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Travel tips

11 Portugal travel tips to know before you visit

Dec 13, 2022 by Jamie Gallerani

Sometimes, the smallest countries can pack the biggest punch—and that is definitely the case when it comes to Portugal. This gem on the Iberian Peninsula has all the history, food, and views your travel-loving heart could desire, which makes it one of the top destinations to visit in the year ahead. (We’re not kidding—you should add one of our Portugal tours to your bucket list before everybody else catches on!)

To help you make the most of your trip, here are 11 Portugal travel tips to keep in mind before touching down on tour, straight from our expert staffers who have visited the country. Here’s one, just to kick us off: “Before I went to Portugal, I wish I knew it was going to be my favorite country out of the more than 20 countries I’ve visited in Europe!” said staffer Gustavo.

Sightseeing tips while visiting Portugal

streets of lisbon portugal

1. Bring walking shoes with a good grip

Portugal is one of the most walkable European countries and exploring on foot is usually the best way to see the highlights in Lisbon, Porto, Évora, and beyond. These Portuguese cities aren’t only walkable, but they are often hilly and cobblestone-covered—many streets are even paved in stone mosaics called calçada Portuguesa, which can be very slippery. So, sporting good footwear is always a must when traveling in Portugal.

“Some of these streets have been smoothed out by centuries of being walked on, so having shoes that will grip each step is really important,” said traveler Chadner in our solo traveler’s guide to Portugal. “To this day, I still catch myself slipping!”

streets of lisbon portugal

2. Visit during the off-season to skip the crowds

To have a more just-for-you experience, book your Portugal tour for the off-season, which generally runs from November through March. Don’t be put off by a winter or spring trip—Portugal is on the warmer side, and visiting during the off-season doesn’t mean skimping on warm temps. However, it does mean you’ll avoid the larger crowds that head to the coast during the summer months, which will make visiting Portugal even more enjoyable.

“I traveled to Lisbon in March and the weather was beyond beautiful!” said staffer Emily. “Lisbon is one of the warmer European capitals, so even in the off-season you’ll be treated to sunshine and warm temps. I spent every day walking around outside, exploring the city’s sites. It was so warm that I didn’t even need a light jacket—and I even got a little bit of a tan! Plus, going in the early spring meant fewer crowds.”

Money tips while traveling in Portugal

atm in streets of lisbon portugal

3. Opt for cash in most cases

One of our top travel tips is to be sure you have your money situation squared away—and when it comes to making purchases while visiting Portugal, cash is king. “Portugal is not as credit card friendly as other places, so make sure to bring an ATM card and withdraw euros when you get there,” said staffer Gustavo. “It’s better to get money out of an ATM than it is to come with U.S. dollars to exchange, as there are less places to exchange money than there are ATMs.”

streets of lisbon portugal

4. Round up your bill at restaurants for good service

Wondering if you tip in Portugal? For the most part, it’s optional, but it’s nice to give a little something for great service in restaurants, taxis, and beyond. Your best bet is to simply round your bill up, or hand over 1–2 euros for good service. So, if you pop into a casual eatery for a sandwich or a glass of Port wine, and your bill comes to 9.25 euros, rounding your tab up to 10 euros will be a nice nod of thanks to your server.

The rules change a little bit in upscale restaurants, where a 10% tip for good service is the norm. Just be sure to scan your final bill for a taxa de serviço, or service charge—this gratuity is sometimes automatically added, and you don’t have to tip on top of it.

Related article: Your A-to-Z guide to tipping etiquette in Europe

Dining tips for Portugal

seafood in lisbon portugal

5. Seek out fresh seafood—especially cod

Portugal’s long coastline makes for next-level sea views—and seafood! That means one of our top Portugal travel tips is to try the fresh fish every chance you get. “The seafood is DELICIOUS in this country, so be sure to try the local specialty of each place you visit,” said staffer Merisa. “The sea bass is consistently accessible everywhere you go, so definitely have that be a must-try.”

Another ocean goodie to seek out while visiting Portugal? Dried, salted cod called bacalhau, which staffer Kiley raved about after her tour. She tried it in the form of fried fritters with potatoes, garlic, and herbs—Pastéis de Bacalhau—and these tasty bites are worth seeking out while traveling in Portugal. “Cod is really common in Portugal, and these fritters are delicious,” said Kiley.

streets of lisbon portugal

6. Indulge in pastéis de nata

If you’re traveling to Portugal, then trying one (or a few!) of these delicious treats is a must. “Pastéis de nata were one of my favorite deserts in Portugal,” said Go Ahead president Heidi. “They’re creamy, crispy, melt-in-your-mouth custard tarts, and they’re a specialty in Lisbon.”

