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20+ Things You Should Know Before Your Road Trip In Portugal

We love road trips so of course, we wanted to optimize our time in Portugal and see several off the beaten path places worthy of a visit.  Portugal has wonderful infrastructure that makes it easy to travel around the country including the public transportation systems.  You don’t have to drive, you can easily maneuver by using the trains and buses also.  If you do choose to drive, here’s some things you should know before your road trip across Portugal.

These tips are written from the perspective of a United States Citizen so they might not fit everyone globally.  We also traveled with 3 of our children, ages 22, 10, & 8.  Some of the tips are from what we experienced as well as often noted suggestions for travelers.

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Visiting Portugal FAQ’s

Do you need a visa?

You may enter Portugal for up to 90 days for tourist and business purposes without a Visa.  Your passport needs to be valid for at least 6 months before your departure date – if you are flying there on March 1, 2023, then your passport should not have an expiration date before October 1, 2023. 

You must carry ID at all times, if you are stopped for some reason, you might be asked for proof of identification.

What happens if my passport expires soon? 

You could be denied entry or even boarding for your flight.  

Do they take US Dollars?  

Portugal uses the Euro. It’s best to have Euros on hand.

Do you NEED cash?

Yes! There will be places that you may want to stop in or tours/services that only take cash.

Which ATM to use?

Multibanco will probably be the best ATM network for your needs to avoid unnecessary and expensive fees and issues.  Use a card that does not charge international transaction fees.

Which credit cards are widely accepted?

Visa and Mastercard are the most likely accepted.  It will be very rare and hard to use your American Express card.

Do I need to tip?

Technically no but watch for situations where tipping might be appropriate such as if you see a tip jar. For bartenders, you could round up to the nearest Euro but it is not expected. Cash tips are more appreciated when given as it may not make it back to the server when it is on a credit card.

What You Need To Know About Renting a Car in Portugal

Car Rental Facts

  • Toll roads and parking can get expensive. Be sure that you have everything needed with your rental to help you maneuver driving in the country.  Many car rental companies include insurance in the rental but you might have to pay for extras such as GPS or WiFi.
  • Recommended –  SIXT Car Rental has English speaking agents in branches throughout the country and offers additions like car seats or E-Toll service.
  • Speed limits are generally 50 km/h in cities and can range up to 120 km/h on freeways.
  • The vehicle on the right has Right of Way at unmarked intersections.
  • Yield to cars in the roundabout when entering.
  • All car occupants must wear a seatbelt.
  • DO NOT use mobile devices while driving, it is prohibited.
  • Turn on headlights in bad weather or a tunnel.

Are there places where I might not want to drive?

Yes, inside Lisbon and Porto city centers.  Parking is hard to find or expensive. The streets are extremely hilly in some areas.  If you’re from the Midwest like me, you might be a little unsettled at the pitch of some of the streets.  I was pumping my passengers’ side invisible brakes! It is entirely possible that I’m a chicken and you’ll be fine.

Common Assumptions about Traveling

“Everyone Speaks English”

Many people in the metro areas speak English but you will encounter cashiers, bakeries, and even tourist attractions where someone does not speak English well enough for a quality interaction.  You may misunderstand prices and services included without having some understanding in Portuguese.  Interacting without it is achievable but could be difficult. Try Practice Portuguese to boost some general conversational skills.

“You can always go to McDonald’s.”

Possibly but even in a small town, a McDonald’s citing does not mean it will be easy or that anyone there will speak English.

What You Need to Know In Case of Emergency

Where can an American go for help?

The American Embassy is located in Lisbon at Av. Fas Forcas Armadas 133C.  You should register for the Smart Traveler Enrollment Program prior to leaving so that you will receive important alerts while abroad.  These will keep you aware of important weather conditions and any other dangers you may not notice while traveling.

What do I dial in an emergency?

1-1-2 for life threatening emergencies.  

What if I need to see a doctor?

It is very easy to make appointments at clinics or with doctors if you fall ill.  You can also get some assistance at pharmacies. For instance, a covid test in Madeira at a local clinic could be pre-arranged online and was $10.

Is Portugal safe?

It is one of the safest countries to visit but petty crime does exist everywhere.  In high volume tourist areas, you can still get pick-pocketed or scammed.  Exercise caution with your valuables and public conversation.

More Travel Questions Answered

When is the Best time to travel to Portugal:

Most of Europe is the hottest and busiest during the summer months. In order to avoid crowds, higher prices, and heatwaves, it is best to visit before or after summer in May, June, or September.  If you visit before June and after mid-September, the temps will be cooler but swimming pools and beaches may be seasonally closed.

Winters are mild but can experience more rain.  If you don’t mind the rains, October and November work well too.

What about my electronics?

You should bring a plug adapter if you expect to use your American electronics in Portugal.

Can I drink the water?

Yes, tap water is safe to drink.  Bottled water is readily available if you would prefer it.

Will my cell phone work?

Portugal operates on the GSM network, so if you use AT&T or T-Mobile, your phone will probably still work and depends on your plan.  As a T-Mobile customer we had free data and text but in some areas still were hit with roaming charges making our bill an extra $70 for the 10 days we spent in Portugal.

An International Sim card would be the best option.

Are the attractions expensive?

No.  You will find that some museums are free on Sundays, many sites are free to visit with low parking fees of 1  – 3 Euros, and museums and attractions that do charge a fee are usually under 10 Euros with kids often free.  There is plenty to see and do on a budget.

Should I make hotel reservations?

Yes.  You should research before going and make plans for your accommodations along the way.  Some places could be sold out and prices can vary depending on the season.  A little bit of research can go a long way towards the experience you want to have.  You will most likely find a large range of accommodations from hotels, inns, vacation rentals, and villas in every budget range.  Start your search on TripAdvisor to see some of the best options.

6 Fun Portugal Facts

  • One of the oldest universities in Europe – The University of Coimbra.
  • The oldest bookstore in the world – Bertrand Chiado in Lisbon dates back to 1732.
  • Home to the world’s largest cork forest.
  • Portugal decriminalized all drugs in 2001 and was the first country to do so.  It also has some of the lowest drug usage rates in the European Union.
  • The biggest waves ever surfed were in Portugal.
  • In March 2018, Portugal generated all of its energy from renewable sources.

Wondering where to begin your road trip adventure? Try Cascais.

Looking for a beautiful retreat in Cascais? Try Onyria Quinta da Marinha Villas.

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