Portugal is filled with stunning scenery, charming towns, delicious food and interesting history, yet many visitors never get past the capital city of Lisbon. If you want to get under the skin of Portugal and see more than just the icons, read our tips on how to travel Portugal like a local.
The best way to experience Portugal’s beautiful cities and towns is to walk everywhere. Strap on your comfiest pair of walking shoes and hit the gorgeous cobblestone streets to find hidden laneways, beautiful architecture and charming cafes. Walking allows you to slow down and experience the tastes, sounds and smells of Portugal, and see everything you might miss while zipping around in a taxi. Many locals also walk or catch public transport to get around, so you’ll fit right in.
Try speaking Portuguese
You don’t have to be fluent, but learning a few basic phrases in Portuguese will make a big difference as you travel Portugal. Making the effort to learn a few common phrases such as ‘bom dia‘ (good morning), ‘obrigado‘ (thank you) and ‘adeus‘ (goodbye) will help you communicate and might even earn you a few smiles from the locals!
Bring some Euros
Portugal uses the Euro and many places like markets, taxis and restaurants will only accept cash payments with euros. You can still bring your credit card, but come prepared with a stash of Euros. You can also bring an international bank card to withdraw cash from ATMs around the country as you travel. This is a safer option rather than carrying a large wad of cash.
Be mindful of your clothing
Many European countries are known for their fashion sense, and Portugal is no different. Most Portuguese go out dressed nicely and don’t normally wear super casual clothing like sweatpants in public. You don’t have to get completely dressed up to go sightseeing, but dressing a bit more smartly will help you to fit in with the locals. You’ll also avoid being an obvious tourist (and more vulnerable to pickpockets and scammers).
Eat like a local
The Portuguese take pride in their cuisine and for good reason. Fresh seafood, famous sandwiches, tangy chicken, sweet pastries and desserts… Portugal is a foodie’s delight.
No matter where you go, you must try the seafood, but it’s best to enjoy it by the seaside. We recommend heading to the beaches of the northwestern Portuguese Atlantic coast, where you can taste seafood delicacies while ocean waves crash against the shore. Order like the locals with a mariscada (mixed seafood platter) washed down with a fantastic local beer or wine.
If sandwiches are more your speed, try a bifana, a traditional Portuguese pork sandwich and a national favourite. When in Porto, you should try the francesinha, the city’s beloved sandwich. Made with bread, ham, sausages, and steak, the francesinha is usually covered with melted cheese and an egg and drizzled with a special tomato-based sauce.
For dessert, you can’t miss the famous pastel de nata, a small egg tart made with creamy custard and a flaky crust. We recommend visiting an outdoor market where you’ll find delicious local treats, lively stalls and wonderful souvenirs.
Local Portuguese food experiences
If you’re heading to the Algarve, we recommend experiencing an authentic local dinner. You can taste wonderful dishes cooked in a ‘Cataplana’, a traditional piece of cookware used to make Portuguese seafood dishes.
For more authentic foodie experiences in Portugal, join us for a ‘Be My Guest‘ lunch at a stud farm in the beautiful Alentejo region. You’ll hear a tragic story of unrequited love and explore the farm where Lusitano horses were once reared for King João VI in the 18th century. You’ll also join your hosts Tiago and Vera for a home-cooked lunch. Taste traditional Portuguese chicken while enjoying stunning views of the golden pastures of the Alentejo.
You also shouldn’t miss out on an evening of entertainment Portuguese style. We’ll take you out to a dinner of local delicacies and wines, accompanied by traditional fado singing. Savour your meal while you listen to the moving sounds of the fado.
Portugal dining tip
Eating like a local in Portugal isn’t just about the food – it’s also about when you eat. Like much of Europe, many Portuguese people eat lunch around 1pm or later. Dinner isn’t usually served until around 8:30pm or 9pm. Most restaurants and shops will close around 3pm for the afternoon siesta and won’t reopen until 7:30pm. With warm nights and beautiful scenery, you’ll quickly come to embrace the late, leisurely dinners in Portugal.
Drink like a local
The wine is just as important as the food in Portugal. The country is known for making excellent wines, and a good bottle of Portuguese wine can cost as little as €2. Don’t be afraid to ask a local for advice on which wines to try as many Portuguese take their winemaking very seriously.
Some of the best winemaking regions include the Douro Valley, Alentejo, Tejo and Vinho Verde. Try the sweet port wine made in Porto, or if you prefer beer, check out the low-priced local beers.
When you travel Portugal with Trafalgar, we’ll take you on a food and wine pairing experience at Ínsua Manor. This beautiful 18th-century manor and estate is located in the Viseu region near the famous Dão vineyards.
You’ll enjoy a gourmet experience matching local foods like handmade cheese and jam to different local wines. You can also experience a Beira Dinner in a Dão Wine Cellar, where you’ll get to taste some of the best wines of this famous wine region. Saúde!
Don’t stay in Lisbon or Porto
If it’s your first time to Portugal, you’ll definitely want to visit the major hotspots of Lisbon, Porto and the Algarve. But that doesn’t mean you should limit yourself to these regions. You’ll find a more traditional side to Portuguese culture in the smaller towns and villages, along with spectacular scenery. Here are some of our favourite lesser-known gems of Portugal:
We’ll take you across the Serra do Caldeirão to the ancient Alentejo city of Évora, where you can delve into the medieval history of this magical city. See the ornate cathedral, Roman temple and the Chapel of Bones. Or kick back with a drink in Praça do Giraldo.
Journey to the village of Monsaraz, where you’ll wander through vineyards and groves of cork oaks. You can also visit the beautiful white villages of the Alentejo region. Here you can explore a castle that overlooks Spain and see the largest artificial lake in Europe.
Take a drive through the enchanting vineyard-clad hills of the Douro Valley, where port wine is produced. We’ll take you to the gorgeous gardens at the Baroque-style Palácio de Mateus, shown on the label of the Mateus wine bottles. You can also enjoy a relaxing cruise along the Douro River. You’ll see five impressive bridges, including the UNESCO-listed Eiffel Bridge.
You’ll travel through the lush green Minho to reach Braga, a city in the far north of Portugal. Here you can see Europe’s largest sculpted Baroque staircase that leads up the forested hillside to the Bom Jesus sanctuary. You can also take a walk through Braga’s historic centre to find the medieval Braga Cathedral and its sacred art museum, the grand Archbishop’s Palace and the Santa Barbara Garden.
Pick up a Porto or Lisboa card
Travelling Portugal like a local doesn’t mean you have to skip the major tourist spots. It just means you’re savvier about it. If you’re travelling to Portugal for the first time and want to check out Lisbon and Porto, be sure to get a Lisboa Card or a Porto Card. These city passes give you free transportation on the Metro, trams, public buses, funiculars and some trains.
They also give you free or discounted admission to many major attractions, tours and museums, and discounts to selected restaurants, bars, stores and theatre shows. You can pick up a Lisboa Card in one of the tourist information offices at Lisbon Airport, St Apolónia International Railway Station or at Rua Augusta and Belém Kiosks. The Porto Card is available at the airport or at the official tourist centres in the city.