The highlights of Portugal are spectacular soccer, great beach holidays and delicious cuisine with fragrant wines. Lisbon sights and ancient castles, diving and resorts on the Lisbon Riviera, Algarve and Madeira – all about Portugal: tours, map, hotels, visa and weather.
Portugal is a country for hedonists with a long history. Wandering the cozy streets of its cities, you can feel for a moment somewhere in Spain or southern France.
With one fundamental difference: there are almost no ubiquitous tourists format “galloping across Europe”, this place – rather for wealthy travelers who prefer a special, elitist vacation.
Here they value tradition, honor the rich historical heritage, know how to enjoy life and not stingy on comfort, creating it for themselves and for dear in every sense of the word guests.
Breathing in the smell of oranges and eucalyptus, strolling along the waterfront, enjoying wine to the sad songs of Fado in picturesque cafes, you can get to know the real Europe – the one that is too proud and beautiful to participate in the tourist race.
- 1 Regions and resorts of Portugal
- 2 Portugal’s climate
- 3 Visa and customs
- 4 Tax-free
- 5 Transport
- 6 Public transport in cities
- 7 Rent a car
- 8 Communications and Wi-Fi
- 9 Money
- 10 Hotels in Portugal
- 11 Safety for tourists
- 12 Beaches in Portugal
- 13 Diving
- 14 Shopping
- 15 Portuguese cuisine and restaurants
- 16 Portugal’s Attractions and Sights
- 17 Holidays and events
Regions and resorts of Portugal
The capital is Lisbon, which became the center of the country in the 13th century and 5 centuries later was destroyed by an earthquake, but quickly regained its greatness. The most famous attraction is St. George’s Castle: a formidable fortress on a hill which once belonged to a Moorish emir and later to the Portuguese kings. The Lisbon Cathedral, which has survived the earthquake and shows traces of Rococo, Baroque, Gothic and Neoclassical architecture, is also a survivor.
There are beaches on the outskirts of the capital – a succession of fashionable resorts called the Lisbon Riviera.
The main attraction of Lisbon is the winding streets of the old neighborhoods: looping between the neat houses decorated with azulejos, you can not help but feel the mood of the city.
The second most visited city is Porto, dating back to the 4th century. The second most visited city is Porto, which has a history dating back to the 4th century. Here are both the fortress-like cathedral and the impressively sized Church of São Francisco. Tired of being monumental, head to the Ribeira neighborhood, with its colorful little houses that overlap each other to create a charming atmosphere. And after the tour, it’s time to relax on any of the fine or sandy beaches in the city.
Fifty kilometers north of Porto is Braga, the center of Portuguese Catholicism with the residence of the Archbishop. Not surprisingly, the main tourist attractions here are cathedrals and churches built in Gothic, Romanesque and other styles. Coimbra’s main attraction is the oldest university in the country – a complex of smart baroque buildings, including even the former royal palace. It’s also a great shopping experience with plenty of bookstores, boutiques and antique shops.
Évora is also an ideal place for gastronomic pleasures: its cheeses, desserts and wines are over the top. The surrounding countryside offers beautifully preserved neolithic architecture, while the ruins of a Roman temple and medieval cathedrals are also a great place to work up an appetite.
For the tastiest seafood, head to Faro, which is usually the starting point of tours of southern Portugal. The port restaurants are conveniently located right from the Blue Flag beach.
Obidos is a small and very cozy city: snow-white villas, paved paths, and bright flowerbeds look like they were taken from a beautiful postcard. There is a place for sightseeing here as well: the medieval castle alone, where you can even spend the night if you wish – and have enough money to do so. Setúbal is also known for its beautiful scenery and ancient architecture – the forts and cathedrals are a sight to behold in the mountains. See the full list of Portugal’s cities and resorts on our page.
Portugal is in two time zones: UTC-1 and UTC. The Azores are in UTC-1. The rest of the country (e.g. the cities of Porto and Faro) is in UTC time zone. In summer, the clocks in Portugal are changed.
Portugal has a subtropical Mediterranean climate: mild, without sharp fluctuations in temperature. In the north, due to the Gulf Stream, the maritime climate prevails.
