Looking for important travel information while backpacking in Portugal? Here you will find information on working in Portugal, entry visas, Portugal hostels, and much more.
Table of Contents
- Facts About Portugal
- Things to do in Portugal
- Entry Visa Requirements for Portugal
- Foreigner Work Permits and Backpacker Jobs in Portugal
- Portugal Hostels
Facts About Portugal
Portugal is a relatively small country which shares the Iberian Peninsula with Spain and is bordered by the Atlantic Ocean. Although small in size, Portugal is a popular tourist destination, with an influx of visitors arriving in the country each year.
Lisbon, the capital, is built on seven hills stretching along the River Tagus and is one of Europe’s most beautiful cities. Crammed with history and character, it can easily be explored on foot. Perhaps take a stroll along the waterfront to take in some fantastic sights such as Belem Tower. Why not then explore the Alfama district for a closer look at Lisbon’s charming culture and spectacular views?
If it’s the beach you are after then the Algarve coast offers clean, sun-drenched beaches with picturesque ports and modern marinas. With many resorts offering a range of activities such as hiking, cycling, surfing and golf, you’ll surely find something to suit your taste.
For those wishing to avoid the crowds, northern Portugal is a hidden gem and relatively undiscovered by tourists. You can find deserted beaches, even in August, with countless picturesque villages and small charming hotels for you to unwind and relax in.
It is, of course, impossible to visit Portugal without feasting on some local cuisine: why not try sopa de marisco a soup of shellfish cooked in wine, or chicken piri piri, a hot favourite flavoured with chilli oil.
- Currency: Euro
- Time Zone: GMT +1 from last Sunday in March to last Sunday in October
- Language: Portuguese
- Telephone Services: Country Code: +351 International Access Code: 00
- Emergency Numbers: Ambulance, Fire and Police all: 112
Climate in Portugal
In the south, summers are warm with very little rain. High temperatures are moderated by a constant breeze in the coastal areas. Winters can be wet and cold, particularly in the northern and west coastal regions. There are often warm sunny days in spring and autumn, this is also a great time to visit Portugal as resorts are less crowded and some hotels offer cheaper rates.
Things to do in Portugal
Lisbon, the lively capital, is crammed with character. One of the most famous landmarks is the Belem Tower, which is now a UNESCO World Heritage Site. Originally built in the 16th century to serve as a fortress, this should definitely feature on your itinerary.
For a closer look at Lisbon’s culture, you need to explore the smaller districts including the Alfama Quarter. Here you will find the fifth century Sao Jorge Castle which is famous for its hill-top vantage point and fantastic panoramic views.
Why not spend a day on the banks of the Tagus and view the stately Royal Palace overlooking the river? This picturesque medieval part of the city is definitely worth a visit, a maze of 17th-century lanes and mosaic-decorated pavements with many restaurants, bars and cafés to whet your appetite.
Nightlife in Lisbon can be found in the Bairro Alto district where clubs are open until around 3 am, with many attracting top international DJs. After this head to the waterfront for massive nightclubs that stay open till the sun comes up. Don’t be surprised if you arrive in a nightclub at midnight and it’s empty, it’s not that everyone has gone home – they haven’t even come out yet. The Portuguese like to party late – but to make up for it they party long!
A Lisbon Card is worth purchasing if you plan to explore the city, it entitles you to complimentary use of the public transport system in Lisbon and free entrance at various attractions and museums, plus reductions at several restaurants and shops.
To the west of Lisbon lies the picturesque coastal resorts of Cascais and Estoril. Only 15 miles away you’ll find the cosmopolitan resort of Cascais, where you can see boats and fishermen’s nets on the bay, a modern marina, and elegant palaces. The windy beach here is not ideal for sunbathing but if you are an experienced windsurfer you will love the strong coastal winds, but this is a ‘veterans’ only’ hot-spot.
Estoril is also a popular tourist spot offering a golf course, racing track and the beautiful Santo Antonio Church. Further inland, you’ll find Sintra with mansions, parks and palaces. Why not hike up to Moorish Castle for spectacular views of the Lisbon Coast?
Head east from Lisbon into the Alentejo district of Portugal for a feel of rustic country life. Roman ruins, walled villages featuring local bullfights, fine wines and excellent cuisine feature in what seems like a different country to Lisbon. The walled township of Estremoz, for example, enjoys a spectacular setting high on a rocky mountain. Located on the border with Spain and steeped in a bloody history, this medieval outpost is still inhabited today – to see the sun set beyond the plunging ramparts is worth a few hours of travel alone.
The Algarve’s sun-soaked beaches receive more visitors than the rest of the country. Tourists are attracted by miles of clean sandy beaches and some of the best golf courses in Europe; the Algarve has long been a favourite holiday destination. Popular spots include Albufeira and Vilamoura, which are bustling resorts with top-class facilities and cosmopolitan marinas.
