), you’ll have much more flexibility – so you can book your first few nights and plan your other nights on the go.

Lower your carbon footprint by traveling on trains and buses

You can go green by ditching the car and getting around by public transportation. Portugal has a decent train network that connects major cities like Lisbon, Porto, Coimbra and Faro. Buses help fill in the gaps to smaller towns across the country. Service has expanded in recent years, particularly in the south, where the new Vamus Algarve covers just about every part of the Algarve, from tiny beach villages on the central coast to the soaring sea cliffs near Sagres. Skipping the car rental also means you won't have to hassle with parking, toll roads and heavy traffic, among other things.

14 things Portugal locals want you to know before you visit - Lonely Planet (2)

Don’t bother taking a taxi from the airport

Speaking of trains and buses, as soon as you arrive you can save money and cut down on CO2 emissions by hopping on public transport from the airport. Portugal’s three international airports all have good options for whisking you into town. The Lisbon metro’s linha vermelha (red line) can get you into the center as can the speedy Aerobus, while Porto’s metro (violet line E) runs from the airport to the heart of town. From Faro airport in the south, you can take the Vamus Algarve Aerobus, which shuttles into Faro and also to the key towns of Albufeira, Lagoa, Portimão and Lagos.

Remember the cardinal rule of dining in Portugal: nothing is free

Servers often bring bread, butter, olives and even cheese or other appetizers to diners before their meal. Keep in mind that these unordered items will always be added to your bill if you choose to partake. If you don’t want them, just send them away – a polite "no thank you" (não obrigado/a) will do the job. Prices for couvert range from €2 per person and upwards.

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Bring a few smart-casual outfits

Shorts are fine on the beach, but if you wear them around the city, you’ll quickly brand yourself as a tourist. At nicer restaurants, bars and nightclubs, you’ll want to follow the local lead and dress things up a bit.

14 things Portugal locals want you to know before you visit - Lonely Planet (3)

Become an expert on tipping etiquette

At restaurants in Portugal, many locals don’t tip at all, or simply round up when paying for a meal. In more tourist-oriented establishments a tip is more common – usually around 10% – and may even be added as a service charge. Tipping is not expected in cafes or bars. However, if you’re in a fancy high-end place, you should plan on tipping (along the lines of €1 for a specialty cocktail). Rounding up the fare is also common practice when taking a taxi or rideshare.

Bring your own bag to the market

Portugal has huge markets where you can see stalls of fresh fruits and vegetables as well as charcuterie, cheeses, olives, bakery items and other fare. Amid such culinary largesse you can assemble a first-rate picnic, just be sure to bring your own bag to the market.You might want to throw in a corkscrew so you’re always prepared to pop open a bottle of vinho verde, an Alentejo red and other good-value Portuguese wines.

14 things Portugal locals want you to know before you visit - Lonely Planet (4)

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Pack sturdy shoes

Even if you limit your travels to the city, you’ll want to have good shoes. You’ll find steep streets, loose cobblestones and uneven sidewalks in Lisbon, Porto, Coimbra and many other towns. Save the heels and dress shoes for nicer restaurants and nightclubs. Good shoes will also come in handy when you want to take a walk beyond the town. Across the country, Portugal has some magnificent hikes, like the stunning clifftop trail of Percurso dos Sete Vales Suspensos – not difficult to do, but you need proper footwear.

Dress modestly when visiting churches

Save the shorts, short skirts and tank tops for the beach. Keep things covered up when visiting the cathedrals (Sés) and monasteries of Portugal. Bring a scarf to cover bare shoulders and perhaps a sarong for over-exposed thighs.

And don’t forget to throw in the swimsuit

No matter where you roam in Portugal, you’re never far from the beach or a sparkling inland lake or river. Porto and Lisbon both have lovely beaches within easy reach of the city center, while remote corners of Portugal – like Peneda-Gerês National Park have waterfalls and natural pools. It would be a mistake not to bring your swimsuit, even if you think you won’t need it.

