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10 Tips for Planning a Trip to Portugal

Are you planning a trip to Portugal? I’ve fallen in love with this European country and feel it should be on everyone’s must-visit list! From the amazing architecture and tiles to the welcoming locals, Portugal will become one of your favorite places. Here are 10 tips to help you plan a trip to Portugal!

How Long is the Flight to Portugal

First off let’s look at how to get to Portugal. From the US, you’ll mostly be looking at flying out of an east-coast airport for direct flights. TAP Airlines is the national airline for Portugal and offers non-stop flights out of a few US cities (Newark, New York, Chicago, Boston, Washington D.C., San Francisco, and Miami). You’ll likely fly into Lisbon airport from the US, but Porto is another option.

From Newark to Lisbon, the flight will take about 7.25 hours. Flying Newark to Porto is just about 7 hours. And if you are able to get a non-stop flight out of the west coast, San Francisco to Lisbon will take about 11 hours. You’ll definitely find more flights available from the east coast (Newark or Boston) and if you want non-stop flights, TAP Airlines has the best options.

Related Post: TAP Business Class vs Economy Xtra Flight Experience

tap airlines plane at airport

I should also mention that the Azores is a very popular tourist destination and is closer to the US since the islands sit in the middle of the Atlantic. United is launching a non-stop flight from Newark to Ponta Delgada, Azores, in May 2022.

The flight from Newark to the Azores is only 5.5 hours versus the 7+ hours to mainland Portugal. There’s also a local airline, Azores Airlines, that flies between the US and the Azores.

How to Get Around

When you’re thinking of how you want to get around Portugal, you’re going to want to know how much you’ll be moving around the country. Most of the highway infrastructure around the country is very developed and easy to drive and follow. Driving is the same as the US, right-side of the road driving (the driver sits on left).

The issue with driving yourself in Portugal comes with the cities and towns. Many of the roads are EXTREMELY narrow. Parking is also problematic in a city center and could be difficult to manage for a tourist.

narrow road in lisbon portugal

For tourists, I’d recommend hiring a driver for day trips if you’re looking to adventure beyond a city (i.e. Lisbon or Porto). If you’re planning to venture to more of the country like the Alentejo and Algarve regions, a confident driver would be fine with a car rental from the outskirts of the city and driving to those regions that have a bit more space.

Driving in the Douro Valley can be done but does require a bit of research and planning. The roads on the south side of the Douro River are more developed, whereas trying to visit wineries on the north side of the river is much harder due to there being no developed roads.

view from backseat of hired driver in douro valley portugal

If I was recommending transportation to a friend, I’d likely tell them to avoid a rental car. Rideshare services like Uber and Lyft are easily available in the major cities.

There is also a fairly extensive rail system in Portugal and you can book a train ticket between many of the large cities. Taxis are also still used at airports and in cities. Public transportation can be the best way and most economical way to get around.

trams on street in porto portugal

As I said before, one of the easier options is to hire a driver for a transfer or day trip. While hiring a driver is a more expensive option, it’s often worth the added expense since it allows you to relax and not worry about logistics. Many times your hotel can offer great recommendations for airport and day trip transfer drivers.

On my recent trip to Portugal, I was working with EPIC Travel and they made all of our driver bookings and transfers. Epic is a bespoke luxury travel planning agency that works only in Portugal and Morocco — the countries where their agents live.

Epic Travel has the best local contacts and will help book you a Portugal vacation that is immersive and saves you the stress of planning an entire international vacation on your own. If you do work with Epic, be sure to mention ‘Stuffed Suitcase‘ when you’re booking and you’ll get a VIP gift!

Regions of Portugal

There are seven main regions of Portugal, all with unique sites and beautiful places to visit. Most of the areas offer medieval towns or historic cities, unique food experiences, outdoor activities, and friendly people.

Check out these awesome Places & Cities in Portugal to Visit!

North

Northern Portugal is most notable for being home to the Unesco World Heritage Site of Porto and the Douro Valley. This region is where Portugal was founded in the 12th century. Plus, it’s famous for being the home of port and Douro wines. This is a river valley region and you’ll find some outdoor activities in this area like hiking and riverboat rides.

douro valley landscape vineyards and river valley

Central

In Central Portugal, you’ll discover some historic towns and castles, like in Belmonte. You’ll also find the Serra da Estrela mountains, which are home to the highest peak in mainland Portugal. The mountains are perfect for outdoor adventure, and they’re also home to herds of sheep that are used to produce the famous Serra da Estrela cheese.

