Portugal is a land of endless potential. From its bustling cities full of history, to the wild Atlantic beaches and idyllic interior landscapes, there should be a destination able to peak anyone’s interest. Add onto that the fact that good food and drink are a specialty of the Portuguese people and you have yourself the perfect destination for a holiday trip.
Be it just for a weekend city trip or a longer getaway, stay in high class seaside hotels with full service or simple traditional hostels in the middle of a culturally rich city, they have got it all. With a relatively low population density compared to its area, Portugal is ripe for exploration and offers many opportunities for in-country travel.
Discover a vast array of landscapes from mountain ranges to bright and colourful beaches to plains full of charming villages and towns. Renting a car is a huge advantage as you can use the country’s well-developed highway network to quickly and easily get around.
The Centre of Portugal is as varied as a region can be. Around the cosmopolitan capital of Lisbon, there are plenty of experiences to be had. For starters, there are the amazing Atlantic beaches where you can try out a surf lesson in Europe’s prime surf region. Other regions are not far way either, a day trip to the Serra da Estrela mountains or the fantastic interior of the Alentejo, often seen as the Portuguese Toscana, will definitely be worth your time.
The cities of northern Portugal represent the historical heartland of the country, as this is where the country itself was born centuries ago. A boat trip through the Douro Valley will give you a lay of the land while you prepare the next step in your holiday. Why not the beautiful nature reserve in the northern mountains? They are on the way to Santiago de Compostela, which would also be a great addition to your itinerary.
Clothing – Prepare according to the weather season. Always bring enough sunscreen and make sure to use it. The sun can be especially strong from noon to 3pm. And if you are thinking about showing off your sense of fashion, beware: cobblestone streets are ubiquitous, be it in small towns or major cities, so don’t underestimate the value of comfortable shoes, you will make good use of them here.
Use of English – While at most touristic places you won’t have a problem getting by with English, don’t assume you’ll be lucky every time. A few useful expressions in Portuguese will get you a long way. There is no denying the worth of an obrigado/obrigada (thank you) or a desculpe (I’m sorry). As for greetings you say olá, bom dia/boa tarde/boa noite (hello, good morning/afternoon/evening) and for goodbyes you put adeus at the front (example: adeus, boa tarde), or simply say xau (pronounced like the Italian ciao).
Restaurants – Good food is very important in Portugal and you won’t have trouble finding it, however, overpriced tourist traps still exist. Some local conventions you might not be aware of are that starters are cheap but never free and if you are vegetarian, make this very clear, as completely meat-less recipes are few and far between. And if you order a café, you’ll actually get an espresso. Large coffees are called either meia de leite (half milk, half coffee) or galão (espresso with triple hot milk).
Getting around – Don’t be surprised if you’ve walked the equivalent of a marathon at the end of the first day of your city trip, Portugal can be rather hilly. While this certainly enhances your experience, don’t be afraid of public transport either, just don’t forget to pay, as there are hefty fines even for tourists. If you plan on visiting multiple cities, then renting a car will certainly be worth considering.
Explore – While the main cultural and historical tourist spots are definitely worth visiting, the true charm of Portugal often lies off the beaten path. Be it inside a city or out in the wild, going a little bit off track might just get you to a less crowded hidden gem. Sometimes tourist guides have a few secret tips as well. Nature is not to be underestimated however, the strong Atlantic currents can be deceitful and you should always beware of wild fires in the dry summer heat.
There are lots to do, even for short term holidays. Museums often have free entry for students or on certain days of the week, so if there are any you are interested in, plan your visit accordingly. Most churches and cathedrals, especially the most iconic ones, also have their doors open to the wider public most of the time. Filled with the opulence of the baroque period, they are a must-visit for any art or architecture enthusiasts, regardless of personal beliefs.
Another aspect which you absolutely should not miss is visiting a wine cellar: from the sweet fortified port wines of the Douro Valley to the many different flavours that the Tagus river and the Alentejo have to offer, visiting a wine cellar is a whole experience to itself. Here’s an extra tip for you: in a restaurant, ask for the house wine, it is almost guaranteed to be a blessing to your senses and your wallet!