top of page

7 Tips about Portugal that the Guidebooks May Not Tell You

Tips About Portugal Guidebooks May Not Tell You

Portugal! It’s one of my favorite destinations, with a unique history, wonderful food, and terrific wine. It’s also picturesque, and more reasonably priced than many other European countries. It’s so popular that many Americans are moving there.


But there’s more to know about Portugal than that its national dish is codfish and it’s the birthplace of mournful fado music. We learned a few essential tips that the guidebooks may not tell you.  We’re happy to share.


1.       Don’t Go in the Summer


Plenty of people travel in the summer because that’s what’s most convenient for them. The guidebooks don’t stress this, but that is not a great idea for Portugal. It’s really hot (up to 120 degrees Fahrenheit), very crowded, and more expensive. If you can go any other time you’ll be better off.


2.       Learn a Few Portuguese Phrases Before You Go


Trying to speak the language makes a big difference in Portugal, since a lot of tourists don’t make the effort and the Portuguese genuinely appreciate it when you try. I memorized some phrases, such as bon dia (good morning), com licença (excuse me), and obrigada (thank you) and used them when I could.  Talk about a quick way to get a local to smile! Plus don’t assume – as many tourists do – that the Portuguese speak Spanish. They typically don’t. And as you can tell from the phrases above, the two languages are not the same.


3.       Look Down When You’re Walking


Portugal is known for its beautiful wall tiles – on random buildings, in churches, and even train stations. But some pretty mosaic patterns are right at your feet. Many of the floors, sidewalks, and plazas are paved with limestone, often in fun designs that are a nice surprise.

Tips About Portugal Guidebooks May Not Tell You


There’s another, more practical reason to keep an eye on the ground. While the streets are clean, the limestone can be slippery, especially when wet.


4.       Try the 'Other' Local Beverages


Tips About Portugal Guidebooks May Not Tell You

Yes, you should definitely try the many local wines. But Portugal is more varied than that.  One of our favorite drinks is ginjinha, the cherry-flavored liquor that you can buy from little street and market stands. It can, but doesn’t always, come in a chocolate cup. If you’re in Porto, try a port and tonic, made with white port and often a bit of mint. There are also local beers, such as Super Bock.


5.       Choose Wine Tours Carefully


There are plenty of wine tours advertised. However, since a lot of them sound the same, it’s difficult to determine which ones are better without doing a bit of digging.  For instance, we didn’t do our homework the first time we visited the Douro Valley, and while we were on a lovely small group tour the wine tastings themselves were perfunctory samplings in large rooms with 100 of our closest friends. Not recommended. We’ve learned to narrow down our options and ask questions before we book, such as which wineries we might be visiting, whether we could avoid big groups, where would we go for lunch, and whether it was really worth it to sail down the Douro River for an hour in January (it wasn’t). This time around we were very happy with our tours from Lisbon to the Setubal and Alentejo wine regions with Nuno of Yes!experiences, our trip from Porto to the Dao Region with Daniel at Living Tours, and our tour to the Douro Valley with Jorge of Oporto Road Trips (we’ll get into more detail about these wine experiences in subsequent articles).


6.       Skip the Tourist Traps


Tips About Portugal Guidebooks May Not Tell You
The Lello Bookshop

As with any country, there are popular tourist attractions in Portugal worth visiting, such as the palace in Sintra or the Jeronimos Monastery in Belem. But honestly, a few were less worth it. For example, while people (and the guidebooks) told us to go to Lisbon’s famed Time Out Market, it was more of a food court than an actual market. If you’re looking for an authentic food market, I suggest going to the ones in Setubal or Porto instead.

Likewise, I had wanted to see the Lello Bookshop in Porto, allegedly the inspiration for Harry Potter’s Hogwarts. I didn’t mind being charged eight euros each just to enter, or even the wait to get in. However, the bookstore itself was rather disappointing. Yes, it was pretty, but it was mainly a place for tourists to take a quick selfie. We were in and out in 10 minutes.


7.       Get Off the Beaten Path


Tips About Portugal Guidebooks May Not Tell You
Sao Goncalo Church and Pilgrimage Site

A lot of people focus just on visiting Lisbon, perhaps adding Porto or going to one of the beaches. All of these are worthwhile, but much of the charm of Portugal is its smaller towns and rural areas. For instance, because we went to the Alentejo region we were able to see the unusual village of Evora, a UNESCO heritage site, with its ancient Roman temple and medieval Chapel of Bones.

And on our way to the Douro Valley we were able to stop in the village of Amarante, the capital of the Vinho Verde region, to see the Sao Goncalo pilgrimage site where people leave flowers and pray for fertility. 


We hope these seven tips about Portugal that the guidebooks may not tell you help you plan your trip there.  Do you have any tips to add? Please let us know! We’re at


If you enjoyed this post, visit our website and take a look at some of our related articles:



bottom of page