Five Things First Time Travellers To Portugal Should Know
- Learn some Portuguese. While English is spoken in the main tourist areas, a few phrases in the local language will go a long away. It will make your trip that much easier, especially if you're planning on visiting the smaller villages.
- Know how to order a coffee. In Portugal, ordering a cafe will get you a shot of espresso. If you want milk with your coffee, you'll need to ask for meia de leite, or a galao.
- Bring toilet paper if you go to a festival. If you're visiting during the popular Saints' Festivals in June, toilet paper doesn't last long in the public bathrooms. Be on the safe side and pack some in your bag.
- The tap water is safe to drink. However, most Portuguese people prefer bottled water because it tastes better. If you like the tap water, use it to fill up your reusable bottles, otherwise, stick to the store-bought variety.
- Budget for the highway tolls. If you're planning a road trip around the country, make sure you factor in the many fees. Or if you want to save money, use your GPS and detour through the countryside.
Best Time To Visit Portugal
The most popular time to visit Portugal is during the summer. From June to August, the weather is hot, the days are sunny, and a number of festivals take place. But it's also an expensive time of year for tourists. Hotel rates increase by as much as 30%, and flights fill up fast as European holiday goers make their way to Portugal's coastal resorts.
If you're looking for warm weather and cheaper hotels, head to Portugal in the spring. From March to May, the summer crowds have yet to arrive, and hotel rates are still reasonable. For beach bums, it isn't the best time for a dip in the ocean, but there's plenty of other things to do. Head to Douro Valley and try some of Porto's famous wine.
Autumn is another shoulder season that's worth the visit. After the summer rush, the country's top destinations empty out, and you'll have better luck finding deals on flights and accommodation.
The winters in Portugal are the least popular time to visit. The freezing temperatures and frequent rainfall keep many travellers away. Most of the attractions also keep shorter hours during this period, so if you do decide to visit, carefully plan your itinerary.
Porto is Portugal's second largest city and its cultural capital. Its streets are full of public art, and there is no shortage of medieval palaces, cathedrals and beautiful gardens.
The city is also famous for its sweet Port wine, and a trip to the nearby vineyards in Douro Valley should be on any foodies must-do list.
Lisbon is the capital city of Portugal and one of Europe's most affordable destinations. Fondly called the City of Seven Hills, its steep cobbled streets stretch along the Tagus River.
The best way to explore the city is on board Tram 28. Head to Alfama, Lisbon's oldest district; visit Chiado, the oldest bookstore in the world and explore impressive Gothic cathedrals and colourful neighbourhoods.
Only a day trip from Lisbon, the city is based at the foothills of the Sintra Mountains. Its most famous attraction is Pena's Palace. Built in the 1800s, it served as a summer retreat for the royal family and is in a similar style to Germany's Neuschwanstein.
Other sights not to be missed are the ancient ruins of the Castle of the Moors, and the beautiful subtropical gardens of the Monserrate Palace.
Coimbra is one of Portugal's most popular destinations. Its high number of Roman and medieval ruins attract thousands of history buffs each year.
The city is also famous for its style of fado music and housing one of Europe's oldest schools, the University of Coimbra. Inside you'll find the Joanina Library, considered one of the most beautiful libraries in the world.
Top Attractions in Portugal
Bom Jesus do Monte
Bom Jesus do Monte is one of Portugal's most important pilgrimage sites. Located near the town of Braga, on top of a 1,312-foot hill, thousands of people visit the religious sanctuary each year.
The building features a 116-metre long baroque stairway and a breathtaking 18th-century church. Along the way up, there are several chapels with sculptured scenes from the Passion of Christ.
At the top, you'll find beautiful vistas of the surrounding countryside which you can enjoy at the nearby restaurant. If you don't want to climb the stairs, you can take a vintage 1882 funicular to the top.
Located on the coast of the Mediterranean Sea, the Algarve is one of Portugal's top destinations. It boasts gorgeous beaches, historic sites and world-renowned golf courses.
The best part is that you don't need to be a luxury traveller to enjoy the region. The picturesque towns are affordable and have something for everyone.
Visit the red stone castle of Silves, let your hair down at Faro's nightlife hot spots or explore the Renaissance monuments dotted around the elegant town of Tavira. For history buffs, Sagres is a must-visit with a 15th-century fortress thought be the site of Prince Henry's "School of Navigation".
Pena National Palace
Perched atop a hill in Sintra, Pena National Palace is one of Portugal's most popular landmarks. Built by King Ferdinand II, it's a mish-mash Moorish and Manueline architectural styles.
Today, it's considered one of the world's best examples of 19th-century Romanticism. Abandoned by the royal family during the 1910 revolution, it's now a UNESCO heritage site.
But don't only admire the castle from the outside, its interior is just as opulent. The rooms contain a range of cultural influences from the Middle East and across Europe. With such a combination of styles, the trip to Pena National Palace is well-worth the effort.
The Belem Tower is the icon of Lisbon. Dating back to 1515, it was built as a fortress to defend the city. Today, it's a symbol of Portugal's Age of Discovery and is a UNESCO cultural site.
One of the building's most curious sights is located on the western facade. It's here you'll find a gargoyle in the shape of a rhinoceros, more than likely inspired by the first one brought to the country in 1513.
While it is possible to visit the tower independently, a guided tour is recommended if you want to learn more about its role in Portugal's history.
Capela dos Ossos
The Capela dos Ossos is one of Portugal's most macabre sites. In the 16th century, monks were running out of space in the cemeteries and decided to use the human remains to create the Bone Chapel.
The entrance to the chapel is marked by a poignant message: "We bones, are here, waiting for yours.” The interior of the building is decorated with 5,000 skeletons, including entire bodies hanging from the walls. There's also a coffin that contains the remains of the three monks who founded the church in the 13th century.
It's a fascinating and obscure site that deserves a visit if you find yourself passing through Evora.
Major International Airports in Portugal
- Lisbon Airport
- Porto Airport
- Faro Airport
- Cristiano Ronaldo International Airport
- Joao Paulo II Airport