10 Tips for Your First Trip to Portugal

Undoubtedly among the most captivating European destinations, Portugal holds a special place as one of my top choices for a rich blend of culture, history, art, and scenic beaches.

Whether exploring the picturesque wine valley in the Douro Valley, relishing a delightful meal in Porto, or wandering through the seven hills of Lisbon, this historic nation is bound to capture your heart.

From savoring the local cuisine to discovering ideal vantage points (miradouros) to absorb the boundless natural beauty spread across the country.

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1. Make sure to try the local food

Francesinha, pronounced (fran·suh·zeen·yuh) meaning little French woman is a Portuguese sandwich, originally from Porto. It’s made with layers of toasted bread and assorted hot meats such as roast, steak, wet-cured ham, linguica or chipolata, over which sliced cheese is melted by the ladling of a near-boiling tomato-and-beer sauce called molho de francesinha. It’s typically served with french fries.

The city’s iconic Francesinha Sandwich has two types of sausage plus ham, steak, bologna, and cheese

Just look at that photo! If I had to sum it up, its the worlds best grilled cheese sandwich, EVER! If you like a good dark beer, this pairs extremely well! Bottom’s up!

However, that’s not all Portugal’s food scene is known for; Portugal’s food scene is a delightful fusion of rich flavors, fresh ingredients, and diverse influences. Known for its seafood, particularly bacalhau (salted cod), and iconic dishes like Pastel de Nata (custard tart).

Portuguese cuisine showcases a mix of Mediterranean and Atlantic flavors. From hearty stews like Caldo Verde to the simplicity of grilled sardines, Portugal’s culinary landscape reflects a commitment to tradition and a celebration of regional specialties.

2. Don't try to visit Portugal & Spain in the same trip!

There are so many irresistible locations in Portugal that it’s hard not to want to rush from one city to the next—but take a breath! The true beauty of Portugal is the laid-back lifestyle.

I see a lot of travelers that plan a trip to Portugal and then, want to add a bigger city in Spain too.

And truth be told, I almost made this same mistake as well.

When I finally made it to Portugal, I was so glad I didn’t rush through it and combined it with a trip to Spain.

Portugal deserves an entire trip of its own. I recommend spending at least 7 days to visit Lisbon, Porto and the Douro Valley. An itinerary would shake out something like this:

  • Lisbon – 3 Days
  • Porto – 3 Days
  • Douro Valley – 1 Day
If you can stretch your holiday to 10+ days, you can consider the above itinerary and adding in small towns like Coimbra, Mafra, or Nazaré in between Lisbon and Porto. Or, a quick flight or train down to the Algarve. Itinerary ideas are listed in my Portugal Travel Guide!

3. Understand the weather

Portugal is fantastic to visit any time of the year. However, there are some weather patterns to be aware of, depending on the type of holiday you are wishing for.

Each region of Portugal has their own climate.

For instance, the Algarve can be visited year-round, it just depends on how you feel about crowds and swimming. It has 300 sunny days a year but if you like hot weather and cooling off in the sea with a swim, be sure to travel June through August.

Lisbon is best in March-May and September-November.

Porto is best May through October.

The Douro Valley is best May through October, but especially during September when you can “stomp the grapes”.

Shoulder season (specifically, September) is my favorite season to travel to Europe. The summer crowds have died down, the weather is perfect and prices are lower than high season.


4. Have some cash on you

From little street carts in Porto to small cafes  and shops in Lisbon, most places accept travel credit cards, but not all. It never hurts to have some cash in your pocket for those little shops that still don’t accept cards.

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5. Wear reef-safe sunscreen

I’ve mentioned before about just how crucial reef-safe sunscreen is, and I was thrilled to see that Portugal has jumped on the bandwagon. 

When you are buying your sunscreen in the Algarve area, have a look at the ingredients.  If you love the beauty of the Algarve region, make sure it doesn’t contain oxybenzone and octinoxate because studies have shown these chemicals to have harmful impacts on marine environment and ecosystems, including coral reefs.

