Portugal is a country blessed with stunning beaches, a rugged coastline, cosmopolitan cities, and incredible weather. Throw in great food, plentiful wine, and cheap prices, and it makes for a perfect — and underrated — holiday spot.
I’ve been to Portugal many times over the years and I never tire of it. It’s one of the most unappreciated countries in the world and sees a fraction of the tourists that its neighbors do.
Sure, Lisbon has become a hub for digital nomads, expats, and retirees thanks to its low cost of living. But, in the rest of the country, not much has changed.
Best of all, fewer crowds mean a better, more local experience that won’t break the bank.
This Portugal travel guide can help you plan your trip, save money, and make the most of your visit.
Be sure to have an extra glass of port for me!
Table of Contents
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Top 5 Things to See and Do in Portugal
1. Admire Lisbon
2. Visit Batalha Monastery
3. Explore the Azores
4. Party in Lagos
5. Enjoy Porto
Other Things to See and Do in Portugal
1. Journey to Evora
One of Portugal’s World Heritage sites, Evora is a small town that offers an array of beautiful and historic buildings. Located 90 minutes east of Lisbon, Evora’s most famous landmark is the Temple of Diana, a Roman temple and UNESCO site from the 1st century. But there is also the Praça do Giraldo, the town’s main square, which is a charming spot to people-watch and embrace the local pace of life. This is small-town Portugal at its best.
2. See the Religious Monuments in Braga
Located one hour north of Porto, the beautiful city of Braga boasts numerous Baroque monuments, including one of the country’s best-known sights, the Bom Jesus Sanctuary (a Catholic shrine and pilgrimage site). The old and the new city are connected by the main square, Praça da Republica, which is a great place for a stroll. The city’s cathedral is also very much worth a visit, as it is the country’s oldest (construction started in 1509!).
3. See the Abbey of Santa Maria
The Abbey of Santa Maria is Europe’s largest Cistercian building (the Cistercians are a Catholic order of monks and nuns, founded in 1098). You can wander around the abbey at your leisure to learn more about its cloisters, dormitories, library, and more. The church is free to enter but the monastery costs 6 EUR. You can save money by purchasing a combo ticket to the Convent of Christ in Tomar and the Batalha Monastery for 15 EUR.
4. Head to Sintra
Lord Byron, an English poet writing in the 18th century, said that Sintra was “perhaps in every respect the most delightful in Europe.” If you are visiting Lisbon, you should definitely make an effort to come here to see its palaces, wonderful views, and museum collections. It’s one of the most beautiful places in the entire country. The train takes about 40 minutes and costs 2-4 EUR.
5. 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 (they were a Catholic military order founded in 1118 that fought in the Crusades). The castle, a UNESCO World Heritage Site, was an important defensive stronghold against the encroaching Moors. Admission is 6 EUR.
6. Hit the water
Aveiro, located 72km (45mi) south of Porto, lies on what’s known as the Silver Coast. This small university town has a historic center built on canals, giving rise to its nickname “the Venice of Portugal.” The winds here create good opportunities for windsurfing and surfing too. You can rent surfboards for as little as 10 EUR per day, while kitesurfing and windsurfing rentals cost 40-60 EUR. If you want lessons, most two-day courses cost around 120 EUR.
7. Get lost in Coimbra
Another university city, Coimbra is located between Lisbon and Portugal and is home to one of the world’s oldest universities (the university was founded in 1290 and moved to Coimbra in 1537). There is a famous and beautiful old library that you can tour, but the real thing to do in Coimbra is just wander through its many historic streets. There are plenty of churches and gardens to take in as you stroll around soaking up the history.
8. Attend a Fado performance
Fado is an important Portuguese musical tradition, stretching back some 200 years. It’s very haunting and emotional music; most of the songs follow themes of loss and mourning. The music was popular with the working class (especially sailors). Performances normally take place in restaurants during dinner.
9. Check out Faro
Faro is a common starting point for tours of the Algarve region, a southern region brimming with great beaches, tasty 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 explore the coast. Don’t miss the cathedral and the municipal museum to learn more about the city.
