Portugal is a country blessed with excellent sandy beaches, rugged coastline, cosmopolitan and architecturally-stunning cities, and incredible weather. Throw in great food, lots of wine, and cheap prices, and it makes for a perfect holiday spot. Because it’s on the tip of Europe and isn’t as centrally-connected as other countries not a lot of people visit this very, very underrated country. But fewer crowds means a better, more local experience for you. I’ve been to Portugal many times and I never tire of it. It is one of the most underrated countries in the world. There is a vibrancy to life here that is infectious. Everyone is happy and friendly, the food is delicious, and the weather is always amazing. It’s hard not to be happy in this country!
Accommodation – Overall, you’ll find accommodation very affordable in Portugal, especially if you are staying in hostels. Most dorm rooms average 10 EUR per night. Private rooms at hostels cost around 40 EUR in a hostel. A double room in a hotel begins at 35 EUR for a cheap, 2-star hotel. Shared rooms through Airbnb cost around 16 EUR per night, while entire homes average about 42 EUR per night. You also could couchsurf or stay at a pensão (family-run inns) to save money.
Food – You can find snacks in bakeries for around 2 EUR, light meals and sandwiches for around 7 EUR, and fast food for around the the same price. If you want sit-down meal with drinks, you’re looking at spending closer to around 18-20 EUR per meal. After that, the sky is the limit. However, you can find some great bargains. I once had a full meal with wine for 13 EUR! If you’re cooking, groceries will cost around 30-35 EUR for a week’s worth of food that includes items like pasta, vegetables, chicken, and other basic food stuffs.
Transportation – A city metro ticket will generally start from 1.50 EUR. Intercity trains and buses are inexpensive. For example, the train and bus between Porto and Lisbon costs around 20-40 EUR. A cross-country bus from Lisbon to Lagos will cost between 20-42 EUR. To head into Spain, a bus or train to Madrid costs around 50 EUR. A taxi in one of Portugal’s cities should cost no more than 12 EUR Cycling is quite popular around the country, and bike rentals are available in all the major cities. Prices start around 14 EUR per day for a basic bicycle.
Activities – Activities aren’t that expensive in Portugal. Museums and UNESCO sites charge between 6-11 EUR entrance fees.Wine tours are about 50 EUR for a whole day tour. Most museums are closed on Mondays and have shorter hours in the winter.
Suggested daily budget – 35-45 EUR / 36-47 USD (Note: This is a suggested budget assuming you’re staying in a hostel, eating out at the cheaper restaurants and markets, cooking some of your meals, and using local transportation. Using the budget tips below, you can always lower this number but, if you stay in fancier accommodation or eat out more often, expect your budget to be higher!)
Money Saving Tips
For the most part, Portugal is an incredibly affordable destination. Food, accommodation, wine – it’s all very cheap, especially when compared to other EU countries. As long as you’re not splurging on a ton of booze or eating at the overpriced tourist restaurants, you’ll find it easy to save big while still enjoying yourself.
- Free museum visits – Most museums are free on Sundays.
- Skip the taxis – Taxis are super expensive in Portugal, often adding fees for luggage and airport pick ups. Simply use the metro or bus system to go where you need to.
- Say “no” to bread – When eating out, a selection of bread and olives will be brought to your table before your meal. These aren’t free, so just say no!
- Stay at a pensão – These family-run inns offer excellent lodgings for very little money and are a great alternative to hotels.
- Couchsurf – If you plan ahead, you can usually find really nice Couchsurfing hosts all throughout the country. This way, you not only have a place to stay, but you’ll have a local host that can tell you the best places to go and things to see.
Top Things to See and Do in Portugal
- Be amazed by Lisbon – Portugal’s capital is a gem of a city. It’s a city I instantly fell in love with when I visited. It’s got mystique, history, beautiful and friendly locals, and great food. It is compact so it is easier than other cities walk around. Take a trip to the Castle of St Jorge. Explore the churches. Listen to Fado. Eat the food. Enjoy life. The first time I visited here, I came for a few days and spent a week. This is one of the most amazing cities in Europe and I urge you not breeze through the city!
