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13 Perfect Portugal Travel Tips for First-Timers

13 Perfect Portugal Travel Tips for First-Timers

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Are you planning a trip to Portugal for the first time and don’t know what to expect? Keep scrolling to check out my top Portugal travel tips for tourists!
This list of Portugal travel tips was written by family travel expert Marcie Cheung and contains affiliate links which means if you purchase something from one of my affiliate links, I may earn a small commission that goes back into maintaining this blog.

Visiting Portugal on your next European vacation above the alternatives could be the best decision you make this summer.

If you compare it to the huge popularity of Spain and Italy, Portugal almost seems like a hidden gem. Like other places on the Iberian peninsula and southern Europe, it also offers a fascinating and storied history, equally beautiful beaches, and plenty of vibrant cities.

Except Portugal is much cheaper with fewer crowds! 

And with these essential Portugal travel tips, you’ll feel much more confident about planning a super fun Portugal trip that your whole family will enjoy.

You’ll avoid the common mistakes that others make when traveling in Portugal and will know the best cities to visit, how to get around, what to order at restaurants, and much more.

Dive into this travel guide to Portugal to learn everything you need to know.

Don’t have time to read a bunch of Portugal blog posts and reviews? Here are some of our top picks for visiting Portugal with kids.

Popular Portugal Tours/Activities

Kid-Friendly Portugal Hotels

Perfect Portugal Travel Tips

Planning Your Portugal Trip

Before diving into specific travel tips for Portugal, you need to have an idea of which destinations you want to visit. 

Let’s start with the cities. Lisbon is Portugal’s capital city and a great choice for a city break if it’s your first time in Portugal. There are tons of things to do in Lisbon for all types of travelers. You’ll want at least 3 days in Lisbon to see all the top sights.

Image of Porto, Portugal old town skyline on the Douro River with rabelo boats.
Porto is one of the prettiest cities in Portugal.

Porto is the second most popular city that visitors love and is similar to Lisbon in that they’re both colorful port cities.

If you’re an ‘off-the-beaten-path’ traveler then consider Coimbra, a cool university town. Braga is one of the oldest cities in Portugal so there are tons of historic buildings.

Like Spain’s Costa del Sol and Costa del Brava, Portugal also has a beach resort region and that’s The Algarve. Whitewashed villas, luxury high-rise resorts, and golf clubs litter this idyllic area between Lagos and Faro.

Image of Miradouro da Boca do Inferno overlooking the lakes of Sete Cidades on the Island of Sao Miguel in the Azores
It’s worth adding the Azores to your Portugal itinerary, if you have time.

And third, Portugal has two island archipelagos: Madeira and the Azores. Both are in the Atlantic Ocean miles from the African coast and have lush green and mountainous landscapes. Whilst Madeira is more built up with lots of amenities for tourists, the Azores is more remote. 

How Many Days in Portugal?

Once you know where you want to visit in Portugal, you’ll need traveling to Portugal tips that will help you figure out how many days to spend there.

For city breaks in either Lisbon or Porto, plan a minimum of three days in Portugal. You can always plan day trips to places like Sintra or Cascais if you have extra days.

Image of Pena Palace in Sintra Portugal
Pena Palace in Sintra is one of the most beautiful castles in Europe.

If you are visiting Portugal for a week, you could spend it soaking up some rays in the Algarve. Or, you could enjoy a more active vacation exploring the natural landscapes of either Madeira or the Azores. City lovers could easily spend one week exploring both Lisbon and Porto.

Want to spend two weeks or more in Portugal? You could do it all! Rent a car in Porto and drive south or hop on a train, hitting up Lisbon and Faro in the south and stopping at some smaller cities along the way.

It takes two to three hours to fly from Lisbon to either Madeira or the Azores so you can easily plan a side trip to the Portuguese islands.

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Public Transportation in Portugal

Figuring out how to travel in Portugal might be easier than you think as the country has lots of public transport options. 

Regarding tips for traveling in Portugal between major cities like Lisbon, Porto, Coimbra, Faro, and Lagos, use the train. It’s old but cheap and you can book tickets through the official passenger train company, Comboios de Portugal.

Image of Panoramic aerial view of Dom Luis Bridge in Porto in a beautiful summer day, Portugal
The train is a great way to see multiple cities in Portugal.

Portugal’s bus network connects everywhere else. Check out Rede Nacional de Expressos, the country’s national bus service, for tickets and timetables. FlixBus is another option for cheap bus travel around Europe.

Local city buses in Portugal can be quite old and confusing for tourists to use. However, most smaller cities and towns in Portugal are very walkable. Bigger cities like Lisbon and Porto have tram and metro networks.

Taxis, Ubers, and Car Rentals in Portugal

If you’re visiting Madeira or the Azores, public transport is scarce. It’s probably better if you rent a car in these two places if you’re planning an intrepid and jam-packed trip.

