Braga Faro Guimarães Lagos Lisbon Madeira Portimão Porto Portugal

10 Things I’ve Learned Traveling Around Portugal So Far


Last Updated on March 28, 2018.

Here we are, more than halfway through my Portugal Skyscanner trip. I can’t believe how fast the time has flown!

In case you haven’t been following along on Twitter, Instagram or Facebook (which you should be), I was in Portugal for a whole two weeks before I booked it to Spain to check out Sevilla, get robbed in Barcelona, and attend the TBEX travel blogger conference in Girona/Costa Brava.

My trip began up north in pretty Porto and from there I flew down to Faro in the south to hang around the Algarve for several days – specifically in Portimão, Lagos and Sagres. I just touched down on Madeira, an island about 900 km off the coast of Portugal, and will be chilling here until Friday. Then I fly on to Lisbon to explore the country’s capital and end this trip in style.

Time now to check in with you and review some of the things I’ve learned about Portugal so far.

1) Portugal is a new favorite country of mine

I really wasn’t sure how I’d actually like the country even though I committed myself to traveling around it for a few weeks. I didn’t know much about it nor had read any travel accounts so was just assuming it was the sleepier side of the Iberian Peninsula. How wrong I was.

There is so much going on here and it really has become one of my favorite spots in the world. It’s got so much to offer in terms of tourism – stunning national parks, incredibly sexy beaches, lovely old towns and cities, a rich history, amazing food, GREAT wine. Not to mention it’s extremely easy to get around and cheap. I could easily see myself spending an extended period of time here somewhere down the line.

Guimarães Castle

Porto, Portugal

 

2) Portuguese people are skilled at speaking English

A lot of people in Portugal speak English and they speak it well. This is has made it so much easier to get around and has also allowed for me to gain more insight into the place and culture. I’ve had great conversations with lots of random people which is one of my all time favorite things to do. Hotel/hostel employees, waiters, taxi drivers, fellow pedestrians…people here like to chat and I’m way into it.

3) Portuguese people are really nice 

This is an understatement; Portuguese people are some of the friendliest I’ve met and they seriously go above and beyond when it comes to hospitality. I’ve made some super cool buddies in the most unlikeliest of places and have really felt safe and taken care of the entire time. Plus, they like to party and have fun – my kind of people!

4) The Algarve is some of the most beautiful coastline I’ve ever seen

Beautiful and rugged. Don’t have to explain this one too much, the photos speak for themselves.

 

5) Cod is to Portugal what shrimp is to Bubba from Forrest Gump 

It’s all about cod here in Portugal – fried, baked, smoked, you name it. I’ve heard mixed reports but basically there are anywhere from 100 to 1000 ways in which they prepare it. My personal favorites so far? Gomes de sa bacalhau (salt cod, onions and potatoes).

 

6) Portugal reminds me a little of Eastern Europe

I know, random. But aesthetically speaking, a lot of cities in Portugal have this shabby chic vibe that I love so much about Eastern cities like Odessa and Sarajevo with beautifully restored buildings and dilapidated old mansions or palaces sitting right next to each other. Its worn yet regal exterior screams character and is a constant reminder that this country was at one time one of the most powerful empires in the world.

Braga, Portugal

Porto, Portugal

Porto, Portugal

 

7) Portugal is cheap

It may not be Ukraine or Moldova cheap, but Portugal is definitely the cheapest Western European country that I’ve been in. You can get some pretty decent meals for under 5 euros if you look and going out for drinks (good ones) will not break the bank like it would in oh, say, Sweden. Accommodation is also reasonable; from personal experience I know hostels range from 12-20 euros/night.

This masterpiece of a meal cost me about 6 euros with a drink

 

8) The Portuguese language is beautiful

Maybe Portugal reminds me a little of Eastern Europe because it also sounds like Eastern Europe – specifically Poland, Ukraine or Russia. Similar to languages in those countries, Portuguese is rich in sounds. If I had polyglot skills, I’d totally learn it and just talk to myself everyday as a present for my ears.

 

9) Its natural beauty will blow your mind

Earlier on in the month I was fortunate enough to be a guest of the Portugal Tourism Board on a press trip up to Braga, Guimarães, and Peneda-Gerês National Park in the northern part of the country. What I saw there I was not expecting and again, I’ll let the photos speak for themselves.

Gorgeous view from Aquafalls Spa Hotel in Vieira do
Minho), Gerês

A hike through Peneda-Gerês National Park

Rare sighting: a blonde gypsy partaking in adventure sports at DiverLanhoso in Northern Portugal

 

10) Portugal has the best hostels in the world

On any given top hostel list you will always find quite a few Portuguese properties and it’s for good reason. They have pretty much nailed the concept of “luxury hostel” and I was fortunate enough to have been introduced to one of the best while I was in Porto.