Learn some Portuguese and use it

Outside of Lisbon, Porto and the Algarve, you might encounter people with limited English. For smooth sailing, it helps to learn some Portuguese. If nothing else, locals appreciate the effort to speak their language, however rudimentary your accent. When entering a room, it’s polite to say "bom dia" (good day) or "boa tarde" (good afternoon) to those around you.

Be mindful of petty crime

Portugal is generally a safe country to visit, with a low overall crime rate – violent crime is extremely rare. Pickpocketing and bag-snatching are the main concerns to keep in mind, especially when traveling on the trams and metro in Lisbon or Porto. Avoid moving around during the crowded peak times, and don’t zone out on your phone. At night, be cautious walking around empty streets wherever you are: you’re better off taking a taxi.

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Car break-ins can also happen, and rental vehicles are sometimes targeted. Don’t leave anything of value in your car, and it's best not to leave luggage or other items in the trunk/boot of your vehicle (yet another good reason to embrace public transportation).

FAQs

What to know about Portugal before visiting? ›

15 Things To Know Before Visiting Portugal
  • Wear comfortable footwear.
  • Brush up on some Portuguese vocabulary.
  • Keep an eye on personal items.
  • Know how to properly ask for coffee.
  • Remember the number 112.
  • Ignore drug dealers.
  • Use a G.P.S. while driving through the countryside.
  • Stay in a group at night.
24 May 2017

Are Portuguese friendly to tourists? ›

Yes — extremely safe! Portugal even ranked as the 3rd safest country in the world by the Global Peace Index in 2020.

What is the prettiest city in Portugal? ›

Top 10 of the most beautiful cities in Portugal:
  • Sintra.
  • Guimarães.
  • Coimbra.
  • Lamego.
  • Évora.
  • Braga.
  • Porto.
  • Lisboa.

What is the most beautiful part of Portugal? ›

5 Most Beautiful Regions in Portugal
  • Algarve. The Algarve is one of the best regions to visit in Portugal if you're looking for a sunshine-filled beach break. ...
  • Lisbon and the Tagus Valley. ...
  • Alentejo. ...
  • Porto and Northern Portugal. ...
  • Central Portugal.
16 Jun 2021

What should I be careful of in Portugal? ›

Crime rates are low but pickpocketing, handbag snatching and theft from cars and holiday properties are common in major tourist areas and can be accompanied by violence. Be alert, keep sight of your belongings at all times and beware of thieves using distraction techniques.

How do people in Portugal behave? ›

Do's
  1. Consider how you dress and present yourself. ...
  2. Similarly, it is important to speak respectfully and politely. ...
  3. Show respect for Catholicism and the Christian tradition. ...
  4. Be compassionate and caring should your Portuguese counterpart share their experiences about their financial and job security.

What is the rainiest month in Portugal? ›

The wettest month (with the highest rainfall) is November (127.6mm). The driest month (with the least rainfall) is July (4.2mm).

Which country is safer Spain or Portugal? ›

Portugal is in the top 3 of the 2020 Global Peace Index, the ranking of the safest countries in the world. Portugal is beaten only by Iceland and New Zealand on this list of the safest countries, and is ranked far higher than neighbouring countries such as Spain and France.

Why is crime so low in Portugal? ›

One of the key reasons is down to the political climate in the country, which has been stable for years. In addition to this, Portugal has some of the lowest crime rates in Europe.

What is the wealthiest city in Portugal? ›

Cascais, Oeiras and Sintra municipalities consistently rank among the richest municipalities in Portugal.

What is the wealthiest part of Portugal? ›

The top of the list of the most expensive municipalities to buy or rent a house in Portugal, is the parish of Santo António, in Lisbon, including Avenida da Liberdade and surrounding areas.

Which is nicer Porto or Lisbon? ›

Lisbon has more tourist attractions, sights, and museums

While Porto has some worthwhile cathedrals and sights (like the Harry Potteresque bookstore), Porto is more about enjoying the city, strolling the streets, taking in views, and tasting Port wine at the Port lodges.

