Portugal Tourist Information and Tips
Currency, ATMS, Exchange
Portugal is part of the Eurozone and uses the euro as its currency (symbol: ˆ ). ATMs accepting international cards can be found everywhere, and currency conversion booths spring up wherever there is a steady flow of tourists (although the closer they are to tourist attractions, the worse the rates they offer).
To authorize your payment with a credit card, you are frequently presented a device with a keypad where you should type PIN code and also confirm amount--even for Visa Classic or MasterCard. This is different from many other countries in Europe where a card is taken , and tends to be safer as the card doesn't go out of your sight and there's therefore no chance that its magnetic strip will be copied and someone steal your money months later.
Tipping in restaurants is optional - if you are not too happy with the service, don't tip. 10% is a good value tip, although most people would just round up the total bill to the next euro. In expensive restaurants tipping is expected and the percentage is about the same as it is in the US, 10-15%, the difference being that you will not be too frown upon if you do not tip. Keep in mind that whilst tipping, many Portuguese just simply leave the coin portion of their change, not considering actual percentages. Waiters are viewed as professionals in Portugal. A 'tip' is considered a note of appreciation, not a means to make up for a tiny salary.
If at all, a taxi driver should be tipped 10%, less could be seen as being offensive.
What to buy
Designer clothes Altough not widely known internationally, Portugal has several independent fashion designers. The list includes: Fatima Lopes , Maria Gambina . Some of them have dedicated shops in Lisbon .
This is potentially the most varied experience to have in the country and is clearly a favorite local hobby.
Portuguese cuisine evolved from hearty peasant food drawn from the land, the seafood of the country's abundant coast and the cows, pigs and goats raised on the limited grazing land of its interior. From these humble origins, spices brought back to the country during the exploration and colonisation of the East Indies and the Far East helped shape what is regarded as 'typical' Portuguese cuisine which, conversely, also helped shape the cuisine in the regions under Portuguese influence, from Cape Verde to Japan.
Soup is the essential first course of any Portuguese meal. The most popular is the Minho specialty, caldo verde , made from kale, potatoes and spiced, smoked sausage. It's here in the Minho that you can sample the best vinho verde , which rarely is bottled. In many places, especially near the seashore, you can have a delightful and always varied fish soup, sometimes so thick it has to be eaten with the help of a fork.
You will see another Portuguese staple bacalhau (dried codfish) everywhere. Locals will tell you that there are as many ways to cook this revered dish as there are days in the year, or even more.
The most common of Portugal's delicious fish ( peixe ) dishes revolve around sole ( linguado ) and sardines ( sardinha ) although salmon ( salmao ) and trout ( truta ) are also featured heavily, not mentioning the more traditional mackerel ( carapau ), whiting ( pescada ), rock bass ( robalo ), frog fish ( tamboril ) and a variety of turbot ( cherne ). These are boiled, fried, grilled or served in a variety of sauces.
There are many varieties of rice-based specialties, such as frog fish rice, octopus rice, duck rice and seafood rice.
In most places you will easily find fresh seafood: lobster ( lagosta ), lavagante , mussel ( mexilhao ), oysters ( ostras ), clam ( ameijoas ), goose barnacle ( perceves ).
Depending on how touristic the area you are in, you'll see grills, thick with the smoke of charring meat, in front of many restaurants during your stay. Other than traditional sardines, Portuguese grilled chicken -- marinated in chilli, garlic and olive oil -- is world famous, although people tired of tasteless industrial poultry farm produce might opt for a tasty veal cutlet ( costeleta de novilho ) instead, or simply grilled pork.
In the North, you can find many manners of kid, and in the Alentejo, lamb ensopado and many types of pork meat, including the tastier black pork; the best considered parts of pork being the secretos and the plumas . In the Alentejo, you are likely to be served pork instead of veal if you ask for the ubiquitous bitoque (small fried beef, fried potatoes, egg). A widely found traditional dish is pork and clam, Carne de Porco a Alentejana , as well as fried, bread-covered cuttlefish slices ( tiras de choco frito ). Sometimes you can also find wild boar dishes.
