Sun-drenched beaches of the Algarve, exclusive golf resorts, medieval hilltop towns, colorful fishing villages, a cosmopolitan capital, the vine-filled valley of the Douro, wild remote mountains—Portugal has it all. But Europe’s oldest country, which has had its eyes melancholically set on the sea and on a lost and glorious past, has turned its head toward Europe and is undergoing a profound modernization. Still, things move a bit more slowly in Portugal,devagar as residents say, and some 11 million tourists seem to like the pace.

The social contrasts are still bigger there than in any other country in western Europe. But Europe’s former “poor house” is on its way to becoming a nice mansion with a sea view. The young Portuguese still listen to fado, and the students of Coimbra still wear their traditional outfits, but they party in stylish cafes and bars.

There is no better way to experience Portugal than to sit down in a street cafe with a bica (espresso) or a glass of port as you watch the world go by. And when you leave Portugal, you will probably feel saudade (a feeling of longing for something that is gone but might return). But unlike King Sebastian, you can always return.


Portugal is a long, narrow country on the Iberian Peninsula, at the southwestern edge of Europe. Mountains run through the eastern part of the country, and to the west the Atlantic Ocean meets an extensive seacoast, creating many excellent harbors. In the southernmost province of the Algarve, beaches, marshes and cliffs mark the coast.

Two island groups in the Atlantic, the Azores and Madeira, are also part of Portugal. Both are green and fairly remote.


Outsiders have flocked to Portugal’s shores before—as invaders. The region—called Lusitania by the Romans—was occupied by Phoenicians, Celts, Romans, Germanic tribes and Arabs, among others. The foundation of the nation-state we know today as Portugal was laid in 1139 when Afonso Henriques, the country’s first king, declared independence from Leon and Castile.

As a result of naval expansion, from 1400 to 1600 Portugal was a major colonial power, developing territories in South America, Africa, India and Asia. That 200-year era has come to be known as Portugal’s Golden Age. (Portugal only relinquished the last of those colonies in 1975.)

The Golden Age ended in a series of costly wars with Spain. The Portuguese monarchy gradually lost the respect of its citizens, who ousted the last king in 1910. After two decades of turmoil, Dr. Antonio de Oliveira Salazar emerged as Portugal’s unquestioned leader. Salazar, who ruled as prime minister for more than 35 years, isolated Portugal from the rest of Europe and clung to power through a brutal police force that censored virtually anyone who opposed him.

Salazar suffered a stroke in 1968 and died two years later. His regime died shortly thereafter, and by 1976 Portugal had become a true democracy. It joined the European Union in 1986, which led to widespread development and investment in infrastructure. However, the financial crises precipitated by the banks in recent years have resulted in the country having to apply to the International Monetary Fund and the European Union for bail-out loans to help stabilize its economy.

Portuguese culture today contains remnants of the conquering and conquered cultures, but the modern Portuguese way of life is not entirely constrained by the past, as evidenced by the development of tourism, particularly in the Algarve.


Portugal’s main attractions include old-world European culture, beaches, resorts, deep-sea fishing, archaeology, history, scenery, festivals, churches, monasteries, castles and friendly people.

Almost everyone likes Portugal, especially those who like beaches, pretty scenery, good food and a wide variety of active nightlife (in the main cities and resorts).


Lisbon and Coimbra are rivals when it comes to fado, a traditional, mournful style of music whose lyrics express longing and sorrow. Both cities claim to have preserved the purest form of the music. In either city, however, you can hear the black-clad singers, accompanied by guitar and viola.

Portugal’s King Sebastian, who ruled in the 16th century, is one of the most charismatic figures in the country’s history. A sickly, unstable young man—or a visionary dreamer, depending on your point of view—he launched a crusade against the Islamic infidels in 1578. At the Battle of the Three Kings in Morocco, he was killed and his army of 18,000 completely routed. Well into the 19th century, many clung to the belief that Sebastian had only been captured and would someday return to claim the throne.

Legend says that the Algarve’s numerous almond trees, whose white petals cover the ground during January and February, were planted by a Muslim king whose Scandinavian wife missed the snow of her homeland.

Algarve gets its name from the Arabic term al-Gharb (the West). The province once marked the westernmost point of Muslim expansion in the Middle Ages.

Carmen Miranda, a famous Brazilian singer and actress, was born in Portugal. Portuguese writer Jose Saramago won the Nobel Prize for literature in 1998. Half the hotel beds in the country are in the Algarve.

Porto or Oporto? The two spellings for the northern Portuguese city stem from a misunderstanding. Foreign visitors to Porto often heard the locals say, “O porto,” meaning “to the port,” and they took it to be the name of the city. The new version became the accepted name in most languages (other than Portuguese, that is).