The Gallery Hostel in Oporto is not only beautiful and innovative in its design and presentation, but the people working there were some of the coolest I’ve met at a hostel or hotel, ever. It’s housed in a restored 18th century villa in a great part of town and regularly hosts in-house art exhibitions of local artists. There was a pretty cool urban ruin one on display while I was staying.

Downstairs it has a cozy bar/lounge and even cozier kitchen that pumps out delicious breakfast spreads in the morning and amazing themed dinners in the evening (they cost only 10 euros and that includes wine!). It’s a quite intimate affair and can’t think of any other hostel I’ve stayed at where I’ve felt such a sense of community in such a short amount of time.

By the way, did I mention they’ve got karaoke on offer in the cinema/game room? Like icing on cake, I say.

Taking all suggestions for things to see and do in Madeira and Lisbon. Don’t forget to join my trip on Instagram and Twitter by following the hashtag #BlondeGypsyPortugal!

48 Comments

  • Reply
    Cheryl
    October 7, 2012 at 2:35 pm

    I love your list! Portugal is amazing and I can’t wait to experience more …

    Love your coastline photos and definitely agree, the Portugese are some of the nicest people ever!

    • Reply
      Larissa
      October 8, 2012 at 12:21 am

      I want to move here so if I do, you are more than welcome to come back and crash with me :)

      • Reply
        Richard
        July 26, 2017 at 11:41 am

        Loved reading everybit of your experience, I loved ALL portugal and spain, love-love-love!
        And if you or anyone is heading to Koala and Kangaroo land Australia, message me and I will be most welcoming as well as accommodating to show you around :)

        • Reply
          Claudia Phelps
          October 24, 2017 at 5:37 am

          Hi Richard –
          I just saw your post on the blond-gypsy site about Portugal. You mention that you are from AUS. and I wonder where?

          We are thinking of a trip there soon, and we have friends in Melbourne and maybe Canberra. We are good at travelling around by ourselves, but I thought if we were in a place that you were, you might be willing to share some ideas with us.

  • Reply
    Fiona
    October 9, 2012 at 5:56 pm

    Someone like Portugal as much as I do? Impossible!

    • Reply
      Larissa
      October 10, 2012 at 12:02 pm

      I’m in love with Portugal, like is not a strong enough word. So, yes? :)

  • Reply
    PurpleTravelKate
    October 10, 2012 at 11:23 am

    Awesome! Portugal seems to be *the* place to go… a few friends recently came back from there. Love your list.

    • Reply
      Larissa
      October 10, 2012 at 12:17 pm

      Thanks, Kate! I don’t know what took me so long to finally make it there – it’s so accessible and definitely one of the coolest places I have been to in a while.

  • Reply
    Gonçalo
    August 14, 2013 at 6:53 am

    I´m portuguese and i want share this is a litlle video. so litlle :p to see all litlle portugal you need a minimum 3 months :)

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=13JzhYcS0mw

    and a little of history in 6m :P

    • Reply
      Larissa
      August 25, 2013 at 7:55 pm

      That’s a great video, thank you. And yes – I totally agree – 3 months would be a really ideal amount of time to spend there!

  • Reply
    Rogerio Moreira
    November 1, 2013 at 9:56 pm

    Hi Blonde hope you are just in good shape.
    Loved your work in your blog.
    I think you should visit Aveiro also when you come again to Portugal. Did you know that we have been in Africa for long time and we leave there lots of wisdom too?
    Thanks a lot and have excelent trips around the world.
    Roger

    • Reply
      Larissa
      November 2, 2013 at 9:15 am

      Thanks so much for your comment, I appreciate the compliments. Portugal is such an interesting country and I do remember hearing something about its relations with Africa. I know a couple people from there who have worked in Angola. Anyway, thanks again. I can’t wait to return!

  • Reply
    Rapazdalaranja
    November 2, 2013 at 11:56 am

    Dear Blonde-gypsy,
    thanks for your comments on Portugal.

    I hope that you’ve learned some portuguese words because, for someone that’s abroad like me, your site is a fresh air into my “saudades”

    ;)

    • Reply
      Larissa
      November 7, 2013 at 1:15 pm

      Obrigada :)

  • Reply
    Tiago Neto
    November 2, 2013 at 2:37 pm

    Hey Blonde, thank you so much for this wonderfull article, its good to see finally something that isn’t trowing Portugal into the mud. Unfortunetly this crysis is making our country one place that never was, to the ones that see it from outside, so im really happy that someway you had a great expericence here, and that you where treaten with love as we all like to give. Come back soon again, theres much more to see :)

    • Reply
      Larissa
      November 7, 2013 at 1:17 pm

      Treated with love indeed. Thank you, Tiago! With all these latest comments (my post must have been reposted somewhere online because it was published over a year ago), I am really missing Portugal and now trying to figure out a way back :)

  • Reply
    Vera
    November 2, 2013 at 3:27 pm

    When you’re in Madeira, go to the Sports Bar at the marina and ask for the ‘prego no bolo do caco’ – literally the best steak sandwich you will ever eat. Don’t miss out on this. Also, take a day trip to Porto Santo island (off the coast of Funchal), they have the most amazing beaches there.

