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
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 as resorts are less crowded and some hotels offer cheaper rates.
Things to see and do
Lisbon, the lively capital, is crammed with character. One of the most famous landmarks is 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 3am, 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 fishermens’ 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 over crowded 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.
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.
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.
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 a more frequent service.
Lisbon and Orporto 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.
There are 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 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.
There are no health risks attached with 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.
British Embassy (in Portugal)
33 Rua de So Bernardo
Tel: (+351-21) 3924000
Fax: (+351-21) 3924178, 3924188
Email: Chancery@Lisbon.mail.fco.gov.uk, Consular@Lisbon.mail.fco.gov.uk
ICEP Portugal (Investimentos, Comrcio e Turismo de Portugal) Instituto De Turismo De Portugal (Portuguese Tourism Institute) Rua Ivone Silva, Lote 6 - 1050-124 Lisboa, Portugal Website: www.visitportugal.pt
ICEP/Portuguese Trade and Tourism Office Portuguese Embassy, 11 Belgrave Square, London SW1X 8PP, UK Website: www.visitportugal.com
Algarve Town House – Situated in a private enclave of town houses with shared pool, but only 5 minutes’ walk to the beach of Praia Da Luz.