Amongst delicious fresh seafood, the local restaurants serve up British food and beer in pints – which perhaps gives you a clear indication of the type of clientele here – and many backpackers prefer to stay away. The larger resorts can become rather overcrowded in the summer, however, this long stretch of coast does contain some quieter, tucked away hotspots too.
Portugal can also be extremely beautiful in winter time. The Serra de Estrela Natural Park includes the highest mountain in Portugal, Torre, which boasts a huge 1993 metres. This park is one of Portugal’s most scenic areas with quaint villages, alpine meadows and glacial lakes.
Unique Activities in Portugal
A good way to get an idea of things to do in Portugal to do is to scan the activities offered by Get Your Guide or Viator. They work directly with local tour operators, so you won’t have to scour the internet or roam around town trying to find the best deal.
If you know your schedule ahead of time, a great insider tip is to buy tickets for major tourist attractions ahead of time. Tiqets has entrance tickets and skip the line passes for major tourist spots in Portugal such as Albufeira, Braga, Fátima, Funchal, Lisbon, and Porto so that you can avoid the lines and save that precious time for more exploring.
How to Travel Around Portugal
TAP Air Portugal is the country’s main airline and has scheduled flights to more than 50 international destinations. SATA run services between Lisbon, Faro, Madeira, Porto Santo, Oporto and the Azores. Charter flights are also available. The airline for the Azores is SATA which operates its Air Acores service between the various islands.
If you’re flying to Portugal or plan to take short flights within the country, we recommend using a few different flight comparison search engines. Kiwi is a new favourite among travellers. On average, we have found the cheapest flights to Portugal with them compared to the other websites out there.
Of course, it is always worth checking Skyscanner to guarantee you’re getting the best deal. Both websites offer great flexible search options, allowing you to search the whole country of Portugal to find the cheapest airport to fly into, and also see prices for a full month if you’re flexible on travel dates.
Train vs. Bus in Portugal
Train and long-distance bus are the standard modes of transport for getting around the country. Buses are the more economical option, nevertheless, they are well-equipped with the usual modern conveniences that expect when travelling in Europe. Train travel, on the other hand, is the fastest way between two cities and the train stations are conveniently located right in the centre of town.
It depends on your preference, and certain routes are better suited to one mode of transport than the other. To compare your options for journeys from A to B, you can try Omio. They compare trains, buses (and even flights) so you can decide for yourself the tradeoff between cost and travel time.
Train travel in Portugal
Portugal offers a vast network of trains covering the whole country. The ‘Alfa Pendular’ trains offer the most comfortable and fastest rail link between Lisbon and the Algarve. CP – Caminhos de ferro Portugueses, the Portuguese railway company also offer international train services to Madrid and Paris.
Portugal is a part of the Eurail network, which is a good choice if you plan to take multiple train journeys in a short period of time. Eurail offers both multi-country passes and One Country Passes. To decide whether you should buy individual tickets from A to B, or whether you should purchase a Eurail pass, read our Travelling Europe by Train guide.
Bus travel in Portugal
If there is no train there is bound to be a bus. Lisbon’s main bus station is the Gare do Oriente, next to Parque das Naçöes which also has a railway and metro station. Travel agents can sell you bus tickets in advance but if you plan to buy from the company ticket office at the main terminal allow plenty of time before you depart.
In summer it is a good idea to reserve at least a day in advance for the Algarve. There are four daily departures from Lisbon for Oporto and the Algarve, while towns closer to the capital have more frequent service.
Driving in Portugal
If you want the flexibility to stop in smaller towns between the major cities, check AutoEurope or Europcar to compare offers from the major car rental agencies in the region. Before deciding, read more about what to expect of driving in Europe.
Public transport in Portuguese cities
Lisbon and Oporto have underground systems which operate between 6am and 1am. Lisbon’s underground is called Metropolitano and has gradually been extended in recent years. Oporto’s underground operates on five lines and is the newer of the two. It is important to note that in Portugal rail travel is often cheaper and faster than travelling by bus.
Trams operate in all major cities and a tram ride in Lisbon provides a great opportunity to see the city. There are regular coach services which operate between Portugal’s main towns and cities, and bus services operate to the east and west. Though relatively cheap and reliable they can become very crowded in peak seasons. For independent travellers, why not hire a car to explore the country. Compare prices and book Portugal Car Hire here.
Backpacking Tours in Portugal
Though part of the fun of backpacking is exploring on your own, there are situations, especially when venturing off the tourist trail, when it does make sense to go with a guide or a small group. For these times, a popular option among backpackers is G Adventures. They hand-select local guides to ensure authenticity and quality. This is especially a good option for those travelling alone who would like to meet up with like-minded travellers. Their most popular trips in Portugal are their 14-day Best of Spain and Portugal tour, and their 16-day Rome to Lisbon on a Shoestring tour.