The best place to get them while you explore Lisbon? “The famous Pastéis de Belém bakery,” said staffer Emily. “It’s a short walk from sites like Belém Tower and Jerónimos Monastery, making it the perfect sweet treat to enjoy after spending an afternoon exploring this part of the city.” If the line at this well-known spot is too long, head to the city center to Manteigaria for custard tarts that are just as good.

Related article: What to eat in Porto, Portugal’s foodie capital

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Free time tips for visiting Portugal

ceramic swallows in portugal

7. Shop for sardines & ceramic swallows

One of our favorite Portugal travel tips is to pick up regional souvenirs as you explore—you’ll be smitten with the country and are sure to want to bring a small piece of it home with you. While you’ll find quaint shops everywhere on trips to Portugal, there’s nothing quite like shopping in the Portuguese capital.

“For shopping in Lisbon, A Vida Portuguesa is a must,” said staffer Lindsay. “There, you can find everything from tins of Portuguese sardines to artisanal soaps to wool blankets made in the Alentejo region. Everything in the shop is so colorful and artfully packaged. In Portugal, the swallow is a symbol of family, love, and fidelity, and ceramic swallows adorn the facades of many locals’ homes. Travelers who want to take this sweet Portuguese tradition back home can pick up their own ceramic swallows at this charming shop, too. Shopping there is a joyful experience.”

fado music on the streets in lisbon portugal

8. Seek out authentic fado music

The size of Portugal may be small, but the soul of the country shines through everywhere—especially while listening to traditional fado music. The identity and history of Portugal can be heard in this music, which has been recognized by UNESCO for its Intangible Heritage. One of our top tips for Portugal is to add our Fado Show & Dinner excursion—it’s the cherry on top of our Portugal tours!

You can also seek out this signature sound during free time. “If you’re in Lisbon on a Sunday night, go to the Alfama neighborhood to walk through the narrow streets and find yourself in courtyards where locals are singing and playing fado music,” said staffer Gustavo.

Related article: UNESCO World Heritage Sites you can visit when you book a guided tour

ceramic swallows in portugal

9. Make your way to the beach

The Portuguese coast is a feast for the eyes, and one of our top tips for visiting Portugal is to make your way to the water every chance you get. Whether you take a dip during free time on tour, or grab a drink at a beachside cafe, seeing the ocean is always a good idea when traveling in Portugal.

“My favorite place in Portugal is Praia da Luz in Porto,” said staffer Claudia. “It’s a restaurant on the beach. I watched the sunset with my boyfriend there and it was such a memorable experience! What I love about Praia da Luz is that if you want to hang out and watch the sunset, you can snag a couple of beach chairs or bean bags right on the sand and get food and beverage service. So, I was barefoot, sitting in a bean bag, watching the sunset with a Moscow mule in one hand and a book in the other.”

Transportation tips for Portugal travel

public transportation in portugal

10. Buy a reusable Viva Viagem card in Lisbon

One of the top tips for traveling to Portugal is to think about how you’ll get around during free time. Good news: Portugal is an easy country to navigate, especially while exploring the capital! With the metro, ferry, busses, historic trams, and more, there are a lot of ways to easily see the best of Lisbon, and picking up a 24-hour Viva Viagem card is a great way to pay as you go. You can buy this pass for a little under seven euros and use it an unlimited number of times in a day. (Just keep in mind that it can’t be used on tourist busses, like the hop-on hop-off bus.)

“My mom and I explored Lisbon after my Go Ahead Tour, and the metro system was very easy to navigate,” said staffer Jules. “It reminded me of the T in Boston because there were only four lines. I’d highly recommend utilizing this. It even allowed us to venture a little farther outside the city and go to the Aquarium. There were places to buy tickets in the stations.”

tuk tuk in portugal

11. Hop on a tuk tuk at sunset

The metro may be the quickest transportation option, but it’s certainly not the only way to get around while visiting Portugal. If you want to get a little closer to the scenery, you can always opt for a tuk tuk ride around Lisbon.

“When your legs get a little tired from the hills of Lisbon, agree on a price with a driver and hop on a tuk tuk to get to places you may not be able to get to on foot,” said staffer Gustavo. “Hop on about two hours before sunset to get the most out of the scenery when your driver makes stops at viewpoints on top of the hills.”

Feeling inspired by these travel tips for Portugal? Make traveling to Portugal a must-do for the year ahead! Check out our top Portugal tours →

About the author | Jamie Gallerani
It was Jamie’s homestay in Germany that made her fall in love with travel (and her studies in Florence that really sealed the deal). When she’s not writing and sharing the magic of seeing the world with others, she’s usually on the lookout for her new favorite memoir, testing out recipes at home, or visiting her family on Cape Cod.

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