Portugal’s wine-growing regions are a must-see for wine enthusiasts. Located in the Douro Valley in the town of Sabrosa, the Quinta do Portal winery produces red, white and sparkling wines, and offers wine tastings and winery tours. Dates and times of tastings and tours vary depending on the season. There is also a 10-room guest house on-site that features a swimming pool and a fitness room. Phone 351-25-993-7000. http://www.quintadoportal.com.

Another popular winery is family-owned Aveleda, in Pnafiel, which treats visitors to homemade wine, jams and cheeses. For more information, phone 351-25-571-8200 or visit http://www.aveleda.com.


The Algarve resorts are geared up for all kinds of watersports, but they are also great places to practice golf. Try the golf resorts of Vale do Lobo and Quinta do Lago. Hikers will enjoy the cool mountainous region of the Serra da Estrela and Parque Nacional da Peneda Geres. For mountain biking, try the hinterland of the Algarve.

Horseback riding is offered in many regions, particularly on the Algarve and the Alentejo. Try the Centro Hipico Vale de Ferro in Portimao. http://www.algarvehorseholidays.com.

Located in northern Portugal, Parque Nacional da Peneda Geres offers numerous outdoor activities, including hiking, bicycling and horseback riding. Information on park activities, including guidebooks and brochures, is available from Sede do PNPG, located at Avenida Antonio Macedo in Braga. Phone 351-25-320-3480. http://portal.icnb.pt/ICNPortal/VEN2007.

Naturtejo Geopark is a UNESCO European and Global Geopark located near the border with Spain, 124 mi/200 km from Lisbon. Its geological heritage goes back millions of years, and ancient landscapes such as the Meseta Meridional Peneplain with quartzitic crests and granite outcrops can be studied up close. It has a trekking network of 161 mi/260 km of trails, both short and long, which provide a unique opportunity to discover and explore the geological diversity of the terrain. Visitors can also take boat trips or go kayaking in the Tagus and Zezere rivers, while the less active can tour by minibus. It’s not just great outdoors, though, as there are a number of historic villages that appear to be caught in a time warp. http://www.naturtejo.com.

Those who prefer their activities on the water will find the best conditions for windsurfing at the Praia da Rocha, and experienced surfers prefer the windswept beaches close to Sagres or Ponta Ruiva at the western coast. The Costa de Lisboa is also a good surfing region, especially the Praia do Guincho close to Cascais. Divers love the western coast of the Algarve, where many shipwrecks wait to be discovered.

For kayaking, try rivers such as the Guadiana and the Mondego. O Pioneiro do Mondego organizes kayaking excursions. Phone 23-947-8385. http://www.opioneirodomondego.com.


Shop for azulejos (colorful ceramic tiles), earthenware, porcelain made by Vista Alegre, faience (particularly from Coimbra), leather goods (including shoes), antiques, gold and silver filigree (particularly from Minho Province and Oporto), cataplanas (clamshell-shaped copper pans for cooking shellfish and stews), lace, Madeiran embroidery, cork items, Portuguese guitars (they look like enlarged mandolins), needlepoint carpets and Arraiolos rugs (be sure to get a certificate of origin—there are a few cheap imitations made in China).

Consumable souvenirs such as wine and port, olive oil (the best comes from the area around Castelo Branco) and locally produced honey are also good choices. For everything under one roof, try Lisbon’s ultramodern Centro Comercial Colombo. http://www.colombo.pt.

Shopping Hours: Generally Monday-Friday 9 am-1 pm and 3-7 pm, Saturday 9 am-1 pm. In larger city centers, some stores stay open throughout the day. Shopping centers usually stay open later.


Portuguese food is natural, fresh, hearty and often delicious. Breakfast is usually a bit of bread and a bica (espresso). The main meal is lunch, which generally begins after 12:30 pm. It starts with the couvert (cover), a simple plate of bread, butter and olives (if you don’t want the couvert, tell the server—otherwise you will be charged for it; also watch out for unwanted expensive starters). Meals continue with soup, then go on to fish or meat (pork is popular) and excellent desserts, fruits and nuts (almonds). Dinner begins around 8 or 9 pm and is usually a smaller version of lunch.

Our favorite soup is the cabbage-based caldo verde (especially tasty in northern Portugal). Seafood is good in Portugal—the sardines are delicious; they bear little relationship to those things that come in cans. Other seafood dishes worth sampling are cataplana (a shellfish stew cooked in a sealed, shell-shaped copper pan), porco a Alentejana (clams and pork) and the national dish bacalhau (salted codfish—an acquired taste).