10. Stand at the edge of Europe
Cape Sagres is the most southwestern point on the European continent. It was here that Henry the Navigator, one of Portugal’s most revered figures during its empire, had his famous navigation school. He was one of the central figures to kick start the Age of Discovery in the 15th century that put Portugal on the map (literally).
11. Try a Pastéis de nata
This pastry is a Portuguese staple. You’ll find these delicious custard-filled tarts at every bakery. They’re a must for an authentic food experience and just cost around 1 EUR.
12. Walk the Templar Stairs
Located in Sintra, Quinta da Regaleira is a UNESCO World Heritage site composed of several historic buildings, including a huge palace and chapel. But the highlight is the Initiation Wells, two massive wells that stretch far underground. They were built by the Templars for their initiation rituals. Would-be knights would have to travel down a winding staircase into the massive wells blindfolded and navigate a labyrinth before coming back to the light. Today, you can tour the wells and explore them yourself. Admission is 10 EUR.
13. Hike the Camino
The Camino Portugues (The Portuguese Way) is a pilgrimage trail that stretches from Lisbon to Santiago de Compostela in Spain. It’s the second most popular Camino, after the main French Way, though it sees a fraction of pilgrims compared to the main route. Most hikers start in Porto, with the 280km (173mi) journey taking around 10-14 days.
For more information on other destinations in Portugal, check out these guides:
Portugal Travel Costs
Accommodation – Overall, you’ll find accommodation very affordable in Portugal, especially if you are staying in hostels. A dorm bed in a hostel starts at 10-20 EUR per night for dorms with 8-10 beds. For a private room in a hostel, costs range from 40-90 EUR per night.
For those traveling with a tent, camping is available around the country for 10-15 EUR per night for a basic tent plot without electricity.
A room in a two-star budget hotel costs between 40-75 EUR per night. Expect basic amenities like free Wi-Fi and TV. Free breakfast is sometimes included as well.
On Airbnb, private rooms start at 30-50 EUR per night while entire homes/apartments average double that.
Food – Fish and seafood form the backbone of Portuguese cuisine (Portugal eats the most seafood per capita in Europe). Cod, sardinhas assadas (grilled sardines), sea bass, and shellfish are some of the most common staples. Other popular dishes include Cozido à portuguesa (boiled stew), Peixinhos da horta (breaded and fried vegetables), and cured ham. Be sure to also try the prego (beef sandwich) or the bifana (pork sandwich). You can find them at local cafes for just 5 EUR.
You can find snacks in bakeries for 2 EUR or less, light meals and sandwiches for around 8 EUR, and fast food for around the same price.
If you want three-course meal with drinks, you’re looking at spending closer to 20 EUR. After that, the sky is the limit!
For a casual restaurant meal, expect to pay around 10 EUR with a drink.
Beer is around 3 EUR while a latte/cappuccino costs around 2.50 EUR. Bottled water is less than 1 EUR.
If you’re cooking, groceries cost around 30-35 EUR for a week’s worth of food. This includes staples like pasta, rice, produce, and some meat or seafood.
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 day tour. Kayak and surfboard rentals range from 10-25 EUR per day. Bike rentals cost around 15 EUR per day.
Backpacking Portugal Suggested Budgets
On a backpacker budget, you can visit Portugal for 40 EUR per day. On this budget, you’ll be staying in a dorm room, cooking all your meals, limiting your drinking, using public transportation to get around, and sticking to free activities like free walking tours and enjoying the beaches. If you plan on drinking, add 5-10 EUR per day to your budget.
On a mid-range budget of 110 EUR per day, you’ll stay in a private Airbnb or private hostel room, eat at cheap local restaurants and cook some meals, use public transportation and take the occasional taxi, take the train between cities, enjoy some drinks at the bar, and do some paid activities like visiting museums or taking a wine tour.
On a “luxury” budget of 210 EUR or more a day, you can stay in a hotel, eat out for every meal, drink what you want, rent a car, and visit as many museums and attractions as you’d like. This is just the ground floor for luxury though — you can easily spend more if you really want to splash out!
You can use the chart below to get some idea of how much you need to budget daily, depending on your travel style. Keep in mind these are daily averages — some days you’ll spend more, some days you’ll spend less (you might spend less every day). We just want to give you a general idea of how to make your budget. Prices are in EUR.
