Portugal is tucked between Spain and the Atlantic Ocean. The Tagus River splits the country into north and south, flowing from Spain and into Lisbon before spilling into the ocean. Much of the land north of the Tagus is mountainous with river valleys while land to the south consists of softly rolling hills and plains. The Serra da Estrela range rises in the northeast, with its highest point at 6,539 feet while the southern Algarve features dramatic rock formations along a scenic coast. Two archipelagos in the Atlantic Ocean, the Madeira Islands ant the Azores, also fall under Portugal’s flag.
The Portuguese cling to age-old traditions, as evidenced in the beautiful azulejo tiles that adorn its cities and villages, its many fado music venues and its deeply rustic heritage and cuisine. Portugal is a semi-presidential constitutional republic. The capital city is Lisbon.
The official language of Portugal is Portuguese. While knowledge of the local language is not necessary, you may want to learn some fun and useful phrases to use during your walking tour. The effort seldom goes unappreciated and by trying some greetings and salutations with a smile, your interactions are likely to grow into rewarding exchanges. See bbc.co.uk/languages/portuguese for helpful hints. Country Walkers also recommends a phrase book or two in our Reading Guide that you’ll receive after you reserve.
Shopping and banking hours: Shops and stores are generally open Monday to Friday, opening between 9:00 a.m. and 10:00 a.m. and closing at 7:00 p.m. Some shopping malls are open 7 days a week from 10:00 a.m. midnight. Banks are open from 8:30 a.m. to 3:00 p.m., Monday to Friday.
Meal times: Breakfast is served at hotels from 8:00 a.m. to 10:00 a.m. In restaurants, lunch is between 12:00 p.m. and 3:00 p.m., and dinner is usually served from 7:30 p.m. to 11:00 p.m.
Tipping: Tipping in restaurants and bars is included in the total bill, but it is customary to leave an additional 5 to 10 percent of the total. Taxi drivers aren’t generally tipped, but you could round up the total, letting the driver keep the change. For luggage assistance, a small tip of one euro per piece of luggage is appropriate.
Portugal public holidays: Portugal’s public holidays, festivals, or calendars of events may affect your travel planning. For details, visit the tourist board’s website to view a public holiday list.
Rustic and Mediterranean in origin, Portuguese cuisine has long depended on rural farming and the bounties of the Atlantic Ocean. Seasonal produce, meats and fish form the foundation of diets here – and in the case of bacalhau, or salted cod, history has played a role as salt has preserved this plentiful fish for centuries. Yet even in a small country such as this, cuisine varies by region.
In the south, excellent tuna, cod, clams and sardines can be found in most every dining establishment. Farms provide the meat from goat, lamb and acorn-fed pig; either of these may be added to hearty stews made with local wine. The tightly sealed cataplana pot locks in flavourful juices and there’s always ample bread on hand to sop them up. Northern Portugal is the proud creator of many dishes that now have national acclaim, including caldo verde, a flavourful kale-based soup. Salmon from local rivers is popular, perhaps spiced with cumin, as is the smooth cheese known as Monte. Cured meats appear on many tables, too, and the region’s most addictive snacks are its pastéis de bacalhau, salt cod cakes eaten hot or cold. Central Portugal’s kitchens seem to take the best from the north and south and add their own flairs. From shellfish to suckling pig, from eel stew to lamb, preparations feature red wines and warm spices such as paprika and may be accompanied by local goat cheeses.
When the British began their love affair with Portuguese wine in the 17th century, they soon discovered that they needed to add brandy to their favorite vintages to prevent them from spoiling. Little did they know they were inventing the strong and sweet wine that would come to be known as “port.” Today, grapes for port wine are grown throughout Portugal, but nowhere more than in the Douro River Valley, from where they are shipped downriver to be fortified in one of Porto’s port lodges. Aside from port, the country grows grapes that produce many other wonderful wines, from the spicy and complex trincadeira red to the light and fresh vinho verde white. From the banks of the Minho River in the north to the central Tagus to the rolling hills of the Alentejo, Portugal stands strong among Europe’s best wine producers.
One of Europe’s warmest and sunniest countries, Portugal has a predominantly warm climate, with dry summers and pleasant temperatures in spring and fall. However, it has a variety of climates as its geography rises from the Atlantic into the mountains, then evens out into plains or valleys that stretch to Spain. In the Alentejo region, for instance, the combination of Atlantic sea breezes and mountainous terrain results in varying summertime temperatures in the 60s on the coast and hovering around 100 inland. A similar dynamic plays out farther north, with the coastal city of Porto enjoying milder temperatures and the inland destinations farther up the Douro River and in the valleys of the Minho province getting much warmer.
U.S. citizens: Passports are required. Visas are not required for stays of 90 days or less; however, you must show proof of onward travel (your return airline ticket). For more information, visit the U.S. State Department’s website.
Portugal uses the euro (EUR). As of December 2016, 1 USD = 0.94 EUR. Exchange rates can vary greatly month to month, so we recommend you visit oanda.com for the latest.
Many businesses in Europe will no longer accept credit cards without PIN numbers (chip and pin cards). Contact your bank or your credit-card company for details on fees and card use when traveling, and to inform them of your travel destination and dates so they do not freeze your accounts when they see charges appear from a foreign country.
We recommend having a variety of payment options readily available to help you start your trip: ATM card(s), credit card(s), some U.S. dollars to exchange, and some euros in small denominations.
No immunizations are required to enter Portugal. Requirements and recommendations change frequently, so always check directly with the Centers for Disease Control (800-232-4636), a travel clinic, and/or your personal physician for the most current information. Plan ahead for immunizations, as some require administration several months prior to departure.
Electricity: Alternating current of 230V and 50Hz is used in Portugal. Plugs have two round pins. Find a full listing of electrical outlets here. If you are bringing your own hair dryer or other electrical device, you will need a travel converter, available at most hardware, travel, or consumer electronic stores. For laptops or an electronic device with a dual voltage switch, you will only need the adapter plug, not the converter.
Phone: Portugal’s country code is “+35.” Cell phone coverage throughout Portugal is extensive, but we cannot guarantee adequate signals on all American phone models or while on walking trails or in remote areas. For more information regarding international phone use, follow this link.
Internet: Internet access is generally very good in towns and villages; however, all of the hotels used on our tours do not necessarily provide it, or they provide it at an additional cost. Details regarding Wi-Fi availability in each hotel are available in the Itinerary Overview that you’ll receive once you’ve reserved.
Portugal is in the Greenwich Mean Time Zone, Eastern Standard Time plus 5 hours. You can follow this link for more information on worldwide time zones.
There are several international airports throughout Portugal. An extensive domestic flight network can help you make connections with all Portugal’s cities and major towns.
International Airports in Portugal
- Beja Airport
- Faro Airport
- Madeira Airport
- Porto Santo Airport
- Lisbon Portela Airport
- Francisco Sá Carneiro Airport (Porto)
- João Paulo II Airport (Ponta Delgada)
- Terceira Airport
Comboios de Portugal: (Portugal’s state-run rail company). You may book your train travel directly with them. Or, if you plan to travel for longer periods, consider Rail Europe, a U.S.-based company that provides schedules, reservations, and ticketing for all European train networks. Their multi-day, -week or -month passes in one country or combinations of countries may be a more economical and convenient choice. For more information, go to raileurope.com or call 800.622.8600.
Other local transportation
In addition to rail and airline networks, Portugal also has many regional bus lines that can be found here. Most major car rental agencies are available at airports and train stations. Taxis are available at all major airports, train stations, and in smaller towns, and can be reserved in advance (your hotel can usually provide assistance). For more information, visit this page.