Top events in Portugal

April
01

This is one of the highlights of the religious calendar across the country. Braga hosts the biggest celebration, with Holy Week processions...

April
16

Each spring, as the flowers begin the bloom, the Madeiran capital of Funchal hosts the annual Madeira Flower Festival. During the colourful event...

April
25

Tennis tournament.

Picturesque Sintra in Portugal
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Picturesque Sintra in Portugal

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Portugal Travel Guide

Key Facts
Area

92,345 sq km (35,655 sq miles).

Population

10.6 million (2013).

Population density

116.9 per sq km.

Capital

Lisbon.

Government

Republic since 1910.

Head of state

President Anibal Cavaco Silva since 2006.

Head of government

Prime Minister Pedro Passos Coelho since 2011.

Electricity

230 volts AC, 50Hz. Continental two-pin plugs are in use.

Long considered primarily a haven for sunseekers and golfers, Portugal is also one of Europe’s unspoilt gems when you take the chance to dig a little deeper. This land of traditional villages and vibrant cities has a charming countryside strewn with historical treasures and a wide assortment of World Heritage sites - natural and cultural wonders that offer a window into this once great seafaring nation. Take in the prehistoric drawings at Foz Coa or 15th-century sea port at Angra do Heroísmo, alongside the other designated sites around the country that zip you back in time.

Portugal's lively and hugely underrated capital, Lisbon, along with its classy northern sibling, Porto, are magical places for the wanderer thanks to intriguing side streets, majestic plazas and trams which rattle along. Both cities have their share of enticing urban life, encompassing eclectic restaurants, colourful boutiques, bohemian cafés and stylish nightclubs that make excellent use of the waterside setting. Their sporting rivalries are also a must for football fans and others looking for passion and flair, while there is skiing for snow devotees who want a change from the norm.
Smaller cities offer something different and enchanting; beautifully preserved medieval quarters in the likes of Évora, Coimbra, Guimarães and Braga are well worth exploring.

Outside the cities, travellers can enjoy Portugal's warm sunny weather by wandering around centuries-old vineyards, visiting stone villages in the mountains or soaking up rays on the magnificent southern shoreline. A trip round these parts will be made even more native if you drop in on sleepy sulphur spas and hop around the offbeat pousadas; the government made full use of the country’s stunning convents, monasteries and palaces after WWII by turning them into homely accommodation.

Dramatic scenery lies all along the coast with imposing cliffs and sublime beaches where you can wallow in beautiful solitude. More than just a static backdrop, the dazzling scenery sets the stage for outdoor adventure as well. The Algarve is host to a slew of amazing golf courses; however it is also the perfect place to stretch your legs. Monchique and Silves are great for hiking while dreamy destination Sagres was once known as the end of the world! The Azores and Madeira are alluring islands off the Portuguese coast that deserve a few days of your time to round off the experience.

Horse riding and big-game fishing are standout activities that fully embrace the idyllic coastal settings, while surfing, windsurfing, kayaking, diving and mountain biking are a few other ways to spend a sun-drenched afternoon away from the crowds.

Those seeking a more unique slice of Portuguese culture can join in the revelry at a traditional festival; discover the melancholic music of fado (Portugal's answer to the blues), sample the captivating Manueline architecture or go port wine tasting along the Douro. Perhaps best of all, visitors can seek out the last remains of Atlantis in the Azores or Berlenga Island, the historical first line of defence from invaders past.

Travel Advice

Last updated: 29 March 2015

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

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 16 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 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.

Road travel

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 2012 there were 743 road deaths in Portugal (source: DfT). This equates to 7.0 road deaths per 100,000 of population and compares to the UK average of 2.8 road deaths per 100,000 of population in 2012.

See the European Commission,AA and RAC guides on driving in Portugal.

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.

Forest fires have destroyed some of the mountain areas where walking and other tourist activity is popular. Check with your tour guide or local organiser that it is safe to visit before setting off.

Further information about road and walkway closures and access restrictions can be found on the website of the Civil Protection Authority and the Regional Forestry Commission

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.

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