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PORTUGAL TRAVEL GUIDE
Hello, my name is Gwen, and here is my Portugal travel guide for solo travel over 40, including budget, safety/female and eco-travel tips, photographs and interesting posts for your Portugal travel planning.
BEM VINDO A PORTUGAL!
Portugal – the oldest country in Europe is the home to one of largest running and reaching empires in history; the official language of nine countries; the world’s top port (Vinho do Porto) production and cork production; wine; cheese; the largest artificial underwater park; Pintta shoes; great surfing and beautiful beaches; Bobbin lace; Ferdinand Magellan; Vasco da Gama; Cristiano Ronaldo; José Saramago; Carmen Miranda; and, a world-class city and capital, Lisbon.
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LANGUAGES IN PORTUGAL
The official language is Portuguese. Other languages in Portugal that can be heard are Mirandese, Spanish and Calão, depending on the region.
How's Your Portuguese?
Brush up on your Portuguese before your trip to Portugal.
Located in the Iberian Peninsula of Southwestern Europe, bordered by Spain and the Atlantic Ocean, civilization in Portugal goes back 400,000 years. Throughout time it has been invaded by the Roman Empire and the Islamic Umayyad Caliphate. It was in a dynastic union with Spain. It experienced military coups in 1926 and 1974 when, ultimately, it underwent democratic reforms, and in 1975, Portugal granted independence to its African colonies.
Today, Portugal holds a homogeneous Mediterranean society with the influence of African cultures. It also holds recent immigrants from Eastern Europe. The Portuguese Republic is made up of four sovereignty bodies, including the democratically elected government, the President, the Assembly, and the courts. Portugal’s political party system has been dominated by the Socialist and Social Democratic parties since 1975.
Portugal has a healthy education system where education is compulsory and free for children to age 18 – through both public and private school offerings – with university and polytechnic education costing only 1.3 times the minimum national wage rate.
The Portuguese enjoy a national health care system (NHS) that is free to those under 18 and over 65. Private health insurance can be purchased voluntarily.
The Portuguese are considered traditional and conservative people who deal with each other with a sense of formality and politeness. They take pride in appearance in themselves, their homes, and their cities. They respect hierarchical statuses such as age and position within business, government, religion and within the family, and use titles when addressing or greeting each other. Greetings can be formal with a handshake and eye contact but may become more relaxed with a hug and/or kiss through personal familiarity. When invited to a home it is customary to be punctual, but tardiness is considered OK when going to a party. It is recommended to research what gifts to bring at a particular event.
The Portuguese place high value on a strong family structure with mutual support within close extended families, and nepotism is a positive value implying trust on those they know. The majority of Portuguese (81%) identify as Roman Catholic with the remaining population about equally distributed amongst Protestant Christian, agnostic or atheist.
Portuguese cuisine comes mostly from its Mediterranean influence and is known for its seafood and spices, such as piri piri (chili peppers), black pepper, vanilla, saffron and cinnamon. Garlic, olive oil, bay leaf and parsley are also widely used in dishes.
A typical Portuguese breakfast could consist of a combination of fresh bread, ham, cheese, jam and butter, cereal, pastries, yogurt and fruit served with tea, coffee or espresso (bica), milk and hot chocolate. Lunch and dinners could consist of a soup (meat or vegan) with a combination of a fish, pork, rice, potato, vegetable and/or salad.
Cod is the most widely consumed fish in Portugal with a fishing industry dating to the 15thcentury. Other popular fish include, but are not limited to, sardines, squid, octopus, cuttlefish, shrimp, crab, lobster, sea bass, mackerel and a variety of shellfish.
Traditional Portuguese dishes include caldo verde (pureed potato, onion and garlic soup) with or without chouico (spicy sausage); bacalhau (salted cod); sardinhas assadas (freshly grilled sardines); cozido (slowly boiled meats, enchidos (sausages) and vegetables); açorda (day-old bread and poached eggs served in an herbed broth); and, peixinhos da horta (breaded and fried green beans), to name but a few.
Traditional desserts include arroz doce (rice pudding with cinnamon), caramel custard and pastel de nata (custard tart with cinnamon).
The Portuguese cheesemakers in the Serra da Estrela, Queijo São Jorge regions and island of São Jorge are known for producing varieties from cow, goat and sheep’s milk.
The Portuguese enjoy producing and drinking green, white and red wines from Vinho Verde (one my favorites) to Maduro to port wine. Popular liqueurs include Licor Beirão and Ginjinha.
POPULAR PORTUGUESE ACTIVITIES
Like most other European countries, Portugal is crazy about its football (soccer). The Portuguese not only attend a lot of football events or watch them on TV, but they also like to participate in football – there are many local teams to be involved with. The Portuguese also like to play golf, fish, sail, windsurf, water ski, jet ski, surf, hike, cycle and jog.
With many great beaches to choose from, hanging out on the beach, beach picnicking or beach football are also popular activities. The Portuguese like to dine out or enjoy bica (espresso) in the many cafés across Portugal.
You can also see the Portuguese going to concerts, movies, museums, national monuments, bookstores, shopping centers or special events such as the Nos Alive music festival in Lisbon, The Lisbon and Estoril Film Festival or Feira do Livro de Lisboa (Lisbon Book Fair), to name a few.
Portugal uses the Euro (€). Exchange rates are usually favorable for Europeans but could fluctuate in the other direction. Check throughout your travel planning phase on any exchange rate changes.
Portugal has all modern forms of transportation, including Uber (so research in advance if they are in your destination area) and other regional ridesharing services and apps, so getting around and booking transportation in advance, is no problem.