Portuguese sausage is excellent, especially when combined with fava beans in a rich stew called feijoada. We also recommend leitao da bairrada (roasted sucking pig), chicken piripiri (spit-roasted with a spicy vinegar sauce) and the cabrito (goat) in the Beira Baixa region. If you can find it, try a soft cheese from Guarda called serra—do not accept the substitute, called tipo serra.

Portuguese wines may just be the best bargain in Europe—even the best bottles rarely cost more than 20 euros in grocery stores. Most of the wines are red, with the best ones coming from Alentejo, Dao and a small area west of Lisbon called Colares.

Rose and white wines are also popular, especially the sparkling white wine known as vinho verde. (The name means “green wine,” which refers to its age, not its color: Vinho verde is usually drunk within a year of being processed.) And let’s not forget the rich-flavored ports (red wines fortified with brandy). So-called vintage ports are the best of this genre and are much more expensive than other Portuguese wines.



Portugal is as safe as any other European country. Most travelers do not encounter any problems. Simply observe the commonsense precautions you would anywhere: Watch your wallet or purse, and be careful in unfamiliar neighborhoods, particularly after dark. If driving a car, make sure that you park it in a secure area.

In case of emergency, dial 112.
For the latest information, contact your country’s travel-advisory agency.


Good hospitals are found in large cities, and clinics and doctors are available in smaller towns. Take along all prescription and nonprescription drugs you’ll need for your trip. It’s safe to eat the food and drink the tap water in all but the most remote parts of the country.

Avoid beaches that look dirty—gastroenteritis can be contracted in such places. The sun is strong, so take along sunglasses, a hat and plenty of sunscreen. Be sure you have a pair of comfortable walking shoes.

Smoking is prohibited in all public places, including restaurants and bars. For more information, contact your country’s health-advisory agency.


Do get a tide chart from the local tourist office if you plan to walk along any beaches in the Algrave—some beaches disappear during high tide.

Don’t use a flash if you take a picture of a fado singer and don’t, under any circumstances, talk or whisper during songs.

Do plan museum visits on days other than Monday—most museums in the country are closed that day. Entry to many museums is free on Sunday, but they are also the most crowded then.

Do go to a soccer game in Lisbon—you’ll see why the game is Portugal’s national sport.
Don’t expect Portuguese bullfights to be like those seen in Spain: In Portugal, the bull is
wrestled by a team of

men, and the inevitably injured beast is slaughtered—after the crowds have left. It’s still terribly cruel.
Do visit Lisbon’s African music clubs to hear the latest sounds from Portugal’s former colonies of Cape Verde,

Guinea-Bissau, Sao Tome, Angola and Mozambique.

Don’t assume that the Portuguese speak Spanish, and do take along a Portuguese phrasebook. The Portuguese have their own language and are proud of it.

Don’t jump queues. The Portuguese respect correct queues even more than the British.

Don’t give red flowers at business meetings; they are considered a symbol of the revolution and therefore interpreted as a political statement. White lilies are a symbol of death.

Do use extreme caution when driving (and, better still, avoid it altogether)—the otherwise well-adjusted and friendly Portuguese get crazy behind the wheel of a car. The Marginal, the old winding road between Lisbon and Cascais, is known as one of Europe’s most dangerous. The good news is that Portugal has reliable public transportation.

Don’t use a hand-held cell phone while driving—it’s illegal, and you could be subject to a hefty fine.

Do be careful when ordering vintage ports in restaurants. A well-heeled German couple told us that after enthusiastically trying the old ports in a good seafood restaurant, they wound up with a tab of 600 euros.


Passport/Visa Requirements: Citizens of Canada and the U.S. need passports, proof of sufficient funds and onward passage. Citizens of the U.S. and Canada may stay for up to 90 days without a visa. Reconfirm travel document requirements with your carrier before departure.

Population: 10,760,305.

Languages: Portuguese.

Predominant Religions: Christian (Roman Catholic).

Time Zone: Greenwich Mean Time (GMT). Daylight Saving Time is observed from the end of March to the end of October .

Voltage Requirements: 220 volts. 50 Hz. Telephone Codes: 351, country code;

Currency Exchange

Portugal uses the euro. ATMs are the best way to obtain euros. There are ATMs throughout the country, and they are easily identified by the letters “MB” (Multibanco) in blue. All of them accept credit cards, as well as most other bank cards, but you may encounter the odd one that refuses international cards. Always carry bills in denominations smaller than 50 euros because larger bills may be difficult to change.

