The westernmost country of the Iberian Peninsula is among Europe's most favoured tourist destinations, especially among those that hail from the UK. By car, visitors can enjoy the mountainous north, cultural havens such as Lisbon, desert-like landscapes across the Alentejo region and the Algarve's popular holiday spots.
Driving Tips for Portugal
Portuguese roads are generally good, with motorways or well-paved modern roads connecting all of the major cities. Signage is abundant, particularly on the motorway that links the south with the north.
Driving license: drivers need their British driver’s licence or an International Driving Permit.
Which side does Portugal drive on: the right.
Motorways: 75mph (120kph)
Open roads: 56mph (90kph)
Cities: 31mph (50kph)
Alcohol limits: 0.05 per cent, compared to the UK limit of 0.08 per cent. Those found exceeding the limit will be issued with a fine or have their licence revoked.
Driving age: 18 years; 21 years for car hire.
Seatbelts: drivers and passengers of a vehicle must make sure they are wearing their seatbelts. Children aged under 12 aren't permitted to be seated in the front unless in a suitable child safety seat.
Mobile phones and GPS: drivers must not use their mobile phones while at the wheel as this practice is prohibited. GPS may be used but must be programmed while the vehicle is at a standstill.
Cost of fuel in Portugal: on par with the UK.
Car hire and fuel payment: Portuguese car hire companies require the hirer to have a credit card which is used to hold a deposit for damages. While petrol stations across large cities might accept credit cards, cash is commonly used in the countryside.
Insurance: drivers might wish to consider both collision and theft coverage in addition to the basic cover offered by most car hire companies.
Traffic and parking: parking rules vary between different regions and even different times or days of the week. ‘No parking’ is indicated by signs saying Estacionamento prohibido or by yellow lines. Vehicles must be parked in the direction of the traffic flow.
The capital, Lisbon, is connected by rail to most major domestic cities, including Porto, Evora, Faro, Aveiro, Braga and Coimbra. Lisbon is also connected to international destinations such as the Spanish capital of Madrid and French cities. The main rail company is Portuguese Railways.
Taxis cost roughly the same as they do in England and are most expensive in Lisbon or tourist areas. Vehicles that have meters charge roughly £0.30 per kilometre and fares start at around £2.50. A typical fare from a hotel to an airport will be around £8. Passengers should be prepared to haggle in popular regions such as the Algarve.
Companies such as ALSA, Auto Res and Anibal supply international travel from Madrid and Paris, in addition to domestic routes. A ticket from neighbouring Spain can cost anywhere between £50 and £100 depending on the class of the coach and how quick it travels. Rede Expresso is among the leading domestic companies offering inter-city domestic bus travel.
Portugal has numerous sea ports but they are mainly used by merchant rather than commercial boats. Some cruise liners offer travel to the country, especially during the peak tourist season. In a similar fashion, some small domestic boats are available around the Algarve and other regions that are popular with holidaymakers, such as the Azores Islands.
While Lisbon Portela Airport might be the country's main international gateway, it is not the only hub that receives international flights as Porto and Faro airports in the Algarve are also popular entry points. While British Airways is the main carrier offering flights to Portugal from the UK, there are several budget carriers with similar routes such as easyJet and Ryanair. A typical return fare with a no-frills carriers can cost anywhere from £40 to £100, depending on how far in advance the ticket is purchased. Lisbon’s airport is less than five miles from the city centre, with buses, metro trains and taxis available for transport.
For those that wish to visit various Portuguese cities on the same trip, Lisbon is a good starting point. The city is one of Europe's finest capitals and is unmistakable for its Cristo Rei statue of Jesus Christ, which is similar to the Christ the Redeemer statue in the Brazilian city of Rio de Janeiro.
While here, tourists can enjoy taking a walk through the historical Chiado district and marvel at architectural wonders such as the Jeronimos Monastery. Among other things, Lisbon is highly regarded for its museums, with over a dozen to choose from.