Portugal Travel Guide: 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. Here are a few more ways to save money in Portugal:
- Look for free museum visits – Some museums are free on Sundays. Check with the local tourism board or the museum’s website for more information on free/discounted hours.
- Skip the taxis – Taxis add up so if you’re on a budget, skip the taxis and 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 may be brought to your table before your meal. These aren’t free, so just say no if you’re on a budget.
- Stay at a pensão – These family-run inns offer decent lodgings for very little money and are a great alternative to hotels.
- Get a tourist card – Certain cities, like Porto and Lisbon, offer tourist cards which provide unlimited access to public transportation (normally for one, two, or three days) and free or discounted access to museums and monuments. If you plan to see lots of sites, be sure to go to the local tourism office and pick up one of these cards!
- Stay with a local – If you plan ahead, you can usually find Couchsurfing hosts all throughout the country. This way, you not only have a free place to stay but you can connect with a local who can share their insider tips and advice
- Cook your meals – Restaurants here are cheap, but eating out all the time adds up. Visit the local market to stock up on groceries and cook a few meals. You’ll save a ton!
- Bring a water bottle – The tap water here is safe to drink so bring a reusable water bottle to save money and reduce your plastic use. LifeStraw is my go-to brand as their bottles have built-in filters to ensure your water is always clean and safe.
Where to Stay in Portugal
Budget accommodation is plentiful in Portugal. Here are my suggested places to stay:
How to Get Around Portugal
Public Transportation – The larger cities like Porto and Lisbon have comprehensive public transit, including trains, trams, and buses. Tickets cost 1.20-1.50 EUR, depending on the city. In smaller communities, people generally use the public bus, and fares cost about the same.
Trains – Portugal has a great rail system. Tickets are affordable, with a ride from Porto to Lisbon costing 25-30 EUR. Even the high-speed rail is affordable (unlike in many other European countries); it’s about the same price between Porto and Lisbon as the regular train. A train trip between Braga (in the far north) to Faro (at the southern tip) costs between 40-50 EUR for both high-speed and regular rail options.
Buses – Buses are the cheapest way to explore, and they’re also not super time-consuming since Portugal isn’t a huge country. A cross-country bus from Lisbon to Lagos costs between 15-20 EUR, while an eight-hour journey from Braga to Faro costs around 30 EUR.
Lisbon is the main spot for Flixbus routes. It’s the best line to take you out of Portugal and into the rest of Europe. To head into Spain, a bus or train to Madrid costs around 45 EUR.
Taxis – Taxis start at 3.50 EUR and go up by about .50 EUR per kilometer. Skip them if you can as they add up fast!
Ridesharing – Uber is available in Portugal’s larger cities but it’s not much cheaper than the taxis. I’d skip it if you’re on a budget.
Bicycle – Locals like to get around by bike and bike rentals are available in all the major cities. You can rent a basic city bike for around 15 EUR per day.
Car Rental – Car rentals cost as little as 15-25 EUR per day for a multi-day rental. It’s a super affordable way to explore if you have someone to split the cost with (especially in the Azores).
Budget Airlines – Flying is the best way to get to the islands. A flight from Lisbon to the Azores costs as little as 30 EUR, while Lisbon to Madeira Island starts at about 35 EUR. TAP Air is Portugal’s official airline, but other budget airlines like Ryanair and EasyJet also service Portugal.
When to Go to Portugal
Peak season in Portugal is during the summer months of June-August. Temperatures hover around 23°C (74°F) and popular destinations like Porto and Lisbon experience an influx of visitors. Prices increase during this time as well. But the overall atmosphere and weather are great, so it’s still worth visiting during peak season.
Personally, I think the best time to visit Portugal is shoulder season in the spring and fall (April-May and September-October). Temperatures range from 18-22°C (65-71°F) so it’s still warm enough to explore and enjoy the outdoors. There aren’t as many crowds and prices are cheaper, making it an ideal time for budget travelers.
Winter is from November to February. It gets cold, and tourist crowds thin out considerably. Temperatures vary quite a bit from place to place, but overall, the temperature averages around 12°C (53°F). I’d avoid visiting in the winter if you can, however, if you’re on the continent already Portugal is one of the warmer places to spend the winter.
