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!
Top 5 Things to See and Do in Portugal
1. Be amazed by Lisbon
2. Visit Batalha
3. Kick back on the Azores islands
4. Party in Lagos
5. Enjoy Porto
Other Things to See and Do
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1. 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.
2. 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!
3. 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.
4. 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.
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 and contains one of the country’s most impressive monuments, the Convent of Christ.
6. 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.
7. 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.
8. 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.
9. 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.
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 had his famous navigation school, which gave birth to the careers of some of the most famous explorers in history.
11. 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.
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.
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