Health and Safety in Portugal
There are no health risks attached to travelling to Portugal. A yellow fever vaccination certificate is necessary for entry for anyone travelling from an infected area and destined for the Azores or Madeira.
Health facilities are good and free or reduced cost treatment is available with a valid European Health Insurance Card (EHIC) (This has replaced the E111 which is obsolete as of 31 December 2005). The EHIC gives access to state-provided medical treatment only, so it is advisable to take out comprehensive travel insurance before visiting Portugal. For information, and how to apply for an EHIC online, please check out the Department of Health website.
Entry Visa Requirements for Portugal
UK/EEA nationals have the right to live and work in Portugal without a permit. UK/EEA nationals working in Portugal also have the same rights as Portuguese nationals with regard to pay and working conditions. If you intend to work in Portugal for more than three months a residence permit is required. This is called ‘autorizaca de residencia‘.
Foreigner Work Permits and Backpacker Jobs in Portugal
Employment can be found with tour operators, bars, restaurants and hotels in tourist areas in the Algarve region. The majority of employment agencies are based in Lisbon and Oporto. There are specially trained EURES advisers in all EU/EEA countries. Their job is to support those seeking employment in another EU/EEA country. For more information on working in Portugal, visit their website.
Au Pair in Portugal
If you are planning to work as an au pair in Portugal you will usually need some childcare experience. However, you won’t necessarily need to speak Portuguese. Au pairs live with host families, performing basic domestic duties and looking after children. Food and accommodation are usually included along with your wages.
Volunteering in Portugal
If you are looking to volunteer in Portugal, work can be obtained and organised through the British Organisation, The International Voluntary Service.
Teaching English in Portugal
There are many opportunities to work in Portugal with the TEFL qualification. Most schools won’t hire teachers without a certificate unless they have a lot of teaching experience. There are at least 20 International schools where English is taught. Check out the British Council website for a list of the schools.
Portugal Hostels & Budget Accommodation
There is a wide range of accommodation options in Portugal. Hotels are classified with 1 to 5 stars depending on the quality of their facilities and location. Please note during the low season many hotels offer substantial reductions.
The ‘Pousadas’ are a network of inns which are housed in historic buildings such as castles and palaces. They have been designed to give visitors a more ‘authentic’ stay and a knowledge of the cultural traditions of different regions of the country. Some feature activities like cooking and handicrafts. For more information on accommodation with a difference check out www.pousadas.pt.
For those wanting a more independent choice of accommodation, apartment hotels are ideal and most offer self-catering facilities. There are also many camping sites and caravan parks all over Portugal. Many have facilities including swimming pools, supermarkets and restaurants. Most sites (excluding those marked with a ‘P’) are for public use and depending on the facilities and services they provide, they are classified from 1 to 4 stars.
Youth hostels are available throughout the countryside, coastal areas and towns. They provide the cheapest form of accommodation in Portugal. Other options, such as villas for large groups of people are worth checking out as they can also represent good value for money.
We have had good experiences finding hostels on HostelWorld. They have the largest inventory of hostels worldwide, and with over 10 million reviews and ratings from other travellers, you know exactly what to expect.
Another good way to find accommodation in Portugal is by checking hotels.com and booking.com. With both sites, you’ll not only find hotels, but also homestays, hostels, and other unique accommodation. We have discovered some great finds and have appreciated the ability to book ahead. You can use their advanced filtering to narrow your results by budget, location score, overall review score, and amenities. Many of the places on booking.com also offer free cancellation, which takes the pressure off the planning phase of your trip.
Useful links for Backpacking in Portugal
- Eurail – Rail Passes for travellers who plan on doing lots of train travel in a short period of time. Single-Country and Multi-Country passes available
- Omio – Train, bus, and flight search for Portugal and all of Europe. Offers online booking and mobile tickets
- Auto Europe – Europe’s leading rental car search engine
- Kiwi, Skyscanner, and Opodo – Flight comparison search engines to find the cheapest flights to Portugal and within the country
- GetYourGuide and Viator – a collection of local tours and things to do in Portugal. Also offers Skip the Line tickets for crowded attractions
- Tiqets – Website selling entrance tickets and skip the line tickets for major tourist spots in Portugal
- G Adventures – guided backpacking tours in Portugal, great for solo travellers or for those interested in a more adventurous trip which would require a guide
- HostelWorld – #1 hostel search website to find budget accommodation while backpacking Portugal. Thousands of hostels and millions of reviews from fellow travellers
- Booking.com – commonly used booking site in Portugal. Hostels, hotels, and other unique accommodation with advanced filtering and millions of reviews
- Travel Insurance – read our comprehensive overview of Travel Insurance and some recommended providers for your backpacking trip to Portugal
There you have it, the ultimate Portugal backpacking guide. We hope you have found all the information you need for backpacking around Portugal.
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