The Backpackers’ Guide to Portugal
Portugal is a stunning country, ripe for those who come with the spirit of adventure. Considered one of the best places to backpack in Europe, Portugal is known for its beautiful beaches, culture, affordable prices, and friendly locals. Undoubtedly, it helps to know a bit about what you’re getting into before you go. That’s why we’ve created this guide of the backpacker’s guide to Portugal. Read on to prepare for your journey to beautiful Portugal!
Things To Know Before Your Trip To Portugal
Cost and Currency
Portugal is an excellent cost-effective choice. Considered one of the cheapest countries to travel through in Western Europe, Portugal’s currency is the Euro. The cost of living here will always be cheaper in these parts, when compared to other bustling neighboring cities, as you’ll always be saving something. For example, a cappuccino in London is likely to be around 3 EUR (3.53 USD), whereas in Lisbon you’ll come closer to 1.3 EUR (1.53 USD). A night in a budget hotel can cost as little as 15 EUR (17.64 USD), for places even on the coast.
Language and Safety
The Portuguese people tend to be a friendly bunch, who generally will have some language proficiency in English. However, it never hurts to learn a few phrases in the native language, as a simple gesture can open many doors. Bom dia is “good morning” and is pretty easy to remember, and boa tarde is “good afternoon.” If you’ve ever studied Spanish, you may be happy to find some similarities in both languages.
Safety in Portugal is one of the top reasons why backpackers feel so comfortable here. Rated the third-safest country by the World Peace Index, not only are risks of violent crimes low, so are the chances for natural disasters. Additionally, it’s safe to drink the water.
Getting Around Portugal
Backpackers especially love the ease with which they can traverse Portugal. A great public transportation system, which is safe, helps network travelers from urban to rural destinations alike. Portugal is really only about the size of the state of Indiana, running just 349 miles long. The trains in Portugal are fast, affordable and connected by a network of urban, regional, and intercity trains.
Weather and Climate
Portugal has an approachable climate all year round, with lows in January through March that are still a friendly 60 degrees F, or 15.5 C. The height of the tourist season is undoubtedly in the summer months, as it is the best time for the beaches. The shoulder seasons of early spring and fall are still great times to go, and can make your trip even more economical if you are on a budget.
Best Travel Itineraries for your Backpacking Journey In Portugal
Let’s get down to the nuts and bolts of the best travel itineraries when you’re headed to Portugal. Though this country is small, it’s big on personality. This is a proposed travel itinerary that hits up both urban and rural highlights of beautiful Portugal. The itinerary is just short of 30 days, allowing you to tailor it as you see fit.
Start in Porto: 5 days
Porto is the second-largest city in Portugal and is a port city in the Iberian Peninsula. Known for wine production and remarkable architecture, Porto is a great place to start. Backpackers love the young and fun atmosphere of Porto, while being set in historic scenery. It is also viewed somewhat like Lisbon, before the city became a popular destination by tourists.
Highlights of Porto include excursions within the city, like shopping at Mercado do Bolhão for fresh fruits and vegs, visiting Porto’s old town of Ribeira, and climbing up Clérigos Tower. Porto is also a great base for day-trips in the area, including a visit to the first capital of Portugal, Guimarães, or to an outing to a winery where Port is made.
Head to Coimbra: 3 days
The journey from Porto to Coimbra is an easy one, achieved by simply heading down the coastline in a matter of roughly one hour and 45 minutes. Coimbra is a riverfront city that is known for having the oldest university in Portugal. For over one hundred years, it was the capital of the country during the Medieval ages. Enjoy the buzzing energy of student life, which naturally means a great nightlife.
That said, the balance of old and new is what is so charming about much of Portugal; you’re equally likely to find traditional foods and a wealth of Fado — a Portuguese folk dance.
Must-sees in the city include the university and historic center, and the Roman ruins of Conimbriga and Bussaco Palace. A worthwhile day trip outside of Coimbra is the stone Schist villages in the Gois Region, which embody the traditional way of life.
Peniche: 3 days
If you’ve been craving the seaside, look no further than Peniche. About 150 km (93 mi) south of Coimbra, hop on the bus for an affordable 15 USD (12.76 EUR) which will take about two and half hours. Peniche is a coastal town in the Oeste region, and is no bigger than 16,000 people.
From world class surfing to a fascinating maritime history, Peniche is also known for incredibly fresh fish. If you’re feeling adventurous, don’t skip the Berlengas Islands, craggy islands that are great for marine life and bird watching.