Definitely a major specialty is Mealhada's (near Coimbra) suckling pig roast ( leitao ) with the local sparkling wine and bread. Much like the pastel de nata , you shouldn't miss it.
Vegetarians may have a tough time of it in Portugal, at least in traditional Portuguese restaurants. In most restaurants, vegetables (usually boiled or fried potatoes) are simply a garnish to the main meat dish. Even 'vegetarian' salads and dishes may just substitute tuna (which locals don't seem to regard as a 'meat') for ham or sausage. Usually, a salad is just lettuce and tomato with salt, vinegar and olive oil. However, the Portuguese really like their choose-5-items salad bars, and restaurants serving Indian, Chinese, Mexican, or Italian fare can be found in most cities. At any rate, just mention you're vegetarian, and something can be found that meets your preference although in the long run you might be unable to thrive on it.
In many Portuguese restaurants, if you order a salad it will come sprinkled with salt - if you are watching your salt intake, or just do not like this idea, you can ask for it "sem sal" (without salt) or more radically "sem tempero" (no conditioning).
A few restaurants, particularly in non-tourist areas, do not have a menu; you have to go in and ask and they will list a few items for you to choose from. It is wise to get the price written down when you do this so as to avoid any nasty surprises when the bill comes. However, in this type of restaurants, the price for each one of the options is very similar, varying around from ˆ5 to ˆ10 per person.
Most restaurants bring you a selection of snacks at the start of your meal - bread, butter, cheese, olives and other small bites - invariably there is a cover charge on these items, around ˆ5. Do not be afraid to ask how much the cover charge is, and get them to take the items away if it is too much or if you are not planning to eat as much. It can be quite reasonable, but occasionally you will get ripped off. If you send them away, still, you should check your bill at the end. Better restaurants can bring you more surprising, nicely prepared and delicious small dishes and bites and charge you more than ˆ5 for each of them; you can usually choose those you want or want not, as in these cases the list is longer; and if the price is this high and you make an acceptable expense, opt for not ordering a main course.
Portugal is famous for its wide variety of amazing pastries, or pasteis (singular: pastel ). The best-loved pastry, pasteis de nata (called just natas further north), is a flaky pastry with custard filling topped with powdered sugar ( acucar ) and cinnamon ( canela ). Make sure you try them, in any "pastelaria". The best place is still the old Confeitaria dos 'Pasteis de Belem' in Belem, although most "pastelarias" make a point of excelling at their "pasteis". For once, all the guide books are right. You may have to queue for a short time, but it'll be worth it. Some people like them piping hot and some don't.
When traveling in Portugal, the drink of choice is wine. Red wine is the favorite among the locals, but white wine is also popular. Also Portugal along with Spain have a variation of the white wine that is actually green ( Vinho Verde ). Its a very crisp wine served cold and goes best with many of the fish dishes. Drinking wine during a meal is very common in Portugal, and also after the meal is finished people will tend to drink and talk while letting their food digest. (Don't let yourself be bullied into drinking if you're driving, though!)
Port wine may be an aperetif or dessert. Alentejo wine may not be worldwide known as Porto, but is quite as good. Portugal as also other defined wine regions ( regioes vinhateiras ) which make also some of the very best of wines like Madeira, Sado or Douro.
Folks might find it a bit difficult to refrain from drinking, even if there are very good reasons to do so (such as the above mentioned driving). Nowadays the "I have to drive" excuse works ok. The easiest way is to explain that one can't for health reasons. The Portuguese aren't as easily insulted as others when it comes to refusing the obvious hospitality of a drink, but a lie such as "I'm allergic" might make clear a situation where one would have to otherwise repeatedly explain a preference in some regions of Portugal; but it won't work in other regions where obviously made-up excuses will tag you as unreliable ("I don't want to, thanks" might then work). Drinking is considered almost socially intimate.
Be careful of 1920 and Agua Ardente ( burning water ), both pack a mighty punch.
Portugal is well known as the home of Port wines .
