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Travel tips

The ultimate Portugal Travel Guide

Jun 04, 2021 by The Go Ahead Tours Team

Portugal is the oldest nation on the Iberian Peninsula and one of the oldest in all of Europe. It’s known for its lively markets, terraced vineyards, vibrant waters, and colorful plazas—making it the perfect place for anyone to visit.

Whether you’re interested in history, art, architecture, sea views, or delicious foods, this Portugal Travel Guide will bring you the best Portugal travel tips and recommendations. We’ve done all the research (and the traveling) to take you through where to go and what to do in Portugal. All you have to do is book your trip.

Currency: Portugal uses the euro as their main currency, but you may hear a few other terms during your trip, too. Before the euro was introduced, Portugal’s national currency was the escudo, and it’s still used at a lot of shops throughout the country (200 escudos = 1 euro). You may also hear people talking about the conto, which is equivalent to 1,000 escudos (5 euro).

Language: The main language spoken in Portugal is Portuguese, and a Portuguese-speaking person or nation is referred to as "lusófono” (lusophone).

Tip: While Spanish is very similar to Portuguese, keep in mind that some locals might consider it rude if you fall back on your español. The two languages may seem interchangeable, but the most polite thing to do is give the country’s actual language your best shot.

Getting around: The best way to get around Portugal is by bus or train. Portugal’s public transportation is very reliable and affordable. Buses run often, and the national train line, Comboios de Portugal (CP) is very modern. Lucky for you, your tour with us includes private motor coach transportation, so you’ll get to see the country as you pass through some pretty incredible scenery—without ever having to buy a bus or train ticket.

Phrases to know: One of the best Portugal travel tips is to learn a little of the language. Making an effort to communicate means a lot to the locals, and having a handle on the basics will help you get even more out of your cultural experience.

Olá means “hello”, and it’s a friendly way to greet anyone you meet on your adventure.

Prazer (pronounced: pra’zer) means “pleased to meet you,” and saying it will earn you bonus points when locals introduce themselves on your Portugal tour.

Obrigado and Obrigada are how you say “thank you.” Male speakers use obrigado, while women say obrigada.

Licença is the perfect way to say “excuse me” when you’d like someone to step out of your way in a crowd.

Onde está a means “where is the…” It’s a great term to know if you ever get lost.

Looking to learn more? Check out our list of essential Portuguese phrases to know before you go.


When is the best time to visit Portugal?

The best time to travel to Portugal is in March through May. Springtime in Portugal brings beautiful weather, blooming flowers, and a bunch of different festivals, like Freedom Day and Holy Week.

The next best time to visit Portugal is in September and October, which is considered the off-season. Temperatures begin to wind down from the hot summer, so you’ll find fewer crowds and more reasonable prices. “Lisbon is one of the warmer European capitals, so even in the off-season you’ll be treated to sunshine and warm temps,” said Go Ahead staffer Emily.


What to pack for a trip to Portugal

Of course, we can’t create a Portugal Travel Guide without sharing what to pack. There are so many incredible things to see in Portugal, so here’s what to bring so you can make the most of it.

  • Comfortable shoes. Portugal is known for its intricate Portuguese pavement, or calçada portuguesa. These gorgeous walkways feature small, flat pieces of limestone, arranged like a mosaic—and if you’re not wearing the right shoes, it can get a little dicey. “The street tile in Lisbon is beautiful, but I found it to be a little slippery, especially when walking downhill,” said Go Ahead staffer Sarah.
  • Classic clothing. Dress in Portugal is pretty similar to how it is in the United States. Just make sure you’re comfortable, so you can really focus on all the remarkable sites.
  • A pashmina. Even though most places in Portugal are reasonably casual, you will need to dress more modestly at religious sites.
  • A water bottle. Not only is it eco-friendly to pack a reusable water bottle, but it’s also efficient. Tap water in Portugal is safe to drink, so all you have to do is stop for a refill as you walk around town.


The best things to do in Portugal

Portugal is known for its iconic sites and spectacular views. It’s as rich in history as it is in artwork and architecture. Here are some of our travelers’ favorite things to see in Portugal:

  • Belém Tower. Paying a visit to this Lisbon landmark is like stepping into its maritime past. It was built in the early 1500s, stood as one of the city’s defenses, and has had some pretty notable visitors—including Vasco da Gama and Ferdinand Magellan.
  • Porto’s Old-World Ribeira district. Inside this 2,000-year-old UNESCO-listed city, you can wander the medieval streets of the Old-World Ribeira district, which sits alongside the picturesque Douro Riverfront. Find yourself surrounded by colorful buildings covered in pastel glazed tiles, and feel as if you’ve stepped back into another era.
  • Algarve Region. Portugal’s southernmost region boasts whitewashed homes and fishing villages on low cliffs overlooking sandy coves. You can take in all the intricate tile work or soak in the sun at the white sand beaches along the coastline.
  • The “End of the World.” Or, so people once thought. Sagres is the southwesternmost point of Europe, and the last explored part of the ancient world. The Romans believed it was the Promontorium Sacrum, or “end of the world.” Today, this seafaring town is home to an incredible fortress with stunning views of the crystal blue sea.
  • Casa de Mateus. Among the most noteworthy of Portugal attractions is this Baroque-style mansion. Set against the backdrop of the Portuguese countryside, this home features gorgeous gardens, grand architecture, and majestic fountains.