Summers are dry and sunny, but not hot (average temperature about +20 ° C, in the mountains – about +18 ° C), winter is cool (from +4 ° to +10 ° C) and rainy. In the south of the country is warm and dry. Average January temperature is +5 … +10 ° C, July +20 … +27 ° C. The water in summer warms up to +20 … +23 ° C.
The best way to get acquainted with Portugal from May to October, the weather at this time is almost always warm and sunny, the rain is a rarity, and you’ll feel comfortable on the beach and on foot.
But be careful about swimming: because of the ocean currents the water on the Portuguese coast is cool.
Swimming is better to the south of Lisbon, where the Atlantic is warmer by 2-3 ° C, and the difference is noticeable. North of the capital, most vacationers prefer to sunbathe and enjoy the scenery. Spring is the best time for surfing, but in winter it’s rainy, although the sun often returns to the south.
Visa and customs
Portugal is a member of the Schengen Agreement, and to visit the country tourists need a visa and insurance.
Import and export of foreign currency is not limited. When entering from non-EU countries, amounts over 10,000 EUR are subject to mandatory declaration. The prices on this page are for September 2018.
You can import duty-free 200 cigarettes (alternatively, 250 g of tobacco or 50 cigars), 1 liter of spirits and 2 liters of wine. Allowed 500 g of coffee and 100 g of tea, 50 ml of perfume and 250 ml of toilet water.
Importing and exporting drugs, items of historical value, weapons and ammunition, as well as animals and plants listed as endangered species are prohibited.
Potatoes produced outside the European Union, any meat and milk products and chocolate are also banned.
Prices in Portugal are quite high, so the Tax free system is very useful here.
You can save up to 10-14%, the tax is returned on purchases worth 61 EUR and more in stores participating in the program.
You will get two receipts: a regular cash register receipt and a special tax-free receipt, which you can fill out on your own or delegate this task to the salesperson with your passport.
The second part of the challenge is at the airport. Arriving at the airport at least 4 hours before departure you have to show the customs agent the unpacked goods, both receipts, and your passport, get a special stamp, and go to the Global Blue desk for the issuance of VAT.
Information about Tax-Free Points can be found on the map of the airport or at the information desk. Those leaving the country by car will have to go through the same procedures at the EU border.
There are four types of buses in Portugal: expressos, rapidas, carreiras marked “CR” (stop at every intersection), and alta qualidade (luxury). The ticket Lisbon – Faro by express bus costs about 17-35 EUR (4 hours of travel time).
The bus Lisbon – Porto takes 3,5 hours and the journey costs from 19-29 EUR. During the high season is better to book tickets in advance. Prices on local routes are affordable, and in the summer – even more so. There are often discounts for passengers under 26 years.
The railroad connects Lisbon with the south of Portugal. Travelling by train is longer than by express bus, but cheaper. There are regional trains that stop at all stops, fast inter-regional trains and express trains. Learn the schedule and ticket prices on the official website of railroads.
Public transport in cities
A well-developed, well-organised transport network makes it possible to get around comfortably within Portuguese cities. Buses are available in every town and cost 1,40 EUR (1,80 EUR from the driver). There are night routes in Lisbon.
In order for the bus to stop, you have to wave to the driver from the bus stop. You can only enter through the front door.
The capital and Porto have subway: the first consists of 4 lines and runs from 6:00 to 1:00, the second consists of 6 lines and closes at 1:30.
You can pay only with plastic cards, one trip in the capital subway costs 1,40 EUR, in Porto – from 1,30 EUR depending on the zone.
The cost of the Metro and Bus card in Lisbon is EUR 6,30 per day. The Zapping card is also available at the price of EUR 1,30 and is rechargeable for any amount from 3 to 40 EUR. In Porto, all public transport tickets cost 15 EUR for 24 hours and 26 EUR for 48 hours.
Points of sale are located in stations and subway stations.
For holders of the Lisboa Card (price - from 15 EUR per day) travel on public transport is free.
Another popular mode of transport in major cities is streetcars. Lisbon has both modern trains (route No. 15, going to the Belem district) and charming vintage cars that take tourists around the sights. The most famous is the route № 28, which runs along the main sightseeing points: from the castle of St. George to Augusta Street with the Arc de Triomphe.