Residents of the north refer to Porto as their capital and the city is a worthy rival to Lisbon. Its historical centre, a UNESCO World Heritage site, is laden with admirable Roman architecture. Holidaymakers that enjoy live entertainment usually set aside an evening at the House of Music (Casa da Musica).
Around an hour’s drive from Porto is the city of Aveiro, which is often referred to as the country's Venice. Whenever not relaxing on fine, white-sand beaches along the Silver Coast, tourists are often taking fun rides in gondolas along the area’s numerous canals.
For those that have come for sun, sea and sand, the Algarve region is usually of most interest. While Faro might be the main city of the area and where most visitors fly to, there are plenty of other destinations to choose from, including Albufeira, Silves and Bordeira, among other beach resort towns.
Our Travel Editor’s Recommended Drives
Lisbon to Reguengos de Monsaraz – a memorable drive that takes drivers into the lush vineyards of Azeitao where wine tasting can be enjoyed and locally-produced wines can be learnt about. The scenic route carries on through rolling agricultural fields and eventually to Evora, an iconic UNESCO World Heritage site.
Pinhao to Porto - taking drivers past the idyllic towns of Vila Real and Amarante, this journey eventually leads to the northern capital of Porto. Here, a pretty waterfront and numerous high-brow restaurants are easy to locate, while the historic city centre is a UNESCO World Heritage site.
Chaves to Algarve - after visiting Chaves’ thermal springs, drivers can carry on to Barcelos along a coastal route that offers breathtaking views. Some of the best sites for photography known to man can be taken advantage of in the Western Algarve.
Holidays and Festivals
New Year’s Day (1 January)
Mardi Gras (21 February)
Good Friday (April)
Easter Sunday (April)
Portugal Day (10 June)
All Saints' Day (1 November)
Christmas Day (25 December)
With its moderate climate, Portugal is a year-round holiday spot. Summer experiences minimal rainfall and lasts from June until August, with temperatures regularly topping 30°C. Even in winter, which typically runs from October to February, the climate is cool and there is little rainfall. As it is near the Equator, southern Portugal is remarkably warmer than the north.
Portugal Travel Tips
Portugal draws British travellers with its great year-round weather, historic yet cosmopolitan cities and beaches or islands in the southern regions, such as the Algarve. Due to its relatively small size, the country is easy to navigate by car.
Portugal contact numbers
Country Code - (+35)
Medical emergency – 112
Sea rescue – +35 214 401 919
Fire service – 112
Police – +35 21 358 83 00
Portuguese Tourist Office – +35 121 120 5050
British Embassy – +35 121 392 4000
United States Embassy - +35 121 727 3300
Irish Embassy – +35 121 330 8200
Australian Embassy – +35 121 310 1500
Portugal uses the euro as its currency and travellers’ cheques are widely accepted, especially in tourist areas. The best exchange rates are offered at banks and tipping isn't common across the country. ATMs accept most major cards and can be easily located in cities and towns.
Health and safety
Both private and public hospitals where doctors are able to speak English can be found here and the tap water is drinkable in most destinations. Tourists are advised to take care when out at night in Lisbon and Porto where muggings do occur.
The Portuguese are known for their warm hospitality and often do their best to make tourists feel welcome. Learning a few everyday phrases in the Portuguese language will be greatly appreciated by the locals.
Visas for Portugal
UK tourists don't require a visa to enter Portugal but their passport must have at least three months’ validity. Non-EU citizens require a Schengen visa, which also allows access to other Schengen countries, to holiday here.
Portugal uses electricity at 230V/50Hz, although voltage converters may be used for appliances that can't operate at such levels. Plugs have two round pins.
Shops: 09:00 to 13:00 and 15:00 to 19:30, Monday to Sunday
Banks: 08:30 to 15:00, Monday to Friday
Ola - Hello
Adeus - Goodbye
Desculpe - Sorry
Sim/nao - Yes/no
Como esta? - How are you?
Quanto custa? - How much does it cost?
Como te chamas? – What is your name?
Nao sei - I don't know