What to know when travelling to Portugal
We hope these facts about Portugal, Madeira and the Azores will help you plan your holiday and ensure that it goes smoothly.
Portugal is part of the European Union, so travelling from the UK, Ireland and other EU countries is easy and as Portugal is safe and friendly it is the perfect, affordable destination for weekend breaks, longer holidays and adventure travel. If you need any more information about Portugal please feel free to contact me.
General Facts about Portugal.
Portugal is in the south-west corner of Europe, next to Spain. The Azores are nine beautiful unspoilt islands that form an archipelago in the Atlantic Ocean, 930 miles (1,500km) from Lisbon and 2425 miles (3,900km) from North America. The sub-tropical archipelago of Madeira is located in the North Atlantic, 535 miles (860km) from Lisbon and 360 miles (580km)from the African coast.
The national language is Portuguese. English is widely spoken in tourist areas and many older Portuguese people speak French.
Currency and Money Matters:
The national currency is the Euro. Travellers’ Cheques can be cashed at banks. You can use some foreign debit and credit cards to withdraw cash from the Multibanco ATM machines, how much you are charged depends on your bank- as a guide mine charges £2.50 per transaction. Major credit cards (Visa, Mastercard, American Express) are accepted in some restaurants, hotels and car hire companies but probably won’t be much use in rural areas. It is possible that in the near future you will be able to use debit cards from any major bank in the EU in Portuguese shops without incurring a charge but this is still under negotiation.
Portugal has the same time as the UK, it is eight hours ahead of Pacific time and five hours ahead of Eastern Standard time
The country code for Portugal is 00351. If you are in Portugal and wish to call a foreign country it is a good idea to buy phone cards, available in newsagents and some supermarkets, as they work out a lot cheaper.
Facts about Portugal: Preparing to go
No vaccinations are required if you are travelling from the EU or USA or Canada
Before you go on an adventure holiday it is very important to arrange suitable insurance. In fact some holiday providers will only allow you to participate in activities if you have it. Many general holiday insurance policies will not cover sports or activities that they think may make you more likely to claim. So make sure you talk to an advisor or read the small print before you buy any insurance. If you are travelling with expensive sports equipment make sure that it is fully covered and check what excesses you would have to pay should it be damaged. You may decide that it is less hassle to leave it at home as most adventure holiday providers will provide, or hire out, equipment.
Facts about Portugal: Visas
British, Irish and other EU passport holders can stay in Portugal without a visa for up to 180 days. If you decide to stay longer you must register as a resident at the nearest Serviço de Estrangeiros e Fronteiras office. US and Canadian, New Zealand and Australian citizens are allowed to enter Portugal for up to 60 days without a visa. Citizens of other countries are advised to contact their local Portuguese Embassy.
Facts about Portugal: Travelling to Portugal, Madeira and the Azores
Portugal has three main international airports- Faro for the Algarve and the South, Lisbon for the capital and central Portugal and Porto (aka Oporto) for the North. There are lots of cheap, direct flights available from around the UK and Ireland. In the USA direct flights are usually available from Newark to Lisbon. Reasonably priced flights to Madeira are available from national and regional airports in the UK and Ireland. There are also flights from Portugal, Germany, USA and South Africa amongst other countries. Flights arrive at Funchal airport on Madeira Island or Vila Baleira on Porto Santo Island. There are direct flights to the Azores from Portugal, Spain, Germany, the USA and Canada. Flights from the UK and Ireland usually go through Lisbon or Porto. Flights generally land at Ponta Delgada on São Miguel, the largest island in the Azores.
Facts about Portugal: Travelling around Portugal
If you want to travel independently and get off the beaten track then you are probably best off hiring a car. There are car rental agencies in all the major airports and towns. British and International driver’s licences are recognised but normally you have to be 23 and have held your licence for a year. Foreign registered cars, with documentation and insurance, may enter Portugal and stay for up to six months. There are lots of toll roads in Portugal so make sure you have some money on you and take a ticket at the automatic booths to avoid big fines. The Portuguese drive on the right and the speed limits are 60kph (37mph) in built-up areas, 90 kph (55mph) outside built-up areas and 120kph (75mph) on motorways.
