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Travel Tips

Authentic Travel Tips—Portugal

Portugal is a small country with many gorgeous variations. Imagine seeing a Roman statue of Diana, towns that once belonged to the Knights Templar, lush islands, pink marble, and vineyards that roll beyond the horizon. Fado music is the sound track, from ornate monasteries to dazzling cities. Wine, port, creamy custard tarts, hearty meals, and world-renowned beaches are yours. From Lisbon to the Douro Valley, Porto to Braga, you’ll understand why Portugal has so many UNESCO World Heritage Sites.

Below are some travel tips for a vacationing in stunning Portugal.


Euro money

Portugal’s currency is the Euro, €. Several weeks before you leave, stop into your bank, and order some Euros. They’re handy to have when you touch down. If you don’t have time, there are places in the airport to change your US Dollars to Euros—the charge is simply a bit higher than what your bank will charge you. Also, it’s nice to have cash on hand.

When in Portugal, you can change money at an exchange office or post office. You might also be able to change money at your hotel. You’ll need your passport or other photo ID when you exchange money.


In Portugal, ATMs are called multibanco or caixa automatico. The multibanco system is a network of more than 11,000 ATMs. You’ll find them at most bank branches, airports, train stations, central areas, and shopping centers.

You can use MasterCard (Cirrus and Maestro) or Visa. ATMs display the logos of all card networks they’re associated with. Remember: Let your bank know that you’ll be abroad, otherwise they’ll think there’s suspicious activity and could freeze your card. Make sure you know your 4-digit PIN.

View of the colorful city of Viseu in PortugalCity of Viseu in the centro region of Portugal

Credit Cards

Most urban establishments accept major credit, debit, and prepaid currency cards. American Express is less common. In the country, especially in a dining establishment, sometimes only cash is accepted. Ask before you order.

VAT Tax Refund

Portugal charges a Value Added Tax (VAT) on all goods and services. It is currently at 23%, maximum. The VAT tax is included in the price tag of an item that you purchase. As a non-EU citizen, you are entitled to a refund on much of the VAT you paid during your travels. When you purchase an item, ask the sales person for a document with a registration code and a receipt. Before leaving, while at the airport, go to a check-in desk, and tell the person on duty that you have some items ready for a VAT tax refund. Then, head to the customs area and you’ll see electronic e-tax-free Portugal terminal kiosks. Fill in your information, and receive your certification. There are VAT refund operators. You can either receive your VAT refund right away at the counter, or if you leave your form in the submission box, the payment will be processed to you later.

Religious statues overlooking the city of Braga during sunsetCity of Braga in the far north of Portugal


Portugal’s power sockets have Type F plugs with two prongs and a round pin. Standard voltage is 220-240 V—twice that of the US. Simply purchase a Portugal adapter for your plug-in items before leaving. They are inexpensive, small, and easy to purchase online or in many stores. If you forget, you can purchase one in Portugal, but it is much easier to get it in advance.

Chauffeured Driving

Should you want to extend a Small Guided Vacation in Portugal, many people like to have a chauffeured driver. It is reasonably priced, great for several people traveling together, there’s room for your luggage, and you get to relax and simply enjoy your vacation. And a local driver can share off-the-beaten-path possibilities with you. Ask your Authentic Destination Expert about this option.

Driving Portugal Yourself

Portugal’s roads are generally in good shape but, as it is everywhere, driving in large cities can be a nightmare. Ancient cities are best navigated on foot, bus, chauffeur, or taxi.

All drivers must carry their car rental insurance documents and driver’s license. Drive on the right in Portugal, the same side of the road you drive on in America. When you approach a roundabout, yield to traffic coming from the left. (As in the States, pull over for emergency vehicles.) Roundabouts also have images that indicate sites and restaurants.

Road signs are in Portuguese. Distances are shown in kilometers (km). Signs generally do not indicate north, west, south, or east—they have the name of a city. A GPS is a godsend, and you might want to bring a small pocket map of the country, so you get a feel for how cities are situated in relation to each other.

Seatbelts must be worn at all times. Do not use your cell phone while driving unless you have a hands-free device. And, although drinking wine is part of daily life, under .5% BAC is mandatory. This law is strictly enforced.

Classic Portuguese boats on the Porto Douro riverPorto Douro river

Speed Limits

The motorways are great to drive on between cities, but rural roads may need repair. The speed limits are 120 km/h (75 mph) for motorways; 100 km/h (60 mph) for divided highways; secondary roads 90 km/h (55 mph); urban areas 50 km/h (30 mph) Few police check the roads but sometimes there are cameras, especially on highways. If you’re driving a rental car, and you exceed the speed limit, the ticket goes to the rental company which will take the amount of the fine off your credit card. So, go easy on the roads and enjoy the stunning scenery.

Driving Times

Below are listed examples of driving times from Lisbon to several cities within the country and in Spain. We suggest that you keep your driving time down when possible. Portuguese roads travel through stunning territory. Relax.