How to Stay Safe in Portugal
Portugal is very safe for backpacking and solo travel as violent attacks are uncommon. Pickpocketing is the most common crime and can occur in touristy areas and on public transportation. Be aware of your surroundings when you’re in markets, on busy streets, or when using the metro. Always keep your valuables secure and out of sight just to be safe.
When out at the bar, never leave your drink unattended. Also, never walk home alone at night if intoxicated.
Drugs here have been decriminalized, but it’s still best to avoid them. If approached and offered drugs, always politely decline and continue on your way.
You won’t find a lot of travel scams in the country but read this article on common travel scams to avoid just to be safe.
If you experience an emergency, dial 112 for assistance.
Remember: always trust your gut instinct. If a taxi driver seems shady, stop the cab and get out. If your hotel is seedier than you thought, get out of there. You have every right to remove yourself from the situation. Make copies of your personal documents, including your passport and ID. Forward your itinerary along to loved ones so they’ll know where you are.
If you wouldn’t do it at home, don’t do it in Portugal!
The most important piece of advice I can offer is to purchase good travel insurance. Travel insurance will protect you against illness, injury, theft, and cancellations. It’s comprehensive protection in case anything goes wrong. I never go on a trip without it as I’ve had to use it many times in the past. You can use the widget below to find the policy right for you:
Portugal Travel Guide: The Best Booking Resources
These are my favorite companies to use when I travel to Portugal. They are included here because they consistently find deals, offer world-class customer service and great value, and overall, are better than their competitors. They are the ones I use the most and are always the starting points in my search for travel deals.
- Skyscanner – Skyscanner is my favorite flight search engine. They search small websites and budget airlines that larger search sites tend to miss. They are hands down the number one place to start.
- Momondo – This is my other favorite flight search engine because they search such a wide variety of sites and airlines. I never book a flight without checking here too.
- Airbnb – Airbnb is a great accommodation alternative for connecting with homeowners who rent out their homes or apartments.
- Hostelworld – This is the best hostel accommodation site out there, with the largest inventory, best search interface, and widest availability.
- Couchsurfing – This website allows you to stay on people’s couches or in their spare rooms for free. It’s a great way to save money while meeting locals who can share the ins and outs of their city. The site also lists events you can attend to meet people (even if you’re not staying with someone).
- Booking.com – The best all-around booking site that constantly provides the cheapest and lowest rates. They have a no money down policy, a great user interface, and the widest selection of budget accommodation. In all my tests, they’ve always had the cheapest rates out of all the booking websites.
- Intrepid Travel – If you want to do a group tour around Europe, go with Intrepid Travel. They offer good small group tours that use local operators and leave a small environmental footprint. If you go on a tour with anyone, go with them. And, as a reader of this site, you’ll get a discount when you click the link!
- The Man in Seat 61 – This website is the ultimate guide to train travel anywhere in the world. They have the most comprehensive information on routes, times, prices, and train conditions. If you are planning a long train journey or some epic train trip, consult this site.
- Rome2Rio – This website allows you to see how to get from point A to point B in the best and cheapest way possible. It gives you all the bus, train, plane, and boat routes that can get you there as well as how much they cost.
- BlaBlaCar – BlaBlaCar is a ridesharing website that lets you share rides with vetted local drivers by paying a small fee. You simply request a seat, they approve, and off you go! It’s a cheaper and more interesting way to travel than by bus or train!
- World Nomads – I buy all my travel insurance from World Nomads. They have great customer service, competitive prices, and in-depth coverage. I’ve been using them since I started traveling in 2003. Don’t leave home without it!
Portugal Gear and Packing Guide
If you’re heading on the road and need some gear suggestions, here are my tips for the best travel backpack and for what to pack!
The Best Backpack for Travelers
Straps: Thick and cushy with compression technology that pulls the pack’s load up and inwards so it doesn’t feel as heavy.
Features: Removable top lid, large pocket at the front, hydration compatible, contoured hip belt
If you want something different, refer to my article on how to choose the best travel backpack for tips on picking a pack and other backpack suggestions.