The cost is 2,90 EUR.
Enjoy also a trip in a retro streetcar through the streets of Porto (tickets 2,50 EUR). A double-decker sightseeing bus is an alternative to the streetcar: a one-day trip to the capital city costs from 20 EUR, to Porto – from 10 EUR. There are audio guides in 7 languages on board and you can get on and off at any stop.
Portuguese cabs are black and green or beige, equipped with indicators (green signal means “busy”) and meters. The average fare per ride is 3,90 EUR, for each km – 0,56 EUR.
Out-of-town trips are paid not by the meter, but by the kilometer (the cost includes return trip back to the city).
It is no use to catch a cab in the street: you will have to look for a special parking or to call for a car by phone (plus 0,80 EUR to the cost of transfer).
A trip around Lisbon costs 15 – 20 EUR on average and getting to the airport – 25 EUR. At nighttime prices go up by 20%, cab drivers are usually given a tip of 10%.
An option for the sportiest is a bike rental: a day of skiing will cost from 20 EUR, rental stations are available in all major cities. But calculate your strength soberly: the Portuguese streets are fraught with sharp turns, steep climbs, and descents.
Rent a car
To rent a car in Portugal is not difficult. To rent a car you should have at least one year of driving experience, be at least 21 years old (in some companies – 25 years old) and show your credit card or leave a deposit (in most companies).
Traffic in the country is right-handed, the quality of highways is average – often no markings, and road signs can be misleading. Recently built a lot of new and high quality highways (tolls).
Parking is free in most resorts, but in the major cities, especially Lisbon and Porto, as well as in Madeira at historic sites, parking is paid on weekdays during the day.
The use of seat belts is compulsory, children under 12 years of age must be in the back seat. It is forbidden to honk in populated areas.
The traffic police in Portugal are lenient towards tourists, but it is better not to abuse it. Local drivers have an unpredictable driving style, and most motorcyclists clearly consider learning the rules of the road to be an intellectual burden. As a result, the country has one of the highest number of traffic accidents in Europe.
Communications and Wi-Fi
The three main mobile operators in Portugal are Vodafone, Optimus and TMN. Their tariffs, as well as the quality of communication, are about the same. The average cost of a SIM card is 10 EUR, and you can connect in branded stores and in conventional urban supermarkets.
Incoming calls are usually free, the cost of calls to foreign countries depends on the selected service package. For example, Vodafone has a World tariff: domestic calls are 0.08 EUR.
You can easily find pay-as-you-go telephones on city streets. Calls are paid with Creditofone cards, they are sold in newsagents and post offices. A minute of conversation with Moscow costs on average 2 EUR, after 20:00 tariffs for international calls are reduced.
Free Wi-Fi is available in hotels, shopping malls, cafes, post offices, airports, train stations and other public places. In Lisbon there are access points even in gardens and parks. If desired, you can connect a mobile Internet (from 15 EUR per month).
The monetary unit of the country is the Euro (EUR). 1 Euro has 100 euro cents.
It is most convenient to either come with Euros or change money at the airport (exchange rates and commissions are usually more favourable there). Exchange rates at different banks may significantly differ from each other, some commercial institutions don’t take commission fee for transactions amounting to less than 30 EUR. Under no circumstances should you change currency “from hand”: street changers – experienced swindlers. In private stores and markets, it is sometimes allowed to pay in dollars.
Tourist checks take everywhere and at a better rate than cash, but the commission is quite high (up to 13%). The exception is American Express checks which can be exchanged without commission at Amex. Euro checks with a guarantee card are exchanged at many banks.
ATM machines (multibancos) can be found everywhere, in the provinces and in tourist cities. It is safer to withdraw cash from those installed in bank branches.
Banks are open on weekdays from 8:30 to 15:00, some branches in major cities – until 18:00. ATMs of the national system Multibanco operate around the clock. Visa, Amex, Eurocard, Eurocheque, Diners Club, and Mastercard credit cards are accepted almost everywhere.
Hotels in Portugal
Portugal is dominated by high-level hotels. Most of them operate on a breakfast basis, half-board is rare, there is no all-inclusive system. This is due to the fact that the country has a very tasty and diverse cuisine: tourists prefer to try everything in different places rather than eat at the hotel buffet.