    • Reply
      Larissa
      November 7, 2013 at 1:21 pm

      Next time I will do that for sure – Sports Bar – prego no bolo do caco. I really wanted to hit Porto Santo while I was in Madeira, I heard amazing things, so that will have to happen the next time as well.

  • Reply
    Jose Orlando
    November 5, 2013 at 12:55 pm

    You missed probably the best…The Douro! next time :)

    • Reply
      Larissa
      November 7, 2013 at 1:26 pm

      Well just in Porto :) Would love to cruise the valley next time, definitely.

  • Reply
    Joao
    November 25, 2013 at 11:17 pm

    Nice Pics u put on…Nice blond too, stunning!…what else can u ask for , hein. Fica bem.

    • Reply
      Larissa
      November 28, 2013 at 5:58 pm

      Hey, thanks, Joao, glad you enjoyed them :)

  • Reply
    Hannah Wasielewski
    April 30, 2014 at 3:44 pm

    that’s funny you mentioned that Portuguese sounds like Russian, I’ve heard a few other people say the same thing! however, Brazilian Portuguese is completely different sounding. I’m living in Brazil now and have a very difficult time understanding people from Portugal. I can see a lot of resemblance in the buildings too, I’m hoping to go one day soon!

    • Reply
      Larissa
      December 16, 2014 at 11:18 pm

      Interesting, I didn’t know the two dialects were that different but I guess not a total shocker. Think you will love it there and hey – really hoping to get to Brazil myself one of these days, too!

      • Reply
        Mariana
        March 24, 2015 at 3:30 am

        Hello, I’m really glad you enjoyed Portugal, I live there and despite the economical problems that are going on here, I enjoy it too.
        Well, there isn’t much difference between the two in what concerns the spelling of the words, the accent is the biggest difference (for someone who can’t understand the words, it should sound like a whole other language), African Portuguese, however, has more ortographic variations.

        • Reply
          Larissa
          April 3, 2015 at 1:48 am

          Interesting! Thanks for sharing that info

        • Reply
          Larissa
          April 3, 2015 at 1:52 am

          P.S. Didn’t even consider what African Portuguese might be like. Accents are so funny..

    • Reply
      Ricardo Barbosa
      November 2, 2016 at 11:50 am

      Hello! Just to clarify a little, Portuguese and Brazilian are exactly as English from UK to American English. Brazilians just make different sonority. If you ask a Portuguese from Portugal he can speak with a Brazilian sonority! Hehehe… To gipsy blond i have to advise some places that i am not sure she went. As Marvão, Piodão, almeida village, Minho, Aveiro and Douro (till spain). Have nice experiences.

      • Reply
        Larissa
        April 15, 2017 at 9:58 am

        Thanks for clarifying and also for the suggestions as I haven’t made it to those places yet. Next time for sure!

  • Reply
    Sara Gomes
    May 22, 2014 at 11:41 pm

    Hi Larissa :) thank you for the great reviews about my country, as a Portuguese teen it means a lot to me that people love and embrace our country as much as we do in here and even though we’re going trough a huge crisis people still want to visit us and are charmed by the true beauty of this place, I hope you had a fantastic time and come back very soon you, are more then welcome and maybe see a little of Sintra(the place where I live) anyway I wish you well in you future travels and may the bring you back to this country again some day :9 beijinhos e boa sorte

    • Reply
      Larissa
      June 12, 2014 at 2:13 am

      Hi Sara :) Such a nice comment, thank you for that. Crisis or not, Portugal will always be a special place. I actually did visit Sintra one afternoon and loved it though I only going to see the castle. Hopefully I can stay a night or two next time because there absolutely will be a next time!

  • Reply
    Marta
    November 9, 2014 at 2:25 am

    Dear Larissa
    Congrats on the great post on my lovely country, you made me realize why I love eastern Europe and I loved your comparison of cod to Bubbas shrimp :-)
    Portugal would be delighted to have you around and if you want some fresh tipps on Porto (my hometown) do let me know!
    All the best and keep up the good work with your blog
    Marta

    • Reply
      Larissa
      December 16, 2014 at 11:20 pm

      Marta, thanks so much! Everytime I get a new comment on my Portugal posts I start craving a return trip so it’s definitely got to happen again soon :) Porto will be one of my first stops too, loved that city!

