๐Ÿ‡ต๐Ÿ‡น Planning A Trip to Portugal: 10 Practical Things To Know

A century-old castle wall made out of stone, high up on a hill.

Receiving over 25 million tourists last year in 2023, Portugal is one of Europe’s most popular destinations that is known for its vibrant cities, historic castles, and production of Port wine.

Having experienced a delightful trip in Portugal, I share must-know travel tips that are especially useful for first-time visitors.

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1. Best Places To Visit in Portugal

Portugal has incredible places to visit ranging from historical cities to golden beaches.

Below are Portugal’s most popular destinations and the top things to see and do in each location.

๐Ÿ“ Lisbon

The capital city of Lisbon is Portugal’s most visited destination and largest city. It’s a historic and vibrant metropolis known for its narrow streets, vintage trams, and riverfront views next to the Tagus River.

Top attractions in Lisbon include:

  • Belรฉm district, home to Belem Tower, a UNESCO World Heritage Site, and the architectural marvel, Jerรณnimos Monastery
  • Baixa-Chiado, the city center and home to the Santa Justa Lift, one of Lisbon’s most popular attractions.
  • Bairro Alto, a historic neighborhood known for its epic nightlife.

See how to plan a trip to Lisbon.

An old and worn tower near the beach.
The Belรฉm Tower.

๐Ÿ“ Porto

Porto is a unique, charming city in northern Portugal and the countryโ€™s second-most visited destination. It’s famous for its production of Port wine and location near the Douro River.

Porto’s main attractions include:

  • Livraria Lello, one of the world’s most beautiful bookstores, and potentially the inspiration for Harry Potter’s Hogwarts Library
  • Vila Nova de Gaia, a city known for its Port wine cellars
  • Ribeira, the historic center that is located next to a stunning and lively riverfront

See how to spend three days in Porto.

An ornate, golden ceiling of a bookstore.
The ceiling of Livraria Lello.

๐Ÿ“ Douro Valley

Douro Valley is a UNESCO World Heritage Site and is the exclusive producer of Port wine.

Visitors can enjoy the stunning landscapes, sample wine, take a boat trip on the river, and go on hikes.

Thisย highly-rated Douro Valley wine tourย includes a visit toย two vineyardsย and a cruise ride down the river.

A view of a green, lush valley with a river running through it.
Duoro Valley. (Photo by my sister, Kat.)

๐Ÿ“ Sintra

Sintra is a small town and another UNESCO World Heritage Site. It has fairytale-like palaces, dramatic ocean views, and a picturesque town center. 

Its location makes it a popular day trip destination from Lisbon. Sintra’s top tourist attractions are:

  • Pena Palace, a beautiful national palace and one of the Seven Wonders of Portugal
  • Moorish Castle, a medieval castle with a great view of the surrounding area
  • Quinta da Regaleira, a unique estate with lush gardens

See all the top things to do in Sintra.

Colorful houses at the bottom of a green, lush mountain.
Sintra, a popular day trip destination from Lisbon.

๐Ÿ“Algarve Region

The Algarve is the southernmost region in Portugal and is known for its beautiful beaches, charming towns, and breathtaking coastline next to the Atlantic Ocean.

Some Algarve’s best attractions include:

  • Marinha Beach, one of the most beautiful beaches in the world
  • Ria Formosa Natural Park, which is known for its coastal lagoons
  • Praia da Falรฉsia, a long and extensive beach with red cliffs
  • Ponta da Piedade, a dramatic and picturesque headland with stunning rock formations

A more unique way to see Ponta da Piedade is by kayaking to and through the rock formations.

๐Ÿ€ My Take on Lisbon, Porto, Sintra, and Douro Valley

I visited the main cities of Lisbon and Porto and took a day trip to Sintra and Douro Valley.

  • Lisbon is a huge city and has distinct districts with their own characteristics. I think it’s a great place to eat and walk around, but it’s not as “charming” as some describe it.
  • Porto felt like a more manageable and authentic city. I enjoyed it more than Lisbon because of the charming atmosphere and I particularly loved the live street music at night.
  • Sintra was my favorite place in Portugal because of all its beautiful attractions with panoramic views. It’s worth visiting if you enjoy picturesque towns.
  • Douro Valley is great for people who like sweet wine. It’s the perfect day trip for wine lovers or people who want to do something more relaxing.

