Everything you need to know if you’re traveling to Portugal

History and Geography

Located at the south-west point of Europe, Portugal occupies an area of 88,889 km2: it is 218 km wide and 1230 km long. It has 1230 km of Atlantic coast and a 1215 km border with Spain.

The archipelagos of Madeira and Azores, situated on the Atlantic Ocean, are also part of Portugal. Located in the Atlantic Ocean, between Europe and North America, the Azores have an area of 2355 km2 and are made up of 9 islands: São Miguel, Santa Maria, Terceira, Graciosa, São Jorge, Pico, Faial, Flores and Corvo. By plane, it takes about 2 hours to get from the Azores to mainland Portugal.

The Madeira archipelago has an area of 741 km2 and is located in the Atlantic Ocean, about 500 km from the African coast and 1000 km from the European continent. It is comprised of the islands of Madeira and Porto Santo, as well as the uninhabited Desertas and Selvagens islands, which are nature reserves. By plane, it takes about 1½ hours to get from Madeira to mainland Portugal.


Portugal has a population of approximately 10 million. The major city and capital of Portugal is Lisbon, the second largest Portuguese city is Oporto and is located in the northern part of the country.


Portugal is one of the oldest nations in Europe. With an extensive sea coast, the Portuguese have sailed all around the world and are responsible for some of the most amazing territorial discoveries. In the 14th, 15th and 16th centuries, the Portuguese were the first Europeans to sail to Africa, the distant Orient and the heart of South America, from where they brought a wealth of treasures. Even before moving forward along the coast of Africa, Portuguese sailors discovered the archipelagos of the Azores and Madeira, which are now a part of Portuguese territory. Portugal has a history of Phoenicians, Greeks, Carthaginians, Romans, northern Europeans, as well as people from Mauritania.

In the 12th century, and thanks to Portugal’s first king, Count Afonso Henriques, the country won its independence from the other kingdoms in the Iberian Peninsula. With the conquest of the Algarve a century later, Portugal established its continental border in a definitive manner. In the late 13th century, King Dinis founded, in the beautiful city of Coimbra, Portugal’s first university and one of the oldest in Europe.

In 1640, after a dynastic crisis and a brief period under the rule of the Spanish crown, a Portuguese king won back the throne once more, showing Europe that although Portugal may be small and discrete, its spirit of independence is extremely strong! In the 18th century, King João V, a monarch and patron of the arts, ordered the edification of a colossal palace and convent in Mafra, as well as a great aqueduct that supplied the city of Lisbon with its water. In the 19th century, the monarchy was subsequently weakened because of continuous conflicts that arose between different factions and, in 1910, it was overthrown and Portugal became a republic.

Portugal has been a member of the EU since 1986.


The majority of the Portuguese population is Catholic, but the Portuguese Constitution warrants religious freedom and there are a number of active and distinct religions in Portugal.


With many Portuguese-speaking countries scattered all over the world – from Africa to Asia to America – Portuguese is the native language of about 250 million people and is the third most spoken European idiom in the world. However, in Portugal, you’ll easily find people who are able to communicate effortlessly in English, French and Spanish.

Driving in Portugal  

In Portugal, vehicles are driven on the right-hand side of the road and the country’s road signs comply with international rules. Unless otherwise indicated, vehicles coming from the right have priority at intersections and in squares. At junctions with roundabouts, vehicles already on the roundabout have right of way.

All occupants in a vehicle must wear a seat belt. It is strictly forbidden to use mobile phones while driving. It is also against the law to drive with a blood alcohol level of 0.5 grams per liter or more.

Portugal’s main highways are equipped with toll booths, where either cash or bank card can be used as a form of payment. These highways are also equipped with Via Verde (www.viaverde.pt): an electronic toll system that is reserved exclusively for vehicles possessing an electronic identification device that does not require drivers to stop on highways, allowing them to make toll payments by bank debit. Other Portuguese motorways also have an exclusive electronic toll system, where tolls are collected electronically: as vehicles pass through the toll gates (which are identified with the words “Electronic toll only”), they are immediately acknowledged by electronic detectors. For more information concerning the roads that are covered by this system and how payments may be issued, please consult www.tollcard.pt.

Requirements for driving a car in Portugal:

  • Driver’s license
  • Vehicle insurance certificate
  • Vehicle registration or equivalent
  • Vehicle logbook or equivalent

Car rentals

In Portugal, there are car rental services at airports, bus and rail terminals, as well as in most towns and cities. To rent a car you must be between 21 and 25 years old (age requirements vary depending on the company’s rental policy), have a valid ID (identity card for EU citizens or a valid passport for other nationalities), as well as a valid driver’s license (at least one year old).

Telephones, Mobile Phones and Internet

In Portuguese public telephone booths, coins and specific calling cards can be used – these are sold in post offices, convenience store, kiosks and news-stands.

In Portugal, all telephone numbers are made up of nine digits. To call Portugal from abroad you must dial the international access code (00), followed by the country code (351). To call abroad from Portugal, you must dial the international access code (00), followed by the country code, the area code and then the specific telephone number.