Lisbon

Probably one of the most popular regions for tourists, the Lisbon region is home to the country’s capital, Lisbon. This beautiful city is the largest in Portugal and is a must-see for any visitor. But beyond Lisbon, this region is also home to some of the most notable images of Portugal, namely the Jerónimos Monastery in Belém and Pena Palace in Sintra.

viewpoint in lisbon portugal

Alentejo

One of the biggest surprises from my recent trip was the discovery of the Alentejo region of Portugal. This region is the largest in the country, but often gets overlooked by visitors. If you love wine, great hotels, and amazing night skies, you must add Alentejo to your Portugal itinerary!

estate on hilltop in vinyard at sunset in alentejo portugal

Algarve

The Algarve is another extremely popular destination for tourists visiting Portugal. It’s along the southern coast and known for its rocky cliffs and sandy, beautiful beaches as well as having plenty of resort hotels and golf courses. The architecture of Algarve towns also shows its Arabic history.

This area of Portugal is a popular vacation destination for locals as well as tourists. The Algarve is also a great place to enjoy some Peri-Peri Chicken.

coastal view of carvoeiro algarve portugal

Azores

A growing tourist region of Portugal is the Azores. This is an archipelago off the coast of Portugal which is actually an autonomous region operating on its own from Portugal. It’s made up of nine islands all with unique features that will appeal to those wanting outdoor adventures, relaxing hotels, and/or amazing scenic views.

The largest island is São Miguel, which also contains the main airport in the city of Ponta Delgada. The Azores is a growing tourist destination, so I plan you visit soon if you want to see it before the crowds get too large.

Planning a trip to the Azores can be a bit tricky, reach out to EPIC Travel if you want to experience the best the Azores has to offer. Make sure you start planning and booking early as there is limited infrastructure for the growing tourist interest.

coastal view of the azores portugal são miguel

Madeira

Another island and autonomous region of Portugal is Madeira. I don’t know much about the tourist offerings of Madeira but it’s known for its Madeira wine as well as being a great spot for whale watching and scuba diving.

Planning Your Itinerary

I have a few tips for planning your Portugal itinerary. You’ll need to carefully consider how much time you have for your vacation. And you’ll also want to know how much you want to move around. While Portugal is a small country, you still need time to see all the great sites so moving around does take time for sightseeing.

If it’s your first trip to Portugal and you only have a week, I would say you have a couple of options. You can stay solely in Lisbon and take day trips outside of the city to popular places like Sintra and Belém.

You also might consider flying into Lisbon and then flying out of Porto so that you can experience both cities. Lastly, if you’re looking for some city touring and wine tasting, you could arrive in Lisbon and drive out to the Alentejo region for a few nights, then come back to Lisbon to end your trip and fly back home.

lisbon tram stop

Coming from the US, another option for a 7-day vacation could be entirely in the Azores if you’re searching for a trip with more adventure and nature.

You could also fly into Lisbon for a few nights, then fly to the Azores for a few nights, and then fly home to the US from the Azores. The drawback is this plan does give you an extra travel day and the current state of travel would require additional testing and logistics for the extra flight.

Having 10 to 14 days would allow you much more freedom for planning a trip to Portugal. On my recent trip, I spent 17 days touring the country. It was very busy and we moved almost every night. While I’m glad I got to see a large part of the country, I recommend visitors stick to 1-2 stops for a 1-week trip, and only 3-4 stops if you have 2 weeks.

I think an ideal first trip to Portugal would include a visit to Lisbon and one additional region. Either head north to see the Porto and/or the Douro Valley, or head inland to the Alentejo for a relaxing stay with wine tasting, or head to the south region of Algarve for beaches.

douro river view from hotel balcony

Again, I’m going to mention that if you truly want to experience Portugal, consider working with EPIC Travel and have them plan your whole Portugal vacation. They’ll make all the bookings and arrangements for you and they’ll tailor your trip to include unique local experiences that the average tourist might not know to book.

You just tell EPIC how many days you want to travel and your budget and they’ll create a perfect Portugal itinerary for you. Don’t forget to mention ‘Stuffed Suitcase’ to get a special VIP gift with your booking!

Best Places to Visit

If you’re planning your first trip to Portugal, you’re going to want to experience some of what makes the country unique.

Lisbon should definitely be on your list. It’s the capital of Portugal, the country’s largest city, and is filled with historic architecture. You’ll find lots of hills and narrow streets. Buildings are covered in gorgeous tile, and many sidewalks and roads are paved with a mosaic of limestone and basalt. You can also check out great views of the Tagus River.

Two options for day trips from Lisbon are Sintra and Belém. Both offer tourists a chance to look back at history. Sintra has the Pena Palace as well as Quinta de Regaleira and the Castle of the Moors. Belém is home to the Jerónimos Montesary and the cafe that serves the classic Pastéis de Belém, as well as many museums.

pena palace in sintra portugal

For wine lovers, you’ll likely want to plan to visit Porto and the Douro Valley. It’s the home of port wine and an emerging table wine region. The Douro Valley is famous for its terraced vineyard river valley. Wine lovers might also consider visiting the Alentejo region of Portugal.

