Charming cities, spectacular beaches, and delicious fresh delicacies: it’s hard to believe that Portugal once flew under the radar.
Seemingly small and isolated, in the early modern period Portugal ruled the waves, with an empire stretching from Indonesia to Brazil. This imperial wealth translated to lavish architecture – see the ornate Renaissance buildings of Braga, Sintra, and Lisbon for proof. Not surprisingly, this maritime country is also famous for its fresh and delicious seafood, but make sure to leave room for a pastel de nata (creamy custard tart) … or three. We won’t judge.
Odyssey travels by coach and occasionally uses local transport, including trains and ferries. Specifics are always outlined in your tour itinerary. Portugal is not a very big country, and flying between cities is not always necessary. All the major cities are connected by bus and train (among the least expensive in Europe). A high speed train – the Alfa Pendular – runs from north to south and stops in all the popular tourist cities. It is also quite easy to drive around the country on your own on Portugal’s well maintained toll roads.
In major cities, Odyssey stays in centrally located 3-4 star hotels, with easy access to public transport. In smaller towns or rural areas, we usually stay in family-run hotels or guesthouses. On our longstay tours, during which you spend the length of the tour in a single location, we use serviced apartments.
Odyssey always engages local guides with regional knowledge to ensure an authentic experience during which you can learn as much as possible about the history and culture of places you visit.
Geography, environment & weather
Portugal it situated on the Atlantic coast of the Iberian Peninsula. It is split by the Tagus River, which flows from Spain, right across the country and meets the coast at Lisbon. Typically, north of the river is mountainous and the south is characterised by flatter, rolling hills.
Portugal has a Mediterranean climate. It is one of the warmest countries in Europe, with some parts of the country averaging up to 28 degrees year round. Even so, some of the mountainous regions see regular snowfall. Portugal’s island regions (the Azores and Madeira) have subtropical climates.
World Heritage sites
Despite being a small country, Portugal boasts 15 UNESCO World Heritage Sites. You can view the official list of the sites here https://whc.unesco.org/en/statesparties/pt.
- It is well worth visiting every site, if you are able. But here’s a few highlights from the bunch:
- Colourful medieval castles of Sintra
- Joronimos Monsastery
- and the Tower of Belem in Lisbon
- Alto Douro Wine Region
Festivals & events
If you’ve heard of Carnaval, you might think of colourful, scantily clad Brazilians dancing in the streets. But this bacchanalian festival actually originated in Portugal.
The biggest party is in Lisbon’s Parques Nacoes, with street parades, masks and costumes, floats and theatrical performances. Braga is the main site of Portugal’s Holy Week processions, during which the streets fill with relgious symbols, flowers and lights.
The UNESCO World Heritage listed mountain town of Sintra also hosts its own festival, featuring ballet dancers, pianists and chamber musicians. For something different: at the Cascais Festival of the Sea, young fisherman try to impress female spectators by running bulls. Take your pick!
- The Fat Man and Infinity by Lobo Antunes
- Distant Music by Lee Langley
- The Portuguese: The Land and Its People by Marion A Kaplan
- Portugal: A Companion History by Jose H Saraiva
Eating & Drinking
Unsurprisingly, this coastal nation is big on seafood. It is a staple of the Portuguese diet – especially salt cod (although its taste is not for everyone). Give a go anyhow. Peri-peri spice is used to flavour chicken and shrimp and is one of Portugal’s great gifts to hangover cuisine. There are many other Portuguese spiced dishes that are worth your time. As far as dining is concerned, Portugal is great place to wander the streets until something takes your fancy. This is the best way to get off the tourist trail and discover the local cuisine.
Health & safety
While much of Portugal is usually safe to travel around, it’s important to stay alert to anything unusual. Also, you will often see signs warning of pickpockets in areas popular with tourists, so it’s important to keep a close eye on your belongings at all times.
Whenever you travel overseas, it’s always wise to take an appropriate travel adaptor. The electricity supply runs at 230V, 50Hz. Portuguese plugs have two circular pins, similar to most of Europe.
Portugal has a single time zone (excluding its overseas territories e.g. the Azores), Western European Time. The nation observes daylight saving time from the last Sunday in March to the last Sunday in October.
Internet access is easily accessible, and most hotels and many cafes will be able to offer it.
If you’re on an Odyssey tour, we take care of tipping so you don’t need to give it a second thought. However, in your free time, or if travelling independently, it’s essential that you make sure you tip an appropriate amount for services, as is the case throughout much of Europe. It’s customary to tip 10-15% of the bill at restaurants, or 1 to 3 euro at a more casual establishment. It’s polite to round a bill up to the nearest whole figure or leave the change when buying drinks.
Check with your cell phone provider to see whether you’re able to make calls and use data while in Portugal. Many providers will offer a daily fee that allows you to make calls and check the internet while only being charged your regular rates. However, be certain to inform your provider that you’re heading overseas, because just like a bank they can turn off your service as a result of unusual activity.
Responsible travel tips for Portugal.
- Learn at least the local greetings to break the ice. Although many locals speak English, the more you know of the native language, the greater your experience of the country will be.
- Carry a business card in your wallet or purse from your local hotel, to assist you with the return journey if you do become lost.
- Always ensure that you are covered by travel insurance. If you need advice on this feel free to contact Odyssey and we’ll be able to help.
- When travelling independently, make sure you check the opening hours of shops and museums so that you don’t miss out! Museums and galleries are often closed on Mondays. Also be certain to check whether your trip coincides with any public holidays, so you can plan accordingly.
- Consider contacting your bank to inform them that you may be making purchases overseas. Otherwise, they may flag any activity on your account as suspicious. Also, check which ATMs and banks are compatible with your cards, to ensure you can withdraw cash with minimal fees.
- Before departing, make sure you have a number of euros in a range of denominations. You don’t want to be carrying around enormous amounts of cash, but take enough to make it easy to pay in locations that might not accept credit card. It will also help you avoid card transaction fees, and it makes tipping a breeze.