Internet access is available, after payment, in numerous post offices and cafés. In various public facilities, as well as airports, hotels, conference centers, restaurants, shopping centers and highway service areas or wherever there is a Wi-Fi sign, it is possible to access wireless Internet.


Mainland Portugal
Although a relatively small country, Portugal’s climate varies significantly from one region to another and is influenced by its relief, latitude and proximity to the sea, which tends to offer mild winters, especially in the Algarve.

In the Northern part of the country, mainly inland and closer to Spain, winters are much colder, although temperatures are still relatively mild when compared to the rest of Europe.

Every year, some snowfall is registered, but mostly only in the Serra da Estrela mountains, mainland Portugal’s highest point (1,991 m) and a very popular ski resort area.

Summers in Portugal are hot and dry, particularly in the inland areas (Trás-os-Montes in the north and Alentejo in the south), but temperatures are always lower in the coastal regions, because of the proximity and influence of the ocean.

Spring and autumn are beautiful seasons in Portugal and are often filled with warm and sunny days.


Influenced by the islands’ latitude and by the Gulf Stream, the Azores archipelago has mild weather almost year round. The same factors also influence the temperature of the ocean, which is inviting both in summer and winter, perfect for enjoying nautical sports any day of the year.


The Madeira archipelago is known for its subtropical weather, unique characteristics that can be explained by its geographical position and mountainous relief. The climate in Madeira is very pleasant, with typical temperatures of 24 ºC in the summer and 19 ºC in the winter. Because of the warm Gulf Stream, the ocean is just as inviting, with typical temperatures of 22 ºC in the summer and 18 ºC in the winter.

 Temperatures (average in ºC and ºF)


















(Porto and North)






























Monte Estoril




































Santa Maria
























Official time

During the winter – from the last Sunday in October to the last Sunday in March – the official time in mainland Portugal and Madeira is the Coordinated Universal Time (UTC).

During the summer – from the last Sunday in March to the last Sunday in October – the official time in mainland Portugal and Madeira is the Coordinated Universal Time (UTC) plus one hour.

In the Azores, it is one hour earlier than in mainland Portugal and Madeira, which means one hour earlier than the Coordinated Universal Time in the winter and two hours earlier in the summer.


Generally speaking, the Portuguese population has three meals per day. Between 7:30 and 10 a.m. they have a light breakfast consisting of coffee or fruit juice and toast or a sandwich, often at their local café or bakery.

The main meals are lunch, between 12:00 and 2:30 p.m., which is often eaten at a restaurant close to work, at work or even at home; and dinner, which is normally enjoyed between 7:30 and 10:30 p.m. Most people eat a complete meal, comprised of soup, a main dish and dessert or fruit.

A snack consisting of a drink and a cake or light sandwich between these two meals, usually around 5 p.m., is also normal.

Eating out is common practice in Portugal and going out for lunch or dinner, especially during the weekend, is also a great excuse for getting out of the house, going for a drive or meeting up with friends.

In any town or city, there is a huge selection of restaurants that cater to every type of palate. Restaurants are usually open for lunch between noon and 3 p.m. and for dinner between 7 and 10 p.m., however, many restaurants also have longer working hours, especially in the big cities and areas with a busy nightlife. It is the norm in Portugal that restaurants close once a week (sometimes on the weekend), but the food courts in shopping centers are open every day.


Portugal’s official currency is the Euro.
The coins are presented as 1, 2, 5, 10, 20 and 50 cents, as well as 1 and 2 Euros.
The bills are also differentiated by their size and color and are presented as 5, 10, 20, 50, 100, 200 and 500 Euros.

ATMs – Automatic Teller Machines (Multibanco)

Portugal has a national network of Automatic Teller Machines (ATMs) identified by the symbol MB (Multibanco), from which you can withdraw cash 24 hours a day.

Currency Exchange

You can exchange money at the airport or at banks, which are open five days a week from 8.30 a.m. to 3 p.m.

Credit Cards

In Portugal, the most commonly used and accepted credit cards are: Visa, American Express, Europay/MasterCard, Diners Club, JCB and Maestro.


Although service is included in the bill at all restaurants, it is customary to leave an additional tip of about 5-10% of the total bill. It is also common to tip taxi drivers 5-10% or by simply rounding up the amount due to the nearest Euro.


Since January 1st 2008 that smoking is prohibited in confined public spaces in Portugal, including all government buildings, work places, public transport, healthcare establishments, laboratories and pharmacies, schools and other educational establishments, indoor sports facilities, museums, shops selling food and drink, indoor car parks, concert and theatre halls, libraries, hotels and service stations.

The owners of restaurants, bars and clubs with less than 100 m2 of floor area can choose whether these are converted into smoking or non-smoking areas. If smoking is permitted, these areas must be adequately ventilated. This information must be clearly displayed, both inside and outside the building.


Due to its wonderful geographical position, Portugal is a habitual stopover destination for many foreign airlines.


