Portugal holidaysThe sample prices are per person based on two people travelling!
The official language in Portugal is European Portuguese. In several parts of the country, people speak regional dialects, including Baixo-Beirão and Alentejano in the south, and Alto-Minhoto and Transmontano in the north. English is spoken in the large cities and the tourism industry. There are relatively few French, German and Italian speakers.
The national currency is the euro, which is divided into 100 cents. All major credit cards are accepted at hotels, restaurants and even at petrol stations. ATMs are readily available, with most offering tourists instructions in English. Travellers should note that most machines have a daily withdrawal limit of €200. Currency exchange is possible at shops, large hotels and bureaux de change (cambios), which generally offer the best rates. Most banks no longer offer a foreign exchange service. Hotels usually offer the worst rates.
Travellers who are citizens of EU member nations, including UK nationals, are permitted access without a visa for an unlimited period of time. The same can be said of citizens from countries which have signed the Schengen Agreement. Citizens of most other nations will need to apply for a visa through a Portuguese embassy or consulate in advance of travel.
Portugal’s close geographical proximity to the African continent makes it the warmest country in Europe. The climate in Portugal can best be described as Mediterranean but conditions tend to differ slightly between inland and coastal regions. Summers, which span May to October, are warm and sunny, with the mercury rising to highs of between 35°C and 40°C in July. Inland temperatures generally peak at 30°C. Winters, which are at their height in December, boast rainy days and snow in the mountainous areas of the north. During this time, temperatures don’t tend to drop below 5°C on the coast or 0°C in the interior.
Lisbon International Airport is the country’s main gateway and hosts several international carries, especially from surrounding European countries. There are also international airports on the mainland in Porto and Faro, and on the islands of Madeira and Azores. Domestic connections can be made from any of these international ports to regional gateways.
The main carrier is national airline TAP Air Portugal, which has direct flights from London-Gatwick and London-Heathrow to Lisbon, but other major carriers like Air France, British Airways, Lufthansa and Continental fly into the country as well. For more inexpensive options try EasyJet, which flies between London-Luton, London-Gatwick and London-Stansted and Faro, while Ryanair travels between London-Stansted and Porto. Thompson Airways offers flights between London-Gatwick and Porto.
Portugal is a top tourist destination and during the peak season, which usually coincides with summer in July, airfare prices soar. It is best to book both tickets and accommodation far in advance to avoid paying exorbitant amounts. The best deals on flights from the UK are usually with budget carriers such as EasyJet, Flybe, Jet2.com and Ryanair. Seasonal flights with Thomson Airways can also present good value for money.
When travelling to Portugal from other countries in Europe, taking the train is a reliable and scenic option. There are lines between the Portuguese centres of Lisbon, Porto, Faro and Braga, and Madrid in Spain and Paris in France. UK visitors can connect with Paris from London via Eurostar.
Portugal has many domestic airports which makes regional travel by air fast and easy. The bus system is comprehensive and buses are comfortable and efficient. The train lines are just as reliable, with several lines connecting both major and peripheral areas. Renting a car is a viable option but roads in small towns are often poor in quality.
Portugal is small enough to be navigated overland if travellers wish to do so, but there are several domestic airports which receive a high volume of regional traffic every year. The national airline, TAP Air Portugal, operates between Lisbon, Madeira, Porto Santo, Faro, Porto and the Azores. Flying is more expensive than other forms of transport but is often the fastest way of getting from A to B.
The bus services in Portugal are well-developed, with routes connecting several of the major cities. Private bus companies dominate the system, most notably Rede Express which operates services daily. Travellers can choose from three main types of bus: expressos, which connect large cities, carreiras, which stop at crossroads, and rapidas, which are largely regional. The buses are an efficient and generally comfortable mode of navigating the country. Tickets can be purchased either online or at bus stations.
Travelling by train is a faster way of getting around the country than by bus and is also relatively well-priced. The main train line runs from Lisbon and through Coimbra to Porto, and travellers are offered several train options on this line. Commuters have their choice of regional trains which have many stops, interregional trains which are quite fast and express trains. For a more economical option, travellers can purchase an Interrail One Country Pass which allows travel for up to eight days in a one-month period in Portugal.