The best hotels – old hotels (pousadas), corresponding to the level of 4-5 “stars”. Historic pousadas are old castles and fortresses, reconstructed and turned into luxury hotels (there are about 50 in total). Staying in them is considered prestigious. There are also regional “pouzades”, which are manor houses or houses built in the typical architectural style for this area. Here guests are served mostly local specialties.
There are accommodations for budget tourists in Portugal as well. For example, local hostels are recognized as one of the best in Europe: they regularly top the prestigious world ratings and please their guests with hospitality, cleanliness and decent level of service. The cost of a bed in a shared room in Lisbon, Porto or Algarve starts from 16 EUR per night. Prices in the capital’s hotels 2 * – from 55 EUR, in the hotels above – from 65 EUR per night.
The mains voltage is 220 V, 50 Hz, the sockets are standard European.
Safety for tourists
In Portugal, it is not terrible to walk along the street at any time of the day, but it is better not to leave valuables in the car or on the beach completely unattended. Do not carry a purse in your pocket, photo and video cameras are better to hang around the neck. Cars are almost never stolen in the country, there are no dangerous diseases, no special vaccinations are needed.
In large cities you can drink water directly from the tap, but in some areas - for example, in the Algarve - it is too salty.
Portugal is located in a seismically active area, with earthquakes occurring about twice a year. Another natural hazard is forest fires, so campfires on beaches, parks and forest belts are strictly forbidden: if you’re lucky, you get fined, if not – imprisonment.
Besides, the local government toughened a ban on smoking: it is possible to light a cigarette only in specially allocated zones on streets and in establishments of public catering, the charge for disobedience – 50-750 EUR. But to the light drugs, as it seems strange, the guards of the order are more or less loyal.
You can buy “weed” right in the center, but 90% of the cases it will be low-quality fake. And loyalty is loyalty, but you shouldn’t be cheeky and demonstratively smoke a joint in the middle of the avenue.
Useful phone numbers: ambulance, police, fire: 112, rescue (emergency): 115, emergency roadside assistance: 308, information service: 118, tourist information: 0-800-296-296.
Beaches in Portugal
In Portugal all beaches are municipal. For two sun beds and an umbrella you will have to pay from 8 EUR per day. However, wealthy tourists (and others in the country almost do not go) is not afraid of this. On the Lisbon Riviera and the Algarve – fine white sand, Madeira beaches are pebbly or artificial. Flags warn about the state of the ocean: red – the sea is rough and swimming is strictly forbidden, yellow – you must be very careful, green – safe. The season officially kicks off June 15 and runs until September 15.
The closest beach to Lisbon is in the town of Carcavelos, which never stops for the day or night. The coast is wide and sandy and has a gently sloping entrance to the water while the sun shines. It’s a great spot for surfing, picnics, and leisurely meandering between bars. At night, Carcavelos becomes a trendy party spot, making the nightclubbing and sandy beach party all the rage until dawn.
The most famous sporting beach is Guincho in Cascais, not far from the capital. There are always impressive waves and wind here, so surfers, windsurfers and kite surfers are magnetically attracted to the area. The coast is wide, the approach is easy, and there are cafes and picnic grounds nearby. Adepts of a more relaxed holiday will like the neighboring “Torre” or “Riberia”.
Another famous spot for wave conquerors is the picturesque Ribeira da Illas beach in the town of Érieira, which has won the unofficial title of "the world's surfing reserve".
The southern Portuguese coastline is dotted with beaches, one of the most popular resorts in the Algarve is Lagos: rocky tunnels, secluded corners for naturists and equipped recreational areas.
One of the oldest nudist beaches is nearby, on the island of Tavira, with its serene atmosphere, clear waters and the eloquent title of “Nude Beach”. For seclusion, the tiny island of Porto Santo, for example, has a 9-kilometer-long stretch of stunning sandy beaches.
Sunbathing and swimming is possible not only on the ocean: in the town of Macedo de Cavaleiroos a recreation area is equipped with a reservoir at Albufeira do Azibu. The water here is clean, the river sand is snow-white, the beauty of sunsets is breathtaking, and the safety is guaranteed by the Blue Flag.