- Visit Batalha – Built in 1388 and protected as a World Heritage Monument, Batalha is one of Europe’s greatest Gothic masterpieces and is a popular day trip from Lisbon. On walking through the gigantic and impressive gothic doorway, you’ll see that the interior of the church features 16th-century stained-glass windows. The building has seven chapels that are unfinished and therefore roofless. It takes about 3 hours and costs 10-23 EUR to get there by bus from Lisbon. Admission is 6 EUR (it’s free the first Sunday of each month before noon). It’s open daily from 9am and closes at 5:30pm in the winter and 6:30pm in the summer.
- Wander the Abbey of Santa Maria – The Abbey of Santa Maria is Europe’s largest building of the Cistercian order. You can wander around the abbey at your leisure and find out more about the different parts of the building: its five cloisters, seven dormitories, a library, and huge kitchen. The church is free to enter but the monastery costs 6 EUR. You can save money by purchasing a combo ticket to Tomar and Batalha for 15 EUR. It’s open daily 9am-5pm and is open 30 minutes longer in the winter.
- Journey to Evora – Another one of Portugal’s World Heritage sites is Evora, a small town that offers an array of beautiful and historic buildings. Its most famous landmark is the Temple of Diana but there is also the Praça do Giraldo, the town’s main square. This is small-town Portugal at its best.
- Kick back on the Azores islands – These nine islands lie about 930 miles from Lisbon (a two-hour flight) in the Atlantic Ocean. Each of the islands offer a peaceful and slow-paced way of life, unique wildlife, and stunning beaches. These islands are very off the beaten track and a good “out of the way” place to go.
- See the Religious Monuments in Braga – The beautiful city of Braga provides many Baroque monuments, including one of the country’s best-known sights, the Bom Jesus Sanctuary. The old and the new city are connected by the main square, Praça da Republica. The city’s cathedral is also very much worth a visit, as it is the country’s oldest!
- Party in Lagos – Lagos, a small town on the Algarve is the place people go to party rather than see historic sites or sit in pretty squares. It is an excellent place to soak up the sun and truly relax on the beaches and then go out for dinner and on to a bar. During the summer months, this is one of Europe’s premier party destinations with young travelers coming here to take part in bar crawls that last until the morning.
- Head to Sintra – Lord Byron, writing in the 18th century, said that the town was “perhaps in every respect the most delightful in Europe.” If you are visiting Lisbon you should definitely make an effort to come here with its palaces, wonderful views, and museum collections. The train takes about 40 minutes and costs 2-4 EUR.
- Sample Port in Porto – Porto is where the world famous port wine orginates so take the opportunity to visit Cais De Gaia’s port wine cellars as well as taking in some of the cities beautiful architecture by renowned architects before taking a stroll along the port to admire the boats. For even more wine, visit the surrounding Duoro Valley and its many vineyard. I spent a boozy week traveling through the region.
- Learn about the Knights Templar in Tomar – The big attraction in the town of Tomar is the Templar Castle and Convent of Christ on the hill. It was the headquarters for the Knights Templar in the 12th century and contains one of the country’s most impressive monuments, the Convent of Christ.
- Get in your watersports – Aveiro, around 45 miles south of Porto, lies on what’s known as the silver coast. This is a small university town, and part of the historic center is built on canals, giving rise to the name “the Venice of Portugal.” The winds here create good opportunities for windsurfing and surfing.
- Lose yourself in Coimbra – Another university city, Coimbra is home to the world’s ninth-oldest campus. There is a famous, beautiful old library that you can tour, but the real thing to do in Coimbra is just to wander through the many old streets. There are many churches and gardens to visit. Tuesdays and Thursdays are the student party nights here.
- Attend a Fado Performance – Whether in Lisbon or somewhere else, you shouldn’t leave Portugal without getting a sense of the country’s musical culture. Fado is a very important Portuguese tradition, with at least 200 years of history. It’s very haunting and emotional music, sung by an individual. Most of the songs follow a theme of loss and mourning. Performances normally take place in restaurants during dinner.
- Check out Faro – Faro is a common starting point for tours of the Algarve region, which is an area full of great beaches, seafood, and plenty of tourists. Faro itself isn’t a beach city, but has a lovely old town and is a great place to spend a day before you hit the real resort areas.
- Stand at the edge of Europe – Cape Sagres is the most southwestern point on the European continent. It was here that Henry the Navigator had his famous navigation school, which gave birth to the careers of some of the most famous explorers in history.
- Try a Pastéis de nata – This pastry is a Portuguese staple and you’ll find these delicious custard-filled tarts at any bakery. They’re a must for an authentic food experience.