  • Reply
    Maria Sousa
    February 16, 2015 at 4:07 am

    I’m really happy to see someone who loves Portugal. I’m Portuguese and many times I hear bad things about my country ou portuguese people, and it’s sad. You saw many beatiful things around here, but there’s more. I hope you come back, I speak many times with tourists and I love them. If you want to see more pictures from Portugal you can follow me on Facebook (https://www.facebook.com/SSoloMS).

    By the way I love your blog.
    Thanks for sharing your experiences :)

    A big Hug from Portugal :)

    • Reply
      Larissa
      February 19, 2015 at 9:04 pm

      Hi Maria! Bad things about Portugal and Portuguese people? They must be crazy :) I did indeed see many beautiful things and it has been a while so hopefully I can make a return trip soon! Thanks for the link, beautiful photos and big hug back :)

  • Reply
    João
    March 11, 2015 at 1:31 pm

    Hi Larissa! Wonderful post about Portugal but, as you wrote, I feel you should spend more time with us because there is a lot more to be seen and enjoyed. I’m from Algarve so I’ll definitely recommend you to know it better. You’ll find that it has a rich diversity along the coast as well as from the coast to inland. But the same can be said for the rest of Portugal. Now I should advise you… You probably shouldn’t come here anymore because you may find yourself truly in love with the place or worst you may find compelling love with a Portuguese native. We tend to do that. :) I have personally met quite a few foreigners that visited us and then they couldn’t leave anymore, they stayed for either reason. You have been warned! Nevertheless here goes a small appetizer:

    • Reply
      Larissa
      April 3, 2015 at 1:21 am

      Haha, I believe it! Definitely need to make a trip back and especially to the Algarve – I think I enjoyed my time there the most. This post is quite old but feelings are still the same and WOW am I missing it now :)

  • Reply
    April 30, 2015 at 3:26 am

    Hey Larissa,

    I realize this post is long overdue by now, but I couldn’t help myself from commenting.

    As a Portuguese expat, your post left me full of “saudades” and craving for some of that Gomes de Sá cod! :)

    I’m glad you had a good time and really happy to know you understood what’s so special and unique about that little corner of Europe.

    Best wishes and do come back ;)

    • Reply
      Larissa
      May 15, 2015 at 11:07 pm

      Thank you, Zé – I definitely will!

  • Reply
    Cherise
    May 17, 2015 at 8:31 am

    Hello lovely!
    Love this article.
    How did you travel around Portugal? Did you rent a car or take buses and trains?

    Thanks :)

    • Reply
      Larissa
      May 27, 2015 at 10:53 pm

      Hello Cherise, and thank you! I actually did a lot of low-cost flying and busing – have yet to experience the trains except one between Faro and Portomao(?) which was pretty short.

  • Reply
    ZenProject
    September 20, 2016 at 11:31 am

    Agree for 200% on everything on this page. It is amazing this place is not more popular. I hope it stays like this… i never expected to be that nice i dindt knew actually what to expect.. going again this weekend. This time to Porto!

  • Reply
    Idiosyncratic Journeys
    February 9, 2017 at 7:19 pm

    Thanks! So useful. Going to Portugal this weekend and was looking for useful information and this is a great blog post.

  • Reply
    Idiosyncratic Journeys
    February 9, 2017 at 7:28 pm

    In addition, interesting your comparison to Eastern Europe– during the Soviet era many movies from the USA that took place in Eastern Europe were in fact filmed in Portugal due to the similarities indeed.

    • Reply
      Larissa
      June 19, 2018 at 6:54 am

      Really?! So interesting! Well, hope you had a wonderful trip and glad you found this post useful :)

  • Reply
    Long time traveler
    June 12, 2018 at 8:06 pm

    I visited Portugal for the first time in 1968 and fell in love with it right then and there. I’ve been back three times, each time visiting a different region of the country. Next month my partner and I are going to spend two weeks in Viana do Castelo and get to know the Minho and Tras-os-Montes provinces. By the way, it is true that many Portuguese can speak English. I am English-Spanish bilingual but have always been afraid to speak Spanish in Portugal, but of course as an English speaker I don’t have to. My only fear is that more and more people will discover how wonderful Portugal is–the architecture, the food, the landscapes, the people. I want to keep it for myself and a few friends.

    • Reply
      Larissa
      June 19, 2018 at 7:38 am

      Sounds like an beautiful trip! Indeed Portugal is gaining in popularity, but I’m fairly certain its soul will never change and will for the most part continue to keep things real :)

  • Reply
    Richard Barrett
    May 14, 2020 at 9:40 pm

    I must be in the wrong district. Currently in Mouraria. A filthy, rundown area. Dog shit everywhere. Overpriced supermarkets, not many speak English. Especially those in supermarkets, bakers, butchers and banks.
    Restaurants are the same price as Germany. Portuguese around here ain’t friendly either, that’s a myth. Mouraria seems to be full of tattooed freaks and lesbians. So disappointing.

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