Portugal is one of those countries that I was interested in visiting, but it wasn’t at the top of my list. Then I had an opportunity to go, and it quickly became a new favorite! I loved the people, the vibrant colors, the pasteis de nata! And I’d never really thought of it this way before I visited, but Portugal is largely responsible for world travel as we know it.
Personally, I can’t wait to go back, and I can’t wait for you to visit, too! And to help you, here’s my guide for what to know before you visit pretty Portugal! What are you waiting for?
The Portuguese speak–you guessed it–Portuguese! Honestly, you’ll be able to get around Portugal very easily if you only speak English. However, it’s always a welcome sign of respect if you try to learn and speak a few words in the local language. Here are a few essentials to help you communicate. You’ll notice some similarities to Spanish, but keep in mind that it it a totally different language!
- Ola: Hello
- Por favor: Please
- Obrigado: Thank you
- Banheiro: Restroom
- Adeus: Goodbye
More here: Words to Learn in the Local Language Wherever You Travel
Getting There and Getting Around
If you’re flying to Portugal, you’ll most likely fly into Lisbon (LIS) or Porto (OPO). You can also arrive from Spain via train, or sail in on a cruise ship to one of the country’s ports. Heading to the Azores? You’ll get there either by plane or ship!
Once you’re in Portugal, you can get around easily by airplane, train, bus, or car, although renting a car is not so much advisable in Lisbon. Once you’re in a city, public transportation (buses, trams, etc.) and walking are the best ways to see the sights!
Get FREE transportation with the Lisboa Card in Lisbon!
Portugal is on the Euro, making it an easy place to travel along with other countries that also use the Euro. It’s a well-known, budget-friendly destination, even in the most popular tourism centers like Lisbon, Sintra, and Porto. You can find a great hotel within your budget, eat at a bargain, and find plenty of FREE things to do wherever you go.
More here: What to Do in Lisbon on a Monday (when many sites are closed!)
A Little Basic History
Okay, so it would take a lot more than a list in a single blog post to hit the highlights of Portugal’s history. However, there are a few key facts and moments in history that will give you context of Portugal in the world’s history overall. Here are some important ones:
One of the things I find most beautiful about Portugal is the architecture, which is heavily influenced by the country’s Moorish history. The Moors were the Islamic people who settled in what is now Portugal and Spain. The pointed arches, designs, and other architectural features may remind you of Morocco and other areas of Northern Africa and the Middle East, and with good reason! The Moors ruled this area from the year 711 to 1139, and their influence is still seen across the country.
Read next: The Best Places to Eat in Lisbon
Just a thousand or so years ago, the people living in Europe thought Portugal was the literal end of the Earth. But the Portuguese had a broader view and more creative vision. Portuguese explorers made their way to India, Brazil, Indonesia, and so much more. We owe much of our present-day travels to the explorers from (and financed by) Portugal.
More here: 10 Trips Every Traveler Should Take
Officially begun when Afonso Henriques defeated the Moors in 1139, the Portuguese Royal Family ruled until 1910 and the Republican Revolution. Portugal is now officially named the Portuguese Republic. It was interesting to learn about the Portuguese Royal Family over the years, and we actually learned the most about them in the Royal Treasures Museum!
Stay nearby: What It’s Like Staying at Solar do Castelo Hotel
World War II
Have you ever seen the movie Casablanca with Humphrey Bogart and Ingrid Bergman? Everyone who wanted to get out of Europe had to go to Casablanca to get to Lisbon to get to the Allied countries. Portugal had just undergone a regime change and was working on rebuilding its economy in 1933. When World War II began, Portugal remained neutral, making it a safe haven for both Allied and Axis players.
You don’t hear about Portugal much in World War II because of that very reason: They kept neutrality, but that had its positives and negatives for both sides during the War. That lesser-known history is what makes me geek out! I loved learning about Portugal’s role, and while there is still so much that may never be known about what happened Portugal during that time, what we do know is pretty fascinating! I recommend the book Lisbon: War in the Shadows of the City of Light by Neill Lochery if you want to learn more.
More here: What to Know Before You Visit Lisbon
Want more? Get everything you need to know on my dedicated Portugal Page!
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