6. Fly for free with travel rewards

The Capital One Venture One card is a fantastic travel rewards credit card with NO fee and NO foreign transaction fees. Depending on your home airport, the sign-up bonus of this card could help you get round-trip airfare to Portugal for free. 

Points & miles can add up fast before your next trip and you want to make sure to maximize your rewards!

I use a small army of major credit cards to book my flights, accommodations and rental cars so I can travel for FREE. Learn more about travel reward credit cards.

7. Walk everywhere

If you are visiting Lisbon or Porto, walk everywhere if you are able to. They are both very walkable cities and you will enjoy them more by exploring every little alleyway and road on foot.

Aside from the good workout and burning off all the delicious meals you will have, walking will save you money on transportation costs! Save your money by walking in Lisbon or Porto and use your savings to book activities and things to do with GetYourGuide!

8. Try the local wine

When you visit Porto, you must try the infamous Port wine. Even if you do not take a day trip to the Douro Valley, Port wine must be consumed in port!

Head across the river via the Luis I Bridge and check out Graham’s Winery. Sip on a flight of wine and snack on a mini charcuterie board. Make reservations at least two weeks in advance for the full tasting experience

Other recommendations include Sandman Winery, Taylor’s Port and Cockburn’s Lodge Port. If you would like a little taste of a few different wine makers, I would suggest taking this Port Wine Tour with 7 different tasting, it’s sure to be a tipsy-fun time!

If you would like I Bridge Luis I Bridge

9. Public transportation card

We talked about walking everywhere possible earlier, but when you get tired…

You can save a bunch of money by buying a local transportation card, Hop-On Hop-Off Bus, or a City Pass.

Check out the Lisbon City Pass for Porto City Pass or 24, 48 or 72 hours!

Tour Lisbon with a 24, 48, or 72-hour bus ticket with an audio guide. Explore the city on various bus routes, hopping on or off wherever you like and discover old quarters with a digital walking tour.

10. Rent a Car

Having your own ride in Portugal will let you explore the smaller towns outside of the big cities. I wouldn’t advise to rent a car inside of Lisbon or Porto, but if you would like to venture out to Cabo de Roca, Sintra, Mafra, Braga, or the southern part of Portugal (Algarve), I highly recommend renting a car from DiscoverCars.com.

DiscoverCars offers no hidden fees, free cancelation and 24/7 bi-lingual support.

Pick up your car directly from the Lisbon, Porto, or Faro airport and off you go!

The most popular rental car in Portugal is the VW Polo, but travelers also tend to pick the Ford Fiesta and the Fiat 500.

Many of the cities in Portugal have smaller roads in certain parts, which were built centuries ago. These roads often only facilitate smaller vehicles, which is why compact rentals car is so popular in Portugal.

Book Your Trip Now!

Below are my favorite companies I use time and time again when I book my travel. 

  • Travel Coupons & Discounts – Get Cash Back at places like Hotels.com, Expedia, Travelocity, Priceline and many more with Rakuten. Sign up today & get $30!
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  • My Second Favorite Travel Credit Card – In my opinion, the second best travel rewards credit card, the Capital One Venture. Use the Capital One Venture card for 2x the rewards on everyday purchases.
  • Rental Cars – Search, compare and save on the best rental car company brands all in one place using DiscoverCars.
  • Booking.com – Booking has the widest selection of budget accommodation in the world. In our studies, they constantly found the cheapest rooms. I also like their easy-to-use interface and no-money-down policy.
  • Hotels.com – Hotels.com is my second choice for finding hotels. I love their selection and easy to navigate website. Use it often for free hotel stays with OneKeyCash.
  • VRBO – The most popular vacation rental site in the US. ✓+2 million rentals worldwide ✓19+ million reviews ✓Secure online payment
  • Selina Hostel – This is the best hostel accommodation in the world. Their unique CoLive stays, artwork and location are the best. Not to mention, they are a great value travel brand!

For companies, check out my favorite travel companies section that includes even more of my favorite travel companies that will help you value travel!

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