20 essential Portugal travel tips for year round trips

Rough Guides Editors

written by
Rough Guides Editors

updated 17.04.2024

Anyone planning to travel to Portugal can use these Portugal travel tips. This is one of Europe’s oldest extant nations. It's an ancient kingdom defended by hilltop castles and dramatic walled towns. The coast covers 1793 kilometres. And the choice of beaches alone is vast. So take a look at our 20 top travel tips for Portugal. Avoid the crowds and get more for your euros. The information in this article is taken from The Rough Guide to Portugal, your travel guide for Portugal.

1. Think about visiting Portugal off-season

Lisbon and the Algarve can be overcrowded and busy in high summer. Off-season they're surprisingly quiet.

  • Visit the Algarve in autumn:
  • Uncrowded beaches.
  • October water temperatures average 21˚C.
  • An average of seven hours of sun daily.
  • Portuguese beach season is July and August.

Prefer to leave planning and booking to experts? Have a look at some sample itineraries. Both Complete Portugal or Portugal Itineraries offer inspiration. All Tailor-Made Trips can be modified together with your local expert, then booked for a stress-free holiday. Click 'Modify this itinerary' to contact a local Portugal expert.


Visit Algarve off season is top of the Portugal travel tips © Shutterstock

2. Get off the beaten track in Portugal

Get off the tourist trail in Portugal.

  • Head inland to the border region in spring.
  • Discover fortified towns like Marvão and Estremoz.
  • Go north to Douro vineyards in autumn.
  • Experience the grape harvest at Douro estates.
  • For quieter summer beaches head to Alentejo and Centro district.
  • Visit undiscovered west coast Algarve in summer.

Want to explore off the beaten track Portugal? Book a private trip round Evora and Estremov with local guides.


Douro valley © Shutterstock

3. Portugal travel tips for eating and drinking like locals

Local food and drink is high quality in Portugal. It's also inexpensive. So stick to ordering local produce. You’ll find fresh fish and seafood everywhere. And Portugal's pork and cheese is excellent.

House wine will usually be good. And local beers and spirits are great value.

Like some food-specific Portugal travel tips? Try a traditional food tasting experience in Lisbon.

Cheese plate - various types of soft and hard cheese © Krzysztof Slusarczyk/Shutterstock

© Shutterstock

4. Take a walk to find hidden Portugal

The Portuguese like their cars. So take a walk is one of our best Portugal travel tips.

Wander up a quiet track. Step away from the car park. Head down a country lane. Good chance you'll find a quieter beach or beauty spot.

Turquoise waters at Machico bay, Madeira © Balate Dorin/Shutterstock

Turquoise waters at Machico bay, Madeira © Balate Dorin/Shutterstock

5. Don’t assume the starters are free

Most Portuguese restaurants bring you starters as you read their menu. These range from a simple bowl of olives up to a selection of seafood. They are not free. Anything you eat is added to your bill.

Some menus show a cover charge per person which usually includes bread. Others charge for individual items, even bread.

Don’t get too hung up. Most starters are cheap. Just remember fish and seafood can be expensive. Don't hesitate to check starter prices. And say 'no thanks' if you don't want something.


© Shutterstock

6. Choose transport wisely in Portugal

Portugal has one of Europe’s worst road safety records. Many of the country's roads are in poor condition. Conversely, toll-paying autoroutes are well-maintained and often quiet.

Be aware some toll roads use number plate recognition systems. Check the best way to pay these with your car hire company.

Trains in Portugal tend to be cheap. They can also be slow. Inter-city trains are speedier and more expensive. Or catch one of the fast coaches which which serve most main towns.


© Shutterstock

7. Portugal travel tips for vegetarians: beware soup

Caldo verde is Portugal's traditional vegetable soup. You'll find it on most restaurant menus. Just know it is not vegetarian. It almost always has sausage in it. Vegetarian choices in Portuguese restaurants can be limited. Expect to eat lots of salads or omelettes.

Caldo verde popular soup in Portuguese cuisine © Fanfo/Shutterstock

Caldo verde popular soup in Portuguese cuisine © Fanfo/Shutterstock

8. Budget travel tips for Portugal

There are a few ways to save in Portugal try;

  • Eating your main meal at lunchtime.
  • Look for midday set meals with wine and coffee.
  • It's cheapest to drink at the counter in bars.
  • Most museums are free on one day a month, or week.

On a budget. Swap hotels for hostels to save. Try Sant Jordi Hostels in Lisbon.


Eat your main meal at midday to save money in Portugal © Shutterstock

9. Get into local football

Live football is fun and family friendly. Match tickets are cheap and easy to get. Many Portuguese football stars started out at clubs like Porto or Sporting Lisbon. And they still discover major players. Expect live football on TV everywhere.

Missed a match? Take a tour of FC Porto Stadium and Museum instead.

Young man holding portuguese national flag to the sky with two hands at the beach at sunset portugal © WineDonuts/Shutterstock

© WineDonuts/Shutterstock

10. Bring your kids travelling in Portugal

Got kids? You'll love Portugal. Travelling with children is a great way to connect with locals. Expect instant conversation with pretty much everyone.

But don’t be surprised to get parenting advice. Old ladies are shocked to see kids coatless and hatless, even on hot days.