2. When To Visit Portugal

Portugal generally has pleasant weather and experiences a Mediterranean climate, which is characterized by hot, dry summers and mild winters.

โ˜€๏ธ Best Time To Visit Portugal

The best time to visit Portugal is during the spring and fall seasons (i.e., the shoulder seasons).

  • The spring season, which runs from March to May, has mild temperatures ranging from 50 ยฐF to 73 ยฐF. Portugal is lush during this time and there are fewer crowds.
  • The fall season, which runs from September to November, is another popular time to visit. The weather is also pleasant and cool (54 ยฐF to 77 ยฐF). It’s a popular time for wine tours and outdoor activities.

๐Ÿƒ Portugal’s Seasons

Portugal has four seasons. Here’s a quick overview of its seasons:

๐ŸŒฑ SpringMar-May50-73 ยฐF
โ˜€๏ธ SummerJun-Aug64-84 ยฐF
๐Ÿ FallSep-Nov54-77 ยฐF
โ„๏ธ WinterDec-Feb46-64 ยฐF
Portugal’s Four Seasons

Here are some things to keep in mind about the seasons and climate in Portugal:

  • The summer months are the high season with the warm weather drawing big crowds. It’s a popular time for beach vacations and major destinations like Lisbon and the Algarve will see its peak crowds.
  • The winter months are the low season. This is a good time to get the best deals and experience a quieter Lisbon and Porto.

๐Ÿ€ My Experience With Portugal’s Weather

I traveled to Portugal in May during the spring season and experienced mostly sunny, warm days with cool nights.

During my trip, I primarily wore summer clothes and had to throw on a light layer at night.

A woman on a balcony overlooking a background with buildings with orange-clay roofs.
Summer clothes in Portugal.

3. How Long To Spend in Portugal

Portugal is a medium-sized country where visitors typically spend one to two weeks traveling.

๐Ÿ—“๏ธ How Many Days Do You Need in Portugal?

First-time visitors should spend at least one week in Portugal to see its major cities, cultural sites, and picturesque landscapes.

  • With three to four days in Portugal, you’ll mainly be visiting one of the larger cities, Lisbon or Porto, and won’t have much time to see other areas.
  • With one week in Portugal, you can visit the major cities and nearby destinations like Sintra and the Douro Valley.

Here’s how to spend a week in Portugal.

  • With two weeks in Portugal, you can visit the major cities and also take a trip south to enjoy the beach in the Algarve.
  • With three weeks or more in Portugal, youโ€™ll have enough time to do the above and visit central Portugal, which includes the historic city of Coimbra.

๐Ÿ€ How Long I Stayed in Portugal

I spent a week in Portugal visiting mainly Lisbon, Sintra, and Porto, which felt like good introductory places for Portugal.

If I were to visit Portugal again, I would head south to see its famous coastlines in the Algarve or see the Azores, which is an autonomous archipelago of Portugal.

4. Entry Requirements for Portugal

The entry requirement for Portugal is straightforward for US citizens.

๐Ÿ›ƒ Portugal’s Visa and Passport Requirements

A tourist visa is not required for United States citizens visiting Portugal for up to 90 days.

Starting in 2025, United States travelers will need to meet a new travel authorization requirement called ETIAS to enter Portugal.

Also, your US passport must be valid for three months beyond the last day of your Portugal trip.

๐Ÿ€ My Experience Entering Portugal

Being an American citizen comes with the privilege of holding one of the world’s most powerful passports, so I had no issues flying into Lisbon, Portugal.

5. Budgeting and Cash in Portugal

Portugal is a semi-affordable tourist destination for Europe.

๐Ÿ’ฐ Expected Budget in Portugal

Here’s approximately how much you can expect to spend when visiting Portugal:

Travel StyleBudget per Day
Budget Travelers$50
Mid-Range Budget Travelers$200
Expected Daily Budget for Portugal

๐Ÿง Do You Need Cash In Portugal?

Portugal has a great credit card infrastructure and major credit cards are widely accepted, so cash is rarely needed.

There will be a few instances where youโ€™ll need cash for tipping and making small purchases.

Tipping is not mandatory nor expected in Portugal, but itโ€™s appreciated.

๐Ÿ’ต Are US Dollars Accepted in Portugal?

Portugal’s local currency is the euro (EUR). The US dollar is not widely accepted, so make sure to exchange currencies.