Divers love Portugal because of the amazing beauty of the underwater world, excellent visibility at different depths, mild climate and developed infrastructure, so that even the cool ocean is not an obstacle.
The most popular diving spot is Madeira: the magnificent scenery – in the middle of rocks, reefs, underwater caves and shipwrecks – is home to a variety of fish and shellfish.
The Garajau Nature Reserve is home to barracudas, sea bass, tuna and manta rays, spectacular black corals grow along the Mashiku coast, and the underwater life at Reisch Magush Beach is active at night.
The Azores are more often visited by professionals: diving here is not easy, but very exciting. Manta and whale sharks can be found near Santa Maria, blue sharks, whales and dolphins near Pico and Faiala, and giant fish of all stripes near Corvo.
The Berlengas Archipelago is suitable for divers of all levels, with sea bream and perch sightings, caves and shipwrecks. Sesimbra with squid, octopus and sea eels is popular with beginners. Plenty of schooling is available in the Algarve and the most interesting things to see are wrecks from the Second World War, steep cliffs, uncanny caves and crabs, octopuses and other creatures scurrying about.
In Portugal you can buy qualitative and fashionable shoes and clothes, gold ware of 19,5 carat (in Italy, Emirates and other countries – 18 carat), pottery, original white or red port wine (from 3-5 EUR for a bottle of usual wine to 30 EUR for a bottle of 10-20 years old drink, the price grows further depending on aging), world famous Portuguese wine Madera. For more information click here: shopping in Portugal.
A traditional souvenir in Portugal is “azulejos”: tiles decorating the walls, known since the Arab domination. Also interesting are the handmade embroidery and lace, leather and wicker products and, of course, a variety of ceramics made in the country’s characteristic “cabbage leaf” style.
In order not to go broke on shopping in Portugal, it is better to look for sales. In winter (from January 7 to the end of February) and in summer and autumn (from August 7 to early October) discounts on shoes, clothing, souvenirs and other shopaholic joys reach 80%. Outlets in the suburbs of Lisbon and Porto offer discounted prices all year round.
Stores are open weekdays from 9:00 to 19:00, the break is from 13:00 to 15:00. On Saturdays everything closes at 13:00 (in December at 19:00). Some malls in the resort areas are open from 10:00 to midnight.
Portuguese cuisine and restaurants
Portuguese cuisine delights with hearty and varied meat, fish and vegetable dishes, but still fish cookery is its main direction. The country’s chefs know more than 300 ways to prepare cod, they know how to cook many dishes from sardines, mackerel, perch and trout.
Port wine is the calling card of Portugal: white is drunk as an aperitif, red – for dessert.
We recommend tasting the “cataplana”, a hearty layered dish of meat, fish or seafood served right in the pan. The most famous first is the green soup “caldo verde” made of cabbage, onions, potatoes, and sausage.
Meat eaters will be fond of “couscida a portuguesa” (assorted meat, the secret of which is a precise sequence of adding different types of meat during cooking) and pork stewed with shrimps or crustaceans Alentejana style.
Local fast food is francesinha sandwiches: toasts with sausage, ham, and meat (at the same time!), topped with sauce and melted cheese. The best dessert is the pâtéis, deliciously sprinkled with cinnamon and powdered sugar.
The strangest Portuguese delicacy is persebecho: those who are not deterred by its appearance (reminiscent of hooves) and price (it is quite dangerous to mine from the seabed), will be introduced to the incomparable taste.
Madeira’s cuisine differs from that of the continent by its even greater abundance of fish and seafood, as well as its extensive use of fruits and local spices. The most famous delicacy is the swordfish, prepared in dozens of ways.
Pregnant women should not eat dishes made with swordfish.
Portuguese wines are famous all over the world for their exquisite taste.
The country produces a huge number of red, white and “green” wines, reminiscent of champagne. The latter deserve their name not because of their color, but because of their age. These are the young dry wines, produced in the northern province of Minho.
Exquisite drink with light acidity and bubbles perfectly quenches thirst and is suitable for many dishes. And port is the calling card of Portugal: white is drunk as an aperitif, and red for dessert.