Want to simplify sightseeing for kids? Try hop on hop off bus tickets for families in Lisbon.

A group of flamingos in Ria Formosa © Taniaaraujo/Shutterstock

A group of flamingos in Ria Formosa © Taniaaraujo/Shutterstock

11. You’ve heard of red, white and rosé wine, but green?

Portugal's famous for Port. But the country has a growing reputation for wines in general.

You might notice the word verde on wine lists here. It's not green coloured wine. Verde means young, acidic and slightly sparkling.

For more familiar wines, stick to maduro (“mature”).

Get to know Portugal's wines like a local. Take a full day Douro wine tour with lunch and a river cruise.

Glass of french wine © Yulia Grigoryeva/Shutterstock

© Shutterstock

12. Watch out for Portugal's business hours

Businesses outside main towns can keep irregular hours.

Many shops, cafés, restaurants, museums and tourist offices open late or close early.

Bad weather can dictate opening hours. And some businesses will close if it's too quiet.

Factor all this into your travel plans.

Homestays - Rome coffee

© Pixabay

13. Take an epic trip by road, train, bicycle or on foot

Portugal's landscapes are very accessible try:

  • A drive through Parque Natural de Arrábida on the N379-1.
  • A train ride along the Douro from Porto to Pocinho.
  • Mountain biking on the rugged Algarve coast.
  • Hiking Rota Vicentina through Portugal's southwest.

Prefer to sail for a little? Book a kayak tour in Parque Natural de Arrábida with local guides.


Explore accessible Portugal by road, train, bike or on foot © Shutterstock

14. Pick up fantastic local products

Best place to buy traditional ceramics? Caldas da Rainha in Estremadura.

Want hand-stitched Arraiolos carpets? Head to Arraiolos in Alentejo. The world famous carpets are expensive. But nobody stops you 'just looking'.

Hunting down designer bargains? Pick up brand-name seconds at Portugal's weekly markets. For quality designer clothes? Head to Lisbon and Porto's malls and shopping districts.

Take a private tour of Evora and Arraiolos and factor in some shopping.

Famous handmade carpets of Arraiolos in Portugal © Melissa Schalke/Shutterstock

Famous handmade carpets of Arraiolos in Portugal © Melissa Schalke/Shutterstock

15. Explore Portugal’s first and only national park

Discover Parque Nacional da Peneda-Gerês.

  • Portugal's only national park.
  • First opened in 1971.
  • Covers 700 square kilometres.
  • Protects natural habitats and traditional lifestyles.
  • Contains 18 plant species found nowhere else on earth.
  • Only natural habitat of the Serra do Gerês iris.
Cavado river and Peneda-Geres National Park in northern Portugal ©  Sergey Peterman/Shutterstock

Cavado river and Peneda-Geres National Park in northern Portugal © Sergey Peterman/Shutterstock

16. Browse the country's marvellous markets

You'll find markets all over Portugal.

  • Olhão market is best for fish and seafood.
  • Estremoz market sells fine Alentejan crafts.
  • Barcelos in the Minho is Portugal's most traditional market.

Searching for more local culture in Estremoz? Stay at historic Pousada Castelo de Estremoz for the night.


© Shutterstock

17. Walk the halls of the oldest university in Portugal

Coimbra is famed for its historic hilltop university.

  • Velha Universidade dates back to 1290.
  • Its Baroque Biblioteca Joanina contains 250,000 books.
  • The oldest library books date back to the 1100s.
  • University grounds and botanical garden are free to visit.
  • Tickets and time slots for university buildings and library.

Book Hotel Botanico de Coimbra. It's good value and a short walk from the university.

Coimbra, Portugal © saiko3p/hutterstock

Coimbra, Portugal © Shutterstock

18. Experience what Lisbon has to offer

Lisbon has never been easier to explore.

  • Direct flights from UK and US available to Lisbon.
  • Discover atmospheric Alfama on foot.
  • Dance until dawn at clubs in Bairro Alto.
  • Eat traditional custard tarts from historic Pastéis de Belém.
  • Visit World Heritage Sintra from Lisbon.

Try our best Lisbon budget stay. Lisbon Lounge Hostel in the city centre.

Colourful Sintra, Portugal palace Palácio da Pena © Shutterstock

Fairy tale Sintra makes an easy day trip from Lisbon © Shutterstock

20. Portugal travel tips for would be surfers

Portugal's known for its vast Atlantic waves. But beginners should ignore the breaks at Nazaré. Instead head to Sagres in western Algarve. The seas here are perfect for beginners. And more experienced won't be bored either.

Discover the wild western Algarve coast. Take a full day mini-van tour with local guides.


Nazare, Portugal © Shutterstock

Ready for a trip to Portugal? Read more about the best time to go to Portugal, the best places to visit and best things to do in Portugal. For inspiration use the Portugal Itineraries from The Rough Guide to Portugal and created by our local travel agents in Portugal. A bit more hands on, check out the map of Portugal and learn about getting there, getting around the country and where to stay in Portugal once you are there. And don't forget to buy travel insurance before you go.

We may earn commission when you click on links in this article, but this does not influence our editorial standards - we only recommend services that we genuinely believe will enhance your travel experiences.

Rough Guides Editors

written by
Rough Guides Editors

updated 17.04.2024

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