Traveling in Portugal is far from the new, chic trend. Travelers, both well-intentioned and otherwise, have been visiting Portugal and the Iberian peninsula for centuries. The Celts, the Visigoths, the Romans, and the Moors have all traipsed through and left their marks. What they left behind is a marvelous collection of medieval towns, clifftop castles, monasteries, and no less than 15 UNESCO World Heritage sites. Combine that with some spectacular natural scenery and you have one of Europe’s most enchanting destinations, not to mention one of its best travel bargains.
July and August are high season, especially in the Algarve and other coastal areas. Expect to pay at least a 30% premium on accommodation and encounter warm weather across the country, so bear that in mind when considering what to pack clothes-wise. The December-March low season can see mild winter temperatures in the inland areas and shorter opening hours for most attractions, but much smaller crowds and lower prices all around. The springtime and autumn in Portugal’s interior bring on beautiful weather, perfect for traveling and sightseeing the blossoming trees and autumn harvests.
When deciding what to bring on your trip to Portugal, it is important to consider the region and time of year you will be traveling. With an average temperature between 60°F and 85°F, pack for the comfort. There is little rainfall in most of Portugal, so an umbrella won’t be necessary.
If your Portugal travel plans include the coast, don’t leave home without a swimsuit, sunglasses, hat, or sun lotion. As with any beach destination, sandals are a must-have. When traveling in the mountainous regions of Portugal you will experience cooler temperatures and having a light jacket will come in handy. Athletic shoes and hiking boots are the best options when you are venturing out on the trails. If you travels include camping, insect repellent will prove useful and can help to ward off bugs.
You will want to be sure to have an electrical converter, as electricity is supplied via a 230V / 50 Hz, type C/F plug. It is ideal to have a credit card, an ATM/debit card, and low denominations of currency (Euros).
Portugal’s capital of Lisbon is one of the few Western European cities that faces an ocean, and the city makes good use of it. White-bleached limestone buildings and intimate alleyways give it an easy-going charm. The most enchanting areas of the city is the Alfama district, with a network of alleyways meandering in all directions and hidden courtyards that are easy to get lost in. But it’s an experience that’s worth it.
Sintra, about an hour from Lisbon by train, is a resort town in the foothills of the Sintra mountains that is like something out of a fairy tale. A Moorish National Palace, with twin chimneys and elaborate tilework, looms over a town of pastel-colored villas, all of it surrounded by forests that are straight out of Hansel and Gretel. The fog that tends to sweep in by night makes it worth spending the night at one of the town’s many B&Bs.
The Douro wine country, the oldest demarcated wine country in the world, is the only legitimate home of port wine and also worth a visit for travelers who fancy an occasional tipple. Terraced hills along the Douro River are covered with vines that have been producing for centuries. Nearby Porto, Portugal’s second-largest city, is another medieval icon, with alleyways large enough only for foot traffic leading to baroque churches and sprawling plazas. Porto’s Rebeira District, which has been continuously inhabited since the 4th century, is a UNESCO world heritage site.
Beach lovers head straight for the Algarve on the southern Atlantic coast, where the waters are warmer and the golf courses are among the highest-rated in Europe. The south coast has everything a sun-loving holiday-maker could want, from secluded coves and islands reachable only by boat to glamorous beaches where hoards of summer travelers go to see and be seen.
Evora, in the southern Alentejo region, is known as the “museum city” and one of Portugal’s best-preserved medieval towns. Winding streets converge on a massive Cathedral and cloisters complex, roman ruins and a town square surrounded by 14th-century buildings. Don’t miss the Capela dos Ossos, or Bone Chapel, a sanctuary ornamented with real human bones.
Public transport in Portugal is good, with super-fast Alfa Pendular trains connecting the major cities and regular train service to many of the regional capitals. Buses connect most of the smaller towns, though service is less frequent on the weekends than on weekdays. For those who want to get truly off the beaten track, the road network is excellent and car hires are readily available in the major tourist centers. The infrastructure in Portugal is quite nice and you will find it an easy and enjoyable experience to travel around.