Porto is famous for the eponymous port wine , a fortified wine (20%) made by adding brandy to the wine before fermentation is complete. The end product is strong, sweet, complex in taste and if properly stored will last 40 years or more.
There are many, many grades of port, but the basic varieties are:
- Vintage , the real deal, kept in the bottle for 5-15 years, can be very expensive for good years. It is, nevertheless, worth it.
- Late-Bottled Vintage ( LBV ), simulated vintage kept in barrel longer, ready to drink. Nice if you are on a budget.
- Tawny , aged for 10-40 years before bottling, which distinguishes itself by a more brownish red color and a slightly smoother bouquet and flavor. As with any wine, the older it gets, the more rounded and refined it will be.
- Ruby , the youngest and cheapest, with a deep red "ruby" color.
- White port is a not-so-well-known variety, and it is a shame. You will find a sweet and a dry varietal, the latter of which mixes well with tonic water and should be served chilled (if drunk alone) or with lots of ice (with tonic), commonly used as an aperitif.
- Another good choice is the ubiquitous vinho verde (green wine), which is made mostly in the region to the north of Porto (the Minho.) It's a light, dry and refreshing wine (approx. 9% -9.5% in volume), made from region specific grapes with relatively low sugar content. Mostly white, and sometimes slightly sparkling. Very nice, and very affordable.
The youth hostel network has a great number of hostels around the country . There are also many camping places. 'Wild camping' (camping outside camping parks) is not allowed, unless you have the land owner's agreement.
There's a wide and abundant hotel offering all through Portugal.
If budget is a concern, and you want a true 'typical-portuguese' experience, gather your courage and try one Residencial , the home-like hostels ubiquitous in cities and most towns. In most places you can get a double room for ˆ25-ˆ35 (Oct 2006). Be sure, however, of the quality of the rooms.
On the luxury side, you might try the ' Pousadas de Portugal', a network of hotels managed by the Pestana Group remarkable for using very beautiful ancient buildings like Palaces and Castles and also for having excellent service, consistent all over the country. You will do well in eating out eventually, as the cuisine of Pousadas is frequently both expensive and boring, although it appears the trend is changing for the better (mid-2008).
The "Casas de Campo" ( Turismo de Habitacao , Turismo Rural , Agro-Turismo ), when traveling through the countryside, are also an affordable, picturesque and comfortable B&Bs. Don't expect them to be open all year round, and try to contact them beforehand if your itinerary depends on them.
As regarding violent crime, Portugal is generally safe. This does not mean that you should throw caution to the wind and let down your guard. In particular, there is a refreshing lack of boozy stupidity at the weekends, despite the profusion of bars open to all hours in the major cities. Also, there are no internal conflicts to speak of, and no terrorism-related danger.
Like any big city, there are some areas of Lisbon and Porto that you might want to avoid, especially at night. Also like in any other tourist areas, you might want to have in mind that pickpockets do tend to target tourists more frequently - but some common sense should be enough to keep you safe. Wear a money belt or keep your documents and money in an inside pocket. Public transport places and queues are the most usual places for pickpockets.
Especially aboard the Metro in Lisbon, gangs of Gypsies are becoming more and more famous for pickpocketing anyone aboard. When the metro gets crammed, they too, pack themselves in and while one may bump into your really roughly, up to three more people may be waiting in the wings to grab your camera, wallet, or anything else you carry. Many are under 18 and take advantage of the non-harsh laws on minors. If you try to run them down, you will often be met with a large group of the Gypsies outside the metro station, and a fight may be neccessary to get your items back.
Major cities are well served with medical and emergency facilities. BPublic hospitals are at European standards. The national emergency number is 112. Bottled/spring water (agua mineral) is recommended as per use but the network's water is perfectly safe. Members of the European Union receive free medical health care as long as they hold an European Health Insurance Card (EHIC).
If you make an effort to speak some Portuguese with the people there, it can go a long way in being more accepted in the culture. A large percentage of the younger population especially speak some English, and many Portuguese understand Spanish quite well. At the very least starting a conversation with Portuguese, then switching to English can be a successful technique to obtain this type of help.