And visitors looking for a resort vacation and beaches should consider visiting the Algarve region or perhaps Comporta or Cascais which are closer to Lisbon.

comporta beach portugal

What to Wear in Portugal

Packing for Portugal will vary greatly based on when you’re visiting and where you’re going. The south of Portugal can be fairly mild all year long, although the winter months can be rainy and cool. Up north, you’ll find a wet and cold winter. During the summer months, the interior Alentejo region can get extremely hot.

One of the best things to wear in Portugal is a good pair of shoes. Especially when walking in the cities! The limestone and basalt sidewalks and roads can get extremely slick if it rains.

For women, I recommend you consider wearing a variety of long maxi dresses paired with a cardigan as well as a good pair of pants and various tops. If you’re traveling in a shoulder season, a good cardigan that is easy to pack and carry is a must-have. And of course, bring shorts if you’re traveling during warm weather.

two women wearing dresses on portugal beach at sunset

In Portugal, dinner time is typically fairly late. Most restaurants will be busy with locals beginning around 8-9 pm. If you’re at a restaurant and it’s busy between 6-8 pm, you’re probably seeing a lot of tourists. :) Since dinner can run late in the evenings, it’s good to be prepared for the temperature to drop.

You can dress casually in Portugal and rely on accessories to help you dress up an outfit. I did not visit any nightclubs, so can’t advise as to what the popular type of dress is for that kind of activity. But for standard travel, a comfortable long dress or pants and top paired with a cute pair of shoes with traction is all you need.

woman on boat in portugal

For my trip a few of the go-to items I packed that worked well for me were:

Of course, if you’re planning a trip to some Portugal beaches, you might want to check out my beach packing list for any extra items you might want to bring along. Keep in mind that in many popular tourist towns you can find stores selling items you might have forgotten.

Best Time to Visit Portugal

Portugal is an ideal destination for shoulder season travel. Prices are lower and you’ll find fewer crowds.

If you can visit in the spring, March to May, you’ll find the country in bloom and the temperatures just starting to rise a bit. You might still have some rain, but you might get lucky with some blue skies, too. Many attractions will also begin to reopen from winter closures after Easter.

Summer is considered the peak season for Portugal. Summer months will have hot temps inland, but it’s also an ideal time for beach vacations. Keep in mind that many of the locals become tourists to those very same beaches during the summer months, especially August. If you are visiting in the summer, be sure to book in advance and aim to be indoors during the peak midday temps.

Be sure you check that your accommodations have air conditioning if you’re visiting in the summer. Also, be prepared for mosquitos during the summer months!

Autumn in Portugal is my favorite time! The wine harvest typically takes place from around mid-September to October, so the vineyards will all start changing colors (mid to late October) and you’ll get to enjoy some great winery activity. You’ll also miss the chaos of summer travel crowds. The weather will be very nice although evenings will start to cool down and rain may be in the forecast.

vineyard-grape-leaves-color-changing-fall-portugal
October in Portugal is beautiful! © Stuffed Suitcase

How Much Does a Trip to Portugal Cost

Traveling to Portugal can be one of the more affordable European vacations. It’s also a great destination for novice international travelers since so many locals speak English and transportation is fairly easy.

Airfare to Portugal will vary widely based on where you’re departing from. If you can get yourself to the east coast, you can likely find flight deals to Portugal for around $500 per ticket in economy. Sign up for flight deal notifications from a program like Dollar Flight Club or Scott’s Cheap Flights.

Many accommodations, even in the heart of Lisbon, are still priced well. You can expect to get a 3-4 star hotel for $150-$225 per night, and you might even be able to get a luxury hotel for around $250-$400 per night depending on the location and season. You’ll also be able to find many multi-room options that work well for families.

hotel room torre de palma alentejo portugal

Food in Portugal is where you’ll save some money, and there is plenty of delicious food to enjoy! You can easily find affordable meals in various towns and cities, while tourist towns will have a bit of an added cost due to it being for tourists.

I think you can expect to spend around $12 USD (€10) for the main dish at dinner at an average restaurant. If you’re dining at a hotel restaurant or nicer tourism area restaurant, you would expect to spend about $25-$50 for entrees.

food on table in portugal shrimp and salad

Like other European countries, many Portugal restaurants offer a bread service, called couvert. Sometimes they’ll bring it to your table without you ordering it and if you enjoy it, you’ll be charged for it.

Tipping is not a big priority when dining in Portugal. Often you can leave a little bit of your Euro change as a way of a tip. Some suggest to tip around 5-10%, but based on my experience with locals, tipping is not expected and might already be “included” in the prices.

The final consideration when figuring out the cost of your Portugal vacation is attractions. While much of your sightseeing will be free as you walk and explore, you can expect to spend money on tours and museum entrances. Museums will cost a nominal fee of around $2-$12, a larger tourist attraction might cost more.

If you decide to book any guided tours, you should expect to spend about $70-$100 per person for small-group day trip tours. And don’t forget to add in a small tip for your tour guide.

tuk tuk on street in lisbon

Keep in mind when traveling to Portugal it’s a good idea to have some Euro cash on hand but much of your purchasing will be done with credit cards. Portugal uses tap to pay quite a bit, and I have found that Visa is probably the most widely accepted card.

Things to Buy in Portugal

One of the great things to do when you travel is to buy some great souvenirs! If you’re thinking of what you might want to bring home, here are some of the top Portugal souvenirs:

  • Port wine – I highly recommend doing some tastings and learning about all the types of port wine before deciding which to buy.
  • Wine – beyond Port wine, Portugal has some great wines and many are not available in the US. If you’re able to find a way to bring or ship a favorite wine home with you, I recommend buying some.
  • Cork – Portugal creates a lot of cork, unfortunately, much of it becomes champagne corks. Beware of buying cork products in cities as much of it is not authentic.
  • Pottery – Portugal has some amazing pottery and ceramics, the town of Corval in Alentejo is one of the best places to buy some.
  • Sardines – this is more of a funny gift, but sardines are big in Portugal and in Lisbon, they even have a sardine tourist store that has canned sardines for the year you were born.
  • Olive Oil – olives are plentiful in Portugal so it’s no surprise that olive oil is bottled by local producers and makes a great souvenir.
boutique in lisbon with souvenirs

I’ll also mention that while you can’t bring it home, you should definitely enjoy orange juice with breakfast while you’re in Portugal. And if you like honey, that’s another must-try during your trip!

What Language is Spoken in Portugal

If you want to learn some Portuguese before your trip, you might have a bit of an issue. Most of the online language learning programs only offer Brazilian Portuguese, which does have some differences from European (Portugal) Portuguese.

YouTube might be your best option for learning Portuguese. Although, I was glad I had done some learning with Duolingo.

English is widely spoken in most tourist centers and English speakers can likely get by easily with a few basic words and a translation app. I’ll also mention that knowing Spanish might also be helpful as there is some crossover with Spanish.

Some words you might want to know:

  • Hello – Olá
  • Good morning – Bom dia (afternoon – boa tarde, evening – boa noite)
  • Goodbye – Tchau (said like the Italian ciao “chow”)
  • Please – Por favor
  • Thank you – Obrigado (m) /Obrigada (f)
  • Yes – Sim
  • No – Não
  • Do you speak english? – Fala inglês?

Conclusion

Hopefully, this information will help you plan your trip! I absolutely love the country and would happily go back again. Feel free to comment or email me if you have any questions about planning a trip to Portugal.

And, don’t forget that if you are looking to have your trip planned for you, EPIC Travel offers bespoke travel planning services. They’ll arrange a trip with authentic experiences and amazing accommodations around the country. Be sure to mention ‘Stuffed Suitcase’ to get a VIP gift with your booking.

collage of images for planning trip to portugal text overlay

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27 Best Places & Cities in Portugal to Visit (Map Included)

Wednesday 13th of July 2022

[…] with planning your trip to Portugal? My entire 17-day trip was organized by Epic Travel. They’re a small bespoke travel agency […]

Kelly

Wednesday 11th of May 2022

Going to Portugal next week!!! Do I need power adapters???? Your blog is so helpful!

Kim

Wednesday 11th of May 2022

Yay! I bet you're going to have a fabulous time. Portugal uses 230V supply voltage and 50Hz, so some of your electronics might be okay with an adapter. You will need an adapter to convert your US-style plug into European-style outlets. I have a standard European plug converter and it fits types C and F plugs. The bigger question is if you have any special electronics that will need a power converter as well. Most electronics (like an iPhone apple charger) will have the ability to handle 230V and 50 Hz but you can always look on the charger to see what it's licensed for. Power converters are typically needed for larger electronics and hair accessories. Let me know if that makes sense or if you have further questions! And, thanks for asking bc I'll add that to my post soon!

TAP Portugal Business Class (Executive) Complete Review [vs Economy Xtra]

Friday 15th of April 2022

[…] might also enjoy reading my tips for planning a trip to Portugal! It includes some information about how long the flight to Portugal will be from the […]