Backpacking in Portugal

If you are considering backpacking in Portugal then I have all the best advice for you right here on this blog! I’ve been backpacking around Portugal on and off for the best part of the last 18 months. I’ve spent time in Northern Portugal, Lisbon and the Lisbon coast and the Algarve. I’ve also taken day trips through the Douro valley and into the Alentejo countryside. Trust me, backpacking in Portugal is an AMAZING experience and I totally recommend it!

Reasons to go Backpacking in Portugal

There are oh so many reasons to go backpacking in Portugal. This is a relatively cheap country to travel around by European standards. Portugal has everything to offer including amazing beaches, outstanding history and architecture and delicious food. It’s a cliche, I know, but there is something for everyone in Portugal. Here are the main reasons why people love backpacking in Portugal…

When to go to Backpacking in Portugal

You will be pleased to know that you will find Portugal to be a wonderful climate for backpacking any time of year. It has warm and inviting summers and mild winters. If you are a sun-seeker looking for beach weather then you may choose the summer months, but avoid the high season (July and August) when it is less busy. June and September are great months to enjoy good weather but calmer beaches. Temperatures can average 21-25 degrees in the summer season.

However, if you are more interested in exploring old towns and seeing the main sites and don’t mind wrapping up a little, you may be happy to visit Portugal in winter. Expect there to be less boat trips and excursions and also less bars and restaurants open in the winter months. However, you will still meet other travellers and you can enjoy the main sites without them being too crowded.Expect the temperatures in winter to be around 9-17 degrees.

How long should I spend Backpacking in Portugal?

Portugal is an easy place to travel and cities are well connected by train and bus routes, especially along the coast. This means that although there is tonnes to see in this fabulous and exciting country, even a short trip is worth it. Backpackers come into the main destinations with airports – Lisbon, Porto, Faro and Lagos for just 3-5 days and it’s worth it! But many people like to come for a 2-3 week trip.

If you have longer to spend, you will be able to explore many destinations. You could choose to jump between the main cities, for example have a two-week trip that covers Porto, Lisbon and the Algarve. You can stretch it out to 3 weeks to include more destinations along the way.

Alternatively, you might like to choose to spend 2-3 weeks in one region of Portugal such as Northern Portugal or the Algarve. Backpackers choosing to spend a couple of weeks in the Algarve like to work their way along the coast from East to West or vice-versa, spending a couple of days in each destination. Those wanting to explore the North usually plan an itinerary that includes Porto, Aveiro, Braga and Guimaraes.

Where to go in Portugal

Some of the most popular destinations of course are those that accessible by plane – Lisbon, Porto, Faro and Lagos are top of the list. But some of the more inland destinations should be explored if time allows, such as Coimbra, Braga, Evora and Guimaraes.

The Algarve

The Algarve is where most tourists like to go if they are sun-seekers. Some of the most popular destinations in the Algarve are Faro, Olhao, Portimao, Albufeira and Lagos. Loule and Monchique are popular with cyclists and hikers.

Lisbon

Portugal’s capital city of Lisbon is a feast for the senses. Although you can see a lot in one day, spend at least 3-5 days in Lisbon if you can. Don’t miss Jeronimos Monastery in Belem, Se Cathedral, Sao George castle and Praca do Comercio.

Porto

Porto, Lisbon’s second city is a fantastic place to visit. Did you know that the historic centre of Porto is actually a UNESCO World Heritage site? There are some outstanding examples of architecture that you cannot miss including Monasterio de Grilos, Se Cathedral, Sao Bento train station and Carmo Church. At the end of your day, you can relax in Gaia with a lovely glass of port wine overlooking the river. Check out this blog is you fancy a tour of the wine cellars in Porto. If you have time, you might also consider a Douro valley wine tour.

Coimbra

Just a couple of hours by train from Lisbon is the University city of Coimbra. Built overlooking the Mondego river, Coimbra is an often overlooked and under-rated destination. It’s full of history and has some beautiful churches including Igreja Santa Cruz with beautiful azulejos tiles and tombs of Portugal’s previous Kings. If you are pushed for time, you can see the main sites of Coimbra in just one day.