All banks in Portugal will exchange money, but they will charge you an exchange fee, usually around 5 euros. (Banco Comercial Portugues—BCP—branches allow you to cash American Express traveler’s checks without paying the fee other banks charge.) Some hotels will exchange money for you, and some will claim not to charge any fee—whenever this is the case, the exchange rate will definitely not be favorable.

If you still have escudo bills from a previous visit, you can exchange them at all branches of the Portuguese Central Bank through February 2022. Escudo coins, however, cannot be changed into euros.


The standard value-added tax (IVA) in Portugal is 23% (although some articles carry a 6% or 13% tax). With a little paperwork, non-European Union residents can obtain a tax refund for purchases of more than 60 euros in a single store during a single visit. Refunds usually amount to about 15% of the purchase price.

You need to present three things to the VAT refund officer at the airport before departure to get a refund: the article you purchased, the receipt and a refund form (which must be picked up at the place of purchase). If you don’t have these three things, then your refund will be denied. Note that onlyunused articles are eligible for a refund: If the article looks used, then you won’t get your money back. If everything is in order, the VAT refund officer will give you a final form to be mailed in for your refund. (For your own convenience, see the VAT officer before checking your bags and have your purchases in an easy-to-reach place.)

Some larger stores have a streamlined process: They handle most of the paperwork and then mail the refund to you, sometimes minus a fee. Private VAT refund services, located at the airport, will give you an immediate refund minus a fee, which is usually a percentage of the refund.

If you are traveling to other countries in the European Union, you’ll have to claim your refunds at your final exit point from the EU. In other words, if you’re traveling on to Austria and France and are departing the EU from Paris, you have to claim the VAT refunds from all three countries at the airport in Paris.


Round up the fare to the nearest euro for taxis. Many hotel and restaurant bills include a service charge, and hotel and waitstaff are generally well-paid. There is no need to leave a tip but, if you feel you have had good service, leave one or two euros on the table or give it to the waitstaff. For hotel staff, one or two euros is more than enough for having your bags taken to your room. A similar amount can be left for each day of your stay for the cleaning staff.


Portugal’s climate varies with latitude and is influenced by the Atlantic. The southern coast has a near-Mediterranean climate, but more rain can be expected in the northern part of the country. Our favorite times are May and June, and late September and October, when the weather isn’t too hot for touring (though it can be a bit cool for lying on the beach). Days will be warm with very little rain, and nights definitely require a sweater. In the summer, it can be hot on the beach, and winters are wet, often foggy, windy and really quite uncomfortable on the coast. If you’re going then, plan to spend most of your time inland.

What to Wear

Take light cotton clothes if you’re going on a summer beach holiday on the Algarve. In Lisbon and Oporto, you should dress up when you go out. The north and the mountain areas can get very cool and sometimes rainy, even in summer. Even farther south, summer nights can be cool, so take a light jacket or a sweater. It is considered a lack of respect if your leather shoes are not clean, since shoe shiners are easily found everywhere. And speaking of shoes, many Portuguese towns still have cobblestoned streets, so wear comfortable ones.

For business meetings, dark suits with a tie are de rigueur. Shirts with short sleeves are considered inappropriate, and you should avoid very colorful ties. Many smaller hotels have no heating and can get uncomfortable in colder winters.


All phone numbers in Portugal have nine digits. Every number in Lisbon begins with a 21, followed by seven digits. You must dial all nine digits, even when calling within the city. Toll-free numbers begin with 800. To call abroad, you must dial the international code, which is 00. If you need assistance placing a call, dial 171 and an operator will help you. To place an international collect call, dial 172. For international directory assistance, dial 179.

If you need to find a number within Portugal, you can access a directory by dialing 118. Portugal has three mobile phone companies. They are strong competitors, and calling between networks can be more expensive than a regular call. Mobile numbers begin with 9. Roaming with GSM900/1800 mobile phones works, though roaming with a mobile phone can be expensive and it is probably better to buy a pay-as-you-go SIM for your phone. You can pick one up at various locations in the airport terminal after you arrive. If your phone is incompatible, a pay-as-you-go handset can be purchased cheaply.

Making calls is easy: You can find phone booths that accept phone cards, credit cards or coins throughout the city, although the coin-operated ones are being phased out. You can buy Credifone and Telecom cards at the offices of Portugal Telecom, at post offices, news agents or kiosks. Most cafes and restaurants also provide public phone services, although the price they charge may be up to four times what you would normally pay.

Internet Access

Major Lisbon and Oporto hotels offer wired and wireless Internet access. Portugal Telecom (PT) is the largest service provider for Wi-Fi. There is usually a fee for access. You can get a map of hot spot locations and buy an e-Voucher in the PT shops or online. They cost 2 euros for 30 minutes, 3 euros for one hour, 20 euros for one day or 50 euros for one week. http://www.ptwifi.pt.