The traditional lunch time is from 12:00 to 15:00. In the Algarve in summer, everything is open almost 24 hours a day. The small, cheap restaurants are just as good as the expensive ones.
Tipping in Portugal has no official status, but 10% of the bill is not forbidden to leave in a restaurant, cab or cafe.
Portugal’s Attractions and Sights
The sights can tell you more about Portugal’s rich history than any textbook. There are powerful fortresses, majestic castles and an incredible number of churches, cathedrals and monasteries. For example, visitors to Lisbon are greeted by the awe-inspiring St. George’s Castle. Less formidable but more ornate are the Queluz and Mafra palaces.
The Estoril Casino is Europe’s largest and most popular casino, eclipsing even Monte Carlo in reputation.
Porto is a city of monumental buildings (most spectacular – Guimarães Castle in the neighborhood), bustling markets and cozy wine cellars. Highlights are the distinctive Ribeira neighborhood, the well-kept Botanical Gardens and of course the Port Wine Museum, where both the history of the drink and a pleasant tasting session are offered.
Braga is the religious center of the country; both the residence of the archbishop and the Calvary Church, a shrine for Catholics. Coimbra is famous for its ancient university and monasteries, while nearby Fatima is the site of the apparition of the Virgin Mary, revered by pilgrims for more than 100 years.
A symbol of the capital is the Aguas-Libris Aqueduct, and the most striking example of authentic Manueline style is the UNESCO-protected Belem Tower.
Tour itinerary in Portugal can and should be varied with entertainment. In the capital you can visit the zoo (the animals here are happy with life and very hospitable) and take a ride on the cable car Gloria and enjoy the magnificent views.
Also worth a visit is the oceanarium in Lisbon, the only place in the world where representatives of all the oceans of the planet live in one huge tank.
In Madeira you can get a thrill from climbing Pico Ruivo, and in Sintra you can see where the land ends, with the westernmost Cape of Doom in the world located here. In search of adrenaline, the Algarve’s water parks are also worth a visit, with plenty of extreme attractions to choose from.
Holidays and events
The favorite holidays of the Portuguese are Catholic Christmas (Natal) and New Year. Natal is a warm, family celebration. Dwellings are decorated with Christmas trees and garlands, the obligatory attribute – a special Christmas flower with bright red leaves.
On Christmas Eve cooked cod “bakalyau”, December 25 – a festive dinner with stuffed chestnuts turkey and cake “bolu Rei” with dried fruit and candied fruits. The New Year begins on December 31, St. Sylvester’s Day.
The main celebrations take place in Madeira: Funchal lights up with thousands of coloured lanterns and people flood the streets and restaurants.
On the first day of the year it is customary to clean all the mirrors in the house: the locals believe that this attracts good luck.
On December 6, Epiphany, or the Feast of the Three Kings, is celebrated. Costume parades are organized in the cities, children are given presents, and the houses are decorated with a Christmas manger “belena”, depicting the scene of the birth of Christ. Portugal loves carnivals; the next series of street shows starts at the end of February. The rules of the game change every day: Monday – parades of buffoons, Tuesday and Sunday – fiery dancing to the rhythms of samba, and so on all week.
In March and April they celebrate Good Friday with re-enactments of evangelical events, masses and processions of the faithful. At Easter, whole families go to churches decorated with snow-white flowers, and at home they make “foular” – a sweet cake topped with boiled eggs – and give each other bags of nuts. The center of the celebrations is Braga, the religious capital of the country.
April 25 is Freedom Day, celebrating the overthrow of Salazar’s dictatorial regime. The Portuguese again hold a street party, and the highlight of the program is bullfighting. It is bloodless here, by the way: the matador on horseback never kills his opponent, the bull. May 1 is Labor Day, and in the Algarve – and the holiday of the Big thaw: the inhabitants of the arid region glorify the water and decorate the houses with flower wreaths.
June 10 is Portugal Day, which coincides with the date of the death of the great national poet Luis de Camões. September 8 – Nativity of Our Lady and the start of the Wine Festival in Madeira. October 5 is Republic Day to commemorate the fall of the monarchy and December 1 is Independence Day to celebrate the liberation from the Spanish yoke.