Lisbon: 5 days
This destination will undoubtedly be the most expensive part of your journey, as Lisbon is the capital, and the most largest city of Portugal. With a population of some 2.6 million people, you may feel a bit of culture shock coming from Peniche. That said, no trip to Portugal would be complete without some time in Lisbon.
Be sure to check out Lisbon’s highlights which include the many unique districts of Lisbon, a night out to see Fado, and Parque das Nações. Many opt for an extra day trip to Sintra, a picturesque town located on the Portuguese Riviera that’s perfect for avid photographers.
The Alentejo Coastline: 3 days
Head about three hours south via train to the Alentejo Coastline from Lisbon, as the undersung beaches are worth the time taken. Alentejo may be the antithesis of the fast pace of Lisbon; in fact, one may even call it sleepy. This large region of Portugal wasn’t always so quiet though — as the main thoroughfare from Portugal to Spain during the Medieval ages, it was anything but peaceful. Be sure to put Évora on your non-beach activities. This UNESCO Heritage site shows layers of historic influence, including Moorish touches that may impress the history buffs.
Lagos, Sagres, and Albufeira: 5 days
We’ve given a hefty chunk of time to Lagos, Sagres, and Albufeira as each town has its distinct character in the Algarve region, known for its beautiful beaches. Lagos is a beautiful walled city that has picturesque beaches and a thriving night scene. If you’re a naturalist, you’ll love Sagres, with plenty of outdoor opportunities. Last but not least is Albufeira, probably the largest holiday destination out of the three. Expect a brightly colored city, sandy beaches, and a vibrant night scene that’s just waiting for you to explore.
Alternative Portugal Itineraries:
Check out our recommended 1 week in Portugal itinerary or 2 weeks in Portugal for those with more time!
Top 5 Places You Must See in Portugal
Luís I Bridge in Porto
Dom Luís I Bridge in Porto is an impressive double-decker metal bridge in Porto that connects Porto and Vila Nova de Gaia. Reaching over the River Douro, Luis I Bridge is a symbol of Porto, and a great place to take iconic shots. Do not be confused with the similarly-looking bridge, Dona Maria Pia Bridge, which was designed by Gustave Eiffel of the famous Paris Eiffel Tower. The top deck is meant for brave pedestrians, and if you can brave the height, it is truly worth the view.
Biblioteca Joanina in Coimbra
As mentioned, the oldest university in Portugal lies in Coimbra, and the Baroque-style library of Biblioteca Joanina cannot be missed. Frequently listed as one of the most beautiful libraries in all of the world, Biblioteca Joanina is in the historic center of Coimbra. Inside, stately rooms divided by decorated arches define the regal ambiance of Biblioteca Joanina.
A quirky but cool fact about Biblioteca Joanina is that every night, there are actually a colony of bats that prey on any book-destroying bugs. In the morning, the stacks are cleared of any bat guano. Do note, the library is highly restricted as far as accessibility, so be sure to book your tour ahead of time.
Belém Tower in Lisbon
The ceremonial gateway to Lisbon, the Belém Tower dates back to the 16th century. A UNESCO World Heritage site, Belém Tower was first built to defend the city. The tower has since morphed into a lighthouse and customs house that’s now open to the public. You can tour Belém Tower for a modest 6 EUR (7.10 USD), and climbing the narrow staircase to the roof terrace is certainly the pinnacle of the experience. If you do invest in a Lisboa Card, a card used for both transit and access to 26 museums, it can be applied here as well.
A day-trip from Lisbon, Sintra is a knockout seaside village that is rumored to have been beloved by Lord Byron, a famous British poet. Highlights of Sintra include two incredible castles, Quinta da Regaleira and Pena Palace. Our favorite is Pena Palace, which is almost Disney-like in appearance with brightly colored turrets and a beautiful garden expanse. Also, be sure to check out the Castle of the Moors, which gives depth to the varied and rich history of Portugal.
Beaches of Alentejo
We’d be remiss if this list only stuck to historic spots; the natural beauty of Alentejo’s beaches are honestly why so many people flock to Portugal. If you can afford the cost of a car rental, a drive along the coast hitting up multiple beaches such as in the towns of Zambujeira do Mar, Comporta and Sines is more than worth it. Don’t forget to stop for a bite to eat—the fish here is unrivaled and will leave you dreaming of Portugal for years.
From historic neighborhoods to world class beaches, Portugal does not disappoint. Welcoming in any season, Portugal’s regions each hold a world within their own. Affordable and approachable, zip around this reasonably-sized country on budget-friendly public transit. Backpacking in Portugal, though popular, is still an unparalleled experience, one that may call you back for a second journey.
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