The exchange rate was $1 USD = โ‚ฌ0.91 at the time of writing.

๐Ÿ€ My Portugal Trip’s Budget

I share all my travel expenses in this Portugal budget breakdown.

Overall, I found Portugal to be a reasonably-priced destination for Europe. I found most things to be slightly cheaper in Portugal than in the United States.

A woman sitting outside in a pedestrian-friendly street while having a meal.
Reasonably-priced food in Lisbon.

6. How To Get Around in Portugal

You can easily travel around Portugal without needing to rent a car.

โœˆ๏ธ Flying Into Portugal

Portugal has several international airports to fly into and the main ones are:

Humberto Delgado Airport (LIS)Lisbon
Francisco Sรก Carneiro Airport (OPO)Porto
Faro Airport (FAO)Algarve
Portugal’s Main International Airports

Once you land in Portugal, there are several common ways to get around the country.

๐Ÿš† Option 1: CP Train and Public Transportation

Like many other European countries, Portugal’s public transportation is efficient and the best way to get around.

Portugal’s main public transportation is the state-owned train called Comboios de Portugal (CP). You can take a CP train to get to major destinations around the country, including Lisbon, Porto, Coimbra, Sintra, and the Algarve region.

Portugal’s major cities, like Lisbon and Porto, also have good public transportation infrastructure that includes the metro, train, bus, funicular, and tram.

Colorful buildings packed in a city landscape outside a metro station.
Exiting a Lisbon metro stop.

๐Ÿš– Option 2: Taxi and Uber

Cities in Portugal have reliable taxis that have comparable prices to calling an Uber (the latter is just more convenient).

You will also see tuk-tuks in Portugal. They are primarily used for giving tours, not as transportation to get from points A to B. This is why tuk-tuks are fairly expensive and can cost up to $30 USD per hour in places like Lisbon and Porto.

A tuk tuk driver at the top of a hill next to a bright yellow building.
A tuk-tuk looking for tourists in Lisbon.

๐Ÿš™ Option 3: Rental Car

Given Portugal’s great public transportation and narrow streets, renting a car makes sense only if you’re doing a more off-the-beaten-path itinerary that requires a road trip.

To rent a car in Portugal, you need a valid driver’s license and basic third-party liability insurance. Some rental insurance companies will have a 21 to 23 age requirement even though the legal driving age is 18.

๐Ÿ‘Ÿ Option 4: Walking

Portugal has very pedestrian-friendly cities, but they’re also known to be incredibly hilly, so make sure to wear comfortable shoes.

In cities like Lisbon, many streets are also made out of cobblestone, which is not great for dragging your luggage around.

๐Ÿ€ How I Got Around Portugal

I primarily relied on Portugal trains and metros to get around and found their high-speed trains convenient.

  • When I was in Porto and Lisbon, I got around mostly by taking the metro, trams, and buses. I used Uber three times when public transportation was not a convenient option (e.g., it took too long or was too far away).
  • To get from Lisbon to Porto and back, I took the state-owned CP train, which was easy and fairly priced.

I recommend downloading WhatsApp to make it easier to get around Portugal. Many places (e.g., restaurants for reservations, hotel concierges, tour guides) use it to communicate.

7. How To Stay Safe in Portugal

Here are safety tips to keep in mind when traveling to Portugal.

โš ๏ธ Is Portugal Safe to Visit?

Portugal is considered a very safe country to visit. The most common crimes against foreign tourists are related to petty theft like pickpocketing. Violence against tourists is very rare.

Portugal has a travel advisory level of 1 per the US Department of State and is ranked #7 out of 163 safest countries by the Global Peace Index (for reference, the United States is ranked #131).

๐Ÿš– Common Scams in Portugal

Here are some common scams to watch out for in Portugal:

  • The restaurant scam involves restaurants charging tourists for an extra item on a bill, which is why it’s important to check your receipt and talk to the waiter if you’re unsure.
  • The taxi scam is fairly common in parts of Europe and happens in Portugal as well. Taxi drivers refuse to turn on their meters and try to convince tourists that they’re not necessary, but you should always make sure taxi meters are on.

Although technically not a scam, avoid Euronet ATMs when withdrawing cash in Portugal. They consistently have high fees and use terrible exchange rates.

๐Ÿ’ง Is Tap Water Safe To Drink in Portugal?