Where is the nicest place to live in Portugal? ›

The best places to live in Portugal
  • Lisbon.
  • Braga.
  • Funchal (Madeira)
  • Ponta Delgada (the Azores)
  • Portimão.
5 Sept 2022

How do I stop pickpockets in Portugal? ›

Summary:
  1. Tips and Tricks to Protect Yourself from Pickpockets in Lisbon. ...
  2. Wear a money belt. ...
  3. Leave the costly stuff at home. ...
  4. Maintain a strategic distance from crowds. ...
  5. Pack Smart. ...
  6. Always zip your packs. ...
  7. Keep cash and credit cards in a mixed bag of pockets. ...
  8. Photocopy indispensable documents.
12 Jan 2019

Are there a lot of pickpockets in Portugal? ›

Pickpocketing in Portugal

One of the most frequently reported crimes in Portugal is pickpocketing. Pickpockets often work in teams (sometimes using young children as a distraction) so it's important to always be aware of your surroundings.

Can you turn right on a red light in Portugal? ›

Portuguese traffic lights follow the conventions of the Vienna agreement and so should be familiar to most drivers. You cannot turn right on a red light unless indicated and you should also be aware that many local drivers run red lights.

Is it rude to tip in Portugal? ›

In general, Portugal is not a tipping culture, there are no established rules, and different people follow different rules. There is no obligation to tip in restaurants, hotels, bars, or personal service locations like salons and spas.

Can you flush toilet paper in Portugal? ›

Re Toilet paper their are some bars & restaurants who will have notices asking you to not flush paper down the toilet but use the bin provided, this is because their sanitation system will be on a pump/macerator and paper etc will block the pump and stop it working. if there are no notices displayed use as normal.

What clothes do Portuguese wear? ›

Clothing and Fashion

Traditional Portuguese dress consists of bouffant skirts made from saia (chequered or striped fabrics) for women, and calsas, short leggings, sombreros, and waistcoats for men. Women also sometimes wear a kerchief, but this varies a lot depending on which region you're in.

What is the coldest month in Portugal? ›

The coldest month is January with an average maximum temperature of 15°C (59°F).

What is the hottest place in Portugal? ›

1. Amareleja – Alentejo region. The highest temperatures in Portugal tend to occur inland. The town of Amareleja is one of the hottest places in Europe during the summer, with a high temperature of 47.4°C (117.3 °F) recorded on August 1, 2003.

What is the standard of living in Portugal? ›

Many locals get by on less than USD$870-$1,060 a month. A couple can live in one of Portugal's smaller cities for about USD$990-$1,200 a month. While they'd have to eschew opulent luxuries, they'd enjoy a comfortable lifestyle with restaurant visits and weekend trips.

Who has better food Spain or Portugal? ›

There are good foodie regions of Spain – San Sebastian and the whole region of Galicia is fantastic – but Portugal is much better overall.

Is there high crime in Portugal? ›

Crime rates in Portugal are generally low, and most crimes are non-violent. Portugal's security and peace indicators compare favourably to those of other countries; According to the Institute for Economics and Peace's 2022 Global Peace Index report, Portugal ranks as the 6th most peaceful country in the world.

Is Portugal safer than Italy? ›

Firstly, the Global Peace Index 2021 ranks Portugal as the fourth-safest country to live in, while Italy is ranked at thirty-two.

What is the safest city in Portugal? ›

10 Safest Cities in Portugal
  • Lisbon.
  • Braga.
  • Porto.
  • Ponta Delgada (the Azores)
  • Funchal (Madeira)
  • Aveiro.
  • Portimão.
  • Coimbra.

How many people get murdered in Portugal? ›

In 2020, homicide rate for Portugal was 0.9 cases per 100,000 population. Though Portugal homicide rate fluctuated substantially in recent years, it tended to decrease through 2001 - 2020 period ending at 0.9 cases per 100,000 population in 2020.

Which country is number 1 in crime? ›

Venezuela

Where do celebrities live in Portugal? ›

In the Algarve, it is the Portimão and Albufeira areas that are most popular among celebrities who bought or rent homes in Portugal. These coastal areas are close to some of the best casinos, shops and restaurants.

Where do the celebs go in Portugal? ›

The Algarve is the most popular travel destination in Portugal. Many celebrities buy a property in the region in search of privacy, unspoiled nature, exclusive parties, and venues.