Car rental can be easily arranged at airports and in large town centres. Most of the major international rental companies are accounted for, including Hertz, Europcar, Avis and Budget. The highways in Portugal are in good condition and are so extensive that it is possible to drive the full length of the country. Secondary roads, especially those in more remote areas, are not as well maintained and thus caution should be taken when attempting to navigate them.
Lisbon is the capital of Portugal and the first experience of the country that many travellers will have. Lisbon is wonderfully cosmopolitan, with some of the country’s best culture, historical sites and nightlife. Whether it’s roaming through the tangled maze of narrow streets of Alfama, visiting one of the city’s several monuments such as the Belem Tower or appreciating the beauty of the Ajuda Botanical Gardens, Lisbon has something for everyone.
The former capital of Portugal, Coimbra, is the place to go for anyone wanting to soak up some culture. Located in the centre of the country, Coimbra is best known for its university town status. While it is home to one of the world’s oldest universities (University of Coimbra), the city has several other attractions. From a plethora of museums and art galleries such as the Museum of Science to vibrant annual festivals, Coimbra should not be missed.
Known as the ’Museum City’, Evora is a monument in itself. Filled with ancient Roman ruins, churches including the eerie Bone Chapel and stunning examples of megalithic structures such as Almendres Cromlech, Evora should be at the top of any travel itinerary. Popular with students, Evora has a relaxed atmosphere, with students picnicking in parks and studying in cafés. Situated only a few kilometres outside of Lisbon, this charming town provides a calm break from the busyness of the city.
The ’Venice of Portugal’, Aveiro is a gem on the northeast coast of the country. Half of the city is characterised by canals stemming from the Ria River and colourfully painted boats called moliceiros. Aside from the canals, the city’s most obvious attraction, Aveiro is also home to some of the country’s most gorgeous beaches such as Costa Nova and Barra Beach, and most delicious seafood.
A well-recognised Portuguese landmark, the Belém Tower in Lisbon is an absolute must-see. This UNESCO World Heritage site is the last remaining evidence of the country’s former maritime glory, but is also an important example of the Portuguese Manueline architectural style. Situated on the banks of the Tagus River, this four-storey high limestone structure literally cannot be missed.
For the best views of the historical city of Lisbon, travellers should pay a visit to St George’s Castle. Located on the highest hill in the city, this castle which was once inhabited by 9th century Moors provides great insight into the country’s complex history. Walk through the cobbled pathways, enjoy a quiet moment in the shaded courtyards or just take in the breathtaking views of the city below.
For a prime example of classic Gothic architecture, Batalha Monastery in the town of the same nameis the place to go. A few hours’ drive outside of Lisbon, the monastery is considered by many to be a great 14th century architectural masterpiece. From the beautifully decorated stained-glass in the interior to the ornate detail of the building’s façade, the Batalha Monastery is indeed a sight to behold.
Located in Mafra, a Lisbon district, the Mafra National Palace is larger than life, boasting over 5,000 doors and nearly 2,500 windows. A stunning example of early Baroque architecture, this extravagant structure was the main reason for Portugal’s near bankruptcy in the 18th century. Magnificently beautiful and unbelievable vast, the palace is definitely worth a trip.
Often overlooked by travellers to the region, the Milreu Roman ruins are actually some of the most interesting landmarks in the country. Right at the heart of the Algarve coast, the ruins have proven to be a significant archaeological discovery. Providing great insight into early Roman civilisation, this heritage site boasts such interesting remains as ancient manor houses, baths, temples and several farm buildings. There is a visitor’s centre on the site which provides information about the area’s history.
Portugal has a lively entertainment and nightlife scene, with most of the action taking place in large centres like Lisbon. There are a range of options for everyone and whether travellers want to dance until dawn or simply engage with the local cultures, Portugal has it all.