Portugal’s tap water is safe to drink and meets EU safety standards, but many locals drink bottled water due to its taste.

I brought my reusable water bottle, which I refilled at restaurants and my hotel with no issues.

๐ŸฆŸ Does Portugal Have Mosquitoes?

Portugal has disease-carrying mosquitos, so protect yourself as best as you can.

I tend to get bitten, so I usually pack insect-repellent lotion, but I didn’t have any issues with mosquitoes in Portugal.

๐Ÿ€ My Safety Tips for Portugal

I didnโ€™t have any issues with theft, scams, or violence in Portugal. Given Portugal’s high safety levels, the two main safety tips I have are:

  • Stay vigilant and use common sense as pickpocketing still occurs (especially when you’re riding a crowded tram).
  • Portugal offers many guided tours, so make sure to book tours with legitimate platforms like Viator.

8. Language Barrier in Portugal

Portugal’s official language is Portuguese.

๐Ÿ—ฃ๏ธ Is English Common in Portugal?

English is widely spoken in Portugal, especially in big cities like Lisbon and Porto, so it’s an English-friendly destination.

Despite the high rate of English competency, locals appreciate it when visitors know some basic Portuguese phrases:

Common Word or PhraseEnglish Translation
Obrigado/aThank you
Com licenรงaExcuse Me
English Translation for Common Portuguese Phrases

๐Ÿ€ Traveling Portugal With Just English

I found traveling in Portugal with just English extremely easy. Even waiters at some smaller shops and cafes seem to know some basic English.

9. Cultural Differences in Portugal

The Portuguese culture has been influenced by a combination of Spain and religious and historical factors.

โณ Cultural Norms in Portugal

Here are a few cultural norms and Portuguese etiquette to keep in mind when visiting:

  • Portuguese people eat at later times compared to Americans. Lunch, which is considered the main meal, usually starts at 1 pm and dinner tends to start at 8 pm.

One of the most important things I learned in Portugal is that many good restaurants in big cities like Lisbon and Porto will have long waits. Make sure to make restaurant reservations or plan accordingly.

  • Portuguese people value personal space and will stand further away than Americans do.
  • Non-verbal communication, such as hand gestures, is more widely used in Portugal compared to other Western countries.

๐Ÿ€ My Experience With Portugal’s Culture

The cultural differences that impacted me the most during my trip were the later eating time and long lines at restaurants.

There were nights in both Lisbon and Porto where I had to visit multiple restaurants to find one that didn’t have a wait that was longer than 30 minutes. Because of the slower pace of life, Portuguese waiters aren’t keen on rushing their customers.

10. Portuguese Food To Try

Portuguese cuisine is known for its diverse flavors. Here are some Portuguese foods to try:

  • Pasteis de nata (custard tarts) is one of Portugal’s most famous foods and you can find them in many tourist places. I averaged about two tarts per day and one of my favorite stores was Fรกbrica da Nata which has multiple locations in Lisbon and Porto.
A display window selling multiple custard tarts with charred tops.
Fรกbrica de Nata. (Photo by my sister, Kat.)
  • Port wine is a sweet wine that’s only produced in the Douro Valley region of Portugal. I tend to like sweeter drinks, so this wine was right up my alley. I enjoyed sampling Port wine paired with cheese and cured ham in Porto’s riverfront.

It’s easiest to access the Douro Valley from Porto through a wine tour.

Port wine, cured ham and bread meal overlooking a water view with European buildings in the background.
Port wine near Porto.
  • Francesinha is a Portuguese sandwich that contains ham and sausage and has melted cheese with a spicy beer sauce on top. I tried one at a local restaurant and I found it interesting, but not quite my taste.
A beer and sandwiched covered in sauce on an outdoor table.
Francesinha in Porto.

Portugal has a long coastline, so seafood plays a prominent role in many dishes. For example, bacalhau (salted codfish) is a staple in Portuguese cuisine.

Portugal Trip Planner

To make your travel planning easier, download the trip planner below and use it as a starting point. The planner has country-specific travel information, an itinerary, a packing list, and a map with key places pinned.

The trip planner is built on Notion, which I use for all my travel planning (I genuinely love this tool). If you don’t have Notion, creating an account is free.

Three Notion template screenshots are shown: travel information, itinerary, and map + packing list templates.
Preview of Portugal trip planner.

Thoughts? Questions? Leave a comment below.

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