How many days are enough in Portugal? ›

Any Portugal travel itinerary should be a minimum of seven days long to ensure you can immerse yourself in the local culture, customs, and traditions. Those with more time can enjoy traveling further afield or staying longer in one destination to scratch beneath the surface.

What is Portugal famous for? ›

Portugal is famous for its typical seafood dishes, popular beach destinations, and 16th to 19th-century architecture, from when this country was a powerful maritime empire. It's also known for its soccer legends, fado music, historical cities, and port wine.

Is Portugal cheap for tourists? ›

Portugal is considered one of the least expensive destinations in Western Europe, with an average cost of €68-115 per person per day, you will find it stacks up well as a holiday destination and is less expensive than many European options.

Where is the cheapest place to live in Portugal? ›

The top cheapest places to live in Portugal in 2021 are:
  • Bragança.
  • Viseu.
  • Braga.
  • Covilhã
  • Torres Vedras.
  • Portimão.
  • Évora.
  • Faro.
10 Aug 2021

Where do the rich and famous live in Portugal? ›

Where the rich live in Sintra, Cascais, and Estoril. The Portuguese Riviera has been known for being home to wealthy families for many years. Once a small fishing community, Cascais has become a cosmopolitan retreat for the wealthy in the past century.

What is the Golden Triangle in Portugal? ›

The Golden Triangle is the name given to the affluent region outside of Faro, capital of the Algarve region of Portugal. Famous for its luxury resorts and Michelin star restaurants, it is located between three points: Resort-town of Vilamoura. Town of Almancil.

Is Lisbon a walkable city? ›

Lisbon is a walkable city, but with lots of hills, taking public transportation will save your feet and its fun taking the vintage trolleys around the city!

Is Porto colder than Lisbon? ›

Porto has a mild, oceanic climate and is colder than Lisbon and the Algarve. The average temperature in winter is about 14ºC and in summer it's around 25ºC. Nevertheless, in dryer periods, it can quite easily reach above 30ºC in summer and drop to between 5 and 0ºC in winter.

Is Porto a walkable city? ›

Getting to and around Porto

Once there, Porto is an easily walkable city, so long as you don't mind all the hills. If the hills are an issue, there's also a good public transport system that includes old wooden trams, a metro and buses.

What is the best area to stay in Portugal? ›

  • #1: The Algarve: Sunshine, Seafood, and Sandy Beaches.
  • #2: Monsanto: A Unique Historical Village.
  • #3: Lisbon: The Fast-Paced, Endlessly-Fun Capital.
  • #4: Braga: A Gorgeous Medieval City.
  • #5: Coimbra: A Bustling University Town.
  • #6: Serra da Estrela: Adventurous Mountain Exploring.
  • #7: Madeira: Quiet Tropical Islands.
20 Jan 2022

Are the beaches better in Spain or Portugal? ›

However, if you are looking for authentic fishing villages, cultural experiences, rolling surf and less crowded beaches, Portugal may be more to your liking than the high-rise Spanish Costas! Both countries have family friendly beaches, city beaches and more remote crescents of sand that few visitors choose to visit.

Are beaches in Portugal swimmable? ›

Portugal has some of the best beaches in Europe. With more than 1,056 miles (1,700km) of coastline, it's the perfect place to travel for sunshine, swimming, surfing or simply exploring coastal towns.

What are the cons of living in Portugal? ›

Living in Portugal offers many advantages: a warm climate, the Atlantic ocean, mountains nearby, a low crime rate and a relatively low cost of living. Medicine and education are well developed here, and residents are offered tax exemptions. The disadvantages include the need to learn Portuguese and carry cash on you.

What is the average price of a house in Portugal? ›

Market Overview

The median appraised value of homes across Portugal settled at 1,144 euros a square meter ($126 a square foot) in November 2020, according to data from the National Institute of Statistics.

Where do most English live in Portugal? ›

Brits are the biggest expat group in Portugal, and have been for many years. The majority live in and around the Algarve, but you'll also find people of other Brits in places like Lisbon, Cascais, Porto, and Madeira.