By bus (autocarro):
There are lots of local buses connecting villages and towns- in larger towns look out for signs to the ‘rodoviária’ 8bus terminal) and try and get hold of a bus timetable because they can be a little quirky e.g. suddenly skip an hour for no apparent reason. If you’re waiting at a bus stop don’t forget to stick your hand out because otherwise a few of the grumpier drivers may not stop. For longer distances, fairly quick and comfortable coaches travel between the main towns. There are fewer buses on Sundays and public holidays. In the main tourist areas, there are often companies offering local bus tours or trips, these are convenient and hassle-free but sometimes its worth checking out the local buses too because they may follow the same route at a fraction of the cost. For timetables and more facts about Portugal’s buses visit these websites www.rede-expressos.pt, www.evatransportes.pt, www.rbsl.com.
By train (comboio):
Portugal has three types of train. Inter-regional or Regional (local) trains cover shorter distances and make the most stops. Intercidades (inter city) trains are faster and only stop at major towns while the Alfa-Pendular trains are fast trains that only travel between Lisbon and Porto. You have to buy tickets at the train station- they are not sold on the trains and you will be fined if you don’t have one. Train journeys are often scenic, particularly from Lisbon to the North, but they can be slow and involve a few changes. Unless you are travelling locally or between major cities, you may find that the buses are quicker and less hassle free. To find out more facts about Portugal’s trains and timetables you can check out www.cp.pt or call a special tourist line on (800) 296 296. Lisbon also has a fast, efficient Metro service.
Taxis in Portugal are relatively cheap and usually have meters.
There are three companies that offer internal flights, generally between Lisbon, Faro and Porto. They are TAP, LAR and Portugália. However flights are often expensive and Portugal is a very small country so I’d recommend taking a bus or train instead.
Facts about Portugal: Social Issues and Accessibility
Portugal is generally a safe country with a low crime rate. One of the best facts about Portugal is that a recent Gallup poll found that Lisbon was Europe’s safest capital city. However you should still take all the usual precautions and keep valuables on you and out of sight, particularly in popular tourist areas. In emergencies call 112.
Thanks to a reciprocal agreement between the two countries British citizens will receive free or reduced cost, state-provided, emergency medical treatment in Portuguese state facilities and do not need a European Health Insurance Card. This agreement does not cover treatment in private clinics or hospitals, repatriation to the UK or the treatment of ongoing, non-urgent conditions.
Women who are travelling alone shouldn’t have too many problems in Portugal. The men sometimes make irritating hissing noises at you and you will get lots of offers of lifts if you’re out walking alone. But as long as you take the usual precautions, not walking alone at night etc, you should have a reasonable hassle free holiday.
Travelling with Children:
Portugal is a very child-friendly country and they are always welcome in restaurants etc. Just remember to bring lots of suncream and a hat to protect them from the sun whatever time of year you come.
Facilities for disabled travellers are slowly improving in Portugal as hotels and villa rental agencies are encouraged to improve their accessibility. There are usually disabled parking spaces, toilets and access in towns, shopping centres, airports and larger train stations. On public transport there are seats set aside for people with limited mobility but there is no wheelchair access. It would also be difficult for people with limited mobility to use the Lisbon metro. Guide dogs must wear a collar and muzzle on public transport.
As a catholic country Portugal is quite conservative and you may get some funny looks in rural areas if you are holding hands or kissing with your partner. However in large cities you shouldn’t get too much unwanted attention. If you fancy checking out the local scene there are gay and lesbian bars in the major cities- try the Príncipe Real area of Lisbon.
Naturism in Portugal
There are naturist-friendly beaches, campsites and guest houses in Portugal. You can find out more about naturism in Portugal here.
Portugal is renowned for its gorgeous sandy beaches. If you’re planning to make the most of them please take a quick look at our beach safety page.