Best things to do in Portugal during free time

What to do in Portugal ultimately depends on what you’re interested in. Whether you like learning about the land, diving deep into the history, or conquering the cuisine, there are places to visit in Portugal for everyone. Here are a few of our top Portugal attractions and activities.

  • Go to Guimarães. This UNESCO-recognized city is regarded as the “cradle of Portuguese nationality,” and you can visit during an exciting excursion on our Taste of Portugal tour. In 1128, many political and military movements, which eventually led to the formation of Portugal, began in Guimarães. Here, you can learn about the history of these events as you pass the medieval Palace of the Dukes of Braganza, Largo da Oliveira square, and the city’s Baroque-style church. You can even step inside the Castelo de Guimarães, which is believed to be the birthplace of Afonso Henriques, the first king of Portugal.
  • Listen to fado. Spend your evening at a Lisbon tavern listening to fado. Derived from the Latin word fatum, which means “prophecy” or “fate,” fado is Portugal’s national musical treasure. Fado’s traditional theme is saudade, a word that doesn’t quite translate to English but conveys a sense of both nostalgia and longing.
  • Sail along the Algarve Coast. Sure, the coast is incredible from the land, but it’s even more impressive from the crystal clear sea. Board a boat in Lagos on our tour of Porto, the Algarve & Lisbon and sail along spectacular cliffs and beaches—including the natural rock formations and caves of the famous Ponta da Piedade. You may catch a glimpse of birds and dolphins!
  • Ride skyward on the Santa Justa Lift. This seven-story elevator isn’t just good for the breathtaking views. It’s also the quickest route between the Bairro Alto district and the Baixa neighborhood, which are also worth a visit!
  • Journey to Sintra. This UNESCO World Heritage-listed mountaintop town looks like it’s right out of a storybook. Wander through its colorful villas, small shops, and impeccably manicured gardens, and even tour of the 19th-century romanticist Pena Palace. You’ll quickly learn why poet Lord Byron once called Sintra a “glorious Eden.”


What to eat in Portugal

One of the best things to do in Portugal is eat. In fact, we’re so in love with the food and wine in Portugal, we have an entire tour dedicated to it.

  • All of the seafood. If you’re a fan of nautical fare, you have to order the pratos do dia, or plate of the day. Local fishermen bring back hauls each morning to nearly every restaurant, so it’s as fresh as it gets.
  • Bacalhau. Okay, so it’s still seafood. But this one’s specifically cod. It’s Portugal’s national dish, and there are over 365 ways to prepare it—so technically, you can eat it every day and never get bored.
  • Caldo verde. This classic Portuguese soup is made with potatoes, kale, and sliced chorizo. And yes, it’s absolutely divine.
  • Bifanas. These traditional Portuguese pork sandwiches are so popular, you can find them everywhere in the country. They’re technically considered a snack, but if you pair them with a side of soup or fries, they’ll fill you right up.
  • Port wine. The world’s best port wine is made in Portugal’s Douro Valley. This sweet, fortified red wine is usually enjoyed with dessert or after dinner. Felicidades!

Tip: “If you’d like to grab a bite to eat and people-watch, Rua da Rosa [in Lisbon] is the place to go,” said staffer Rebecca. “It’s a bustling, pedestrian street where you can kick back on the mosaic sidewalks while trying traditional food.”


The best Portuguese souvenirs

By this point, we’ve gone over all the different things to do in Portugal. But what happens when your trip comes to an end? Here are some ways to bring your Portugal memories back home with you.

  • Painted ceramics. Painted pottery has been a part of Portugal’s culture for centuries—and makes for a great gift to bring home, too. You could buy beautiful bowls and plates, or stick with a more traditional tile. The patterns and colors alone will bring you right back to your times here!
  • Filigree jewelry. Filigree is one of the world’s oldest jewelry-making techniques, and Portuguese artisans have practiced it since the beginning of the 16th century. Goldsmiths twist and plait fine threads of metal to create delicate, lace-like patterns anyone would want to wear.
  • Anything cork. Portugal is the biggest exporter of cork in the world. In fact, on our Grand Tour of Portugal & Spain, you’ll even visit a cork factory. “I got a cork purse to bring home and I use it all the time in the spring and summer,” said staffer Jules.
  • Port wine. There’s no better souvenir than a bottle of wine from a local vineyard or shop you visited during your trip. It quite literally brings the flavors of Portugal back home with you.
  • Canned sardines. Yes, you read that right. Sardines are one of Portugal’s most common dishes, and the canned ones come in adorable tins that make for nice mementos. “They’re different than the ones we have in North America,” said traveler Gustavo. “I was actually surprised when I enjoyed them.”

Did you visit Portugal on tour? Share your best Portugal travel tips on our Facebook page!

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About the author | The Go Ahead Tours Team
We’re a team of passionate travel experts, dedicated to helping people explore the world. From inspiring stories to tips for an amazing trip, the topics we cover are all about getting you out there and making discoveries.

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