Portugal travel guide
Like the Atlantic Ocean that laps upon its shores, Portugal throws up one or two surprises. A rich and varied land of vibrant cities and traditional villages, visitors are astounded by the country’s stunning beaches, rolling countryside and cornucopia of UNESCO World Heritage Sites, which range from prehistoric drawings at Foz Coa to the 15th-century port of Angra do Heroísmo.
The country’s lively capital, Lisbon, and its vibrant northern sibling, Porto, are a joy to discover. They are cities where trams rattle up and down hills and along promenades, trundling past narrow side streets and majestic plazas, bohemian cafés and pumping nightclubs, eye-catching boutiques and restaurants both hip and homespun.
It’s not all about Lisbon and Porto, though. Sintra plays host to the stunning National Palace, a Moorish castle and the dramatic villa of Quinta da Regaleira, while the cities of Coimbra, Guimarães, Braga and Évora all boast beautifully preserved medieval quarters. Unusually, the latter is home to a chapel made exclusively of human bones, which is a tad creepy.
Travellers in search of a rural respite can wander around ancient vineyards, trek to stone villages perched in the mountains and take full advantage of the country’s warm and sunny weather on the magnificent southern shoreline. Drop in on sleepy sulphur spas and hop around the Pousadas – a collection of exquisite convents and monasteries, which have been lovingly converted into off-beat accommodation.
Imposing cliffs and secluded beaches line the Portuguese coast, a dazzling stage for all manner of outdoor adventure. Visitors can ride horses, surf waves, paddle rivers, dive shipwrecks, hike hills and explore Moorish castles and Roman ruins between rounds of golf. Madeira and Berlenga Islands beckon off shore, while the elusive remains of Atlantis await discovery in the Azores Archipelago.
Those seeking a more unique slice of Portuguese culture can discover the melancholic music of fado (Portugal’s answer to the blues), study the captivating detail of Manueline architecture, get involved in a traditional festival or quaff port wine along the meandering Douro river.
92,345 sq km (35,655 sq miles).
10,304,434 (UN estimate 2016).
117.2 per sq km.
President Marcelo Rebelo de Sousa since 2016.
Prime Minister António Costa since 2015.
220 volts AC, 50Hz. European plugs with two round pins are standard.
Last updated: 13 March 2017
The travel advice summary below is provided by the Foreign and Commonwealth Office in the UK. ‘We’ refers to the Foreign and Commonwealth Office. For their full travel advice, visit www.gov.uk/foreign-travel-advice.
Crime rates are low but pickpocketing, handbag snatching and theft from cars and holiday properties are common in major tourist areas and can be accompanied by violence. Be alert, keep sight of your belongings at all times and beware of thieves using distraction techniques. Be especially vigilant on public transport (particularly the popular numbers 15 and 28 trams in Lisbon) and at busy railway and underground stations and crowded bus and tram stops.
Do not carry all your valuables together in handbags or pockets. Leave spare cash and valuables in a safe place. Avoid leaving items in an unattended car, even for a short period; if you have no alternative, hide them in the boot before you reach your destination. Remember that foreign-registered and hire cars are often targeted by thieves.
Report the loss or theft of your passport immediately to the local police and obtain a police report. You will need the report for insurance purposes and to obtain a replacement travel document from the British Consulate.
Make sure your holiday accommodation has adequate security. Lock all doors and windows at night and when you go out. If you’re worried about security at your accommodation, speak to your tour operator or the owner. Familiarise yourself with the contact details of the local PSP (city police) or GNR (rural and small town police).
Sexual assaults are rare, but you should be alert to the possible use of ‘date rape’ and other drugs, including ‘GHB’ and liquid ecstasy. Buy your own drinks and keep sight of them at all times to make sure they aren’t spiked. If you are going to drink, know your limit and remember that drinks served in bars overseas are often much stronger than those in the UK. Avoid splitting up from your friends, and don’t go off with people you don’t know.
Driving is on the right. If you hire a car, make sure the vehicle insurance is fully comprehensive and check how you will pay for any toll charges.
As a tourist, you can bring your own vehicle to Portugal for a maximum of 183 days in any 12-month period. You must not use your vehicle for any other purpose than tourism or loan it to anyone else during that time. If you intend to stay longer, you must apply to the Portuguese Customs authority to have the car legally imported. You will be fined if you leave the country without your car.
In 2015 there were 627 road deaths in Portugal (source: Department for Transport). This equates to 6 road deaths per 100,000 of population and compares to the UK average of 2.8 road deaths per 100,000 of population in 2015.
Local travel – Madeira
Walking the levadas (ancient irrigation channels) can be challenging. Choose only the ones that are suited to your own standard of fitness and experience. Be prepared for narrow, uneven paths and heights. Wear suitable clothing and walking boots. Leave details of where you are going with your hotel reception and take your mobile telephone with you. Better still, join a group of walkers and go with a guide. Take extra care if it has rained as the ground may be slippery and unstable. Check with your tour guide or local organiser that it is safe to visit before setting off.
Beaches and swimming
Deaths by drowning occur every year on Portuguese beaches and in swimming pools. The Maritime Police have the authority to fine bathers who disobey the lifeguard’s warning flags.
Take warning flags on beaches seriously. The red flag indicates danger: never enter the water when the red flag is flying. If there is a yellow flag, you may paddle at the water’s edge, but not swim. The green flag indicates that it is safe to swim, and the chequered flag means that the beach is temporarily unmanned. Follow local advice if jellyfish are present.
Take care when walking along unmanned beaches close to the water’s edge as some waves can be of an unpredictable size and come in further than expected on to the beach with strong undertows.
Don’t swim at beaches that link to/from rivers, or those without lifeguards. Don’t dive into unknown water as hidden rocks or shallow depths can cause serious injury or death.
Look out for signs warning of cliff erosion. Falling rocks are a hazard, particularly in the Algarve, and the authorities can fine those who ignore warning signs.