It’s been a few months since my trip to Portugal and I’ve had some time to go over all of my notes. Yeah, I’m one of those “notes” people – but the problem is I don’t just stick to one kind. Electronic. Paper. Scribbled in the margins of my planner. Post-its strewn about, across my walls and beyond. Well here’s a nice little compilation of them all so you don’t have to worry about deciphering haphazard and practically illegible notes.
A few general things to remember before you travel
Money tip: Call the bank in advance to put a travel notification on your credit and debit cards. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve desperately searched for wifi to skype my bank and prevent a fraud alert. Actually I can. Every time I’ve traveled abroad.
Visa requirements: Always double check visa requirements. You do not need a visa to enter Portugal with a US passport if your stay is less than 90 days.
Learned the hard way: Don’t forget to check your passport’s expiration date. Airlines destined for Portugal (and other Schengen states) can prevent you from boarding if your passport is within 3-6 months of expiring. Enforcement of this policy varies by airline and country. Poor Summer was banned from boarding her flight and it threw us into crisis planning mode at the last second, but that’s a whole story in itself.
Getting from the Airport to Lisbon
In Lisbon there are several ways to get into town and it doesn’t take long at all because the airport is just 20 minutes from the city center. Fortunately my hostel offered a variety of information for getting into town. According to them, to get into town (Rossio train station to be specific) from the airport you can:
Metro – take the the metro red line to São Sebastião, change to the blue line and go to Restauradores.
Bus – take the Aerobus 91, get off at Restauradores (20 minutes) or take the bus 44 or 745, (30 minutes), drop off at Rossio and walk back to Rossio Train Station, the nice building you’ve just passed.
Taxi– ask the driver to take you to Rossio Train Station. From the airport it should not cost you more than 15€.
Portugal has a fairly extensive public transportation system. There are streetcars, a metro and buses in Lisbon. Regional and local trains can get you throughout the country and others operate to neighboring countries.
The regional train website is fairly easy to navigate, but you do have to create an account and provide your passport number to book online. You can also buy tickets at the station. Oriente is the main train station in Lisbon (but you may also find yourself using Cais do Sodre or Rossio which both operate as metro stations) and Campanha is the main train station in Porto.
Lagos has one station and the route requires you to switch trains in Tunes when you come from Lisbon. Trains and buses operate in the Algarve but it is recommended to rent a car if you want to maximize your time. We were recommeneded to use this company to find an automatic transmission, but they were out and Lago Rent was able to provide us with a cheap automatic rental (about 90 euros for the day) within an hour.
We also used quite a few taxis to get to and from train stations or at the end of the day when we were too hangry to walk. We never had an issue with unfair prices, drivers trying to negotiate off the meter or exorbitant rates. The drivers were actually all very friendly and helpful. And in the Algarve we relied on the rickety bikes at our rental to get around. They were old but they got the job done. Bikes were also my favorite way to get around Belem.
The most surprising thing for me was that the weather varied quite a bit from the north to the south, despite Portugal’s small size. Summer and Ivan said Porto was cooler than Lisbon, which in May/June was hot during the day and cooled down considerably at night.
In the Algarve we got a few hot, sunny days but the breeze always kept the temperate comfortable. Packing light sweaters, breezy dresses and sandals worked well. This is my favorite site for checking the weather before I travel.
COMMUNICATING WITH THE LOCALS
While Portugal is a popular destination with the English, it is nice to learn enough Portuguese to get by and be polite. Always start conversations with “bom dia” or “boa tarde” and watch Sonia Gil’s video for a crash course in her essential phrases for getting by abroad (although the video features Brazilian pronunciation).
Bom dia (bohn DEE-ah) – good morning/good day.
Boa tarde (BOH-ah TAHR-deh) – good afternoon.
Boa noite (BOH-ah NOY-teh) – good night.
Isso (ee-so) – this.
Aquilo (ah-key-low) – that.
Eu quero (ay-oh key-air-oh) – I want…
O conta (oh con-toh) – …the check.
Quanto custa (kwan-toh kew-sta) – how much does this cost?
FOOD IN PORTUGAL
Portugal loves its seafood. From grilled sardines (sardinhas assadas) to percebes, there is plenty of fish and seafood to try. Cod (bacalhau) is especially popular. According to Conde Nast Traveler, if you haven’t tried these five things on your visit to Lisbon, you’re doing something wrong:
PASTEIS DE BELEM – a custard tart that is a staple in Lisbon like beignets are in New Orleans. To find the original visit Antigua Confeitaria de Belem where they supposedly bought the recipe 200 years ago and have guarded the secret ever since. Summer and I enjoyed trying them from various bakeries to figure out how they are different. My favorite way to eat pasteis from the underground bakery was with a glass of Port courtesy of our local friend, Rodrigo, while overlooking the city at night.
QUEIJO DA SERRA – it’s a cheese so I definitely agree with it being #2 on the list. It is a creamy yellow sheep’s milk cheese made with thistle flower. To get your hands on it in Lisbon (it’s produced out in the country) they suggest visiting Manteigaria Silva. I never found it but you better bet I tried every other cheese I got my hands on.
BACALHAU – like I noted, Portugal is big on seafood. This cod is salted and there are apparently 365+ ways to serve it so expect to see some form on every menu. Summer and Ivan found it to be really dry, I personally liked it and any local you ask will argue it is the best, no, the only way to cook cod properly.
CARNE DE PORCO ALENTEJANA – pork cooked with clam, and since I’m a vegetarian I will not be able to report back on this one personally (sorry CN, I guess I’m doing something wrong). They recommend the restaurant Joao do Grao in Baixa, the downtown area. Another non-vegetarian popular dish is piri piri chicken.
CALDO VERDE – a green soup made of cabbage, onions, potatoes and sometimes sausage. It is often served in the Fado clubs (a popular activity for visitors who want to get a taste of the music scene). They suggest visiting Pateo de Alfama in Lisbon’s oldest neighborhood.
VINHO VERDE – adding onto their five dishes, the light and fizzy Portuguese wine. Perfect for summer. We were (very) partial to Alvarinho (a variety of grape). Grab as many bottles as you can and stuff them in your suitcase to bring home. They won’t last long though!
PORT – I’m on a roll here with the drinks (and it’s going to keep going). Vinho do Porto comes from the Duoro region of Portugal, and while I didn’t have the time to go there I still sampled their products. Not my favorite – it’s sweet – it’s definitely worth a try and pairs well with pasteis.
GINJONHA – a Portuguese liqueur infused with ginja berries. Tastes like sour cherry and it’s normally served in a chocolate shot glass. Mostly for tourists, but who cares since it’s fun. Saude!
QUEIJADA – a sweet pastry that is popular in Sintra (the perfect day trip from Lisbon). If you find yourself there, grab one with some coffee – but beware, when you order a coffee in Portugal you are typically ordering an espresso, so if that’s not what you want ask for café Americano (large black coffee) or um galao directo (like a latte).
TIPPING AND ETIQUETTE
Tipping in Europe tends to be less generous than tipping in the US in my experience. I have read that in Portugal service/gratuity is not added to the bill and it’s normal to tip around 10% if the service was good. A coworker who recently returned from Portugal noted that when you sit down at most restaurants, a variety of bread and small plates will be brought out before the meal. If you touch anything, you will be charged for the entire spread – and she said the price ranged from place to place. Her recommendation was to send the food back, or ask to only keep what you want and return the other food, or prepare to pay. For taxis, you can simply round up the bill when tipping.
Have any questions about visiting Portugal? Let me know!