Portugal is a spectacular nation and a fantastic place to visit and here are some great tips to help you ensure you’ve a more enjoyable experience.
Wear comfortable footwear
While this might seem more like common sense, it’s one tip that can’t be stressed on enough, especially when talking about a hilly city like Lisbon. The cobblestone streets can sometimes lead to unstable footing, and the roads get slippery sometimes. Plus, a lot of the coastal towns can become very windy, where sand is blown into the streets and walkways.
Considering that the best way to explore some of the most popular spots in Portugal is via foot, your best bet is to bring a good pair of sneakers, sturdy sandals, or basic hiking shoes. Comfortable shoes are advisable if you’re planning sight-seeing days such as visiting Zoomarine, or shopping for souvenirs – you don’t want your feet to be sore.
Brush up on your Portuguese
Although English is widely spoken in Lisbon, Algarve, and Porto, it’s not a good idea to assume that everyone you meet there will speak it. Furthermore, there will be much fewer English speakers outside the major zones and probably none in the villages.
Be familiar with some basic Portuguese, with words like bom noite/tarde/dia (good night/afternoon/morning), along with other special words like ajude-me (help me) and Socorro (help!). It’s really important to keep this essential piece of advice when you travel there.
Don’t forget to keep an eye on your personal items
Although travelers need to always keep a close eye on their personal items like backpacks and purses, it’s vital to keep this in mind especially when visiting the more tourist-filled spots. Avoid placing purses on the floor, especially while sitting at café terraces. In fact, the waiters may warn or remind you to keep your personal items on the adjacent empty chairs, but don’t rely on them to warn you.
While theft isn’t really a major problem in Portugal, it’s also not 100% immune to it, and there have been complaints by some tourists about pickpockets especially in the downtown area.
Know how to ask for coffee properly
This is more of a figurative tip (than literal) though ordering a wrong coffee could ruin your day or be an unfortunate ending to an otherwise delicious meal. Ordering café in Portugal will get you an espresso, which might be too strong for some people, who will more likely prefer a galao (an espresso shot with triple the milk), a meia de leite (half milk and half coffee), or any other coffee concoction.
Remember the Number 112
This is the equivalent of 911, and dialing it should get you in contact with emergency medical services or the police. If you need an ambulance, 112 is the number to dial.
Ignore the drug dealers
While this might seem like it’s common sense, you need to keep it in mind especially while strolling downtown Lisbon. It’s quite common for men to approach you selling drugs in the touristy parts of the city. And even if you might not understand what they are saying, you’ll notice how they speak softly and hold their hand out slightly.
A simple “no” won’t always work considering some can be very persistent, but walking away and avoiding eye contact will do the trick, and they’ll continue their way to their next target in their line of vision.
Use GPS while on the countryside
The countryside part of Portugal is truly stunning, and you should make a point of exploring it. However, you need to prepare beforehand against getting lost in the middle of nowhere. The street signs and highways may confuse tourists from abroad, especially Americans who aren’t used to driving in Europe. Moreover, the highways in Portugal are toll-heavy, and it’s sometimes better to use the back-roads to save some money.
Don’t walk alone at night
The Portuguese nightlife can be quite spectacular, and some clubs will stay hopping until the sun rises. However, if pumpkin time does signal in the middle of the night, it’s best to leave with a friend or two. The streets may seem empty at night (even in Lisbon, Faro, and Porto) and it’s never a good idea to walk alone on an empty, dark road, no matter where.
Don’t try to use public transportation without paying
Unfortunately, there are still people who try to get away with using trains, buses, and the metro without paying, usually by blending in with the crowd or sliding behind a friend. This is not only unethical, but can also fetch a hefty fine in case you’re caught. The police also do random checks to ensure that everyone onboard has a valid ticket.
Compare the prices of places you want to dine or stay
Portugal is one of the budget-friendliest destinations. However, there are some hotels and restaurants that cost much more than average. It’s one thing to visit a Michelin-star restaurant or a 5-star hotel and pay a premium for the whole experience, and another to rent an average Airbnb or go to an ostensibly traditional dining location and end up paying exorbitant prices. So, before you decide on a venue or location, check the prices, and compare them with similar spots in the neighborhood. Also keep in mind that the price might vary between seasons.
Use sun protection
While in Portugal, visiting the beach is an absolute must. Moreover, most of the country is blessed with plenty of sunny days. So, whether you’re planning on wandering through one of the many great cities for the day, catch some rays, or picnic in a park, always use sun protection. Be mindful that the hottest time is the middle of the day, between 12 p.m. and 3 p.m., when the sun is strongest.
During this time, try to stay out of direct sunlight, drink plenty of water, and wear a hat. Don’t forget this tip while visiting any other part of the country, but be extra mindful in Algarve, which is the warmest region, and where most of the activities are focused on the great outdoors.
Bring toilet paper during the major festivals
While it might sound silly, bringing tissue paper will certainly come in handy during the Popular Saints’ Festivals in June. The Portuguese love celebrating, and the streets are packed when these city-wide parties are happening. Unfortunately, this means toilets are not always readily available, and the same applies for toilet paper. Being prepared will certainly save your night.
Avoid getting caught in embarrassing situations during festivals
Portugal is quite car-friendly, though the cities can have a little parking problem. Sometimes, a man might start waving at you into a spot that you can’t see well. Of course, they aren’t doing this for free, and once you leave your car, they will approach you for a tip. This is mostly common in the Algarve and Lisbon, so be aware of confrontational behavior and avoid such situations. And while the unemployment rate in Portugal is dropping, it’s still pretty high, and this might be someone’s way to make a quick buck.