Lisbon is known for its nightlife and has even designated an area to the cause. Those wanting a good night out should make a turn at the Bairro Alto. By day, Bairro Alto is like any other sleepy district in the country but by night, it turns into the number one party area. With the best bars, clubs and restaurants in the capital, this is the place to go for a bit of razzle dazzle.
The Algarve region also has its fair share of entertainment hubs. From upmarket wine bars and classy restaurants to karaoke bars and discos pumping out the latest chart hits, visitors will find something to suit their needs. Albufeira in particular is known for showing travellers a good time. The Strip is a stretch of road in Albufeira city centre which has become popular for its nightlife venues.
For those looking for something a little more low-key, there is a variety of colourful festivals which take place throughout the year all over the country. May brings the Algarve International Film Festival, while music lovers should head to Lisbon in July for the Cool Jazz Festival. Live music fans will enjoy the Rock in Rio Lisboa Festival in May, while and those looking to enjoy the cuisine of the city should visit in April for Lisbon Fish and Flavours.
Portugal is famous for its seafood and with its large coastline, tourists should expect only the best. By far the most popular with locals is bacalhau, which is dried, salted cod. An acquired taste, bacalhau is not for everyone but is fun to try at least once. Other popular seafood dishes often incorporate sardinha (sardines), carapau (mackerel), robalo (rock bass) and cherne (turbot). These fish usually come grilled, fried, boiled or served in a stew.
Portuguese food differs from region to region, but there are some delicious specialities which can be found all over the country and should be given a try. Fish lovers should go for açorda de mariscos (a hearty stew made with shrimp and served in a bread bowl) or even lulas recheadas à Lisbonense (stuffed squid), which originated in Lisbon.
Vegetarians travelling through Portugal will probably not have the easiest, or most varied, of dining experiences. Most traditional restaurants consider vegetables a side dish and rarely promote them to the position of main course, yet non-meat eaters should have little trouble in persuading local chefs to provide them with made-to-order, vegetarian dishes.
Visitors with a sweet tooth will not be left disappointed as Portuguese desserts are to die for. From arroz doce (rice pudding flavoured with cinnamon and lemon) to large cakes made with sugar and egg yolk, and even homemade chocolate mousse, there is something for every palate.
Tourists simply cannot leave the country without trying its most famous alcoholic export, port. Native to the Douro Valley region, this drink can also be found in restaurants and bars around the country. Other local favourites are aguardente, liquor made from sugar cane, and beirão, which is made from several herbs including cinnamon, cloves and anise.
There is no shortage of beaches in Portugal and travellers to this country can really have their pick. The warmest beaches are along the southern coast as opposed to the waters of the west coast, which can be terribly cold. The beaches on the Algarve, on the south coast, are not only the most poplar in the country, but are also some of the most beautiful. Highlights here include Praia da Rocha, Tavira and Salema.
Portugal is one of the premier romantic destinations in Europe. Classic hot air balloon rides can be organised from the foothills of the Monchique Mountains in the Algarve or from one of the many sites in the Alentejo countryside. For the less adventurous, why not embark on wine tour in one of Portugal’s beautiful wine regions? Alentejo, Ribatejo and Duoro, the home of port wine, are just the right places for a romantic, wine-filled weekend.
If the kids are starting to tire of long days on the beach and multiple trips to historical landmarks, there are several other activities which should keep them occupied. Try Lisbon’s Children’s Museum (Museu das Criancas) which has interactive exhibits on a variety of interesting topics including music and science. The Slide and Splash Waterpark in the Algarve also proves to be a hit with children and adults alike. With many slides of all sizes and even some wild animal enclosures, this waterpark is worth a visit.
Portugal’s vast coastline provides travellers with plenty of water sports. Praia Grande, Ericeira and Guincho are great spots for surfing, while the beach in Sines has the perfect conditions for windsurfing. Portugal’s rivers do not disappoint either; the Rio Mondego River in particular is great for white-water rafting, canoeing and kayaking. For travellers who are not adept in the water, there are many locations which boast gorgeous hiking and trekking trips, including the Algarve Limestone Cliffs.