Image of Taxi in the capital city of Portugal - Lisbon
Taxis are a great option in Lisbon if you don’t want to use public transportation.

Uber is available in these places around Portugal: Lisbon, Porto, Braga, and The Algarve

Taxis are quite cheap everywhere in Portugal, including Lisbon. Your taxi driver might not speak English and there are always surcharges for evening, public holiday, and weekend rides. 

Money in Portugal

Portugal uses the Euro currency and, unlike the rest of Western Europe, cash is still king. Always carry a generous (but not unsafe) amount of cash on you to pay for small items and taxis and to leave a tip at restaurants.

Euro money: closeup of banknotes and coins
It’s always helpful to get some Euros in cash.

Hotels, restaurants, and larger stores will definitely take credit cards so you should still bring a travel-friendly credit card. Be aware that many European countries don’t accept American Express so have a Mastercard or Visa as a backup. 

You can exchange money before your trip (at your bank) or you can do it when you arrive in Portugal.

Dining in Portugal Tips

Portugal has 37 Michelin-starred restaurants, so you can eat really well in this country. If there are any restaurants you really want to try in one of the bigger cities, make reservations. Lisbon, in particular, can be very busy on weekends.

I highly recommend trying local food in Portugal.

You cannot visit Portugal without trying a pastel de nata, an egg custard pastry with cinnamon and vanilla. Grilled sardines and cod are also delicacies here. In fact, Bacalhau (dried or salted cod) is Portugal’s national dish.

Grilled Sardines Plate with Red Pepper and Potato in a Portuguese Restaurant
You’ll probably see grilled sardines on the menu.

Look out for restaurants called Tascas as these are generally cheaper, more casual restaurants serving hearty meals and local wine in jugs.

Portugal is known for its port wine as well as Vinho Verde wine, so watch out for those on the menus.

Essential Lisbon Travel Tips

Some of the best insider Lisbon tips include buying a Lisboa card to save money on attractions and public transport. Visit as many panoramic viewpoints as you can and find a bar that plays Portuguese Fado music.

Image of Rossio square with fountain located at Baixa district in Lisbon, Portugal
You’ll definitely want your feet to be happy as you trek around this lovely city.

Another one of the best tips for visiting Lisbon is to wear comfortable shoes. It’s a city built on seven hills as well as cobblestone, so you don’t want to pack anything with a heel.

Essential Sintra Travel Tips

Sintra is a fantastic day trip from Lisbon as it’s only 20 miles/30 km away. Book your ticket to the Sintra castles in advance as you might arrive to find that the next timeslot isn’t for a few hours.

Take Tuk-Tuks to avoid climbing up the monumentally steep hills.

Essential Porto Travel Tips

As the birthplace of Port, you cannot visit Porto without sampling a few glasses. Take the Gaia Cable Car to see beautiful vistas across the city, or climb the Luís I Bridge.

Image of Porto city and Douro River, cable car, view from Vila Nova de Gaia, Portugal.
The Gaia cable cars are a great way to see Porto.

Many people like to visit the Livraria Lello Bookstore because of its connections to the Harry Potter author and it is wildly popular. You’ll need to pay an entrance fee and probably wait in line.

Essential Madeira Travel Tips

Madeira is one of the most challenging places in Europe for pilots to fly into so be prepared for a rocky landing. Base yourself in Funchal or Monte to be close to all the amenities you’ll need.

Image of Scenic aerial sunset view of Camara de Lobos village, Madeira, Portugal
Camara de Lobos village is a stunning area of Madeira.

If you’re not planning on renting a car here, read the bus timetables carefully. There is only one bus a day on some routes. 

Essential Azores Travel Tips

Visiting the Azores isn’t a good idea if you are a social or party person who likes to meet new people when they travel. 

Image of Coastal path with ortensia in Sao Miguel, Azores Islands
Enjoy some quiet time in the Azores.

Due to the lack of amenities and infrastructure, the Azores isn’t a great place for spontaneous travel, so book everything in advance. The weather can also change on a dime here so even if the weather looks sunny, pack a raincoat.

Get a Travel Adapter

Portugal uses the type F electrical plug which has two rounded prongs and two earth clips. The vast majority of their outlets also fit type C and L plugs too. These three plugs are very standard in many European countries.

Electric sockets in Portugal have 230 volts whereas the US, if that’s where you’re traveling from, only has 110 volts. Buy a travel adapter with a built-in voltage converter to protect your electrical gear when you travel. 

Safety and Awareness in Portugal

As of 2022, Portugal is in 6th place out of 163 on the Global Peace Index. It’s an incredibly safe country and there are few violent and dangerous crimes, particularly when compared to somewhere like the US.

Image of View from the back of a Portuguese policeman guards public order at a public event and in a crowded place
It’s always smart to be aware of your surroundings to stay safe in Portugal.