What to Pack for Your Trip
- 1 pair of jeans (heavy and not easily dried, but I like them; a good alternative is khaki pants)
- 1 pair of shorts
- 1 bathing suit
- 5 T-shirts (Unbound Merino is my preferred company. If you’re a member of NM+, you can get 15% off your purchase)
- 1 long-sleeved T-shirt
- 1 pair of flip-flops
- 1 pair of sneakers
- 6 pairs of socks (I always end up losing half)
- 5 pairs of boxer shorts (I’m not a briefs guy!)
- 1 toothbrush
- 1 tube of toothpaste
- 1 razor
- 1 package of dental floss
- 1 small bottle of shampoo
- 1 small bottle of shower gel
- 1 towel
Small Medical Kit (safety is important!!!)
- Hydrocortisone cream
- Antibacterial cream
- Hand sanitizer (germs = sick = bad holiday)
- A key or combination lock (safety first)
- Zip-lock bags (keeps things from leaking or exploding)
- Plastic bags (great for laundry)
- Universal charger/adaptor (this applies to everyone)
- LifeStraw (A water bottle with a purifier)
Female Travel Packing List
I’m not a woman, so I don’t know what a woman wears, but Kristin Addis, our solo female travel guru, wrote this list as an addition to the basics above:
- 1 swimsuit
- 1 sarong
- 1 pair of stretchy jeans (they wash and dry easily)
- 1 pair of leggings (if it’s cold, they can go under your jeans, otherwise with a dress or shirt)
- 2-3 long-sleeve tops
- 2-3 T-shirts
- 3-4 spaghetti tops
- 1 light cardigan
- 1 dry shampoo spray & talc powder (keeps long hair grease-free in between washes)
- 1 hairbrush
- Makeup you use
- Hair bands & hair clips
- Feminine hygiene products (you can opt to buy there too, but I prefer not to count on it, and most people have their preferred products)
For more on packing, check out these posts:
Portugal Travel Guide: Suggested Reading
The High Mountains of Portugal, by Yann Martel
It’s 1904, and a young man named Tomás has discovered an old journal. It hints at an extraordinary artifact that could redefine history. Hopping aboard one of Europe’s earliest automobiles, he goes in search of this new treasure. Thirty-five years later, a Portuguese pathologist also finds himself in the middle of his own mystery — and the consequences of Tomás’ mission. Fifty years after that, a Canadian senator returns to his ancestral village in Northern Portugal where the century-old quest comes to its conclusion. This is a masterful story that reads like a fable but will keep you hooked the whole way through.
The History of the Siege of Lisbon, by Jose Saramago
Jose Saramago is such a literary icon in Portugal that, when he died in 2010, the country initiated two days of mourning. It’d be wrong to not include him in a list of books about Portugal! Here, a proofreader’s deliberate slip changes one singular word in the history of the siege of Lisbon — and thus rewrites the course of the 1147 Siege of Lisbon’s history (as well as the proofreader’s own life). It’s a genius story about the differences between historiography and historical fiction, and what happens when you insert stories into the past.
The Book of Disquiet, by Fernando Pessoa
Fernando Pessoa was another prolific Portuguese writer, and when he died he left behind a full trunk of unfinished and unpublished writings. The Book of Disquiet is his posthumous masterpiece. It’s a collection of short paragraphs making up the biography of Bernardo Soares, one of Pessoa’s “alternate selves.” It’s an intimate piece of descriptive narrative, and it’s considered one of the greatest works of the 20th century.
300 Days of Sun, by Deborah Lawrenson
Set in a sunny Portuguese town, this book is about two women who are drawn into a game of truths and lies. Journalist Joanna Millard travels to Faro to escape her stalled career and directionless relationship, and it’s there she meets a charming young man named Nathan Emberlin. Over the course of getting to know Faro and its sometimes-shady underbelly, Joanna learns that Nathan is determined to discover the truth about a child’s kidnapping from two decades before. The search leads her to a novel written by an American author where Joanna discovers that fiction and reality are often not all that different. It’s a thrilling read!
Portugal Travel Guide: Related Articles
Want more info? Check out all the articles I’ve written on Portugal travel and continue planning your trip: