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Home » Blog » Destinations » All-in-one guide to Portugal

All-in-one guide to Portugal

Written by: Lydia Crispin | Travel Insurance Expert
Last updated: 14 May 2024 | Created: 11 July 2022

Portugal and the UK have been allies since 1373, which may be one reason over 3 million of us headed there in 2019.

Portugal has a lot to offer visitors, so we’ve highlighted some things you might want to do while you’re there.

5 things to do

Visit the Church of Santa Engrácia, Lisbon

Found in the capital city, this church was commissioned around 1568 by Princess Maria. Beautiful both inside and out, the church is Portugal’s National Pantheon.
It has a long history, full of collapses, financial woes and even reputed curses.

You can take a guided tour of this stunning place of worship to learn all about its unique story.

Buy a book at Livraria Lello, Porto

The Livraria Lello bookshop is a must-visit for bibliophiles and fans of neo-Gothic interiors alike. The shop was started in 1906 and has some stunning stained glass windows and ceiling featuring the figures of “Science” and “Art”. The sweeping staircase looks like it leapt from the pages of Harry Potter.

However, this is no display shop, and the shelves are stuffed full of books to purchase, ranging from classics to modern page-turners. Given the crowds this shop draws, you might want to use the booking system for your visit.

Squeeze in a visit to the Village of Monsanto

This village is a living museum, unchanged for hundreds of years. Its cobbled streets and narrow, winding alleys make it a great place to wander. The town is also home to some unique houses. Many of them are wedged between, or even under, giant boulders.

Despite, or possibly, because of this, Monsanto was named the most “Portuguese town in Portugal” in 1938. Above the town sits the ruins of a Templar castle, which offers excellent views of the surrounding countryside.

Hold court at the Pena National Palace, Sintra

Why visit one castle at a time when you can see several crammed together? That seems to be the reasoning behind the Pena National Palace. A UNESCO World Heritage site, the palace features examples of several different styles of architecture. The inside is just as eclectic; however, you cannot take photos of the interior.

The sight of this multi-coloured hodge-podge rising from the verdant hills of Portugal is worth the trek.

Witness the Covão dos Conchos at Serra da Estrela national park

While taking a hike through this beautiful national park, keep an eye out for an unusual sight. In one of the park’s lakes, Lagoa da Serra da Estrela, you can spot what appears to be a portal to another world. It is a marvel of engineering and connects the lake to the local water system, providing drinking water for the locals.

One look shows why the images of this funnel went viral in 2016. If you do make the hike, remember to wear good shoes and bring plenty of water.

5 best beaches

Praia de São Jacinto, Aveiro

If you want to get away from it all, there are few beaches in Portugal better than the Sao Jacinto beach. A long beach of golden sand cries out to be strolled along, and the dunes are home to some unique bird life. A nature reserve surrounds the beach, and the water is good for surfing.

There are no bars or cafes nearby, so bring a good book and relax with the sounds of the waves lapping at the sand.

Praia de Odeceixe, Algarve

For a family-friendly day out, visit Odeceixe beach in the Algarve. A river joins the sea at the beach’s northern end, meaning the water is calm, shallow and warm. A perfect spot for children to take a supervised dip. Overlooking the beach are several cliff-top restaurants and cafes.

Be aware that a small sandbank towards the South of the beach is designated as a nudist area.

Praia do Carvalho, Benagil

Flanked by majestic sandstone cliffs, Carvalho beach certainly makes a big impression. A tunnel through the sandstone gives you access to the golden sands and sapphire waters.

Most of the beaches in the Algarve get very busy during the high season, but Praia do Carvalho is among the least crowded. The area is famous for its sea caves, and plenty of boat tours are available.

Nazaré Beach, Leiria

This substantial golden beach curves along the coast, right next to the beautiful fishing port of Nazaré. The town oozes old-world charm with a wonderful mix of sunbathers and fishermen mending their nets.

Dozens of restaurants line the mosaiced promenade, giving you plenty of options when it comes to lunch.

Praia da Miramar, Arcozelo

The main attraction of this beach is the beautiful sunsets you can see from the broad, uncrowded beach in Northern Portugal. A lone chapel is nestled on a rocky outcrop, adding a unique charm to the beach.

The town of Miramar offers lots of choices for a post-beach meal once you’ve watched the sun sink behind the chapel. There’s even an inexpensive train which regularly runs from Porto.

5 best restaurants

McDonald’s Imperial, Porto

It’s not often we’ll recommend a visit to a fast-food chain, but this McDonald’s in Porto is genuinely one of a kind. This beautiful building used to be the 1930s icon, the Imperial Cafe. Home to Mcdonald’s since 1995, this is the fanciest place in the world to tuck into a Big Mac.

Fortaleza do Guincho, Cascais

Enjoy a Michelin-starred meal in a 17th Century fortress with stunning sea views at Fortaleza do Guincho. Being right next to the sea, it’s hardly surprising that this restaurant focuses on high-quality seafood.

Ocean, Porches

Despite the name, Ocean doesn’t just offer seafood. Cactus and Alentejo quail have been on the menu several times. Though the chef does change the menu often, so you can experience something new every time you visit.

O Frade, Lisbon

For a modern twist on traditional Portuguese cuisine, head to O Frade in Lisbon. The Frade family opened a restaurant in Beja in the 1960s. When two of the family moved to Lisbon, they decided to continue the legacy and opened O Frade.

The menu includes classics such as Coelho de coentrada (cold rabbit meat with coriander sauce) and empanadas. They also offer wine made by the family in Alentejo.

Pigmeu, Lisbon

Pork is a regular part of the Portuguese diet, and Pigmeu focuses on this aspect of the local food. Except for a handful of dishes, everything on the menu uses at least some pork products —a must-visit for pork lovers.

5 Top Tips

Learn a few Portuguese phrases

While most people speak English in the tourist hotspots, knowing some Portuguese is a must if you go off the beaten path. The bonus is that this also makes a good impression on the locals and allows you to immerse yourself in the culture.

Do bear in mind that Portuguese is a different language from Spanish. While there are some similarities, don’t expect everyone to be fluent in Spanish.

Learn to order the correct coffee

Portugal loves coffee. It’s been a part of their culture since 1727, and an average adult consumes 4kg of coffee beans yearly. As a result, the coffee culture is vast, and you can’t just ask for a coffee. Cafe, as it’s called in Portugal, will get you a strong espresso instead of the black coffee you may be expecting.

There are loads of coffees to try, so it’s worth researching how to order the one you want.

Pack some comfortable shoes

Whether it’s a city with many cobbled streets and winding alleys or the rolling hills of the countryside, Portugal is a country that rewards exploration by foot. Bearing that in mind, pack at least one pair of sensible walking shoes.

Pick up a tourist card

Several cities in Portugal now offer tourist cards, such as the Lisbon Card. These give you discounted or even free travel and entry to many attractions. It’s well worth checking online before you go.

Many museums also offer discounts for visitors over 65 if you have a card or not.

Be sure to carry a photo ID

By law, you must always have a photo ID on you. While keeping your passport with you may not be the best approach, you can carry a photocopy of it and another form of photo ID such as a driver’s licence.

Now that we’ve whet your appetite for this Iberian gem make sure you have comprehensive Portugal Travel Insurance before you go.

Author notes

Written by Russell Wallace, Content Creator at AllClear
Edited by Letitia Smith, M.Sc. Content Manager at AllClear