How to Save and Where to Go if You Travel to Portugal
To make the most out of your vacation, here's where to go, what to do, and how to budget for your Great British adventure!
10 min read
One of the oldest countries in Europe and one of the most environmentally friendly, millions of tourists travel to Portugal to enjoy its scenic landscapes and relaxed pace of life. Whether you’re looking for an active holiday, city break, or a family trip, you’re guaranteed to find your perfect escape in Portugal. Not sure where you should start? Here are the best places to visit in Portugal—and how to budget for your trip!
Planning your trip to Portugal
Before you travel to Portugal, you’ll first need to get the basics covered. This includes:
- Getting up-to-date with Portugal’s COVID-19 travel restrictions
- Finding the best places to visit in Portugal to match your needs
- Setting up your travel budget
Luckily, we’ve got your back. In this article, you’ll discover how to do all of the above. Before you know it, you’ll be enjoying a delicious pastel de nata and a glass of port under the Portuguese sun with plenty of cash left to spare!
Covid travel restrictions
As of July 1st 2022, all travelers entering Portgual no longer need to show proof of vaccination or a negative test result. This applies to both travelers from within the EU and Schengen zone, and those outside of it. However, you must still wear an FFP2 mask when using public transport.
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Budget your trip to Portugal
Nothing beats the feeling of being financially prepared for your vacation. Knowing that you can cover the cost of any hiccups that may happen along the way can be deeply reassuring. So, before you land on Portuguese soil, first take some time to work out how much cash you’ll need while you’re there. This means researching how much accommodation, transportation, entertainment, and food cost in your chosen destination. A useful tip is to use the baseline of how much you pay for food at home to get a rough idea of how much you’ll spend while in Portugal. Of course, this will vary if you’re traveling solo, as a couple, or as a family—and depend on how extravagant you want to be while you’re there!
Once you have a rough idea of how much you should save, the next step is to identify areas where you can start making some savings. To begin, go through at least three months of recent bank statements. This will help you understand how much money you have coming and going out of your account each month. From here, identifying areas where you can make some savings often becomes much clearer. The easiest expenses to tackle are what’s known as your “variable costs,” i.e., your less essential expenditures such as subscription services, eating out, and unused memberships.
If the idea of creating a budget seems overwhelming, you’re not alone. A great starting point is the 50/30/20 budget. It’s a simple budgeting method that has helped many people gain control over their finances.
Managing your money when traveling to Portugal
Before you travel to Portugal, it’s important to make sure you know how to take money out while you’re there—and what to do in case of an emergency.
Using your debit card in Portugal
In general, Portuguese ATMs will accept most foreign debit cards, but it’s always a good idea to confirm this with your bank before you go. It’s also smart to tell your bank that you’re planning to travel to Italy so they don’t block your card while you’re away. Banks occasionally do this as a security measure if they suspect that your card is being used fraudulently.
Foreign transaction fees abroad
When using your debit or credit cards in Portugal, your bank can charge you foreign transaction fees. These fees are often incurred when using a currency different from the currency in your ‘home’ country. In addition, some banks also charge a 1.5% currency conversion fee on top of any transaction that takes place on the weekend. This is so that the bank can protect itself against any fluctuations in the exchange rate. In general, it’s best to ask your bank what fees you can expect to incur when using your cards in Ireland.
Losing your debit card while traveling
If you lose your debit card while traveling, act quickly and contact your bank immediately. The quicker the better as canceling your card stops any potential fraudulent activity from taking place on your account. In some cases, your bank may be able to send you an emergency card to a fixed address while you’re traveling so you can still access your money.
Get insured when traveling to Portugal
For peace of mind when traveling abroad, consider getting travel insurance to cover any health emergencies or cancellations while you’re away. This can save you a considerable amount of money and can help to reduce any travel anxiety both before and during the trip. There are many insurers to choose from, the important thing is to make sure you choose a plan that makes sense for you.
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Where to stay and what to do in Portugal
There are many incredible places to visit in Portugal, but where you should go depends on the type of vacation you want to have. As Portugal offers a variety of different experiences, you’re certain to find what you’re looking for. Here are some of our top places to visit in Portugal to point you in the right direction.
The family-friendly vacation: Porto
Porto, Portugal’s second-largest city, located in the northwest of the country, is famed for its picturesque colorful houses, winding cobbled streets, port cellars, and artistic flair. A UNESCO World Heritage site since 1996, Porto is a visual delight—and the perfect location for a family-friendly trip. A scenic stroll along the La Ribeira riverfront is a great way to get a feel for the city as it offers an array of vibrantly painted house fronts and street performers, which are sure to be a hit with the kids. Across the water, catch a ride on the Teleferico de Gaia cable car which connects the Jardim de Morro park to the port warehouses on the riverfront. From here, admire the views overlooking the river from the Luís I Bridge which are especially great at sunset.