However, you should still remain vigilant to petty crime and travel scams when traveling in larger cities like Lisbon and Porto and hanging around near busy spots. Keep your money and valuables hidden away and out of reach. 

Keep in mind that Portugal is a Catholic country (over 80% of the population identifies as such). Keep your chest, shoulders, and knees covered when visiting places of worship.

While the cities have a diverse and generally progressive population, this may not be the case in rural parts of Portugal. For example, if you are part of the LGBTQ+ community, you may find Lisbon more welcoming than the Azores.

Tips for Traveling to Portugal FAQs

When is the best time to visit Portugal?

Portugal has a Mediterranean climate which means the summers are hot and dry and the winters are fairly mild and a little rainy.

January is the coldest month with average temperatures ranging from 50°F/10°C in the north to 54.5°F/12.5°C in the south. August is the hottest month with average temperatures ranging from 70°F/22°C in the north to 85°F/30°C in the south. 

Portugal’s coast is often kept cool thanks to the breeze from the Atlantic, but heat waves in summer can mean that temperature climb as high as 94°F/36°C.

The best times to visit southern areas of Portugal like Lisbon and Faro are during the spring and fall shoulder seasons but the best time to visit Porto in the north is summer.

Easter and Holy Week in March or April are great times to visit Portugal as there are lots of parades and celebrations around the country. 

Is Portugal cheap or expensive?

One of the best things to know before going to Portugal is that it’s probably less expensive than you think it is. Portugal is one of the cheapest countries in Western Europe and of all the countries using the Euro currency.

As long as you’re organized, you’ll have no problems finding cheap accommodations or activities. Food, public transport, private transport, and other expenses are generally lower than in nearby countries like Spain or France.

Can you use American dollars in Portugal?

No, you cannot use American dollars in Portugal. The official currency of Portugal is the Euro. While some places in Portugal (like hotels) may accept US dollars, be aware that they will set their own exchange rates between the Euro and the US dollar and it probably won’t be in your favor.

Do you need a visa to visit Portugal?

If you aren’t a U.S. citizen, you can check HERE to see if you need a Schengen Visa.

Should you tip at restaurants in Portugal?

Portugal doesn’t have a tipping culture and you don’t need to tip servers at restaurants, bars, cafes taxi drivers, or other hospitality workers. 

However, locals are more likely to give servers in restaurants and taxi drivers in Portugal tips. You’ll also find that both locals and tourists are more likely to leave hospitality workers in Lisbon tips since it’s the capital city and the most expensive city in the country.

But you don’t have to worry about committing a tourist faux pas. You can round up your bill, leave €1 for every person at your table, or tip 10%. There’s no hard and fast rule.

Which Portuguese cities are worth visiting?

Some of the most popular Portuguese cities include Lisbon, Porto, Sintra, Faro, and Évora.

What are some popular Portuguese restaurants worth trying?

Adega da Cartuxa in Évora serves traditional Portuguese cuisine in a beautiful setting. Belcanto in Lisbon is a Michelin-starred restaurant that offers a modern take on Portuguese cuisine. Feitoria in Porto serves traditional Portuguese seafood dishes.

When is peak season in Portugal?

High season in Portugal is from June to August, when the weather is warm and sunny. This is also when most tourists visit Portugal, so expect crowds and higher prices.

If you want to avoid the crowds, consider visiting Portugal during the shoulder season (May and September) or the off-season of October to November or December to February.

Where can I hear traditional fado music?

Casa de Fado in Lisbon is a historic fado house that has been hosting performances since 1937. Páteo de Alfama in Lisbon is a small, intimate fado house located in the Alfama district. Clube de Fado in Lisbon is a popular fado house that hosts a variety of performers, including both established and up-and-coming artists.

What’s the local language in Portugal?

The locals speak Portuguese.

Is Portugal safe?

Yes, Portugal is relatively safe. It’s always smart to exercise caution and keep an eye on your belongings.

Do you need travel insurance to visit Portugal?

While it is not mandatory to have travel insurance to visit Portugal, it is highly recommended. Travel insurance can protect you in case of medical emergencies, flight cancellations, and other unforeseen events.

Best Portugal Travel Tips Wrap Up

Those are all the top Portugal travel tips that you need to plan a great vacation.

Although you might know less about Portugal than other European countries and think you need more Portugal travel advice, it’s really not that different.

And where there are differences (like money, public transportation, and destinations), this guide covers all the tips for visiting Portugal you need to have a fun and memorable trip!

Looking for more Portugal travel resources? Check out the best day trips from Lisbon, 11 Best Lisbon Hotels for Families Worth Booking, 11 Things to Do in Porto, Portugal for First-Time Visitors!, 15 Things to do in Lisbon with Toddlers, and Europe travel tips!

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