TIPPING IN PORTUGAL
Traveling in a new country is easier when you know the country’s tipping etiquette in advance as each country has its own rules. That said, country rules and norms can shift, so here is an international tipping resource for over 70 countries to use as a general guideline that I have found is constantly updated.
What’s not on there is how to tip a concierge, beauty salons or spas, travel or tour guides, etc. For these extras, it is acceptable to tip 10% at minimum. Remember, tipping is for good service only.
Additionally, you should always tip in the local currency (if tipping in cash), and do not be offended if your tip is refused as it may not be the norm. I feel it’s always better to offer a tip for good service than not, unless I know it will be considered offensive, like in Japan.
A key activity to do in your early planning stage is to know, at minimum, the national holidays. I so suggest also looking into the local holidays. It’s a complete bummer to spend time and money to take the holiday of your lifetime and when you show up at one of your key attractions, it’s closed due to a holiday. It’s also not fun trying to travel and have a hard time accessing travel or other essential resources when no one is around because, yes, it’s a local holiday. So take just a few moments to look at Portugal’s holidays.
PORTUGAL ELECTRONIC ESSENTIALS
Besides money, required ID and your ticket, Portugal voltage is 230V and the standard frequency is 50 Hz, so bring Type C and F adapters (it doesn’t hurt to bring 2 of each) for Portugal outlets and research if your electronics require a voltage converter, if not already included in the adapter; or, you can bring electronics already adapted for Portugal outlets or wait to purchase them there (I recommend just bringing the adapters with converter). Remember, most smart phones, tablets and laptops don’t require a converter, but double-check your device(s) before you leave home. If you are going to another country in addition to Portugal on your trip, you can check the global adapters list to make sure you’re prepared. I have also provided suggested adapters below for your convenience!
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TRAVEL DOCUMENTS FOR PORTUGAL
From the U.S., you will need a valid passport. Visa’s are not required if your stay is less than 3 months. Make sure your passport expiration date is greater than 6 months from your return to the U.S. The U.S. State Department always has their link up to date with pertinent information when traveling to Portugal. It is advised to always check there during your planning stage and again before you leave. If you are not from the U.S., please check your government’s website.
VACCINATIONS FOR PORTUGAL
There are normally no vaccinations required for Portugal travel. The U.S. State Department always has their link up to date with pertinent information when traveling to Portugal. It is advised to always check there during your planning stage and again before you leave. If you are not from the U.S., please check your government’s website.
SAFETY / FEMALE TRAVEL TIPS
PORTUGAL TRAVEL SAFETY
Portugal is considered a very safe place to visit for any tourist, solo or not. There may be instances of theft or pickpocketing in Lisbon, so be careful in tourist areas. Beyond that, there is nothing I can recall from Portugal making it more of a “safety concern” than traveling in my own home country, so my standard tips for female and solo travelers are:
- always carry photo ID with you; if you don’t want your passport on you at all times, at least carry a copy of it.
- always be “street wise”.
- always be aware of your surroundings, especially if you feel the need to imbibe or feel the need to “let loose” – you’re on vacation so have fun!
- never leave your food or drink unattended.
- keep your belongs on your person, or at least in your view in close proximity, at all times.
- be open to meeting and talking with new people – that is where a lot of the travel experience lies – but be careful on how you divulge personal information.
- research places in advance, if possible, so you know what to expect (i.e., “have a familiar view” – I like to Google the street view of new addresses I’m going to first).
- if something, someone or someplace makes you feel uncomfortable, go with your gut – leave.
BUDGET TRAVEL TIPS
BEST TIME TO VISIT PORTUGAL
Like other countries in Europe, Portugal’s high, tourist season, and most expensive time, is the summer (late June to August). The weather is hot and the beaches are crowded. Crowds are not as heavy, however, March to May or late September to October. The weather is still nice in these months as well. The least expensive time to go to Portugal would be November to February. For overall best weather and prices, try booking well in advance for spring or autumn.
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SUSTAINABILITY / ECO TRAVEL TIPS
It is very easy to do your part for the planet and implement environmental sustainability into your travel. If you would like to learn more about how you can implement environmentally sustainable, or eco-friendly, travel measures into your travel, please see my 10 Easy Eco Travel Tips and suggested Eco Travel Resources.
Additionally, if you are flying to, or within, Portugal consider purchasing carbon offsets through your airline or through a third party, like MyClimate.org, Carbonfund.org, or terrapass. Carbon offsetting allows you to buy a certificate to reduce carbon emissions, a major contributor to climate change, which in turn contribute community projects across countries to reduce greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions. There are several ways to go about this to help reduce your impact to climate change through your travel. Check it out!
Portugal is where I met my mates from Australia and New Zealand. Originally, I was only going to spend a few days in Lisbon wandering the cobblestone streets and a couple of days at Lagos in the Algarve regionon the Mediterranean coast. We were having so much fun in Lagos, two days turned into six! Instead of heading back to Barcelona I spent my birthday there. Lagos was, and probably still is, a town where all the waiters and bartenders were from English speaking countries: Australia, New Zealand, Ireland, England, Canada and the U.S.! Needless to say, I didn’t need to know much Portuguese, thankfully. By day we’d lounge on the beautiful, almost-white sand beaches surrounded by low, sunset-colored cliffs. By night, we’d go out for dinner followed by drinks and dancing until dawn – sometimes dancing on the bar. Some of my fondest memories are of Lagos. I’m definitely going back.