In warm weather, Porto has two main beaches: Praia de Matosinhos and Praia do Ourigo. Both are sandy and have a few rock pools for kids to go and explore. If the weather starts to turn, on the stretch of coast between the two beaches you’ll find Porto’s Sea Life Centre which is populated with turtles, sharks, jellyfish, and seahorses. From here, use one of Porto’s historic tramlines to get back to the city center. Tram ‘Linha 1’ is especially picturesque as it rolls along the waterfront. Further along the river, you’ll find the Crystal Palace Gardens which are the perfect place for kids to let off some steam and perhaps come face-to-face with a peacock! But if you want to be surrounded by more wildlife, the Santo Inacio Zoo is just 20 minutes south of the center. It’s the greenest zoo in Northern Portugal and is home to 600 animals from 200 different species.
For the adventure traveler: Albufeira
A former fishing village, the coastal town of Albufeira in southern Portugal has become a haven for adventure travelers. Aside from its picture-perfect beaches and coastal charm, there are an almost limitless number of action-packed activities for you to choose from. Around the Albufeira coastline, there are many caves that are only accessible by water—whether you choose to reach them by kayak, stand-up paddleboard, or canoe is up to you! Albufeira’s beaches are also great for surfing, and windsurfing. In the summer, you can jump around on a selection of inflatable obstacle course water parks in Praia de Pescadores and Praia dos Alemães. But, if you want to get more up close with Albufeira’s marine life, check out the dive center in Albufeira which caters to both experienced and beginner divers.
Back on land, there are two equestrian centers close to Albufeira where you can enjoy pony rides, riding lessons, or treks around the stunning landscape. If you fancy something a little noisier, you can join a quad-biking trip and race off through the scrubland surrounding the town. If that still doesn’t satisfy your need for speed, check out the Go Kart track near the Marina. As the track’s inside, this is the perfect activity for a rainy day. Then, when you’re ready for a different perspective, head to the Santa Eulália high ropes course and see if you can navigate yourself through the obstacle course in the trees!
A culture lover's dream: Lisbon
Portugal’s lively, vivid, and diverse capital, Lisbon, is a melting pot of cultures and traditions. The perfect location for a city escape, there is so much to discover here. Each neighborhood is bursting with character so it’s worth visiting as many as you can while you’re there to get a real feel for the city. Alfama, to the southwest, is the oldest part of the city—and one of the most beautiful. You can easily spend an afternoon getting lost in Alfama’s many narrow alleyways and winding streets. Look out for the older women selling shots of ‘ginjinha,’ the area’s local cherry liqueur, from their groundfloor living rooms!
Further west from Alfama is Chiado, Lisbon’s high-end shopping district and home to many high-end restaurants, shops, and bars. A little further north and you’ll find yourself in Bairro Alto, famed for its flourishing nightlife, long happy hours, and small but lively clubs. Keep going north and you’ll end up in Príncipe Real which boasts some of the best upscale restaurants in the city and expensive designer stores. For museums and galleries, head to Belém in the southwest. Here you’ll discover the museum of modern and contemporary art, Lisbon’s maritime museum, the National Coach Museum, the Museum of Electricity, and the Museum of Art, Architecture, and Technology. For a rainy day, Oceanarium Lisbon, one of the largest aquariums in the world with over 25,000 animals is an absolute must.
The Comboios de Portugal (CP) is Portugal’s national rail service. They run regional (R), cross-country (IR), intercity (IC), and high-speed trains (AP) across the entire city—often for very reasonable prices. Rede Expressos is the national bus provider which offers you the opportunity to get across the country cheaply, but at a more leisurely pace. If you want to explore Portugal by car, beware that most motorways have toll gates. To navigate them, make sure to take a ticket when you join the motorway then when you leave the motorway, avoid the lane marked ‘Via Verde.’ This lane is for drivers with an automatic toll debit payment. Instead, join any lane with a green light. Here you’ll simply hand over your ticket and you’ll be told how much you have to pay.
If you decide to explore Portugal by car, car rental companies like Thrifty, Hertz, Alamo, and Europcar have got you covered. But be sure to use a price comparison site such as Kayak, Expedia, or rentalcars.com to find the best deal out there. Additionally, in some of Portugal’s bigger cities, you’ll be able to hire a car for short trips using car rental apps such as Free2Move and Virtuo. For even shorter trips, you can hop on a scooter from Cooltra, or an e-scooter from Lime, Bird, or Voi.
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