One of the smaller countries on the continent, Portugal is best known for its rugged coastline which is filled with golden beaches and turquoise waters. Along with its famed coastline there is also much countryside to explore and old villages to visit.
Facing the Atlantic Ocean in South-Western Europe, Portugal enjoys a very warm climate for most of the year. This makes it an extremely popular destination with holiday makers along with backpackers exploring Europe who want to enjoy some sunshine.
Portugal officially became an independent state during the Christian reconquest which begun around the 5th century AD. It prospered into a strong, wealthy nation, reaching its heyday in the 14th and 15th centuries, although it lost much of this when Lisbon was destroyed by an earthquake in 1755.
Today Portugal has a population of just over 10 million people and over half a million of them live in the capital, Lisbon. The land is extremely varied. Along with its famed coastline there is an amazing mountainous area in the north and plains in the south.
Due to its relative isolation from the rest of Europe, Portugal has developed a cuisine all of its own. The main ingredients of their diet are meat, fruit, vegetables and, in particular, fish. When they combine these into various native dishes they do so in very large portions. Thankfully, these portions don’t cost an arm and a leg so eating out is always affordable.
Lisbon, like all other European capitals, has a wealth of restaurants to choose from. All other cities such as Porto and Coimbra also have a large selection. Set menus known as ‘ementa turística’ are menus set particularly for tourists.
Some Portuguese specialities include Bacalhau which is dried salt codfish, Arroz de Marisco which is mixed seafood in rice and Bife de Atum which is tuna steak. There aren’t too many regional differences.
By air: Portugal’s main airports are in Lisbon, Porto and Faro. Nearly all major European airlines fly to one of these.
Airport taxes vary, depending on which country you are flying from.
By train: There are two main long distance train routes into Portugal, going to Porto and Lisbon. Both originate in Paris with the TGV Atlantique going to Irún in Spain. This is where you have to change trains, depending on whether you want to go to Porto or Lisbon.
By bus: Buses are the cheaper way to get around Europe, and the most popular bus company is ‘Busabout’. You can book your bus travel with Busabout through this site.
By air: You can travel between the major cities in Portugal by air although it can prove to be costly. As there are no extreme distances between different destinations it is far more cost effective to travel by train or bus.
By train: Portugal’s state railway company is Caminhos de Ferro Portugueses. Different to other European countries, it is cheaper to travel around Portugal on train rather than on bus, although they are slower.
By bus: There are various bus companies operating around Portugal and they ensure getting around the country on bus isn’t a problem. Buses are generally quicker than trains for long journeys.
The best way to think about Portugal in terms of sightseeing is to divide it into their different regions, each with their different attributes. The north east of the country is known as ‘Costa Verde’ which means ‘Green Coast’. Just as its name implies, the hills here are where you can see various shades of green. This is where Portugal experiences its highest levels and its capital is Porto.
East of this is in the north west of Portugal is ‘Montanhas’, meaning mountains. Along with being Portugal’s most mountainous region, it is where you can find old castles, unspoilt countryside and vineyards.
Portugal’s other regions are ‘Costa de Prata’ (the Silver Coast) with its 200km of coastline and quaint villages, the Algarve which is famous all over the world for its beaches, and the Lisbon Coast where the city’s charming capital city is situated.
Portugal is a particularly lively country during the summer months when there is always some festival taking place somewhere around the country. One of the festivals which is better than others is Festa de Santo Santónio in Lisbon on the 12th-13th June which is an all-night street fair in Lisbon.
The Portuguese are just as much into their nightclubs and bars as the rest of Europe. Lisbon’s nightlife is extremely vibrant, as is that in Porto and Portugal’s student town, Coimbra. Touristy towns such as Lagos and Faro on the Algarve are also known for their liveliness once the sun goes down.
Portugal has a traditional folk music known as Fado. Try and catch a performance at some stage during your stay to get some sort of insight into their social culture.
On the 12th June 2004 the UEFA European Cup will be taking place in Portugal, turning the whole country into one big party town. Porto and Lisbon will be the two largest centres, but the whole country will switch into party mode for the tournament’s 3 weeks.
For nationals of the EU a visa isn’t required to enter Portugal although you do need a passport that is valid for 6 months after date of entry. Same applies to nationals of Canada, New Zealand, USA and Australia for a stay of up to 90 days. Natives of South Africa require a visa.
It is advised that you contact the Portuguese embassy in your native country before travelling to ensure you are aware of the proper requirements for both holidays and working holidays.
The currency used in Portugal is the Euro which is made up of 100 Cent. Notes come in denominations of €100, €50, €20, €10 and €5 and the coins in use are €2, €1, 0.50C, 0.20C, 0.10C, 0.05C, 0.02C and 0.01C.
Portugal’s official language is Portuguese. English is also widely spoken, particularly in the tourism industry.
Southern Portugal enjoys a Mediterranean climate from March to October while up north temperatures don’t reach quite same the heights. Rain falls more frequently up north also.
Visitors from EU countries are entitled to medical treatment under the EU Reciprocal Medical Treatment agreement. Before you travel you should collect an E111 form from your local social security office. This form may also be obtained in post offices.
For minor health problems visit the ‘farmacia’ (pharmacy) where trained pharmacists should be able to assist you.
Portugal is located in the Central European Time zone (CET) which is one hour ahead of GMT.
Shops in Portugal generally open between 9am and 1pm and again from 3pm until 7pm from Monday to Saturday. It is worth noting, however, that in smaller towns and villages they only open until 2.00pm on Saturdays. Office hours are generally the same as the shops but they don’t open at all on Saturdays.
Airports always have good tourist desks. You will find tourist offices in all major towns and cities in Portugal. Opening hours vary, although most are open between 9am and 6pm.
Sales tax in Portugal is 19% and is known as Imposto Sobre Valor Acrescentado (IVA).
Banks and bureau du changes are all over Portugal and take both cash and travellers cheques. They all have different exchange rates so your best bet is to shop around.
Credit cards and bank cards can be used in cash machines that display the ‘Cirrus’ sign.
220V/50Hz. Plugs are two-pinned.
To call Portugal from overseas, first dial the international access code of the country you are in followed by Portugal’s country code (351) followed by the local number. Portugal doesn’t have area codes.
Calling overseas from within Portugal you first dial the international access code (00) followed by the country code for wherever you are calling, the area code (dropping the 0) and the local number.
The easiest way to make calls is by using pre-paid phonecards which are easily obtained.
Post offices are called ‘correios’. They open at 9am until 10pm from Monday to Friday, and 9am-6pm at the weekends.
Some restaurants include a service charge in the bill. Menus will usually state this. If not a tip of between 5%-10% will suffice. Taxi drivers are usually tipped also.
It is worth noting what the public holidays are before you travel as the majority of businesses, banks and shops usually shut for the day.
In Portugal they are New Years Day (January 1st), Carnival (February), Easter (March/April), Revolution Day (April 25th), Labour Day (May 1st), Portugal Day (June 10th), Feast of the Assumption (August 15th), Republic Day (October 5th), All Saints Day (November 1st), Independence Day (December 1st) and Christmas Day (December 25th).