Photo Credit: Nick Karvounis
13 Things To Remember When Visiting Portugal
If you haven’t yet had the pleasure of visiting Portugal, hopefully you’ll have the chance someday. Much like its neighbor Spain, Portugal offers something for everyone, with its rich history, bohemian-chic cities, amazing seafood, and long stretches of sunny coastline.
If you have any interest in wine, the Douro has you covered, and if you’re into horseback riding, The Algarve is the place to be. There’s plenty on offer from a tourism standpoint, but there are also quieter, peaceful corners where you can catch your breath and avoid crowds during the high season.
Here are 13 things to remember when visiting Portugal.
1. Lisbon Is Slept On
The capital city of Lisbon doesn’t get the buzz of say, Paris, and that’s criminal because it’s such a charming place.
According to The Global Grasshopper, Lisbon is “a beautiful mix of old and new.” Wander along the cobblestone streets, check out the boutique shops and markets, and be awestruck by the Gothic cathedrals.
Want to see sweeping, uninterrupted views of Lisbon? The highest point is Miradouro da Senhora do Monte, which translates to “Our Lady Of The Hill.”
2. Portuguese Is The Official Language
Obviously. But here’s some history on the language.
Portuguese is one of the Romance Languages, and is the fifth most spoken in the world.
Aside from Portugal and Brazil, it can also be heard in Angola, Mozambique, Cabo Verde, Guinea-Bissau, São Tomé and Príncipe, East Timor and even Goa, according to the website of the Portuguese Embassy To The United States.
If you’re a Spanish, French or Italian speaker, some words might look similar.
3. The Seafood Is Divine
Ask anybody who has been to Portugal, and they’ll confirm the seafood is fantastic.
When dining at restaurants, enjoy fish, shrimp, octopus and more fresh from the sea.
When you don’t feel like eating out, you can go to the fish markets and buy what you need to prepare your own meals.
Cataplana de Marisco is served in a cataplana, a traditional copper pan. It consists of shellfish, onions, garlic and sometimes Portuguese sausage.
Salada de Polvo is a tasty octopus salad, which can be an appetizer or a main course. It’s often served with onions and parsley, with vinegar and olive oil on top.
Also, the Portuguese have many bacalhau dishes.
4. The Algarve Is Legendary
If you ever get to visit The Algarve, you’ll return, because you can’t see it all in one trip. This is Portugal’s answer to France’s Côte d’Azur and Spain’s Costa del Sol.
The capital, Faro, along with Albufeira and Vilamoura, are jewels of the region. There’s a range of accommodations here, from boutique hotels to luxurious villas. And of course, being right on the water, you’ll get some quality seafood here.
Check out the Benagil cave, next to a beach of the same name. It can only be reached by the sea, and is quite a wonder of nature.
5. Soccer, Sorry, Football is Life
Europe takes football very seriously, and if you’re in Portugal, be sure to know which club to support!
If you wear the jersey of the “wrong” club, it’s like wearing a Yankees hat in Boston. You’ll get some dirty looks for sure.
When any football event is happening, expect to see people crowded around televisions in bars and cafés. And when it’s the Euros or The World Cup? Nothing else matters. Nothing.
If you look at just about any list ranking the top football players of all time, Cristiano Ronaldo is listed.
Years before Ronaldo, there was Eusébio da Silva Ferreira, who played for Portugal by way of Mozambique. He was nicknamed The Black Panther for his agility, and when he died in 2014, there was a three-day mourning period.
6. There Is A Christ The Redeemer Statue Here, Too
Brazil has the original Christ The Redeemer, which inspired Portugal’s Cristo Rei, a similar statue with arms spread wide towards Lisbon.
It was completed in 1959, over twenty years after the one in Brazil. To see it, take a ferry across the Tejo River and then a bus.
7. Pena Palace Is Beautiful
This historical palace is in Sintra, set against the backdrop of Parque de Pena Forest.
The décor has been described by Sintra Portugal as “hedonistic, with its mix of vividly painted terraces, decorative battlements and mythological statues.”
The views over Sintra are lovely, but some visitors report that the palace is strangely strict about not allowing photos inside.
8. Love Wine? You're In For A Treat
According to Visit Portugal, the country is popular for wine tourism, with “excellent wines recognized around the world.”
The regions of Douro and Alentejo have “the largest number of places dedicated to wine tourism,” but of course, you’ll find them scattered throughout the country.
Take in fantastic views of the Douro Valley, while sipping one of the many port wine varieties. The Douro is the birthplace of the port wine.
9. There Are Festivals Galore
No matter when you go to Portugal, there’s going to be a festival, or some other celebration. Some are religious or cultural, while others seem to be for the sake of fun.
In February, Carnaval is hosted in The Algarve and Lisbon, featuring a lot of sequins, feathers and dancing.
If you want to experience a religious festival, there’s the Feast of St. Anthony in Lisbon’s Alfama district. Hopefully you like sardines, because they’ll be grilling all over the place all day and into the night.
What’s the significance of the sardines? Well, according to Expatica, “a fish rose out of the sea to listen to St. Anthony in the 13th century when the locals wouldn’t.”
In June, there’s the Gay Pride parade, with everything you’d see at any other pride parade. Food, music, scantily clad revelers and such.
10. Spain Is Literally Right There
If you have time, consider driving to Spain. Depending on how close you are to the border, it is possible to do a day trip and come back.
Because of their geographic closeness, Portugal and Spain share much in common, while still being adamant about preserving what makes them different.
You can take a ferry from The Algarve into the Spanish town of Ayamonte, or drive beyond that into Sevilla.
It’s worth it to map out other ways to get to and from Spain in advance.
11. There Is Ample Opportunity For Horseback Riding
A quick Google search populates many sites for horseback riding, especially in The Algarve.
The Albufeira Riding Center, for instance, offers horses for all levels, and experts to guide riders no matter where they are in their riding journey.
There are lessons, treks through rural Algarve, and rides on the beach for anywhere from 30 minutes to 2 hours.
If you’d like to get to know the horses in advance, the riding center’s website lists all of them by name, along with explanations of their personality.
You likely won’t be choosing the horse you ride; the experts will determine that based on your build and skill level.
12. You'll Find Fantastic Beaches
Portugal has great beaches, and go figure, most of the best ones are in The Algarve.
If you’d like to check out a more peaceful patch of sand, The Guardian recommends Praia da Rocha in Lagos or Altura Beach. The latter is just an hour and a half drive from Sevilla, the fourth-largest city in Spain.
Near Lisbon, Praia do Guincho’s claim to fame is being featured in the Bond film On Her Majesty’s Secret Service. It’s good for swimming, surfing, walking and checking out the sunsets.
13. Traveling Alone Isn't Much of A Hassle
Some destinations can be daunting to explore for a solo traveler, but Portugal isn’t one of them.
There’s plenty to keep you occupied in Lisbon, so much so that you might want to stay there your entire trip.
But if you want to venture beyond, Indagare advises that “Portugal is compact, meaning no two destinations are more than a half-day drive from each other.”
And if you don’t feel like driving, between the buses, trains, ferries and trams (in Lisbon), you’ll still be able to cover a lot of ground.