Top Ten Tips for Traveling to Portugal

If my constant gushing about how amazing Portugal is has convinced you to pack your bags, here are some tips that can help make your trip successful.

1. Don’t trust the transportation

I’ve said it before, and I’ll say it again: the public transportation is not to be trusted. I didn’t even try it when I was in Faro (everything was within easy walking distance), but Leslie and I had nothing but trouble with public transport when we were in Lisbon. A few things to keep in mind if you decide to brave it:

  • Buses don’t always stop: You have to flag them down like a taxi, and even then, if they’re full or the driver is feeling particularly cranky, they might not stop for you.
  • Sometimes buses and trams never show up. Thankfully, the metros and trains were pretty consistent.
  • Green Cards: According to this post, we should have been able to use our green “Viva Viagem” cards on “trams, buses, historical elevators, subway, trains that go to Sintra and Cascais, and also on the ferries that cross the river.” Unfortunately, they must have changed the rules of that game because we weren’t able to use it for metro and train tickets. You also can’t use an existing green card to buy a €6 day pass, which was a total bummer.
  • I read online that taxis in Portugal are super expensive, but they were actually pretty reasonable—or maybe we were just desperate to actually get where we were going…

2. Don’t trust the maps in Lisbon

We tried two different maps in Lisbon, and both of them were wildly inaccurate. Leslie considered buying a map guide book to see if it was any better, but in the end, we just got lost a lot. We did find that it was far more efficient to load Google Maps directions onto my phone while we had WiFi access at the hostel and use that to find our way. It ate up my battery pretty quickly, so if you plan on using a map app to get around, be sure to bring a power pack.

Gardens of Queluz
The Gardens of Queluz

3. Don’t trust the internet

Like the post I mentioned earlier, there seems to be a lot of information about Portugal floating around the internet that is outdated or just plain untrue. A prime example was our trip to Queluz. Leslie’s research made it sound like Queluz was easily accessible from the train station and worth a special trip. Not only was it not nearly as cool as Sintra, it also wasn’t easily accessible at all. It was quite a long walk from the train station through the sketchiest neighborhood we saw on our whole trip, and we got lost more than once.

The key to dealing with all the false information out there is to be flexible and have a backup plan, even if your backup plan is just to explore what you can find.

4. Grab your TP before you Pee

Certain bathrooms in Lisbon have this weird thing about not having toilet paper dispensers inside the stall. You have to get your TP from a dispenser by the sink. Suuuuper strange.

5. Don’t speak Portuguese? Don’t panic.

The Portuguese people are really friendly and welcoming. Most of the people we met spoke English really well and were more than happy to speak it.

That’s not to say you shouldn’t try to speak as much Portuguese as you can. I’m a firm believer in using the language of your host country. Here are a few helpful phrases:

EnglishPortuguese
HelloOlá
Good Morning!Bom dia!
Do you speak English?Fala inglês?
Thank you!Obrigada (if you’re a woman) or Obrigado (if you’re a man)
GoodbyeTchau

Omniglot has a great list of helpful phrases, and pronunciation examples, too!

dolphins-11
Dolphin on my tour with Algarve Seafaris in Vilamoura

6. Get out of the city

Two of my favorite experiences in Portugal were day trips away from the cities where I was staying. When I went to Faro, I took a day trip to tour the Sea Caves by Vilamoura. And the highlight of our trip to Lisbon was actually Sintra. Big cities are nice in that they have lots of things to see in a relatively close proximity, but getting off the beaten track a little can open the doors to some unexpected surprises.

7. Don’t skip the Fado

This is my one regret from my two trips to Portugal: I never listened to Fado music while I was there, and I feel like I missed out on a great opportunity to experience something so important to Portuguese culture. Don’t be like me. There are plenty of opportunities to experience Fado for cheap or even free, so there really is no excuse.

Speaking of which…

Mosteiro dos Jerónimos Panorama
The Jerónimos Monastery in Lisbon’s Belem district

8. Things you can do for freeeeee

There were lots of really great things to do and see that didn’t cost a dime. From the organ concert we enjoyed on our first day in Lisbon to free visits to churches and museums, Portugal has no shortage of affordable entertainment options. Watch for signs for free events at the places you are visiting—that’s how we found out about the organ concert. Our hostel also offered free walking tours of the city. We didn’t participate because we already had plans, but these can be a fun way to get a local’s perspective.

9. Pasteis and Seafood. Get it. Eat it. Die Happy.

I can’t sing the praises of pasteis enough, and the seafood in Portugal is super fresh and delicious. You can’t go wrong with these two, I promise.

10. Skip the Crowds: Go in Months that end in “Ember”

My first trip to Portugal was in December. My second was in September. Next time, I’ll go in November. Ha!

The crowds tend to be highest in July and August, and it can be hard to get into some places. For example, the guides on my boat tour of the sea caves told us repeatedly, “Come again, but not in August.” There were still some crowds in September, but not enough that it was unbearable. And my visit in December felt like I had the whole country to myself.

Another bonus to going in December: the weather is fantastic. The average temperature for the month is a dreamy 20°C (68°F). *swoon*

Have you been to Portugal? What are your best tips for enjoying your visit?

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