Evora

Evora is doable as a day trip from Lisbon. This popular city is deep in the Alentejo region so you can expect excellent regional food and wine.

Portugal Itineraries

Here are some of my favourite Portugal itineraries that you may find useful:

Backpack or Suitcase for Portugal?

The main reason why a backpack is usually recommended for Portugal is because it is easy to get around with a backpack on the hilly, uneven and cobbled streets. It you are bringing a suitcase instead of a backpack, you will sometimes find that it doesn’t wheel everywhere as easily as say in the UK towns and cities.

What to pack for Portugal

What to pack for Portugal will highly depend on when you travel and whether it’s the summer or winter season. Summer will require shorts/T-shorts, sunglasses, sun hat and plenty of suncream, whereas winter will be all about jeans, fleeces and wind/waterproof jackets! Here are some rough packing lists for you to use as a guide.

Anytime of Year / all trips

  • Jeans and T-shirts.
  • Solid pair of walking boots or at least comfortable trainers.
  • Walking socks.
  • Fitbit/GPS tracker/smart watch
  • Passport and money (Euros plus a backup credit/debit card).
  • Travel documentation e.g. Covid-19 proof of vaccination/recovery, travel tickets and airline boarding pass.
  • Day pack and or bum bag (fanny pack)
  • Water bottle
  • Toiletries and Underwear
  • Medication e.g. paracetomol, ibuprofen, antihistamines plus any regular or emergency medicine that you might need for conditions you have or are prone to
  • Travel adapter to convert to European plugs
  • Battery pack or portable phone charger
  • Tech – smartphone, iPad, Laptop plus chargers
  • Wind/waterproof jacket

Summer Season

  • Swimming costume/bikini
  • Suncream
  • Mosquito repellant/hydrocortisone cream
  • Sun hat
  • Vest tops
  • Shorts and/or leggings
  • Sandals/flip flops for beach
  • Skirts and dresses
  • Light cotton or linen trousers

Winter Season

  • Fleece
  • Jumpers and or cardigans
  • Warm trousers
  • Long sleeved tops
  • Long warm dresses
  • Warm socks
  • Thermal underwear
  • Scarf or shawl or pashmina
  • Warm hat
  • Hair dryer (if one is not provided at your accommodation)

Tips for Backpacking in Portugal

There are a few things to be aware of when you are travelling in Portugal.

Using the Bathroom

If you want to be a good house guest then there are some things to remember about using the bathroom. Many sewerage systems in Portugal (especially in the countryside) cannot cope with toilet paper down the toilets, so always check and if in doubt put your toilet paper in the bin provided instead of flushing it.

Mosquitos can be Annoying!

Mosquitos can be a pain in the summer months and even late in the year. I got bitten by them in Lisbon in November! Although the mosquitos in Portugal don’t carry harmful diseases such as Dengue or Malaria, they can still be annoying. Bites can be itchy and flare up especially if you have allergies. Choose a strong mosquito repellant such as DEET and apply it regularly also immediately after swimming. Have anti-histamines and hydrocortisone cream available.

Look out for Slippy Cobbled streets

Be aware that most cities in Portugal are very hilly. Expect a lot of walking on uneven cobbled streets which can get very slippy and dangerous when wet. Wear suitable footwear (walking boots) and take extra care when it’s been raining.

Eating out – Look out for the Couvert charges!

When you eat out in Portugal, there is often an unexpected Couvert charge that foreigners dislike and feel conned by. The way it works is this – waiters/waitresses will bring appetisers such as bread, olives and pate to the table even though you didn’t order it. Unlike in England, there is always a charge for this, so if you don’t want to eat it or pay for it simply say no thank you and send it back. You don’t have to tip in Portugal but if you get really good service you may choose to (read all about tipping in Portugal here).

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