  • Lisbon – Portela Airport
  • Oporto – Francisco Sá Carneiro Airport
  • Faro – Faro Airport
  • Funchal, Madeira – Funchal Airport
  • Ponta Delgada, Azores – João Paulo II Airport

Departure and arrival information is available via the ANA website (www.ana.pt) or the

ANAM website (www.anam.pt).

There are 2 main Portuguese airlines that offer regular domestic and international flights:

  • TAP - Air Portugal (www.tap.pt): the country’s most renowned airline has regularly scheduled flights to more than 50 international destinations and domestic flights between Lisbon, Oporto, Faro, Madeira and the Azores, as well as flights between Madeira and Porto Santo.
  • SATA (www.sata.pt):  this Portuguese airline assures regular flights between all of the Azores islands, as well as flights from the Azores to Madeira and mainland Portugal. In addition, SATA also flies to various international destinations.


The Portuguese railway company CP - Comboios de Portugal (www.cp.pt), offers a great rail network that not only covers all of mainland Portugal, but also offers international train services to Vigo, Madrid and Paris.

The “Alfa Pendular” train offers the fastest and most comfortable train ride between Lisbon and the Algarve, efficiently connecting Lisbon to the north of the country as well.

The "Intercidades" or Intercity train offers many routes such as Lisbon-Oporto-Guimarães, Lisbon-Guarda, Lisbon-Covilhã, Lisbon-Évora-Beja and Lisbon-Faro.

Besides these two quick and comfortable ways to travel by train, CP has a vast network of regional, inter-regional and suburban trains covering the entire country, many of which are used by thousands of commuters every day.


There are regular coach services between Portugal’s main towns and cities. For details concerning routes, timetables and fares visit the website www.rede-expressos.pt (Rede Nacional de Expressos – only available in Portuguese).


In Lisbon and Oporto, underground transportation runs between the hours of 6 a.m. and 1 a.m.

The Lisbon underground (www.metrolisboa.pt) was Portugal’s first subway system and after being gradually expanded, its network now reaches most of the city. Its subway stations are also a reflection of Portuguese culture and, decorated with beautiful tiles painted by renowned Portuguese artists, they have been transformed into true underground art galleries.

The Oporto subway (www.metro-porto.pt) was inaugurated in 2002 and, although most of its route runs above ground, it has 6 lines and 81 stations. 


In Portugal, taxis are usually cream colored, although it is common to still see some of the country’s traditional taxis, which are painted black with a green roof.

The fare is continually shown on the taximeter and prices are affixed inside the car or you can ask the driver about them beforehand. Other useful information concerning taxis in Portugal includes:

  • If you call for a taxi, you must pay an additional 0.80 Euros.
  • There is a charge of 1.60 Euros for luggage, regardless of the number of bags or their weight.
  • Carry cots, strollers, wheelchairs and walking aids are carried free of charge.
  • Outside major cities and towns, taxis charge by the kilometer and the driver and passenger agree on the fare in advance. If tolls exist, the passenger must pay for all of them.
  • Taxis in Lisbon: 21 811 90 00 (RádioTáxis)  
                            21 811 11 00 (Teletáxis)
  • Taxis in Oporto: 22 507 39 00 (RádioTáxis) / 22 507 64 00 (Táxis Invicta)
    Taxis in Faro: 289 895 790 (RádioTáxis)
  • Taxis in Ponta Delgada: 296 302 530
  • Taxis in Funchal: 291 764 476

Cost of living

Before traveling to Portugal, it is important to consult the indicated average prices of Portuguese products and services, in order to obtain an idea of the cost of living in the country.

Food and drinks

Prices vary according to the type of establishment and whether or not the cost includes a table service or esplanade service, which means that the following prices are merely an example:

An espresso coffee, which is extremely popular in everyday Portuguese life, can range anywhere from €0.60 to €0.75 at a traditional café to €1 or more at an esplanade, bar or highway service area. A “galão” (cup of coffee with milk) may cost between €0.70 and €1.20 and a cup of tea can range between €1 and €1.50. A beer or Coca-Cola costs between €1 and €1.50. A cheese or ham sandwich costs between €1.50 and €2.50 and a slice of toast or cake will be around €1. A full meal can cost between €8 to €11 per person in a snack bar, €13 to €20 in an average restaurant and between €30 and €50 in a first-class restaurant.


An entrance ticket to a museum, national monument or exhibition may cost between €1.50 and €8.50. A ticket to the movies costs around €6. Theatre tickets may vary between €10 and €30 and tickets for concerts, opera or ballet performances between €10 and €75.

National Holidays 

New Year’s Day – January 1
Freedom Day – April 25
Worker’s Day – May 1
Portugal Day – June 10
Restoration of Independence – December 1
Immaculate Conception – December 8
Christmas Day – December 25

Useful phone numbers and other information

National Emergency Number: 112

Health: 808 24 24 24 (www.portaldasaude.pt/portal)

PSP – Policia de Segurança Pública: www.psp.pt 
GNR – Guarda Nacional Repúblicana: www.gnr.pt 

PT – Portugal Telecom: 118 (National Directory Enquiries)
Optimus: 16103
TMN: 1696
Vodafone: 16912

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