What is Portugal most known for? ›

Portugal is famous for its typical seafood dishes, popular beach destinations, and 16th to 19th-century architecture, from when this country was a powerful maritime empire. It's also known for its soccer legends, fado music, historical cities, and port wine.

What do I need to know before visiting Porto? ›

Porto is generally a safe city, and the crime rate is low. Pickpocketing and bag-snatching are the main concerns to keep in mind, especially when traveling on the trams and metro. Avoid moving around during the crowded peak times, and don't zone out on your phone wherever you are.

Do you need a visa to visit Portugal? ›

U.S. citizens may enter Portugal for up to 90 days for tourism or business without a visa. Your passport should be valid for at least three months beyond the period of stay. If you plan on transiting a Schengen country, review our U.S. Travelers in Europe page.

Why are Portuguese tiles blue? ›

By the early 18th century CE, Portuguese tile artisans had fallen under the influence of Ming Dynasty (1368-1644 CE) Chinese porcelain design and Dutch Delftware, both of which led to the cobalt blue and white visual appearance of the Portuguese tiles that are seen all over Portugal today.

What is the culture of Portugal? ›

Portugal is a predominantly Roman Catholic country with a close-knit family ethic. Its rich culture results from many influences, including Celtic, Lusitanian, Phoenician, Germanic, Visigoth, Viking, Sephardic Jewish, and Moorish.

What does Portugal produce the most? ›

The main crops grown in Portugal are cereals (wheat, barley, corn [maize], and rice), potatoes, grapes (for wine), olives, and tomatoes. Since 1999, Portuguese farmers have planted genetically modified corn. Portugal is among the world's largest exporters of tomato paste and is a leading exporter of wines.

Do I need to carry my passport in Portugal? ›

You are required to be in possession of a U.S. passport, valid for a minimum of three months beyond the length of your stay. Safeguard your passport and identity documents when traveling throughout Portugal!. Be aware of your surroundings and take personal security measures to stay safe!

What is the most affordable place to live in Portugal? ›

The top cheapest places to live in Portugal in 2021 are:
  • Bragança.
  • Viseu.
  • Braga.
  • Covilhã
  • Torres Vedras.
  • Portimão.
  • Évora.
  • Faro.
10 Aug 2021

What do people wear in Portugal in the summer? ›

Shorts, t-shirts and camisoles are perfectly acceptable. In the summer wear plenty of sunscreen (we love the Riemann P20 range for 10 hour protection) and a sunhat. Pack sunglasses whatever time of year you go. If you are looking for a highly versatile travel jacket to bring along we recommend the SCOTTeVEST range.

What is a typical Portuguese breakfast? ›

The most common items you'll find in a Portuguese breakfast are: bread, sliced cheese, sliced ham, bread, jam, and a milky coffee. Sometimes it's just toast without the ham and cheese, but the common denominators are almost always bread and a milky coffee like a galão or a meia de leite.

What is a typical lunch in Portugal? ›

Typical Lunch in Portugal (12 p.m. to 2 p.m.)

These menus usually include a soup, prato do dia (dish of the day), dessert, and a coffee. If they're really in a rush, they'll order something quick at the counter like a soup and a bifana (pork sandwich).

What is a typical dinner in Portugal? ›

What is this? In Portugal, a dinner main should involve one main meat dish and a number of sides. The Portuguese eat a lot of fish, so whatever fresh cut they manage to get from the market that day will usually be baked as is, or turned into a traditional dish like bacalhau or fish stew.

How much bank balance is required for Portugal visa? ›

For Indian nationals to enter Portugal, you need to show you have at least €40 per day when applying for a Portugal Visa. Each time you enter Portugal's territory you must have funds of €75.

Is a Covid test required to enter Portugal? ›

To enter in Portugal (including Azores and Madeira), it is no longer required a proof of a negative COVID test or to present a COVID-EU digital certificate or vaccination or recovery certificate issued by third countries, accepted or recognized in Portugal.

Do you have to be vaccinated to enter Portugal? ›

Beginning July 1, 2022, COVID entry requirements have been lifted. A negative COVID 19 test, certificate of vaccination or a certificate of recovery is no longer required in airports, borders, air and sea travel.

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