There is a steadily expanding network of Wi-Fi hot spots throughout the country at rail and bus stations, garages, airports, cafes and restaurants. Additionally, the government-backed company Espaco Internet has more than 1,000 locations equipped with computers and Internet available free to anyone in Portugal, both residents and travelers. http://www.espacosinternet.pt.

Mail & Package Services

Regular mail sent by Correios de Portugal (Portuguese Postal Service) takes its time, so if you are in a hurry use the much more expensive correio azul (“blue” express service). Post offices are usually open Monday-Friday 9 am-noon and 2:30-6 pm. http://www.ctt.pt.

DHL (http://www.dhl.pt) is a somewhat expensive alternative, but probably more reliable than the postal service, as is Fedex (http://www.fedex.com/pt).

Many shops offer to ship items. The service is usually reliable, but you will need a bit of patience.

Newspapers & Magazines

The Portugal News (http://www.theportugalnews.com) and Algarve Resident (http://www.algarveresident.com) are the two main English-language weeklies. They provide local news coverage, plus entertainment guides and listings.

Additionally, international magazines can be found at most newsstands in Lisbon.


Lisbon Airport (LIS) is located 6 mi/10 km northeast of the city. TAP-Air Portugal is the national carrier, with international service and domestic connections. Flights are also available from mainland Portugal to the various islands in the Azores, as well as between islands, to the Azores and Madeira, and to several European cities. Phone 21-841-3500 for Lisbon Airport inquiries.

Additional Portuguese airports include Porto Airport and Faro Airport (in Algarve). For more information on all airports in Portugal, visit http://www.ana-aeroportos.pt.

Several cruise lines include Lisbon on their itineraries. Local and long-distance trains cross the country. Hotel-train service is available between Lisbon and Madrid. Taxis, buses and (in certain areas) motorbikes can be used to get around. The country is most easily seen by bus, train, rental car (highways are subject to tolls) or an escorted tour.

City tours are offered in Lisbon. Taxis are relatively inexpensive, but if the meter isn’t working, determine the price prior to getting in (extra bags raise the price if you’re taking a taxi from the airport or train station, and a more expensive rate goes into effect after 9 pm on weekdays and on Saturday, Sunday and holidays). The additional fee amounts to 20%.

You might consider buying a Lisboa Card. It allows free, unlimited travel on all public transport in the city including the metro, trams, funiculars, Carris buses and CP train lines. It also includes admission to 26 museums, attractions and historic buildings. It can be purchased from all Turismo de Lisboa booths—you’ll find one at the airport. They can also be ordered online. A 24-hour card costs 17.50 euros adults, 10.50 euros children ages 5-11; 48-hour cards are 29.50 euros adults, 5.50 euros children; 72-hour cards are 36 euros adults, 18.50 euros children. http://www.askmelisboa.com/en/catalog/lisboa-card-0.

For More Information

Tourist Offices

: Turismo de Portugal, Rua Ivone Silva, Lote 6, 1050-124, Lisbon. Phone 21-114-0200. Fax 21-781-0009. http://www.visitportugal.com.

Canada: Portuguese National Tourist Office, 60 Bloor St. W., Suite 1005, Toronto, ON M4W 3B8. Phone 416-921-7376. Fax 416-921-1353.

U.S.: Portuguese National Tourist Office, 590 Fifth Ave., New York, NY 10036. Phone 212-354-4403. Fax 212-764-6137.

Portuguese Embassies

: Embassy of Portugal, 645 Island Park Drive, Ottawa, ON K1Y 0B8. Phone 613-729-0883. Fax  613-729-4236.

U.S.: Embassy of Portugal, 2012 Massachusetts Ave. N.W., Washington, DC 20036. Phone 202-350-5400. Fax 202-462-3726. http://www.embassyportugal-us.org.

Foreign Embassies in Portugal

Canadian Embassy, 198-200 Ave. da Liberdade, Third Floor, 1269-121 Lisbon. Phone 21-316-4600. Fax 21-316-4693. http://www.dfait-maeci.gc.ca/lisbon.

U.S. Embassy, Avenida das Forcas Armadas, Sete-Rios, 1600 Lisbon. Phone 21-727-3300. Fax 21-736-9109. http://portugal.usembassy.gov.

Additional Reading

travel42 Tipster. Portugal’s diverse landscape offers something for everyone. http://www.travel-42.com/tipster/post/2012/02/16/White-sand-beaches-and-wine-tastings-in-Portugal.aspx.