  • Lisbon to Porto: 3 hours
  • Lisbon to Faro: 2.5 hours
  • Lisbon to Evora: 1.5 hours
  • Lisbon to Madrid: 6.5 hours
  • Lisbon to Seville: 5 hours
  • Lisbon to Cadiz: 6 hours
  • Lisbon to Malaga: 7 hours


We strongly suggest the use of a GPS. Tell your Authentic Destination Expert you want one when setting up your car rental. If you forget to do that, ask for one at the rental agency desk at the airport. But, it’s far better to plan in advance.


Service workers in Portugal appreciate tips. Here is a general guide, but as in the States go up or down, depending on the service you received.

  • Waiters: 10%
  • Hotel Porter: 1 €/bag
  • Housekeeping: 1 €/day
  • Concierge: 2 – 3 €
  • Taxi Driver: Round up to the nearest Euro

Performing musicians in front of a colorful town

Holidays & Public Closures

Public Holidays—Schools, post offices, and banks close. Many shops and attractions close early or are closed. Many small towns also have days off. The following are dates and names of holidays:

  • New Year’s Day: January 1
  • March or April: Good Friday
  • March or April: Easter Sunday
  • April 25: Freedom Day
  • May 1: Labor Day
  • May or June: Corpus Christi
  • June 10: Portugal Day
  • June 13: Feast of St. Anthony (Lisbon)
  • June 24: Feast of St. John the Baptist (Porto)
  • August 15: Assumption Day
  • October 5: Republic Day
  • November 1: All Saints’ Day
  • December 1: Restoration of Independence
  • December 8: Immaculate Conception Day
  • December 25: Christmas Day

Hours For Shops & Banks

Banks are closed on public holidays, and they are open M – Fri from 8:30 – 3:00. On Mondays, state-run museums, buildings, and monuments are closed. On Sundays, churches and cathedrals are closed to tourists during Mass. Small shops are open M – Fri, sometime between 9am and 10 am. They usually close around 7 pm, although these days more are open on Saturday. Many traditional shops in small towns close on Sundays. Shopping centers in big cities are usually open every day. The Colombo Mall in Lisbon, one of the largest in the country, is open from 9 am to midnight every day.

Smoking, Drugs, & Alcohol

Smoking is banned in all indoor spaces, including bars, restaurants, shopping malls, and all public places. The possession of illegal drugs is prohibited and could result in a prison sentence. The legal limit for Blood Alcohol Content is .05% and strictly enforced.

Time Zone

Portugal is on Central European Time, one hour ahead of GMT. (When it is 8 am in London, it is 9 am in Portugal.)

Chapel of Saint Francis in GuimaraesChapel of Saint Francis in Guimaraes

Visiting Sacred Sites and Natural Wonders

When visiting a church, cathedral, or ancient site remember you are on sacred ground and show respect.

What to Pack

Pack good walking shoes—many streets are made of cobblestones, and you’ll want solid footing. Bring your hat, sunglasses, and sunscreen.

Wear nice-fitting jeans or slacks, t-shirts, nice sandals, and sleeveless tops in the summer, particularly at the beach. Pack at least one smart, casual outfit for dining out and going out in the evenings. Depending upon which time of year you visit, and which part of the country, you will need a sweater and/or jacket.

Pack your electrical adapter, a copy of your passport, and credit or debit cards. (Best to only bring two or three of these.) Make copies of your health insurance. Keep your meds, important copies of docs, and some cash in one small, convenient bag.

Cell Phones and Wi-Fi

Free hotspots are available in main towns and cities. Your lodgings have Wi-Fi, although, as with anywhere, small towns often have spotty coverage. Before leaving, contact your cell phone carrier. Most will charge you a relatively small fee, usually $10/day, for making calls back to the US and within Portugal on your cell phone. This is very handy!

Emergency Phone Numbers

Dial 112 for an emergency operator.

Fairy palace in SintraFairy palace in Sintra


Portugal has a world-class healthcare system. For non-EU and non-UK citizens, payment is out-of-pocket, so it’s important to arrange for travel insurance before you leave the USA. A green cross indicates a pharmacy, or a farmacia. A pharmacist is an excellent source of information and, if necessary, they can direct you to the nearest doctor. Pharmacies display a card on all doors, showing the address of the nearest all-night pharmacy.

Local Customs

A much-loved aspect of Portugal is the slow pace of life. Avoid impatience in restaurants, events, hotels, and meeting people.


You will need your US driver’s license and your passport at the car rental desk.

Vintage tram in LisbonVintage tram in Lisbon

Hair Dryers:

Hairdryers are generally supplied in our accommodations.

Wash Cloths:

Wash cloths are an American invention, and you will rarely see them in Portugal. If this is something you absolutely must have, pack your own.

There are so many reasons to love Portugal. Lisbon and Porto are repositories of global history, and both have a cutting-edge art scene. The beaches are stunning—some of Europe’s best. The nightlife and fado music are a must. Domes, turrets, and palaces dot Portugal, while the countryside is lush and wild. And, of course, the cuisine and wines are out of this world.

Let your Destination Expert know you’re ready to experience the best of what Portugal has to offer!